Monday 25 December 2023

Post on Christmas Day...

It’s been a foggy, mild Christmas Day, but I still enjoyed a cup of tea and a long walk earlier.  Now it’s evening and I’m hoping to spend a few more hours reading before watching a bit of TV and calling it a day.

Unlike last week, when I had two books to tell you about, this week I tried reading two different books and didn’t finish either one.  I started to read Celeste Ng’s latest book, Our Missing Hearts, and spent most of the week reading it until I gave up.  This not-quite-dystopian novel, set in what might be the not-too-distant future (or it could be set in the present?) explores what could happen when an oppressive government uses a financial crisis (“the Crisis”), supposedly fueled by China’s market manipulation, to enforce something called PACT, or “Preserving American Culture and Traditions”, as a method of stopping people from protesting or otherwise standing up to authority figures such as police by threatening to re-house their children with “more suitable” families.  One boy, twelve-year-old Bird, feels called to go out and find his mother, a political protester and poet who left one morning three years earlier and never came back.  This novel was initially very gripping for me, but at about halfway through, I found it to be quite repetitive, and much less compelling or insightful.  I worried that it was just my response, that it might turn out to be a really great book, but the reviews were just so-so, so I gave up on it.  Then I tried the latest book by Heidi Perks, For the Last Time, but I got even less far into it, giving up after only a chapter or two.  Then I pulled a book off my shelf that I recently found in a Little Free Library, The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, and at nearly halfway through this big 500+ page trade paperback,  I can’t put it down! 

I’ll tell you all about it when I finish, but for now, I’ll bid you good night and Happy Holidays! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 17 December 2023

Last post for autumn...

It’s raining again tonight, as it's done these last few Sunday evenings while I’ve been writing my posts.  *sigh*  This has not been a very productive, inspired day… too much gloom.  But I did finish my second book for the week this morning, which is a good thing. 

I finished Ruth Ware’s Zero Days earlier in the week, and while it was not her best in my opinion (not suspenseful enough, less-than-believable main character, disappointing ending), it was certainly a page-turner.  Jacintha/Jack and her husband Gabe run a security testing company, and after finishing a job one night, while Jack inadvertently messes up and gets caught by security guards leaving the scene of the fake break-in, Gabe is being murdered in their home.  After discovering the body,  Jack stays with her sister Helena and her family while the police begin their investigation.  It soon becomes clear that she is being set up and that the police view her as their main suspect, so she goes on the run to save herself and find the real killer.  It was an easy, quick read, and I can’t seem to put my finger on exactly what was lacking from this story that made it less-than-great.  Maybe I just expected more - although I don’t always love Ware’s books, this one was better than some, not as good as some, just kind of middle-of-the-road for her.  If you’re in the mood for an unputdownable tech-thriller, this one will likely not disappoint. 

And the book I finished this morning is Flight by Lisa Steger Strong.  Set just a few days before Christmas in an old country house on the outskirts of a small town in Maine, this book focuses on the family dynamics of three siblings and their spouses and children who are getting together for the first time since their mother Helen passed away in the spring.  Martin is married to Tess and has two children; Kate is married to Josh and has three children; and Henry is married to Alice, but they are childless.  The elephant in the room is Helen’s house in Florida.  Martin wants to sell it and split the money, Kate wants to live in it but can’t afford to buy her brothers out, and Henry wants to sell it to the state so they can expand the nature preserve onto which this property abuts.  Since Alice has been unable to have children, she’s abandoned her art and is now a social worker, and she has a special place in her heart for one of her cases, twenty-three-year-old Quinn and her daughter Madeleine, who live in the nearby town.  This book looks at the relationships between spouses, between siblings, between parents and children, and between clients and workers, and explores different ways of parenting, different ways of being in a relationship, different ways we all screw up sometimes, but also different ways we sometimes get it exactly right.  It actually would have been a really good book if not for the choppy writing style.  For example, talking about Helen’s earlier life when she had money issues, Strong writes:  “She would struggle not to let the children know, to continue to send them gifts and pay for school and room and board and lend them money in those early years when they still asked - the years Martin paused grad school to teach high school because he couldn’t live off of his stipend and she couldn’t write the check she would have had to write to convince him not to work those years until Tess finished law school and got a job and he went back.”  Or when Tess is looking for her oldest child, she writes:  “Even as Tess rushed in, as she grabbed hold of Colin, pulled him off the scaffolding to hug him, as Kate watched him flinch and Tess stepped back, embarrassed, was clearly close to tears, Kate worked to catch a glimpse of (Henry’s art).”  This is fine if you want to stop the flow of the text to make a point, but imagine sentences like these in every paragraph, awkward, stilted ones that impede the flow of the story. It made this relatively short book seem fairly long.  Otherwise it was an interesting plot and all of the characters were very realistic, flawed yet strong and perfect each in their own way.  Since I now know what to expect with the language and writing style, I may have to read this again sometime, as the characters were really interesting, each ultimately wanting the same things but just going about getting there in completely different ways.

That's all for tonight. Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 10 December 2023

Very quick post on a super-busy weekend...

It’s been an extra busy weekend, with our Christkindl Market downtown, then a dinner out with friends for our unofficial “Festivus” celebration, and spending almost three hours this morning making my first ever Vegaducken (zucchini stuffed with Brussels sprouts and vegan stuffing, inside an red pepper and stuffing inside a butternut squash and stuffing, tied up and baked like a turkey stuffed with duck - which to me sounds like a vegan’s worst nightmare!!).  So I just have time to tell you very quickly about the book I read last week.

I tried a book I took out of the library but it didn’t grab me, so I took one off my shelf, Three Perfect Liars by Heidi Perks, a domestic thriller that turned out to be quite a page-turner.  There’s a huge fire at one of the new office buildings in the small city outside of London, a building no one wanted because it would ruin the view from the quay but one that was built anyway and housed the marketing firm of Morris and Wood. The whereabouts of Harry Wood, the owner of the company, at the time of the fire is undetermined, but there seems to be three main individuals suspected of starting the fire.  Laura Denning is just back from maternity leave, and while she struggles with leaving her son Bobby all day with her husband, she really wants to be back to work.  When she returns, though, she finds that Mia Anderson, the temp she hired to cover her maternity leave, is not only still there, she’s taken over Laura’s biggest client.  She was supposed to be a temp, so why is she still there, and why is she setting down roots?  Mia, of course, is still at Morris and Wood because she has her own agenda, but what could it be?  She’s friendly and approachable, and everyone seems to love her… except Laura, who does not trust her one bit.  Harry’s wife, Janie, gave up her career as a successful barrister in London when Harry wanted to expand his already successful London agency into this smaller city to the south.  She seems ok with this decision, but is she really alright with it?  And if she is, what reason could have compelled her to make such a choice?  This novel reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s books, like Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, although Moriarty is the queen of domestic thrillers while Perks just lives in the same kingdom.  I enjoyed one of her earlier novels, Her One Mistake and I happened to have this one on my shelf, so it was the right book at the right time.  And I just got an e-newsletter advertising her newest book, For the Last Time, which I just picked up from the library.  I’m reading Ruth Ware’s recent book Zero Days right now, a high-stakes thriller that is proving to be an extra-compelling page-turner, so I may have to wait until the Christmas Break (in less than two weeks!!) to get to Perks’s latest book.

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

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday 3 December 2023

Post on another rainy evening...

It’s raining again and seems much later than it is since it’s so dark outside.  But it’s still relatively early, so I have time to write a quick post about the last couple of books I’ve read.

Yesterday my Volunteer Book Club met to discuss Bonnie Garmus’ book, Lessons in Chemistry, and I can say that it was an excellent choice.  Of the six people who were at the meeting, four loved the book, while our newest member and I found it to be an interesting, often funny read, but she and I both thought it was a bit too long and somewhat unbelievable.  Since I’d heard so much hype around this book and it was recommended by so many people, I expected more; mainly, I expected the main character, Elizabeth Zott, to be believable, but as I was discussing it yesterday, I realized that she probably wasn’t supposed to represent just one woman but a whole decades’ worth of women with their various issues.  In case you are unaware of the premise of this book, Lessons in Chemistry follows a brilliant chemist, Elizabeth Zott, during her trials as she attempts to juggle work and single motherhood in the 1950s, with all the issues that women faced during that period in history.  It was well-written, thought-provoking, often funny, more often incredibly frustrating, but always entertaining.  It’s a great book club selection because it focuses on women and history, and you can always discuss how things have changed and what still needs to be done to reach true equality in the home, workplace and society.  

And I read a book for tomorrow’s Friends’ Book Club meeting, Sankofa, by Chibundu Onuzo.  Forty-eight-year-old Londoner Anna, who has recently lost her white mother, discovers the diaries of her mysterious African father hidden in her mother’s room and decides to explore her roots by visiting her father in his home country of Bamana, where he was a ruler/dictator for decades before stepping down.  His past is blotted, but he’s also done great things for the country, and Anna feels she needs to learn about this half of her history before she can move forward with her life, including her potential divorce and her renewed relationship with her adult daughter.  It was not the kind of book I would normally pick up, but I found it very readable, and while it was a bit hokey and predictable at times, it was still interesting.  I found Anna to be too  malleable to be a true “inspiration”, yet can we really expect that the death of a parent automatically gives one the strength to change one’s life completely and to become a different, stronger person?  Well, we do in novels, even if we don’t in real life!  Anyway, I’m curious to hear what others will say about it, but I actually enjoyed it much more than expected.  By the way, the Sankofa bird expresses the importance of looking to the lessons of the past to create a positive future.  

That’s all for now.  Stay dry and have a good evening!

Bye for now…

Sunday 26 November 2023

Quick post on a rainy evening...

I’ve got a kitty in my arms as I write this post (typing with one hand… sorry for any typos!).  It was quite lovely out earlier so I got out and did a few things, then went for a medium walk before heading home to get ready for the new work week.  But now the forecasted rain/snow has begun, and it may be time to start wearing boots.I finished reading Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry last week, but I think I’ll wait until after our book club meeting to tell you about it.  I also finished the latest book by Lisa Jewell, None of This is True, and it was a real page-turner.  This book focuses on Alix and Josie, two women who meet at a pub on the night of their 45th birthdays.  Realizing that they are birthday twins creates the beginnings of a bond that grows stronger and stronger throughout the novel.  Alix is a podcaster whose series about strong women has reached its end.  When Josie approaches her with a new idea, a podcast not about women who have succeeded but one about a woman on the verge of leaving her old life behind in search of something new, she is intrigued and they begin recording sessions.  What emerges is a story of grooming and pedophilia, of decades of abuse and denial.  But what, if any, of this is true?  And why would Josie be telling Alix these stories?  What could her end game be?  As much as I'd love to discuss it in more depth, I don't want to spoil it by revealing too many details. Jewell’s novels usually have a darker underside, and the stories are often not what they seem, but this one is by far her darkest novel yet.  Who and what can we believe in a novel with a title like this?  Is the author forewarning us that none of this is, in fact, true, or are we expected to determine which parts are true and which are not?  And are there really only cut-and-dried truths or are there shades of truth?  Does everyone have their own truth, even if they experience the same event as others around them?  If you enjoy domestic thrillers, then this could be a great choice for you.  The story’s bleakness is especially suited to the shorter, darker days of November, although it takes place mostly during a hot London summer.  I always enjoy Jewell’s books, and this one did not disappoint.  That’s all for tonight.  Time to curl up with another good book for yet another book club meeting!  Take care and stay dry! 

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 19 November 2023

Mid-November post...

I know that this is not everyone’s favourite month, with gloomier weather and the sudden darkness that falls so early now that we’ve changed the clocks back, but I quite like November, with its sinister-looking bare tree branches in sharp contrast to the lightness of the sky, the browns, greys and fading greens of the landscape and the crunchiness of the leaves and twigs on the ground.  And it also marks the beginning of the best time to curl up with a steaming cup of chai and a good book!

I’ve been sick recently, and just realized that I completely forgot to write a post last weekend, so I’m catching up now.  I had a book fair this past week at school and stayed late three nights, so I haven’t finished my book for this week yet, but I did finish one last weekend, Reykjavík by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jacobsdóttir.  This is the latest crime novel by this Icelandic author, and it’s co-written by the Prime Minister of Iceland, which I think is pretty cool.  (Maybe Justin Trudeau should co-write a mystery with Linwood Barclay or Robert Rotenberg!!)  In 1956, fifteen-year-old Lára takes a summer job keeping house for a wealthy couple on the small island of Videy, but one weekend near the end of summer, she goes missing and is never found.  The main detective continues to revisit the case every ten years or so, but by 1986, it remains unsolved until a young reporter, Valur Róbertsson, runs a series of articles in the local paper about Lára, hoping to uncover new leads.  When he’s contacted by an anonymous caller who provides cryptic clues regarding the whereabouts of Lára’s body, Valur begins to feel hopeful that this case may finally be solved.  But when tragedy strikes, someone must step in to take up this new investigation and follow the clues, wherever they may lead, in order to solve this mystery and finally lay Lára to rest.  This was certainly a page-turner, one of only a couple of Icelandic mysteries I’ve read, and I just read that it was based on a real unsolved case.  It was especially interesting because it was set in the 1980s, before Iceland became a popular travel destination and before Icelandic thrillers also became popular.  There were no cell phones or internet searches, just a basic investigation by a reporter/amateur detective, which was fun for this reader who grew up in that era.  It was also inspired by Agatha Christie mysteries, as Jónasson also works as a translator of her books.  It was a fun, gripping page-turner, not especially creepy or scary, but interesting and sure to keep you guessing until the final “big reveal”.  

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 5 November 2023

Strange book on a long-ish weekend...

We turned the clocks back this morning, so today is an extra hour longer, which is wonderful - I wish I could figure out how to manage this every weekend!!

I spent part of that extra hour finishing a very strange book by Canadian author Iain Reid called We Spread, which is a finalist for this year’s Governor General’s Award.  This story, set in Six Cedars, a small long-term-care residence in the midst of a forest, follows Penny, an elderly woman and artist who, after a fall in her apartment, is moved to Six Cedars, which she supposedly picked out with her recently deceased partner years before in case of such a crisis situation.  She doesn’t want to be there, but finds that, although she hasn’t painted in years, she suddenly feels inspired to start working again.  This, along with her increased appetite and her restful sleeps, lulls her into believing that this place really is good for her, that she’s benefiting from it in more ways than one.  She also enjoys the company of the other three residents, particularly Hilbert, a mathematician with whom she forms a bond, as well as that of Jack, a handyman and aide, a jack-of-all-trades who seems to like her and to want to help.  But when she starts experiencing confusion and loses track of time, she begins to suspect that all is not what it seems at this supposedly safe place, and she must do everything in her power to find out what’s really going on and try to save herself and the others before it’s too late.  This was a very short, very strange book, but I’ve read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by this same author (which has recently been made into a Netflix movie!) and thinking back, that, too, was quite creepy.  I think what Reid was addressing in this novel was the ways in which the elderly are marginalized in today’s society, stripped of their unique personalities, life experiences, skills and desires - he just goes about it in an interesting way.  It was certainly worth reading, and definitely sucked me in so that I wanted to find out what happened next and how it would all end.  I took out my Scrabble tiles to see if there was a hidden puzzle based on what I thought might be a clue at the end, but I gave up after only a few minutes, as I wanted to write this post before it got too late (I always forget that it gets dark so early when we change the clocks).  

That’s all for tonight.  Take care and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 29 October 2023

Short post on a busy weekend...

It’s been a hectic weekend and now it’s Sunday night, it’s dark, I’m feeling sleepy, and I have a kitty crashed out on my shoulder, purring in my ear, so this will be a short post.

I wish I had more time and energy to write this week, as I read a  eally wonderful novel last week, Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.  I have read other books by this author, Bel Canto  and State of Wonder, which were also wonderful, and this one definitely lived up to my expectations.  During her brief stint as an actress, Lara Kenison had an even briefer relationship with up-and-coming TV and film star Peter Duke, but she’s been happily married and living on a farm with a cherry orchard for the past three decades.  During the first summer of COVID, her three daughters, one a veterinarian-in-training, one an aspiring actress, and one who will someday take over the farm, return to the farm to help pick cherries and to hear about the romance between their mother and Duke, whom they all loved watching on TV growing up.  The main settings for this novel are present-day and the summer spent at Tom Lake, where a small but well-known summer stock theatre troupe are rehearsing “Our Town” and other plays, and where Lara meets Duke.  What follows is an exploration into youth and love, aspiration and chance, luck and the power to control the direction your life will take, all told in the context of a time of unprecedented restrictions due to the pandemic and lockdowns.  Patchett lays out for us the pros and cons of the pandemic:  on the one hand, farms suffered due to limited migrant workers, actors suffered due to the inability to work on films and shows, students suffered due to college closures as well as limited jobs for recent grads;  on the other hand, some families grew closer and regained or strengthened ties since there was so much forced togetherness.  This reader felt like she was taking a break from cherry picking or working out in the fields with these women as the story of Lara’s summer at Tom Lake unfolded, and I regretted getting to the last page, as these are some characters I won’t easily forget. I especially liked one of he passages near the end of the book, when Lara, after considering how you can have hope at a time like this (ie COVID), says something about how loneliness and despair and joy and sunshine are all equally real and important and can exist alongside one another - she put it much better than this, but it’s a sentiment that will stay with me and help me get through tough or desperate times. It felt a bit like I was watching a play, not just reading a book. It’s a fabulous novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction. That's all for tonight. Stay warm and keep reading! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 22 October 2023

No post on a gorgeous fall day...

It’s gorgeous this morning, bright and chilly and promising to be a perfect fall day, a welcome change after yesterday’s cold, windy, drizzly weather.  I'm enjoying a steaming cup of chai right now, but I’m looking forward to getting out soon and taking a long walk to enjoy what may be the last good weekend of colour before all the leaves turn brown and blow off the trees.

I tried reading a couple different books this past week, but nothing grabbed me until I started reading Ann Patchett’s new novel, Tom Lake, which, so far, is totally riveting.  It reminds me of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance, except that, where Tyler’s book sums up the main character’s life by focusing on just three specific periods before the actual story begins, Patchett’s book provides extensive details about the main character’s life before the period during which the actual story is set.  I mean that Tyler’s book gives almost no backstory, while Patchett’s book is all backstory, yet they are remarkably similar.  But I’m only halfway through, so I’ll have to tell you more about it next week.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the amazing fall colours!

Bye for now…

Sunday 15 October 2023

Post on a chilly, windy, sometimes-rainy, sometimes-sunny day...

It’s bright but windy outside right now, but it’s been raining off and on all afternoon.  Still, we can’t complain, as we’ve had pretty sweet weather up to now, and it really, it’s mid-October already so I think these are fairly normal conditions.

I met with my Volunteer book club yesterday to discuss Ali Smith’s Autumn, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that most people did not enjoy it (one member said she hated it, but since I recommended it, she decided that it must be good so she read it a second time and enjoyed it much more!).  Only one member, who is new to our group, said she quite liked it, that she thought Smith wrote very fluidly, that it was not always easy to read and understand, but that at times it was very funny.  One member said it was “tricky”, referring to the way the narrative jumped around in time.  She was listening to it, so that would have made it even more difficult to follow than the print edition, since you can’t just flip back a few pages to help figure out what’s going on.  Still, we all found the relationships fascinating, particularly between Elisabeth and Daniel and Elisabeth and her mother.  We discussed real-life historical figures, artist Pauline Boty and model/activist Christine Keeler.  After the discussion, people were expressing interest in the other three books in this “Seasons” quartet, and everyone agreed that they thought differently about the book after discussing it than they did after their own initial reading.  This is the true power of a book club. 

I also finished reading the debut novel by BC writer Michelle Min Sterling, Camp Zero, a post-apocalyptic eco-thriller novel that speaks directly to our times.  In 2049, wildfires rage, the land is scorched, sea levels are rising, and the earth is nearly uninhabitable, but for the wealthy and elite, delicacies can be found and accommodations built in the Floating City, just off the New England coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Rose, one of the “hostesses” at the Floating City, dreams of securing a better life for her mother, who lost everything in the Hurricane that devastated the coastal region and who now lives in accommodations for displaced persons.  When an opportunity arises, she agrees immediately, and is sent up north to Canada, where the weather, unlike the scorched conditions in the US, is cold and fresh and the population is sparse.  She is brought to Camp Zero, where she lives with five other "Blooms" whose sole job is to work as hostesses, serving the needs of the men at the excavation site where a new community is supposed to be built, a utopian society and a new beginning.  But all is not what it seems at this camp, and when you throw into the mix White Alice, the climate research station “manned” by an all-female crew several hours north of the camp, you end up with a mystery, an environmental cry for help and a survival story with a feminist twist, all rolled into one.  This was a really great read, one I recommended to a number of people before finishing it.  I found the ending to be a bit flat, rather rushed, and not entirely satisfactory, but that doesn’t detract from the richness and power of the rest of the novel, one that warns of the environmental devastation waiting just around the corner unless we drastically change our ways.  It also reminded this reader why we should never send “most men” out to colonize Mars - you’ll have to read it to find out what that means!  Anyway, I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading post-apocalyptic novels or eco-thrillers.

That’s all for today.  Have a great week, and make sure to find time to read!

Bye for now…

Monday 9 October 2023

Thanksgiving Day post...

It was calling for rain today, but we lucked out and had only to endure high winds and cold-ish temperatures, which was fine by me.  It was perfect weather for a long walk and then an extensive housecleaning and switching over from t-shirts and sandals to long-sleeved shirts and runners.  I love switching over my clothes in preparation for fall and winter - it’s a bit like going shopping without spending any money!  (and usually everything you find is something you like and something that is the right size!!)  I didn’t reward myself with a hot beverage after the walking and cleaning, but I did make a delicious pot of pumpkin soup, and will enjoy a big cup tonight for supper… yum!!

I haven’t finished the book I started reading a few days ago, although I did finish a children’s novel, Honey and Me by Meira Drazin, but I’m not going to write about that today.  What I wanted to do instead is tell you about the audiobook I just finished listening to, The Winners by Fredrik Backman, the final installment in the "Beartown" trilogy.  This whopping 600+ page book (21+ listening hours) takes up where Us against You left off, two years after the end of Beartown, and opens with a violent snowstorm that leaves many people stranded and many trees destroyed.  We also discover that, sadly, Ramona, the owner of the Bearskin, has died. Due to this storm, we are introduced to new characters, particularly from Hed, Beartown’s rival town, and because of Ramona’s death, many former residents of Beartown are brought back into the story as they return for the funeral.  There are so many characters and plots and backstories and interconnected themes that I’m not going to give you any sort of summary.  What I will say is that this novel was so much more positive, so much more rewarding, and so much more deeply satisfying in a heart-wrenching, emotional way than Us Against You.  I found the second book left me feeling quite disturbed and anxious due to the focus on corruption and the negative outcomes of various actions, and I wasn’t planning on reading this one for a while, but I needed an audiobook and it was available, so I checked it out and managed to listen to the whole thing in less than the 21-day loan period, all 21+ hours.  If you, like me, felt disconcerted by Book Two, I would urge you to read Book Three before you forget what’s happened, although, as usual, there’s plenty of recap at the beginning - once this recap finishes and the “real” stories begin, it’s incredibly absorbing and completely riveting.  Hmmm… that’s all I’m going to say, except to warn you that it’s a long emotional roller coaster, so be prepared to shed plenty of tears along the way.

That’s all for now.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Bye for now…

Sunday 1 October 2023

Post on a mild autumn evening...

It’s the end of the first week of fall, and while the past couple of weeks have been chilly-ish, this weekend has been decidedly summer-like, and the forecast for the coming week is calling for more of the same.  Still, the mornings are beautiful and golden, and the Harvest Moon on Friday night was huge and bright, and we usually get one last kick at summer weather before it settles into fall weather, so I guess this is it.

My book club is meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss Ali Smith’s novel Autumn, and since the book club has grown since making up this list, I noticed that the libraries probably won’t’ have enough copies for everyone, so I read my copy this past week and have offered it to others if they need to borrow it.  I read this about five years ago, and here’s what I said in my post of September 30, 2018:

Autumn, by Ali Smith, is the first in a quartet, Seasonal. It was a book I’d picked up at the Owen Sound Public Library book sale about which I knew nothing, but I loved the book cover design. According to Wikipedia, it is a novel about "the state of the nation" Of course I wanted to read it as the summer turned to autumn, and I’m so glad I did, as not only is it about the state of the nation, but the season itself, and what it represents, how it relates to time and memory, and what the “autumn of life” might look like.  The novel opens with an unnamed man being washed up on the shore of a lake, with wild ramblings about being both young and old, making a suit out of leaves, watching young women dancing around, and being dead. It turns out that this unnamed man is Daniel Gluck, a former songwriter who, at the age of 101, now resides in a long-term care facility.  He is visited by the acerbic Elisabeth, a young woman who grew up next door to Gluck and formed the type of special friendship that can only exist between individuals of vastly differing ages who, nonetheless, share a particular view of something, in this case, the world of art. Gluck becomes Elisabeth’s unofficial tutor and mentor, as her feelings towards her mother growing up, like most teenagers, are condescending at best.  We are treated to snippets from Elisabeth’s life growing up, to her present day experiences, as well as to Gluck’s early years. They often discuss art, mainly the collages and art of Pauline Boty, the only female British pop artist of the 1960s, according to Elisabeth. She is fascinated by Boty's art, and goes on to become an art history professor, never giving up her dedication to promoting the love of art to young people.  These snippets are interposed with memories told in poetry, with song lyrics, with bits of news (this novel is set during the EU Referendum, with its political uneasiness, people both rejoicing and feeling miserable), and fragments of Boty’s life before her premature death shortly after her first child was born. I know nothing about this Bailey Prize-winning author, but I was intrigued by the cover design and picked it up for about $2.00 at the book sale.  It was definitely an interesting read, lyrical and melancholy, sad and bittersweet, at times tender and also jarring. The friendships between unlikely individuals, the connections between those who consider themselves to be isolated, was moving and true, a real reflection of the human condition. It reminded me of the Man Booker nominee I read a while ago, From a Low and Quiet Sea by Irish writer Donal Ryan.  Both dealt with isolation and connection, about the need to reach out and break down invisible walls that are the barriers to forming relationships with others.  I loved it, and have just put on hold the next book in the series, Winter, as well as Ali’s Bailey Prize-winning 2015 novel, How to be Both.  An aside: I went to see Linwood Barclay at the Waterloo Public Library One Book One Community event this past week, and something he said rang true while I was reading this novel. Being a writer of crime fiction, he, like most other crime writers, is able to put out approximately one book each year. He was speaking of Wayne Johnston, and how writers of literary fiction sometimes take four or five years to write a book, and he wondered aloud whether maybe their computers were broken or their keyboards weren't working. He also said that literary writers just didn't know how to create a plot. Of course he was kidding. He then clarified that even if he had ten years, he could not write a book as fine as one of Johnston's novels. I thought of this as I was reading Autumn, and how it was not about a plot so much as character, and how it would have taken time and focus to create such a lyrically-resonant work that so succinctly captures the human experience.”

Yes to all of the above!  I’m afraid, though, that it may not be a hit with my members, as I’ve already had one person contact me to let me know that she won’t be able to make it due to a previous commitment, but that she didn’t really enjoy this book at all.  I thought that it might be too many literary books in a row, and since I happened to go to Lee Valley this weekend to purchase something and also happened to pick up a flyer, I was reminded of the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire book dilemma.  Please see this explanation below from June 8, 2014:

"When I’m making up the book club reading list, I try to choose books that lend themselves well to discussion.  I don’t include too many “literary” texts, as they are sometimes just too difficult to read, and I want this group to be fun, not like reading for school.  But I also try not to include anything that is too “light”, as these do not offer enough discussion potential.  I started yesterday’s meeting off by presenting two flyers, one from Lee Valley and the other from Canadian Tire.  The Lee Valley flyer features fewer products with extensive descriptions of each item.  For example, here is the text accompanying the photo of Grill Tiles:  “As a barbecues’ lava rocks become old and saturated with drippings, flare-ups can blacken even the most carefully attended food.  The solution is to replace the old lava rocks with these cordierite ceramic tiles that distribute heat uniformly.  Their shape allows them to catch drippings, reducing flare-ups.  They are even self-cleaning, as they can be simply flipped over to burn off any residue”.  I’ve never heard of these things, but after reading this elaborate description, I want a package of them!  Compare to Canadian Tire:  “Sale $16.99  Reg $25.99  Yardworks Decorative Cast-Iron Hose Hanger.  Hose sold separately”, accompanied by a photo that is at least as large as the description.  These, I argued, were like comparing great literature to bestsellers:  one is comprised of text that stays with you long after the reading is done, with each word carefully chosen to convey the message the author intends and to appeal to the audience on a personal level, while the other is all about flash and instant satisfaction, something you can flip through quickly and easily and then move on to the next flyer.  The first you have to spend time reading and considering, the other you look at and forget the instant it hits the recycle bin.  One of my ladies, the newest member of my group, said that she struggled with Fifth Business, then moved on to a Jeffery Archer novel, but while reading Archer’s book, she was left wondering, “But what are the characters thinking?  Why are they acting this way?  What are they feeling?”  It was the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire dilemma, and we all agreed that we can’t only read great literature, as it takes too much time and effort, and that sometimes we need something light, with maybe more story and less psychological exploration, depending on our personal reading mood at the time.  Watch what is going on next time you are out shopping or at work, and I bet you will notice that these comparisons as presented above are all around you in life, and consider what your responses to things are based on the content and intention of the material.”

Since this post seems to have written itself (or rather, that I’ve already written it in previous posts), I have nothing much to add to this except to say that I’m sure this book will generate interesting and lively discussion, even if no one liked it.  And it was also worthwhile to look these posts up because I put Fifth Business on our list for next year and just realized that we’ve already read it!  Still, most of the members now were not with me in 2014, so maybe it’s ok to stay on the list… I’ll ask at our next meeting.

That’s all for today.  Take care!

Bye for now…

Sunday 24 September 2023

Happy Fall!

It’s the first weekend of fall, and the weather could not have been better... bright and comfortable, not too hot or too cold, enough breeze to make things interesting… and the leaves are starting to change colour, proving once again that this is the best time of the year (at least in my opinion).

I’m not going to write a whole lot about the book I read last week, as we will be discussing it at our book club meeting tomorrow night, but I wanted to at least let you know my initial thoughts.  We will be discussing Clock Dance by Anne Tyler, a recent work by this award-winning American novelist.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by her… maybe A Spool of Blue Thread for book club many years ago?  Anyway, this novel tells the story of Willa Drake, a 61-year old woman whose life is summed up in three short sections:  1967, when she and her friend Sonya try to sell as many chocolate bars as possible to raise money for their camp, but they have a falling out, clearly marking a rite of passage for 11-year-old Willa;  1977, when she returns home from college with her boyfriend, Derek, who has just proposed and wants to marry that summer, before he moves to California for his new job, a move that would leave Willa’s degree in languages incomplete; 1997, when a tragic accident occurs; and 2017, when Willa and her second husband, Peter, receive a call from a neighbour of her oldest son’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, asking if Willa could come and take care of Denise’s 9-year-old daughter, Cheryl, while Denise is in the hospital.  This is the point at which the story actually begins, which is quite revealing about Willa’s life so far.  Raised by a mother whose dramatic disappearances and reappearances dotted her life, Willa’s goal for most of her childhood and adulthood centred around trying to live as unobtrusively as possible and trying not to get noticed.  But when she receives a call from Callie, a neighbour who is looking after Cheryl, asking if she could come and take over this responsibility, Willa immediately accepts, hauling Peter along on the plane-ride from Tuscon to Baltimore.  But her reluctance to leave and return to her own life, even as Denise is discharged from the hospital and is recovering, indicates that perhaps Willa’s life-goals are changing.  I don’t want to say any more about the plot of this quietly inspiring novel, but I really enjoyed it.  I loved the way that, like Willa, it crept along, seemingly without making a mark, until suddenly you realize that it’s had a huge impact and changed the way you view your life.  I want to keep using the word “quietly”, but surely there are other words to mean the same thing:  calmly, patiently, discreetly, plainly… none of them are quite as perfect a word as “quietly”, meaning something that is calm and also discreet, that is patient and plain but also impactful, just unobtrusively so.  I think I need to read earlier works by this author, because all the reviews seem to think that this book, while well-written, is not as good as her others, in particular The Accidental Tourist.  Anyway, if you are looking for a domestic fiction that features a quietly inspiring heroine, I would recommend this novel, but I would caution you to read it slowly and savour it, as, like a delicious stew, it may seem simple but when eaten slowly, its complex flavours come shining through.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the glorious weather!

Bye for now…

Sunday 17 September 2023

Last post for summer...

It's a bit overcast and cool this morning, the last official weekend of summer, and I’ve got a bowl of fresh local fruit and a steaming cup of chai to celebrate.  I’m in the middle of my next Friends’ book club selection right now, but I finally finished a book that I want to tell you about.

It took me nearly two weeks to read Fredrik Backman’s Us Against You, the second book in his “Beartown” trilogy, but thankfully I finished mid-week.  In February 2021, my book club read Beartown as our “banned book” selection, and looking over my blog post for this book, I see that my thoughts on Beartown are similar to those on the second book, that it was too long and overly repetitive, but that the storylines and themes were interesting.  This novel takes over from the point when the last one left off, and follows the characters of Beartown through the year following the consequences of the rape of one of the town’s teens, exploring the fate of the Beartown Hockey Club and the future of Beartown itself.  I’m not even going to summarize the storylines, as there were too many and they were overly complicated, in my opinion.  And I felt that the biggest problem with this book for me was that at least the first third was a retelling of the first book, which I thought most people would have read before reading this one, making this book unnecessarily long and tedious.  So I didn’t love it, even though most people do, according to reviews.  I’ve heard that the last book in the trilogy, The Winners, is really good, but it’s over 600 pages (Us Against You had less than 500), so I doubt that I will be reading it any time soon.  I have plenty of books for my upcoming book club meetings to read, as well as the stacks of library books that have been left neglected on my shelf.  *sigh*  There will always be more books to read than there is time to read them, a sad fact of life that is difficult for me to accept.

Oh, the sun just came out, so I think it’s time to get dressed and get outside for a wonderfully long walk.

Bye for now…

Sunday 10 September 2023

Post on a fall-like morning...

It’s been lovely and cool these past few days, after several sticky humid “end-of-summer” days last week, and I think that most people are feeling refreshed by the change in weather.  I know I certainly am, and am looking forward to a long walk later today.  But first I have a steaming cup of Earl  Grey tea (I didn’t even know I had this type of tea in my cupboard, as I don’t really like Earl Grey!) and a huge bowl of local fruit as a morning treat while I write this post.

My book club met yesterday to discuss Ruth Ozeki’s book, The Book of Form and Emptiness.  I mentioned this book a couple of weeks ago, and commented that I was finding it too long, and that was the consensus of all my book club members.  This book, which is narrated by the book, tells the story of thirteen-year-old Benny Oh and his mother Annabelle, who are struggling to cope with the loss of husband and father Benji, an Asian jazz musician who, on the way home from a gig one night, was run over and killed by a truck full of live chickens in the alley outside of their house.  They are mired in grief, and can’t seem to get out of it.  They cope in different ways:  Annabelle hoards while Benny begins to hear voices, something that began when he watched his father’s casket go into the furnace of the crematorium.  They have no connections outside of their own small family unit, which is breaking down as Annabelle tries to smother Benny and Benny runs at every attempt.  What follows is an exploration into the daily lives of these characters as they spiral gradually out of control to a point of near-collapse.  Who will intervene, in what ways, and how will it help?  These questions and more are answered in this thought-provoking, heart-wrenchingly sad, yet ultimately uplifting book about social connections, creativity, grief, loss, and letting go.  The first member of my book club hadn’t had a chance to finish it before the meeting, but her comment was that there were “so many words”!  I agreed wholeheartedly.  For a book where a major theme is decluttering and letting go of things, this book was certainly full to bursting with words.  I think it could have used a bit of decluttering, but that’s just my opinion (and the opinion of my whole group).  Here are some of the other comments my group members made:  The book was about having too much information and not knowing what to do with it.  We discussed Benny’s voices, where they came from, whether they were signs of mental illness or just a coping mechanism, were they from inside Benny or from outside, or if the source of Benny’s voices were his dad. Another member was struck by the deep sadness in this book, which was steeped in loss and loneliness.  Someone said that there was so much chaos, which may have been a manifestation of Annabelle’s feelings.  There was frustration because there seemed to be no discernable plot, that it just “lurched from thing to thing to thing", or that it just followed Annabelle and Benny from day to day to day.  We found it rather challenging to figure out the timing of the story, and over what period of time it took place.  We felt that the wrap-up was too quick and that the resolution was too neat, but I think our main criticism was that the book just took too long to get going and that there was just too much “stuff” in between all the important bits.  Still, overall, I think everyone was happy to have read it, and for those who didn’t have a chance to finish, I think they plan to do so (since they heard that there is actually a story and resolution at the end!).  

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

Bye for now…

Monday 4 September 2023

Short post for a long weekend...

If last weekend was melancholy, this weekend is positively heartbreaking.  At least last weekend, while I had to go back to work, it was still August and there was this long Labour Day weekend to look forward to.  But now it’s Monday, and we’ll be right back in the swing of things tomorrow morning, and it will see like this summer never happened… hmmm… that reminds me of a book by Peter Robinson’s, The Summer That Never Was, which may have been the first book I’d ever read of his and the one that hooked me so completely.  Maybe I should reread that, as it seems so appropriate.

Anyway, I have a cup of coffee and a big bowl of local fruit to fuel me for a fun-filled day that starts with a short post about the book I read last week.  I finished Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, but I will write about it after the book club meeting next weekend.  After reaching the end of that book, I picked up one that I borrowed from the library by French author Hervé Le Tellier, Enough About Love.  If you recall, I recently read another fabulous book by this same author, Anomaly, and wanted to see what else I could get from my library.  Unfortunately, there was only one other book listed, but I might try to source his books from somewhere else, as he seems to be an author worth really delving into.  Despite the title, this recent novel is actually all about love, its many moods and facets, what it is, what makes it happen and what makes it last.  It is a novel about Louise and Thomas and Romain and Anna and Yves and Stanislas.  Louise and Romain are married with children, but then Louise falls in love with psychoanalyst Thomas.   Anna is married to Stanislas, and they also have children, but then is struck by a “thunderbolt” of passion for writer Yves.  These two women are in their forties and have fairly happy marriages, but the arrival of the opportunity for a passionate affair catches them off-guard and turns their worlds upside down.  But can the excitement and passion of these new relationships be sustained, and if so, at what cost?  This book was completely different from Anomaly and yet it was so obviously written by the same author.  Le Tellier has a way of taking even the most mundane of events or interactions and turning it inside out to explore its most philosophical aspects.  I particularly appreciated the seriousness of a speech made by Louise, a lawyer who was participating in a mock debate at one point in what could have been a light, breezy romantic novel, elevating it to become so much more.  This was just one example, but the one that really stuck. Since the story focuses on all of the characters, and is told in chapters featuring various points of view, I think it could be read and appreciated by just about anyone, so if you’re in the mood for a book that’s all about love, I would definitely recommend Enough About Love.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but stay cool on this hot, hot, hot day!

Bye for now…