Sunday 27 February 2022

Last post for February...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Monday 21 February 2022

Post on a mild, sunny Monday afternoon

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

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

Sunday 13 February 2022

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

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 6 February 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye for now…