Sunday 31 March 2019

Book talk on a snowy morning... YIKES!

Yes, there’s a mountain of the fluffy white stuff outside this morning, despite the heavy rains yesterday that washed away all the old snow.  I’m sure this will be short-lived, as it is supposed to be sunny and mild over the next few days, with the temperatures reaching 11 degrees on Wednesday.  I guess I’ll have to pull out my boots again to go for a walk this afternoon. For now, I’m enjoying my steaming cup of chai tea and delicious Date Bar - yum!
I read Just Like Family by Kate Hilton last week.  This was a book that I saw in a bookstore when I was in Toronto over the March Break that looked interesting enough to read, but not interesting enough to buy, and I’m glad I chose to borrow instead of purchase.  Set mainly in Toronto, it tells the story of Avery Graham, a forty-something woman whose life seems to be running along smoothly, until suddenly it is not. As Chief of Staff to Mayor Peter Haines, Avery’s days are filled with meetings and calls, and she rarely has time to see her long-time partner Matt, but she’s ok with this arrangement.  She loves the demands of her job and the hustle and bustle of her busy life. But when Matt proposes, Avery is forced to look at her life more closely and contemplate what a lifetime commitment to him might mean and how it might impact her present circumstances, including her relationship with Peter, for whom she works and to whom she has been devoted since childhood.  And just when she needs their support, she realizes that her long-time friendships with the two women who matter most to her have fallen by the wayside due to her recent lifestyle choices. How will she resolve her dilemma and make a choice that will satisfy everyone and still make her happy? This novel by Toronto author Hilton was a good domestic novel, a “women’s” book that dealt with the difficulties of juggling a career and home life and finding a balance that will work in the short-term and also be the right choice in the long-term.  It demonstrated strong writing skills, and some of the imagery was dead-on. I almost hate to criticize, because it was a good novel, but I found it a bit clichéd, and I had difficulty relating to Avery. However, this novel got really strong reviews, and Hilton is a bestselling author, so if you are in the mood for a domestic novel that explores the lifestyle and choices of one woman, you could do worse than this. (I’m just now thinking that maybe I didn’t love it because I don’t normally read these types of novels, but I LOVED The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier, and it is a similar type of novel).
That’s all for today.  Get outside, or just stay in and avoid the snow, whatever you decide.  I think I’ll try going for a short-ish walk then get to my next book club selection for next weekend - we are having the author come and speak to us, so I want to really pay attention to the novel and make lots of notes!  Oh, this selection, the Deserters by Pamela Mulloy, is also a novel about women’s choices, and it is amazing!!
Bye for now…

Sunday 24 March 2019

Tea, treats and Young Adult books on a mild spring morning...

The weather has been all over the place recently, mild and rainy one day, sunny and brisk the next, and today is no exception.  It should be mild and partly sunny today, but then getting much colder overnight, so I’ll need to switch from my lighter coat back to my winter coat when I go to work tomorrow morning.  I have tea and a delicious Date Bar, and also a slice of freshly baked Zesty Extra Banana-y Banana Bread as a treat this morning - yum!
I’ll start today with a quick summary of my Friends’ Book Club meeting on Monday.  We all loved The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware.  We loved the characters, the setting, the plot, all of it.  We talked about the role of money in literature and in life, and discussed how it can motivate people to do things they would not normally do.  Someone mentioned The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, about what happens when four siblings expectat a sizeable inheritance, and how this affects their judgement in various situations throughout their lives.  We discussed family, what makes up a family, the role family plays in literature and in life, and what “family” really means. It was a great choice and a successful meeting, and I would recommend this book for any book club.  It’s a gothic mystery, but one with enough substance to keep a discussion going.
I read a Young Adult novel last week, The Lonely Dead by April Henry.  This novel is typical Henry, a young girl is somehow involved in a crime that she alone has the insight and the determination to solve.  In this book, Adele is a high school student who, when not taking her meds, sees dead people. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at age seven, she has been on medication that makes her lethargic and dulls her perception of the world.  At age seventeen, she forgets to take her meds one day and her life becomes so much brighter and clearer, her responses so much quicker. She’s decided to skip her meds, but she can’t tell anyone about her visions or they will deem her mentally ill and possibly lock her away, like they did with her grandmother and her mother.  One night, sneaking out of the apartment she shares with her grandfather, she goes to a party hosted by her former best friend, super-popular Tori, only to get drunk and stumble home alone through the woods later that night. When she comes across Tori in the woods, calling out to her, she is at first confused: why would Tori be out there alone?  Then she realizes Tori is dead, and she implores Adele to help find her killer. But without an alibi, Adele becomes the prime suspect in the murder, and as the evidence against her piles up, she must act fast and find the truth before she ends up in jail for a murder she’s fairly sure she didn’t commit. This novel was OK, not great, but interesting enough to keep me reading right to the end.  I can imagine that it would appeal to the intended audience, intermediate and high school students, and while I don’t think it’s Henry’s best book, you could do worse than this one if you wanted a YA mystery as a quick read.
Speaking of YA mysteries, I’m nearly finished The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert right now, and compared to Henry’s book, it is astounding in its complexity and character development.  Imagine what would happen if Alice in Wonderland went in search of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and you’ve got the basic scenario in this dark modern fairytale-gone-wrong.  Seventeen year old Alice and her mother Ella are on the run from bad luck; they’ve been on the run their whole lives, never staying any one place for long.  Motel rooms, guest rooms, crashing on friends’ couches, this is a way of life for Alice, and she accepts it as a necessity… until Ella meets and marries Harold, and it seems their luck has changed.  Alice gets a job, goes to a posh high school, and actually starts to make some… hmmm… acquaintances (not friends). Then Ella goes missing and Alice must race to find her, wherever she is, and save her from whoever or whatever has abducted her.  Down, down, down the rabbit hole goes Alice, only to discover the truth about herself… and that’s all I can tell you so far. I will finish today, but I have to say that this book is one heck of a rollercoaster ride through fairyland, and I can see why it got such great reviews.  This debut novel tells such a great story that I think I will add it to my YA collection at school, despite the modest use of swear words (I wish she hadn’t used the “f” word - it would make this decision so much easier). Next week I can just mention how I felt about the ending of this book, which two of my colleagues at work have already read; one did not find the ending satisfying, the other thought it was OK, but mentioned that a sequel will be coming out in the fall.  
That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful Sunday, and be sure to make time for tea and reading!
Bye for now…

Sunday 17 March 2019

Books, audiobooks and treats on a GREEN morning...

It’s a Green morning in more ways than one.  Most of our snow has melted so you can see the (mostly brown) grass.  You can also feel that Spring is in the air. And it’s St Patrick’s Day!  I’m celebrating all of these things with a steaming cup of chai tea and a double treat of delicious Date Bar and freshly baked Date Bread… yum!
I finished reading Sophie Hannah’s latest novel, The Next To Die, and it lived up to her reputation for writing smart and sassy psychological thrillers.  This novel, the tenth in the “Spilling CID” series, focuses on a serial killer dubbed “Billy Dead Mates”, because he seems to be killing best friends.  So far four individuals have been murdered, not in pairs but separately, shot in the head in their homes after seemingly inviting the killer inside. Each individual had received a little white handmade book filled with blank pages, except for one line of poetry, shortly before they died.  Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck is in the corridor of the cancer ward in the hospital, waiting for her grandmother to die, when she learns of this and realizes that she also received a little book like this at one of her gigs, but that was at least a year ago. When she discovers another of these books after her grandmother’s death, she goes to the police for help, wondering if she will be the next to die, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a best friend.  If the killer is not targeting best friends, what could the motivation behind these murders be? And is Kim, in fact, going to be the next to die? This psychological thriller, featuring brilliant, quirky Detective Simon Waterhouse and his wife, ex-detective Charlie Zailer, as well as the cast of characters on the Spilling CID team, is characteristically wry and smart, with a plot that twists and turns, and there are plenty of red herrings. I found the ending a bit weak, but otherwise, it was a real page-turner.  I liked that it focused more on the development of the case and the people involved in it, particularly Kim, than on the investigating team and their relationships. I haven’t read all of Hannah’s books, but I think I should start reading this series from the beginning. If you like smart British suspense thrillers, this might be the next book for you!
And I finished my book club book for tomorrow night’s discussion, The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware.  I read this last year and blogged about it.  Here’s what I said about it then:
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Ruth Ware’s latest book… but I think she’s found her niche in gothic novels because this was her best yet!  Borrowing heavily from Daphne Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca, this novel tells the story of Harriet “Hal” Westaway, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was eighteen and who has been trying to make her own way in life for the past three years by taking over her mother’s stall on the pier, reading tarot cards and telling fortunes.  And she almost manages to stay ahead of the game, except that she’s gotten into debt with a loan shark who wants repayment NOW. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the money, so when she gets threatening letters and a visit from an enforcer, she doesn’t quite know where to turn. Then a letter arrives from a solicitor informing her that her grandmother, Mrs Hester Westaway, has passed away and she, Harriet, has been named in the will as a beneficiary to her estate.  She is requested to come up to Trepassen House, the mansion where Mrs Westarway lived, for further instruction. Now Harriet knows her grandmother and grandfather passed away many years before, but fearing for her life has made the idea of pretending to be this woman’s granddaughter very appealing. If only she could wipe out her debt and start fresh, her life would be so different. So, scraping together her last few coins, she boards a train to Cornwall, where she manages to get to the funeral of this woman and to make it out to isolated Trepassen House to find out how she might benefit from this mistake.  What she finds, however, is anything but clear, and as she becomes more deeply embroiled in the family dynamics that make up the Westaway family, she begins to uncover decades’ old family secrets, which lead her to fear for her life in an entirely different way. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll just say that I couldn’t put this book down. It ticked off all the boxes for gothic novels, gloomy, isolated setting, family secrets, ghostly presence, damsel in distress, family curse… you get the idea. But while borrowing heavily from other novels, especially Rebecca, this novel still managed to feel fresh and original, and while the “past” in this book is just in the 1990s, the tone of the writing gives the actions from this period the sepia-soaked atmosphere of some long-ago time, faintly remembered by the living and mostly inhabited by the deceased.  It was suspenseful and complex and atmospheric, and the story, while farfetched, was not beyond the realm of possibility for this genre. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to fans of gothic novels. (it was so interesting, I even went out and bought myself a deck of tarot cards - now I just have to learn to use them!)   
I not only bought tarot cards, I bought a copy of the book!  So I was thrilled when this one was chosen as our next book club book and could just pull it off my shelf.  I still enjoyed it, and was able to follow the plot twists even better this time, as I kind of remembered the twisty ending, though not all the details.  It was awesome, and I’m so curious to hear what others have to say about it.
And I finished listening to an audio edition of what I think is a Young Adult book, As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway, which was pretty good, considering I was expecting an adult novel.  It is told from the point of view of an unnamed high school student who is bland and leads a boring life.  He is singled out by mysterious, exotic new Goth girl Anastasia/Anna Cayne, who changes his life forever. Through postcards, shortwave radio broadcasts, and references to obscure music, films and writers, she brings our narrator to life by encouraging him to take an interest in the things in which she herself is interested.  A week before Valentine’s Day, she goes missing, leaving only her dress and a hole in the ice, and the narrator, along with the reader, are given clues in the form of puzzles to help us find out where she has gone. It was well-narrated and interesting, although a bit over-the-top, but I enjoyed it.  It really made me think about my own experiences as a teenager, and wonder if there was one individual who changed my life. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book, but I found it interesting, so if you like to read books about teenagers finding themselves, teen obsessions, quirky characters, and missing persons, then this might be a good one for you to check out.
That’s all for today.  Happy St Patrick’s Day!  Hmmm… maybe my next book should be by an Irish author!
Bye for now…

Sunday 10 March 2019

Book talk on a short day before a long week off…

Daylight Savings Time begins today, so we lose an hour, but I can’t complain because it’s also the start of March Break, so I’ll be off for a week.  I foresee many opportunities to drink tea and tackle the pile of library books I have waiting for me! But on this mild, rainy morning, I have a steaming cup of chai tea, a delicious Date Bar, and a freshly baked Morning Glory muffin as a treat while I write about the book I read last week.
I read the newest Michael Robotham mystery, The Other Wife, the latest book to feature clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin, and I found it to be just ok.  Joe’s wife passed away in the last book, Charlie is away at school, so he’s doing his best to raise twelve-year-old daughter Emma on his own.  She suffers from anxiety, and with a recent move to London and switch to a new school, life is even more difficult for her to navigate. When Joe’s father, celebrated surgeon William, is admitted to hospital as a victim of a vicious attack, Joe springs into action and races to the hospital, only to discover that the woman sitting by his father’s bedside, claiming to be William’s wife, is not Joe’s mother.  Young, beautiful Olivia Blackmore has been having an affair with William for the past twenty years, and she is convinced that she has as much right to participate in the decision-making surrounding William’s fate as his “real” family members, his wife Mary and his adult children. When this secret life is revealed, everyone denies the reality of it, but in their search for the identity of William’s attacker, they uncover much more than they ever anticipated.  While the police are content to cut corners and accept the obvious and easy solution, Joe continues to dig until all is revealed, changing his perspective of his father, “God’s-personal-surgeon-in-waiting”, forever. I can’t divulge any more details, as part of the drive behind finishing this book is discovering new tidbits along the way. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with the novel. Complex plot and familiar characters aside, it felt to this reader as though Robotham was throwing in every twist he could possibly manage without ensuring that it all made sense or were necessary.  Too many things were left unexplained, and some of the action was totally implausible. (There were also many major typos - not just letters missing, but whole words! - which really irked me and added to my "so-so" response to the book). There were some good parts, don’t get me wrong. It was compelling enough to keep me reading so that I finished it in just four days, but, as with Peter Robinson’s most recent books, this novel, too, left me feeling that perhaps it’s time to give up this series and write something different. I was just looking at some reviews for this novel (most were very positive - was I missing something?!), and it appears that this is, in fact, Rootham’s last “Joseph O’Loughlin” novel. I hope he will undertake some standalones.
That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Because it’s so rainy and tempestuous outside, I’m looking forward to staying in and possibly finishing Sophie Hannah’s new novel, The Next to Die, which I will tell you about next week.  Enjoy the rest of this short day, and keep reading!    
Bye for now…

Sunday 3 March 2019

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

It’s so lovely to see the sun this morning, after the strange, wild weather we had last week.  It’s a perfect morning for a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar - yummy and cozy.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss JoJo Moyes’ runaway bestseller Me Before You.  You are probably already familiar with the plot, having either read the book or seen the movie, but here is a brief summary.  In a small English tourist town, where the main feature is the castle, twenty-seven year old Louisa is quite happy working at a café and continuing in her long-term relationship with personal trainer boyfriend Patrick.  She lives at home with her mom and dad, her granddad, her sister Treena and Treena’s toddle son Thomas. It’s cramped, but it’s home, and she is completely content… until the café closes and she must find another job to help support the family, since her father is always fearful that he may lose his job at the furniture factory.  After several non-starters, she finally takes a job as a carer for the Traynor family, looking after thirty-five year old Will, a quadriplegic who is entirely dependent on others for his daily survival. Two years earlier, Will was living a good life as a high-powered company executive, taking exotic vacations and going on extreme sporting adventures, until he is hit by a motorcyclist on his way to work one day.  Will has given up the desire to live in this reduced state, and has agreed to give his family six more months, but then has booked an appointment at Dignitas, an organization in Switzerland that offers assistance for those who wish to end their lives with dignity. Unbeknownst to her, Louisa is hired to help change Will’s mind by changing his attitude and outlook on life and restoring his will to live.  I’ll say no more, because it is the uncertainty of her success that keeps the story going. I had four members who came out yesterday, and three had read this novel before. It came out in 2012, and since then, Moyes has written two more books following up on this story, which two of my group members have also read. They loved it. They loved Louisa’s character, her quirky family, the situations they found themselves in and the ways they reacted to them.  Everyone thought they seemed very “real”, and they felt that the ways Louisa grew and changed throughout the novel was moving and inspiring. We discussed the title, who was the "me" and who was the "you", and came up with some very interesting interpretations. We talked about Will, but less so than Louisa, and we discussed his family dynamic as well, his mother and father, and his relationship with his sister. We discussed his attitude towards his current situation, and agreed that he wasn’t really making much of an effort to adapt, that he has pretty much given up on things ever improving (and not just physically, but in terms of outlook and mindset).  I am the only one who did not enjoy the book, and am, coincidentally, the only one who focused more on Will than Louisa. I couldn’t help comparing his situation to the true account of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former Editor-in-Chief of French Elle who was stricken with sudden and total paralysis, or a type of stroke known as “locked-in” syndrome, where he could only blink his left eye.  And yet, he still managed to write a memoir of his life before this trauma, as well as what it was like to be “locked-in”. This brief memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was brilliant and moving, an inspiration to live life to the fullest, because everything could change in an instant.  Compared to that, in my opinion, Will was a pathetic character who gave up too easily and too quickly. While reading this book, I had to remind myself that he’s just a fictional character whose main purpose is to change Louisa’s life.  It was a good choice for a book club, and a great discussion, and it forced me to read something I would never have read otherwise.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
Bye for now…