Sunday 25 August 2019

Tea and treats on a cool, breezy Sunday...

These past few days, it’s definitely felt like autumn is in the air, as the mornings are cool and the evenings are, too.  I love this time of year, with school soon starting (I go back to work tomorrow, so school is starting for me sooner than most!) and the cooler weather tangible in the air.  But it’s also bittersweet, as we say goodbye to summer holidays and trips to the beach. Alas, there will be plenty more warm days, just no more holidays until Christmas. And speaking of Christmas, I recently went to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, which was fabulous.  They had a very extensive Maud Lewis Exhibit, among others, and in the gift shop, I purchased a Maud Lewis Edition Country Christmas Loose Black Tea Blend, which I am trying for the first time this morning. While it’s not Christmas yet, I thought it might be a nice tea to pair with my slice of freshly baked Date Bread, and of course, a delicious Date Bar from City Café.  I fell easily back into the habit of making soup and preparing lunches for the coming work week, and going back to work a week before the students return is a good way to ease back into the routine.  
I read just one book last week, as I was busy trying to squeeze every last moment of enjoyment out of my last week of “freedom”, but it was a good one, and one I knew absolutely nothing about.  I must have read a review of this book and put it on hold from the library, then promptly forgot about it, because when I picked it up and began reading, I didn’t even realize it was from the Young Adult collection.  Keep This to Yourself by Canadian author Tom Ryan is told from the point of view of eighteen-year-old Mac, resident of the picturesque coastal town of Camera Cove, a young man who is planning to head off to university in the fall.  While this should be an inspiring and exciting time for him, he is unable to enjoy the last summer of his childhood because tragedy looms over him. One year earlier, his best friend Connor was murdered, the last of four victims killer by the Catalog Killer, a serial killer assumed to be a drifter who has since left the area, but who remains at large.  Mac connects with his group of friends after graduation, and while everyone else seems excited and filled with anticipation about their future, Mac is unable to get over his loss and move on. When he discovers a note from Connor written on the day he died, Mac is filled with a newfound energy and focuses on finding out who killed his friend. He tries to engage his friends in this search, but is shut down again and again, and told to look to the future, not remain stuck in the past.  He meets Quill, the cousin of one of the victims, and finds both an ally and a love interest. Together they attempt to dig deeper and gather information through various, often pretty creative, means. What Mac discovers in the end is both shocking and chilling, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. This novel was great! It managed to be both riveting and well-written, a real page-turner that ticked all the boxes: it was a murder mystery, by a Canadian author, with diverse characters.  It was also about friendship and small-town life, and it had a love story that was central to the main plot. It’s a shame that the content is too mature for my elementary school, but I will definitely recommend it to the librarians at the high schools in my school board. I would recommend this to readers from high school age on to adulthood.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the fabulous weather on this last Sunday of August!
Bye for now…

Friday 16 August 2019

Friday morning post...

We have a big family BBQ tomorrow and have company staying for the weekend, so I wanted to take advantage of this quiet morning to write a quick post before tackling my list of "things to do" in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities.
Just this morning I finished reading the last few pages of the excellent historical novel HHhH by French author Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor.  “HHhH” stands for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich” or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”, and Reinhard Heydrich is, in fact, the main subject of this novel; readers are told of his questionable beginnings and ultimate rise within the ranks of the Nazis to become the most lethal man in Hitler’s cabinet.  He is considered to be indestructible, until two men, one Czech and one Slovak, are tasked with a mission: to assassinate Heydrich in Prague. Part of the Czech Resistance, these two parachutists, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, must come up with a plan to fulfill their mission in uncertain circumstances, risking their lives in order to change the course of history.  I don’t normally read historical fiction, but someone recommended this book to me and I put in a “suggestion for purchase” with my library to add to their collection. I’m so glad I did this, as it was riveting, a real page-turner that kept me finding extra opportunities to read, despite the busy-ness of my week. It was a roller-coaster ride of a novel, and was not just concerned with the plot at hand, namely the plot to assassinate Heydrich; Binet also offered insight into his struggles as a writer and researcher while working on this book.  Rather than just offering readers a “Forward” stating that, while based on real events, some of the dialogue, action and characters have been created by the author to enhance the story, he inserts his views throughout the novel. And rather than being annoying and disruptive, this actually made the story feel more like it was happening now, not 75 years ago. I can’t praise this debut enough, and if I wasn’t in rather a rush, I would write more about it and the effect it had on me as a reader, but, unfortunately, my list of tasks is not growing any shorter as I sit and type.  
And I listened to an awesome audiobook recently, City of Saints and Thieves, by Natalie C Anderson, narrated by Pascale Arrmand.  I didn’t realize this was a Young Adult novel until after I started listening to it and looked it up to find out a bit more about it.  This novel tells the story of sixteen-year-old Christina, a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo, she and her mother find refuge in Sangui City with the Greyhill family, where they live in relative peace until Christina’s mother is murdered in their home and she runs away, choosing to live on the streets and work with the Goondas rather than take the charity of Mr Greyhill.  Known to the Goondas as “Tiny Girl”, she becomes a master thief, roaming the streets of the city and completing tasks for them in exchange for their protection. But her ultimate goal is to punish Greyhill, whom she is certain killed her mother. When she returns to her former home to retrieve information necessary for her three-part plan to take him down, she is caught by Greyhill’s son Michael, Christina’s friend from her former life, and she must consider whether someone else might actually be responsible for her mother’s murder.  Readers are taken on a thrilling quest that leads us from the dangerous streets of Sangui to the jungles of the Congo in search of the truth. What Christina and Michael discover is brutality, corruption, and finally, the truth about what happened that night in Greyhill’s study. This was a fabulous novel that dealt with several mature subjects with skill and compassion. Although the main characters are in their mid-teens, I think this would appeal to adults of all ages, as the issues are contemporary and, while extremely heavy and depressing at times, the novel is ultimately hopeful.  The narrator did a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life, especially Christina’s friend, Boyboy, a techie nerd who also works with the Goondas. I would definitely recommend this to just about anyone who enjoys a fast-paced thriller set in real-world circumstances.
That’s all for today.  Have a great weekend!
Bye for now…

Sunday 11 August 2019

Books and tea on a warm summer morning...

I went out earlier this morning to pick up my usual treat to take advantage of the rather cool-ish temperatures.   It’s supposed to get quite warm this afternoon and remain so for the next few days, but it’s so much more bearable than the humid days we had a few weeks ago, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining.  I have a cup of steeped chai tea to go with my Date Bar as I think about my book club discussion on Friday and the book I read last week.
My Volunteer group got together to discuss The Storied Life of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  I won’t give a summary here, as I did that in last week’s post, but just a reminder that it is a story of a curmudgeonly bookstore owner who finds love and redemption in the most mysterious ways.  I enjoyed this novel more than I expected, and was impressed with the many clever and insightful turns of phrases that were sprinkled throughout this short novel (I was so impressed that I think I’m going to skim the novel again and highlight  - *gasp!* - all the clever phrases, something I certainly do not condone, ever!!) My ladies all agreed that the book was cute, but not necessarily believable. We thought that Fikry embodied the person we would all secretly like to be, but that we are forced to reign in our curmudgeonly-ness in order to get along in the world.  We all liked Maya’s character, and thought she was super-intelligent and sweet right from the beginning. We noted that all the characters were a bit odd and quirky, including Maya and Fikry’s sister-in-law, Ismay. One member commented that she thought the whole book was like a puzzle, offering pieces here and there, and that you had to really pay attention in order to put them all together.  This comment makes me think that the book actually has more depth than is apparent upon a first reading - maybe I’ll do more than skim it again. They were impressed with the relationship between A J and Amelia, and thought that it was because it was based on friendship that they could make it work. All in all, everyone liked the book, but they didn’t love it, and after a short discussion, people in the group splintered off into smaller groups or pairs to carry on individual conversations.  I have decided to classify this as a “happy/sad” book, and would include on this list A Man Called Ove and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but I think these other two books had more substance and were better-written than Storied LIfe.  Still, it’s short, and I think just about anyone could get something out of it.
And I read The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz last week.  This second installment in the series featuring ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne was ok, but not great, in my opinion.  Hawthorne, who may or may not have pushed a peodophile down a flight of stairs to his death, was fired from Scotland Yard, but he is so brilliant an investigator that he is regularly called back by the Yard as a consultant to help solve cases.  The narrator of the book, a fictional Anthony Horowitz, is hired by Hawthorne to write about his cases, and his publisher signs him on for a three-book deal. Horowitz does not relish this prospect, much preferring to work on the rewrites for the scripts of Foyle’s War, but he reluctantly agrees to write about this current case and becomes caught up in the crime almost against his will.  A successful divorce lawyer, Richard Pryce, is murdered with a very expensive bottle of wine, and the number 182 is painted on wall above him.  The suspects abound: award-winning British-Japanese author Akira Anno, with whom Horowitz has a distinct dislike; client Adrian Lockwood; Mrs Taylor, wife of Gregory Taylor, a college friend of Pryce who was involved in a caving accident resulting in the death of another friend, Charles Richardson; and Richardson’s widow; and many others.  This novel was interesting enough plotwise to keep me wanting to read to find out whodunnit, but it had several flaws, namely that it seemed to be trying too hard to be clever, and also that it seemed to be more about fictional Horowitz’ character grinding axes with everyone, particularly Hawthorne and Anno. There was so much negativity in this book that it was not a pleasure to read, and that negativity overshadowed the plot, the mystery, and the cleverness of the writing.  It was an ok mystery, but not one I would strongly recommend.
That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…

Friday 2 August 2019

Short post before a long weekend…

On this gorgeous summer morning, with little humidity and lots of sun, I wanted to take a few minutes to write a quick post, as we will be going away for the weekend and I will not be able to post at my usual time.  
I finished a book yesterday that we will be discussing at my Volunteer book club meeting next Friday.  The Storied Life of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a short novel that is both moving and thought-provoking, not surprisingly a popular choice for book clubs.  It tells the story of A J Fikry, a curmudgeonly bookstore owner on Alice Island, a fictional small island accessible by ferry from Boston.  He is recently widowed and is slowly sliding into alcoholic oblivion. When one major event and then another occurs in his life, he is forced to make choices that may alter his life significantly.  That’s all I want to say about the plot for now, but will write more about it after my meeting next week. I will say that it was much better than I was anticipating. It was well-written and succinct, a story of love and redemption, an homage to bookstores, readers and the printed word, and Zevin demonstrated a real gift with language, as evident in her many skilled turns of phrases.  It brought to mind a few books I’ve read recently, and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman or The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
And I listened to an audiobook recently, The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.  It tells the story of Chip, a pilot whose is forced to land his plane in the water, killing 39 of the 48 people on board.  He is haunted by these dead souls, and he and his family move away in the hopes that this will be a fresh start. What happens instead is that his family members, a wife and twin daughters, are drawn surreptitiously into a group of citizens in the small town who call themselves herbalists but seem to have a sinister hidden agenda.  And the pilot’s hauntings are becoming worse, not better. Imagine Rosemary’s Baby meeting  The Shining with a dose of The Exorcist, add two narrators, one of them pretty bad, and you’ve got this unfortunate book.  I would not recommend it to anyone.
That’s all for today.  Have a great long weekend!
Bye for now…