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…

Sunday 27 August 2023

Last post for August...

It’s a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon, the last weekend of August and the last weekend of my summer vacation.  It’s always a bit melancholy, a sadness at seeing the end of the summer days and a longing for “just one more week”.  And yet there’s also the excitement of starting a new school year, a new beginning and a chance to do more and plan new activities to engage students.  *sigh*  This time of year is so hard… but I’m certainly not complaining.

I felt that I should write a short post, as it’s such a significant time of year, but I have no books to tell you about, as I’ve been reading Silver Birch nominee contenders most of the month and of course I can’t tell you about them.  We had a meeting last week, though, to finalize our list of nominees, and I’m very pleased with the results, which, of course, I can’t tell you about either!  You’ll just have to wait until the big announcement in October!

In lieu of a proper post, I thought I could tell you about what I’ve been doing these past couple of weeks.  I’ve been reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, for my next book club meeting.  Last September my group read Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and they loved it, so I thought that scheduling this one would provide some sort of “book symmetry” - this is the first time I’ve ever scheduled books by the same author for the same month two years in a row.  This year’s book, however, is not nearly as engaging as last year’s book, in my opinion.  I’m finding it to be too long, and while there are nuggets of greatness, they are buried under too much “rubble” or extra stuff that is interesting but unnecessary.  Still, I haven’t quite finished yet, so it may prove to be worth the reading effort.  More about this book after our meeting.

I also stumbled upon a fabulous t-shirt in a used book store in Orangeville featuring the original cover of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  I’ve never seen t-shirts before, but I’ve seen other book-related merchandise by the Out of Print company, and I’m always so tempted to buy funky book-related socks, tote bags or other miscellaneous novelty items. Well, I couldn’t pass up the Atwood shirt, as it is probably my favourite book of all time, tied with The Winter of Our Discontent, of course.  

And while in Owen Sound last week, I picked up a few books from the Owen Sound Public Library mini book sale, The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson and The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan.  I’ve enjoyed books by all three of these authors in the past, and look forward to reading these new-to-me books, hopefully sometime soon.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the last week of August and I promise to get back into my regular-ish weekly posting routine next weekend.

Bye for now…

Monday 7 August 2023

Post on a holiday Monday morning...

It’s a foggy, humid, overcast day, with thunderstorms expected to begin this afternoon, but I’m ok with that, as we’ve planned to go to a matinee showing of “Oppenheimer”, not a very uplifting movie, and quite long, too, but perfect to watch on a rainy long weekend afternoon.  

My book club met on Friday to discuss Meg Howrey’s book, The Wanderers, and I wanted to give you some of our discussion highlights.  I’ve read this book before, so here’s the summary from March 2022:

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

On second reading, having some knowledge of the story, I think I enjoyed this book even more than the first time.  It really was “mind-blowing”, so thought-provoking and intense that I can’t think of anything that would compare.  Only two book club members could come on Friday, and they were not as “wow-ed” by the book as I was, but it was still a good discussion.  They both found it slow to start and somewhat confusing until the astronauts got onto the simulated space vehicle.  We all agreed that it was fascinating to learn about the life of an astronaut, and the discipline they must have to train and then to actually go on a mission.  We wondered if Helen was on the spectrum, and if they really, actually went to Mars.  We noted that they hid a lot from Mission Control, that they were very sensitive to each other’s moods, and were supportive of one another.  We talked about the commitment they had to their careers, and the fact that they cared about their family members, but not enough to turn down an opportunity to go on this mission. Their main criticism was that the book seemed to lack a plot or story, which is true to some extent, and we all agreed that the chapters told by the family members and Luke were more interesting and easier to read and follow than those told by the astronauts.  Overall, we decided that this novel gave us lots of things to think about regarding the life of an astronaut and space travel, and I would still highly recommend this book, as it was a great discussion, even if they didn’t love it.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the long weekend!  Stay cool and dry!

Bye for now…