Sunday 25 November 2018

Tea and treats and a frustrated post...

I have a steaming cup of chai, a date bar and a yummy walnut butter tart that a friend brought yesterday from a bakery in Erin, which should put me in a good mood this morning, but I’m a bit frustrated.  I didn’t manage to finish The Handmaid’s Tale in time for the book club meeting, but I’ve read it often enough to be able to discuss it.  I finished it on Wednesday evening, then took up where I left off with the excellent police procedural, Missing, Presumed that I had started the week before but had to put down to read my book club book.  Well, I got about another third of the way through it and now I think I’m going to have to put it down again  to read the book club choice for next Saturday, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  Grrrr… I just want to finish it and be able to enjoy it for more than a couple of days at a time!  And I have another book from the library that I want to read before it becomes due as well, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that.  I guess this is the season for busy-ness and so I’ll have to try harder to make time to read.
We discussed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last Monday night, and I think it was the best book club meeting our group has ever had.  We spent most of our time discussing the book, everyone finished it (or very nearly!), topics in the book led to discussions of our world right now, and we all took part in the discussion, speaking passionately and with conviction, indicating that we’d all thought deeply about the subjects presented in the novel. I’m sure most of you know what this novel is about, even if you haven’t read it but have only watched the fine, visually arresting series adaptation, so I won't offer a summary here.  These are just a few of our discussion highlights. We thought that Atwood, back in the 1980’s, was able to foresee the future very perceptively, particularly regarding the religiosity/religious fervour and the declining birth and fertility rates. We all thought this novel was brilliant and timeless, and that Atwood is a master of words. I was at the big new Indigo the day before our meeting and there on the wall of the store was a huge picture of Margaret Atwood, and beside it was the quotation, “A word after a word after a word is power.”  I wish I’d been able to take a picture of that to show the book club members, as it was perfect for our discussion, the power of words to change things. One member found this book alarming, and said that it was too much like what was happening today. Another member thought we have to enjoy each day until bad things happen. Someone else mentioned that this book shows that there will always be revolution. We concluded that we all need to be aware of what’s going on and to fight to keep our rights. We discussed the ending, and one member wondered if the book would have been better if it had ended before the “Historical Notes”;  I thought that these put the novel into perspective for first-time readers, as it can be somewhat confusing at the beginning to orient yourself, since Atwood provides no information on time or place for the story. We discussed so much more than this, but these are the things I took time to write down. Anyway, it was an awesome choice, and I determined once again that this is truly one of my favourite novels. I would love to read it alongside someone else and discuss it chapter by chapter.
That’s all for today.  Get outside while it’s still clear!
Bye for now…

Sunday 18 November 2018

Tea and treats and the shortest post ever...

This morning I have a steaming cup of chai tea in a new mug I just purchased from the annual Waterloo Pottery Sale, a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, and a delicious Date Bar.  Unfortunately I have no books to talk about! I started reading two books last week but haven’t finished either one… yet.
Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is an excellent British police procedural that follows Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw as she searches for grad student Edith Hind, who went missing over the weekend.  Edith's fiancé, family and friends are frantic to find her, and as Manon and her team know, the longer someone is missing, the more likely the shift from a missing persons’ case to a search for a body. I’ve never read this author before, and don’t remember where I heard about this novel, but I’m so glad I did.  I will finish it next week and tell you more about it then.
And I’m nearly halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which is the book we will be discussing at my Friends Book Club meeting tomorrow night.  I’ve read this book many times before, but I hope I won’t be skimming it just to finish in time for the meeting.  I want to make time to savour every delicious, deceptively simple word and phrase in this wonderful novel, one that I think is her best ever.  More about that one next week, too.
Have a wonderful week, and get outside before it starts snowing... again!
Bye for now…

Sunday 11 November 2018

Tea and treats on a wintry morning...

It’s a chilly, wintry morning.  We even have a bit of snow on the ground, which is actually quite pretty, and with the sun struggling to make an appearance, I think it will be a nice afternoon to go for a long walk.  But for now, I have a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar for a treat as I think about the novel I finished reading last night.
I took a chance and read a Young Adult novel this past week, a new title that was being promoted on my public library website.  Set in small-town Vermont, Broken Things by Lauren Oliver follows Mia and Brynn, two young women who, when they were 13 years old, were accused of murdering their beautiful, willful friend Summer.  Never convicted but shunned by the townspeople and branded “The Monsters of Brickhouse Lane”, Mia has struggled to stay in school and form new friendships, Brynn has been in and out of rehab, and their friend Owen, also implicated in the murder, has been away in Scotland.  Five years later, these three, along with Mia’s new friend Abby and Brynn’s cousin Wade, reunite to try to solve the murder and clear their names. Once upon a time, Brynn, Mia and Summer were obsessed with an old fantasy novel, The Way into Lovelorn by Georgia C Wells, a novel that ended in mid-sentence.  These girls were determined to write a sequel, but their complicated friendship ran the gamut of emotions, from love to hate, pride to envy, happiness to jealousy, and everything in between, driving a wedge between them and making this project a source of rivalry.  When Summer persuaded the others to take their obsession to the next level, Brynn and Mia reluctantly agreed, but this decision led to the tragic death of Summer and devastating consequences for the others. Now, in their race to uncover the truth, Mia and Brynn discover much about themselves and their past, but will the truth be enough to save them and offer a chance for new beginnings?  Told in alternating chapters from Brynn’s and Mia’s points of view, and switching from their 13-year-old selves to the present, this book seemed like exactly the kind of book I would love. This was an ambitious work that had all the elements of my favourite type of novel, an unsolved murder, secrets from the past, as well as a deeply concealed but still-burning love. It even had excerpts from The Way into Lovelorn and the girls’ fanfic effort, Return to Lovelorn. But somehow it fell just short of being amazing.  I can’t put my finger on what the problem was… perhaps it was too long, or maybe it switched back and forth in time or between characters too much, I’m not really sure. There were whole sections when I was totally engrossed in the story and absolutely loved it, then there were times when I wanted to skim and get on with it, but all in all, I thought the plot and characterizations were well done and it was very well-written, the excerpts deftly woven into the text to offer clues about the mystery and hint at the plot twists.  I would recommend this novel for anyone aged 14+.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the fact that it’s not raining!
Bye for now…

Sunday 4 November 2018

Book club hilights on a "long" weekend...

It’s not really a long weekend, but we did get that extra hour by turning our clocks back, so I say we take what we can get and make the most of it!  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar as a treat, even though it’s the middle of the afternoon on a non-rainy Sunday. I met a friend for coffee earlier, so my posting time got delayed a bit.
I met with my Volunteer Book Group yesterday to discuss A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi.  This novel, set in modern-day Afghanistan, opens with a woman, Zeba, mother of four, crouched over the prone body of her husband, Kamal, a hatchet protruding out of the back of his head.  She is wailing and is covered in blood, and it seems obvious that she killed him, but if so, why? She is taken to Chil Mahtab, a women’s prison, where she awaits trial. There, despite her grief and “madness”, she forms relationships with the various women in the prison, including her cellmates, who have either been imprisoned for supposed zina (“sex crimes”), or have chosen to go to prison because it is safer than staying with family, where they will surely be severely punished for dishonouring them.  Zeba’s lawyer, hired by her brother, is Afghan-born, American-raised Yusef, a young man who wants to help one woman fight for justice in a culture filled with injustices towards women.  It is a novel about murder, sisterhood, the search for the truth, and what “truth” really means in different cultures. I selected this book for the list because my members wanted more “international” books, and this one got good reviews and was included on many other book club lists.  The first thing we all said was that we didn’t love this book, that it was too long and rambling, and that there were too many characters, plots and versions of different stories, which made it confusing. We agreed that the main story, that of a woman facing certain death for the murder of her husband, was an interesting one, as it delved deep into the Afghan culture, and particularly the culture in a small village from a young woman’s perspective.  One member said she had no way to predict what was going to happen, and no idea where the story was going, which was confusing at times, but also kept it interesting. Another member said she couldn’t relate to any of the characters or situations, but she thought that it is important for writers to write about these situations and for us to be aware of the circumstances of women in other cultures. Another member said that the characters in this book seemed like “real people”, not just "items on the news".  We all agreed that the prison seemed more like a hotel, a place where the women took care of each other, were fed and were free to spend their days as they pleased, just confined within the prison walls. This was a place where no men intervened, where women could look after each other without interference. Of course, they were all either waiting for trial or sentencing, or were serving their sentences, but otherwise, it seemed like a great place to be! After discussing it further, we decided that the book had to be so long and detailed, so rambling, and include so many characters, to offer a better picture of the village culture, where neighbours all know each other’s business, extended families in a single household are common, and everyone cares for, and gossips about, everyone else.  Near the end of the meeting, one of the members who was first to say she didn’t love the book (she listened to the audio version, so she couldn’t even skim the text!) said that it was a good choice for book club discussion, and everyone agreed that they were glad they read it, as they learned alot about Afghan culture. Whew! What a relief that was, as I’d made this choice knowing absolutely nothing about it.
That’s all for today.  I’m going to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book and stay in for the rest of the afternoon.

Bye for now…