Thursday, August 4, 2016

Beloved

This is one of those books I made myself read because it is on one of my literary mugs "The Greatest First Lines of Literature".
So one of my reading challenges this year is to read the books that I haven't already on this mug and one other, "The Banned Books" mug.

  And it's been quite a challenge, because some of these books, while being 'great' or 'banned' are a challenge to read.  Either it' s the language, the writing or mostly the content that is hard to digest.

So this summer I decided that I needed to put in a concentrated effort to make myself read some of these books (which I will talk about soon).

It has all been very heady stuff, and Beloved tops the stack at being a very challenging book to read.  I made three first attempts before I finally made it stick.  When I could stick with it I was engaged and anxious to get to the end, because I really couldn't see where the book was headed.  I knew what I had hoped to see but that, of course, is no guarantee that an author will be considerate and take your  own feelings or preferences to account.  It won the Pulitzer Prize so you can almost bank it that this would be a stressful, ugly and painful novel about slaves. And it was.  That's not really a spoiler.

Beloved is not the first book this year that I have read about slaves.  Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was tackled earlier on in February during Black History Month, and I had to make a few tries to start reading that one too.    There are many similarities, but one thing I am extremely grateful for is that the speech is easier to read.  It really bothered me that Stowe had most of her characters sound illiterate and it was so bad you could barely understand what she had them saying...
Beloved, was an easy read, and even when the speech was slang, I didn't have the need to parse what was said.  

Morrison was clever to feed out the horrible parts in bits and pieces throughout the book, which was very kind and humane of her.  It was a story which wound around you like a spell, with each divulgence, and then grasped you at the climax when everything was laid bare and horrible, holding you there until the very end. 

At some point it feels like we as a people have written so much (too much!) about the horrible times in our history, and it feels like we are beating it long after it should have been laid to rest.  I can honestly say that some people are total jerks for writing something this horrible and it has angered me very much.  But I think that has more to do with how the author has treated the subject.  Beloved is different.  Toni Morrison wrote a thoughtful, insightful book about ex-slaves and the ghosts of their pasts which do come back to haunt them as any hard thing in a person's life does.  It was real, honest and a way of writing that makes me think about those times soberly and with sadness, but not with anger.  Like a story about the war,  the Holocaust, or any other terrible event in our history, this too should be remembered all the time, because it happened, and it should never be forgotten, lest it should happen again.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Remains of the Day

I am surprised that I have not already written about this book... but I am glad that I did not because I have a different way of looking at it now with comparison to what I have already read by Ishiguro.
When I first read it, I had already seen the movie with Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Thompson (two of my most favourite actors!), and I already loved it.  This is unfortunate, because the movie predisposed me to see things that aren't too apparent with the book (unless you already know what to look for).
Second time around I began to see a theme with what I have read so far in A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World and Remains of the Day.  They are all retrospective novels, they all look back in to their past (and they are bittersweet).  Also, the protagonist does at some point try to make a change, but really it is too late to do so and learning to live with events and their consequences is inevitable and unusual in each story.  Of course, it is only a stressful situation for the lead character, and once the book concludes you do see that it isn't really as bad as you once thought it was, but I love how you are drawn in to the story and carefully held there until it is over.
Remains is a departure from the first two books, a story that is heavily steeped in a British culture that is almost extinct now (or the book would have you believe so),  it was extremely interesting to read about the life of a servant in a large country estate, and about the measures he took to be an excellent butler.   I am in awe of how Ishiguro has taken me from Japan in the first two books to England in the third and has immersed me in the distinct cultural experience of each country.  I am very excited to see where he will take me next!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Japanese Novels

To my great pleasure I have been able this year to buy all of Kazuo Ishiguro's works.  It is something I have been meaning to do since I read Remains of the Day years ago.  Since May I have had this lovely stack of shiny new books by my reading chair.
       
I have been slowly rationing out the reading of them over a few months, but I plan on reading the lot this year, and I am alright with that, because these are books that I will come back to again and again.

A Pale View of Hills is Ishiguro's first novel, and the first of two books known as his Japanese novels.  I should admit that a few years ago I had read An Artist of the Floating World, and that when I had finished I was embarrassed because I didn't know much about that time (post World War II).  So I have made a point of getting informed about Japan.  I have studied customs, food, history and geography.  I really wanted to understand these novels, get the cultural references etc.  It is still not an easy job to do, and Ishiguro is the first to say that he did not write in the Japanese style (what ever that is), but just about characters in Japan.  I want to understand and to know more about the Japanese art of storytelling, but I have barely begun reading Japanese authors (I have a list of who I would like to read next!)
This time around, I felt I had a better grasp of what Japan is about (but still a very small understanding of such a rich and beautiful culture!).  So reading this book, I was happy to see that I had a better awareness of it's content (there was a lot of "Oh, I know what this is!" instead of "Huh?").
Continuing on to a re-reading of An Artist of the Floating World, I was able to see the theme of both of these novels, and to understand what they were trying to tell me.  They are both retrospects of significant times in the lives of both protagonists with a the humanizing admission that they were not perfect, that they made mistakes and that they could live with that fact in later years.  Ishiguro is a writer who carefully leads you along the same path as the protagonist, he gently supports you through the crisis of each person, and then helps you to see that there is and can be an acceptance of and a resolution to each circumstance,  but not perhaps what you were expecting or hoping for.   Both books are almost delicate in the delivery of their stories.  If this is a Japanese story telling trait, I have no idea, but I hope it could be.  I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Newbery 2016

I have made an earnest effort to read a lot of Newbery winners and honors this past school year (more than usual), and it has been my pleasure to be able to read all of the contenders for the past couple of years (it's a lot tougher to find them from years ago, but thankfully, if the local library doesn't have the actual book, their electronic library service more than likely will).  It's nice to be up to date.  I'm not usually a person who reads all of the new stuff just come out, it takes me a couple of years to catch on to something that everyone else has raved about (like four years ago!), because I am so busy reading stuff from a hundred or so years ago  so it's nice to be current or in the now.  Of course, it is much easier to be up to date with children's literature.
Is it a good book? Yes.  Should it have won the Newbery? No.  I'll explain why.  Firstly, it's a picture book and has no business been considered for this award.  Secondly, there were far superior nominees that qualified for a Newbery that ought to have won it instead.
That being said, it's a nice picture book.  I saw lots of teaching opportunities in it for the classroom (and at home too!).  When I read it aloud to a class, I just touched briefly on class awareness, prejudices, community spirit and the clever use of metaphor.  For a teacher I could see a comprehensive unit being taught about this book, language arts, social studies, art, community service, cooking, you name it, you might be able to apply it to this book.
I read this next.  I have only read one other book by Ryan, Esperanza Rising, so this was a bit of a surprise.  It is four stories, the first encapsulating the other three and distinguished in a lovely way with color and illustration.  Have a look... it's just gorgeous!
 This was done just for the fairy tale portions at the beginning and the end.
In no other work has music spoken so loudly to me.  It was a symphony of words, each story was a movement, each section a crescendo of emotion, a part of history full of it's own horror. The characters in each arc had their own part to play in a piece that wasn't revealed until the very end of the book.   At the last section I was in tears, because by that time I saw much more than just four separate sad or scary stories but a symphony that was rich and poignant.
Echo, in my opinion, should have won the award.
This was a very close runner-up.  I listened to this through Library To Go, the book was narrated by Jayne Entwistle.  I am very glad the ebook wasn't available because this was a beautiful audiobook.  This was a great piece of historical fiction, and another honor book that brought me to tears.  It was personal for me because I am very familiar with what it feels like to have a mother like the one in the book.  Having it read to me made it harder to separate, I think, from the protagonist's feelings.
Last, but not least, I was happy to see another graphic novel considered for this award.  More and more, graphic novels are in demand, and I like to see that they are well written, meaningful stories in a format that so many kids are clamoring for these days.


Uprooted


What a treat!  Picked up because it is the 2016 Nebula Award Best Novel recipient, I was pleasantly surprised.  Surprised because lately the award winners I have been reading have been somewhat yucky (yep I think I will stick to that...they were yucky!).  Yucky because these award winners were ugly, corrupt, violent, coarse, and full of bad people.  Uprooted had the same kind of characters and events in it but wasn't yucky.  There was ugliness, corruption, violence and bad people, yet the difference for me, I suppose, is that the coarseness was absent, and of course this isn't realistic fiction in any way.     
Uprooted drew me in immediately, and was an engrossing read all of the way through.  The story was fresh and new (though it was liberally steeped in folklore of the Slavic persuasion).  It was wonderful, exciting and a little romantic (the 'happily ever after' of this new folktale).
I am excited over the resurgence of these kinds of books.   I have students who don't really believe me when I tell a group that the original folktales were not meant for children, and then try to explain why (without traumatizing them with some truly gruesome, or should I say Grimm,  examples).  I love Uprooted, it is like the standard folktale, but with new twists, making what was old, new and fantastic again, giving life to while paying homage to the old... and this time, giving it back to the grown ups!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Bellwether

It was just yesterday that I was waxing poetic about To Say Nothing of the Dog, and here I am today ready to get 'all lyrical' about Bellwether.   I admit, the write up on the back cover did not encourage me to read this book a few years ago when I started collecting Connie Willis, but after a few more of her books under my belt, I trust her implicitly and will read anything she has ever done.
You don't really need a time-travelling shtick to get in to this book, like everything else I have ever read by Willis, you are drawn in almost instantly. Last night I just decided to indulge myself by reading Bellwether until I couldn't stay awake any longer, and then I picked it up first thing this morning and read on until the finish (it is a habit with me to 'ration' out the good books by only reading small amounts at a time, trying to make them last longer), so not only am I breaking my rules by reading more than one of Willis' book in a year, I am swallowing them whole as well.
It felt like my IQ had gone up a few points when I was done.  The overall theme to this story is chaos theory (and the fascinating way fads originate and apply to it), and I am impressed with how it was used as a story telling device.  I think that when I get back to doing the re-reads on Willis' work, I will confirm that this is used in her other works too.  Chaos theory as plot device.
  An interesting thing to note is that later this morning I was looking at Pinterest for the first time in a few months, and my whole outlook on it has changed drastically after reading Bellwether.  
To conclude, a Connie Willis book will, make you laugh, learn something new, increase your intelligence and change your world views.  Maybe I should make t-shirts!

Friday, June 17, 2016

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Since reading Blackout/All Clear I have been hooked on Connie Willis.  I have collected all of her major works to date and have been jealously hoarding them ever since (only reading one of them a year).  What's really awesome is that she is still alive...so that means she might write some more, which is great, but I still find myself stingily doling out the love an an annual basis.  I mention this because I have dared to begin reading a second one by Connie this same calendar year, and it has me panicking a little!  
But today I am talking about To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I read this in February, and it was the last of her books written about her Time Travel series.  I really hope that she will write more, they are just that good!   It won the Hugo and the Locus award.
This book was mainly situated in the Victorian era.  As usual, a couple of things go wrong for the historians visiting there and the protagonist Ned Henry is sent to fix things up.  Unfortunately for Ned, he has been time travelling a lot recently and he is suffering from 'time lag'.  After being shoved in to the time net,  he has forgotten half of his damage control instructions, thus making the mission go 'pear-shaped' in a comically tragic way.
The main things I love about these stories is that I learn a lot of history (and it's all very interesting), there are a lot of literary references (which I love to follow up on... this time I bought the Kindle bundle of Jerome K. Jerome's complete works), and there are lots of unforgettable characters.  When things go wrong it's all very engrossing, exciting, and best of all gets me chuckling throughout the read, greedily gobbling up pages of the story to the very end.
What is also nice, I suppose, is that even though you have finished the book, there are lots of things to look up and read about, so it helps to keep me busy and not think too much about there not being another book in the series.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

That Deadman Dance


Admittedly, this one was a toughie.  Tough because I will always feel guilty over the plight of the Australian Aborigines, though I personally have not done anything either way to hurt them or to help them.  There is just no way that I can feel any sort of affinity to them, I just don't know enough about them.  I have more of an understanding of the First Nations that I live and work with here in Canada.
That Deadman Dance helped me to understand a little bit, and I am grateful for that.  The story is told by a Noongar named 'Bobby' Wabalanginy at various stages of his life, and in the style of his people.  The way he weaves in and out of the narrative with his dreamings of what was and what could or should be was magical and mesmerizing.    It was a powerful way to tell this story (which was about first contact between Europeans and the aborigines), and a perfectly simple and creative way to help us see it from the Noongar's point of view.  I will be seeking out the rest of this author's work, I love his way of telling the story.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Macbeth (1948)

 
Made on a shoestring budget and with 23 days of filming (one of those days budgeted for re-takes), this film didn't do too badly, despite it's many restrictions.  Welles (directing as well as acting) was criticized for his juggling of lines in scenes, removing certain characters and putting in new ones.  An occurrence which is almost commonplace today with book and play adaptations.
Essentially he used the most important lines (often in a different order which was a little confusing at first after just re-reading the play in preparation for viewing the films), but it worked!  All the well-known lines are in there, just not as you might expect them to be used.

When Macbeth rode up with Banquo I got the giggles, I really thought that he looked like Ghenghis Khan (the hat was really surprising!).  
There was plenty of fur, leather and plaid (loads of plaid!), for the cast's wardrobe (I tried not to be too judgmental, considering that I am not familiar with the Scottish costume of that period).  I didn't know at the time that Welles really didn't have the funds to be as authentic as he would have liked to be.  Thankfully the barbarian hat was a no-show in later scenes, but was substituted by even funnier hats... Welles himself said he felt like the Statue of Liberty with this one...
Welles had a very expressive face, and played the part of Macbeth with passion ( I think he even looked a little sexy at one point which is saying a lot because I never thought of him as attractive).  Bagpipes were used in a way I have never seen before, to add a dimension of tension and stress (usually where you would expect the evil-sounding violins to be playing) and was, I think, very effective. 
One of my favourite shots was Macbeth riding quickly up to his castle, jumping off his horse and giving the wife a good snog...  I think they got lucky in getting Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth ( I shudder to think of Vivien Leigh in the role, whom they had originally thought of offering the part to).  They have a little chemistry as you can see.  I think Nolan rocked it as Lady Macbeth!
All of these scenes were played out in cavern-like structures, lots of crags and dark places, which in the black and white makes it look quite barbaric. The camera tricks and angles that Welles became well known for in other films, helped to produce this sense of inevitable insanity, loss of control and destruction.  This just can't go well! This is the look on Macbeth's face when he see's the ghost of Banquo at his table.
 Just one more shot of funny hats...
Everyone spoke with a Scottish burr which was almost as funny as the hats!

One amusing piece of trivia...
This scene (MacDuff's army getting ready to charge) was particularly fierce and had a "vivid urgency" to it because noon break was just announced and everyone was hungry!

After everything is said and done, the key players all mostly dead the movie concludes with this creepy little scene of the witches observing their handiwork and uttering
                                                 "Peace, the Charm's wound up"

...which gave me the shivers!



Friday, June 10, 2016

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy

This book was a temperamental springboard for me last year when I was hesitant to engage in anything too emotionally evocative.  It certainly was a kick in the pants, after being numb with grief all winter.   Never have I encountered prose that feels so sincere.  What I mean by that is that often when I am reading modern fiction, I have always wondered if it was genuine.  If the characters would really behave in such a manner?  There has often been a sense of the fantastical about some books which has left me feeling doubtful.  Not so with each of these short novellas.  So I conclude from what I have read of Tolstoy so far that he was a passionate man.  A man, I think, who felt everything deeply, and this is clearly shown in each story.  They are not pretty little works... The people in each of these stories represent a facet of Russian culture that I have never known about, but feel that I would have an easier time understanding now.  It is almost a portfolio of people from many walks of life each distinct and special in their own (terrible) way.  I say terrible, because these aren't 'feel good' tales. 
The hazard with his short fiction is that it comes off like a sucker punch when his longer (much much longer!) works gradually build up to the peak before leaving you awash in such feelings that take your breath away.  There is no buffer before the intensity hits you.  It almost has an addictive quality to it, in that you are keen to come back again for more (well... maybe not right away but eventually yes... you come back for more.).  Which is what makes it feel real and true to what humankind actually is and not what some modern day authors perhaps wishes it to be.  It is also the realism that makes these works so unforgettable (not so much in the words but in the emotions associated with them).
I feel a little closer to knowing the man, Tolstoy.

There is a very charming doodle of him on the cover, which makes him look like a very grumpy emu...
...don't you agree?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

All That I Am

I liked this book.  As it is a Miles Franklin winner, I did first view it with caution, because as I stated in Questions of Travel I am tired of the ugliness of humanity and pointless or violent episodes that just make me reluctant to carry on reading this particular book or others that are probably just like it
(I suspect that it might be one of the prerequisites for an award winning novel).

Of course, any book about Germany between the world wars is not going to be a bright sunny, happy-shiny-people-holding-hands kind of story.  I liked this book because it was different  by covering an aspect  of that era I had not read of before.  Not only did I appreciate learning something new in a historically fictional book,  it was nice to know that the author based it off real people and that there is a brilliant bibliography at the back which I plan on using for further reading.  She (Anna Funder) gave these people from the past a voice, which was clear, poignant and respectful.
It was a good story, despite the subject matter, and I am glad that I read it.  I look forward to Anna Funder's next book.

When Marnie Was There (contains a wee spoiler)


I first saw this first as a movie.  I have been slowly collecting Studio Ghibli movies ever since I fell in love with Hayao Miyazaki's Howls Moving Castle.    Like Howl's, this was also taken from a book and directed this time by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  I have actually seen the movie three times now... the first time was with English subtitles which were a little confusing to follow.  I loved it anyway, the film was crystal clear and sparkling which is what I have come to expect from a Studio Ghibli production, and the story was intriguing.   There was such an open, honest sweetness to the characters Anna and Marnie, which gave an endearing quality to such love and friendship between two young girls.
    I next bought the book, which I couldn't wait to get reading (I had questions from watching the movie).  Naturally there are differences (as most movie adaptations have) but again, as with Howl's Moving Castle, the changes did not detract from the story.  I enjoyed reading this English version of what I had only seen yet as a Japanese story.
I then went back and watched the movie again just to compare to the book, while I was waiting for the English version to arrive in the mail.  I truly enjoyed it a second time. Like with any book or movie you see consecutive times, there is always new things to notice and appreciate.
Today I watched the English version.  I cried at the end.  Actually it was sooner than that, but when I began to cry it was at a very heartbreaking scene.  Marnie was begging Anna for forgiveness for leaving her alone at the silo (yeah it's a wee spoiler, but I just wanted you to understand that this is the moment that I truly began to understand the point behind this story), which is that there are many kinds of grief, which shape our lives years after the loss has occurred.  What Joan G. Robinson wrote is actually quite heartwarming, and is more about grief than I first realized.
It think it will become a great comfort book for me.
Grief issues aside, this is a great book and a wonderful movie. I wouldn't hesitate to buy them both.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Questions of Travel

Chosen because it was a Miles Franklin Award winner... you can bloody well bet I would not have picked it up on my own!  It is a challenge for me to read popular or modern fiction unless it has some element that makes it interesting for me (fantasy, etc.).  Not that I can't read it... I actually have two authors that I buy everything of;  Sandra Dallas and Fannie Flagg.  Both author's books have some pretty awful stuff happen in them but you always get something from each story as well as a restoration of faith in human kindness.  Or Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows, it hurt to read that, but I did gain something important from the experience.
  It is just so much easier to read historical fiction because it is a reality far removed from mine, and I'm not crazy about all the sex, sordidness, misery and violence that seem to be so prevalent in some modern books.  I have a big problem with works that have absolutely no point to them.  I can  manage to read some truly awful stories and appreciate the effort put in to write them, like Voss for example, a truly awful human being whom Patrick White wrote quite beautifully about (he does seem to do that really well!).  
This book isn't beautiful and frankly, it was pointless.  I slogged through it, not really caring about these characters, not realizing where the author was taking me, until the very last page.  Obviously I didn't know what was important to this author, so when the finale came I was flabbergasted.  Actually my very first thought was "Well f**k me, I didn't see that coming!"  My next feeling was anger. Anger because of where the author led me, incredulous even that this is what she was working up to.  I've read something like this before when the topic was actually very insensitive and disrespectful of the real people who lived through the original ordeal.  Without giving away anything I can say that I read a real life account of this specific incident  on the last page, and I cried a great deal because the woman who wrote it was raw with pain and grief.
Maybe, at some future time in my life I might appreciate this author, but not right now!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Birthday Present

Last year DH made a bookshelf for me for my birthday.  It could not have been a more perfect gift... homemade and exactly tailored to my specifications.  There was a corner of the living room that was empty, small and perfect to tuck a bookshelf in to (if I could find one that would).  My extensive searches where quite disappointing, and there was only one find that was not only inadequate, but also incredibly expensive for such a tall, narrow shelf.  That is when DH became inspired.  He designed for me the perfect unit to fit in that tiny corner.
I then decided which collection I was going to put on the shelves, choosing my wee collection of early English literature up to the nineteenth century.  We then measured the widest book I had and chose a width for the shelf (no wasted space here!).
What is thrilling about this shelf is that DH only used materials that we already had on hand.  Old pieces of wood that I had bought many years ago to make temporary shelves for my sewing room, etc., which DH sanded down to their original appearance.  It was a very satisfying experience for DH, making something from scratch, that I absolutely love, clearing away some very old clutter, and using up resources we already had.  So as you can see, I have a lovely chocolate brown shelf, which I look at every morning from my reading chair.  As you can see, it is a daily sight which always makes me smile.

This is just a picture I took at the beginning when I first put my books on the shelf.  I have since then been working on the best configuration and building up my collection of certain works (now that I can see them in front of me).  At the top are my plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare and this particular shelf has become one of my projects for the time being as I build up my collection (I am already looking to change the arrangement of the books on the shelves to accommodate more of my plays and DVD's as I get them).  
It's fun to indulge.  I am presently looking at the play Macbeth (with a new version out on DVD last year featuring Michael Fassbender).  I plan on watching all of the versions I can get my hands on to decide which I would like to join my fledgling collection on my lovely new shelf.  I'll let you know how that works out!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gormenghast




This beautiful hardcover was quite the workout.  Weighing in at nearly three pounds, I had to quickly come up with some strategies to rescue my arms and wrists from possible damage!  The book includes all three books, Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, and has many of Peake's previously unpublished illustrations.  
Because it was such a physical workout, I had to work up the muscular strength to handle this book on a daily basis so reading one chapter at a sitting had me inching forward quite slowly, which wasn't such a bad thing.  The story gave me a lot to contemplate (I have often thought that I don't really need to meditate when I have such books because I transcend to another place and achieve peace of mind and rest for my spirit).  By the time I was at the last book Titus Alone I was just whipping through five chapters or so at a sitting.
I could see, while I was slowly working through this great work, a lot of influences (from the past and for the future).  I saw Charles Dickens in the extraordinary names of the characters, and in Peake's language, the descriptions of the people and staff of Gormenghast was alike passages in my favorite Dickens novels.  If you can think of the sweetest, softest and saddest adagio like this one Symphony #10 Adagio then you would have a pretty good idea of what this kind of writing evokes emotionally in me.

So, my first thoughts were that Peake loved his Dickens.  What occurred to me next while partaking of this symphony of words and illustrations was that Susannah Clarke must have loved this book as well, and it shows in her own equally beautiful (and huge!) novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel 
 (you can see my blog post here Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel).  These two books actually sit next to each other on my bookshelf.  

The trilogy truly was a symphony from beginning to end, though somewhat disjointed by the last book (because Peake was not able to finish it before he died).  It was a lot of work, sometimes hard work, but very worth it in the end because this is a story that is worth knowing.  I think his world of Gormenghast was so accurately described that I could really see how it was.  The BBC concurs with me, I think, because when they did their four hour miniseries of the first two books,  it was spot on.  Read the book, watch the miniseries.  I loved them both.




Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Odds of Getting Even

 This is the third book in this series (yep, you heard me right...I'm reading a series before it's finished!).  I first encountered Sheila Turnage last year when I began reading Newbery Award/Honor books.  Turnage had won the honor for Three Times Lucky in 2013.  This is one of those times when an award book has led me on to better things and I have, with the greatest pleasure, consumed these books one after the other with great relish!
It was a page turner.  I liken it to the same feel and style of Fannie Flagg and Charlaine Harris (or maybe a Flagg wrapped Harris burrito).  The story just soothingly flows through (like the river that eleven-year-old protagonist Mo was found nearby when she was a baby) and is full of intrigue and mystery.  I can say that this first book has passed the most important test... DH read it aloud to his class this year and they loved it!  I can say from personal observation, that a kid will never voluntarily pick up a mystery book.  I have tried over the years to get even my strongest readers to have a look at a mystery, but have failed every time.  With the success of the first book, the whole set has been bought for the library (squee!).  
Number two, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, does not disappoint.  It is just as full and flowing of charm and intrigue because there are still enough questions left to be answered from the first book.  This is where I am strongly reminded of Charlaine Harris.  This time we have a little of the supernatural along with our mystery, a pleasant combination of genres which Harris has successfully done (many times!).  She (Harris) also has this wonderful ability to write a series that flows and captures interest right until the very end.  I have often felt bored and a little annoyed at writers of series because they either drag the story along or just plan a beginning and an end and fill the middle with enough sticky fluff to carry the story on for another book (kind of like an Oreo cookie).  That is not the case with these books!

The Odds of Getting Even is just lovely.  An excellent stepping stone to where Turnage is going to go next.  This is where I feel Fannie Flagg the most.  Flagg has always had this wonderful ability to write good and lovable characters that you can't help but care deeply for.  Her books have always been able to soothe me in a way I find hard to describe, despite the fact that there are some horrible characters (and there are some really ugly ones in her books).  There is an acceptance of people for who they are, and a kindness which is just a balm for whatever ails you.  Turnage's Tupelo Landing cast of characters is just another bunch of folks that you can instantly like.
I'm really happy with how the story is progressing so far and my interest has not faded in the least.  Bring on number four!


Monday, March 28, 2016

Opening My Mind

Two years ago, before going to Australia, I bought myself a Samsung tablet.  I had put a great deal of thought into what I wanted to buy, what size it ought to be and also what uses I would need it for.  The initial plan was to use it for communication as the cell phone DH bought last time we were in Aus. would have become obsolete, plus I wasn't willing to pay for another.  So a tablet was my choice.  I found it to be an extremely useful gadget (and it became my primary computer when my laptop blew its motherboard shortly after).  Not only could I email and text my family, but I could also do my banking, read books on my Kindle app and listen to music.
Every time I hopped on a bus in Canberra, I could plug in and listen to music.  I spent a lot of time riding and listening... it was pure bliss!

As a travelling device, my tablet was perfect (especially on my way to and from Australia on a non-stop fifteen hour flight, which was mostly in the dark).

I  am trying to stop being a consumer, so the tablet seemed like a very handy "Swiss Pocketknife" with all its different apps that enabled me to do more than I expected.  It also meant I wouldn't have to buy a Kindle.  While I think electronic books are a "neat" thing, it is anathema to me to have just one device for one purpose.   Kudos to Amazon for thinking that one through and providing an app.  I have bought many ebooks from them because of it.  Including many of these:-


 Naturally it took me a while to get to that point (reading an ebook), but when I finally got there, I haven't looked back.  I like having access to books in any form, and I truly love the fact that I carry around with me several hundred books in my purse.
It was only this year that I found yet another neat use for my tablet.  As usual it takes a while for me to come around to a new idea, and this time it was audio books.
I read up to three hundred books a year, which doesn't leave a lot of time for other things that I also like to do.  At one time I used to churn out a dozen quilts a year, knit and crochet etc., but now that my hands are often holding books there just isn't the time.  I don't often watch television (which is when I used to get a lot of stitching done), but books have by far drowned out most other interests.  On average I make one, maybe two, quilts a year now.  I prefer to piece my quilts by hand... there was lots of applique and English paper piecing once upon a time.
One of my goals for this past school year is to read past and present winners and honors of the Newbery Award.  I have been hard on the scent, tracking these books down from various sources. From the BCLibraries Cooperative Library2go there was only an audio file available of the particular book I was tracking down.  So I had no choice.  I had to check it out. I hadn't really thought it through, but finally there I was sitting and listening to a book and it struck me that I really shouldn't have idle hands so I grabbed what I was working on (a set for a new baby) and a new era in my life was born!  I can both create with my hands and listen to a book at the same time!  These are my first results:-
Thank goodness for opening my mind to new possibilities!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Witness

Another brilliant verse novel from author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust was my introduction to Hesse, and it is one of my favourite historical fiction novels which also won the Newbery Medal as well as the Scott O'Dell Award).  As I have been reading a lot of Newbery award books this past school year, I have come to appreciate even more the historical novel (which is what happens, I suppose, when you only read award/honor winners... they are the cream of the crop!).  
This is not one of them.  I chose it because April and National Poetry Month are looming, so I grabbed a pile of poetry books from the local library's children's section, and Witness was just picked up on a whim (I'm always on the lookout for more books to add to the perpetually growing wish list for the school library).  
The layout of Witness is like a play.  You have your dramatis personae:-


The sepia photographs loan this book a verisimilitude that makes an unforgettable impression (of course the subject material does that too).  The novel is about the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan into a small town set in 1924 Vermont.  There are five acts.  Each character has a unique point of view to relate, the verse giving each perspective an emotional flavor which just adds oomph to an otherwise well covered tale (there are so many of these kinds of stories, real and imagined!)  I love how D.W. Griffiths' black and white movie The Birth of a Nation is thought of by the sheriff Percelle Johnston as a bad influence  (having slogged through the 133 minutes of this incredibly long and somewhat painful movie I can see how it would affect people... the Ku Klux Klan was remarkably romanticized to look like the good guys).  

The verse novel has become increasingly interesting to me over the years, it is a type of story telling that is very new, and old all at the same time.  I have seen students become interested in this format, when chapter books have put them off.  I really loved this book, it brought to mind the Shakespearean drama of which I am a huge fan, and a deeper appreciation of what verse can really do for a story.  Makes me hungry for more!  I'm ready for National Poetry Month...are you?


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Exciting news!

This week (Monday in fact, after a crazy 36 hour trip and back to Prince George),
after nearly two long, long years... I have a new lap top!  Exciting isn't it?  I have really missed being able to write about what I have been reading... and there has been a lot!  I still haven't made up my mind yet about what I will do, should I attempt to re-write entries that I lost when my last lap top ceased to work?  Should I try to cover the last two years worth of notable reading, or should I just start from here, right now?
What I do know is that I will be going through what I have written on this blog to tighten up and tweak what is already there, as well as taking time to re-adjust to using a keyboard again.  I will also try to curb my enthusiasm a bit as sitting at the keyboard for hours on end would be quite a strain on my arms until they are used to doing such work (last fall I got tendinitis in my right arm which didn't cease to bother me until February).  It will be tough not to just fly right back in... I have read so many wonderful books.  See you again soon!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fifteen Dogs

A gift from DH this past Christmas.
Not exactly what I thought it might be and even better than my wildest dreams could expect.
A story based on a bet between two Greek gods, involving fifteen dogs who have been given human attributes.  Things become humanly messy for these dogs, there are factions, fears and alliances that change the dynamics of being a dog and the simple pack mind. There is beauty and joy too (even one doggy soul who composes poetry). After that things for the pack become chaotic and violent ( I did liken this particular section of the book to Golding's  Lord of the Flies).  This apolog was fascinating, emotionally evocative, and perhaps the closest I have ever seen a book of fiction get to the true nature of the canine.  I don't believe that anyone who has ever loved and lost a companion dog will be able to put this down in a hurry, or will be able to get through the last two chapters without tears.
Once again I have encountered a Giller Prize winning book that has altered my perspective on something in my life, and look forward to reading more from this author.