Sunday 27 March 2022

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

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 20 March 2022

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

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

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

The Gown by Jennifer Robson… tells the story of Ann Hughes in 1947 post-war Britain, where news about the upcoming marriage between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip is a welcome distraction for a country that is rebuilding after the devastation wrought by the war.  Ann works on the famed wedding gown with French-immigrant Holocaust-survivor Miriam Dassin, who will eventually become a world-renowned artist.  Nearly 70 years later, Toronto journalist Heather Mackenzie comes across an intricately stitched fabric hidden in her recently deceased grandmother’s belongings.  As Heather tries to discover what this fabric, saved specifically for her, is meant to tell her, we are shifted back and forth between past and present as a connection is slowly revealed.  This was another interesting novel that weaves fact and fiction into a most engaging story.  Who knew the story about a gown could be so interesting?!”

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday 15 March 2022

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

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 6 March 2022

Better than nothing...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie