Sunday, 21 April 2019

Books and tea on Easter weekend...

I hope the Easter bunny has been good to you this year and brought you lots of treats!  Alas, I bought a Boston Cream donut from Tim Horton’s yesterday and just as I was about to take a big bite right into the squishy cream part, it fell on the ground chocolate-side down, so I didn’t even get to taste it and had to deposit it straight into the compost bin.  Good thing I planned ahead and bought a yummy Date Bar from City Café to have with my chai tea, always a delicious treat!
On this long weekend, I finished two Juvenile/Young Adult books.  The first is Refugee by Alan Gratz.  I love this Young Adult author, who is best known for his historical fiction set in WWII.  Refugee is a bit different in that it weaves together three stories set in different time periods, focusing on three separate families who are seeking refuge from a life set in areas of political controversy, war and almost-certain death.  Twelve-year-old Josef and his family are trying to escape Germany in 1939 after his father is released from a concentration camp and told that if he remains in Germany, he will be returned to the camp. They obtain passage on a ship heading to Cuba, where they, along with nearly 900 other Jewish passengers, have been guaranteed asylum.  When, in 1994, Fidel Castro announces that anyone who wants to leave Cuba could do so without interference, Isabel and her family join forces with their neighbours and head out onto the Atlantic Ocean in a manmade boat to try to reach Miami before he changes his mind. In 2005 Syria, amid bombing and riots, Mahmoud and his family also try to escape and head for asylum in Germany, where they believed they would be welcomed.  All of these families seek safety, and all face obstacles, take risks and encounter perils as they journey into an uncertain future, a future that they believe must be better than what they leave behind. These stories, all based on real historical events, kept me forging ahead even when I knew I had other things that needed to be done - I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. It had me cheering for these children, forced to grow up too soon and live through things no one of any age should ever have to experience.  This was a moving, heart-wrenching, yet ultimately uplifting and informative novel that I would recommend to readers between the ages of 10 and 100.
Another poignant book I read was Deborah Ellis’ short story collection, Sit.  This Silver Birch Award nominee weaves together stories of different children sitting, sometimes in chairs, sometimes on fences, sometimes on latrines.  One child is in an evacuee camp in Japan after a tsunami, one is working in a furniture factory in Jakarta, one is in prison, one is in a food court with his family, one is sent to a time-out chair by her bullish, domineering mother, one is on an Amish farm working with the community to overcome a tragedy, and there are many others.  This slim volume was so engrossing, so well-written, so moving, and heart-wrenching and touching and literary and… well, the best word I can come up with is “real”, that I think I will have to buy a copy of for myself and maybe add it to my volunteer book club list for next year. Each story offers a snapshot of a situation that explores an emotionally and/or politically significant theme, and each theme begs to be explored further, even as the stories are complete in and of themselves.  I can’t say enough good things about this slim book of stories, and would recommend it to just about any reader. I read it in a couple of hours, but it should really be read slowly, giving time to contemplate each and every situation and theme.
That’s all for today.  Happy Easter and Happy Spring!  
Bye for now…
Julie
PS I almost forgot to mention that next weekend is the big annual CFUW Book Sale in Waterloo at First United Church, so if you are in the area and are in the market for used books, I highly recommend that you make time on Friday or Saturday to check out the huge selection and great deals! http://cfuwkw.org/index.php?page=annual-used-book-sale

And Julie’s Reading Corner is 8 years old this weekend - Happy Birthday!  And it is World Book Day on April 23, as well as Shakespeare’s birthday… so many reasons to read, read, read in April!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Books and tea on a cold, rainy morning...

It was a positively lovely, sunny day yesterday but it’s turned cold and rainy, with the rain not likely to let up all day.  My steaming cup of chai tea, delicious Date Bar and freshly baked Date Bread are welcome treats to keep me warm and cozy on what seems like a good day to stay in and read!
Last week I read The Suspect by Fiona Barton, and it was fabulous!  This is her third book featuring reporter Kate Waters, and I think I enjoyed it nearly as much as her first one, The Widow, which is saying alot because I really, really enjoyed that one!.   On a late-August day, what reporters at The Post call “the silly season”, when not much is happening that is newsworthy, senior reporter Kate Waters is writing celebrity pieces to fill the pages of her newspaper when the story of two missing British girls in Thailand comes across her desk.  The mother of one of the girls, Alex, is concerned because she hasn’t heard from her daughter in a few days, and they had made arrangements to speak the day before so Alex could hear the results of her university applications. Alex’s travelling companion, Rosie, a last-minute stand-in for her best friend Mags, who backed out of the plan, has also not been heard from, and the paper picks up the story to help with the families’ search for their daughters.  What everyone thinks is an innocent case of teens going off on an excursion and forgetting to call home soon ends in tragedy when they turn up dead, seemingly victims of a fire at the guesthouse where they were staying. Kate convinces her boss that they need to go to Bangkok to investigate further to find out what really happened, but what she could not have anticipated was that her eldest son, Jake, who, as far as she and her husband knew, has been working at a turtle conservation site in Phuket for the past two years, turns out to have been present at the guesthouse on the night of the fire.  When he discharges himself from the hospital and flees, Kate becomes more than just “the reporter”, joining the ranks of the other “mothers” who want to find out what happened to their children in Bangkok. Just how involved was Jake, and why did he flee? Told in alternating chapters from the various points of view of Kate (“The Reporter”), Bob Sparkes (“The Detective”) and Alex’s mom, Lesley O’Connor (“The Mother”), this novel unfolds slowly, and we are treated to an insider’s detailed view of these experiences.  Throughout the novel, there are also chapters told from Alex's point of view, detailing the girls' experiences and movements in Thailand, and it is during these chapters that I found myself hoping for a better, simpler outcome, even though I knew the ultimate fate of the girls. This was an edge-of-your-seat read that had me looking at the clock and thinking “just one more chapter” every night before I had to finally close the book and go to bed. I finished it early this morning, and the ending did not disappoint. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys British mystery-thrillers. As a side note, after reading this book, I will never, ever go to Thailand!
That’s all for today.  Stay in, drink tea, and read!
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Book talk on a mild spring morning...

I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar, as well as a slice of freshly baked Extra Banana-y Banana Bread, a zesty loaf with lemon and dried cranberries - yum! I have the patio door open so I can hear the birds chirping, and I have my first load of laundry of the year hanging outside. Spring seems to have arrived in full this weekend, and I intend to take advantage of it!
Yesterday morning my Volunteer Book Group meet to discuss The Deserters by local author Pamela Mulloy.  And as a special treat, Pamela came to our group to talk about her book!  This was our first ever author visit, and I feel confident in saying that it was a complete success.  I read the book last year and here is what I said about it then:
I read a book that was passed on to me by one of my book club members, The Deserters by Canadian author Pamela Mulloy.  This short novel, her debut, tells the story of Eugenie, a middle-aged woman living on a farm in New Brunswick, Dean, a man who fled the US to evade a call for another tour of duty  in Iraq and is hiding out in the woods near the farm, and Eugenie’s husband, Michael, who is away in Spain working as a carpentry apprentice. Eugenie is trying to restore the farmhouse and the land, which she inherited from her grandmother, but it is almost more than she can manage alone.  When Dean offers to help out, she readily accepts, and the two form a bond that only shared hard work and private contemplation can bring about. Eugenie is worried that Michael will not want to come back to Canada, and she fears her marriage is over. Well, she fears it, but may also welcome it.  Michael has his own issues to work out, which the time spent alone in Spain is allowing. And Dean is suffering PTSD after his first tour in Iraq, his sections peppered with flashbacks to his time there as he struggles to piece together his memories from that time. When Eugenie’s sister, Ivy, arrives from Montreal, things get complicated, then Michael returns, and we the readers know that things can’t possibly turn out happily for everyone.  Local author Mulloy did an amazing job with this slim literary novel that feels much longer than its 240 pages. While I could have kept reading and finished it in a day or two, the writing style almost demanded a slow, mindful reading experience that allows the reader to take in every word and consider the mounting complications, the emotional turmoil for the characters, that each shift in their seemingly isolated situations create. It was a wonderful book, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.  I’m adding it to my book club selection list for next year, and am planning to invite the author to come and speak to our group, our first ever author visit!
Well, I did and she did, and what a wonderful discussion it was!  I was quite nervous about this, but Pamela was so wonderful and welcoming, and she fit right into the group.  She began by telling us a bit about herself and her life, and where the idea for the book came from. Interestingly enough, I thought the book was equally about Eugenie and Dean, but the idea for the book originated with her desire to explore the effects of war on soldiers and PTSD, and the relationship and complications with Eugenie came about much later in the planning.  We talked about the names in the book, Eugenie and Michael, Ivy and Dean, and what they meant to the author as well as the way we the readers interpreted them. We discussed the complex and complicated relationships in the novel, between Eugenie and Dean, Eugenie and Michael, Eugenie and Ivy, and the inevitable ending of the story. Pamela shared the ways in which she researched PTSD, and her personal family connection that inspired her to explore this issue.  We discussed why Dean carried around a copy of Homer’s The Iliad, and what Pamela referred to as “the universal and constant narrative of war”.  We discussed the title, and how it could refer to different characters in the novel, deserters from the army, from relationships, from life, from responsibilities.  One member mentioned that, while she understood the internal conflicts and emotions of the characters, she didn’t know what anyone looked like! I’d never really thought about that, but it’s true, there are no descriptions of the characters’ physical attributes, but their internal struggles, as well as the settings, are described in detail.  Pamela said that, for her, the interior of the characters and the settings are more important, but that she didn’t consciously exclude descriptions of her characters, it just never became part of the book. I’m sure we all benefited from this insightful discussion with the author, and I think she also enjoyed hearing the views and opinions of readers who have read her book and thought about it in depth.  It was probably the best meeting we’ll have all year, and once again, I would recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in novels exploring PTSD, complicated relationships, and domestic fiction. Thanks Pamela - you were an awesome guest!
That’s all for today.  Time to get outside and go for a long walk - I may even have to pull out my sandals!  (On Friday, I was wearing boots and gloves!)
Bye for now…
Julie