Sunday, 2 December 2018

Books, tea and treats on a mild, rainy morning...

With a steaming cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked, still-warm-from-the-oven Date Bread, I’m all set to tell you about two awesome books I read last week.
I finished reading Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, which proved to be much more than your average British police procedural.  This novel follows Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw as she searches for grad student Edith Hind, who went missing over the weekend right before Christmas.  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.  When other crimes are discovered to have occurred around the same time, all leads need to be investigated to discover if these crimes are connected. Complicating matters is the fact that Edith’s parents are wealthy, her father being the chief surgeon to the royals, so they can and do lean on their connections to influence the extent and direction of the investigations.  But investigation into the missing girl, while the backbone of the story, turns out to be just one small part of this amazing novel. Steiner also manages to explore the need for interpersonal connections, the flaws of online dating, long-term relationships and marriage, and the conflicting emotions of a single nearly-40-year-old woman who loves her “singleness”, yet also wants a committed partner.  It is also a literary mystery, with references to the Romantic poets and Shakespeare sprinkled throughout the novel. Oh, it was such a pleasure to be able to savour each paragraph and finally reach an immensely satisfying conclusion. I just checked my library catalogue and it looks like there is a second novel in this series, Persons Unknown, which I will definitely be checking out!
And my Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  Here is what I had to say about this novel in my January 6 2017 post:
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney... is (a novel) that everyone has been reading over the past year - it was even recommended to me by my dentist, and we never talk about books!  If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I generally avoid reading books that “everyone” is reading, but this one was on the Guaranteed Great Reads display at the bookstore - if I didn’t think it was a great read, I could bring it back for a full refund.  Well, I figured that this would be a great opportunity to support a bookstore and try out a book I wouldn’t normally read.  I started it the very same day, and was sucked in immediately! In case you are one of the few people who have not read this runaway bestseller, here’s a quick plot summary:  the four adult siblings in the Plumb family are eagerly waiting to receive their share of the trust fund their father had set up for them decades earlier, which was meant to be a small top-up in their middle age, but which, after his death, grew exponentially to an amount in the millions.  As the date of the trust’s maturity approaches, each sibling contemplates the ways in which the money from "the Nest" will help them out of their financial situations. Then a family crisis occurs involving one of the siblings, which requires using most of the Nest to resolve. The other three siblings are hoping for repayment from their brother, but they know this is unlikely, yet they anxiously plan, scheme and lie in order to obtain a commitment from him.  Somewhere along the way, however, the story becomes less about getting what is theirs and more about rediscovering what is truly important. I’m sorry to be so vague about the plot, but I really don’t want to give anything away, since much of the enjoyment of the story lies in not knowing how things will be resolved. I was amazed that it really was a “great read”, and I nearly threw my receipt away. All four main characters were complex, flawed, interesting and multidimensional; the minor characters were also complex and interesting; the story was timely and illustrated for me the ways in which people continue to live beyond their means, always hoping for that one big break that will fix their financial woes.  The writing was superb, witty and satirical, yet gentle and insightful. Because it detailed the lives and situations of each of the siblings, it was really like getting four novels in one. I was loving this book, and devouring it in enormous chunks. I considered recommending it to friends and colleagues, and maybe even suggesting it as a book club selection for one or both of my book clubs. And then I reached the ending, which was a huge disappointment. Not only was it unrealistic and fairytale-ish, but the author left the reader to imagine nothing about the fates of the characters. I never really thought about how much I appreciate ambiguous endings in books until reaching the end of this one. I don’t need to be told what happens to every one of the characters, including most of the minor ones!  And speaking of minor characters, I was particularly disturbed by the judgmental comments about one of the minor characters who, throughout the book, had seemed to me like the most “normal” one, steady and stable and responsible in the midst of all the “infantile” behaviour of the others. I’m sorry to go on so much about the ending, but it was so disappointing to me that I don’t think I can read this book again, so I will not be recommending it as a selection for either book club. (I’m glad I saved my receipt!) Until the last 50 pages, I would have given this book a 9 out of 10, so please don’t let my feelings about the ending deter you from reading this novel if you were planning to do so - after all, it was the number one most requested book of 2016 at the Toronto Public Library.”

Well, obviously I did decide to read it again.  I thought it would be a good one for us to read right before Christmas because, although it has nothing to do with the holiday season, it is all about family.  I also thought it would be a bit of an easier read than some of the other heavy, depressing, literary selections we’ve recently read or will be reading for next year.  It was an excellent book club selection! There were so many topics to discuss in the novel, like family relations, degrees of dysfunctional relations, what “prosperity” means to different people, how individuals learn to cope based on the ever-changing circumstances that surround them, and how your whole life can change in an instant.  Once again I loved reading about the characters and I loved the style of writing, the wit and sensitivity that existed side-by-side in this novel. And as I was nearing the end of the novel, I wondered whether these last 20-odd pages could possibly hold enough content to ruin the previous 300+ pages of excellence… and I found that I was less bothered by the ending this time than I was in my earlier reading.  In fact, I kind of liked that I didn’t have to read another 100+ pages of extensive detail to find out how everyone was doing, because, let’s face it, it is much less interesting to read about people being happy and everyone getting along than it is to read about tension and difficulty! One of my ladies, who grew up in a dysfunctional family, absolutely loved this book. She had a page written about all the things she admired about it, including the character development, the realistic relationships, the development of even the minor characters, the amazing writing, and thankfully she wasn’t too bothered about the ending, although she also found it a bit unbelievable and a little too pat.  The next person only read the first 50 pages and had to put it down, but after a bit of probing, she revealed that she had grown up in a relatively happy family but has recently been involved in some family disputes of a distressing nature, so perhaps this novel was a bit too raw and real for her. Another member who listened to the book said she couldn’t relate to any of the characters and wasn’t really enjoying it, but that the ending redeemed the book for her. And the last member said she loved this book, that it was the first book out of the last four book club selections that she’s actually enjoyed and finished willingly and enthusiastically.  We had a lively, spirited discussion about so many different topics that I think it was one of the more successful selections in recent months. (Note: By the end of the discussion, the person who didn't read the book decided she wanted to finish it!)
This is a long post, so thanks for sticking with it to the end!  Have a wonderful day and please find time to read!
Bye for now…
Julie

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