Sunday, 19 March 2023

Last winter post...

It’s Sunday evening on the last day of winter and despite the extra brightness due to Daylight Savings Time, it definitely felt like winter today, snowy and windy and cold for most of the afternoon.  It’s also the end of March Break, and I haven’t written earlier because I hadn’t finished reading anything until a couple of days ago, but now I’ve finished two books to write about in this post.

I spent most of the week before March Break reading a book that was recommended to me by a friend… well, he actually recommended the second in the series, but I thought I should read the first book before I tackled the second.  My library didn’t have them so I made a suggestion for purchase and they bought both.  The book I read and just finished minutes ago was Delta-v by Daniel Suarez, a high-tech thriller set mainly in deep space as a crew of experts undertake a secret mission to mine asteroids.  The novel begins with charismatic billionaire Nathan Joyce inviting adventurers from across the globe to take part in his latest scheme - to mine a near-Earth asteroid for resources in the hopes of kick-starting an off-world economy.   Among those invited to train are an ex-caver, an ex-soldier, a former astronaut and a mountain climber, but only a handful will make the final cut.  When these lucky few are sent out to attempt the first human-guided mining operation, no one knows what to expect, least of all Joyce himself. What the crew and the billionaire face could pave the way for a multi-planet human existence, and could lead to fame and fortune or destruction and death.  This novel, followed by Critical Mass (the one my friend actually recommended), was set in the near-future (the 2030s) and took some time to get off the ground (no pun intended!!), but once the story really started going, it was a deep space roller coaster ride around the galaxy.  I’m not a real “space gal”, so much of the science went over my head (again, no pun intended!), but rather than letting myself get bogged down by that, I just went with it and figured I’d get the gist of the story without dwelling on all the details I didn’t understand.  I had to stop reading this a few days ago because I have a book club meeting tomorrow night and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to read that book, but I was able to seamlessly pick up where I left off, and it got very, very exciting in the last third of the book.  If you like space thrillers, this might be a good choice for you.  It was less literary than Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, but it was certainly an accessible read, even for an astronaut-neophyte like me. I think I'll hold off on tackling Critical Mass, as I have so many other books to read and I need to give my brain a break from all the science!

And I reread Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which I think I enjoyed a bit less than the first time I’d read it.  Here’s my post from September 26, 2014:

“I didn't get much reading done last Sunday, as it turned out to be a fabulous "outside" day.  But I did manage to get a start on McEwan's novel, The Children Act.  I always enjoy his novels, although sometimes I have to ruminate on them for a bit after reaching the last page before coming to that conclusion - this happened with On Chesil Beach, which I at first thought was a waste of my time, but then decided was brilliant.  The trick with McEwan is to realize that he is a master at the short novel, and what ground he does not cover in terms of time or events he more than makes up for in personal meaning, emotional significance, and  reflections on the human condition.  He is a master at writing about the minutae of daily life and suffusing it with significance, until we as readers are brought inside the main characters' heads and experience his or her thoughts and feelings.  Case in point, Fiona Mayle, High Court judge and main character in The Children Act.  As the novel opens, Fiona is facing the potential breakdown of her thirty-year marriage with husband Jack.  Both are in the “twilight years” of their careers and Jack feels that he must take a bold step before it’s too late.  Fiona is distracted from their “not-quite-argument” by a call from the court advising her that a time-sensitive case involving the son of a Jehovah’s Witness couple who is in hospital with leukemia and refusing the blood transfusion necessary to complete his treatment has been assigned to her and will be scheduled for early the next morning.  Complicating the case is the age of the patient, 17 years and 9 months, that legal “gray area” where he is not quite old enough to decide his fate, but possibly old enough to make decisions regarding his future in an informed and intelligent way.  Fiona hears the arguments of the parents, the social worker/guardian, and the hospital regarding Adam’s condition and the potential outcome of the treatment if he does not receive a blood transfusion.  Despite the arguments by the parents and the social worker, Fiona is not satisfied with their view that Adam’s refusal is truly his own idea, uninfluenced by parents or other prominent religious figures in his life, and decides to go to the hospital to meet Adam herself.  During her visit with this beautiful, intelligent, talented young man, Fiona experiences unexpected emotions that radiate from deep within herself.  Adam, too, responds to Fiona intensely as they share an experience together that will prove to affect them both in their own ways.  When she returns to court after the visit that same evening to present her ruling, she could not have foreseen how profoundly this decision would affect the lives of all involved.  I can’t say any more without giving the story away, but suffice it to say that this novel lives up to the expectations one may have for McEwan’s work.  Now, it does not exceed expectations, at least for me, but considering the bar is already set so high, that would be a difficult feat… I found similar themes running through this novel as earlier works by the author, such as potential marital breakdown (A Child in Time), obsession (Enduring Love), and the possibility that profound moments with total strangers can sometimes change lives (Saturday).  McEwan manages to convey to the reader not just the events of a character’s daily life as they pertain to the plot, but the emotion accompanying these events, until we know we will never experience certain things the same way again.  And don’t be fooled by the length of the novel – it may only be just over 200 pages, but each page is filled with such a mastery of language that you may need to reread sections just to make sure you’ve taken it all in.  And while you will want to read it slowly and savour each and every word, it will be the kind of book you won’t be able to put down.  So enjoy!”

As I read what I’d written nearly nine years ago, I guess I agree with everything, but it just didn’t resonate with me quite as much this time, maybe because it was a reread, or maybe because I was rushing to finish it so I could get back to the Suarez novel.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have reread it and will be interested to hear what others at the meeting have to say about it.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the last evening of winter.  Happy Spring!

Bye for now…

Monday, 6 March 2023

Quick post on a Monday night...

It’s nearly 8pm on this chilly Monday night, and I was debating whether to wait until next weekend to write a post about last week’s and this week’s books, but I thought it would be best to write a quick post now while my book club discussion is fresh in my mind.

My Volunteer Book Club met on Saturday to discuss The Foundling by Ann Leary, and it was certainly a lively discussion.  This novel, based on the author’s research into her grandmother’s past, is set in 1927 and is told from the point of view of Mary, a seventeen-year-old typist who manages to escape an unhappy home shared with her aunt and secure a good job at the remote Nettleton Home for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Years, where she works in an office typing letters and minutes for the ever-impressive Dr Agnes Vogel, the only woman in her medical school class and one of the only women to graduate with a medical degree.  Mary is suitably impressed with Dr Vogel, which may go a long way in explaining Mary’s naiveté while working at Nettleton, where women of childbearing years who are seen to be feebleminded (or sometimes just troublesome) are kept until they reach menopause in order to keep them from bearing children, a form of eugenics that was quite widely practiced and was very popular in the 1920s. Of course, we the readers understand that this is not ok, and we recognize the propaganda and hidden agendas right from the start, but in order to truly appreciate the story, we also have to remember a) who is narrating and b) what time period this novel is set in.  That this novel is based on real events is frightening enough, but as I was looking up further information before the meeting on Saturday morning, I found myself falling down, down, down the rabbit hole of unbelievable yet true articles about these “homes for the ‘feebleminded’”, the assessment of which was, of course, mainly carried out and determined by men.  We all found it fascinating and horrific, and one member said she’s discovered many unsavoury things about our country’s past (yes, Canada is guilty of this, too) since joining the book club (sorry!!).  One of the members who listened to this as an audiobook said she lost track of the number of times she wanted to shake her head and sigh “Oh, Mary”.  Yes, Mary was naive, which was incredibly frustrating, but as we further considered her past and her actions leading to the ending, we wondered how innocent and naive she really was. We discussed the egomania and greed of Dr Vogel, the friendship between Mary and Lillian, and the complex relationship between Mary and Jake.  Several members were surprised with Mary’s decisions near the end and the conclusion of the book.  It was a great book club choice and I think we’re all glad we read it.  I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good book that is based on historical events.

That’s all for tonight.

Bye for now…

Sunday, 26 February 2023

Last post for February...

It’s hard to believe that February is nearly over and March is right around the corner.  It’s bright and chilly this morning, and it certainly feels like we’re finally experiencing winter, but who knows what kind of weather March will bring?  It is my least favourite month for that very reason, the uncertainty and fluctuation of the weather, and I feel as though February was already very March-like in that way… *sigh*... it’s like two months of my least favourite weather patterns. But I’m going to enjoy the winter weather while we have it and get out for a long walk this afternoon.  For now, I’ve got a delicious steaming cup of Pu-ehr Exotic tea to keep me warm and cozy as I write this post.

I was at our local independent bookshop last weekend where I discovered that one of my favourite psychological thriller writers, Michael Robotham, has a new “Cyrus Haven” book out in paperback, which I bought immediately.  I tried reading a couple of the Silver Birch books from the library, but was too excited about this new purchase to focus, so I sat down with the book and devoured it in just a couple of days.  Lying Beside You opens with forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven coming to terms with the fact that his older brother Elias will soon be released from a secure psychiatric hospital after spending the past 20 years there for murdering his parents and younger sisters. Cyrus was the sole survivor, and only because he wasn’t at home at the time of the murders.  Elias is schizophrenic, but with medication and treatment, he has been deemed ready to re-enter society, with Cyrus’ help, of course.  Cyrus has not only his own complex emotions surrounding this release to contend with;  he has twenty-one-year-old Evie Cormac to consider.  Evie has been living in Cyrus’ grandparents’ house with him for the past year, after being taken in once she was no longer living at the children’s home.  She also has no family, and has witnessed horrific things in her short lifetime, and Cyrus wants to protect her as well, while still honouring his responsibilities towards his brother.  Cyrus works as a consultant with the police and when a man is murdered and his daughter disappears, he is called in to provide a profile of the killer.  The lead investigator is a former rival of Cyrus’ who is not overly welcoming, but must acknowledge that he is a valuable asset to the investigation.  When more women disappear and the bar where Evie works is involved, she, too, becomes entangled in the investigation.  She is also dealing with her strong feelings of attraction towards Cyrus, and is frustrated that they are not reciprocated.  Can Cyrus manage both Elias and Evie, and help identify the killer before more women are murdered?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  I have to say, while it was a page-turner and grabbed me right away, it wasn’t his best.  I think the second in the series, When She was Good, was the best, followed closely by Good Girl, Bad Girl. This is the third in the series, and I was hoping it would be as good as or better than the previous two, but it was a bit of a disappointment.  Oh well, it was still a good book, and I discovered much about the complex relationships between Evie and Cyrus, and Cyrus and Elias.  If you are new to this series, you should definitely start with the first one - I actually have a sudden desire to reread the first and second books myself, they were that good!

OK, that’s it for today.  Enjoy the sunshine and don’t forget to pick up a good book!

Bye for now... Julie

Monday, 20 February 2023

Long weekend post on another sunny late-afternoon…

It’s been a gorgeous weekend so far, great for walking and hanging out laundry (I have sheets out there being kissed by the sun right now).  There’s actually a word for that:  apricity means “the warmth of the sun on a chilly day” (Word Perfect, Susie Dent).

I read a very strange, very disturbing, very curious book this past week, Just Like Home by author Sarah Gailey.  I loved, loved, loved Gailey's previous novel, The Echo Wife, and when I was at the big library Super Conference a few weeks ago, I saw at one of the vendor stalls that there was a new book by this amazing author.  Well, I must have gushed about Gailey sufficiently for the woman to whom I was gushing to suggest that I come back after 2pm and I could have the display copy, as they wanted to bring back as few books as possible.  I read it this past week and found it to be extremely well-written, incredibly compelling, but completely different in storyline and genre to The Echo Wife, and not necessarily in a good way.   Just Like Home is a darkly gothic thriller that opens with thirty-year-old Vera returning to the house that she swore she would never return to, called home by her dying mother, a woman from whom she’s been estranged since she was forced out of the house at the age of seventeen.  Her father, who was the only one who loved her, has died in prison, a convicted serial killer to whom Vera still has strong feelings of love and loyalty.  Since leaving, her mother has rented out the shed to visiting artists and authors, and one neighbour wrote a book about the Crowder scandal, a book that brought much interest to the house and kept Vera’s mother Daphne solvent with individuals interested in taking a piece of the fame with them.  Vera went away but was never really able to escape the house, the memories and the perversely loving clutches of her dead father, so returning to the Crowder house, the house that her father built with his own two hands to keep her safe, felt just like coming home, except for the dying Daphne...  oh, and the lodger/artist staying in the shed, the son of the man who wrote the book about the murders.  Can Vera come to terms with the thing that is haunting the house (is there really something haunting the house?) before she loses her own sanity, or will the memories and shadows claim her before she can escape?  This was one strange novel, one that I kept hoping would be redeemed at the end when everything would make sense, but alas, I didn’t find that this was the case.  It really was well-written, somewhat too descriptive and dragging in parts, but the text was compelling and kept me hoping for a moment of clarity when all would be revealed, but this unfortunately did not happen.  I found it very disappointing and I can’t think of anyone to whom I would recommend this book.  Maybe I was expecting something different, so I guess if you like graphic gothic novels in which the houses breathe and live along with the depraved characters, this might be a good book for you.  I’m hoping that the next book I pick up will prove to be a better selection for me.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the rest of your Family Day weekend!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Delicious post on a sunny late-afternoon...

It’s nearly 5pm, and the sun seems especially infused with goldenness (is that a word?  if not, it should be!) as it prepares for a later and later sunset.  I’ve got a few minutes to write this quick post before I resume preparations for the coming workweek.

I started reading books that will be contenders for a Silver Birch nomination later this year, and since I can’t tell you anything about these until the nominations are announced in October, there will be many weeks when I just won’t have any books I can write about.  This is the first of those weeks, but I did want to tell you about a delicious cookbook that I’ve been using recently in my efforts to adopt a more vegan lifestyle.  The Buddhist Chef:  100 simple feel-good vegan recipes by Jean-Phillippe Cyr is written by a, you guessed it, Buddhist chef who manages the kitchen at a Meditation Centre, I’m not sure where, but he’s from Quebec, so he’s practically “local”!  Since borrowing this cookbook from the library before Christmas, I have tried numerous recipes and want to try many more, as time permits (there’s only so much tofu and tempeh I can eat in a week!).  One of my favourites is for eggless mushroom and leek mini-quiches, which are simple, tiny bites of heaven made with chickpea flour and broth instead of eggs.  I’ve also made a spicy flavourful lentil dish, normally made with pork, called Cretons, which I guess is a very popular breakfast spread in Quebec, and I’ll admit that it’s delicious on a toasted Jerusalem bagel on a Saturday morning.  Almost all of the recipes are simple and are made with ingredients I already have or are readily available, such as lentils, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce, and, of course, maple syrup.  I would highly recommend this book for fans of lentils and mushrooms, as many of his recipes call for mushrooms as meat substitutes.  I’m thrilled to try out new recipes from this book, and was so excited about them, I bought a copy of the book for myself.  There’s a second book, The Buddhist Chef:  vegan comfort cooking, that I like less than the original, but it, too, has lots of good recipes.  I just made Breakfast Date Cookies from that book, which I borrowed from the library, and they are yummy.  So if you are interested in exploring vegan cooking, I would recommend either of these as a simple way to start your journey.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the sunny day, and try to take in at least some of the sunset!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Two-for-one “takeout special” on a Sunday evening…

It’s nearly supper time, but I realized that I hadn’t blogged in a couple of weeks, and I also had a book club meeting yesterday, so I decided to write this super-quick post for two books, not like a full dine-in experience, more like ordering takeout.

Two weeks ago, I read my first mystery by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason, The Darkness Knows, the first in the “Detective Konrad” series, and since I hope to one day visit Iceland, it was more than just a mystery;  it was a bit of an education and a trip prep.  In this novel, a group of German tourists are hiking on a glacier when a dead body turns up under the ice, preserved as if the individual died yesterday.  Due to climate change, this shrinking glacier revealed its decades-old secret, and newly retired detective Konrad becomes unofficially involved in the reopened case of a missing businessman, a case whose main suspect had to be released due to lack of evidence.  Now that the case is reopened, the suspect is reinterviewed and Konrad, who was involved in the original investigation and who has been haunted by this unsolved missing persons’ case for decades, resurrects his investigative role to soothe his own conscience and hopefully to finally lay to rest the niggling doubts he has about the original investigation.  This was an interesting read that, while fairly slow-paced, still had me turning pages to find out what Konrad would get up to or uncover next.  It was very interesting to read about Iceland and the necessary evil that is the tourist industry for the Icelandic economy.  I’m sure I’ll read other mysteries by this author, but not right away, as I once again have so many books to read and so little time.

And my volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Hana Khan Carries On by Canadian author Uzma Jalaluddin.  Set in Scarborough, Ontario, this novel centres around Hana Khan, a twenty-four-year-old Muslim woman who lives at home with her parents while she works as an intern at a radio station after completing her Masters degree in broadcasting, as well as helping out at the Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine restaurant, owned and run by her family, mainly her mother and older sister.  When a rival halal restaurant slated to open in the same neighbourhood threatens to shut down Three Sisters, Hana tries to do everything in her power to stop this competition, even though the owner is a very cute guy with whom she has a discordant relationship.  Meanwhile, she pours her deepest feelings into her podcasts, and engages with her favourite follower, StanleyP, as they trade messages about life, love and family secrets.  Speaking of family secrets, did I mention that there are some family secrets in Hana’s life that come to light when her cousin and aunt make a surprise visit from India?  Will Hana be able to save the restaurant and keep the rival out of the neighbourhood?  Can she get a real job and help pay the bills?  Can she overcome the trauma of racism she experiences?  And will she and her rival overcome their differences and accept their budding romantic feelings, or will she finally agree to reveal her identity to StanleyP?  You’ll have to read the book to find out the answers to these and many more questions!  This book was a really good book club selection.  Everyone enjoyed it, and felt that Hana was a strong female protagonist who was mature almost beyond her years.  We found the racist attack very disturbing, and felt that it really changed the dynamics of the story, giving it a more serious tone.  We liked all of the characters, but I think we all agreed that cousin Rasheed was our favourite.  I thought it was very much like a Jane Austen novel, a comedy of manners exploring social customs, but with a cultural twist.  At this point, I can’t think of any other specific points we brought up, but we were so engaged in our discussion that we lost track of time and were forced out by a group of bridge players who were the next occupants of the room.  I would highly recommend this novel that could be a Teen crossover novel if you were looking for some light reading that was not all fluff and had a distinctly Canadian flavour.

Speaking of flavour, it’s time to enjoy a big bowl of Curried Pumpkin Soup.  Have a wonderful week, and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 22 January 2023

Quick post on a snowy evening...

It finally looks like winter again after a snowy afternoon, but there’s not much accumulation, just a coating of the white fluffy stuff.

It’s late but I wanted to get this post done today, so it will be a short one - sorry.  I finished an early book by Sally Hepworth yesterday, The Secrets of Midwives, which was quite good, not as complex as her later books, but still an interesting (and easy) read.  This book focuses on three generations of midwives and is told in alternating chapters.  Twenty-nine-year-old Neva is a midwife at a birthing centre attached to a hospital, almost a hybrid-model of midwifery.  She is surrounded by doctors and nurses and has a respect for the healthcare system that her mother seems to lack.  What is revealed near the beginning of the book is that Neva herself is pregnant, despite being single and having no man in her life.  Her refusal to name the father infuriates her mother, Grace, who is a bit of a bulldozer in the personality department.  She could be described as hippy-dippy, but is one of the best midwives around.  Grace's mother, Floss, a woman in her eighties who raised Grace on her own after leaving England to come to the US alone when Grace was just a baby, is a bit of a mystery herself, and sees her own situation reflected in Neva’s refusal to reveal who the father is.  All three women face their share of distressing situations, as well as challenges in their love lives, and as we learn about each of these women’s pasts, presents and possible futures, we begin to piece together the complexities of secret pasts and what it really means to be family.  I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and as I mentioned, it was an easy read, not too complex or deep that I had to think too hard about it, but yet it dealt with serious themes with tenderness and compassion.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed other books by this author or who enjoys domestic fiction focusing on challenges faced by women, in this case women who also happen to be midwives (I learned more about the process of childbirth than I ever needed to know, that’s for sure!!).

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Post on a bright winter morning...

It’s crisp and chilly outside, but the sun is shining and it’s going to warm up soon.  Since we haven’t seen the sun for so long, I’m hoping to get out for a long, long walk today.  But right now I have a steaming cup of chai to keep me company (no special baked treat today, unfortunately).

I was reading up a storm this past week, so I’ve got three books to tell you about.  The first is the book we are going to be discussing at my next Friends Book Club meeting on January 23, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.  This novel opens with a countdown to the time when thirty-five-year-old Nora Seed decides to kill herself.  Nora is filled with regrets, and she feels that no one needs her and no one would miss her if she was gone.  Her cat just died, she just lost her job, her parents are dead, she doesn’t speak to her brother any more, even her elderly neighbour no longer needs her to pick up his prescriptions, so what is the point of living?  She finally makes this momentous decision, but when she wakes up, she is not in Heaven or Hell, but in some sort of in-between place called the Midnight Library where, after reviewing all of her regrets over her lifetime, she can, with the help of her elementary school librarian Mrs Elm, jump into the alternate lives she would be living if she had made different decisions.  She may have decided to become a glaciologist instead of working at a dead-end job at a music store.  She may have stayed in the band with her brother and become famous.  She may have married her former fiancé instead of breaking off the engagement just days before the wedding.  So many choices she could have made that would have changed her life, but would any of them make her happier than where she already is?  This fun exploration of multi-universes and parallel lives was the perfect book to read at the beginning of a new year, when all thoughts are on resolutions and making better choices for a better year (in case you're wondering, I've made no resolutions, but have decided to eat more tofu!).  It was an easy read that was also thought-provoking, a novel that reminded me of the saying:  “Wherever you go, there you are.”  I think it was a great book club choice, a book that will surely elicit a lively discussion from our group.  It’s a coincidence that near the beginning of this book, it says something like, “Nora wished she had a million doors to escape into and never return”, which is funny because I’d just finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January.  

The next book I read was What We Both Know by Canadian author Fawn Parker, which has just been longlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize.  Hillary Greene’s father, a famous author, is losing his memories to Alzheimer's, but he wants to write one last book, his memoir, before this happens, and Hillary is tasked with ghostwriting it for him, as well as caring for him as his dementia progresses.  She hides his condition from his publisher and the outside world, and their existence becomes more insular over the course of the novel as Hillary uncovers information about his life and the sexual abuse of her late sister Pauline that is unsettling, causing her own deeply hidden memories to resurface.  She struggles to deal with these memories and her own guilt, but will she decide to expose all in this memoir or can she find some other way to come to terms with her father’s past and her own involvement in it?  This moving account read like a memoir of a survivor of sexual abuse, and meted out information at just the right pace to keep me engaged without overwhelming me with too many terrible truths all at once.  It was an excellent read that was also quite intense and not very uplifting, so if you want to read it, you need to be in the right mood for this type of book.

And I just finished reading Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy, a YA novel that is a Red Maple nominee.  Twelve-year-old Evelyn “Evie” Walman isn’t obsessed with death, but it’s hard not to think about it a lot when your family owns a Jewish funeral home where you help out whenever needed.  After an incident at camp the year before, and with some girls at school who bully her and call her Corpse Girl, Evie has decided that she doesn’t want or need friends - she’s busy enough with her part-time job at the funeral home, her older brother Nate and her parents, and her quilling projects.  When both parents of a boy her age are killed in a car accident and her family hold the funeral, Evie is asked to help out with the surviving son, Oren, as he deals with his grief over this terrible, life-changing event.  What she discovers, though, is that while she is helping him deal with his loss, he, too, is helping her deal with her own issues.  This was a really engaging book that explored grief and loss, as well as friendship and family.  I also learned a lot about Jewish traditions and the running of funeral homes, topics you don’t find in children’s books very often.  I quite enjoyed this book, and was drawn into the relationship between Evie and Oren as it evolved.

WOW, looking over these three books, I see some overlapping themes emerging. Suicide, sexual abuse, dementia, grief and loss... oh my, not a very uplifting way to start the new year, but I'm not going to let these themes get me down, and neither should you. So get outside and enjoy the sunshine!!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 8 January 2023

Post on an overcast afternoon...

It’s late afternoon on the last day of the Christmas Break. I spent the earlier part of the day trying to get every last little thing done before returning to work tomorrow and I can finally sit down with a steaming cup of herbal tea to write a quick post giving the highlights from my book club meeting.

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow.  Set in the early 1900s, this novel tells the story of a girl named January Scaller who has been raised by her absentee father Julian and her benefactor Mr Locke.  Her father travels around the world to find/take/steal precious items, the rarer, the better, and bring them back to Locke, who is a collector and a member of the New England Archeological Society.  January, who refers to herself as an "in-between" girl because of the in-between colour of her skin, often travels with Locke to exotic or cultured locales, where she sometimes wanders off and finds herself in difficult situations, but she always returns to Mr Locke.  As she grows older, she wants more from her life than being another of the items Locke has collected, and when she learns that her father is presumed dead, she finds herself at loose ends.  But once, when she was younger, she thought she saw a door in a field that led to another world, and she’s discovered a book called Ten Thousand Doors, which talks of doors leading to other worlds, worlds where her parents met and where there is a possibility that they still are, lost and searching for each other and for her.  She yearns to find that door again, and after some unfortunate events, heads out to do just that.  The things she discovers along the way frighten her and test her to the limit, while also forcing her to leave behind her childhood and embrace the challenges of adulthood.  She has some help along the way, from her trusted dog to her carer and also her childhood sweetheart, but it is clear that she is the hero of this story, she who must fight the villains and find a way to save the worlds and the doors from sure destruction while also searching for her lost parents.  This book was a bit of a YA crossover, and perhaps young adult readers might have enjoyed it a bit more than my book club members.  We had a small group yesterday, only two who could make it, but we also had a new member join us.  One member listened to it and didn’t like it, but thought that perhaps it was because of the way the narrator read the story.  The other member didn’t love it, and hadn’t finished it yet.  I read it and liked it, although I agree with the others who also found it fairly confusing, not totally believable and over-long.  I think the premise was a good one, and with some additional editing it could have been a really great story.  It is part of a genre I didn’t know about, “portal fantasy”, which makes sense, as every door you go through is a portal into another world, another language and another time.  I liked that there were many strong female characters, that it addressed race, class and sexual discrimination, and that it was a fairy tale and a love story while also being an interesting adventure story. It was also a literary mystery and a love letter to the power of books, words and language, and some of Harrow's descriptions were breathtaking, her wordplay brilliant. It reminded me of another book I read, The Hazel Woods by Melissa Albert, a book I have in my YA collection at school that I really enjoyed.  I’m glad I read it, but our new member decided, based on our discussion, that she would probably skip it and just move on to our February selection.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday, 1 January 2023

Post on New Year’s Day…

It’s a bit overcast this morning, but I think it’s supposed to clear up and will end up being a good day for a long walk, which will be a nice change from the rain yesterday.  I’ve got a steaming cup of coffee to keep me company this morning as I write this post.

I read a Swedish thriller that I must have found in a little free library somewhere, The Man Who Wasn’t There by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt.  This is the third in the “Sebastian Bergman” series, and while it gave away the ending of the book that came before, it was fairly easy to read as a standalone.  The skeletal remains of six people are discovered on the side of a mountain by some hikers and a team of special police investigators are called in to help local police investigate this mass grave.  It seems that this was the work of professionals who didn’t want the victims identified, requiring this team, including psychologist Sebastian Bergman, to work extra hard to uncover their identities, being creative, using all resources at hand and calling in favours when necessary to solve this decade-old crime.  Along with the complex mystery are the equally complex relationships between and among the team members, including Torkel and Ursula, Vanja and Sebastian, Jennifer and Billy and Ursula and Sebastian.  This was a complex Swedish psychological thriller of the very best kind, which reminded me very much of the Camilla Lackberg book I recently read, The Drowning, although I think I enjoyed this one more, or at least enough to find and buy the book that came before this one from a used book store yesterday.   If you’re looking for a dark, complex Swedish mystery series, I would definitely recommend this one.

And now I have my Year in Books wrap-up.  I’ve read 67 books and listened to 21 audiobooks this year, and judging by the lists below, it looks like it was a good reading/listening year.

Best Adult Books (20)

No one is talking about this Patricia Lockwood
**Autonomy Victoria Heatherington
The Wanderers Meg Howrey
**The Gown Jennifer Robson
The Mother-in-law Sally Hepworth
The Other Black Girl Zakiya Dalila Harris
**Mindful of Murder Susan Juby
**Greenwood Michael Christie
**Speak, Silence Kim Echlin
Companion Piece Ali Smith
Sorrow and Bliss Meg Mason
**Please Join Us Catherine McKenzie
Escaping Dreamland Charlie Lovett
**The Lola Quartet Emily St John Mandel
Planetfall Emma Newman
Our Wives Under the Sea Julia Armfield
**Indian Horse Richard Wagamese
Ghost Forest Pik-Shuen Fung
**An Unthinkable Thing Nicole Lundrigan
The Man Who Wasn’t There Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt

Best Children’s/YA Books (10)

**The Fabulous Zed Watson Basil Sylvester
**Forever Birchwood Danielle Daniel
**Me, Three Susan Juby
**The Fort Gordon Korman
**The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly Mei Christina Matula
**Butt Sandwich and Tree Wesley King
**How the be a Goldfish Jane Baird Warren
Family of Liars E Lockhart
Door of No Return Kwame Alexander
Undone Cat Clarke

Best Audiobooks (8)

The Imperfects Amy Meyerson
Our Woman in Moscow Beatriz Williams
The Mother’s Promise Sally Hepworth
The Family Next Door Sally Hepworth
Everybody’s Son Thrity Umrigar
This Beautiful Life Helen Schulman
The Arrangement Sarah Dunn
The Younger Wife Sally Hepworth

So many books by Canadian authors (**) on these lists...!

That’s all for today.  Happy New Year!!  I hope 2023 is filled with all of your favourite things, including delicious hot beverages and plenty of great books!

Bye for now... Julie