Sunday 25 December 2022

Another book...

It’s evening on Christmas day, and I just remembered that I also finished another book that I need to tell you about.  The Theory of Crows is the first adult novel written by award-winning Canadian children’s author David A Robertson, and it follows estranged father Matthew and his daughter Hallelujah (Holly) as they try to find their way back to what they had before they began to drift apart.  Matt works long hours and is trading flirtation online texts with a colleague rather than being home with his wife and fifteen-year-old daughter Holly.  He is himself feeling adrift in his world, unconnected to anything and filled with emptiness.  Holly also shares these feelings of emptiness and desperately needs to renew the connection with her father, but she won’t beg and he has to earn it.  When something happens that changes their lives, they go on a journey of self-discovery and healing that may bring them closer to one another and to the land, as well as to an understanding of how they are all connected.  I have never read anything by this author, and this book started out really well, but somewhere along the way I felt it got a bit muddled.  The messages in the book were good ones, but I felt that it got a bit repetitive and empty (for lack of a better word) after the halfway point, and I didn’t really feel that the ending redeemed the novel.  Still, it was interesting enough and educational in terms of Indigenous thoughts and feelings about the land and their connection to it, so if you were looking for a novel about the Indigenous experience, especially one that doesn’t dwell on residential schools, this wouldn’t be a bad one to pick up.  My one big concern was Robertson’s use of the “f” word, which was scattered liberally across every page in differing forms.  I’m generally not offended by language, but this seemed excessive even by my loose standards, and I wondered while reading it why he chose to do this.  Anyway, there you go, another book to consider.

Have a good night!

Bye for now…

Post on a snowy Christmas morning...

It’s a perfect Christmas morning here in our snowy part of the country, and looking outside the window is a bit like looking into a snow globe that has just been shaken up.  It’s been a month since my last post, and while you may think that I’ve been on a blog-cation, these past four weeks have been anything but for this blogger.  Every weekend has been busy with preparations to rent out our condo to our new tenant, and let me assure you that I would have preferred blogging to doing that.  But it’s all ready to go now and at least I’ve been reading, so I have a number of books to tell you about.

The first book is The It Girl by Ruth Ware, which was, in my opinion, not her best book but also not her worst, just kind of middle-of-the-road.  Ten years after the death of her roommate, Hannah Jones is still coming to terms with this horrific event while expecting her first child.  A decade earlier, she was a new student at Oxford who could hardly believe she was there, never imagining that she would one day be a part of this picturesque beacon of higher learning.  Surrounded by fellow students who all come from wealthy backgrounds, she felt alternately accepted and alienated, depending on the situation.  Her very wealthy, privileged roommate, April Clark-Cliveden, an enigma who took everything in life for granted, was both a great friend and perhaps also a manipulative adversary.  After discovering April's body in their room, Hannah spends the next ten years in a fog, never truly embracing her life and all the happiness that should have been hers to enjoy.  When John Neville, one of the college porters and the man who was convicted of April’s murder, dies in prison, Hannah is contacted by an investigative reporter who wants to dig deeper into the historic murder to prove that he was innocent, something Neville had claimed from the beginning.  This opens up a wound that had never really closed for Hannah, and she undertakes to help this reporter despite her advanced pregnancy and the advice of everyone around her to leave it alone.  If John Neville wasn’t the killer, who could it have been?  And can she find out the truth before she or her unborn child end up dead, too?  This was a page-turner for sure, but it was just OK.  The alternating chapters were a bit challenging, but it was interesting enough to keep me reading to the very last page, so I’d say you could do worse if you were in the mood for an Oxford-based “before” and “after” suspense novel.

The next book I read was Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean for our December book club.  I’ve been a fan of “The Vinyl Cafe” and Stuart McLean for years, with “Dave cooks the turkey” being one of my favourite Christmas stories, so I wanted to share this with my book club members in case they hadn’t been exposed to this amazing Canadian talent.  Not surprisingly, all but one of my members were also long-time fans, and the one who wasn’t definitely is now!  In case you are unfamiliar with these stories, they are all about Dave and Morley and Sam and Stephanie, a family living in a small town in I think Nova Scotia, and their interactions within their neighbourhood and community.  Dave owns a used record shop called “The Vinyl Cafe” whose motto is “We may not be big, but we’re small”.  These always funny, often moving stories were originally aired as episodes on a radio show on CBC from 1994-2015, and it was with great sadness that fans learned of McLean’s death from cancer in 2017.  My book club members, who read Home from the Vinyl Cafe, loved revisiting familiar stories and hearing from Dave and Morley again after so many years.  We all agreed that when reading the stories, we read them while hearing McLean’s voice in our heads, his dramatic pauses and distinctive inflections.  If you haven’t heard Stuart Mclean, I would highly recommend that you check out “Dave cooks the turkey” online today, as it’s a perfect addition to any Christmas celebration.

The next book I read was a sci fi selection that was recommended by a friend, Planetfall by Emma Newman.  This novel is set in the near-distant future and focuses on a colony of settlers on an unnamed planet who, twenty-two years before, followed Suh-Mi, a scientist who, after discovering a mysterious plant while on a hike and eating part of it, fell into a coma, only to regain consciousness with a vision to leave behind the ravaged planet Earth and travel to find God among the stars.  Suh leads a group of followers, including her friend and lover Renata (Ren), and they do discover an alien structure known as God’s City, but Suh enters this structure and never comes out.  We enter the story as a mysterious man approaches the colony claiming to be Suh’s grandson and the son of two followers who were believed to have perished in the accidental crash of one of the capsules.  As the date for the annual Seed Ceremony approaches, Ren is wondering if she and their leader Mack should continue in their charade, considering the arrival of this man to be a signal to reveal the truth about this mission.  But what is the truth, and can she reveal it without destroying the colony and losing herself?  The mystery in this book is intriguing, but it was Ren’s character, her tightly woven shell that slowly begins to unravel, that was most compelling for me, the thing that made me want to keep reading.  This is the first book in a series, and the second book, After Atlas, was actually the book that my friend recommended, but when I started that one, I felt that I needed the backstory to appreciate it and decided to read the first book.  I will definitely read After Atlas at some point, just not now, as I don’t have the time, but I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys reading novels that ask thought-provoking questions and make readers consider our place in the cosmos and all the responsibilities that go with it.

Then I read Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, another novel that, coincidentally, focuses on the return of a woman from a failed mission, this time to the depths of the ocean, and her wife’s struggles to adjust to her lover’s transformation.  Leah is a grant-writer and works from home, while her wife Miri, a marine biologist, goes on research expeditions for various companies.  Miri’s most recent expedition was supposed to last for three weeks, but due to some unexplained malfunction, she and her crew mates were trapped in their submarine in the ocean depths for more than six months.  When she returns, Miri is not the person she was before the expedition, and Leah must learn to endure and cope with Miri’s ever-worsening condition as she tries to find answers and accept help from friends, while also creating an insulated existence for both of them.  I don’t want to say too much about this, because the evolution of the condition, Miri’s ever-evolving needs and Leah’s responses to them, are what makes this book unputdownable, a slim book that seems to be so much longer, but in a really good way.  The chance reading of Planetfall and then Our Wives Under the Sea, both novels with such similar themes, seemed very coincidental to me, and I found myself looking for comparisons to Newman’s novel while reading Armfield’s book.  Our Wive Under the Sea was the more literary and definitely more philosophical, yet both managed to explore similar themes of love and loss, grief and coping mechanisms, and the value of love at any cost.  I’m still thinking about the ending of this book, but I would definitely recommend it to just about anyone who wants a short book that has great depth (pun totally intended!!).

And to round out the post, I have a Young Adult book to tell you about, The Door of No Return by award-winning author Kwame Alexander.  This novel, set in West Africa’s Asante kingdom in 1860 and written as a series of short, free-verse poems, focuses on eleven-year-old Kofi Offin, a boy who leads a normal life;  he enjoys school, loves his family, especially his older brother, Kwasi, and has a crush on his distant cousin Ama.  His other, slightly older cousin often beats and bullies him, and Kofi finally comes up with a competition he can actually win against him. But during a boxing match at the Kings Festival between Upper and Lower Kwanta, Kwasi accidentally causes the death of the opposing ruler’s son, and when the king retaliates, it changes the course of Kofi’s life forever.  This moving, engrossing novel, the first in a trilogy, is a must for any school library, but while it begins innocently enough for middle grade students, it is definitely meant for intermediate grades, as it contains themes of imprisonment, abuse, rape and human trafficking.  It was a fantastic, engrossing, enlightening book, told in a way that was easy to read without diminishing the severity of the events.  According to the author, this is historical fiction based on real events and shares the story of the people of Africa before slavery rather than only focusing on the slavery aspect of their history.

Whew!  That was a lot of books to write about.  I’m now going to make a delicious hot oatmeal breakfast and enjoy some oat nog as a Christmas treat. Next week I’ll have my “best of” lists to share, but until then, I’m hoping to read a couple of good books that may be contenders.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Bye for now…

Sunday 27 November 2022

Post on a rainy November day...

It’s gray and rainy outside, thoroughly unpleasant for walking, but perfect for reading!  It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’m looking forward to doing just that once I finish this quick post.

I read a really interesting novel by Canadian author Emily St John Mandel, another book I found while “shopping in my closet” .   The Lola Quartet is a slow-moving mystery set in New York and southern Florida involving four high school friends who once played in a jazz band called “The Lola Quartet”, but at the end of their final year, they all move on with their lives and lose touch. One of the members, Gavin, moves to New York to become a journalist after his girlfriend, Anna, disappears, rumored to have gone to spend the summer with her aunt in Georgia.  Shifting back and forth in time, we follow Anna as she attempts to stay in hiding, but what is she running from?  And she has a young girl with her, Chloe, who may or may not be Gavin’s daughter.  Fired from his job at a New York newspaper for plagiarism, he goes back to Florida to work with his sister repossessing houses.  She was taking photos of one such foreclosed house when she saw this girl who looks a lot like Gavin, which sets her brother, who has always wanted to be a 1950's private investigator, off on a mission to locate Anna and Chloe, a search that begins with reaching out to his former jazz quartet friends to find out if they have any clue about where Anna went or what happened to her a decade earlier.  Underlying the interconnected stories of the characters in both the past and the present is the theme of music, particularly jazz, giving this story a vintage air.  The narrative was very Paul Auster-esque, in that it was both dream-like and timeless, with prose that carried this reader along as though drifting on clouds or down a slow-moving river.  It’s been nearly a week since I finished it, but that’s how I remembered feeling when I reached the final pages.  It was a short book that seemed much longer, but in a really good way.  I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys Paul Auster mysteries; in fact, this book makes me really want to reread the “New York” trilogy, maybe over Christmas break.

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and curl up with a good book!

Bye for now…

Sunday 20 November 2022

Post on a snowy morning...

It’s windy and snowy and quite chilly this morning as I write this post.  Good thing I have a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread to keep me warm.  Oh, and also a purring kitty on my lap… Does it get any better than this?!

Nothing that I had from the library was grabbing me last week, so I did a “shopping in my own closet” thing and found a few books on my own bookshelves that I thought I would try.  What I ended up reading was The Drowning by Sweden’s “Queen of Crime Fiction” Camilla Lackberg.  This is a later book in the "Fjällbacka" series, and it is the first book I’ve read by this author, so I came into it not knowing any of the backstories of the characters or their relationships inside or outside the station, but I think I still got most of it.  When the debut novel by Fjällbacka resident Christian Thyndall becomes an instant hit, mesmerizing readers with its dark magic, crime writer Erica Falck, is thrilled, as she is the one who recommended Christian to her editor.  But when she discovers that he’s been receiving threatening letters, she begs her husband, Detective Patrik Hedström, to investigate. Patrik and the other detectives at the station are at loose ends when trying to console the wife of a man who’s been missing for several months, a man who seems to have disappeared into thin air.  When he discovers that the disappearance of the missing man and the threatening letters may be tied together, he enlists the help of the whole team to dig deeper into their pasts.  But what he uncovers is more strange and deadly than anyone could have anticipated.  This was a good book, with characters that were interesting and a plot that was definitely complex and psychological, and I would certainly read other books in this series.  My only complaint is that this book took some time to really get going plot-wise, and her books are all quite long.  I’m not sure all of them are like this, but it’s a bit of a deterrent if I can’t really get into the story until nearly halfway through a 500-page mystery.  I think I would have to spread the novels out and not read them back-to-back.  

The other book I pulled off my shelf was The Lola Quartet by Canadian author Emily St John Mandel, which is really interesting (and quite short!!), but I’m not quite finished and will have to wait until next week to tell you about it.

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 6 November 2022

Late evening post on a long-ish weekend...

It’s late on the first Sunday in November, my favourite weekend of the year because we get that extra hour due to the clocks being turned back.  Obviously I didn’t use the extra hour to write my post this morning, but I figure it’s better late than never.

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Alex Michaelides’ psychological thriller, The Silent Patient, and everyone LOVED this book!!  Here’s what I wrote about it when I read it the first time in February of 2019:

“I read two books last week and finished listening to an audiobook, so this might be a long post.  The first book I read, or should I say devoured, was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.  Artist Alicia Berenson is in an institute for the criminally insane after stabbing her husband to death.  For seven years, she has not spoken a word, not even to defend herself or explain her actions.  Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber, convinced that he can break through her wall of silence and get her talking, gets hired on at the institute and takes on her case as his personal challenge.  But as he digs deeper, he discovers that her silence is covering up secrets far more complex than he ever imagined.  And he must consider whether, ultimately, he really wants the truth revealed.  This debut thriller sucked me in right away, and kept me flying through the pages until the very last paragraph.  It was one of the best “unreliable narrator” novels I’ve read in a long time, and the plot twists were so sudden and shocking that I had to stop and think about it all until everything fell into place and I was amazed at the final picture these puzzle pieces created.  This would be a great novel for anyone who enjoyed The Silent Wife (ASA Harrison), The Widow (Fiona Barton) or Before I Go To Sleep (S J Watson).”

I really can’t add any more details than what is written above, as I wouldn’t want to give anything away.  This also means that I can’t really talk about our discussion, as we mostly discussed aspects of the novel (such as characters, narratives, timelines, etc) in relation to the ending, but I obviously don’t want to reveal the ending.  It was a really, really good book that I found unputdownable, even the second time.  I kind of remembered the ending, but not all of it, so it was still somewhat of a surprise for me, and I can understand why I had to think about it the first time before figuring out just what had happened.  If you like psychological thrillers, I would highly recommend this novel.

And I finished another book today, The Burning Girls by C J Tudor, which was pretty good as well.  This novel tells the story of Jack Brooks, a vicar and single mother of fifteen year old Flo, who moves from her home parish in Nottingham to the small village of Chapel Croft in pursuit of a fresh start.  Well, Chapel Croft wouldn’t have been her first choice, but she does her best to settle into a community that is steeped in tradition and history, particularly around the martyred parishioners who were burned at the stake in the 1500s.  Jack is taking over from the former vicar who hanged himself in the chapel, but she is determined to make a go of this, despite the hardships she and her daughter face when trying to get used to village life.  When creepy things start to happen, Jack is suitably frightened, both for herself and for her daughter, but rather than abandoning their new home, they stay and try to figure out what’s going on.  Oh, along with the martyrs, two teens, Merry and Joy, disappeared from the village 30 years before and have never been heard from again.  This would definitely be enough to send me running to the nearest bus station and heading back to Nottingham, but clearly Jack has a stronger constitution (and calling) than I.  She is also running from an unfortunate incident in her recent pass that makes her reluctant to return to her former stomping grounds. Despite the warnings and visions experienced by both Jack and Flo, they continue to search for clues to help solve the mystery, but can they do so before someone else gets hurt?  Reading this book was a bit like watching a classic horror movie, where you yell at the main characters to “go back, don’t open that door”, and yet they not only open the door, they step out into the night (alone!!) searching for whatever made the noise.  It was not literary, but it was good creepy fun, perfect for reading around Halloween, when our thoughts turn to ghostly apparitions and things that go bump in the night.  If you are looking for a good, creepy story set in a small British village, you could definitely do worse than this one.

That’s all for tonight.  Have a good evening!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 30 October 2022

Final post for October... finally!!

I know I’ve been lax with my posts lately, but many things have been happening in the past few weeks that have taken up my evenings and weekends and so have impacted my reading and blogging time (I hate when “life” gets in the way of books and reading!!).  But I have a hot cup of tea and a slice of homemade Date Bread to keep me company as I write this long (and long overdue!) post.

This will be a “two-fer”, as I’ve had a chance to finish reading two books and am halfway through a third, which I will have to set aside in order to read the book for my next book club meeting on Saturday.  The first book I read was by Canadian author Catherine McKenzie, and it was un-put-downable!  Please Join Us tells the story of a couple of lawyers living in New York who are experiencing a crisis when one of them faces criticism and remonstrations at her law firm when her number of billable hours are down for the month.  Nicole is highly competitive and takes this criticism and the implied threat of dismissal very personally.  Her husband, Dan, works as on-site counsel and faces none of these pressures, and he tries to reassure her that things will get better, although they are definitely struggling, both financially and in their relationship.  When Nicole receives an invitation to attend a week away at a ranch to join an exclusive women’s networking group, she jumps at the chance, even though Dan warns against it, claiming that it sounds like a cult.  Panthera Leo, as the group is called, is made up of high-powered women who profess to stick together, watch each others' backs and help each other out, to deal with things “like a man would”.  Nicole bonds with a couple of the women, and while she is shocked by some of the events during the week, she sees the value of this group and accepts their help when faced with difficult situations at work and in her personal life.  The things that are asked of her seem benign, but when one night, after a frantic call from a member, things seem to spiral out of control, Nicole must figure out a way to leave the group without ruining the life she and Dan have built together and also ruining her career.  This novel totally sucked me in from the beginning and kept me turning pages to find out what happens next.  It reminded me a bit of The Other Black Girl, in that you never quite knew exactly what was going on at any given time, because the narrator of the story only has her version of events to share.  But all things became clear as I reached a very satisfying conclusion, and I was both glad to find out what was really happening and sad that there wasn’t more to read.  I would highly recommend this thriller to just about anyone who enjoys books about hidden agendas, secret organizations and cults.

And I finished another fabulous book last week, Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett, which was very different from Please Join Us, but was also un-put-downable.  Lovett’s novel has two storylines set in two different time periods.  In 2010, Robert Parrish is an up-and-coming author who seems unable to write a follow-up to his bestselling debut novel.  He and his girlfriend Rebecca are struggling in their relationship, as Robert refuses to reveal the truth about his past with his father.  After a huge argument that results in Rebecca's departure, Robert realizes that the only way he can win her back is to delve into his past, which involves a series of children’s books that created a deep bond between father and son, but which also holds a dark secret.  In 1906, Magda, Eugene and Thomas are three strangers who end up meeting and developing a deep friendship over their efforts to write three children’s book series.  They have a wonderful time and enjoy many outings together when not working on their books, but after an event that threatens to sever their relationship, things are never quite the same.  Can Robert figure out what he has to do to win Rebecca back?  Will Magda, Eugene and Thomas ever resume their friendship?  These questions and many more will be answered if you read this excellent novel.  It was a perfect example of metafiction, which is coincidental, as I was just reading a book to the students at school, The Wonderful Book by Leonid Gore, that was also an example of metafiction - and the kids even understood the concept!!  It was an homage to the power of children’s books and the effects books can have on us.  It was a love song to New York, and also a history lesson - the amount of research for this novel was extensive.  It was beautifully written and each character was fully developed and credible.  I was sucked into both dramas and found myself looking for reading opportunities wherever I could.  As you can probably tell, I loved, loved, loved this book!  And it was just a fluke that I even discovered it, as I read a review for a newer publication by this author but my library didn’t have it yet, so I checked this one out instead.  The cover didn’t even really appeal to me, since it suggested a work of historical fiction, which it kind of was, and which I don’t normally enjoy.  So here’s a lesson in the truth about not judging a book by its cover!  I think if you enjoy novels that are steeped in the love of books and reading, and especially the value of books for children, then this is the book for you.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine and the unusually mild weather!

Bye for now... Julie

Monday 10 October 2022

Post on Thanksgiving Monday...

Well, it’s a perfect fall day, for which I’m truly thankful, as I’ve got time this afternoon for a long walk.  I’ve got laundry hanging outside in the sun to dry and a delicious homemade muffin with rhubarb from my garden to enjoy with my steaming cup of Pu-Erh tea.  And this is another post on a Monday… I think Monday is the new Sunday!

This post will be super short, as I have a kitty lying on one arm, making it very difficult to type.  Last night I finished Canadian author Joy Fielding’s recent domestic thriller, The Housekeeper, which I thought was OK, but not as riveting and “page-turner-worthy” as I’d hoped.  Adult daughter Jodi hires Elyse Woodley to work as a housekeeper for her elderly father and invalid mother, and at first she seems too good to be true.  Unfortunately, we all know the truth about things that seem too good to be true, so when things begin to go wrong, we know where the story is headed.  There were few surprises in this book, and I found most of the characters, while credible, to be either very disagreeable or very unlikable… but that’s just my opinion.  As a thriller, it ticks all the boxes, and I can see why she’s a bestselling author.  It was a “Canadian Tire” book, but if you’re in the mood for a domestic thriller, especially one highlighting many parts of Toronto, you could do worse than this one.

That’s all for today.  Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Bye for now... Julie

Monday 3 October 2022

First post for October... on a Monday night!

Since this doesn’t get emailed out to anyone anymore, I guess I don’t really need to comment on what day it is, but old habits die hard so thank you for your patience.

This is going to be a quick post, as it’s late-ish on a Monday night and I’m tired, but I didn’t do this yesterday and wanted to get it done before I forgot everything about our book club meeting this past weekend.  We discussed Where the Crawdads Sing, which, if you read my last post, you know I didn’t enjoy.  Well, we had a nearly full house on Saturday and everyone finished and liked (but not necessarily loved) the book.  The first thing one member said when asked what she thought of it was, “Well, I certainly had to suspend my sense of disbelief”, which I think was the problem with my reading.  I thought this book was supposed to seem credible, but if I’d realized that it was a modern-day fairy tale, I may have been able to get through it with fewer issues.  Most everyone said they were immediately drawn in and the story held their interest to the very end.  One member said it was a slow ride, not gripping, but a gradual build.  Everyone found the character of Kya fascinating, and we all thought she was brilliant, that she represented untapped nature in its purest form, and Tate embraced and nurtured this "nature" while Chase aimed only to dominate and destroy it.  Kya’s isolation was both prison and freedom, and her interactions with Jumpin’ and Mabelle, while her only social interactions other than with Tate or Chase, had limitations that both she and society placed on them.  We talked about so many other things, and had a wonderful discussion.  One member said that they thought this was the longest discussion we’ve had about a book in ages, which I think is true.  They thought it was a great choice, and I agree that it has plenty of talking points and is a great book club selection, so if you haven’t read it or are looking for a book for your book club, I think I can safely recommend this title.  

I also just finished a wonderful teen novel, Family of Liars by E Lockhart.  This is the prequel to We Were Liars, which I listened to as an audiobook sometime in the past year and really enjoyed.  Here’s what I said about the first novel last October:

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

I couldn’t give much away about that book without spoiling it, and the same goes for this novel, which looks at the teen’s parents when they were just teens themselves, and what has shaped them to be a family of liars, where the lying began and why.  If you love novels filled with family secrets and hidden pasts, then these two might be good choices for you.  But I want to caution you to read the original book first and the prequel after, as it contains spoilers.  

That’s all for now.  Happy Reading and Happy Fall!

Bye for now... Julie

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