Saturday 25 December 2021

First ever Christmas Day post...

I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted on Christmas Day, likely because in past years I’ve always been busy getting ready to spend time with family out of town.  But this year, I’m staying home while my husband goes on a solo visit to his parents’ place.  Since it is still foggy outside, I thought I should take a break from reading the new Anthony Horowitz mystery and make time to write before the weather clears and I can go for a long walk.  

Last week I was excited to get a copy of Michael Robotham’s latest book from the library.  When You Are Mine is a standalone psychological thriller that explores domestic abuse, toxic friendships, police corruption and organized crime.  Philomena McCarthy, a young detective constable with the London Metropolitan Police, seems to have it all.  She and the love of her life, Henry, have recently bought a house and are soon to be married.  She faces her share of struggles on the job, being a woman in a predominantly male profession, but she’s settling in and has found a few allies.  She also seems to have been successful in hiding her relationship with her estranged father, Edward McCarthy,  a notorious London gangster-turned-shady property developer.  When Phil and her partner Nish respond to a domestic call, they find themselves attempting to rescue Tempe Brown from her abuser, but Tempe insists that everything is fine.  Against advice to let it go, Phil pursues this case, even after being warned off because the abuser is Darren Goodall, a decorated high-ranking police officer who is hailed as a hero for saving lives in a knife attack.  Phil makes it her mission to go after Goodall and save Tempe, but of course things can’t end well and the situation spirals out of control.  Tempe becomes fixated on Phil, taking over her life and upcoming wedding and alienating her from her friends and from Henry.  A reporter is murdered, Goodall’s wife and children are threatened, and Phil is faced with a series of menacing occurrences.  Henry wants her to leave things alone, but Phil persists, and reluctantly calls on her father for help.  I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop here.  I’ll say that this book took me a bit to get into, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down, and spent much of the past week reading.  It wasn’t quite as good as When She Was Good, which I think was my favourite Robotham book after his debut, The Suspect, but it was very complex, the characters were fully developed, there were multiple interesting and intertwining plots, and the main storyline dealing with domestic abuse was handled with knowledge and sensitivity.  I read the author’s note at the end, in which he talked about this issue, so this book was written with purpose and compassion.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers or British mysteries.  I also think that anyone who enjoys novels with unreliable narrators or books about obsessive relationships would enjoy it.

That’s all for today.  I hope you have a Very Merry Christmas!

Bye for now…

Monday 20 December 2021

Post on a Monday afternoon...

I’m off work for two weeks over the holidays, so my schedule is a bit messed up.  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and what remains of my delicious Date Bar (I ate half yesterday) to keep me company as I tell you briefly about the three (yes, three!) books I read last week.

The first book I read was No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen. This middle grade novel is a Forest of Reading Silver Birch nominee, and it was a super-quick read.  Eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman moves with her family from Manhattan to the tiny town of Greenvale, where her parents have purchased a roadside motel, the Jewel Motor Inn.  Her father’s job was downsized and her parents decided that this would be a good way to live cheaply and save money for a few years until they can move back to New York.  There are plenty of things that need fixing up around the motel, and between helping her parents and looking after her two-year-old brother, she doesn't get to have much fun.  Miriam, who is Jewish, eventually makes friends with Kate, the grand-daughter of the couple who run the diner next to the motel.  Kate is Catholic, and in a small town, these religious differences can mean a lot, so Miriam doesn’t share her details with her new friends.  The motel is not doing well, and Miriam, despite missing her old friend and her old life back in New York, doesn’t really want to leave Kate and her grandparents, whom she has been helping with jobs around the diner and has come to care about.  When, by chance, Kate and Miriam come up with an outrageous but brilliant plan to put Greenvale on the map as a tourist destination, their actions call into question whether, in some cases, the end justifies the means, and what role faith plays in some people’s lives.  This book also explores anti-Semitism and racism in our society today, as well as the ways in which we can all work together to build a richer community.  This book was really interesting, as I know almost nothing about the Jewish faith, so it served as a small window into that culture and religion.  It was a quick read, but a good one, and I think many of my students will enjoy it.

Then I read Paula Hawkins’ (The Girl on the Train) latest book, A Slow Burning Fire, which was also a quick read, but only because I couldn’t put it down!  I didn’t love The Girl on the Train, and wasn’t expecting to get sucked into this book, which is why it came as such an unexpected and delightful surprise to find that I just wanted to keep reading every chance I could.  Middle-aged busy-body Miriam goes over to the houseboat moored next to hers to let Daniel, the temporary tenant, know that he’s overstayed his tenancy, only to discover that he has been stabbed to death.  She calls the police and what follows is an investigation into the murder.  Laura is a young woman who may have been the last person to see Daniel alive, aside from his killer, and certainly the last person he’d slept with.  She was seen leaving the houseboat after an altercation on the morning of the murder, and she had blood on her, but that doesn’t make her guilty… or does it?  She’s not the only suspect being considered.  Daniel’s mother, Angela, has been dead for nearly two months, but had been estranged from her sister Carla for more than a decade, ever since Carla’s two-year-old son, Ben, fell to his death under suspicious circumstances on Angela’s watch.  Was it truly an accident, or was Angela or Daniel at fault?  Carla’s husband, Theo, has never forgiven Angela for the death of his son, but was he angry enough to kill Daniel?  And if so, why now?  An onlooker, Irene, Angela's elderly neighbour and recent friend of Laura’s, sees all and begins to piece together the connections between and within these relationships (she’s a bit of a Miss Marple), but will she figure out the truth in time to prevent the wrong person from going to prison?  There are many other crimes in this novel that make up the characters’ backstories, and it was a bit confusing (and not at all believable!), but I found that I really enjoyed it.  It was definitely a “Canadian Tire” book, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need.  

And I finished up this weekend by reading a “Lee Valley” book, Why Birds Sing, by Canadian author Nina Berkhout.  After an onstage catastrophe that stalls her career, thirty-something opera singer Dawn Woodward retreats to her home in Ottawa to heal her injured vocal chords and soothe her wounded pride.  As part of her contract, she is obligated to teach a class at the community college while recuperating.  It is her bad luck to be assigned to a whistling class, something she refuses to take seriously - she can’t even whistle!  She decides that it may be time to start trying for a baby, something she and her husband, Ashfar, have put off in pursuit of their careers.  When Ash tells her that his brother, Tariq, a man she hardly knows, is coming to live with them, her response is frosty, even when she discovers that he has cancer.  Oh, and he’s not coming alone - he’ll be bringing his temperamental parrot, Tulip, with him.  She reluctantly prepares the downstairs for his arrival, and remains disengaged with him, his parrot, and the Warblers, her students in the whistling class, until Tariq and Tulip join the class.  Slowly Dawn begins to form connections with everyone. Accompanying Tariq when he goes for treatments, looking after Tulip when he is away, and trying to organize a performance for the Warblers takes up most of her time, since Ash is away so much, but she must also make time for her mother-in-law, Mina, whom she can never please.  As Tariq’a health declines, her marriage shows signs of trouble and she considers returning to the stage, she is forced to think deeply about what is truly important and how to go about finding it.  This book was also a page-turner, but not in the fast-paced way that Hawkins’ book was, but rather in the “I care about these characters and want to know what happens to them next” kind of way.  It is a short novel that seems longer, a book that asks readers to consider how we determine what is important and whether success is always enough to give our lives meaning.

That’s all for today.  Have a safe and happy holiday!


Bye for now…

Sunday 12 December 2021

Short post on a bright December afternoon...

It’s mid-afternoon on a lovely, mild day, with the sun shining and the squirrels racing and chittering through the bare tree branches.  Thankfully it’s not too mild to enjoy a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar, as well as a slice of freshly baked Date Bread… mmm!  (I just got back from a long walk, so I’ve earned it!)

I was in a book bind last week, as I didn’t want to read the one library book I had checked out and I just didn’t know what I wanted to read next.  So I pulled Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery off my shelf and plunged right in.  This amusing novel takes readers through the gastronomic history of a famous French food critic who, on his deathbed, is trying to determine the identity of that single elusive taste for which he longs but which always slips from his grasp.  Pierre Arthens has made many chefs and restaurants famous and brought many to ruin with his acerbic commentary, both on the job and with his family.  As he lay dying, he searches through his memories, highlighting various points in his life when food played a significant role, hoping to figure out what he’s longing for.  In alternating chapters, we read stories told by various people (and pets!) in Arthens’ life.  Some loved him, some despised him, some felt a kinship with him, and others have more complicated relationships with this difficult, complex man.  Each chapter reveals more about him and the ways he affected those around him.  It was a short book that was both amusing and easy to read, and there were some really insightful moments, but overall, I was rather disappointed.  I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Barbery, and I guess I was expecting more of the same, since Arthens was one of the tenants in the building featured in The Elegance of the Hedgehog - in fact, one of the chapters in Gourmet Rhapsody is written by Renée, the concierge at this building, who is one of the two narrators in the earlier book.  But compared to the philosophical nature of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Gourmet Rhapsody was pretty lightweight.  It was well-written and easy to read, but I guess I was expecting something more akin to her earlier novel.  It was OK, but I will not likely read it again so I can remove it from my shelf and make room for other books.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 5 December 2021

First post for December...

It’s mid-afternoon on the first weekend of December, and I’m starting to feel all the stress that this season always brings.  Good thing I’m taking some time to enjoy a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar as I write this post.  I’ve even got a kitty on my lap (typing with one hand) and the fireplace channel on to help create a relaxing mood.

Yesterday my Volunteer Book Group met to discuss Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.  I’ve never read any books in this series, figuring that they would be too “fluffy” for me, and they are... except sometimes you need a bit of fluff.  This book hit the spot after my last book about the Nazi officer’s wife, and while this is last in the series, I think you can read it without knowing what went on in the main character’s life previously.  Becky Brandon, née Bloomwood, is living in a cottage in the small British village of Leatherby with her husband Luke and daughter Minnie.  Her friend Suze lives nearby and has given Becky a job helping out at the gift shop at Suze’s stately home.  It’s Christmas, a season Becky loves.  But this year things are going to be a bit different.  Becky’s parents have offered their home in nearby Oxshott to her half-sister, Jess, who is coming back from mission work in Chile for a time, and they’ve rented an apartment in a trendy neighbourhood in London.  This means that Becky will have to host Christmas for the first time ever, and she is feeling more than a little panicked about it.  She wants it to be perfect for everyone, but there seems to be some tension between her parents and their best friends.  She also suspects that Jess is having marital problems but can’t pry any details out of her.  There's also the fact that Becky’s former boyfriend and hunky rock star just happens to show up at the gift shop asking for her.  And how will she ever find that perfect gift for Luke when he claims to only want aftershave?  This book was both hilarious and totally unbelievable.  Being a huge shopper myself, I could totally empathize with Becky, although she takes shopping to a whole other level!  There was a passage I love near the beginning of the book when she is talking about going to London to do her Christmas shopping and she talks about how much she’s missed it, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the whole shopping experience.  She says: ”I mean, I’ve shopped online, obviously.  But that’s a whole different activity.  In fact, they should invent a different word for it.  Online ordering isn’t really shopping, it’s “procuring”.  You procure stuff online.  But you don’t get the buzz of actually stepping into a shop and seeing all the gorgeous stuff, feeling it, stroking it, being seduced by it.”  (p 62-63).  Just yesterday I ordered a new winter coat online and I thought of these exact words.  I wasn’t “seduced” by this coat, I just ordered it out of necessity.  I, too, prefer to be seduced by all that retail stores have to offer.  My book group didn’t spend much time discussing the book, which brought home the very reason that we don’t read many light, fluffy books for book club - there isn’t much to talk about!  We all liked Becky’s spunkiness and ability to stay “up”, even when things look like they aren’t going to work out.  We liked her resourcefulness and her ability to create stories on the spot to cover her activities.  We enjoyed reading about her antics and agreed that this was much like those Christmas movies that are on tv so much over the holidays.  I’ll admit that I shed a tear or two at the emotional ending, and I thought Jess’ idea for environmentally conscious, ethical gifts was brilliant.  All in all, I think it was just the type of book we all needed at this point, and I think it also got us thinking about all the things we still have to do before the “big day”, but still with plenty of time to get everything done.  I’m curious to read the first book, and would be happy to read the others, just not too many in succession.  Maybe I’ll see if Confessions of a Shopaholic is available as an audiobook.  

That’s all for today.  Stay warm and have a wonderful Sunday afternoon!

Bye for now…

Sunday 28 November 2021

On the joys of little free libraries...

It’s very early on this chilly Sunday morning.  There is a dusting of snow right now and more is expected to fall throughout the day.  Good thing I have my steaming cup of chai to keep me company as I begin this blog.

I finished reading a book that I found in one of the little free libraries that are everywhere these days.  It is something I would never have sought out in a public library for a couple of reasons.  First, it is non-fiction, which I hardly ever read.  Second, since the public library has so many books, I would probably never have chosen this, instead going for some other book that I thought would be more to my liking.  So it was serendipitous that I was at the right little free library (not one I normally go to) at the right time.  The book in question is The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer.  This memoir tells the story of how one Jewish woman from Vienna survived the Holocaust by becoming a “u-boat”, or a Jew hiding in German society.  Edith was just finishing up her law degree when the violence of Kristallnacht brought home the reality of Hitler’s terror.  She was expelled from the university and sent to work on a farm, then in a factory, and once she returned home, she realized that the only way to survive the growing threat of anti-Semitic laws and widespread hatred of the Jews was to assume a Christian identity and hope this deception was never discovered.  I can’t give away any more details, but let me tell you that this was one of those books that I just could not put down.  The story and the writing style grabbed me immediately and didn’t let go until the very last page, which I turned, hoping for one more chapter.  The conversational tone, as though she were telling her story over a cup of coffee, really made this story accessible.  She wasn’t out to teach a lesson, only to convey her story so others could understand what she and many others went through in order to survive.  I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in WWII history and memoirs, especially women’s stories.  

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 21 November 2021

A very short post on a very November day...

I love November.  I love seeing the bare branches with just a few brightly coloured leaves still clinging to them.  I love that you can see the cardinals flitting around in the bare bushes.  I love the crispness of the air and the way this always makes me feel invigorated.  I love that we change the clocks back to regular time so the mornings are brighter. I love that there are often days in November when the weather is perfect for reading.

Alas, I did not have time to read this past week, as I was hosting a Scholastic Book Fair in my library and had two Family Night events, as well as a Friends Book Club meeting on Monday.  I look forward to this coming week, when things will hopefully get a bit more back to normal.

I thought I would quickly talk about Tana French, as I am re-listening to one of her books, The Trespasser, as an audiobook.  I love her books in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, as well as her standalone novel, The Witch Elm.  Her “Murder Squad” books take place in, you guessed it, Dublin! where an elite squad of detectives try to solve complex murders.  These psychological murder mysteries are interesting because they don’t feature the same cast of characters in each book, such as the “Detective Alan Banks” series by Peter Robinson.  Rather, in the first book, In the woods, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox pair up to solve a murder that may be connected to a cold case.  The next book features Cassie and veteran detective Frank Mackey.  The following book focuses on Frank Mackey and follows what I assume is the pattern by introducing another detective with whom Mackey works that will then be the main detective in the next book, and so on and so on.  I find this “chain” pattern to be more interesting than just having the same main character leading the team of police to solve the mysteries, since just as much of the novels I’ve read so far have been taken up with the development of characters and relationships as with the actual criminal investigations.  Her books have won many awards, and I can completely understand why.  They are very complex and “meaty” (to use a non-vegetarian term), so while I have the second book in the series on my shelf upstairs, one I haven’t read yet, I am putting off reading it until I have a good solid chunk of time to really sit and read and appreciate the character development, the psychological aspects of the book, the relationships between characters, and the absorbing writing style.  I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys gritty British mysteries (even though these are Irish) or psychological thrillers.

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 14 November 2021

Post on a cold, rainy November morning...

It’s cold and windy and it’s just started to rain (turning to snow later this afternoon), so it’s a perfect day for writing about books and reading them, too!  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread to help me through this rather miserable fall day.

My Friends Book Club will be meeting virtually (due to rising covid cases) tomorrow night to discuss Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours.  Told from the points of view of Avery Stafford and Rill Foss, this novel tells the story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the horrific practices that went on from the 1930s to the 1950s and the blind eyes that were turned to allow them to continue.  Avery is a young woman whose family is steeped in US politics. Her side of the story is set in present day and begins with her and her father attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies and press conferences in Tennessee.  Her father is ill and she has returned home to help out, while also being groomed to take his place in the US Senate in the event of his decline, despite having a successful law practice in Washington.  Her fiancé is also her childhood friend whose family remains close to the Staffords.  Both mothers are eager to set a date and begin wedding plans, but the couple keep putting things off for one reason or another.  When Avery attends an event with her father at a Retirement Home celebrating a resident’s 100th birthday, an elderly woman approaches and clutches her arm, claiming to recognize her and commenting on her dragonfly bracelet, an heirloom from her grandmother.  This brief interaction marks the beginning of Avery's journey in her quest to find out who the woman is and what her connection might be to her Grandma Judy.  Rill’s story begins in 1939 on a riverboat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi River where she, her three sisters and her brother live with Briny and Queenie, their father and mother.  Queenie is in labour and it is not going well.  When Briny reluctantly takes Queenie to the hospital in Memphis, on the advice of the midwife, some corrupt police officers come and take the children away and deliver them to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, run by Georgina Tann and Mrs Murphy.   Since Rill is twelve years old and the eldest child in the Foss family, she was given responsibility by Briny to take care of her brother and sisters, but she can do nothing to save them from the cruelty, neglect and brutality of the Home.  These children and many others were housed, or should I say “warehoused”, in a network of orphanages in deplorable conditions with the plan to sell them under the guise of adoption to wealthy families, families that were often blackmailed afterwards and forced to pay huge sums to Tann to keep their dirty little secret.  Rill's sections of the book focus on her attempts to save herself and her siblings and return to the Arcadia and to their parents. The two stories eventually came together and, along with the author's note at the back of the book, answered all of this reader's questions. This was an interesting book dealing with a topic I knew nothing about, and it was a real page-turner, as I really wanted to know what happened next and how things ended up for both Rill and Avery.  I may write more about this next week if there are things I want to highlight from our discussion, but I’m guessing everyone in my group enjoyed it.  It really called into question the notion of Nature vs Nurture, and whether children are better off being raised in poverty by biological parents or in relative comfort by adoptive parents.  I would recommend this book if you like reading about these types of stories, especially ones based on real events, or if you have read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train

That’s all for today.  Take care, stay warm, and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 7 November 2021

Quick post on a long-ish weekend...

You’d think that, with the extra hour we got today because of the clocks going back, I’d be more on top of things, but alas, I’ve managed to overbook my hour and now it’s late afternoon on a gorgeously golden day and I’ve still got plenty more to do before I rest., so this will, once again, be a short post.

My Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Yann Martel’s amazing book, Life of Pi, and everyone loved it.  This book tells the story of sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper in India in the 1970s.  When the Patels decide to emigrate to Winnipeg, they board a ship with some of their animals that are being delivered to other zoos, but tragedy strikes and the ship sinks, with Pi being the lone survivor… except for a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger.  Pi must manage his own “zoo” on the small lifeboat and hopefully save himself and as many animals as possible.  His days at sea are both monotonous and adventurous, and packed with details about his survival skills and his interactions with Richard Parker, the tiger who is his constant companion.  This book is about so much more than I can summarize here that I will just say that it was a fabulous reread for me and a real adventure for my book club members who have never read it before.  They commented that it was a “unique story”, that “everything was unexpected”, and that they “didn’t know where (the story) was going from minute to minute”.   They found the characters fascinating, and they wondered how Martel knew so much about the psychology of animals.  It was a book about zoology and theology, politics and human-animal connections.  We discussed the ending at length and, while I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll just say that we all liked the story about Pi and Richard Parker better than the other one.  If you haven’t already read this Booker Prize-winning novel, I would strongly recommend that you give it a try.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the lovely mild fall weather.

Bye for now…

Sunday 31 October 2021

Another quick post...

It’s late afternoon on Halloween and I’ve got a treat for myself, a Date Bar and cup of Mulled Apple Cider, no tricks required.  I will briefly tell you about the books I’ve started over the past week, but that’s as much as I can offer. My friend read my blog post about audiobooks and was intrigued by the description of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, so he read it and loved it.  He asked if I’d read her newest book, The Book of Form and Emptiness and I said no, that I had it but haven’t had time to read it.  I started reading the three library books I picked up last weekend but none of them grabbed me so I thought, what the heck!  I only have four days before I have to start my next book club book, and The Book of Form and Emptiness is nearly 600 pages, but why not start it right now?  So I did… and I was sucked in immediately.  I want to say that, so far, Benny is a less intriguing character than Nao, but the writing and observations and the way things are expressed are so very… Ozecki, that I think I’m going to love it!  Alas, I’m less than a fifth of the way in and now I must wait two weeks until I can continue reading it, as I have two book club meetings back-to-back.  *sigh* But on the plus side, the book my group is discussing next Saturday is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which I’ve read before but I’ve forgotten what a truly wonderful book it is.  I just started it last night, and I was so very impressed with his expressions and his brilliant use of language.  Actually, Ozeki and Martel (at least Life of Pi) are similar in that they use language simply but fully, with expressions that are deeply meaningful.  I think it’s going to be a good reading week.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have a Happy Halloween!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 24 October 2021

Late afternoon post...

Ive got to start thinking about getting ready for work tomorrow, but I wanted to get this post done today instead of waiting until next week (by then I might have forgotten what I read or what it was about!)

I finished Good Mothers Don’t by East Coast author Laura Best.  This is her first novel for adults and it was mostly very good.  Elizabeth McKay is a wife and mother in rural Nova Scotia in 1960.  She has a great husband and two lovely children, so what could be wrong, and why does she behave strangely so often?  Turns out that she has mental health issues that significantly impact her ability to care for her family… and herself.  When things get worse after her father’s death, she is sent to a psychiatric hospital, where she undergoes treatments and therapies to help her “get well”.  Fifteen years later, she is living in a group home and doesn’t remember much about her past, but she hangs on to the five words that are the key to opening the door as she struggles to learn her “truth”.  Told from various points of view and shifting from past to present, this novel explores isolation and connection, mental health issues and treatments in the 1960s, and what it means to be family.  I loved this book until about two thirds of the way through, but found that the ending, at least for me, was a bit flat. I guess I was expecting more, or not necessarily “more”, but maybe “different”.  Anyway, it was a good book, well-written, with believable characters, exploring serious topics, so I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in domestic fiction.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the lovely fall weather and stay dry this coming week!

Bye for now…

Sunday 17 October 2021

All about audiobooks...

I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a freshly-baked Zucchini Apple Muffin keeping me company on this windy, chilly morning, which definitely, finally feels like fall.  Speaking of apples and fall, I finished Liane Moriatry’s Apples Never Fall last weekend and, as I suspected, the ending didn’t WOW me. Oh well...

I’ve been unable to finish a book this week, as I tried a couple different titles that I borrowed from the library that didn’t hold my interest.  So rather than skip posting this week, I thought I could highlight some of the good audiobooks that I’ve listened to recently.  These almost always get neglected in my posts, so audiobooks, this one’s for you!

The first book I want to mention is A Tale for the Time Being by Canadian author Ruth Ozeki, who also narrated. I have to say that this was a phenomenal novel.  It was so good that I ended up buying a print copy and adding it to my book club list for next year.  Told from the point of view of two narrators, this novel spans the globe and takes us to Tokyo, where troubled teen Nao (pronounced “Now”) is contemplating suicide as the only escape from the bullying and loneliness that she is experiencing.  At her parents’ insistence, she spends the summer with her grandmother in a Buddhist temple high in the mountains and begins to find a connection to her past that may help her deal with her present struggles.  She also finds solace in her diary, where she refers to herself as a “time being”.  Travel across the Pacific and we find ourselves on a remote island off of the coast of British Columbia (I think the island was called Desolate), where Ruth, a middle-aged writer, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing these diaries washed up on the shore.  Ruth also struggles with loneliness and a lack of connection, and these diaries give her a project to work on, purpose to her days, and an opportunity to connect with others on the island and across the ocean.  This book is about so much more than what I’ve just written, I know I will never be able to do it justice.  But I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone, as it has a little bit of everything in it, history, romance, Buddhism, even quantum physics! 

Broken Girls by another Canadian author, Simone St James, tells the story of a journalist who uncovers the hidden past and dark secrets of an abandoned boarding school where unwanted girls were sent fifty years before.  I won’t give you a more detailed summary, but let’s just say that it was another interesting, well-written book by St James, with a more complex, darker plot than her previous books.  

Invisible girl is a recent novel by one of my favourite authors, Lisa Jewell.  In this complex, creepy and darkly disturbing book, social misfit Owen Pick lives in his aunt’s spare bedroom.  Across the street lives the Four family, whose teenaged daughter swears that Pick has been following her.  When Saffyre Maddox, a former patient of Roan Four, goes missing, Pick is the most likely suspect, but did he do it, or is someone else responsible for the missing “invisible” girl?  This psychological thriller certainly lived up to, and possibly even surpassed, my expectations.

The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman was a re-read for me, and it was on my “Best Reads of…” list for a reason.  Shifting between past and present, this novel tells the story of five childhood friends and the fateful night in 1979 that changed their lives forever.  I loved this suspenseful psychological coming-of-age novel, which was just as good the second time around.

And speaking of coming-of-age novels, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart also focused on a group of privileged teens who spend their summers on an island privately owned by one of the teens’ family.  But this summer is different for reasons that are slowly revealed throughout the novel.  Something has clearly happened, but what? And who, if anyone, is at fault?  This was another novel that deals with actions and their consequences, and I loved this one, too.

And finally, The Gown by Jennifer Robson (also Canadian) tells the story of Ann Hughes in 1947 post-war Britain, where news about the upcoming marriage between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip is a welcome distraction for a country that is rebuilding after the devastations wrought by the war.  Ann works on the famed wedding gown with French-immigrant Holocaust-survivor Miriam Dassin, who will eventually become a world-renowned artist.  Nearly 70 years later, Toronto journalist Heather Mackenzie comes across an intricately stitched fabric hidden in her recently deceased grandmother’s belongings.  As Heather tries to discover what this fabric, saved specifically for her, is meant to tell her, we are shifted back and forth between past and present as a connection is slowly revealed.  This was another interesting novel that weaves fact and fiction into a most engaging story.  Who knew the story about a gown could be so interesting?!

Hmmm, I see that there are a number of similarities in the storylines summarized above, and I notice that a number of these books are by Canadian authors, which is not a bad thing.  I guess I feel it’s my job to read and/or promote Canadian writers and Canadian literature.  In fact, I’m reading an interesting novel by a Canadian writer right now, Good Mothers Don’t by Laura Best, which I hope to tell you about next week.  

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the crisp fall day!

Bye for now…

Monday 11 October 2021

Short post on a long weekend...

It is warm and sunny this morning, and the leaves on the trees and on the ground are brilliant shades of fall as we enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend.  I’ve got a steaming cup of Pu’Ehr Exotic tea and a delicious date bar to keep me company as I write this short post.

I’m nearly finished Liane Moriarty’s latest book, Apples Never Fall.  I was hoping to finish it last night as I made a large pot of applesauce (see the connection?!), but alas, I didn’t have quite enough time to get to the end.  I thought I could still write about it this morning and finish it later in the day.  This novel looks at the relationships between a newly retired couple and their four children.  At the beginning of the book, Joy Delaney goes missing from the house where she and her husband Stan live and where she raised her family.  She and Stan have recently sold their tennis school and are trying to come to terms with retirement and all the things that go along with that.  They seem to have a happy marriage, but of course, no marriage is perfect and there are usually secrets from the past that have been long-buried but that may come to the surface at the most inopportune times.  Such is the case with this family.  Their four children also have secrets and each has his or her own issues to deal with.  Amy struggles with mental health issues, Troy thinks he can solve anything with money, Logan is the favourite (or is he?), and Brooke has suffered migraines since childhood.  Can they come together and find out where Joy has gone and why?  And does her disappearance have anything to do with the strange young woman who showed up at their door the year before?  Sounds good, right?  I was so looking forward to reading this, but it took me quite some to get into the book, and even then, I’ve only been half-engaged with the characters and their stories.  It’s well-written, as are all Moriarty’s books, but something about this one seems to be missing for me.  Perhaps it’s because it only deals with one family and their problems, and so it lacks the usual complexity and interconnections. Or maybe it’s because so much of the story deals with tennis, about which I know nothing.  Anyway, I don’t think it’s her best book, but maybe the last 95 pages will redeem it in my eyes.  I’ll let you know next week if this happens.

Take care, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!  Hopefully you have much to be thankful for!

Bye for now…

Sunday 3 October 2021

Book club highlights on a dreary October morning...

It’s rainy and humid outside right now, not the kind of weather that makes me feel energized, so if this post seems a bit sluggish, let’s just blame it on the weather!  

I had two book club meetings this past week.  My Friends Book Club met on Monday night to discuss The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This slow-moving exploration into the family dynamics of the Malegard family is set during the catastrophic Paris flooding in January 2018, and it is as much about the City of Light as it is about the family's relationships and secrets.  Paul and Lauren Malegard have invited their two adult children to Paris to celebrate Paul’s 70th birthday and their anniversary.  It is just to be the four of them, no spouses or children.  Planned far in advance, Lauren could never have anticipated the constant rain, the threat of the swelling water levels in the Seine and the disastrous effects this could have on their weekend.  World-famous son Linden has arrived from California, where he lives with his semi-secret boyfriend. Daughter Tilia has come over from Britain, leaving her drunken husband behind.  Paul is also famous around the world for his knowledge and passion for all things trees, while Lauren, an American who met Paul on a European trip with her sister Candice in their early 20s and never left, doesn’t seem to have anything for which she is renowned.  When Paul has a heart attack during their dinner, the family weekend stretches into weeks as the tensions surrounding Paul’s health and the elevating water levels rise.  Family secrets come to the surface as the reader is drawn into the maelstrom of the Malegards.  This was a great book club selection, as everyone enjoyed it for different reasons.  Some of us could relate to the dysfunctional family dynamics in the book, while others recollected trips to Paris and remembered the sights and sounds described by de Rosnay.  We talked about extreme weather and the immediate and long-term effects it can have on both places and people.  It was a short book that seemed longer, and while it was slow-moving, it demanded that readers savour the language, the narrative and the flow of the words and sentences and paragraphs.  It led to a very lively discussion that went off in all directions and explored many aspects of the novel.  I would highly recommend this as a book club selection, and also to anyone interested in reading a novel in which Paris is one of the main characters.

And my Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  Eleanor is a thirty-year-old woman working as an accounting clerk in a small graphic design firm in Glasgow.  She is highly intelligent and socially awkward, and she is clearly a survivor of some kind of traumatic past.  She structures her life around her workdays and her vodka weekends, which drag on interminably until Monday arrives once again.  When she fixates on the singer of a local band as the man whom she will someday marry, she begins to disregard her routines and step outside of her comfort zone, which leads to many unexpected changes in her life, some welcome and some less so.  This novel was also a successful book club selection, as it led to another lively discussion about loneliness, coping mechanisms, the importance of social connections and social networks, and how easily people can slip through the cracks and become invisible.  We discussed the importance of funding further education for children who are in the foster care system.  We pointed out that while this book explored heavy, dark topics, it was also filled with Eleanor’s wry humour and darkly funny commentary and observations.  Everyone loved the book, and I would also recommend this as a book club selection. 

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

Bye for now…

Saturday 25 September 2021

No post this week...

Good morning!  

I wanted to let you know that there will be no post this week, as I will be out walking to raise money for the KWSP Humane Society tomorrow:

A big "thank you" goes out to everyone who helped support this worthwhile fundraiser.  

I will return next weekend with a book club double-hitter.  

Take care, stay warm and keep reading!

Bye for now...

Sunday 19 September 2021

Last post for summer...

It’s a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, the last weekend of summer, and also the day of the Terry Fox Run where I live.  It’s also the day before the election and I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  At least I’ve got a strong cup of chai tea, a delicious date bar and a stack of books to console me if things go sideways.

I finished Lisa Jewell’s latest book last night, The Night She Disappeared, what she calls her “lockdown” book in the Afterward, and it did not disappoint.  One night in June 2017, nineteen year-olds Zach and Tallulah head to the pub in their village for a “date night”. They meet up with some friends and head over to the mansion that is home to Tallulah’s friend, Scarlett, and never make it home.  People in the village believe that they just ran away together, but Tallulah’s mother, Kim, knows this can’t be true because she’s sure they would never leave behind their eleven-month-old son Noah.  Kim refuses to give up searching for her daughter and trying to find out what happened that night.  In September 2018, Shaun and Sophie, the new head teacher and his girlfriend, arrive at the Maypole Academy from South London.  Sophie writes crime novels that “do well in Norway” and while she is meant to be working on a new book, she has been unable to write anything since the move to the countryside.  Having been told about the missing teens by a local woman, when she discovers a handwritten sign on the gatepost leading to the woods outside their cottage saying “Dig here”, she does just that.  What she discovers is enough to start the whole investigation up again with renewed purpose, and Kim encourages Sophie's interest and her keen eye for potential clues and inconsistencies.  I won’t say too much about the rest of the plot because one of the best things about Jewell’s novels is the slow but steady teasing out of details to bring the stories together, eventually coming to satisfying conclusions that answer all the questions without being too contrived.  Her characters are interesting and well-rounded and the style of her writing is conversational, making this reader feel that she’s just been told a really interesting story by a friend.  I particularly liked Sophie, and wondered how much of this character was based on Jewell herself.  Anyway, if you already read her books, you will not be disappointed in this one, and if you aren’t already a fan but enjoy mysteries that almost cross the line into domestic fiction (a bit like Liane Moriarty except gentler and in reverse), then I would highly recommend them.  

That’s all for today.  I want to still enjoy some more outdoor time before the humidity returns tomorrow and then the rain hits next week.  Goodbye summer…

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday 12 September 2021

Late afternoon post...

I’ve been trying to beat the rain today by getting outside in the morning, so this post is later than usual.  I have no tea, but I’m enjoying a couple of treats as I try to get back into my routine.

I had a volunteer book club meeting yesterday.  Our book was Educated by Tara Westover, and it was a huge success.  This memoir tells of Westover's unusual upbringing in an isolated farm on the outskirts of a Mormon town in Idaho.  Her parents, particularly her father, were Mormon extremists focused on preparing for the End Times, and she and her six siblings were denied proper education and professional medical care.  They suffered neglect and abuse, and grew up in an environment of instability, violence and fear.  At sixteen, Tara managed to pass the entrance exam and enrolled in the local Mormon college, and from there, through scholarships and grants, as well as the support of church officials and professors, she went on to receive her BA from Cambridge.  She was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard, then she returned to Cambridge to complete her PhD.  While pursuing her education, she also had to come to terms with her loyalty to family members who opposed everything she was now embracing.  All the members of the book club were fascinated, shocked and horrified by her story, although a couple of us were skeptical about the accuracy of the information.  I wondered at her claims to have had no education before entering college, while another member thought she might have exaggerated the degree of neglect and abuse she experienced, mainly at the hands of her father, but also by her mother and one of her older brothers.  We all liked the conversational tone she used, and were left wondering how she (and her siblings!) survived.  We wondered at times what was true and not true, but understood that this represented her experiences, and that others may have experienced these events differently.  It was a book about the reliability of memory, of truth and experience, and of the will to survive at any cost.  Westover mentions her father’s mental health issues, but we thought she herself was probably bipolar, and the other members of her family likely had mental health issues as well.  At the end of the day, we saw this as the story of a young woman who was brought up in an isolated cult environment and managed to escape and make a life in the “real” world.  It was an excellent book club selection that I would highly recommend to just about anyone

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 5 September 2021

Lazy post on a long weekend...

I’m feeling lazy this weekend, enjoying the last chance to do a whole lot of nothing before school is back in earnest.  Actually, I’ve been pretty busy this weekend already but thought I should try to squeeze in a post this afternoon so that I leave all of tomorrow free to do… whatever. I'm going to try to get back into the weekly posting habit, but with so much great weather coming up, I can't guarantee that I will post faithfully every Sunday.

I read two books since my last post.  The first was a fabulous YA novel that I happened to get in a box of books I’d ordered in June for my school library.  They were delivered to my house a few weeks ago and this one caught my eye, Everything sad is untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri.  Not only is it a great title, but it’s also got a really interesting cover.  So I picked it up and was immediately sucked into this page-turner of a story.  Told in the form of The Thousand and One Nights (which I’ve never read), Iranian refugee Daniel (the main character) is Scheherazade, spinning tales not to her king/husband in order to save her life, but to his middle-school classmates in Oklahoma to help him explain his culture and fit into his new life.  And like Scheherazade, Daniel’s stories left this reader wanting more.  Weaving together myth, legend, memories and harsh reality, this is the story of Daniel’s experiences as he tries to make sense of his old life and make his way in this new environment in which he finds himself.  I can’t do this book justice, so I’ll choose to say little about it, except to highly recommend it to anyone from about ages 11+.  It is part memoir, part story-telling, an exploration into the difference between speaking and listening, and of course an homage to books and reading.  While it is based on Daniel (the author)’s experiences, it is considered fiction, not memoir.  I urge you to run, not walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up a copy of this excellent book today!

And I just finished an intense novel by Megan Abbot, The turnout, which was another page-turner, but in a totally different way.  Sisters Dara and Marie Durant have grown up with ballet.  Their mother was an accomplished ballerina and they, too, have achieved moderate success in this world.  But they have been running the Durant School of Ballet for years, since the death of their parents, and they still live in their childhood house, a huge old building full of cracks and drafts, with Dara’s husband and former ballet dancer Charlie.  There is obvious tension right from the opening pages, and this only grows as Marie moves out and the dynamics of their close-knit group shifts.  When a small fire in one of the studios occurs, Derek, a belligerent contractor, is hired to do some repairs.  But at his urging, Charlie, Dara and Marie agree to undertake more extensive upgrades.  What follows is a steady collapse into chaos and destruction, of the ballet school, the strained relationships between the members of the group, and within these individuals’ psyches.  What a roller coaster ride this was, an archaeological dig into the disturbing secrets of the Durant family, an intimate exploration of the relationships between family members and others who happen, by poor luck, to be involved with this family, as well as a deep-dive into the cutthroat world of ballet.  I have read something else by Abbot, I think it was a look at the world of competitive gymnastics, which was very good, and this one did not disappoint.  I think it helped that I used to take ballet lessons as a young girl, so many of the scenes were familiar, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to understanding and enjoying the book.  This one was more suspenseful than the gymnastics one, more focused on uncovering family secrets than on the actions of the youngsters’ families.  I think I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a detailed, well-researched look at the ballet world, as well as the slow uncovering of a nasty family history - be prepared to feel totally icky by the end!

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the lovely weather, and remember that there’s still another day to this weekend, so try to find time to pick up a good book.  Happy Labour Day!

Bye for now…

Friday 20 August 2021

Three books, one post...

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m quite tired out.  Not only did I have a fair bit of running around to do this morning, it’s also warm and muggy, which I find draining.  But I’ve got a tall, cool glass of water and a bowl of fresh local fruit to re-energize me as I write this rather brief post.

Since my last post, I read a book that was recommended to me by my super-reader friend.  The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting:  Wannsee and the Final Solution by Mark Roseman details the evolution of the treatment of Jews by Hitler and the Nazis before and during WWII, with a focus on the activities that led up to the meeting at Wannsee in January 1942.  This meeting, held in a posh Berlin suburb, was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich and was attended by representatives from all the major Nazi agencies, where together they hashed out the details of what would become known as “the Final Solution”.  Prior to this meeting, there were mass shootings of prisoners and random killings of citizens for no apparent reason, but until this meeting, which, by the way, was not attended by Hilter, there were no actual plans to systematically round Jews up and transport them to concentration camps for extermination. This was very interesting, and it was also, thankfully, brief.  After The Zookeeper’s Wife, this was almost "SS overload".  I had to get this from the library as an inter-library loan, so it might be difficult to access if you are interested in reading it.  Not being a fan of non-fiction, it says something about the quality of the information and the writing that I stuck with it and read it in about five days, so if you are interested in reading more about this subject, this would be a good choice.

Then I read Matters of Hart by Montreal author Marianne Ackerman.  I don’t know how this novel came to be sitting on my personal bookshelves, but I was going through some books that I thought I could give away and this one was in the pile. When I opened it up, I was drawn in immediately and had to keep reading.  Hart Granger is celebrating his fiftieth birthday at a surprise party planned by his ex-wife Sandrine.  She has invited fifty guests from various points in Hart’s life, so not everyone knows everyone else, leading to some awkwardness.  But his sister Amanda is there, along with his mother, Kitty, so things are rolling along fairly well until there is a knock at the door and in walks Neil, the half-brother who was given up for adoption as a baby.  This throws a wrench in the plans and things, for Hart anyway, begin to spiral downward at an increasingly rapid rate.  What follows is a display of adult sibling rivalry taken to the extreme.  At times hilarious, at others heart-wrenching, this novel was what I would call an “undiscovered gem” hidden away on my shelves.  I’m so glad I didn’t just give it away sight unseen, or I would never have discovered this amazing writer.  I’ll definitely check out other books by Ackerman.

And I read a Young Adult book from my school library collection, Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  This novel, told almost exclusively in the form of a screenplay, interspersed with jottings in a notebook, is a courtroom drama that follows the trial of Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old African American boy charged with participating in the plan to rob a neighbourhood drugstore, a robbery which resulted in the shooting death of the owner.  Since Steve is writing the screenplay in his own head, a mechanism he is using to cope with his incarceration, readers are treated to his own thoughts and feelings, his perspective on the trial as well as the words and actions of the others in the courtroom.  This was a book that sucked me right in, one I finished in just two days.  It was powerful and thought-provoking, not obviously tackling the theme of racism in the way that The Hate U Give did, yet that theme is always there, lying just below the surface.  It was a very interesting read, one I will recommend to my Grade Eight teacher as a possible read-aloud.  

That’s all for today.  Stay cool, keep reading and enjoy the last days of August!  

Bye for now…