Tuesday, July 22, 2014

LIST: Books I'm very excited about

Remember Gods Behaving Badly?

 I read this back in 2008 and it was a great read - the first time I kind of 'got' how the Greek gods worked, and why they were fun. It was a funny, great book. Well, Marie Phillips has a new book coming out, The Table of Less Valued Knights and I (and Random House) am very excited.  It sounds like the same kind of fun, easy read, but with Arthur, or some version of the knights. Maybe Monty Python-esque? Merely a flesh wound!

For even more fun, there is even a Less Valued Knight Name Generator. 

You may now refer to me as Sir Flarn Deathstorm, Ruiner of Maps.

Other upcoming books that I am very excited about - so excited, I might even buy the hard-cover copy when they come out on September 2. Both on the same date? That's not fair!

 Sarah Waters - The Paying Guest

1920s London.
After WW1.
The changing class structure.

As a Downton Abbey fan, I'd be excited by the setting, but it's Sarah Waters! Fingersmith, The Little Stranger, Night Watch

It's already mentioned as a Booker Prize candidate.

Tana French - The Secret Place

This series, The Dublin Murder Squad has been getting better and better with each book. The main character changes in each book but is connected some how to a previous cop.

In the Woods
The Likeness
Faithful Place
Broken Harbour

One of my favourite mystery series on the go.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

BOOK: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker, 331 pages

review copy from Random House Canada

I was telling my (Pride & Prejudice loving) friend I had this book I was looking forward to for the summer, called Longbourn. She stopped, looked at me with a frisson of recognition, and said, "Who lives at Longbourn?" She knew it was a  literature reference to a house, the house where Elizabeth Bennett lived. It only took a minute, but she was as hooked by the premise as I was. And I'm not even a P&P freak like her.

I wanted a great book to start the summer, and it was as wonderful as I'd hoped. Historical fiction, with the Pride and Prejudice plot happening parallel, and a dear love story. Upstairs, Downstairs, and Downton Abbey have shown the fascination for both the aristocrats and the servants and this book gives us a look at the lives below Lizzie and Jane and Lydia. Mrs Bennett is as tiring for the servants as you could imagine; Wickham even more of an ass.

Sarah is the orphaned housegirl, James arrives as the mysterious footman, but there is definitely more to his story than is originally let on. I liked how Baker structured the book; two thirds in the now, and then the background history of the servants and how they ended up where they did, especially James. The characters of Sarah and James, (and the black footman, Ptolemy Bingley) were well developed, and showed the frustration of, while  not being a slave, having very few options for living or loving.

The characters and plot are compelling enough that I don't think you would have to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this on its own as historical fiction, but naturally, having the background of Lizzie and Mr Darcy adds another level of enjoyment. I had been picking away at the book for a few weeks, but last night I reached the point of no return and could not put it down. I had to read to the end. And now I must run this wonderful book out to my friend. She's going to love it!

Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (12 h, 16 min)

Three sisters in 1880s Paris trying to survive. Their father has died, the mother is a laundress (when she isn't drunk). Antoinette is seventeen and trying to look after her younger sisters, but she also wants a life and is drawn to a bad fellow, Emil. She gets her sisters into the Paris Opera to study ballet, even after she herself got kicked out. Marie, who alternates narrating with Antoinette, gets noticed by Edgar Degas and begins to pose for him. Marie was the real-life model for the statuette, 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.'

It's a rough world for the girls in Paris, and many bad things happen to them - the brothels, jails, taverns, and men who 'support' the petit-rats, ballet dancers in training. Listening, I couldn't determine where the story was going for a long time; just survival and the girls. Eventually, boyfriend Emil gets charged with some crimes and this trial comes between the sisters. The quote from Le Figaro sums it up "No social being is less protected than the young Parisian girl -- by laws, regulations, and social customs."

Much art work is referenced in this well researched book. In fact, this page has a picture of each piece of art mentioned, and the quote that goes with it. It's things like this, even after the fact, that can improve a book's experience for me. I didn't realize that many of the characters are based on real people, including the van Goethem sisters, and Emil and his buddy who are put on trial. There is another level of the book which references a theory at the time that physiology and facial features determined a person's destiny. Between the art incorporated, the real life characters, the city of Paris in the 1880s as a character, the ballet experience, and the specific sisters' relationship, this was a great read for Paris in July.

Monday, July 14, 2014

CHALLENGE: Cook it Up!

Here's Trish's big idea: (taken from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity)

What: Pull those cookbooks off the shelves–you know, the ones with pages you can turn–and use them! You can outline how you’d like to proceed–one cookbook a month? Or three recipes a month from any cookbook? Or even check out new cookbooks from the library. You make the rules!
When: I will put up a linky on the first Saturday of the month (I meant for this post to publish last Saturday…). Write your post whenever you’d like (and if you’d like), but don’t forget to come link up.
Where/How: Presumably your blogs but no worries if you’d rather just post on twitter or instagram (Tag me! @TriniCapini). Or just come back here at the beginning of the month and comment. I think you’ll have better luck if you blog but I also don’t want anyone to stress.
Why: Because if you’re like me, you have a giant stack of cookbooks that are collecting dust. I’m bad about searching the internet for a specific recipe rather than looking at my own cookbooks. Let’s put our cookbooks to use!

This sounds like a grand idea, and corresponds well with my 'summer is when I try to do things since I don't have to correct and I got a good night's sleep'. I don't have any great plan, but we moved to a new house in April, and now have a lovely big kitchen, with a place for everything, and even still some empty cupboards in the kitchen, it's that big! I have many lovely cookbooks, so I am just going to try to open some up and make some things over the summer.

I even started today.

I decided I wanted to make fajitas for supper tonight and got out my Mexican Recipes book by Better Homes and Gardens. I keep the marinade recipe that I cut out of the newspaper in the front. While browsing, I decided to make guacamole for the first time. Blend that avacado up in my fake magic bullet! Cool. (I'm a new eater of avacado.)

Since this was early this morning I made these plans (early around here is 11 am - we enjoy our summer), I thought I'd try out the new griddle my husband bought last week and make my own tortillas. We bought the griddle because we have lots of storage space and it even took me a few minutes to even find where my husband put it away.

While most of my tortillas look more like Africa than a circle, I felt I was getting my rolling technique by the last one. They tasted fine, even though I mixed up by baking soda and powder so ended up putting both in. I'd definitely make both guacamole and the tortillas again.

So, two new recipes and I used two different appliances. Score.

The only thing missing from this lovely supper was a homemade margarita. Next time.

Here's a few pictures from my new kitchen. I can't seem to get a good picture of the sink in the corner because of the light from the windows. Another time.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CHALLENGE: Canadian Book Challenge 8

First time I didn't complete the Canadian Book Challenge! I read 11 (all of which were excellent!) and reviewed six. I did manage to read one Douglas Coupland, and doubled up on Margaret Atwood. New last year was the number of audiobooks, which I am finding a great way to get some more reading (and housekeeping) done. (As long as I get posted before Independence Day, I'm not late!)

Read for CBC 7
1.  Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese
2.  The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud (audiobook)
3.  Cockroach - Rawi Hage
4.  How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny (audiobook)
5. Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
6. The Bear - Claire Cameron
7. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield
8. The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood
9. MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood (audiobook)
10. Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People - Douglas Coupland
11. The Silent Wife - ASA Harrison (audiobook)

Same rules as last year: read at least 13 books, by or about Canadians, and review them, linking up at The Book Mine Set. I shall try again, with the exact same list of books I had last year.

Pool of Books (left over from last year or the year before)
Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
Diamond Dreams by Stephen Brunt
Getting Over Edgar by Joan Barfoot
The Age of Longing by Richard B Wright
The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
 Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
 The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence
 Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
 In the Skin of the Lion by Michael Ondaatje

1. The Painted Girls - Cathy Marie Buchanan
2. Frog Music - Emma Donaghue
3. Road Ends - Mary Lawson

Friday, June 27, 2014

CHALLENGE: Paris in July 2014

I've started the last three four summers participating in Paris in July, hosted by Tamara (Thyme for Tea), Belleza (dolcebelleza), Adria (Adria in Paris), and Karen (A Wondering Life). I've read some fabulous books:
Read in 2013        Read in 2012         Read in 2011           Read in 2010

There are plenty of options; it is not just about reading, and I've seen a couple of movies for this challenge as well. Why not try:
- Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction
- Watching a French movie
- Listening to French music
- Cooking French food
- Experiencing French art, architecture or travel

This year, I plan to listen to The Painted Girls by Cathy Buchanan.

Monday, June 23, 2014

MEME: Brought to You by the Letter...

Simon at Stuck in a Book has started a Meme about your favourite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you'd like to join in, comment in the comment section and I'll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.) My letter, as assigned by Simon is K.

Favourite Book - It turns out there are not a lot of books that start with K. After perusing some book titles, I think K is a harder letter than Q or V, Simon. I didn't really have a book that stood out for me, but I came up with The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini, with a runner-up The Known World by Edward P Jones (Pulitzer Prize 2004). The Kite Runner was a great if depressing book that I read years ago. I didn't really like The Known World when I read it, but parts of it kept coming back to me and so my overall remembrance is a good one. The K book I want to read is Kiss the Joy As it Flies by the wonderful Sheree Fitch.

Favourite Author - This was the easiest : Stephen King. I've been a fan of his since I was a teenager, and am still reading his books. The book of his I want to read next is 11/22/63. But there is also the non-fiction book he wrote with Stewart O'Nan about the Red Sox...

Favourite Song - This is much tougher. I went to iTunes to see what my options were. Some songs have been played a lot by One Direction (Kiss You) and Ed Sherren (Kiss Me), but I suspect those are from my 14 year old daughter as I don't recognize them at all. I think my favourite K song has to be Kindred Spirits from the Anne of Green Gables musical. It's certainly the song I'd know all the words to.

Favourite Film - The King's Speech was such a great movie! I do adore Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, and this was done so well.  (It just edges my teenage pick of The Karate Kid and the delightful Czech film, Kolya.)

Favourite Object -My favourite object that starts with a K is a knife, because without a knife, how would I cut my barbequed steak?

Thanks Simon, that was fun! Anyone else want to play? Ask for a letter, and you shall receive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Summer TBR

Only one day late! There is nothing that is more fun for me than imagining summer reads. As a teacher, I get my summers 'off', and I imagine myself arising early, going for a walk as the sun is rising, coming home, drinking coffee while sitting outside, and reading a great book. Sitting at the beach - reading a book. The reality (and my laziness) are a different picture, and I usually imagine many more books than can actually get read and I'll not arise early very often and the children will have demands.  I generally read the about the same number of books in the summer as I would any other random two months. But the dreaming is fun!

1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This was given to me by another reading colleague, and I can't wait to dive in

2. Longbourn by Jo Baker
Longbourn looks so delicious - historical, Pride and Prejudice, the servants in a parallel story. I really can't wait for this one.

3. Road Ends by Mary Lawson
I still remember Crow Lake as one of my top books. The emotion, and family connections, and bleak Canadian landscape. I plan to savour this one!

4. Angelica's Smile by Andrea Camilleri
The 17th book in the Inspector Montalbano series comes out on June 24th and I can't wait to get it and see what Salvo is up to on Sicily.

5. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
I am waiting to get this audiobook from the library -   "A chilling psychological thriller about a marriage..."

6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
I've had this one far too long, and by such a great author, I know I'll enjoy this epic.

7. Elegy for Eddie and Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
I intend to finish up this series this summer, and await the next book she may write about Maisie.

8. The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
The final in the Spellman family series, this will be a fun, quick read, perfect for some weekend of a soccer tournament when I'll be outside all weekend.

9. Thunderstruck by Erik Larson or some other non-fiction book.
A murder + Marconi developing the radio? Lovely mash up of my two favorite reads - science and murder.

10. This is where I can't find another book for the list, but I can find 50. On one of the last days of the school year, I'll head to our school library and snag a few new titles for the summer. Our librarian is the best - she orders lots of new titles for the 'avid' and 'mature' readers. Plus, she'll suggest a number of great reads that I'll have to take. We really enable each other in book titles. (Plus, I have Game of Thrones here to read. If I don't read them in the summer, when ever will I?)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

BOOKS: The Burgess Boys, Still Life With Bread Crumbs, Maddaddam

A few of the books I read from the Bailey Prize for Fiction, longlist edition.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, 336 pages

I loved Olive Kitteridge (and this is one of my favorite reviews I wrote) so I had high expectations. It wasn't as good as Olive, but I did enjoy it. It was similar in that it looked at a family, from Maine. The prologue began as a mother and daughter were talking about the Burgess boys from their small Maine town, and then it backtracked to tell the story. Unless I missed something, that never seemed to get resolved; I never noticed those women again. It's a story about families, and the stories and roles that people play in the family lore. (I actually forgot a lot of details in the plot, and just refreshed myself reading some reviews at librarything) My fuzzy recollection and impression was about the two brothers, and how they go back to Maine to help our their sister and her son, when the nephew gets in trouble. It's hard to judge families, and all the experiences that led them to the present can never be fully explained.  Good, solid read and I am keeping Strout on my list of authors to read more from.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, 252 pages

Other than the horrifying 'romance' label my library slapped on this book, I quite liked it. A famous photographer rents a cabin in a small town as she tries to get her life back together financially after a quiet spell. She's trying to make some sense of her life, and meets some people in the meantime. A gentle romance develops (not enough to label it as such); this is more in the tradition of men looking back on their lives and trying to make sense of things. I liked this one quite a bit; it might even be my favorite of the nominated books.

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, 13 h 24 m

Although I have been listening to many audiobooks this year, I am a very visual reader. Thus, I think I miss things when I listen to books. I think I missed stuff in this book. In some ways, it is a very simple book - simple dialogue (representing the starting over of civilization?), and it was hard to grasp a sense of the plot. Lots of time is spent looking back at Zeb's life and adventures as he tells his stories to Ren, and Zeb's connection to Adam One, and everything that led up to the present day. I really liked The Year of the Flood, and was not interested in Oryx & Crake, but now I'd like to go back and see how it all started. What actually happened? How did Oryx and Crake get so powerful?

The Crakers were interesting and Atwood does a great job of world-creating, but overall it was just an okay book. There were three narrators reading different parts of the story, but I don't know if that was really necessary. On the plus side, I really like the cover! Something about the colours really works for me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

BOOKS: Burial Rites and The Lowland

The Bailey Prize, the prize formerly known as the Orange Prize, which readers here will know I follow, has announced its winner:  A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride! Hurray, for one of two books from the short list that I didn't get read. Figures. It's not even being released in Canada until September 2014.

The Shortlist for 2014 included:
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah I read last summer. Mostly good, but the ending was weak. Half a Yellow Sun was her better book by far.
  • Hannah Kent, Burial Rites Read it in June, liked it, see below
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland  Read it in May, neutral reaction?
  • Audrey Magee, The Undertaking Did not get read, and was only released in Canada in May
  • Eimear McBride, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing I managed to read last year's winner (May We Be Forgiven) as this book was being awarded the prize. I guess I'll read this one next year.
  • Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch In which I reacted to all the praise by being probably unfairly harsh, but still, the book is overrated.

A Few Bailey Prize for Women Shortlisted Books:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, 352 pages

I'm neutral about this book - didn't love it, didn't hate it (hello, The Goldfinch) but it also didn't affect me in a way that caused me to have any great reaction and my memories are a tad fuzzy. (Which, although The Goldfinch drove me nuts, I still remember a lot of details about that book) Two brothers again, starting out in India during the rebellion. One brother escapes to the United States, and builds a life with very little contact to India. The brother who remained was a much more of an activist, and is killed by the police. The US brother comes home, and then marries the pregnant widow. They proceed to live a life in America, but not really together. The mysteries of families, and what holds them together.I did like how everyone's lives turned out but I found it started slow.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent,  336 pages

An Icelandic mystery from the early 1800s, pieced together and imagined by first time novelist, Hannah Kent. I saw this described as Alias Grace + Kristin Lavrensdatter + Arnaldur Indridason, which is perfect, and why I did enjoy this book. Part of the appeal is the Icelandic setting, when Iceland was still under Danish rule. I liked the look at women's life, at Iceland in general, and the gradual telling of doomed Agnes' story. Good solid read.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favorite Books of the Year, so far...

Hellooo. I'm still here. We got moved, and then soccer started and life got busy. For example, tonight, all three kids had a practice at 6 pm, at different places. The new house is wonderful, we are enjoying the extra space (and shower!). I'll 'give a tour' eventually, when I get some respectable photos. Let's say that will be my first summer vacation project.
Seeing this prompt in my InoReader (aka Google Reader) was just the easy thing for me to get back on the blogging wagon. I have been reading, and listening (a lot more listening this year) to lots of great books. One more week of correcting stuff, and then reading gets a lot easier. It's not that I don't read during the school year, but I read guiltily, knowing I have a pile of correcting to do. Losing the guilt part is the best.

Favorite Books of the Year, so far...

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - the 15 hour audiobook (narrated by Wil Wheaton) that was so good I couldn't turn it off. So much fun with the 80s memories! There is a reason this is recommended in so many lists of great audiobooks.

2. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding - I'm a huge Bridget fan, and I loved this finale for her. She's still silly, but she has grown up tons. If she wasn't still making rash decisions, and getting into scrapes, she wouldn't be Bridget, even at fifty years old. I certainly missed Mark, but so did Bridget, and my heart broke several times with her.

3. How the Light Gets In  by Louise Penny- Another audiobook that got me hooked, actually better than the last few in the series.  I appreciated the characters a lot more. It helped there was lots of Ruth, and little Jean-Guy and Peter. This tied up the huge story arc of the in-house battles that have been going on, although the whole premise was a tad far-fetched.

4. One More Thing by BJ Novak - Delightful, wry, humourous morsels that are close to short stories, but almost too short to even be that much. They beg to be re-read, as I do like the funny.

5. The Bear by Claire Cameron - This gets compared to Room by Emma Donaghue, but only because of the five year old narrator. Dear little Anna has to get her young brother out of the woods after her parents are eaten by a bear. Her perspective keeps things from getting too horrifically bad because her brain won't let her process too much at once. Surprisingly hopeful!

6. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - I've been meaning and wanting to read this for a few years, since I read American Gods. If American Gods is an epic tale, Anansi Boys is the little sibling, that goes along with its older cooler brother. It's a family tale, very well-done by Gaiman, of whom we expect nothing less. A nice surprising read.

7. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen - I just finished this one, but it was a very nice, gentle book. Horrifically, it had a 'romance' sticker on it from the library. I wouldn't class if that way, but there was a nice love story gradually happening.

8. Reality Boy by AS King - I haven't been reading much Young Adult these days, but I would recommend this one easily. Gerald is a very angry teenager, dealing with his 'reality fame' many years later as an out of control young child on a Nanny show. His dysfunctional, rotten family, the adults who knew there were problems and did nothing, and the resilience of some people despite their situations made this a compelling read.

9.  Cabin Pressure series (audiobook) - written by John Finnemore, this BBC radio series isn't really a book, but I did listen to the 25 episodes like an audiobook. Hilarious! Really, really funny, and I've even started to re-listen to some of them again. Brilliant stuff here.

10. the 4 Maisie Dobbs books (#5-8)  I read  by Jacqueline Winspear - sometimes individual books are just okay, but the series as a whole gets upgraded. That's what happened to me as a flew through four books of Maisie Dobbs, 2 of which were audiobooks. I liked how the series developed, how the characters grew, and really started to move on from the first world war. Unfortunately, the next war is looming. I have two more to go, then I get to wait for the next release, sometime next year.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

BOOKS: Maggie Hope mysteries

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
11 h 3 min

The Maggie Hope series follows the American as she becomes a British spy. Her talent in the area of code breaking (due to her Math skills) gets her assigned as Princess Elizabeth's maths tutor. The last novel ended with some revelations of her previous dead father and Maggie is dealing with this information. She is a bit of a Mary Sue, figuring things out quickly, but I don't think I am supposed to fret too long on some plot points, so I shan't. Fun and games in wartime London with a crowd of young friends. I'm enjoying the audio versions of this book.
His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal
10h  28 min

Maggie is marching up the spy ladder and will be the first woman parachuted in to Germany for a secret spy mission. Maggie has amazing luck (don't fret on plot points, Maggie is a natural!) but this book is bringing together the last two and some fun stuff happens that I can't really mention if you haven't been reading. This is a great series, with strong women on both sides. The next book comes out in July, and I'll wait for the audiobook. This book is definitely not the end of the series, with a showdown coming, and some romance to be decided. I'm on Hugh's side here, and hope he will be patient with Maggie. Point of history: Did Hitler get booed when Germans discovered his eugenics program? Several time the book makes reference to Nazis basing their Jewish laws on American segregation, just taking things much further. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

BOOK: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, 770 pages

Pulitzer Winner 2014; Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction shortlist 2014

I'm having lots of dilemmas/issues with this book. Clearly, it is being recognized as a wonderfully literary book. It just won the Pulitzer for heaven's sakes. Many reviews at Librarything with raves of 'engrossing' and 'best read of the year.'  Almost one third of the starred reviews give it 5/5 stars (221/628). But...

If I am going to read a 700+ page book, I need something - emotional investment, intricate plotting, multiple interesting characters interacting, beautiful writing (that matches the way my brain likes to read) or a surprising twisting ending. Something like a Stephen King or Sarah Waters or Kate Atkinson can pull off. Mysteries (real mysteries) by Deon Meyer or Tana French can support the big pages with their plots and characters. The Goldfinch had little if any of this for me. I'm going to be a little harsh in my review, only because after reading other reviews, the disappointing parts stand out for me.

I won't go looking for any more Donna Tartt books after that experience. Bloated text with a plot that wasn't complex enough to sustain the pages. Her use of technology from 14 years ago was a constant interruption for me as THAT WASN'T THAT COMMON! I liked the beginning, thinking I was in for a great ride with characters and some elaborate plot - nope. Even the technology - I thought there would be some reveal about Theo and why his recollection didn't match the reality of what life was like. Was he an unreliable narrator, my favorite kind? Nope.

Most of the characters were okay, like Boris and Hobie the furniture guy, but only from Theo's eyes, so they weren't that developed. There was a lot of potential, and some parts read quickly, but it didn't do much for me, and after the fact, all the annoyances are seeming even bigger.

I've seen reviews were people describe the writing as suspenseful. I would not use the word suspense here: I almost stopped reading with 150 pages to go because I really didn't care what happened in the end. (But the ending? That was it?) My complaints would have been less with a better ending. I can deal with one or the other - boring story but killer ending,(The Woman Upstairs paid off in the end for instance) or a great beginning and middle, but less than satisfying ending (Life After Life, Americanah). But both? blech. I expected more than that, and the last fifteen pages or so of ? I'm not sure what it was. I wasn't invested enough to get into the philosophical ramblings of Theo about art.

In the end, the writing has to 'match' the way your brain likes to process information, and it wasn't a great match for me. Having said that, I read it much quicker than I anticipated (it helped that I read it over the March Break) and I didn't completely hate it. Help me - what did you like about this book?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BOOK: Among the Mad (plus more) by Jacqueline Winspear

I guess this turned into Maisie March, as I've just completed my third Maisie Dobbs book, following An Incomplete Revenge from the end of February. One of the things I've enjoyed in this series is the different aspects from WWI that Winspear explores. Even in 1930, the effects of the first war are far reaching.

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear, 304 pages
(book 6 of 11)
Shell-shock (now it would be PTSD) dominates this book. Fifteen years later, there are still soldiers suffering although it isn't on display where regular citizens can see it. Billy's wife is herself hospitalized for depression. Luckily, Maisie is able to pull some strings to move her because depressed females in those days do not fare so well. Maisie is enlisted with Scotland Yard to help solve the case of a madman making city-wide vague threats.

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
9 h 54 min audiobook   (book 7 of 11)
This one explores the role map-makers had in the trenches, as well as the role Americans played in enlisting. Emigrants from England still connected to the homeland. I'm liking Maisie's increased confidence, and looking after herself. She is open to romance (and seems to have a few fellas to pick from) but I'm liking the choice she is making. Much of this book traces the decline of Maurice Blanche and the effect on Maisie. The return to London of her friend Priscilla is another welcome addition to the books.

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
10 h 4 min, audiobook  (book 8 of 11)
I wish I could get more of these on audiobook, as I've just flown through these two editions. It helps that it is March Break and I've had a bunch of time.  The threat of Germany is beginning to rear its head in 1931 London, and Maisie is enlisted by the secret service to investigate some perceived national security issues at a small private college. Going undercover as a professor, she lands in the middle of a murder. Maisie spends a lot of this book organizing her friends, and with her newfound position of wealth, setting Billy up in a good situation.

After a bit of a lull in the third and fourth books, the direction of the series is fabulous. Loving all the supporting characters - Billy, Priscilla, James, Stratton, MacFarlane, and Maisie's interaction with them. Two more books (Elegy for Eddie, and Leaving Everything Most Loved) and I'll be ready for the newest release, The White Lady scheduled for 2015. That gives me the rest of this year to finish up this series. I thought I'd never get caught up, but suddenly, Maisie March appeared!

Friday, March 21, 2014

CHALLENGE: Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge

 from Carl's Stainless Steel Droppings:
Friday, March 21st begins the eighth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

Is it actually Spring today? Is it actually 8 years? Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge is becoming a more spring-like sign than the weather around here. Yay for Carl and real signs of spring! I feel like I must have been getting ready for this reading challenge as in the last month I finished Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson, both which are full of folklore and mythology. Since this isn't my favored genre, two books in a month is pretty good already, but hopefully I can find another book to read to fit the season.  My potential reads still on the list from last year includes:

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter
Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Other possibilities: 
I won Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen which should have some magic/magical realism in it - hopefully it will arrive before summer gets here. Thanks Early Reviewers at Librarything!
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton has a tag at Librarything that says Fairy Tales, so it might fit this category.
I might reread Tales of Beedle the Bard because I do remember really liking that book.

What Got Read in 2014
1. The Odesessy - Gareth Hinds (graphic novel)
2. Lost Lake - Sarah Addison Allen
3. The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood
4. Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People - Douglas Coupland

Another option is to read a short story or two that is a fairy tale or fantasy or folklore and tell about it. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson is a great example of this. Nothing overt in every story, but the overall effect was cool.

Watch any movies? I wonder if the Muppet Movie counts, because I really want to see that one!

1. Watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 1 (again)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

BOOK: Tenth of December by George Saunders

Tenth of December by George Saunders, (audiobook)
5 h, 40 min

A collection of short stories, read by the author.  Listening to Saunders read his stories was like listening to a singer-songwriter sing their own songs - he owned them. Each story had plenty of humour - I found myself laughing in the car at some of the outrageous lines. More black humour than ha-ha, as these stories plumbed the dark side of life, and people. Many seemed to involve inner dialogues with the characters as they came to a decision. Seeing inside people's brains can be a scary place to go. Also scary to go? The detention center some prisoners can choose to go to in exchange for being guinea pigs for pharmaceutical companies researching into human emotion, etc, etc.

I am a fan of short stories, and these are the type I do like. Sometimes a surprising ending, characters that you can remember. Each story was so complete, I often got confused, wondering where the characters from the last chapter went? (Some of that is due to my less than stellar listening skills, which is a post for another day - why then do I listen to audiobooks?)

Here's a link to a graduation address Saunders gave to Syracuse graduates at convocation 2013. Very inspiring.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BOOK: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, 282 pages

I was one of the millions who started following Chris Hadfield last spring when he was the commander of the International Space Station. This wonderful memoir of being an astronaut gives quite the insight into the type of person who becomes an astronaut - disciplined, logical, smart, resourceful, and confident. The constant balance between teamwork and self-confidence was almost tiring for my lazy self. (Spoiler - I'm never becoming an astronaut.) But I do enjoy reading about the science, and space, and the process involved. He missed out on a lot of family life, and has an extremely supportive wife, but he does give his family a lot of credit and thanks.

Last fall I had the opportunity to hear David Saint-Jacques, another Canadian astronaut, speak about his life. His story is somewhat similar to Hadfield's, and just as awe-inspiring.

Wringing out a water on the ISS

I show this to my physics classes when we have a few minutes left in class. To quote one student - "I would never get tired of microgravity!"

Space Oddity - re-recorded on the ISS during Commander Hadfield's mission. Between the pictures Hadfield posted on Twitter with his amazing perspective of Earth, and his son Evan's coordinating of this video, Hadfield used social media in a way never seen before.

We are very proud in Canada of our astronaut!

Last spring, just around the time of this mission, our youngest daughter's grade four classes at school put on their spring show - a black light show. There was the requisite underwater scene and song, a Stompin' Tom tribute with the Good Old Hockey Game, and  an ISS tribute, singing the song from Music Monday, ISS (Is Someone Singing, with Ed Robertson of Bare Naked Ladies). The ISS skit got the biggest applause when all the flags and especially the Canadian flag was show. I just love this song, and listen to it all the time.

Back to the book. I liked it, and reading his story reminded me of all the fun I had following along with his mission last year. I can't imagine anyone who has enjoyed their space experience as much as Hadfield. Well, maybe they all have, but no one else shared to the extent that Hadfield did. And his enthusiasm comes through just as sincerely in his book.