Sunday 29 December 2019

Last post for the year...

It’s the last Sunday of 2019 and I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a delicious date bar as I think about the books I read last week and review the past year in books.
I read two books that I purchased for my school library.  Both were Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading nominees.  The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel is the first in the “Order of Black Hollow Lane” series and is nominated for the Silver Birch Award (grades 3-6).   This novel begins with Emmy being torn away from her Connecticut home and shipped off to Wellesworth, a boarding school in England, so that her child psychologist mother can step up her career from author to television series host.  Emmy’s father disappeared on her third birthday and she knows nothing about him, but still, nine years later, she can’t help wondering who he was and why he left. Never one for making close friends, Emmy is surprised when she arrives at her new school to find herself taken in by Jack and Lola, who offer to help her navigate the strange world of English boarding schools.  Before leaving her home, Emmy received a strange letter that may be a clue about her father, and it led to the discovery of a box of medallions hidden in the wall of the attic, which she takes with her to her new home. There she struggles to meet the rigorous academic challenges of Wellesworth while also searching for additional information about her missing father.  What she and her friends discover is a secret society that dates back to before the school was opened, and Emmy must decide if she is willing to risk her own safety and the safety of her new friends to uncover the truth about this society and find out whether her father is somehow connected to it. This was a quick read, a mystery that revealed clues about the secret society while also focusing on the themes of friendship and the struggles of fitting in to a new environment.  It was a good read, and I just discovered that there is a second book in this series due out in March. I will have to put that one on order for my library, too. I think kids will really enjoy this fast-paced mystery.
And I also read The Unteachables by Gordon Korman, nominated for the Red Maple Award (grades 6-8).  This, too, was a quick read, and tells the story of Mr Zachary Kermit, once an outstanding teacher who, at 55, is counting down the days until the end of June, when he qualifies for early retirement from Greenwich Middle School.  When he gets to school on that first day in September, he is told by his principal that, due to a staffing change, he is being assigned to teach SCS-8, or “Self-Contained Special Eighth Grade class”, aka “the Unteachables”. Made up of a group of misfits and losers, this class is a dumping ground for students who don’t fit into the regular classes, those who are just tolerated until they graduate and become the high school’s problem.  This class is made up of seven students: Aldo (anger management issues), Elaine (rhymes with pain), farm boy Parker (dyslexic), Rahim (sleep-deprived artist), Barnstorm (injured jock) and Mateo (sees the world through fictional fantasy worlds). The seventh is Kiana, a “short-timer”, transplanted from LA for a couple of months to live with her father and "stepmonster" while her mother is away on a film shoot, and is not even officially registered with the school.  She ended up in this class accidentally, and never makes a move to leave, figuring she’d be gone before anyone notices that she’s not actually a student at Greenwich. Kermit, a once-rising star in the education system, had his career ruined years earlier by a scandal for which, more than two decades later, his superintendent has not forgiven him. After several weeks of not looking up from his crossword puzzle, an incident sparks Kermit to stand up for one of his students, even if it is only to get the student out of the class for the rest of the day.  This serves to rekindle the love of teaching he once had, and he goes on to become an inspiration to his students, who, it turns out, are not unteachable at all. This heartwarming novel, told from various points of view, is pure Korman, and while not entirely original, follows the formula he has perfected in previous books to produce a funny, inspiring read that is sure to appeal to many middle-school students.  
And now to review my year in books…  If I don’t finish the book I’m reading right now before January 1st, I will have read 55 books this past year and listened to 26 audiobooks.  That is less than last year, but I did go on two trips and host a large family bbq this summer, and I was sick for three weeks just recently, which could account for the lower number for both formats.  Here are my “Best of” lists (in chronological reading order):
Best Adult Books:
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelildes
Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (made the list because I liked it so much better than To Kill a Mockingbird)
The Au Pair by Emma Rous
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
HhHh by Laurent Binet
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
*Home Fires by Kamila Shamsie (on last year’s list)
*The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (on a previous list of best audiobooks)
Best Children’s Books:
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (YA)
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (YA)
Refugee by Alan Gratz (YA)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (YA)
To Look a Nazi in the Eye by Kathy Kacer (YA)
Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolff (YA)
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (YA)
Escape by Linwood Barclay (juv)
Sit by Deborah Ellis (juv)
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (juv)
Best Audiobooks:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (YA)
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
Give Me the Child by Melanie McGrath
Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan
Blackhouse by Peter May
See… last week I promised a longer, more comprehensive post, and I think I delivered this morning!  That’s all for today. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year, one that is filled with good friends, good experiences, and many good books!
Bye for now…

Sunday 22 December 2019

Pre-Christmas post...

I’ve been baking up a storm of gluten-free gingerbread cookies this morning (from a mix, but made with beans!), so I’m feeling tired out and not really in the mood to blog, but I have too much to do in the next couple of days in preparation for Christmas to put it off for another day.  So, fortified with a delicious cup of steeped chai tea, a yummy date bar, and a few gingerbread cookies, I’m all set to write a quick post, with the promise of a more lengthy, well-written and comprehensive post next week.
After reading Big Brother, I was in the mood for a good mystery so I pulled a paperback off my shelf and began reading The Red Room by Nicci French.  I have listened to other mysteries by this British husband-and-wife writing team, and I remember that they were a bit quirky but pretty engaging, and this book lived up to my expectations.  Kit Quinn is a criminal psychologist who works with many unsavoury characters as part of her job. This novel opens with her interview of Michael Doll, a suspicious character who has been loitering outside a schoolyard.  During the interview, he attacks her and slashes her face with a broken coffee mug. Three months later, she is back on the job after recovering from her injuries, although she is still plagued by nightmares of being trapped in a red room (hence the title).  She is called in by the police to assess Doll in relation to the murder of a young woman near the canal. During her investigation, she considers other crimes that have recently been committed in and around the area and suspects that they may be linked. The detectives on the case don’t necessarily agree with her, and are not always supportive, and the remainder of the novel shifts between Quinn acting on her own and the police following her advice.  While this novel didn’t “wow” me, the plot, characters, and conclusion were complex and satisfying enough to keep me reading to the very last page.  
Now I have a dilemma.  I am not interested in reading the book I have from the library, so I have to find something else to keep me busy over the holidays.  I’m not sure what kind of reading mood I’m in, but I want to pick something soon so I don’t waste too much of the glorious reading time I have, since I am off work for the next two weeks.
That’s all for today.  Have a Merry Christmas!  I hope you all get at least one good book as a gift!
Bye for now…

Thursday 12 December 2019

Long-overdue post...

This will be a short post; actually I'll be reusing a post from November 2014, as I've been knocked out with chicken pox these past three weeks, and have had no energy to read or post until very recently.

I read Big Brother by Lionel Shriver this week, and it was as good as I remember it being from past readings.  Here is what I said about it last time:
This novel follows successful Iowa entrepreneur Pandora Halfdanarson as she tries to deal with the extended visit of her brother Edison Appaloosa, a washed-up New York jazz pianist who never quite made it big.  Pandora’s current family is made up of husband Fletcher, a specialty furniture maker who has filled the basement with unsold pieces, teen-aged stepson Tanner, who hates school and wants to quit in order to write screenplays, and stepdaughter Cody, a shy girl who wants to please everyone.  When Edison shows up at the Iowa airport, Pandora doesn’t recognize the morbidly obese man being pushed along in a wheelchair by airline staff as her brother, a man she has idolized all her life, remembering him as cool, slick, and attractive.  Four years later, he has become an object of public ridicule and Pandora is put in a position that threatens her own family as she must decide how to help her brother before it is too late and he eats himself to death...  This book is about relationships, and how we deal with those we love; it is about responsibility, and how we offer support to them, while also taking responsibility for ourselves.  It is also about dealing with those we do not love, but whose presence in our lives we cannot truly escape.  It is about mid-life crisis, and realizing that this is “as good as it gets”.  We discussed Fletcher, his obsession with cycling and fitness, and determined that, at age 47, he was doing exactly what any other man of that age would do; in fact several of our husbands were doing these same things, though not to the lengths Fletcher was taking them...  (My book group) also talked about the way Shriver describes society’s values, and how we make snap judgments of others based on first appearances, particularly regarding weight.  When Pandora first weighs herself before they start their liquid diet, she responds with amazement and denial.  Shriver writes:  “(T)he weigh-in was now subject to the most ruthless of interpretations.  I believed – and could not understand why I believed this, since I didn’t believe it – that the number on the dial was a verdict on my very character.  It appraised whether I was strong, whether I was self-possessed, whether I was someone anyone else would conceivably wish to be” (p. 230).  Due to her successful business, Baby Monotonous, Pandora is often asked to give interviews and pose for photo shoots, something she grudgingly endures.  These experiences incite her to consider herself as someone others see, making the reader, too, consider this.  How often do we look in the mirror every day, but not really see ourselves as others would see us?  I think it is healthy to get on with life without obsessing about how we look to others, but I suppose it is also good to take a step back and get outside ourselves sometime and assess who and what we are to other people.  Oh boy, there are soooo many things in this book to discuss, but I must stop now or I’ll be at the computer all day...  In closing, Shriver’s brutal honesty will make readers look inward and explore their own character while hoping for the best for Pandora, Edison, Fletcher, and the other characters who populate the pages of this outstanding, thought-provoking novel. 

This is an accurate description of my reading experience this time around as well, and I would highly recommend this book to any reader.

That's all for today.  Stay warm and keep reading!

Bye for now...