Friday 31 August 2018

"Something a little different" post at the start of a long weekend...

I know it's early, but I have a busy weekend coming up so I thought I would write this post now, when I have some free time, to ensure that I get it done. I'm also super-excited to tell you about the book I finished a few days ago.
This past week I read a book that is totally not the kind of book I would normally pick up and read, a book about “gangstas” and gang wars and drug dealing, where the words “mothafucka” and “nigga” (sorry, it seems wrong to type these words out, even if I'm quoting directly from the book) occurred on just about every page, and the main character is a rapper who nearly died as a result of an attack by a gigantic pit bull.  But Joe Ide’s debut novel, IQ, was great!  It was a slick, stylish, fast-paced story that kept me turning pages and looking for extra reading opportunities whenever I could find them.  The main character, Isaiah Quintabe, is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes living in Los Angeles and solving crimes to pay his rent and care for Flaco, a young man about whom we learn through flashbacks.  Isaiah’s circumstances in life have been anything but easy, as we learn through these flashbacks, but the main action concerns Cal, a rapper who has gotten into a slump, doing too many drugs, eating way too many Krispy Kreme donuts and not generating the output of songs he is under contract to produce.  When a giant pit bull is sent through the window of his house and chases him outside, Isaiah is hired through the cousin of Cal’s agent to find out who would want to kill Cal and why. Is it Noelle, his ex-wife, whom he loathes? Or could it be one of his bodyguards, the interchangeable Bug and Charles? We are treated to the lyrics of some of Cal’s rap songs throughout the book, which is also something I would never be interested in but it worked with this novel.  Ide has a flare for language, and his character development for both Isaiah and his friend Dodson was darn near perfect. Add to that a complex plot that was nearly flawless, and you have one fabulous novel. I hope this is the beginning of a series featuring crime-solving sleuth IQ, as I would be thrilled to read The Further Adventures of IQ.
And I’m in the middle of my second Book Prize longlist nominee, The Mars Room, by American author Rachel Kushner, about a twenty-nine year old woman in a Northern California Women’s Correctional Institution serving two consecutive life sentences for some unknown crime, and the circumstances in her life that have brought her to this point.  Not overly uplifting, but very intriguing. But I must put it down and start reading the book we will be discussing at my next Volunteer Book Club meeting next Saturday, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  I think it will be a quick read and hope to finish both books in time for next week’s post.
That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful long weekend, and remember to keep reading!
Bye for now…

Sunday 26 August 2018


It’s with a sense of melancholy that I write this post on the last weekend before I go back to work for the new school year.  I’m both excited about the coming of my favourite season and saddened by the end of the weeks of free, unstructured time I’ve been enjoying since the beginning of July.  Thankfully I have a cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread to cheer me up!
I read two books this week.  The first is an adult fiction title, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.  I don’t know how I heard about this book; I must have read a review and the description appealed.  The novel opens with four siblings, Varya (13), Daniel (11), Klara (9) and Simon (7) going off to find a woman who can supposedly predict the date someone will die.  What possessed these children to seek such information remains a mystery, but they find her (“the woman on Hester Street”) and each is given a date of their death. We the readers do not find out everyone’s date right away, so there is some mystery for us, too.  But the novel asks us to consider this: If you knew the date of your death, would that affect the way you lived your life, and if so, how? The rest of the novel is divided into sections, one for each sibling, highlighting a period in their lives and ending in their death.  Each section takes up where the last one left off. It was definitely an interesting read, and I found myself wondering if these individuals would have lived differently if they had never gone to see the woman on Hester Street, or if they had discounted her predictions. Although I don’t usually enjoy novels that rely on magic realism to move the plot forward, this one certainly held my interest and kept me looking for extra reading opportunities to get me to the last page.  It was a really good read, not perfect but definitely one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction and family sagas.
And I read a book from my school library by Alan Gratz, Projekt 1065, set in 1943 Berlin.  This novel is told from the point of view of Michael O’Shaughnessy, 13 year old son of the Irish Ambassador to Germany.  Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth, and although Ireland maintains a position of neutrality, he and his parents are secretly spies, collecting information about the Nazis for the Allies.  After the tremendous losses in Stalingrad, Hitler began using the Hitler Youth for more and more dangerous tasks, sending boys as young as fifteen into battle and employing children as young as eight to man antiaircraft weapons.  In this position, then, Michael could gather significant information and influence the actions of these Youth members in ways that could make a real difference to the outcome of the war. But when he’s faced with one challenge after another, how can he be sure to always make the right decisions?  Gratz has written many juvenile novels about WWII, and this is one of his latest that I bought with proceeds from our book fair. It was fast-paced, interesting and engaging, and I couldn’t put it down. I learned alot about the German language, facts about the war and about the German experience, and about what it would have been like to be in the Hitler Youth at that time, how many of those children didn’t know anything other than Hitler’s rule and so were easily carried away by the charisma of the Nazi party.  I even read the Afterward, which was also interesting and informative, and I've passed the book on to my husband to read as well. I will definitely do a book talk on this for the grade six students (I think there’s too much death for anyone younger) and recommend it to them.
That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…

Sunday 19 August 2018

Long post on a not-so-long weekend...

I’ve been busy, busy, busy this past week, as the usual “end-of-summer-vacation” pressure is on.  I’ve been busy completing projects around the house, trying to get a video editing project for school done, and, as promised, ramping up my reading efforts.
Last week I read the first of ten Man Booker Prize nominees by Irish author Donal Ryan, From a Low and Quiet Sea, which was great.  This novel is told from the points of view of three different characters: Farouk, a Syrian refugee awaiting processing in an immigration camp in Ireland; Lampy, a young man who works at a retirement home and is doing his best to get over a broken heart; and John, an aging accountant and lobbyist who is looking back over his life and reflecting on the shyster tactics he used to get ahead.  These three sections stand independently, and seem to highlight the isolation of individuals in our society today, but as I suspected, they are all brought together in the last section of the book, and it is here that Ryan shows that, while there is isolation, there is also interconnectedness and deep caring. It was an easy read, a quiet, slow-moving look at three characters whose lives would seem unremarkable to any outsider, but who have deep inner lives where loss and suffering of different kinds have taken place and who seek or need forgiveness or resolution.  It was a poignant, emotional novel that insisted on a slow read to savour every line of description, because the author was, after all, describing the human soul.
I also read two children’s novels last week, and will just give a quick summary here.  I read Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis, the second book in the “Breadwinner” series that I mentioned in a July post.  This Canadian author is visiting my schools in November, so I wanted to be familiar with at least one or two of her books.  In case you have forgotten, The Breadwinner told the story of a young Afghan girl, Parvana, who, at 11 years old, is still young enough to be allowed out of the house to help her father earn a living at the marketplace while her mother and older sister must, by law,be confined to their home.  When Parvana’s father is arrested, Parvana transforms herself into the look of a boy and takes her father’s place in the market, becoming the breadwinner until her father is released. At the end of the novel, after her mother and sisters leave to attend a wedding in as-yet-unoccupied Kabul, Parvana and her father discover that the city is taken over by the Taliban and they set out to find them.  Parvana’s Journey takes up where this novel left off, and finds Parvana travelling alone, as her father has died in one of the camps.  Still dressed as a boy, she makes her way across deserts and through villages, picking up strays and caring for those who have been abandoned along the way, all the while using creative means to meet her needs, though sometimes just barely.  It was not as interesting as the first book, but it was still a heartfelt, moving read, one that illustrates the horrible conditions these families faced during Taliban rule. It’s hard to believe that this could be allowed to continue, or to even have come about in the first place, but I’m sure it fairly accurately reflects the situations faced by people in this country.  I think Ellise particularly wanted to highlight in this book the damage caused by landmines, as it is mentioned more than a few times and there are notes about this at the back of the book. I will not read others in this series, but I may, as the school year begins, read one or two other books by this author, in preparation for her visit.
I also read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg, a classic children’s novel about a girl and her brother who run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a week.  I read this because it is the book that is mentioned in one of the best children’s novels I’ve ever read, Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, the main character’s favourite book that ends up being banned from the school library on the recommendation of one of the parents because she claims it teaches children to lie, cheat and steal, and the book that instigates the action of the story.  It was also recently mentioned in another book I either read or listened to, maybe NemeSIS, as the main character’s favourite book.  I decided that I should probably be familiar with this story, since it seems to pop up regularly.  Originally published in 1967, the prologue of this novel consists of a letter from Mrs Basil E Frankweiler to her lawyer, Saxonberg, addressing changes to her will.  The novel itself begins with 12-year-old Claudia Kincaid planning her escape from her family home. She’s decided to run away because she feels her parents don’t appreciate her enough.  She enlists the help of her 9-year-old brother Jamie because he is “rich”, having saved his allowance and supplemented it with winnings from his card games with his friend. They make their way to the MOMA and have success hiding out for a week, where they discover that they complement each other and can work as a team to solve most of the problems they encounter.  They do lie, cheat and steal in this book, but I don’t think it encourages children to do any of these things, and I certainly don’t think this book should be banned from any library. It appears on numerous “Best Books for Children” lists, and while I didn’t “love” this book, I can see why children would find it interesting and funny, although it feels a bit outdated.
And since I’m writing a long post, I may as well tell you about the two, yes TWO!, audiobooks I finished last week.  The first is The Secret Place by Tana French, a very long (16 parts = about 21 hours) novel, part of the “Dublin Murder Squad” series featuring Antoinette Conway as the only female member of this department.  I’ve listened to another book in this series, which I enjoyed, but I found this one a bit too long and descriptive. Told from alternating points of view and using two different narrators, this novel gives readers the inside scoop on the current investigation in Detective Stephen Moran’s voice, as well as the backstory from the girls’ perspective.  On the grounds of St Kilda’s Girls’ Boarding School, Chris Harper, a student from Colm’s, the neighbouring boys’ school, was discovered murdered a year before, a case Conway had worked but had not closed. One of the students, Holly Mackie, finds a card pinned the the bulletin board called “The Secret Place”, which was started to help students deal with this death - the card, featuring a picture of Chris, contained the words, “I know who killed him”, and Holly brings this card to Detective Moran in Cold Cases because she knows him from an earlier case and feels that this case needs to be reopened.  Holly’s dad is a high-ranking detective in the Dublin Police Force, so she is familiar with the workings of the police and had some idea that this was the best way to get someone to pay attention to this new lead. Moran, wishing to get out of Cold Cases and into the Murder Squad, seeks out the help of Conway, the original investigating officer, who still has no partner and is said to be difficult to work with, always having to prove herself around her colleagues, and together they head off to St Kilda’s to try to discover who put up this card and what new information they may have. Their suspect list is quickly narrowed down to eight girls, or two groups of four, who had access to the Art Room, and also the bulletin board, the night before.  Flashbacks to the year before, leading up to Chris’ murder, are told from the points of view of the four girls in Holly’s group, Holly, Selena, Becca and Julia, as the actual events leading to the murder unfold over the course of the novel. Moran and Conway, in the other chapters, detail their present-day interviews with the girls and the activities that take place on the campus at this time. These sections are all confined to a single day, while the flashbacks span a year or more. It was an interesting enough mystery, but a bit too long and detailed for me. I also didn't love the supernatural element of the story, and can't see exactly why she included it. Having said that, I would be happy to find other audio books by this author to listen to in the future, and I actually have one of her books in print on my bookshelf upstairs.  The first book in this series, In the Woods, was recommended to me a few years ago, but I never did read it, so maybe that would give me some of the background I need to appreciate the references to earlier works.  
And I finished an audiobook that my husband and I were listening to over the summer during our longer drives, a standalone by David Rosenfelt, On Borrowed Time.  This novel is told from the point of view of Richard Kilmer, a freelance journalist who has it all:  a successful writing career and a beautiful woman who has agreed to be his wife. Jen and Richard are visiting Jen’s parents, and head out to visit a childhood haunt of Jen’s when they are hit with a freak storm, which leads to a car accident and Jen’s disappearance.  Richard tries to track her down, but no one he asks has even heard of Jen, much less seen her, and he begins to doubt his own memories. Despite the insistence by everyone he knows that he was never involved with anyone named Jen, he refuses to give up his search, and enlists the help of friends and contacts to help in this search.  He also writes articles about this disappearance and search, which leads to information and unexplored avenues, leading Richard deeper and deeper into a world of conspiracy, cover-ups and murder. It was far-fetched, to say the least, but it was fast-paced and short enough that I could pretty much guarantee we could finish the book together on our road trips before the end of the summer.  I prefer Rosenfelt’s “Andy Carpenter” series, but I think I’ve listened to all of these books that are available as audiobooks, so I’ll take what I can get at this point.
WHEW!  That’s all for today.  I promise that there won’t be another long post like this again until next summer, as I have just one more week before I go back to work and it’s jam-packed with activities, plans and final projects.  Have a wonderful week and make sure to keep reading!
Bye for now…

Saturday 11 August 2018

Book club highlights on a summer morning...

As I approach the final weeks of summer vacation, I’m feeling a little melancholy, but I’ll be ready to go back to work when the time comes in a couple of weeks.  Until then, I’m savouring my time off and will make an effort to read more in the next two weeks.
I had a book club meeting yesterday morning, when we discussed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  In case you are unfamiliar with the plot of this novel, it tells the story of orphan Jane Eyre, who grows up in Gateshead with her Aunt Reed, a thoroughly unpleasant woman, and her three equally unpleasant cousins, who abuse her and then cast blame on her for this abuse, thereby causing her to be further punished by her aunt.  At the age of nine, she is sent away to a charity school for orphans, Lowood, where she at least receives a quality education, but where she endures near-starvation and nearly unbearable living conditions. When there is an outbreak of tuberculosis, killing off nearly half of the residents, an investigation ensues, and conditions improve, making life bearable for Jane and allowing her to finish her education and become a teacher there.  At the age of eighteen, she answers an ad for and secures a position as governess at Thornfield Manor, where her charge, headstrong French girl Adele, keeps her busy, and she is satisfied with this appointment for a few months, but soon she begins to feel a pull to experience more of life. Then the master of the manor, Mr Rochester, returns and Jane’s life is never the same. She falls in love with this unattractive, brooding hulk of a man, and he with her, but will they have the opportunity to marry, or will Rochester choose the woman with whom his social standing dictates he should marry to make a good connection?  This novel was added to the list as a replacement for the book I chose for this month, The Boys in the Boat, which one of my book club members started reading and thought we wouldn’t like.  I noticed that we didn’t have a classic on the list this year, and I remember enjoying this novel in my younger years, so when someone suggested this, I was happy to add it to the selection list.  Three members showed up for the meeting yesterday, and two had read this book before, but many years ago. Of these two, one member read a print copy and the other listened to it as an audiobook, which she said was amazing!  She couldn’t say enough good things about the narration, and didn’t complain about the fact that it was 21 hours of often lengthy and repetitive description! The last member listened to it on CD, but it was only three discs, so unfortunately she must have had the abridged version (more plot, less description), but once she realized how much she was missing, she got the book and finished reading it.  We were all happy to read or reread the book, despite the fact that we found it overly descriptive and skimmed many passages throughout the novel. While I was reading it, I was mentally comparing it to one of my favourites, Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, and was struck by the many similarities between these two gothic novels.  I also compared Jane’s attitudes and behaviour towards Mr Rochester with the behaviour of Sarah Woodruff in John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  One of my members said the book pulled her in right away, that it was very vivid and realistic, probably because it was based heavily on Bronte’s life experiences as the daughter of a clergyman.  She liked the ending, although she found it bittersweet, and we discussed whether this could be classified as a “romance”. We decided that yes, it was a gothic romance, as the love story was the most important element of the plot.  I thought that is was also a social commentary, as class and social standing were elements that drove the plot, although these were secondary and less significant than in, for example, Jane Austen’s novels or even Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Another member, who listened to the full version of the audiobook, thought the early part of the book, when Jane is young, reminded her of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, when everything is so significant, it’s not just bad, it’s so awful, not just unpleasant, but disastrous, the way children view things because they have no context and nothing with which to compare their experiences.  This member loved, loved, loved the book (hurray!!), and was happy to have had the opportunity to reread it in audio format. We decided that it was love at first sight between Jane and Rochester, and that the main attraction was that they saw each other as equals.  Neither of them was physically attractive, but they were attracted to the other’s mind, their language and way of speaking, with their words and ethics. One member said, when commenting on the language, that this book was “time-consuming but beautiful”, which pretty much sums it up.  There were ways in which Bronte used language that was different from natural speech but which, according to the notes at the end of the book, were more meant to capture the psychology of the speaker than to sound like natural speech patterns, which, also according to these notes, did not really come into literary use until the end of the nineteenth century.  There was one term we had to look up. Jane describes another character near the end of the book, St John, as being “without ruth”, and we admitted that none of us had ever thought of the word “ruth” as separate from the term “ruthless”, so we looked it up and found that ruth means “compassion for the misery of others”, a term that aptly describes this character.  All in all, it was an interesting discussion, and I’m so happy to have had this added to the list at the last minute, giving me an opportunity to reread this awesome classic.
That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful weekend, and keep reading!
Bye for now…

Friday 3 August 2018

Short post for the start of a long weekend...

As I sit with my cup of regular tea and a delicious Date Bar on this Friday afternoon of the Civic long weekend, I’m getting a head start by blogging, as we are going to be away for a couple of days and I wanted to make sure not to miss writing my weekly post.
I started reading a book last week by Nicci French (actually a husband-and-wife writing team), the latest (and last!) in the series of books featuring psychologist Frieda Klein, Day of the Dead.  It was interesting and well written, and grabbed me right away.  I got about a third of the way through it when I realized that, since I will be away for a couple of days, I needed to set it aside to start my book for next week’s book club meeting if I hope to have it finished on time.  We’re discussing Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, so no light, easy summer reading for me this week!  I’m having trouble getting into it, but I’m hoping to devote quite a bit of time this afternoon to tea-drinking and reading and make some good headway.
But I finished listening to an audiobook this week that I want to tell you about.  It is a standalone by Laura Lippman called I’d Know You Anywhere, and it was great!  Lippman is the author of the “Tess Monaghan” series, but I’ve never really gotten into those.  I have, though, read other standalones by her and have usually been, if not always impressed, then at least kept interested to the end.  This one was no exception. When she was fifteen years old, Elizabeth Lerner was abducted by Walter, a young man who had been abducting and killing teens in his area for some time.  Held captive for nearly six weeks, travelling around Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, she is, for some reason, kept alive while Walter tries to figure out what to do next, where to go, and how to get his life in order. We know she survives, as she is telling the story, but we don't know the details.  Fast-forward 22 years, and Elizabeth has become Eliza Benedict, mother to Albie and Iso, recently moved back to the States after years living in England because of her husband’s job. And she’s really trying to fit into her new life, new neighbourhood, and bright future.  Unfortunately, with Walter on Death Row awaiting execution. her past is about to intrude on her measured life and bring her back to those days, and she will have to learn to face up to her past before she can move on with her future. This is a novel about the decisions we make and the ways we learn to deal with their outcomes.  It is about responsibility and blame, and how one act can forever touch not just one life, but the lives of those around us. I’ve read other books by this author, and I have to say that this one struck me as having the most insight into characters that make up the story, while still managing to stay in the genre of psychological suspense.  The narrator, Linda Emond, also did a great job of capturing the characters and the general mood of the novel. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological suspense or domestic fiction, or even “women’s fiction”, as much of the book is about Eliza/Elizabeth coming to terms with her past and realizing the ways in which that has influenced her present, as well as influencing the direction of her future.  One line in the book pretty well sums up the message in this novel, and it goes something like this: “even doing nothing is a choice.”
That’s all for today.  Have a great long weekend, and don’t forget to make time to read!
Bye for now…