Sunday 24 April 2022

Post on a sunny summer-ish day...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Friday 15 April 2022

Early Easter weekend post...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

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

Sunday 10 April 2022

April showers bring May flowers...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 3 April 2022

First post for April...

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

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

That’s all for today.  Happy Reading!!

Bye for now... Julie