Friday 28 August 2020

Post on a "Life is good (and almost normal!)" afternoon...

It’s Friday afternoon, the last weekday off before I return to work, and I’m feeling pretty good.  The weather is less humid than it has been lately, I just picked up some new books from Words Worth Books, my local independent bookstore, and I’ve got a delicious Date Bar to accompany my steaming mug of chai.  I commented a few weeks ago about feeling a lot of “book pressure” because I had so many books from the public library to read, as well as a gigantic stack of books from my school library, and there was so little time to make a dent in either pile.  But as my time off comes to an end, I have to say I’m feeling less pressure and more of a sense of accomplishment, having managed to read four books from school and a number of books from the library.  

One of the books that I just brought back to the library this morning was A Burning, and WOW, what a book that was!  This short debut novel by Megha Majumdar was brief yet powerful, the kind of book that left me reeling, and one that I won't soon forget.  Told by three different narrators, this novel follows the arrest and imprisonment of a young woman in India who is accused of participating in a recent terrorist firebomb train attack.  Jivan has been in contact on Facebook with someone she believes to be a young foreign man, just a friend, but she posts an offhand comment about the government which will alter the course of her life.  Lovely is a hijra, a member of the intersex subculture, a man who wishes to be a woman.  She and her sisters are often called upon to perform blessings at births and weddings, but are otherwise reviled by the rest of the community.  Her true calling, she believes, is to be a famous actress, a rising star in Bollywood.  PT Sir is the shy, nervous phys ed teacher at a posh all-girls’ school, the only male on staff and the one everyone turns to whenever there is a technical problem, but otherwise overlooks.  He inadvertently becomes involved in the political campaigning for the upcoming election, where his ethics are put to the test time and time again.  These three narratives, the voices of characters whose lives intersect in what will become the most momentous of ways, drag readers along as the successes of two reach greater heights while the third sinks deeper and deeper into despair.  The finale was at once heart-wrenching and wholly believable, as the corruption of society and self, along with justification and self-deception, are revealed for all to see.  I could say so much more about this book, how it dealt with themes of greed and class struggles, morals and a willingness to turn a blind eye… it’s all there and so much more, and the brief chapters narrated by these distinct voices, as well as the occasional “interlude” by other random characters, serve to make this novel a roller-coaster ride that was so compelling, I had a hard time putting it down, even though I suspected all would not end well.  It was like watching a train wreck while clasping your hands over your eyes, unable to stop yourself from peeking though your fingers.  It reminded me in style and themes of another book I loved, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. I would highly recommend this to any reader interested in the themes mentioned above.

That’s all for today.  Have a great weekend!

Bye for now…

Sunday 23 August 2020

PS One more junior title...

I must have read A Place Called Perfect the week before last because I know I read three books from my school library collection last week and one of them was Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.  Hmmm… I guess all the days and weeks really are running into one another!  Anyway, quick summary:  Look Both Ways is a novel told in “ten blocks”, from the points of view of ten different students at a nearby school.  These stories vary in content, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, often gross, but they are all interconnected because these are all students in the same neighbourhood, dealing with different experiences in their family life and at school.  All of the characters are black, and some of them face financial challenges, but the author makes them seem so real that I would dare anyone to read these stories and not feel drawn to each and every one of these kids.  This is the first book by Reynolds that I have read, but he is a major juvenile and young adult author, and this book will soon be available as a graphic novel.  

That’s really all for today… I hope you have a good evening!!

Bye for now…

End of summer post...

This is my last week off before I return to work.  I know it’s been a long five-and-a-half months, but believe it or not, I almost feel like I could use an extra week to finish things up.  This is not uncommon at the end of summer break, and of course I’m far more prepared than other years, given that I’ve had all this extra time at home.  I spent a couple of hours this morning finishing up a few tasks that I want to get done before I begin work, like crumbling dried herbs from the garden and cleaning out the fridge.  *Sigh*  It’s a melancholy time, but I’ll do my best to make the most of next week.  

I have three books and an audiobook to tell you about, so I’ll give just a brief summary of each. Last week I read A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan, about a girl named Violet whose family moves to a town called Perfect because her father got a new job.  He is an ophthalmologist and was sought out by the men who run the town, George and Edward Archer.  When they arrive, they are met by these brothers and offered a tea that takes on the flavour of whatever the drinker loves best.  They are then told that they will go blind, but that if they wear the rose-tinted glasses that everyone in the town wears, their vision will be restored.  Everyone loves living in Perfect except Violet, who senses that something weird is going on.  She meets a boy from No Man’s Land, located outside the walls of the town, to whom she feels a connection.  When her father goes missing, she and the boy must work together to try to save him, and the town, before the brothers can go ahead with their evil plan.  This book, while interesting, seemed to take forever to read.  It was well-written, although I felt it borrowed heavily from other classic children’s stories, and the plot moved along at a decent pace, but for some reason I felt that I would never reach the end.  I wanted to read this book because I bought this and the next in the series, The Trouble With Perfect, and I was hoping to be able to recommend them to my junior students.  

I also read a Young Adult book by Sarah Enni, Tell Me Everything.  This novel tells the story of Ivy, a shy artist-type who is beginning to have more intense feelings for her BFF Harrold right before he heads off to what she calls “Smartypants” summer camp.  To fill her time, she discovers an app called VEIL, where local people can post content anonymously.  She checks it all the time, but never posts anything of her own.  When Harold returns from camp and seems more distant, Ivy tries to keep herself busy by identifying some of the posters on the app, and if they are dealing with something difficult, doing something to make them feel better.  While this might seem like a noble idea, things backfire and Ivy must think of a way to fix everything before she loses all the things that mean the most to her.  This was an awesome book!  I thought it dealt with themes of privacy, both on- and off-line, really well, in a way that young people could relate to.  Ivy was into photography as well as other forms of art, and I thought she could be inspirational for students who were also shy creative types.  The story moved at a good pace, but didn’t feel rushed, nor did it drag.  In short, I loved it and will definitely be recommending it to my intermediate students.

And I finally read Kate Di Camillo’s short novel, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about a china bunny named Edward who is owned and loved by a little girl named Abilene.  Edward is very pleased with himself, thinking he is quite fine, much better than other toys.  When on a ship with the Tulane family, Edward is lost and has various adventures, some pleasant, some harsh, until he finally learns to love.  What an amazing story, so sweet, and sad, and ultimately uplifting.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and finally sat down and got through it in a day.  The illustrations in my copy are lovely, too, adding even more depth to the story.

And I finished listening to an audiobook last week by Alafair Burke, All Day and a Night, which is part of the “Ellie Hatcher” series.  I have enjoyed standalones by Burke in the past, but this is the first in this series that I’ve listened to, and it was just ok.  The novel opens with psychotherapist Helen Brunswick wrapping up her last client on a Sunday afternoon.  She is hoping to get home in time to enjoy the Oscars Red Carpet pre-show with her kids, but instead meets with a gruesome end.  When convicted murderer Anthony Amaro receives a letter claiming that this murder is connected to the one for which he was convicted eighteen years ago, the NYPD and Utica police must reopen this case, as well as the other five unsolved murders of prostitutes that they thought Amaro was guilty of but for which he was never tried.  Can Ellie and her partner, along with Ellie’s boyfriend, an assistant district attorney, find out who killed Brunswick and the others before more people end up dead?  Not my favourite book, and probably not a series I’d be inclined to turn to, even in times of audiobook desperation.  But who knows… maybe I haven’t hit that level of desperation yet.

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 16 August 2020

"I can see clearly now..."

This morning I am reminded of that old 1970s song by Johnny Nash, “I Can See Clearly Now” because I’m writing this post wearing my first pair of prescription reading glasses, and what a difference they make!  I truly can “see clearly” now, although the rain is not gone, but has actually just started.  

I read the first book in the “Rockton” series by Kelley Armstrong last week.  You may recall that I recently listened to the fifth book, Alone in the Wild, and was very impressed.  Well, the first book, City of the Lost, did a great job filling in the blanks and setting the stage for that one.  Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a dark secret.  When her current boyfriend is attacked, she is sure her past has come back to haunt her.  Her friend Diana is also being stalked by her abusive ex who refuses to take “no” for an answer.  When Diana discovers a town to which people can disappear and become whoever they want to be, for a price of course, she convinces Casey to join her, and off they go to Rockton. Located far north in the Yukon wilderness, this is a town that no one knows exists, made up mostly of fugitives, but also some criminals buying their way to safety and anonymity.  Casey begins working with Sheriff Eric Dalton, who has plenty of his own baggage and secrets, and Deputy Will Anders. Everyone in the town has secrets, things they prefer to keep from the other residents, but in order to find out who murdered and dismembered three townspeople in just two months, this team must uncover the truth about these residents before more people meet the same fate.  This was a great introduction to the setting for this series, and getting the backstories of the residents will certainly help to understand the rest of the books, which I intend to read and/or listen to...  OK, this is weird… I just turned the tv from the classical station to “Hits of the ‘70s” because of my song reference above, and would you believe, Johnny Nash’s song just started playing!  Of all the songs they could choose, what are the chances that this particular one would come on now? Hmmm... quite a coincidence.  Anyway, back to the book… it did not disappoint, and I am looking forward to enjoying the others in this series in one format or another.  

That’s all for today.  Take care, stay dry, and enjoy the last few weeks of the summer break.

Bye for now…

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Feeling hot, hot, hot once again...

Will this humidity never end?  I’ve been stuck inside the house for the past two days, and today is looking like it’s going to be Day Three…  Good thing I have a stack of books to help me through this!

I hosted a Friends book club meeting here last night, the first time we’ve met since January!  It was hot, but in the shade of the backyard, I think we all found it pretty bearable.  Several members mentioned that this book club meeting marked, for them, a significant step towards a return to “normal”.  We discussed Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  You may be familiar with this novel, as it was adapted into a film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet in 2008, so I’ll offer just a brief summary.  Published in 1961, this novel tells the story of April and Frank Wheeler, a couple in their early 30s who, in the hopeful year of 1955, are utterly disillusioned with their lives, with the house they have on Revolutionary Road, with themselves and with each other.  Almost from the very first page, we see this disillusionment and sadness, and it only gets more complicated as the story progresses.  Frank works at an office where he takes pride in the fact that he can do almost nothing all day and still collect a paycheck.  April, who once dreamed of becoming an actress, is a suburban housewife and mother of two.  Neither wanted the life they have, and they are not doing a great job of “making the best of it”, although to everyone they know, they appear to be the “golden couple”.  When April proposes that they move to France, things seem to get better as they draw closer in their relationship during the exciting planning stages, but when April becomes pregnant with their third child and Frank is offered a promotion, things begin to fall apart again.  Will this be the end of them, or can they figure out a way to recover from their challenging situations and save their failing marriage?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  We agreed that it was well-written, and none of us liked Frank, considering him a smooth-talker who was manipulative and a bit smarmy.  We considered April’s situation, how she was cast in a role she never wanted but from which she couldn’t escape.  One member could relate to these characters as they somewhat mirrored her own parents’ lives.  We discussed the significance of the title, whether it meant that this couple was revolutionary, that the post-war 1950s were revolutionary, or perhaps it referred to the coming women’s revolution in the 1960s.  We decided that one of the themes was the exploration of the truth behind the “American Dream”, that it was really all an illusion.  We discussed how important it was to know yourself, another theme in this novel.  I mentioned that Frank and April didn’t love one another and should never have gotten married and had children, and another member said that this was the case for most couples at any given time, that this was reality and that most people learn to live with it, which was an eye-opening comment because it’s true that we never know what goes on behind closed doors.  It was a good book, a good discussion, and a great opportunity to ease back into “real life” as we learn to live with continued COVID-19 restrictions.  We have even picked a book and set a date for our next meeting, which gives us all something to look forward to and to get working on, as it’s going to take place in just five weeks.  Better get requesting the book and reading it!

That’s all for today.  I hear thunder outside, so I’m hoping for a huge thunderstorm - there’s nothing better than reading inside while a wild storm is happening outdoors.  Take care, stay safe, and keep reading!

Bye for now…