Sunday 30 May 2021

Tea and treats on a chilly morning...

It’s certainly cooled down these past few days, feeling more like autumn than spring.  But after one day of rain and one day of chilly, high winds, today is promising to be calm, bright and refreshing.  I’ve got a cup of steaming chai and a delicious date bar on the coffee table in front of me, and I really can’t think of a better way to start my day.

My “Friends” book club is meeting virtually tomorrow evening to discuss The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley.  This mystery/thriller is set in an exclusive remote hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands, where a group of adults in their mid-thirties who have known each other since their university days are booked to spend three nights spanning New Year’s Eve, but before their stay is over, one of them will be a murderer and one of them will be dead.  This story is told from various points of view, including the gamekeeper, the manager of the lodge, and several of the guests, which can work if done well, but can often lead to too much repetition.  Unfortunately, I felt this was the case here.  And I would say that at least the first third of the book was made up of various members of the party rehashing their pasts with others in the group, these internal monologues that didn’t seem to move the story forward.  Once something actually happened, it picked up, but I wish Foley had taken the writer’s Golden Rule to heart and did more “showing” and less “telling”.  Still, the ending was interesting, and I’m pretty sure it will lead to a good group discussion.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…

Sunday 23 May 2021

Feelin' hot, hot, hot...

It’s been unusually hot these past few days, but it’s cool enough right now to enjoy a steaming cup of chai and a delicious date bar.  The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, I’ve got laundry drying on the clothesline outside, and there’s still one more day left on this long weekend… what could be better than that?!

Last week I read a Young Adult book by Canadian author Heather Smith, The Agony of Bun O'Keefe, and it was an unexpected treat.  This OLA White Pine award-winner tells the story of fourteen-year-old Bernice (Bun) O’Keefe who, after living a sheltered life in a house in the country in Newfoundland with her mentally unstable hoarder mother, is told to “get out”, and so she does.  She makes her way to St John’s, where she befriends Busker Boy, a young Indigenous man with a melodious voice who takes her in and offers her the kind of home, love and protection she never had before. She meets the other renters in the house, Big Eyes, Cher/Chris and Chef, who all take her under their collective wing and try to shield her from any more hurt.  But when danger comes lurking at their door in the form of their loathsome landlord, will their protection be enough to save her? And what, if anything, will be the consequences?  Bun is incredibly naive for her age, having been raised in isolation by her neglectful mother.  She hasn’t been to school since she was six, and her mother, though claiming Bun will be home-schooled, does nothing to undertake any sort of education.  But Bun is also incredibly book-smart, storing all the information and every fact she’s ever learned from books or television, and the awkwardness with which she shares these facts with others make her endearing, not just pitiful.  The success of this book is, at least for me, largely due to the brevity of the details provided, which left this reader plenty of opportunities to fill in the gaps and imagine either the worst- or best-case scenarios.  Bun seems to be on the spectrum, but is this truly the case or was she simply responding to the environment in which she was raised, and can she change if she has a more stable environment surrounded by people with whom she has a loving relationship?  The bonds between the housemates, the diversity of the characters, and the willingness of the adults to take on the responsibility of a youth, something her own mother (and father) neglected to do, made this book both heart-wrenching and heartwarming.  I’m not sure why this book came to my attention at this time, as it’s been around for a number of years.  Perhaps it was on a list of books dealing with mental illness, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Whatever the reason, I’m so glad it did, as it was a quick read, a short book that was still able to tell such a complex, moving story. I would highly recommend this to just about anyone. 

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 16 May 2021

Post on a gorgeous spring morning...

It’s lovely and bright outside, warm but not too warm, and there are lots of birds singing this morning, possibly to celebrate such a perfect day.  I’ve been cooking and baking up a storm this weekend, and I’ve got plenty of gardening to do, as well as trying to fit in a walk, so this will be a short post, as I’ve had a bit of a late start blogging today.

I read a wonderful book last week, The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, by Laura Imai Messina.  Yui is a young woman, a radio talk show host, who lost her three-year-old daughter and her mother in the devastating tsunami of March 2011.  She has been unable to overcome the grief that haunts her every day, and goes through her life like a ghost.  When grief is the topic of one of her shows, she learns of a “wind” phone, a phone booth where people come to speak to their deceased loved ones, and she decides to travel from Tokyo to Bell Gardia to see if this will help.  Along the way, she meets Takeshi, a young man who has lost his wife and whose daughter has stopped speaking since her mother’s death.  Together they complete their first pilgrimage to the phone booth, and thus begins a relationship that may help them both come to terms with their losses and begin living again.  This novel was inspired by a real phone booth in Japan with a disconnected “wind” phone, a place where people can come and speak to their loved ones and hopefully find some kind of comfort.  It was a lovely, gentle story that shows the many faces of grief, the unique ways individuals cope, and the incremental stages, the “baby steps”, that lead to healing and acceptance.  It was also a love story, an exploration into the need for connection with others, despite all the uncertainties.  It spoke of both sadness and joy, despair and hopefulness, and I would highly recommend this heartwarming novel to just about anyone. 

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the wonderful day!

Bye for now…

Sunday 9 May 2021

Mother's Day post...

It’s a bright, sunny, slightly chilly morning as I sip my steaming cup of chai and nibble on a delicious date bar.  With the pandemic still messing with our lives, this year’s Mother’s Day is once again looking very different from past years, but at least the sun is shining and people can get together virtually. I was thinking that the book I read last week was certainly not a book about mothers, but then I remembered the audiobook I listened to, which most certainly was about mothers and motherhood, so I will tell you about that after I talk about the book.  

I read Kelley Armstrong’s YA novel, Missing, a fast-paced read that I found difficult to put down.  Winter Crane is a high school student who spends most of her time out in the shack in the forest surrounding the southern backwater town of Reeve’s End where she lives with her alcoholic father.  All the teens leave, and most never come back.  This is also Winter’s plan, and she intends to leave as soon as possible. When she finds a teenaged boy outside her shack who has been savagely beaten, she does her best to help him.  When he mentions that he knows her friend Edie, a girl who left town and hasn’t been heard from in quite a while, Winter begins to suspect that some of these teens may not just have left town, but may in fact be missing.  With the help of another attractive outsider, she digs deeper and deeper, but what she uncovers could threaten not just her own life, but also the lives of those she loves.  Winter Crane was a fabulous character, a teenaged version of Casey Butler from the Rockton series, and her attractive counterpart is a bit like a young Eric Dalton.  I felt like I was reading something written long before the Rockton books, a novel that planted the seeds for that adult series;  this novel, though, was written in the middle of the Rockton books.  It had a riveting story, the plot was well-paced, and it was written with the kind of attention to detail and character/plot/setting balance that one has come to expect from Armstrong.  If you liked the Rockton series, or if you just want an interesting, fast-paced YA mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one.

The audiobook I listened to also had a really interesting plot and was a title and an author I’d never heard of before.  Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson begins with a book club meeting, one where tired moms of toddlers meet, ostensibly to discuss the book, but really to have a chance to talk to other adults about something other than their kids. But at this month’s meeting, someone new shows up, and that changes everything.   Amy and Charlotte are best friends, despite their age difference.  It is Char’s book club but the moms all meet at Amy’s house.  Everyone is gossiping and complaining as usual when the doorbell rings and Angelina Roux (“call me Roo”), the single mom of a teenaged boy staying at the trashy Air B&B down the street, shows up.  Gorgeous, extroverted Roo takes over, pouring the wine and engaging the otherwise ordinary moms in a game of “Never have I ever’, asking them to share their darkest secrets about the worst thing they’ve done in the past week, the past month, the past year…  Amy has a secret she never wants to share, a secret pushed so far down that she refuses to even think about it:  when she was a teen, she committed a crime that nearly destroyed her.  Saved by the discovery of diving, she reinvented herself and made it her mission to live right and do good.  But now Roo threatens to unearth her brutal history and reveal it to everyone, including the police.  Can Amy find a way to deal with Roo without giving in to her demands and still save herself, her family and those she loves?  I don’t usually enjoy novels that are all about the bonds of mothers and children and the lengths mothers will go to protect them, and this one was totally one of those books, but it was also so much more, an intricately-plotted thriller with three-dimensional characters who were (mostly) believable and a fantastic ending that really packed a punch.  There were a few parts that I thought were a bit over-long, with Amy contemplating her own guilt and the life she went on to live, and what that says about herself and her character, but overall, it was amazing.  I just realized that Jackson narrated it herself, and she did an awesome job.  I will look for other books by this author and hope that they are as unputdownable as this one.

That’s all for today.  Wishing all the wonderful women out there a Happy Mother’s Day!

Bye for now…

Sunday 2 May 2021

First post for May...

It’s a lovely morning, with the sun shining, the birds singing and the squirrels frolicking.  It’s supposed to rain later this afternoon, so once again, I’m going to try to get out for a long walk before it begins.  Right now I have a delicious Date Bar and some orange slices to accompany my steaming cup of chai, a wonderful way to ease into my Sunday.

Yesterday my Volunteer book club met virtually to discuss Canadian author Shelley Wood’s debut novel, The Quintland Sisters, and it was a real hit.  Here is my post from May, 2019, when I read this fabulous book for the first time:

“Canadian author Shelley Wood’s novel, The Quintland Sisters, focuses on the first five years in the lives of Canada’s famous five, the Dionne Quintuplets, and is told from the point of view of seventeen-year-old nurse Emma Trimpany who helped care for them.  On May 28, 1934, with the country gripped in the harsh realities of the Great Depression, five tiny babies were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne two months prematurely at their farmhouse near Callander, Ontario.  They were not expected to live for more than a few hours, but they all miraculously survived.  After four months living with their family, they were made wards of the state for the next nine years under the Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act of 1935 (  During a time of poverty, war and strife, these five children brought considerable profit to the area and were treated as tourist attractions.  This book takes the first five years of their lives and presents a detailed fictional account of their existence as described by Emma in her journal and letters, with newspaper articles and documents interspersed.  Wood describes the Dafoe Nursery, which was built across from the Dionne family farmhouse, the strict schedules of waking, bathing, feeding, play, and family visits for the sisters, and the legal wranglings surrounding the promotion of such items as Karo Corn Syrup and Quaker Oats.  Emma, who wanted to be an artist but became a nurse so she could stay with the quintuplets, having started out as just a housemaid who happened to be on the scene at the time of the birth, offers an insider’s view of the activities surrounding the children and their upbringing during their early years, and also her thoughts and insights into how this might be affecting them and whether it was all in their best interest.  I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, especially epistolary novels (novels told through diary entries or through a series of documents), but this book hooked me from the very first page.  Emma’s narrative did not seem like diary entries, simply storytelling from her point of view.  It reminded me of Eva Stachniak’s novel The Winter Palace, which was told from the point of view of Barbara, Imperial handmaid to Catherine the Great, a novel that managed to truly transport me to the time and place of the action.  So, too, did The Quintland Sisters, although Wood left out much detail about the Depression and the imminent war.  It was also a love story, one that the author resolves in a very interesting and unique way.  All in all, this was a fabulous book, one that I will definitely put on my book club list for next year, and one that has piqued my interest in the Dionnes and has encouraged me to pick up that paperback I've had sitting on my shelf upstairs for years by Ellie Tesher to find out what happened to them after Emma’s account ends.  This kind of fits into the “motherhood” theme, as the novel addresses family and children, and the rights of parents to have access to, and to exploit, their children.”

I did indeed put it on my book club list, and it was the best book club meeting ever, not just because everyone loved the book, but because Shelley Wood joined our meeting from her home in Kelowna, BC!  This was not planned, but I sent her an email last weekend asking if she would be able to join us, although I admitted that it was short notice, and surprisingly, she said yes, she would love to join our discussion.  She came across as very warm and welcoming, and didn’t just present her information and answer questions, but expressed interest in our group, too.  She told us that a photo of these five girls in a library book inspired her to use them as the subject of her novel, and that part of the purpose of her novel was to keep their story alive so no one forgets this controversial period in Canadian history. She said that she chose to use the epistolary format so readers had to fill in the blanks, and she included real articles from newspapers to demonstrate how they, whom the public generally relies on to “ask the tough questions” and present the whole story objectively, failed in their duty. She admitted that she felt a bit like she was also exploiting them by profiting from their story (she’s donating some of the proceeds to a Child Protection charity).  As she did her research, she wondered if there wasn’t just one adult who loved these children for who they were, and deciding that surely there was indeed someone like that in their real lives, chose to create Emma’s character, the one character in the novel who did just that.  Shelley showed us a precious scrapbook she received as a gift, a scrapbook kept by a young woman who visited the Dionne sisters in the 1930s and whose life was brightened by news updates of their lives.  This scrapbook, she said, made her revisit her cynical attitude towards the tourists who viewed these girls as exhibits and realize that people during those days needed some light in the darkness that was all around them every day.  In answer to my question about whether there were any “right answers” in their early years, she said that the purpose of her novel was to make people feel uncomfortable with the decisions that were made and to wonder what, if anything, could have been done differently to make things better.   She told us that she chose to end the book the way she did because of the way things ended up for the quintuplets, and that not all readers were happy with this (I can’t say any more because I don’t want to give anything away).  She’s working on her next book, and I’m sure I speak for all of my book club members when I say that we can’t wait until it’s published!  After she left our meeting, we went on to discuss other aspects of the novel and our own experiences and knowledge of the Dionne story.  We thought of other questions we wanted to ask or things we wanted to tell Shelley, but I think we were all a bit awestruck in her presence.  It was certainly one of the best meetings we’ve had, and the best virtual meeting for sure.  One good thing about COVID is that, with all of our virtual meetings, anyone can join a meeting from anywhere, and like a visit to the Dionne sisters in the dark days of the 1930s, her visit was a shining light during our own challenging times.

That’s all for today.  Get outside before it starts raining!

Bye for now…