Sunday 24 February 2019

Books and audiobooks on a weird-weather morning...

It’s wild and windy outside this morning, although the sun has broken through a few times, but we’re expecting high winds and rain, rain, rain all day today… not great for going outside for a long walk, but great day for staying in and reading!
I read two books last week and finished listening to an audiobook, so this might be a long post.  The first book I read, or should I say devoured, was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.  Artist Alicia Berenson is in an institute for the criminally insane after stabbing her husband to death.  For seven years, she has not spoken a word, not even to defend herself or explain her actions. Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber, convinced that he can break through her wall of silence and get her talking, gets hired on at the institute and takes on her case as his personal challenge.  But as he digs deeper, he discovers that her silence is covering up secrets far more complex than he ever imagined. And he must consider whether, ultimately, he really wants the truth revealed. This debut thriller sucked me in right away, and kept me flying through the pages until the very last paragraph.  It was one of the best “unreliable narrator” novels I’ve read in a long time, and the plot twists were so sudden and shocking that I had to stop and think about it all until everything fell into place and I was amazed at the final picture these puzzle pieces created. This would be a great novel for anyone who enjoyed The Silent Wife (ASA Harrison), The Widow (Fiona Barton) or Before I Go To Sleep (S J Watson).
And I read a Young Adult novel, Firegirl, by Tony Abbott.  This novel is narrated by Tom, an unremarkable grade seven student who is pudgy and lacks confidence.  He has few friends, and a huge crush on Courtney, the beautiful, flawless, smart girl in class. Tom does alright and things are fine… until a new student joins his class and his life changes forever.  Jessica suffered severe burns to her face and body and is undergoing treatments in Boston, which is why her family moved to the area. Of course, everyone is uncomfortable around her because she looks different and strange, and on the occasions she speaks, she does so very quietly.  Because Tom lives near her, he is forced to interact with her when, after she misses a day of school for treatments, their teacher asks if he can bring over her homework assignment. What he discovers shakes him to the core, and he tries to reconcile his feelings with what he has always known as his reality.  This book was short but powerful, and it reminded my of R J Palacio’s bestseller Wonder.  I didn’t love Wonder, but I did enjoy this novel, probably because I prefer shorter novels that say alot.  This novel really looked at friendships and connections, and explored the idea that who you are inside is so much more important that what you look like on the outside.  It was a good novel that I would recommend to anyone in grades 5 and up.
And I finished listening to the most recent “Cormoran Strike” novel by Robert Galbraith, Lethal White, and it was awesome!  I won’t go into the plot too much, as the book was pretty long and the plot complex, but it begins with Robin’s wedding to Matthew, and the uncomfortable working relationship she has with Strike afterwards, since Matthew is dead set against her working for him after her recent attack on their last case.  Along comes Billy, a homeless man who clearly has mental health issues but insists that Strike help him discover the truth behind his memories of a strangled girl from his childhood. Strike also receives a request from a cabinet minister to help him discover dirt he can use to fight recent blackmail attempts.  Are these two cases connected? And if so, how? Spanning decades and uncovering loads of family secrets, the investigation reveals more than they could have ever anticipated as Robin and Strike race to find all the answers before someone else dies. It was a great listening experience, and I hope they never change the narrator - they have all been narrated by Robert Glenister so far, and he does an amazing job.  The plot was a bit over-the-top, but the character development for Robin and Strike, as well as the development of their relationship, gave this novel that added dimension that so many detective novels lack. It was also the reason this novel was so very long (20 parts, or more than 22 hours of listening!). I would recommend it to anyone, but you need to have read at least the first book in the series, if not all of them, to fully understand their complex relationship.
That’s all for today.  Oh, today is the start of Freedom To Read Week, and in honour of that, I’m using my “Banned Books” mug for my chai tea this morning!  My favourite banned book is probably Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence, but unfortunately I don't have time to read it this week, as I have a book club meeting on Saturday and have barely begun reading our selection.  Happy FTRW, everyone, and read a banned or challenged book today!

Bye for now…

Sunday 17 February 2019

Book talk on a long winter weekend...

It’s Family Day weekend and I’m enjoying the thought that I have an extra day off tomorrow to do whatever I want, which will surely include not only cleaning the house, but also a few additional hours of reading!  I have a cup of steaming chai tea and a yummy Date Bar in front of me… delicious! I'm using a different mug today, one that I bought up in Owen Sound a few years ago made by one of their local artists, Kate McLaren (  The design is wonderful, but I hardly ever use it for some reason. I ran a Cup and Mug Drive at school for our local Soup Kitchen, so in the past two weeks, I’ve been collecting mugs, sorting mugs, and wrapping mugs, and seemingly doing little else.  I went through the many, many mugs that I have at home to consider which ones I could donate and which ones I absolutely HAD to keep, which made me think about what makes a mug worthy of home shelf space. For me, a mug has to have an appealing design; basically, it has to look good.  I have fairly small hands, so a mug also has to fit well in them, as I often like to cradle my mug in my hands for warmth. The handle has to feel right, too; it can’t be too wide or too narrow, it can’t jut out too far or be too small to fit at least three fingers. And it has to sit right on my bottom lip while I'm sipping;  the ceramic can’t be too thick, but I also don’t like cups that are made of very thin glass, either. So I’m going to test this mug out and see if it passes the “Keep” test… So far, the design is beautiful, a handmade mug depicting a windswept fir tree on a desolate landscape. It is perfectly rounded so it fits well in my hands. It is easy and enjoyable to drink from.  Hmmm… it passes all the tests so far, so I wonder why I never use it. Maybe it is difficult to wash, the final criteria for “the perfect mug”. I guess I’ll find that out when I finish my tea, but so far, I'm having a delightful sipping experience!
Enough about mugs and tea.  Let’s talk about books! I read another Young Adult book last week to check whether it would be appropriate for my library.  Karen McManus’ debut novel One Of Us Is Lying is a high school whodunnit involving characters similar to the cast of the 1980s movie “The Breakfast Club”, and it was awesome!  Five teens are given after-school detentions for bringing cell phones to class, phones that aren’t even theirs. During the detention, one of the the students has a severe allergic reaction and ends up dead.  The other four are suspects, but who could have done this, and why? Told from the points of view of the four suspects, Addy the Beauty, Bronwyn the Brain, Carter the Jock and Nate the Criminal, details about their high school and home life experiences are filled in, as well as their experiences with Simon, their dead classmate, who was anything but an angel.  Simon ran a weekly online gossip column about his fellow classmates, revealing personal and often highly sensitive details about the lives of individuals, making him less than popular and more than a little feared. Police focus their investigation on the four students who were with Simon at the time of his death and seem determined to pin the crime on one of them.  Although they barely know each other, they must learn to work together to find out who the real killer is, while also doing their best to stay off the police radar as much as possible. This book was great for a number of reasons. It was a real whodunnit in the tradition of Agatha Christie (think And Then There Were None) or the game Clue (“Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick”).  It kept this reader guessing until the last chapter. I liked that it was told from various points of view so I felt that I was getting to know each character and experiencing along with them the frustration at the stalled investigation.  It was a bit over-the-top, but not entirely unbelievable, and while I think some of the content was too mature for my students, I would recommend it to anyone from grade 9 up. It was a perfect read for this week because it was really interesting and made me want to read (I had a “snow day” on Tuesday and was totally housebound, so I was happy to spend many hours reading!).  It included a love story for Valentine’s Day, it was also about family for Family Day, and about unexpected friendships. And while most of the story took place between September and November, the final chapter was dated February 16, and I finished the book on February 15, which was a bit of a coincidence. I would recommend this book to adults as well as teens, and would advise that you not be put off by the similarity to “The Breakfast Club”, as I initially was.  While it is a bit of a retelling, it is so very much more!
That’s all for today.  Happy Family Day weekend, and remember to make time to read on your extra day off!  
Bye for now…

Sunday 10 February 2019

Tea and treats on a bright, chilly morning...

Winter has returned, so it’s perfect weather to enjoy a cup of steaming chai and a delicious Date Bar.  I’m happy the weather is once again bright and cold, as I don’t feel we’ve had much of a winter so far (I know I’m in the minority when I express some sadness over that - clearly people were thrilled when Wiarton Willie did not see his shadow last weekend, predicting an early spring!).  I will go out for a long walk when I finish my post, as I just got notification that I have another hold ready to pick up at the library.
I read two books last week.  The first is She Lies in Wait, a debut novel by British author Gytha Lodge.  It must have been recommended in an e-newsletter, and I was quite happy to get it from the library, as I’m always on the lookout for a new mystery writer.  This novel focuses on seven teenagers who go camping one summer evening, but only six return. Thirty years later, a body is discovered in a hideaway that only these teens knew about, so which of them is the guilty one?  Fifteen-year-old Topaz heads out for a night of camping and partying with her best female friends and their older male friends. Reluctantly, her fourteen-year-old sister, Aurora, has to tag along. Brilliant, spacey Aurora is both thrilled to be included in the group and bored with them because she doesn’t fit in.  When she is discovered missing by one of the group at dawn, they search around their campsite but she is nowhere to be found. After an exhaustive and extensive search by police and community, the case is filed away as open but as-yet unsolved. Thirty years later, a body is discovered in the woods and DCI Sheens is heading the investigation.  When it turns out that the body is Aurora, Sheens must go back and check every detail of the original investigation to find out what may have been missed and reinterview everyone to find the truth. Sheens was a new police graduate at the time of the original investigation, and he also knew the teens in the group from school, although he was a bit older, so going back over the original case brings up some long-forgotten personal memories for him as well.  As he and his team dig deeper into the stories of the suspects, they must use every bit of training they received to sort through the lies to get to the truth and find the killer before he or she silences another witness. This appears to be the first in what will be a new series featuring Sheens and his team, and it was a solid police procedural. It wasn’t brilliant, but the writing was good and it had a complex enough, though still credible, plot to keep me interested.  It was much like Peter Robinson’s middle-of-the-road mysteries, not as good as the ones that really “shine”, but still telling a decent story while also developing the characters of the team members and building relationships between them. I’m sure these will be good books, and I will look for more in this series, but, in my opinion, they are not stellar reads like The Widow, which was the debut novel by Fiona Barton (by the way, her now book just came out and I can’t wait to read it!!)
And I read a juvenile thriller by Linwood Barclay, Escape, the follow-up to Silver BIrch nominee, Chase, and it was awesome!  I am not a huge fan of Barclay’s adult thrillers, mainly set in Promise Falls and featuring Dave Harwood, but these two juvenile thrillers were unputdownable!  My post for the first book, which I finished just before New Year’s, read:
...this is his first book written for kids, and it was a good one. Chipper is a genetically modified spy dog who escapes The Institute and certain termination.  Jeff Conway is a twelve-year-old boy living and working at his Aunt Flo’s fishing camp. He misses his dead parents, his old life, and the dog he had to give away when he moved to the camp. When Chipper shows up at the camp, Jeff becomes involved in a most dangerous game that, if lost, could cost both their lives.  This page-turner was well-written, with interesting plot and characters. The only problem was that it was too short - it actually did end with the words “To be continued…”, and there is a second book available, Escape, which I think I need to purchase for my school library, as any student who reads this one will be sure to want to know what happens next!
Well, I found out what happens next, and boy oh boy, what a roller coaster ride! Although Jeff manages to escape with Chipper, where can they go and how will they live? And along the way, we, along with Jeff and Chipper, wonder who they can trust and what they can believe. I was very pleased with this novel and feel that maybe Barclay has found a new niche.  I don’t think there will be a continuation of this story, but maybe he will write other juvenile thrillers with different plots and characters.
That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful day, get outside and enjoy the clear weather, and don’t forget to keep reading!
Bye for now… Julie

Sunday 3 February 2019

Books and treats on a mild, melty winter morning...

The weather has warmed up considerably over the past two days, and now everything is squishy and melting with the mild temperatures.  I don’t love this kind of weather, preferring instead a crisp, cold day, but I realize I’m in the minority and we take what we get. So I plan to make the most of it by going out for a long walk later if the rain holds off.  But for now I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar… mmmmm… (My friend has a blog where she posts weekly, and this week she had a quote that she found on Pintrest that said “Without tea there is only darkness and chaos”... I agree totally!!)
Since Freedom to Read Week is always celebrated in February, my Volunteer Book Group met yesterday to discuss our “banned book”.  This year we chose Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and WOW, what a discussion we had!  In case you are unfamiliar with the plot of this 1950’s novel and have missed both the original film and the remake, here is a brief summary.  Humbert Humbert, a man imprisoned for murder, is penning his story on the advice of his therapist. It begins when he is just a boy in Paris.  During a summer vacation at a beach when he was twelve years old, he fell in love with a young girl, Annabel Leigh, with whom he became obsessed. They make many attempts to explore each other, but their efforts are continually thwarted, and their last attempt occurs in a hidden cove on this beach. He is just at the point of “possessing” his darling when they are interrupted by ribald bathers; four months later, Annabel died of typhus, and poor Humbert grows up with stunted sexual development.  He is only interested in what he refers to as “nymphets”, young girls between approximately the ages of eight and thirteen who display an advanced knowledge of sexual behaviour, perhaps “coquettish” is the word I’m looking for, but even more than playful flirtation, more a sense of sexual maturity and even provocation. He does his best to satisfy himself with youthful-looking prostitutes, and even marries, but his efforts are doomed and he spends several stretches of time in sanatoriums in Europe and Quebec. He ends up traveling to America to fulfil a position with a distant cousin, a tutoring post, but when he arrives, a tragedy has occurred and he must find alternate housing and employment.  He goes to check out a room for rent, and is completely put off by the flirtations of the house’s owner, widow Charlotte Haze. He's decided to head back to Europe when he spies her young daughter, eleven-year-old Dolores, sunbathing in the backyard. He is sure that this is his Annabel returned to him, and, against his better judgement, he takes the room. What happens next are a series of events that lead him to take Dolores/Dolly/Lo/Lolita on a cross-country spree spent in motels and inns while they feign a father-daughter relationship in public and carry on as lovers in private. Remember, though, Lolita is just twelve years old, and Humbert is thirty-seven, and this is not a situation involving two willing and equal partners.  What results is a power struggle as Humbert tries to keep up the facade as well as keeping control of Lolita as she struggles to pretend to be leading a “normal” life for an adolescent. I’ve read this book before and have not enjoyed it in the past, and I did not enjoy it this time either. I found the main character loathsome and the subject matter reprehensible. I was particularly disgusted by the lengthy descriptions, on every page for at least half of the book, of the sexual experiences in which Humbert and Lolita engage, or rather, that Humbert, through master/servant power play, forces her to participate in. I will admit, however, that the language was poetic and it was beautifully written. This book was banned in France and England in the 1950s, as well as in Argentina and New Zealand.  This publicity only helped with the popularity of the novel in the US, and while controversial, it is often named as one of the 100 greatest novels published in the 20th century. There were four of us at the meeting, and two of the members listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons (who played Humbert Humbert in the 1997 remake of the film). They seemed to have a better opinion of the character and the novel as a whole than the two of us who read the print version. They especially appreciated the poetic language Nabokov used. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, the language was more poetic in the first half of the novel, but seemed to deteriorate, like Humbert’s psyche, in the latter half; while still clever, it lacked the poetry of the earlier part. The audiobook members had never read this before, and one didn’t know anything about it, so it was a shock, “a real eye-opener”, for her.  It was a lively and heated discussion, as we all had different opinions on the various aspects of the novel we were able to touch on in the 90-minute period we were together. One of the main themes running through the novel is Humbert’s inability to move beyond his experience with Annabel, and his regular references to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee” - I read the poem aloud to the group, and we all felt that it gave insight into Humbert’s mindset. We felt that, regardless of how we felt about the subject matter, we had to appreciate the cleverness and poetry of the language and the descriptions of deep emotions. One member felt that this novel was “educational”, and we wondered how Nabokov could imagine what a character such as Humbert would be feeling or experiencing (but we had to resist thinking that this was autobiographical!). We discussed the complicity of Lolita, her choices, her options, and what power she held in this relationship.  We thought Lolita was a tragic character, because she lost her childhood, and we wondered if she could ever lead a normal life. We felt that the thing that made Humbert’s actions most reprehensible was the fact that it was not an honest relationship; he never married Lolita and admitted publicly that they were husband and wife, which would have legitimized their sexual relationship. Instead, they pretended to be father and daughter in public and were illicit lovers in private, but neither relationship was real. One member made a comment relating to something that happens later in the novel by pointing out that sometimes marriage isn’t an opportunity to go into something, but to leave something. We discussed and discussed and discussed, and when I finally had to leave because I had to be somewhere, the others were still discussing… I hope I didn’t miss too much! It was an excellent book club selection, and there were so many more things we could have discussed, but I can absolutely see why this book was banned, and continues to be challenged.
On that note, I’ll close with a link to the list of the 100 most banned or challenged books (, in the hopes that you will exercise your freedom to read by picking one up and reading it today!
Bye for now…