Friday, November 14, 2014

Blackout/AllClear

Imagine if you were a historian that could travel back in time to observe particular time periods.  Imagine getting stuck there for some unknown reason...
It's not a new idea, and after reading and watching Doctor Who, there are many examples of time travelling gone wrong, and of the sometimes terrifying consequences.
I read the first half of this dynamic duo a few years back as part of a selection of women authors who have won Nebula Awards.  I loved it until I got  to the end, when I thought,"What's going on here, isn't she cutting it a bit close?"  The book begins with a lot of almost harried activity...there is just so much going on, and underlying is this tension and an uneasy sense that things are tragically going to go to pot, the suspense is just building up with no real release.  Anyone who's read my blog knows just how annoyed I get when I make these discoveries (I hate to read a book and then have to wait for the sequel), but I take all the blame because I didn't do the research.  I was left hanging after finishing Blackout!  I have done the research now.  As a matter of fact I have bought several of Connie Willis' books in preparation for reading this pair, and it works to my advantage because in another of her books Firewatch  (a collection of short stories) is one about this particular universe, so it was with a smug feeling that I began the books, first with the short story Firewatch and then on to Blackout and finishing up with All Clear.  

Naturally I chose November to read this as during this month I usually read someting that has some relation to the World Wars, and these two did not disappoint.  I got an unusual education about an era in our history that is already so well documented.  It was a true homage to the English people, those folks who lived through the Blitz and afterward.  If you want to step in to history, this is a good way to do it.  I loved the books from beginning to end, and since there is over 1100 pages, there's a lot to love. 
I look forward to reading more of Connie Willis' books as these two were so well researched and written, I can understand why she has won so many awards for her genre. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Princess of Mars

I loved this book!  I picked it up in the first place because it's a Mars book, and it  was a favourite of Ray Bradbury's.  It really wasn't complicated, there isn't a load of scientific mumbo jumbo to make your eyes glaze over, but there is lots of action, amazing martians and Dejah Thoris.  Of course, you have right here before you a John Carter fangirl... I can't help it.  He just kicks ass.  And how fortunate for me that there is an amazing movie called John Carter?  I know there has been a lot of criticism over it, and as far as following the story goes it is a bit different.  But I still love it.  As far as I'm concerned the movie has the important bits.  I felt shivers the first time I saw John jumping towards that ship...
It's always great to have images that you love that can be paired to your reading.  John Carter (and many others in the movie) will for me always be the ones I picture...
                        
As with Tarzan, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the book, and I don't really mind.  I can't wait to get on with the next book to find out what happens next.  I love Burroughs' Mars and his martians.  Woola is pretty cool too...there is something irresistable about a big  creature that has the unfailing loyalty of a dog.
The Barsoom novels have earnt their place on my Mars shelf. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Big Sleep


Enter The Big Sleep.  Can I use this made up verb " Wodehousesque" for every book that makes me feel this way?    It flowed.  It had a life of it's own with simple language that described an atmosphere unmistakeably Hollywood.  This book was Hollywood to me, and there are only an extremely small amount of writers that can do that for me (Ray Bradbury being the only other...see? That small!).  I am extremely ignorant of many things, so when I begin to read or even write about things I hardly ever do any research (no risk of spoilers that way!), so I really did not know that this book had been made into a movie and that Humphrey Bogart was the protagonist.  All the while I was reading it, I pictured, and heard Humphrey in my head.  And it was not until I was looking for a picture to post with my blog entry that I saw that was the case.  Funny how that happens eh?  Usually though, my modus operandi is to research the movie, and not watch it until I have read the book. 
 
Next in the series (isn't it exciting to discover a new series that is already complete?).  With the set-up already in place ( The Big Sleep), it was so easy to just slide in to this world.  Some guys are just heroes, without really saying anything at all, and Philip Marlowe is a man of action.  His moves speak volumes which is pretty fabulous to come across in a novel.  I was reminded of  Ray Bradbury's "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair" when I read this book, and it gave the story an extra dimension, and an emotional attachment to me because I love all things Bradbury.  I have ordered the next in the series, and look forward with great anticipation to revisiting Philip Marlowe's world again.  It was after reading this book that I began The Last Policeman trilogy, and I am pleased to say that the contrast between characters was pratically non-existent.  Both protagonists are true heroes and real men in  my eyes (well...not real men, I mean ideal men, my definition of men with strength of character and convictions... you didn't think I thought they were real honest to goodness people did you?)

World of Trouble

I was having a difficult time sleeping last week, and on this particular night, as it was a weekend, I decided to stop just lying there tossing,  turning, and twitching, so I finished this book.  I was close to doing so, but had decided to hold off until the next day and give it my complete attention ( I was getting pretty tired...).  So I did, I stayed up and read on until it was finished.  Guess what I dreamt of when I finally went to sleep that night?
Which brings me to my next thought.  While I read these books, every now and then mild curiosity would graze my consciousness about what I would do if I were in the same situation?  I tried not to spend any thought on it at all... I am the kind of person who prefers to deal with it if it comes, and not imagine desperate scenarios.  Why waste time on something that may not ever happen? While I do not live as if every day is my last, I sure as heck don't like to waste time, so I live my life doing what I love doing best.  My dream showed me what I would do.  I was in a room (with loved ones supposedly, but as it is with dreams, there is not really anyone specific), but I knew I was with people I loved, and I was getting annoyed, because as the time grew closer to the inevitable, these shadows would keep on closing the curtains, and I would struggle to open them again, because I wanted to see!   In lots of my dreams there are bizarre obstacles to overcome, and I struggled through each one to make sure that I could see what was happening...kind of like a Robert Munsch book, where I repeated actions over and over again to get to the end result.  Finally, after pulling down curtains, breaking blinds, and ripping apart with my bloody hand's storm shutters, I saw.  I saw an eclipse, then some spectacular aurora borealis, and then a rapidly brightening light in the sky...which was when I woke up. 
Wow!  How's that for a book that made a powerful impact? (and I totally did not mean for that to be a double entendre, but clever me anyway har har!).  I wish I could speak to Ben H. Winters in person and thank him for such an amazing tale.  An adventure that had me fan-girling Hank, thinking in ways that had me reaching conclusions and seeing things that I have never considered before.  
So if you are looking for an apocalyptic crime fiction which will lead you through to the end of the world with lots of adventure and food for thought along the way, a story that feels real, this is the biscuit!  I mean it.  I can't wait to see what Winters does next as you know I will be first in line to buy it!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Coping with Abibliophobia

Abibliophobia as some of you may know is the fear of running out of something to read!  And yes, I was worried before I went away to Australia for six weeks.   With a limit on my luggage weight, and a reluctance to have to buy anything I would need, I stuffed my suitcase pretty full, was only a pound or two overweight, and was really over-taxed to haul the big beastie around with me from airport to airport.  That is just the big suitcase, there was my carry on as well, and my purse which held all important documents, bank cards etc., and a book!  I worried about this for a few weeks before I left, what if I read something too fast and then was caught between flights without something to read?  With only two previous flights to refer to I had not taken into account the perks of a more modern plane, and I was also anxious about the battery running out on my Samsung tablet before I got to where I was going.  I had bought the tablet last spring with the idea of using it to communicate with my family while I was gone, I had decided against buying a new cell phone for the time I was there not wishing to use up my money on something I didn't think I would use very much, and that would be obsolete by the next time I came back to Australia.

So the tablet was the plan, my main means of communicating.  It has  a great, long-lasting battery, but I didn't want to be without it whilst traveling as it was my means of checking in with DH and the rest of my family.  Of course, once I had loaded on it the important applications, banking  etc., I had some space for music and books, but that does use up power, hence the need for an actual book to keep me company as well.
As it turned out I had just begun Catch 22 by Jospeh Heller, a week before I left, and I didn't want to leave it behind (it is a thick and somewhat heavy book, which made me hesitate), but take it I did, with  A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marian Lewyka as a backup in case I finished the first one.
Laugh at me if you must (I can laugh at myself now...almost), I should have remembered this from the last time I went home eight years ago.  When you travel it is not as easy as you think to carry so much luggage about, and really, some books just aren't the travelling type.  Catch 22 was one of these.   My first lesson; it was hard to get into in a busy airport, I couldn't focus on it as much as I needed to, which tells me that when I travel again and insist on bringing a book, I will limit it to just one book, I will make a protective bag for it so that it will not recieve damage in my well stuffed carry-on luggage, and lastly, I will choose something that does not require a lot of effort to read, something smooth and amusing like say P.G. Wodehouse or, as I discovered when I could read on my tablet due to the fact that the seat in front of me had a plug so that I could charge my tablet and read, listen to music etc., that Doctor Who and The Dresden Files were great reads for long flights, or for travelling in general as they were easily engaging, didn't require to much mental effort and were just comfortable reads in general for the person who doesn't know when next they can settle down to a good book.
Even after I got to my destination, reading Catch 22 was still a difficulty due to my mind being very occupied by the events that happenend on this last trip, and whatever I had read I don't think I had really registered at all ( I will be revisiting this book next month).
So.  these are the lessons that I have learnt from this last trip.  There are provisions for travelers who have electronic devices to charge up when they need to, a small, easy-to-read book is best, and some sort of protective casing for your book to avoid those dings and folded over edges etc., and the very last thing, you can always buy a book where ever you go so just budget for it!

Countdown City

The second installment of The Last Policeman trilogy, it does not disappoint.  I have sometimes found that when a trilogy is planned, the middle book is mostly stuffing, a little bit of filler before the exciting stuff happens in the last book, not so with Countdown City.  The protagonist Hank Palace is to me, a very 'Harry Dresdenesque' character (the kind my best friend and I fan girl about).  He fights the good fight no matter what, he cares beyond the reason of his peers, and he suffers for his attempts to do the right thing.  Enmeshed in the drama of this amazing policeman's life is the other drama surrounding him, of the world about to end.  This book packed a powerful punch and in all the right places, and I'm looking forward to and dreading at the same time what happens next in World of Trouble.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Last Policeman

                                    
I first read this two years ago and them promptly forgot it.  Why? Because it was  going to be a trilogy and I was not going to think about it again until I had the complete set beside my reading chair.  And it worked!  I actually did forget most of what happened (though really, after reading at least four hundred books between then and now, I guess it wasn't something I had to put too much effort into...).
I have, since the first time, developed a strong fondness for Ben H. Winters (well...Quirk Publishing in general).  Okay, I can even go as far as saying that I love this guy!  Since my first reading of The Last Policeman I have also read, Bedbugs, and Android Karenin (which was no small feat of adaptation!).  So I feel that I have come to know the author a little better.  Coming back to The Last Policeman was a treat (and considering that I had just finished Farewell, My Lovely by the great Raymond Chandler that's really saying something!).  I really paid attention to all the details, noticed more than I had forgotten, really got to know the protagonist Hank Palace. 
Now that the other two are published Countdown City and World of Trouble, I freely recommend this pre-apocalyptic, police detective series, it's a different spin on chaos, on humanity in a crisis, with a plot that is engrossing, and not too hard to follow.  Getting close to the end of Policeman I really felt the excitement, the build up to the finale which was not disappointing and it left, naturally, questions which I look forward to getting the answers to in the next two installments.




Friday, September 5, 2014

My Apologies...

It has been a difficult couple of months, starting with my laptop frying and losing all of my notes for the  many books I had read and not posted yet.  It was a severe blow.  Then about the same time I was working on filing a grievance against someone for harrassment at work,  which was excruciating to say the least.  Then I went to Australia for the summer, and found out that my mother had passed away six years previously and that we (my brothers and myself) were not to be notified as "she hated the lot of us".   This is where you can see why I have always been able to sympathise with my characters in books with terrible parents...
I had made a few attempts when I was a teenager to free myself from the influence of my mother, and someone at the time asked me how I would feel  if she died.  Well I can honestly answer that now.  Terrible.  I feel terrible.  But it is not  for the reasons that you might think.   I do not feel regret that I kept her from my life for the past twenty three years... she was toxic and I could not allow her to come anywhere near my family.  My heart is broken.  I mourn for something I never had, never could have had, because no matter how well I have lived my life, or suceeded in things that my own mother failed tragically in... she still would not have loved me.
So it has been a stressful couple of months, but I am through the other side of my troubles now, and ready to start talking again about one of my great loves...books!  That is not to say that there is still a great deal of sadness here in my heart, like I said, I am broken, but I think it might perhaps make me more compassionate in what I read.  My world view has changed.  I have a hankering for something profound to dig in to.  We will see.  I promise a new entry soon.  Have a nice weekend!

Monday, March 31, 2014

What Men Live By and Other Tales

I cannot reveal or discuss too much some feelings I have about people and how they choose to practise their religion.  That being said I will reference for you my own personal feelings and wishes here in this post .  While I am at times heartbroken by other's actions in the name of their gods I  take heart when I find such treasures as this and it elevates my hopes for a better future.  In my life I have met or heard of people who have earnt my greatest admiration for their personal religious beliefs and Leo Tolstoy is one of them.
                               
                  
Here is a collection of four delightful short stories illustrating something more than just faith, but purity of spirit and a wisdom that ought not to be ignored or denied. 
It was a pleasure and priviledge for me to read them and I would encourage anyone to read them as well (preferably while listening to Tchiakovsky's  Symphony No.1 in G Minor Op. 13 "Winter Daydreams").
                    
                            
I have always admired the story "The Three Questions" written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth and have also read this aloud to classes before with good results.  I have relished the opportunity to share with my kids my favourite authors and it feels good when the students show more of an interest in someting that they know is a favourite of mine. 
I sometimes think I should make my own list of books that I think people should read, or as I think it most appropriately labeled, "Books That it Would Be an Awful Shame to Miss Because They Would Truly Enrich Your Life".  A lot of Tolstoy would be on that list!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Burning Girls

                       Tor.com advertised on their Facebook page this week two novellas (Tor Originals) that are Nebula nominees, which are free to download.  Naturally I could not pass those up so (happily! joyfully!) they were downloaded with rapid dispatch to my Kindle app.       
Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes   
I loved this story!  Cast in the early 1900's it was, from the very beginning, an immediately captivating tale.  As with all books (especially if you do not spoil things by doing a little research first), there were questions, and the more I read into it the more questions I had...it began so strongly as something that I could (but probably shouldn't) say was "Grimmesque", but much better than that. Of course, with a novella everything has to be more compact, but this story magically excels in it's ability to lure you into it's web. Exciting connections were made in it to other literature (The Brothers Grimm) and historical events and some of my questions were answered.  I haven't read a lot of Jewish folklore, I don't know much about the religion and lifestyle but this was fascinating, as well as familiar to what I have read, and rich with the traditions and lore of the past.   A fairy tale for grown-ups.  I will be looking for more by this author.
On top of all that nostaligic, folkloric awesomeness is the relationships involved, the strengths of the characters, the love and friendships between women and the artwork is lovely too.  It is, all together, an lovely attractive bundle and I hope might be available in book form someday.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bedbugs!

                         
Devoured in one day.  Why? Because it was just so enthralling!   The ultimate in  psychological thrillers.  Bedbugs.  The very idea is uncomfortable, but add to it black illustrations of bedbugs along the spine of the book at certain stages in their life cycle that make the book creepier still.  The story brought strongly to mind one of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers,  Vertigo.  I couldn't put it down until I knew how it would all work out, so I recommend putting aside a day for reading this.  I also recommend not reading it in bed!

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

                          
Charles Dickens has done it to me again.  For me, A Tale of Two Cities was an emotionally devastating book for me to read and as it lacked the comic relief of his other novels, it was also an intense and suspenseful read as well.  I liken the experience as listening to an orchestral piece by Gustav Mahler, full of the most painfully beautiful, emotionally evocative, unbelievably pure notes that an orchestra can play.  That actually sums it up quite accurately.  Every chapter in a Dickens novel is like its very own section of an intricate symphony, rich in character and feeling.
As usual Dickens' social commentary is provocative, but this book was confusing.  I could not help but feel compassion for both sides... the French Revolution was so barbaric and I am ashamed at rational people who abandoned all sense to the hatred and revenge so meted out in this book.  It is understandable though.  Dickens was brilliant in portraying everything, making you despise the aristocracy (more behaviour to be deeply ashamed of) one moment and feeling horror for them the next. 
I treasure each experience I have whenever I read his books (and yes...I lovingly hugged the book when I was finished!).  I am so grateful that he was so prolific (there are still so many for me yet to read).  As they are such an intense experience I ration myself to reading one book a year (thus ensuring that I will not run out anytime too soon!), and naturally I plan to revisit them, one book each year for the rest of my life, guaranteeing that my life shall always be enriched.
 Music to swoon to:-
Gustave Mahler Symphony #10

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dear Mr. Knightley

                            
Saw this last week on Book Riot and on a whim downloaded it from Amazon within minutes (I still get a huge thrill whenever I do that!).  I then put it off for a few days because Emma has to be one of my least favourite books by Jane Austen.  After a vlog binge on Sunday watching Emma Approved I felt up to the task of reading what I thought might be a modern version of Emma...boy was I pleasantly surpised!
I started reading it yesterday and finished it this morning... I actually stayed up past my bedtime last night and probably would have stayed up until I finished but I am still recuperating from an illness that I had last week, so I had to go to bed.
I had no thought but to finish up this wonderful book this morning, and I was suprised again at the end!
I get the protagonist Sam Moore.  I had an immediate connection with her, that just deepened the further I read in to the book.  I rooted for her, cared for her, was sad for her and in the end extremely proud and pleased. 
I feel that if you love the same books as another person does, it opens doors that might other wise be closed, and with this story I was drawn in because both Sam and I share a love of the same kind of literature.  It is always very exciting to meet someone (even a fictional one) who understands your literary references, and though I don't have a friend like that, after reading this I really wish that I had one.
I have already ordered the paperback version because this story is something that I would love to revisit, and nothing is better than holding it in your hand while you do so.

I finished the book with a particular song in mind which seems quite appropriate.  The song has been a favourite of mine for a long time, and was the very first one I ever heard sung by Luke Steele.  The refrain has always touched me "When you think with your mind, you've got a place to go now..."
I hope you will listen and love it like I do:   Good Dancers  
Plus you should just go and read this book too, and to get the full experience, there is a list of the books referenced in the story in the back of the book. 
I will be keeping an eye out for whatever Katherine Reay writes next!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

                                  
About one day in the life of the protagonist, I spent one day reading it.  I only paused to make a pot of lovely, nourishing vegetable soup (with six vegetables in it!) and a lucious fresh spinach salad (with avocado sliced on top and a home-made dressing) to go with it. I only go into detail because Ivan's soup was not so good, but at the end of his day, he was extremely happy to eat his cabbage soup with very tiny bits of old fish, a piece of mealy potato and his portion of black bread.
I was immersed in this story, drawn in like I have been with an Orwel novel, and just as fascinated with a culture I know very little about, and an era I have always struggled to understand. 
Solzhenitsyn drew from his own life experiences to write this book, and I have learnt a little about him from reading this, it is interesting how I seem to see facets in this man that I have yet to discover in Alice Munro (who still eludes my understanding).
Back to the soup and salad, I haven't enjoyed a meal more than that one in a very long time, after reading about Ivan's day feeling his hunger and his suffering from the cold, and seeing what he had to do to survive day after day.  I savoured every bite, grateful for what I have.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Clouds of Witness

                   
The second book in Dorothy L. Sayers' series Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, it moved along at a very decent clip, was funny in parts, and re-established bonds from the previous book, as well as adding more for future stories.  I definitely prefer the cosy mystery, and with this series there is the added bonus of cultural references which, for the most part, I actually get.  I have grown fond of our leading man, and find his personality endearing.  I enjoyed this one like I did the last, and look forward to reading the next.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Madame Bovary

                       
I am reminded of when I read Voss by Patrick White, because that was the last time that I had disliked a character so much (excluding Nabokov's Lolita because that book was abhorrent for entirely different reasons).  I won't be watching the BBC versions of this awful story.
What also caused me to recollect Voss is the writing itself, how Flaubert brought to life an entire village, little histories and side plots, and the absolute insidiousness of Madame herself.  Look up the synonyms for insidious and you will find at least twenty-six  words that describe her very well... all of them.
Naturally I cared for Monsieur Charles Bovary and was concerned for his welfare and for all those that were affected by Madame (including a daughter).  "It is the fault of fatality" which is said by Monsieur Charles at the end, I believe actually captures the essence of the story quite accurately. 
The contrast between husband and wife is remarkable, and sadly typical  (or at least I have read this theme so many times already), a selfless man married to a selfish woman, and because he is so selfless, he will always endure her selfishness.  It is fatalistic because, no matter what happens, no matter what or who Madame could have, she would inherently be unhappy, because she was severely lacking in compassion for anyone but herself.  There was only one way that this story could go.   It doesn't end well.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Castle Rackrent

                  
I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did.  I even downloaded it at work so that I could read it on my lunch break.  I love these female authors who were brave enough to write their stories in the eighteen hundreds, and I am grateful that they did (Edgeworth is up there with the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen).  I look forward to reading some more of what this particular author wrote, and I should mention that it is a requisite to read it (in your mind of course) with an Irish accent.

Just a Touch of Whimsy




                 
This year's reading theme is all about reading on a whim, and not to a set program of categories or amounts.  So far it has been kind of boring, not knowing what to read next, but I have been getting used to the idea, and have even begun to enjoy it.  I have not been reading as much as I have been previously, and it feels strange not to (so this month I have been focusing more on books).  Fellow members from the 2014 Reading Challenge have been very encouraging of my scheme and have also mentioned the crime fiction of Dorothy L. Sayers and her character Lord Peter Wimsey.  So, on a whim, I have decided that it might be fun to read some.
Naturally I started at the beginning with Whose Body.  I found the story to be quite shocking, actually.   Written in the twenties, it has that Wodehouse kind of flair (sans humour), being situated in London, and  this time period 1920's) has always been one of my favorites.  I liked Wimsey, and his universe.  I look forward to reading more about this character.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Grendel

                          
I began this book with the hope that it would not be anything like the King Kong version.  I was not disappointed!  This was a very different point of view indeed!  It was a fascinating take on a pretty simple poem, which does not delve too deeply in to character development (but then, it is a poem right?).  I will leave that kind of discussion up to scholars who actually care about this (I laboured through Tolkien's lecture "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" which was, while well written, not that interesting to me). 
Grendel was unexpected.  I felt like Gardner was playing with me, poking a little bit of fun and borrowing some things from other sources... what I mean by that is that one night (when I was extremely tired, right before bed), I began reading the chapter where Grendel has this conversation with a dragon, and I could have sworn that the dragon was trying to explain to Grendel how he was able to see the future by the use of psychohistory.  Now that snapped me awake!  I would not be able to say for sure without going back and reading Prelude and or Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov to be certain, but I could have sworn that was the case...
Gory bits aside, it was a thoughtful, interesting read and the philosophies expressed by various characters was of course, quite unnatural, atypical of what we have come to expect from people of that era.  I will have to come back to this book sometime (perhaps after I have re-read Asmiov's  Foundation series...).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

At Last!

                          
After the cliffhanger from the last book Speaking From Among the Bones, I have been eager to find out how it would all end in this final book.  I can't really say of course how it all finished up, but I can say that it wasn't how I had hoped, but that it was a satisfying conclusion anyway.
I just love Flavia.  She is one of my most favorite characters, and I cannot help but be happy for her when things are going well, and sad when they are not.  I will speculate now about the possibility that Alan Bradley might write about her again one day.  Possibly when she has grown a bit?  Something to hope for anyway, because I would love to know what else Flavia's future has in store for her.
I know that  in my future is a Flavia de Luce marathon read, complete with custard tart, gallons of tea and whatever other book related provisions I can come up with. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Popularity Papers

                               


Amy Ignatow has hit it out of the ball park again with number two of her much beloved series The Popularity Papers.    I love everything about these books!   The artwork is amazing; it is so colorful and appealing.  I admit that I am always inspired to go and write something in my own journal and I always wish that I could be more creative with the embellishments that I add to my own words.  Of course, I also want to start knitting something right away too, but you can't read and knit at the same time!  Appearance aside, I also really love how the story is presented.  We have two girls with different lives, who share and  learn from their personal experiences which are, in my opinion, important issues that girls at this age should be thinking about.  I love how they both arrive at the right conclusions for their particular problems and that we get to read about them in such an inspirational and entertaining way.  If I had daughters, I would make sure that they had the whole series to date, and of course, I would make sure they could create their own journals, and be able to knit if they wanted to as well!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flora & Ulysses

                           
DiCamillo has done it again!  Perfection in a book.  Last week when this came into my library I knew then that it would win the Newbery (ask my husband if you don't believe me, I was without a doubt absolutely certain that this book must get the Newbery). 
The story is original, the illustrations provide an extra dimension of awesomeness instantly making it appealing and endearing (I'm not kidding!  When I opened up this book for the first time, before I had even read the first page  but had seen the first illustrated sequence, I just loved this book).    Congratulations to Kate, and thank you so much for yet again doing what you do so very well.
   
                                 Of course, I wish I had my very own Ulysses because squirrels are just so loveable...even the hungry ones.





Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Friend of my Youth

                         
Keeping in mind the journey I have just completed this past year, by bingeing on Ray Bradbury, you might be able to understand how mystifying I have found Alice Munro to be.  I have never experienced her before, and have only just learnt through casual conversation, that we (meaning DH and myself) had actually visited her book store that time we went down to Victoria to drop DS#3 off at university. 
At the time I admit I was a little preoccupied with “mum stuff“, and the fact that I was looking for two other book related treats (the restaurant ReBar, and Emily Carr’s house).  So I wasn’t really paying attention when we went to Munro’s Books and didn’t realise the significance (not that I‘m saying that visiting a book store is insignificant…we did put two and two together after all and figure it out for ourselves when the only mention in the news was that she actually owned a bookstore in Victoria).

Since Alice Munro's winning of the Nobel, I thought it would be a good idea to finally read something of hers…especially since I have four of her books that I had picked up in various second hand stores. 
I would have to agree with her review blurbs.  She really is very good.  I just don’t understand her yet. 
Friend of my Youth was absorbing and uncomfortable.  Absorbing because this is my very first encounter with Alice Munro and it was engrossing, trying to understand her (haven't figured that out yet!), and uncomfortable because of the subject content of her stories.  I am captivated!  I want to know what makes Munro tick, which means I must read more of her work.  It was so easy and wonderful to read Bradbury because I understood and loved him, so each story was like an affirmation of what I knew.  Not so with Alice, she is a mystery to me, which I look forward to learning about.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

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This was the next book to be taken off the stack I currently have by my reading chair.  This was an impulse buy, bought purely on it's merit as a Penguin and I implicitly trust Penguins (especially at second-hand book stores where part of my criteria for treasure hunting  is that if it is a Penguin it ought to be good, and at that inexpensive price what is the risk?).  I was not wrong with that assumption, it is a good book.  Just not my cup of tea.    I am essentially a non-violent person and this book was prevalently violent.  I did not like those bits at all, which made the book a punishment to get through and because of this it also took a longer than usual time for me to finish it.   What was of interest was the time period, and of how Scotland Yard was beginning to do such things as having policemen working under cover to catch their murderer.  I hated what happened to the under cover policeman though, but for the sake of the story I believe it was necessary as they were after all just experimenting with this kind of policework, and had not as yet come up with regulations about the safety and welfare of their staff.  
The book ended well, though, and if you are someone who can handle all of the 'scrapping', you  might enjoy this book.

Friday, January 10, 2014

With All the Best Intentions...

                         
I began my reading this year with the best of intentions, I would choose randomly from my stacks, read carefully (and slowly), savour the language on each page and take my time to digest what the author is saying to me.  Taking my time meant thinking more about each individual book, and having more time to do extra research rather than just counting on Wikipedia for most of my information (not that I am dissing the website in any way...it is still my first choice for fast facts). 
With these ideas in mind I set out read my very first Goethe.  I wanted to read Faust of course, but I have always been really anal about how I start a new author, and preferably it will be with their first works and then progressing on to read the rest (this modus operandi of mine is currently getting a re-evaluation).  So I began to read Goethe's  The Sorrows of Young Werther. 
One other firmly established habit of mine is to ignore introductions in books.  I do this for a few reasons, it is hard to understand the references made because I have not read the book yet (why is this at the beginning of a book?), sometimes they can be extremely boring (not everyone is as funny as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain) and last, but not least, they might contain spoilers.  Quite by accident, I briefly scanned the first page of the introduction in this book, and right there, right on the very first page, in two little sentences, the whole plot was revealed.
I have always been a fan of the epistolary novel, but knowing what I already did, or possibly because I had to go back to work this week after  Christmas holidays, or perhaps because the moon is getting fuller, or even maybe it was just because it is January and the weather is dull and grey (post holiday blues?), but I was not inclined to like this story.
Werther impressed me from the beginning as self indulgent.  On top of that he is a very artsy, whiney, flowery, wordy, (I discovered a new hatred for the word effulgent) correspondent which had me rolling my eyes almost from the first page.  Add to that his obsessive behaviour which really brought back to me those feelings I experienced when I was reading Nabokov's Lolita .  So going in, I was miffed, already spoilt, mildly grossed out,  and I think too biased  to give Sorrows a fair chance.  There are other writings in the book, which I didn't even look at because by the time I forced myself through Sorrows (rapidly I might add, no savouring these words), I was not interested in looking further, I knew that it had been a bad idea, and that Goethe deserves a better effort from me.
I have since read that this first book of Goethe's was kind of a bad boy for it's day.  Inciting some protest about it's content, it was also an influence for the upcoming Romantic literary movement. 
For now, I will put this aside for another time when I have forgot these preconcieved notions, and recommend to you (whoever you are who read my blog posts), to be careful of your books...they might contain introductions that could ruin everything!


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Sandman - Preludes and Nocturnes

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I have read a few of Gaiman’s stories now and thought it a shame I had never looked at this collection of graphic novels sitting on my husband's shelf.  I have long been enjoying graphic novels and appreciating what they do for reluctant readers, but it is not just that.  There is something about the graphic novel which is to be admired, and I have often been happy to read what was once a novel in graphic form, and been absolutely thrilled at how the graphic version has incorporated ideas from the written page.  It is like an I-spy book, where you hunt and seek the images that ‘tell’ a page or two of text, an idea, which is fun and exciting all at the same time when you spot the reference, all in one small window of illustration.  
The Sandman of course, is not like that, as this is an original story with elements of the familiar (references from other comics and popular culture naturally), but there is a lot to be seen on every page.  I always find myself poring over each one seeking that little clue to help or enhance my understanding of the story being told. 
My first experience with this story is a feeling of being overwhelmed (of course, in it‘s initial form as a comic you would experience things in dribs and drabs and maybe that is a good way to get in a bit of a ‘breather‘ before going back in again for more of the nasty).  It is a fascinating story, but dark, and there are parts I choose not to think about again.  After reading American Gods, I  was prepared a little (thankfully) for the content of Preludes and Nocturnes, and after reading something as dark as Alan Moore’s graphic novels, I have been prepared, so to speak, for the darkness (there must be another word besides dark to describe this world of graphica that both Moore and Gaiman have imagined!   Black, cloudy,  dim, dingy, drab, dull, foggy, gloomy, murky, shadowy, somber, dun, faint, aphotic, caliginous, cimmerian, crepuscular, dusky, grimy, inky, pitchy, lurid, sooty, tenebrous…to name a few).
It brings back for me the age old question of what makes a good novel.  The particular question of “If it is horrible, does that make it a classic?”.   This is not typical of just modern literature (there is plenty of the awful in the old stuff as well, just read Hardy’s Jude the Obscure if you don’t believe me).  Neil Gaiman put it best in his speech for literacy so I will just direct you here for a better written and well thought out explanation which I am unable to give you.
Taking a break before I tackle reading volume two.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Rest of the Robots

                                   
Not having a structured reading challenge this year (I have decided to be very whimsical about it this year), I started out by just opening up a box of books and diving in. I have over the past couple of years just placed my purchases into boxes after buying them with no effort to inventory whatever is inside, so it is a literal surprise to see what is in each box, and a great deal of fun.  This week I opened my first box and here was this lovely treat inside (admittedly every book in the box was like that but I wanted to read some Asimov right away as it has been more than a year since I have indulged).  This is my write up for Libraything:-

"I am a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, and especially of his robots. As I have noticed with some writers of short fiction in this genre, new collections almost always include favorites from previous years, so there will be some repetition (that feeling of deja vu which is hardly ever unwelcome considering the author and the stories and, in my opinion worth a re-read). His short stories often have a punchline which is uniquely typical of Asimov, and very often an amusing one. It does not matter if I have read most of these stories before, they are always a welcome revisit, and still provide for me a fascinating look into a possible future that I find myself wistfully wishing for. ( )"

Adding to all of the robotic fun, is Isaac's remarks before each storiy, which I enjoyed as I have always thought him to be such an intelligent and witty man.
This book is my first entry for January, I have opted instead of reading categories, I will just list what I have read each month, with a few extra places for particular things I would like to do this year, also with very little structure to them, like a list for Doctor Who books, one more for Neil Gaiman because I plan to binge on him this year, and for non-fiction and vegan non-fiction.  I would also like to read more of what I own (dipping into my mystery boxes), and attempting to read what is new this year.  All of which I would like to do instead of having to.  To cap it off, I want to spend more time writing, and perhaps doing things that do not involve books .  That last one I admit, was a hard one to contemplate, but I know it is important to do. 

Fortunately, the Milk.

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I have been working for quite some time on a limited budget to get all of Gaiman's juvenile literature for the school library.  Why?  Because they are unique, quirky and engaging (and oh so very Neil).  That is right...Neil Gaiman has a certain style which I am beginning to recognise and admire.
Fortunately, the Milk, is hilarious.  I was chuckling from the very beginning and outright snorting with laughter at the end.
I have only seen the Skottie Young illustrations, but I understand that Chris Riddell also illustrated a version (and why is it that there are two versions?  That is annoying but I think that given a choice I would probably go for the Riddell version, even though I like both illustrators).  So if I can't convince you to have a look, this blurb from Neil's website really ought to do it...         

                                     
There's no milk.  So Dad saves the day by going to buy some. Really, that’s all that happens.  Very boring. Soooooooo boring. YAAAAAAAWWWN. You don't want to read it.   There are absolutely definitely none of the following things inside: PIRATES!  GLOBBY GREEN ALIENS! INTERGALACTIC POLICE! ANGRY VOLCANO GODS  DEMANDING HUMAN SACRIFICE! And most definitely NOT a time-travelling  hot-air balloon piloted by the brilliant Professor Steg . . .