Sunday, 19 June 2022

Quick post on a perfect summer morning…

I know it’s still a few days before the summer solstice (that sounds so much more poetic than calling it the first day of summer!), but it’s very summer-like this morning, with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves on the trees, the sun shining bright and strong, the sky a perfect blue with just a hint of clouds, and the temperature at a perfectly comfortable level for just about any outdoor activity.  Oh, and it’s a perfect day to celebrate Father’s Day!

This is a quick post to tell you why there will be no “real” post until next week.  I’ve been reading a pile of Silver Birch contenders, and you know I can’t talk about those, so the only things I can write about are the audiobooks I’ve been listening to, and they haven’t been that outstanding, so really, it’s not worth spending time writing about them.  I’ve been listening to a couple of Sally Hepworth books - remember, she’s the Australian author I “discovered” a few months ago whose book, The Mother-in-Law, reminded me of Liane Moriarty, only lighter?  Well, I listened to The Mother’s Promise and did not enjoy it at all, but I’m nearly finished The Family Next Door and it’s fabulous!!  I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the story and how much is due to the narration:  amazing Australian Barrie Kreinik for The Family Next Door vs not-so-amazing… wow, it’s the same narrator for both (she didn’t sound Australian for The Mother’s Promise)!  So it must be the story that didn’t grab me.  But I’ve put her most recent books, The Good Sister and The Younger Wife, on hold as audiobooks, and look forward to listening to them over the summer - hopefully they become available soon.  Here is a description of The Family Next Door from the publisher’s site:

Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.

The Family Next Door is Sally Hepworth at her very best: at once a deeply moving portrait of family drama and a compelling suburban mystery that will keep you hooked until the very last page.

So if you enjoy domestic thrillers about uncovering family secrets, you’ll probably love this one!

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Enjoy the gorgeous weather and have a wonderful day!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Book club highlights on the first weekend of June...

It’s a bit cool and cloudy this afternoon as I settle down to write this post.  I’ve had a super-busy weekend and a busy day so far, and I’ve got two books to tell you about, so I’ll probably keep both book sections fairly short.

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Canadian author Kim Echlin’s novel, Speak, Silence.  This novel follows journalist Gota as she prepares to write about the trial in the Hague during the Bosnia War in the late 1990s, where a man who raped, imprisoned and tortured dozens of women faces the charge of not just the crimes against these individuals but crimes against humanity.  Gota also hopes to reconnect with Kosmos, her former lover and the father of her daughter, but instead befriends one of the victims who is now a prosecutor in this trial.  This short novel managed to pack in plenty of details about the trial proceedings, the relationships between characters, and the experiences of the women who have come forward to bear witness to these crimes.  It was a difficult read for sure, and especially with the war in the Ukraine happening right now, making the novel seem even more important and significant.  Echlin’s use of poetic language to describe the horrific, the mundane and even the humorous made this book and the subject matter more palatable for even the most sensitive reader, although I had one member say that she had to skip some parts because they were just too much.  We discussed the bravery of the witnesses, many who had repressed these experiences and even hidden them from their husbands and families.  We discussed our own privilege in never having had to face such threats or cruelty.  We wondered how people can go on after such experiences, and how this would change their lives forever.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the variety of topics discussed and the extent that each reader engaged with the text was a great surprise.  It turned out to be a good choice, but I think I should plan to choose a few uplifting books for next year’s list!

After finishing this short novel, I thought I wanted to read something lighter, but I started a mystery that didn’t grab me so I picked up another short novel that I had from the library, Ali Smith’s Companion Piece, which was incredible!  Sandy (AKA Sand, Shifting Sand) is a painter who had led a solitary life until her father’s recent illness, which has landed him in the hospital and has made it necessary for her to care for his dog.  This is fine, until she receives a call from Martina, a former classmate from university who Sand hasn’t heard from in decades.  Martina has been experiencing some strange “auditory hallucinations” in which “curlew” and “curfew” are repeated and then she is instructed to choose.  She contacts Sand because she remembers that she had a reputation for being a whiz with words and understanding poetry, and she asks for her advice on what this could mean.  All Sand wants to do is to be left alone to work and visit her father, and to stay far, far away from anyone else, as this book is set in the present day during covid.  But Martina’s adult children begin infiltrating her life, calling and showing up at her door wanting to know why she’s trying to take their mother away by manipulating her into being different than she always has been.  Sand is also a storyteller, and one of her stories, about a girl and her bird, takes on a life of its own in the latter half of the book.  This farcical, satirical, hilarious, dystopian-ish, thought-provoking novel about isolation, companions, companionship and the duplicity of language was absolutely unputdownable, a literary masterpiece that makes me want to run out and purchase the other books in the “Seasons” quartet (I’ve read and enjoyed Autumn, which I already have).  I guess this is the fifth part in this seasonal quartet (according to at least one review), but it can definitely be read and appreciated on its own.  You have to enjoy language, puns, and wordplay and be willing to read carefully and slowly so you don’t miss everything to enjoy this book.  I certainly plan to read it again someday and maybe take my time with it a bit more to uncover even more layers of meaning.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys current literary works that can be read as deeply or as superficially as you want, depending on your mood.  I know I’m not doing this book justice, that my praise is rather vague, but I can’t really describe the book’s brilliance or Smith’s genius… they just are.

That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful Sunday! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Last post for May

It’s a gorgeous late spring morning, with the sun shining, a gentle breeze blowing, birds chirping and leaves rustling, not too hot yet not too cool… I don’t think I could have ordered up a better day.  I’ve had a busy morning already but now it’s time to enjoy a delicious cup of Pu-ehr Exotic tea and a Date Bar from my favourite bakery.  I’m so fortunate to live right between the only two City Cafe locations left in town.

I read a really, really good book last week by Canadian author Nicole Lundrigan, An Unthinkable Thing.  This gothic murder mystery, set in the late 1950s, tells the story of Thomas Ware, an eleven-year-old boy who lives happily with his Aunt Celia in a small apartment in the inner-city area of Lower Washbourne.  He’s a bit of a dreamer, but loves school as well as his teacher, and his best friend, Wally, lives in the same building.  He was given to his aunt to raise by his mother, Esther, when he was a baby, and he rarely sees her except on birthdays and other special occasions.  This bothers him, but he loves his aunt and tries to make the best of it.  When Celia doesn’t return home one morning, he’s angry with her, thinking that she’s chosen to spend all her time with her new fancy man rather than get him ready for school, but then he learns that she’s been murdered, the latest victim of the Greenlake Killer.  Completely devastated, he is uprooted from all that he calls "home" and is sent to live with his mother on the lavish Henneberry estate in Upper Washbourne where she works as a live-in housekeeper.  Muriel Henneberry, her husband, Dr Henneberry, and their sixteen-year-old son, Martin, live on the estate where Muriel grew up, inheriting it upon her parents’ death.  This wealthy family on this enormous estate appears to be perfect, but of course, all is not what it seems, and slowly, day by day, over the course of the summer, the rot that is hidden beneath the surface is revealed, leading to a single horrific event. This was a slow-burning mystery that kept me wanting to find more time to keep reading.  I had two evening meetings this week, and I still managed to finish this on Friday night, it was that unputdownable.  I was thankful for the Epilogue, as it answered all my questions and provided additional details that brought the story to a satisfying, twisty conclusion.  I’ll warn those who are easily shocked that there were some creepy, downright disturbing parts in this book that made me cringe, but I kept reading, sort of like when you cover your eyes but peek through your fingers.  I’ve never read anything by this author, and actually never even really knew of her, but I will definitely try out some of her other books.  

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

Bye for now... Julie

Monday, 23 May 2022

Short post on a long weekend...

This is going to be a short post, as I haven’t been reading as much as usual these past couple of weeks.  I know I missed posting last week because I hadn’t finished anything, and once I did finally finish my book, I spent the rest of last week reading Silver Birch books, which of course I can’t talk about.  *sigh*  I really just want to have more reading time…  so many books… 

My Friends book club met last Monday night to discuss Ruth Hogan’s debut, The Keeper of Lost Things.  Anthony Peardew is a writer who has spent the past forty years pining for the love of his life, Therese, who died shortly before they were to be married.  On the day she died, he lost the medal she gave him, and since then, he has collected lost things in the hopes that they might be reunited with their owners, but really hoping that he might someday be reunited with his own lost keepsake.  He takes on an assistant, Laura, a recently divorced woman in her mid-thirties who immediately falls in love with the house, and a little bit with Anthony.  Upon his sudden death, Anthony bequeaths everything to Laura, with the condition that she take on the role of Keeper of Lost Things and continue to try to get them back to their owners.  Along the way, Laura and the gardener develop a relationship, and the neighbour girl, Sunshine, who has Down Syndrome, also becomes part of the household.  Alternating with the Anthony/Laura story is one set decades earlier involving a publisher named Bomber, who loves his dogs, and his assistant Eunice, who also loves the dogs, as well as their owner.  These stories are interconnected, and interspersed within these chapters are what I thought were Anthony’s short stories about various lost items, but upon finishing the book and having discussion with the others in the group, I’m not sure what exactly they were.  Anyway, chapters and stories are all interspersed and interconnected until all is (mostly) explained at the end.  Oh, there was a bit of a ghost story thrown in, too.  When I started this short-ish novel, I suspected that it would be similar to other “feel-good” books along the lines of The Unexpected Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove, where lonely, sometimes curmudgeonly people learn to find joy and hope in human connection, and I wan’t far wrong.  It had all the hallmarks of this type of book, with plenty of quirky, lonely, disconnected characters seeking meaning and human connection, but as I was reading it, the word that kept coming to mind regarding the book was twee.  I thought the author tried too hard by tossing everything into the story, and felt that it lacked the depth of character and plot that some of the others in this genre have which elevate them above the mere mediocre.  The writing was good, and for a first novel, it was a real achievement, but I found I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, and in my opinion, there was nothing about it that made it exceptional. The others in the group enjoyed this selection, though, and felt that it was the kind of light, uplifting book we needed.  I really didn’t like the ghost story sections, and the others agreed that they could have been omitted, but wondered whether they were necessary to move the plot along.  We discussed the stories within the story, what they meant and why they were included, as well as comparing the parallel stories of Anthony/Laura and Bomber/Eunice.  It was a good discussion, and based on the response of the others, I would recommend this as a book club selection if you are looking for something light.

That’s all for today.  Happy Victoria Day!  Enjoy the rest of the long weekend, whatever you decide to do.

Bye for now…

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Tea and treats on a perfect spring morning...

It’s bright and sunny, with just a hint of breeze on this cool, refreshing spring morning.  Everything is green and bursting with life after the rain we had last week, the birds are singing, the laundry is hanging on the clothesline outside, and it’s a perfect day for a walk… or maybe I can take my bike out for a first spin of the year!  But for now, I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar to enjoy as I write this post.

My Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Canadian author Michael Christie’s nearly 500-page book, Greenwood, and it was a huge success (no pun intended!).  This “1200 year-old, Ancient Forest Douglas Fir” of a book tells multiple stories that are all connected through the theme of logging and the ecological harm that deforestation can cause.  Set in 2038, 2008, 1974, 1934 and 1908, the story begins at what could be seen as the outer ring of a log, where the Withering has destroyed all of the world’s trees.  Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood, a dendrologist, works in one of the last remaining stands of Ancient Forest on a small island off the coast of BC, Greenwood Island, conducting tours at an Eco-Retreat, where the attendees are generally rich and distracted.  When she notices evidence of a fungus on one of the oldest and most stately trees, her concern is met with total disregard by the management.  Drowning in student debt and barely hanging on to her job, Jake is skeptical when her former fiancé, Silas, turns up with a new kind of proposal, one that, if accurate, could save her and possibly the trees.  Readers are then taken back to 2008, where we meet Jake’s mother, Meena and father, Liam, and learn their stories.  Moving once again back to 1974, we meet Liam’s mother, Willow, and discover what led Liam to become the man he was.  Moving back again to 1934, we meet Willow’s family members and learn a bit about why she became the woman she did.  And then back to 1908, to the beginning of it all, where we meet Harris and Everett, two boys whose lives will touch all the others in the story, and whose origins are at the centre of everything.  My friend gave me this book a couple of Christmases ago, and I’ve been putting off reading it because, at 490 pages, it was, well, quite daunting.  I generally don’t enjoy long books, especially multi-generational sagas, but I put this one on our book club list for our May meeting because it is at heart a wake up call to start living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, perfect to read around Earth Day.  I wasn’t sure how my book club members would feel about reading such a lengthy book, and one of my book club members, who listens to audiobooks, said that, at 15+ hours, she was sure she wasn’t going to like it or even finish it, but she then admitted that she was enjoying it so much that she actually finished it early.  The others agreed that they found it to be “unputdownable”, as did I.  It was a very complex story with plenty of sub-plots that, like the roots of trees in a forest, were tightly interwoven and were all necessary for the health of the main plot (or tree).  We found the analogy of the stories to the forest to be well-developed, and the relationships within the story were also like those in a forest.  The interconnectedness of the characters, whether blood relatives or circumstantial family members, like those of the tree roots, were explored in depth throughout the sections of the story, but rather than becoming tedious or overwhelming, this exploration was necessary to bring a more complete understanding of the far-reaching results of decisions made in the past as they bear on the decisions made in the present or even the future.  WOW, it was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I think my book club members would agree.  We all loved it, and Christie did an amazing job of making every detail of this complex story work together to create a literary masterpiece in what I’ve just learned is a new genre, CliFi (Climate Fiction).  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone, and if you’re put off by the size, don’t be - I guarantee you’ll stay up late to read “just one more chapter” and will end up wanting more when you do finally reach the very last page.  And just a note:  if you do read this book, read right to the very last page, as there is a little surprise!

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 1 May 2022

I almost forgot...

Happy May Day, or International Workers Day!  In honour of this day, I am celebrating by (almost) taking the day off from posting.  Actually, the real reason I haven’t posted until this evening is because I only had time to read half of Kelley Armstrong’s paranormal mystery, Omens, last week.  This is the first book in the “Cainsville” series, about a young woman, just shy of her 25th birthday, who finds out that she is not actually the daughter of a wealthy family about to come into her trust fund and marry the man of her dreams, but the daughter of a pair of serial killers who have been in jail for the past 20+ years.  I’ve had to stop reading it because I have a 500 page book club selection to read and process before our meeting next Saturday, and I’m only 50 pages into it.  I hope to be able to tell you all about Greenwood by Michael Christie next week and then possibly finish Omens  as well as something else by the following week.  *sigh*  So many books…

That’s all for now.  Have a good night!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Post on a sunny summer-ish day...

It’s unseasonably warm and sunny, and it’s supposed to get significantly warmer by this afternoon, a little taste of summer before the temperature plummets again by the middle of next week.  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, as well as my usual Date Bar, to fuel me up before I head out for a long walk after finishing this post.

I read a book last week that was recommended to me by my cousin, who is also an avid reader.  American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins tells the story of Lydia and Luca, a mother and son who are trying to escape the jefe (boss) of a drug cartel in Acapulco, Mexico, after Lydia’s husband and extended family are killed at a birthday celebration.  Bookstore owner Lydia has been friends with Javier, the jefe, without knowing his association with the cartel, but something has made her a target (you’ll have to read the book to find out what), and now she has to save the only family she has left and get across the border to the US while evading gang members along the way.  The only way she can get across is by posing as a migrant, and she meets various people on her journey, some who offer help and some who are intent on causing harm.  My cousin loved, loved, loved it, so I found a second-hand copy and started it last weekend, and I’ll admit that it was a very compelling read.  But I had issues with the fact that the author is not Latinx, and I wondered how it was that she felt she could write about the migrant experience.  In the author note at the end, she does say that she wished someone “slightly browner” would write this story, but that her husband was an immigrant who was undocumented before they married, leading me to assume that he is Latinx.  I just looked up reviews of this book and there is plenty of controversy surrounding it for this very reason; also, her husband, while an immigrant, is originally from Ireland.  So you can read this “propulsively readable” book if you wish, but don’t think, as I did, that you are getting an authentic peek at the harrowing migrant experience.  

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

Bye for now... Julie

Friday, 15 April 2022

Early Easter weekend post...

It’s a funny kind of morning, bright and sunny, but with dark, ominous clouds appearing and disappearing regularly.  I think it’s supposed to rain this afternoon, so I want to write this post and get outside for a long walk while it’s still dry.

I was in the drugstore a couple of weekends ago and was checking out the books they had for sale, and a title caught my eye, Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, which I saw was a sequel to Before the Coffee Gets Cold.  I put the first book on hold at the library and read it last week and it was… interesting.  This novel, which I believe is based on a play by the same author, is set in a café in Tokyo where individuals can travel back in time, but there are very specific rules, such as only being able to do this once, sitting in a particular seat and not getting up, and most importantly, returning before your coffee gets cold.  The novel centres on a small cast of characters who frequent the café: Nagare, the café's owner, and his wife, Kei; Kazu, the barista; Fusagi, who suffers Alzheimer's, and his wife, Kohtake, who is a nurse; a young woman named Fumiko and her (ex-boyfriend?) Goro; and Hirai, a young woman who runs a nearby snack bar.  Each of these characters has experienced loss or guilt over something in the past, and they take advantage of the opportunity to go back in time and hopefully alleviate some of this guilt.  But another rule is that nothing you do when you go back will change the present, so they are obviously hesitant to undertake this as well, asking themselves, "What is the point ?".  Still, when presented with this chance, who wouldn’t take it?  This was a quirky, whimsical novel that asks us to think about a time in our lives we would like to revisit if we could, who we would visit and what we would say.  It sounded intriguing, but unfortunately it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Still, I loved the title and it was very short, so I’m glad I read it.  I may even read Tales from the Café at some point, too, if only to see if it explains who the woman in the white dress is, but not right away.  

That’s all for today.  Happy Easter and have a wonderful long weekend!

Bye for now... Julie

PS I almost forgot - April 21 will mark 11 years of posting at Julie's Reading Corner. Thank you for continuing to read these posts and offering your comments. I hope you are finding interesting reading selections from here, at least occasionally!

Sunday, 10 April 2022

April showers bring May flowers...

Well, it should really read “April brings showers, sleet and snow/before the lovely flowers grow”, because over the past three days it’s been sunny, rainy, sleeting and snowing, and I’ve had to change coats and jackets many times to suit the temperamental weather.  Good thing my steaming cup of chai and delicious Date Bar are always reliable!

I’ve been trying to keep up with my reading for the Silver Birch committee that I’m on, and each weekend once I finish my weekly book, I try to read a couple of the junior books on the list.  I’ve been able to get through seven or eight over the past two weekends, even a couple of graphic novels, which gives me a sense of progress.  After reading my junior books last weekend, I had three adult books from the library to choose from, and I ended up selecting a novel with a really bright red cover that jumped out at me and turned out to be exactly what I needed.  Mindful of Murder by Canadian author Susan Juby is set on a small gulf island off the coast of British Columbia, where Edna, the owner of a spiritual retreat, has died under what may be suspicious circumstances.  Her former employee, Helen, also a former Buddhist nun and a recent graduate of the American Butler Institute, is the executor of Edna’s will, and one of her duties is to execute Plan B, an elaborate process whereby she will decide who will take over running the institute from a selection of Edna’s grand-nieces and -nephews.  This Plan involves hosting these relatives for ten days and having them participate in concurrent courses to decide who is the best candidate.  Since Edna had been on a self-directed spiritual retreat for several months prior to her death, no staff were retained at the institute, so Helen calls on her friends from the butler academy to help her out, as well as a friend who is also an amazing chef.  She also takes on one of the locals to round out the staff, and calls on two of the regular teachers from the institute to teach the floral design and dance classes.  When the relatives arrive, they appear to be ill-suited for this type of work.  Tad Todd is a handsome, self-absorbed, selfish young man who just wants Edna’s money.  His brother Wills is a bit less grating, but he also doesn’t really want to take part in this retreat that has been thrust upon him, but grudgingly agrees because he also wants her money.  Whitney seems to be more in tune with the spirit of the institute, but she, too, has plenty of personal and family issues and is also in desperate need of financial support.  And finally there is Rayvn, the mystery cousin, who appears to be perfect for the role and doesn't seem to care about money at all, but she also seems a bit too flaky and admits quite freely that her favourite thing to do is sleep.  Helen has her work cut out for her, but takes this responsibility very seriously and manages to keep things running smoothly with the surreal calmness associated with Buddhist mindfulness, despite the many challenges she, the staff and the guests face along the way.  After a couple of unsettling occurrences, Helen decides she must also help with the investigation to find out if Edna’s death was truly by her own hand or at the hands of a murderer.  Between the cast of characters at the institute and those we meet on the island, this entertaining, cozy mystery was a positively delightful read.  It was a mystery, but it also offered insight into mindfulness and Buddhist beliefs and values.  It reminded me of the “Isabel Dalhousie” series by Alexander McCall Smith, in that Isabel and Helen are both amateur detectives and philosophers/Buddhist nuns.  These books are gentle yet thought-provoking, and the protagonists are women that I would be happy to have coffee with (that’s what my book group said about Isabel Dalhousie).  So if you are in the mood for a cozy mystery or an exploration into the basic beliefs of Buddhism (or even the basics of being a good butler!), then this might be the book for you.

Oh, the sun just came out, so I better take advantage of this precipitation-free period and get outside for a walk.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 3 April 2022

First post for April...

There was a dusting of snow last night, but it’s mostly melted away and I suspect this may be the last snow we see until the end of the year.  It’s overcast now but the sun is supposed to come out this afternoon, so I’m planning to take a long walk once I finish this post.  But for now I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of homemade Date Loaf... yum!  

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, and it was a very interesting, very lively discussion.  Harris’ debut novel focuses on twenty-six-year-old Nella Rogers, an editorial assistant at Wagner Books in Manhattan.  She is the only black employee in the office and feels strongly that Wagner Books, and the publishing industry in general, needs to become more diverse.  She’s an active member of the Diversity Town Hall Committee, although since attendance is no longer mandatory, she’s often the only person who shows up at the meetings.  Her efforts to diversify seem to be ignored by management, which only adds to Nella’s frustrations at being overlooked for promotion after two years of dedicated employment.  So she is thrilled when Hazel-Mae McCall is hired as an editorial assistant, sure that she will finally have an ally in the all-white office.  Nella grew up in a middle-class family where she and her mother straightened their hair for years, and Nella worries about not being “black” enough, but Hazel is Black with a capital “B”, having grown up in Harlem, and she has always had “natural” hair.  Nella offers to help Hazel settle in and takes her under her wing, and at first, Hazel seems to appreciate this, but slowly, insidiously, Hazel begins to undermine Nella while at the same time appearing to encourage their solidarity as sisters, and Nella is left wondering what to believe.  Nella has been inspired by a book she read as a teenager by a black author and the editor who helped make it a bestseller, but this editor, Kendra Rae, disappeared shortly after the book’s publication and has been missing for decades.  Harris weaves these two stories together as chapters shift in time from 1983 to 2018 and are told from various characters’ points of view, and the tension builds until the propulsively riveting ending.  I had no idea what to expect from this novel, but it was heavily promoted in all the e-newsletters I get and it was on all kinds of book club lists, so I added it to our list, too, and I have to say that it was one of the best discussions we’ve had.  We all had similar responses to this novel.  We found it confusing and difficult to follow, but felt that it was a good book and we were all glad we read it.  We thought that it exposed us to what it would be like to be a black girl trying to live in a white world.  The book offered a lot of information about black culture and black thinking.  We also learned a lot about black hair care - hair was VERY important in this novel.  We talked about code-switching, something I’d never heard of before, but which was also a significant component of the plot.  We talked about so much more, but I can’t tell you anything else because I don’t want to spoil the ending.  I’ll just say that, although it starts off slowly and is quite frustratingly confusing for the first half of the novel, the story really takes off in the second half and I guarantee it will have you turning pages and staying up late just to find out how it all comes together.

That’s all for today.  Happy Reading!!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Snow, snow and more snow on a blustery Sunday afternoon...

It’s been cold and windy and very snowy today, an interesting weather turn after the mild days we had a week or so ago.  Good thing I can enjoy a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar whatever the weather!

I discovered a new author recently, Australian-born Sally Hepworth, and after one book, I think I’m hooked!  I just finished The Mother-In-Law last week, and I found it to be a fast-paced, interesting and super-quick read.  This novel is told from several points of view and moves from the present to various points in the recent past, which I found a bit confusing at first but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.  Diana Goodwin is a pillar of the community and the founder of a charity to help pregnant refugees, but she’s certainly not a warm and fuzzy type of mother, preferring to have her children make their own mistakes and hopefully learn from them.  She and her recently deceased husband Tom have plenty of money, but while Tom would happily help their adult son Ollie and daughter Nettie financially, Diana prefers to keep the purse strings drawn tightly shut.  Ollie and his wife Lucy have three children under the age of seven, and Diana adores them, but she’s always been less-than-pleased with her daughter-in-law, despite Lucy’s many attempts to endear herself to Diana.  When Diana is found dead, it initially appears to be a suicide, but upon further investigation, it looks like foul play may have been involved.  But who would have killed her? With chapters alternating between various characters in the present and past, family secrets are revealed, and as the story progresses, we begin to understand all that is said, especially in the silences, until we reach a satisfying conclusion.  This author has been recommended for fans of Liane Moriarty and Meg Abbott, and I would totally agree.  I would say that readers of Lisa Jewell's books might also like these novels - I though this one was a bit of a cross between Moriarty and Jewell.  I still think Liane Moriarty’s books have greater complexity and deal with more serious issues than these other authors, but all write engaging and enjoyable novels, at least for this reader.  So if you enjoy reading domestic fiction dealing with family secrets and mysteries, this might be an author you’ll want to check out.  

That’s all for today.  Happy Last Sunday of March!!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Tea and tulips on the first day of Spring...

It’s the first day of Spring, and the weather today is exactly what you’d expect:  the sun is trying to come out this morning, it’s above zero but the temperature is still in the single digits, most of the snow is gone but there are still patches here and there, and there’s plenty of mud, mud, mud!  In short, it’s a perfect early-Spring day.

My Friends Book Club is meeting virtually tomorrow night to discuss Canadian author and historian Jennifer Robson’s fabulous novel The Gown:  a novel of the Royal Wedding.  I originally listened to this as an audiobook in October 2021, and here’s what I said about it then:

The Gown by Jennifer Robson… 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 devastation 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?!”

I will add that the subtitle is a bit misleading, as this wasn’t really about the Royal Wedding at all, but about friendship and survival, recovery after the traumatic experience of war, and the healing power of art.  I think it will be an excellent book club choice, as there are many interesting themes, characters and plot-lines.  Since I listened to it very recently, my plan was just to skim it, but I’ll admit that I’ve been sucked into reading just about every word, as it’s just so interesting.  I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, but this one has held my interest a second time around.  The parts about Heather in Toronto were not that interesting to me, as her character seems kind of flat, but once she goes to England, her story picks up a bit as she delves into her grandmother’s history.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in post-war England, the history of the royal family, or novels about clothing, embroidery or art.

That’s all for today.  Happy Spring!  And Happy UN International Day of Happiness!

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Space, CBC and the Ides of March on a messy morning...

It’s supposed to be a wet, chilly, overcast day filled with mixed precipitation, and I'm reminded that I should “beware the Ides of March”.  I will, therefore, keep myself safe by staying in, listening to CBC, drinking a steaming cup of chai (that I prepared myself to avoid the risk of poisoning!) and writing this rather late blog.  Thank goodness it’s March Break, as I had no time on Sunday to write, but I really want to tell you about the book I read recently.

I was looking on my bookshelves after book club last week to find an adult book to read, as I had only children’s books in the stack from the library.  I tried a couple of books, but they didn’t grab me or suit my mood, so I put them back and grabbed a couple more. One of these was The Wanderers by Meg Howrey, which turned out to be quietly mind-blowing!  This novel tells the story of three astronauts, Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka and Sergei Kuznetsov, who have been chosen to participate in the Prime Space Systems' MarsNOW project, a manned mission to, you guessed it, Mars.  But before they can begin the mission, they must undergo eighteen months of training, a shortened simulation of the actual mission, which will take them to the deserts of Utah, an operation known as Eidolon.  During this operation, their physical, mental and psychological data will be collected and measured by the ground crew at Prime to track their suitability for the mission.  Helen, Yoshi and Sergei are an ideal team of engineers who have been on space missions before, and their personalities, strengths and expertise make them something of a “dream team”.  Helen is an American woman in the latter stages of her career, and this mission is pretty much her last shot at going up into space, so she is thrilled to have been chosen.  She leaves behind her adult daughter Mirielle, a struggling actress who has long ago acknowledged that her mother has always put her career first.  Russian astronaut Sergei has left his family so that his wife can marry someone who will be around all the time for her and their teenaged sons, in particular Dmitri, the one he worries about.  Yoshi, a Japanese engineer, is married to Madoka and they make up a seemingly happy couple in a decidedly understated way.  They are as yet childless and quite undecided on this issue, but both travel so much that they are rarely together.  Madoka is restless and seems to be searching for… something.  While they are part of Eidolon, the astronauts and their families must pretend that they are on the deep-space mission. The astronauts must do more than pretend:  they must also convince themselves and really believe that this is the real thing in order to present with the correct responses for the data collection.  They all knows that they must do well during the training in order to continue on to the actual mission, which they refer to as “Gofer”, short for “go for real”, and, based on this novel, that’s harder than you’d think.  Told in alternating chapters by Helen, Mirielle, Sergei, Dmitri, Yoshi and Madoka, as well as Luke, one of the members of the ground crew at Prime who is tasked with data collection as well as liaising with the families, this novel explores the enormous personal cost of space exploration.  This literary novel was so subtle, yet so engrossing, that I absolutely could not put it down.  And it may seem like there were too many narrators and points of view, but they were all connected so it all made sense and gave a fuller, richer, deeper picture of the situation, the losses and the ultimate costs.  Howrey was brilliant at using often poetic language to describe thoughts, insights and crises of conscience, which made this novel so thought-provoking.  It also had a fair bit of humour, which helped lighten the mood at just the right moments, making this novel what I feel safe in calling a modern-day masterpiece.  I don’t know how to praise this enough, but I’ll just say that once I reached the last page, I was at a loss as to what to read next, sure that anything I picked up would not just pale in comparison but would be almost a mockery of it.  I had to give myself a short break from reading in order to “come down” from this book, which, in fairness, was pretty intense: I would not actually want to follow with another like it immediately.  I think that just about anyone who enjoys character- and language-driven novels would get caught up in this “lyrical and subtle space opera” (

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and stay safe from potential assassins (unlike Caesar!).

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Better than nothing...

It’s nearly 4pm on an incredibly mild Sunday afternoon, and I’m really, really not in the mood to write a post, as it’s been a super-busy weekend.  But with a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar to entice me, I’ve decided to write a super-quick post that is “better than nothing”... I hope you will agree.

My book club met yesterday morning to discuss Desmond Cole’s book, The Skin We’re In:  a Year of Black Resistance and Power.  As you know, I’m generally not a non-fiction reader, but because he is Canadian and February is Black History Month, and also because I usually try to include one NF book each year, I chose this one for our list.  It is, as the title suggests, a look at racism in Canada over the course of a year, 2017, and focuses on the consequences of systemic racism in our country, specifically in our federal and provincial governments, in our school systems and in our police forces (he even includes a section, or “month”, for the Toronto Pride Parade event).  It was certainly an eye-opener for all of us, not to the fact that racism still exists, but rather to its extent and widespread prevalence.  While we found it to be a bit heavy-handed, it made us aware of our white privilege, that we should be grateful for being born with the right skin colour.  We know that we need to be more informed if we are to do anything, but we were left wondering what we as individuals can do, and we came away from the discussion somewhat more despondent than we were when we arrived.  I hope the book for our April meeting is a bit more uplifting, but since I know nothing about it, I have absolutely no idea.  *sigh*

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine and the mild weather while it lasts.

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Last post for February...

It’s the end of February and despite the hopefulness of the beginning of March (for those who get excited about the arrival of spring), it’s chilly and snowing this morning.  Unlike most people, I love the winter and am the opposite of excited about the arrival of spring.  Oh well, at least I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a freshly made banana muffin to keep my spirits up this morning as I tell you about a book that is anything but hopeful.

I read a book that I thought I heard about because it was on a “banned or challenged books” list that came my way recently, but now I can’t find that list.  Anyway, I decided to read Undone by Cat Clarke because I thought it had been banned or challenged somewhere for some reason and of course last week was Freedom to Read Week.  I was expecting a teen book that dealt with LGBTQ+ themes, possibly told in a sarcastic or bitter tone, but was not prepared for such a heart-wrenching story.  Fringe high school student Jem is in love with her best friend Kai, who is gay.  She’s come to terms with that, though, knowing she can be happy in life as long as he is always in it.  When Kai is outed online, he is unable to deal with it and commits suicide, and Jem's life comes crashing down.  She decides to follow suit, but then Kai’s snobby, moody younger sister, Louise, brings a package of letters to her, twelve of them from Kai, to be read one each month.  The first few letters get Jem through the worst of her initial grief, and she feels a connection with her best friend all over again.  But she decides to do what Kai has asked her not to do, find out who posted the video and seek revenge.  Jem formulates an elaborate plan to infiltrate a group of the most popular kids and give them a taste of their own medicine.  But Jem’s experiences are nothing like what she expected, and she struggles to stay with the original plan.  Through Kai’s letters, interspersed with the rest of the story, we the readers are taken through Jem’s experiences and emotions as she tries to cope with her grief in the year following his death, leading to an incredibly emotional, satisfying and heartfelt conclusion.  This was an absolutely riveting book that I can believe was banned or challenged somewhere for content and language, but the voice sounded so authentic that to change a single word would have changed the whole story, and Jem’s character in particular.  I don’t know who I would recommend this to, as the themes were quite dark, but if you can manage to read depressing teen books, then this would be a good one for you.  It reminded me a bit of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, so if you are a fan of that book, you would probably enjoy this one (although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word to use).

On a more uplifting note, the sun seems to be coming out, and this is all I’ve got for you today.  So get outside and enjoy the sun and snow, and remember to keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Monday, 21 February 2022

Post on a mild, sunny Monday afternoon

Good afternoon and Happy Family Day!!  I hope you are all enjoying this lovely afternoon and the extra day off to spend time with your family or just spend some well-deserved time on your own.  I’ve certainly earned my steaming cup of chai this afternoon, as it’s been a busy day so far.

I read a really interesting novel by Canadian writer Victoria Hetherington.  Autonomy,the second novel by this author, is set mainly in 2037 in the American Protectorate of Canada and is told from the point of view of Slaton, a therapist working at a university who is framed for helping a student obtain an illegal abortion.  Rather than serving jail time, she is enrolled in a program to help train Julian, a synthetic consciousness, or AI, that “woke up” two years earlier and is being utilized as an interviewer at the border.  Accessed through an implanted earpiece, he manages to stay with Slaton when she is released and helps her navigate an ever-changing world of chaos and destruction. The environment is collapsing, Slaton loses her job and is running out of money, and her long-time on-and-off boyfriend Crawford, for whom she pines, is in a long-term relationship with someone else.  Julian gives her useful, and very specific, advice to help her meet someone who will be able to carry her through the foreseeable future, but rather than being saved, once the novelty wears off, she finds herself questioning her role in the chaos that surrounds her.  Oh, and there’s a mysterious “Illness” that is spreading throughout the world, but some are in denial, convinced that, with enough money, they can buy their own safety, or at least secure an escape route.  Will Slaton find a way to save others as well as saving herself and those she loves?  And what role will Julian play in this quest?  This was a fantastic book!  I was riveted from the very first page and just couldn’t put it down until the very end.  Imagine Hal from “2001:  a space odyssey” in a dystopian society where everything is in various states of destruction:  imagine Atwood’s collapsing society in pre-Gilead days.  Hetherington’s writing reminded this reader of Atwood in more ways than just setting; like Atwood, Hetherington's writing could be sharp and concise, dryly witty, satirical, bleak, philosophical and thought-provoking all at the same time.  There were so many brilliant turns of phrases that I lost count, but this made me determined to purchase my own copy of this amazing novel.  It was at once a social criticism, an environmental warning and a love story for the end of the world.  WOW, I know I’m not doing it justice, but I would say that if you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale or “2001:  a space odyssey” or other grim dystopian novels, I would definitely recommend this book.  Run, don’t walk, to your local public library to put in your request!

That’s all for today.  I hope you enjoy the rest of this long weekend, whatever you do.  Oh, and Happy Freedom to Read Week!  After I finish the latest book in the "Rockton" series by Kelley Armstrong, I’m planning to read a challenged book, which I will tell you about next week.  And I’m using my Banned Books mug, too!

Bye for now... Julie

Oh, I just remembered the other book Autonomy brought to mind, one of my favourite eco-disaster novels, The Rapture by Liz Jensen, except instead of a psychotic teen that sees the future, it's a body-less AI, which makes this novel even more excellent!!

Sunday, 13 February 2022

The “I can’t talk about these books” post…

I've got my big cat sleeping on my lap so I’m typing this with one hand.  I can still sip my steaming cup of chai and nibble away at my date bar and freshly baked date bread, though, for which I'm very thankful!

I was busy reading Junior Fiction books all week long, but I can’t tell you about any of them because they are considerations for next year’s Silver Birch nominations and I can’t reveal these to the public.  It’s a situation where I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you - well, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but revealing these titles is quite strictly forbidden.  So I will talk briefly today about the joys and challenges of selecting your "next read".  We all know that there are always going to be more books that we want to read than there will be time to read them, right?  So choosing what to read next can be both exciting and challenging.  Do you choose a book from your own bookshelves, which, if you’re like me, are filled with books you’ve read and loved as well as books you want to read someday?  Or do you choose a book in the pile you’ve checked out of the public library, which have due dates so the pressure to read them is greater?  I also have to think about the date every month and make sure to leave enough time to read the selections for my book clubs - that’s at least one book each month, and two books every second month.  Now that I’m part of the Silver Birch Selection Committee, I also have plenty of books to read and consider for this, too.  All of these factors seriously limit my personal freedom to choose my next book.  I was thinking that maybe next year I would have a “Year of Reading Selfishly”, a year when I can read whatever I want whenever I want, but I’m now committed to the Silver Birch SC for at least a few years… *sigh*  I’m not sure I’ll ever be free to choose my own reading material.  Maybe I’ll freeze all my holds at the library and at least work through some of the books “to be read” on my own bookshelves, or maybe I should set up a schedule where I read at least one of my own books each month, one library book and one book club book.  The Silver Birch books are generally short and I can read a few titles in one week, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem to fit these in, too.  Hmmm… something to think about… but it all seems to be a bit too ordered and arranged, not arising organically based on my own mood and preference.  Still, looking at this post, I’m fortunate indeed if the biggest concern in my life right now is that I don’t always get to choose my own books.  

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Stay warm, be well, and keep reading.

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Book Club highlights on a bright, sunny Sunday...

It’s earlier than my usual blogging time this morning, as I was awake a couple of hours earlier, so if I sound a bit groggy or half-asleep today, that’s my excuse!  I better get drinking my steeped tea to wake myself up!

My Volunteer book club met virtually yesterday morning to discuss Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s novel City of the Lost, the first book in the “Rockton” series.  Here is my description of the setting from last year:

“All of the books are set in the town of Rockton, located in a remote northern region of the Yukon, but you won’t find it on any map; this off-the-grid town is populated by about 200 people, all adults, who are fleeing something, a murderous ex-lover, or a gang out for blood.  But not all residents are innocent victims; some are fleeing the law or retribution for crimes committed in their past lives, details concealed by the council and provided only on a need-to-know basis.  Homicide detective Casey Butler ended up in Rockton initially to help her friend who was fleeing an abusive ex-boyfriend, but she has demons of her own that would be better left un-faced.  There she meets Sheriff Eric Dalton and Deputy Will Anders, along with the motley crew that make up the town, and she struggles to accept the fact that no one is who they say they are, so no one can be trusted and nothing is really as it seems.  Still, she manages to settle in and become comfortable enough to call this place “home”, at least for now, something she’s been unable to do for years… Part wild west story, part wilderness survival tale, and a big part murder mystery... Armstrong manages to blend all of these various genres in exciting and all-too-convincing ways that will make you, the reader, care deeply about some characters and want to find out more about others.  I would highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys complex mysteries, especially those that take place in unusual settings.”

In this first book, one resident is dead and another disappeared months ago, and while Sheriff Dalton doesn’t want to admit it, he needs the help of an experienced trained detective; fortunately Casey Butler fits the bill.  They have different styles of investigating, which makes for many challenging moments, but as more bodies turn up, they must find a way to work together to stop this madness before others are killed.  I love this series, and two of my friends who are also avid readers started this series upon my recommendation and binge-read them all, so I thought maybe some of my book club members would also want to read more.  Alas, this was not the case.  They all thought it was a well-written, complex and interesting mystery, but I think the main complaint was that it was too violent.  I warned them that the other books were just as brutal, so I think most of them will not read any more.  We discussed the themes of friendship and loyalty, the relationships between the various townspeople, Eric’s complicated family situation, and the interesting way Armstrong managed to make us suspect just about everyone of being the murderer.  One member wants to know how Casey’s complicated relationship with her friend Diana turns out, and another wants to listen to this as an audiobook when the library purchases it, as she doesn't read many physical books and her library copy had small, faded print, making it difficult to read.  I don’t know if I planned this when I added it to the list, but Armstrong’s latest “Rockton” book, The Deepest of Secrets, comes out this month and I can’t wait to read it.  It was interesting for me to reread this first book and pick up on the hints and clues as to where this series might be going, which direction it might be headed.  I think Armstrong is an amazingly talented writer who can pull off just about anything seemingly seamlessly.  If you enjoy mysteries but want to try something different, I think that this series is the one for you.

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

Bye for now…

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Last post for January...

It’s been exceptionally cold this past week, but it’s supposed to be a bit warmer today and sunny in the afternoon, so I won’t need to bundle up quite as much for my long Sunday walk.  My steaming cup of chai is still a welcome treat, along with a delicious Date Bar… Best.  Breakfast.  Ever.

I will tell you about two kids’ books today.  The first is the book my Intermediate students’ book club read before Christmas (I only finished on Wednesday).  The Iron Trial is the first in the “Magisterium” series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and it was quite interesting and well-written.  It tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy, Callum, who is called to undergo testing to be admitted into the Magisterium, but he does not want to go.  Having been raised by his father, Alistair, a mage who, after the death of his wife, has spurned magic, Call has always thought that magic, and the Magisterium, was something to be avoided at all cost.  When he is forced to join the group of First Years, the Iron Trial, he reluctantly goes, but rather than hating it as he expected, he finds things that he never had in his other life, friendship and loyalty and people who watch out for him.  But when he finally finds out the shocking truth which his father tried to shield him from, Call must make a monumental decision about not only his future, but that of the entire Magisterium and the world beyond.  Sound familiar?  I thought so, too.  There were so many similarities to “Harry Potter” that I almost gave up on it, but my kids are now halfway through the second book, The Copper Gauntlet, and I thought the least I could do was finish the first book.  Normally I sit and read with them, but this year seems to be so much busier than past years that I just didn’t have time during my regular work day.  Anyway, I’m glad I finished it because the ending was a huge surprise.  I now understand why the book club members wanted to read the next book.  If you are a fan of "Harry Potter", this is definitely a book you might enjoy.

And I’m nearly finished reading one of the Silver Birch nominees for this year, The Fabulous Zed Watson by Basil and Kevin Sylvester.  This novel tells the story of Zed Watson, a non-binary kid who is obsessed with finding the missing manuscript of a novel written by H K Taylor called The Monster’s Castle, a tortured romance between a vampire and a werewolf who both happen to be male.  Well, this was never going to be published, so the author released a few chapters along with a poem, and Zed has been searching for clues to finding this book, which they are sure exists.  When they strike up an unlikely friendship with Gabe, a shy, flora-loving classmate, they head off together on a quest to find this missing manuscript, along with Gabe’s sister Sam, a geology student who is headed back to university.  They encounter perils and challenges, as well as clues and successes (and plenty of ice cream!), along the way, but the best part about this book is the pure joy that is the character of Zed.  Despite the challenges they face being non-binary in today’s mostly-traditional society, they always stay positive and manage to make light of any situation.  They are fabulous and they aren’t afraid to show it.  This book is more than a literary mystery… it’s a meditation on society’s (slowly) changing attitudes toward gender identity, the power of friendship, and the benefits of staying positive in the face of adversity.  I am looking forward to finishing this novel today, but have no doubt that it will continue to be fabulous to the very last page.  It is so full of joy, wit, puns and “Zed-isms” that it had me laughing to myself and appreciating every sentence.  I hope this father-son team continues to write together, maybe other books featuring Zed and Gabe on more exciting adventures.  I loved this book, and I’m sure you will, too!

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

Bye for now...