Sunday 22 January 2023

Quick post on a snowy evening...

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 15 January 2023

Post on a bright winter morning...

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

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

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 8 January 2023

Post on an overcast afternoon...

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

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

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

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday 1 January 2023

Post on New Year’s Day…

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

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

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

Best Adult Books (20)

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

Best Children’s/YA Books (10)

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

Best Audiobooks (8)

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

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

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

Bye for now... Julie