Sunday 28 October 2018

Quick post on a cold, wet morning...

It’s chilly and damp this morning, more like mid-November than end of October, but my cup of steaming chai tea is keeping me warm and cozy.  And to make up for no treat last week, this week I have a delicious Date Bar AND a slice of freshly baked Date Bread - yum, yum, yum!!
I am in the middle of my next book club book, A House Without Windows, so I will tell you about that next week after our meeting.  But I have an audiobook I can tell you about, I Let You Go by Clare Macintosh.  Set in Bristol, this psychological thriller opens with five-year-old Jaco walking home from school with his mother. He lets go of her hand and runs across the street toward their house, when he is struck by a passing car and lands on the road, his mother crouched over him screaming in anguish… and then the car reverses and pulls away. The rest of the novel is told from various points of view, and to tell who the narrators are would spoil your reading experience, but I can give you a rather vague summary of the plot.  There is a female narrator who has fled Bristol and ended up in Penfach, a small coastal village in Wales, where she struggles to overcome her grief over the accident and begin to heal. She lives a solitary life, but slowly, slowly, she finds new purpose and even a glimpse of happiness. But of course, that can’t be allowed to happen, and her past sneaks up on her and won’t let go.  There is another main narrative voice, DCI Ray Stevens, who was on the case from the beginning but who, after six months with no leads and no results, is told by his superior officer to drop it and move on. Of course, he and his team can’t do that, and they continue to work on the case on their own time. At the one-year anniversary, they put out another call for information, and this time it yields some results .  Enter yet another narrative voice, this one creepy and insidious, and you get a multilayered story with chilling plot twists that will have you reading breathlessly (but possibly through half-covered eyes!) to the last page. This book was recommended to me by someone a few years ago and I had it written on a scrap of paper that I came across while looking for something else. I put the book on hold and it came in for me, but then as I was looking for new audiobooks, I saw that it was available in that format, so I downloaded it and listened to it right away.  There were two readers, a male and a female, and they did a great job of bringing the story and characters to life, and while I thought the storyline stretched in a few places, it was mostly believable and definitely enjoyable. I found the “creepy” sections extremely creepy, and probably visibly cringed while listening, which I guess means Macintosh did a convincing job of it! Anyway, if you enjoy psychological thrillers with plenty of plot twists, then this may be the book for you.
That’s all for today.  Make a cup of tea and curl up with a good book!
Bye for now…

Sunday 21 October 2018

"Art imitating life" post...

It’s been a chilly, rainy weekend, more like mid-November than mid-October, so I’m especially thankful for my hot cup of chai tea this morning.  I have no treat, as it was just too busy and rainy to get to City Cafe yesterday - maybe I’ll try to pick one up today, if the rain holds off.
I read a non-fiction book this past week, The Real Lolita:  the kidnapping of Sally Horner and the novel that scandalized the world by Sarah Weinman, a new publication that was recently reviewed.  I put it on hold just to have a look at it and possibly recommend it to my volunteer book club ladies, since we are reading Lolita in February.  I ended up reading the entire book, although it wasn’t very long, and found it quite interesting.  It is a true crime book recounting the circumstances surrounding the abduction and 21-month captivity of Sally Horner by Frank LaSalle in 1948 when Sally was just eleven years old.  Posing as an FBI agent, LaSalle managed to trick Sally into accompanying him on a weekend trip to Atlantic City, threatening to turn her in to the police for shoplifting if she didn’t comply.  What follows is a cross-country odyssey as LaSalle tries to stay one step ahead of the police investigators’ searches. That LaSalle was claiming Sally was his daughter while systematically forcing her into having sexual relations with him makes this abduction even more horrific.  Weinman’s argument is that Nabokov based Lolita on this case, a claim he refuted again and again, although he does acknowledge that he researched actual cases while he was writing it.  According to his notes, he was working on the novel well before the case was in the newspaper, so the ideas were already there. That he took some details from the Horner-LaSalle case is likely, as this case is actually mentioned in the novel.  I found it an interesting read because it was written well enough, if you like this kind of book, although it was fairly repetitive and a bit tacky. It shed light on an actual incident where a child was sexually abused by a perfect stranger who eluded capture for nearly two years.  It also served to remind readers of the children in our society who are victims, and who continue to be victimized every day because they are too afraid to speak up, that this victimization becomes their “normal”. And it served to remind readers that the character of Lolita is a victim, a child who is forced into a sexual relationship with her stepfather, and that we should not be seduced by Humbert Humbert’s language into believing that she is a willing participant.  I had issues with this book, though, because I don’t think it really matters whether it was based on a real case or not. What makes the book such a landmark of 20th-century literature is the way Nabokov uses language to tell his story. What I found out about his writing process was that he spent years observing and noting details about American society and culture, especially teen culture, at the time to depict it convincingly. I learned much about Nabokov’s life, his emigration from Russia to Berlin and then to the US, where he lived, taught and wrote until he moved with his wife to Switzerland, so it was a worthwhile read for this information alone. But the basic point of the book, that Nabokov should have acknowledged the influence of Sally Horner’s abduction and captivity more openly and stridently than he was willing, was, in my opinion, unfounded. The fact that he mentions this case specifically in Lolita (which I didn’t remember, but will look for when I read it for our book club meeting), in my opinion, offers sufficient credit.  How much of art is based on life? That’s the real question here. Of course writers and other artists are products of their environments and therefore must use material they know to create their works, whether these are characters, plots and settings in a book or images on a canvas.  But does this diminish the value of the finished product? No so, in my opinion. Clearly, Weinman feels differently. Anyway, I will now be able to read Lolita with a more informed mindset, and I will recommend this to my book club members if they want to find out more about this real case.
That’s all for today.  Get outside before it starts raining again!

Bye for now…

Sunday 14 October 2018

Book club highlights on a bright, sunny morning...

It’s a gorgeous autumn morning, bright and crisp and promising to be a perfect fall day.  Oh how I love this season, with the trees aflame with breathtakingly vivid colour, and even though I know the leaves are dying off, they have never looked more alive, which is exactly how this season makes me feel.  I have a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar to keep me company as I think about our book club meeting yesterday.
We met to discuss Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure, and it seemed to be a hit.  It was recommended by one of the book club members who, unfortunately, was feeling too ill to come out to the meeting.  Set in New York in 1871, this novel tells the story of twelve-year-old Moth Fenwick, a young girl who, from a very young age, learns that her only value is how much she can fetch for her single mother, and her options for making money are few.  She is sold to Mrs Wentworth, who at first seems OK, but turns out to be a thoroughly objectionable character. She is then lured into the home of Miss Everett, a woman who runs an upscale brothel that caters to men of distinction in the community.  We follow her coaching and training, and we meet Dr Sadie, who cares for Everett’s girls and makes sure they are clean and healthy. Moth and Dr Sadie form a bond, but Moth struggles when trying to decide which are the best choices to ensure an independent and happy future for herself.  As most of you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I dislike historical fiction mainly because it is too descriptive. I particularly dislike novels set in New York in the 1800s because there was so much poverty, overcrowding, disease, filth and general unpleasantness, which I find difficult to read because it is thoroughly depressing.  So I was not looking forward to reading this novel at all, but I’m glad I was put in a position where I had no choice. I felt it really shed a light on the plight of women and girls during that period in history, where they had no rights and their only value was in their bodies and what they could offer to men sexually. My book club members also felt that they learned alot about that historical period, although one member said that McKay offered a pretty “sanitized” version of that time period (if this was sanitized, I’d hate to read about the reality!).  We all thought Moth was a street-smart girl who learned very quickly what she needed to do to survive. We discussed the motivations behind the actions and choice of Mrs Wentworth and Miss Everett, as well as Nestor and Mae. We discussed Alice’s innocence, and talked about Moth’s ultimate choice of man at Miss Everett’s house, why she chose him and what motivated this decision. Someone mentioned that the gangs of boys in this novel reminded her of Charles Dickins and also Sherlock Holmes. We discussed how children had to grow up so quickly, and how short life expectancy was at that time.  We discussed poverty in great detail, and talked about how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty, but that sometimes it can happen. We also thought that the author’s personal family connections to this story were interesting and informative. It was a good meeting, and while none of us loved the book, we found it to have value mainly in the information it imparted, often in the (rather annoying!) sidebars.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine!
Bye for now…

Monday 8 October 2018

Thankful post...

I am sitting in my reading chair with a steaming cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread on this dreary, cool, wet Thanksgiving morning, and I’m so thankful for so many things.  I’m thankful for the lovely mug my colleagues and friends at my one school gave me on Friday, which was my last day at that school - I’ll be fulltime at my other school beginning tomorrow. I’m thankful to have access to two great public library systems, where I can take out books for free and have access to technology for special projects .  I’m thankful that I have the time to read. I’m thankful for both of my bookclubs, and for all the wonderful members. And of course, I’m thankful for this extra day off so I can make some headway into my next bookclub book.
I read an interesting Young Adult novel last week.  I must have read a review, because I’ve never heard of this author and it’s not a book I would normally pick up, as it’s set in Florida (I usually only read YA books that are by Canadian authors, are award-winners or nominees, or books that have been made into movies).  The Leading Edge of Now by Marci Lyn Curtis is told from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Grace, a young woman who has been in foster care for the past two years following the death of her father.  She is now in the custody of her uncle Rusty, and trying to come to terms with a sexual assault that occurred at his home shortly before her father’s death, an assault which she has never disclosed, but which she blames on her then-boyfriend and neighbour, Owen, older brother to her then-best-friend Janna.  She has been coping with this by stealing the wallets of men whom she believes are leering at her or giving her unwanted attention. Now she is back in New Harbor and Owen’s and Janna’s family have moved next door, so she is unable to avoid them. She finally confronts Owen but he insists on his innocence, and Grace must consider other suspects, as her uncle had a bunch of workmates over that night to watch a football game, and she was totally out-of-it, as she had taken a sleeping pill to help her get some much-needed rest after an illness.  Owen has his own issues to deal with, and Grace and Janna struggle to regain their friendship after so long apart. These stories all tie in together, with the New Harbor beach as a backdrop. I just read the review from Kirkus, and it’s not great, so I don’t know why I put this on hold, but I enjoyed the book.  I also had to keep in mind that it is meant for readers between the ages of 14-18, and I think it would appeal to that audience.  It deals with difficult subjects in a sensitive and compassionate way, and offers a voice to the many women who do not report sexual assault.  The book was able to bring together various themes, such as guilt, loss, friendship, sexuality and self-confidence, in a mostly-believable story with likeable characters, and it wasn’t too long or too short, it seemed just the right length.  I would recommend this to teens and adults who are looking for a good story featuring a girl overcoming the most difficult of obstacles to gain self-esteem and reclaim her life.
That’s all for today.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Bye for now…