Monday, 26 September 2022

Quick post on a Monday night...

It’s late-ish on a Monday night, a school/work night, and I’ve just attended a union meeting on Zoom, so I’m pretty tired, but I wanted to write a quick post about a book I finished on Saturday.  I finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a book that has come highly recommended by a number of very different people I know.  It is the book that we will be discussing on Saturday at my book club meeting, and I have to say that I was very unimpressed.  I think there must be something wrong… no, not wrong, just different… about my book tastes, because I rarely enjoy the books that “everyone” is raving about, books that are being made into movies, etc.  I don’t know why that is, what I look for and appreciate in books that seem to be missing in these stories, but it happens regularly enough that I’ve begun to wonder why my reading tastes are so much different than those of the majority of other readers.  In case you don’t know what this book is about, in case you missed the movie trailers, this novel focuses on Kya, a girl who basically raised herself in the marshes of New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s.  A death occurred in 1969, and we read about Kya’s early life and how she grew up, supporting and educating herself while being shunned by the nearby town and labeled the March Girl.  I don’t want to give anything away, but you can probably guess what happens with Kya and how she might be associated with the events in 1969.  I guess I didn’t enjoy being inside Kya’s head so much and living her lonely, isolated life on the marsh.  I found the writing somewhat uneven, and the characters and storylines not at all credible.  But I can believe that it would make an interesting, suspenseful movie!  Anyway, I’m curious to hear what my book club members have to say about it and will update you next week.

Have a good night!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 18 September 2022

A "no-book" post on a muggy day...

This may be the last of the muggy days for this year, which would make me so happy.  We had a brief taste of fall weather with one cool, refreshing day last week, and I’m ready for it to make a comeback.  For now, I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a bowl of what must surely be nearly the last of the summer strawberries, blueberries and peaches.

I didn’t read anything last week because I was waiting for my book club book to become available, so while I was waiting, I tried out a few books I already had borrowed from the library, but with no success.  When my hold became available, I rushed to pick it up, but I really struggled to get into it.  Then I had a number of things unexpectedly come up that I had to take care of after work several days last week, and I never did finish the book, which we are meeting to discuss tomorrow.  The reason I’m writing about this is to talk about reading choices.  I’ve decided to stop participating in this Friends Book Club, as I just feel like I’m reading too many books that I didn’t choose, while the library holds that I personally selected pile up and end up being returned unread.  I already have one book club that I facilitate, and I think that’s enough.  Reading is my favourite thing to do, and there will always be more great books out there than there is time to read them, so why would I spend my time reading something I’m not really into?  It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, as I really enjoy getting together with this group of friends and catching up, but I realize that when reading becomes work, something has to go.  So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t bother reading a book that’s not grabbing you.  Rest assured that there will be something else at hand that will pull you in and keep you engaged, delighted or inspired.

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

Bye for now...

Monday, 12 September 2022

Monday evening post...

It’s Monday night, the first Monday back to school with students in full attendance, and it’s going to be a long week (a full five days - yikes!!), so I think this will be a short-ish post.

I wanted to tell you about the discussion from Saturday morning’s Volunteer Book Club meeting.  The book selection was Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and everyone loved it.  I think everyone admitted that they would never have picked it up if it wasn’t on our list, but that they were so glad they did.  I listened to the audiobook last year and here’s what I said about it:

“The… 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!”

We talked a bit about everything, from Japan in WWII and the cruelty and bullying that went into training Kamikaze pilots to themes of honour and consequences and the unbelievable levels of bullying Nao faced in school.  One member who listened to this as an audiobook said she thought at first that it was a teen novel, as that is what it seems like at the beginning, but by the end she thought (and these are her exact words), “I am not smart enough to talk about this book” (you certainly are!!).  It was unfortunate that, of all our meetings, I had to cut that one short, as I had a funeral to go to, but I’m sure if we had more time we could have discussed much, much more.  In fact, we all agreed that this is the kind of book that should be discussed in small chunks as you read along, as it has so many interesting storylines and is so complex, with so many topics touched upon.  And the level of research that went into this book astounded everyone.  In short, we were awed by this book, so much so that there was a resounding “yes” when I asked if I should put her award-winning The Book of Form and Emptiness on the list for next year. 

And I read a short novel by another Canadian writer, The Most Cunning Heart by Catherine Graham.  A friend of mine told me about this book, which was written by her cousin, and was curious to know what I thought of it.  I recommended it as a purchase for my local library and was able to borrow it from there.  I’ll admit that I was feeling a little apprehensive about reading this book and sharing my thoughts with my friend, as it is a book about poetry and poets (specifically Irish poets), written by a poet, and I worried that it might be too literary and esoteric for me.  Well, it was literary, but also very accessible.  I’m sure if I knew more (or really anything!) about Irish poetry and poetry writing, I would have been able to understand this on a much deeper level, but I think I was able to get much of the story.  Set in the early 1990s, this short, beautifully written, lyrical novel tells the story of Caitlin Maharg, a poetry student and teacher who, when facing the loss of her parents, leaves her home in Canada to study in an exclusive poetry workshop in Northern Ireland.  Living in a cottage by the Irish Sea, she is reminded of her early years as a child, and she grapples with her memories as she tries to understand her parents’ secrets amidst the backdrop of the Troubles.  When she becomes involved with well-known poet Andy Evans, she loses herself in his charms and searches for a place to belong, even as she struggles to understand their relationship in the context of that of her parents.  This is yet another book about loss and grief, and each book that I’ve read has been told so differently, with such different stories and coping mechanisms.  But they all tell of the difficulty of grief, and illustrate in various ways that grieving is a process, one that is unique to each person and takes different forms, sometimes taking a year, sometimes a decade, sometimes a whole lifetime to resolve.  In this novel, Caitlin, or Cat, must come to her own conclusions about her relationship with Andy (despite my wanting to tell her again and again to stop and think about what she’s doing!!).  I don’t want to give too much away, but this was a quiet, captivating novel that explores the inner workings of the grieving heart as it learns to understand and heal itself.  I would like to thank my friend for bringing this lovely book to my attention - I hope I’ve done it some kind of justice here.

That’s all for tonight.  Take care and have a wonderful week!

Bye for now... Julie

Monday, 5 September 2022

Labour Day post...

It’s a cool, overcast day and I’m thrilled to have this extra day off to finish up a few things I didn’t get done over the summer.  But I thought it would be good to start the day with a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked date bread, as well as a short post about the book I finished last week.

I read Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s latest book, A Rip through Time, and it was… interesting.  It is the first in a new series featuring Vancouver homicide detective Mallory Atkinson.  It’s 2019, and Mallory is in Edinburgh to stay with her dying grandmother when, while out for a nighttime jog, she is attacked and left unconscious.  When she wakes, she finds herself transported to 1869 and is inhabiting the body of young Catriona, a housemaid to Dr Gray.  Catriona has also been recently attacked and left for dead in the exact same spot as Mallory. She determines that she was somehow transported back to Victorian Scotland through a rip in time, and believes that the only way back to her family and her real life in the modern world is by figuring out who attacked Catriona.  When more bodies turn up, the case becomes more complex and mind-bending, and Mallory, in the guise of the housemaid, must work fast to stop the killer before more people die, while also being conscious of not changing history.  I’m not a fan of time-travel: I’ve never watched Dr Who and haven’t read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series.  And I don’t enjoy historical mysteries.  This book was both a book about time-travel and a historical mystery, and Armstrong managed to pull it off (I wonder if there's anything she can't do!!).  I was drawn in immediately and found myself searching for more opportunities to read.  It was much like the first “Rockton” book, where it’s setting the stage for future novels, and while this was not quite as good as City of the Lost (“Rockton” series, book 1), I will definitely watch for the next book in the (“Edinburgh”??) series.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy what’s left of the long weekend, and have a wonderful day!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 28 August 2022

End-of-summer post…

I know it’s not really the end of summer, that there are, in fact, another three+ weeks until the official beginning of fall, but I’m going back to work tomorrow after summer break, so it feels like the end to me.  I also have a heaping bowl of fresh local fruit for breakfast, and am reminded that it's nearly the end of the season for peaches and strawberries... but apple and butternut squash season is just beginning! I have been furiously reading children’s books for my committee all summer, but we’ve made our final selections last week and I’m thrilled to be able to read adult books again!  I’ve finished two novels and am working on a third right now, but I have lots to do on my last day off, so this will be a quick post. 

Both novels deal with the grieving process, but they couldn’t be more different.  The first book I read was Ghost Forest by Canadian author Pik-Shuen Fung.  In this brief, haunting debut, the main character is the oldest daughter in a family that was moved from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1997, just before the transfer of sovereignty.  Her father was one of many “astronaut” fathers, men who remain working in Hong Kong but fly back and forth to visit their families.  The main character lives with her mother, grandparents and younger sister, and when she reaches adulthood, she faces the loss of the father who was both there and not there during her life, a stoic man with whom she has a complex and difficult relationship.  Poetically written in brief chapters, we follow her life from her move to Vancouver to the death of her father and beyond.  It was a wonderful, moving story that was both easy and difficult to read, imbued with sadness as well as hope.

The next book I read was Notes on your Sudden Disappearance by Alisone Espach, which conformed more closely to what my ideas of a “traditional” book dealing with grief would be like.  Growing up in a typical American suburban family, thirteen-year-old Sally and sixteen-year-old Kathy are as close as sisters can be.  They are both obsessed with Billy Barnes, a boy one year older than Kathy who eventually becomes her boyfriend, leaving Sally to nurture her obsession in secret.  When Kathy dies in a car crash, Sally and Billy form a bond that evolves over time, and we see the affects of her death on all of the family members, as well as Billy, as they try to process their loss.  This book was interesting and well-written, and the author has some wonderful descriptions, insights and turns of phrases, but I found it somewhat overlong and ultimately disappointing.  While I was glad to reach the last page, it was still worth reading.

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

Bye for now... Julie

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Very short post for the end of July...

It’s going to be a humid day, but so far it’s bearable, so I’ve got a steaming cup of tea as I write this incredibly short post. And sorry, I messed up the text background and have too much reading to do to waste any more time trying to fix it.

I’ve been trying to get through as many Silver Birch books as possible since it’s “crunch time” - my list of nominee choices is due to the committee in less than 3 weeks!  But I also have book club meetings and have to read those books, too.  So last weekend I read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for my Friends’ Book Club meeting on Monday night, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time I read it a number of years ago.  This novel, set in 1820s rural China, tells the story of two girls from different backgrounds who are paired up as laotongs, or “old sames”, but who, due to class and circumstances, cannot continue visiting in person.  They manage to remain in contact using Nu shu, a special language used exclusively by women in the Hunan Province of Southern China, but a misunderstanding causes their friendship to end, with disastrous results.  This book was fairly short, and I guess since I’ve read it before, I knew what to expect, but for my other book club members, I think it was quite shocking, as it detailed the process mothers used for binding their daughters’ feet (at age six or seven!!), as well as the roles (and limitations) of women during this period in Chinese history.  It sparked a great discussion about the roles of women globally over the last couple of centuries, and we wondered where things might be headed in the future.  We also discussed restrictive clothing and fashion items in history (corsets, high heels, etc).  It was a good discussion, with most people saying that this book was a real eye-opener, as they knew foot binding happened, but they didn’t know much about it or really understand the full implications of this ritual.

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 17 July 2022

No-post Sunday...

As I’m drinking a delicious cup of steeped tea on this still-cool Sunday morning, I wanted to let you know that there may be a stretch of a few weeks when there are no posts.  It’s not that I’m not reading.  Rather, I’m reading a lot, just not books I can tell you about, as it’s crunch time for Silver Birch reading.  We are selecting the ten nominees next month, which is a big responsibility, and there are still books on our list that no one has read yet, so I’m trying to get to as many of them as I can in order to give them all a chance.  Who knows?  Maybe one of those unread books could have been the big winner if only we’d read it in time!!

So stay cool and keep reading and I’ll touch base again when I’ve read something I can actually talk about!

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Twofer Tuesday...

It’s raining this morning, something we’ve needed for a while, and I’m officially into the first full week of my summer vacation - HURRAY!!  I was at the Mennonite thrift store yesterday to look at books and I ended up buying a really interesting triangular shaped teacup and saucer set, white porcelain with a bold pink flower on both the cup and the saucer, which I’m using right now to drink my flowery steeped Pu-erh Exotic tea.  So far, it’s a great morning!

I’ve got two books to tell you about this morning.  The first is a book that was on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Sorrow and Bliss by British Australian author Meg Mason.  Now, I know that Canadian author Ruth Ozeki won this year’s prize for The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I’m sure is fabulous, but Sorrow and Bliss was probably one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can understand how it made the shortlist.  This novel tells the story of Martha Friel, a 40-year-old British columnist who has just split up with Patrick, her husband of seven years.  She has moved back into her dysfunctional family home where she hopes to come to terms with the mental illness she has been trying to deal with since she was seventeen and a “little bomb” went off in her brain.  She recounts for us her experiences growing up with her alcoholic sculptor mother Celia and her kindly not-published poet father Fergus, as well as her younger sister Ingrid, with whom she has a close relationship.  She experiences suicidal thoughts throughout the 20+ years leading up to her 40th birthday party, thrown for her by her husband even though she specifically said that she didn’t want a party.  Shortly after this, Patrick leaves, and Martha must try to cope on her own, which she does poorly, prompting her to return to her London home.  I don’t want to say any more about the story or her experiences because the discovery is part of the joy of reading this book.  I will say that it was a hugely moving story of one woman’s struggle to cope with mental illness, and the devastating effects on people’s lives when mental health issues are ignored, denied or go undiagnosed or unacknowledged.  It was also incredibly funny, in a dark, insightful way, and the witty, sarcastic banter between Martha and Ingrid were some of the best parts of the book (well, to be honest, the whole book was a string of “best parts”).  It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me feel deeply for those who suffer in silence.  This book brought to mind Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:  imagine Esther Greenwood in a contemporary setting but 20 years older and having had various adult experiences, including getting married.  Actually, both Esther and Martha are writers, so maybe Mason was inspired by Plath’s novel.  Anyway, I think if you enjoyed The Bell Jar, you would definitely enjoy Sorrow and Bliss. It will certainly make my "shortlist" at the end of the year!

And my Volunteer Book Club will be meeting on Friday morning to discuss Canadian author Richard Wagamese’s amazing novel Indian Horse, which I finished yesterday.  This novel tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy whose family was forcibly separated in the late 1950’s and he ended up at a residential school at the age of eight.  There he suffered the terrible living conditions and mistreatment by the priests and nuns and witnessed more sorrow and cruelty than any child should ever see, but he had the love of hockey to keep his spirits up and give him purpose and hope during those desolate years.  He begs Father Leboutilier to allow him to play, and he exhibits a gift for seeing the game and using the ice to its fullest for strategic passing.  He’s singled out by Fred Kelly, a former residential school student, and moves into Fred’s family home to play with the Moose, a team of older boys who play a circuit of other Native hockey teams.  Saul’s gifts bring the team plenty of wins and they are invited to play an exhibition game against an older, more polished team of white players.  This portion of the book details the discrimination these Native players face in towns in Northern Ontario in the 1960s, when hockey was seen as a white man’s game.  Saul reluctantly moves up through the levels of hockey until he loses himself in the face of hatred and discrimination.  Although it takes many years, Saul eventually learns to deal with his past and finds a way to restore the peace and joy he felt when he first discovered hockey.  This was a fabulous read, a novel that was both incredibly heartwrenching but also filled with hope.  Wagamese did an amazing job of making Saul real and relatable, and I was thankful that there were so many moments of joy in what could have been an utterly depressing yet necessary book.  Barely over 200 pages, it is a short book that seems so much longer.  Like Saul’s hockey moves, each of Wagamese’s words was deliberately chosen and packed with meaning.  I think it will spark a great discussion with my group.  If you haven’t already read this award-winning novel, I would recommend picking it up as soon as possible. 

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and dry!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Big headache, short post...

I have a huge headache today, so this will be a very short, very uninspired post.

Last week, in between the many Silver Birch books I’ve been reading, I managed to squeeze in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I put on hold in March and only just got last week.  Here is what Indigo had to say about it:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

I will just say very quickly that I didn’t enjoy this book, and it’s probably because I’m absolutely not interested in the lives of Hollywood actors and movie stars.  But it was definitely written to be adapted for television, which is exactly what’s happening right now:  it’s being made into a Netflix series.  If you are a tabloid reader, or even a reader of memoirs, then you would probably enjoy this book. I don't enjoy either; still, I guess there must have been enough that was intriguing about this story for me to actually finish it.  Anyway, don’t listen to me on this book, but if you are interested in it, you should get your name on your library holds list now if you want to read it before the series comes out!

Bye for now…

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