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…