Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CHALLENGE: Science Book Challenge 2011

Scienticity is hosting this fourth annual reading challenge here. Check them out for more infomation, or to find lots of science or science related books reviewed.

The Science Book Challenge is easy as pi: read 3 (or 3.14!) science books during 2011, then tell us and others about the books you've read and help spread science literacy. 

My pool of possible books includes:
Lavoisier in Year One
A Force of Nature by Richard Reeves
The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette
Newton by James Gleick
How I Killed Pluto And Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown
The Music of Pythagoras by Kitty Ferguson
Waves by Susan Casey

What I Actually Read:
1. Lavoisier in the Year One by Madison Smartt Bell
2. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
3. Einstein for Beginners by Joseph Schwartz, Michael McGuinness
4. A More Perfect Heaven - Dava Sobel

BOOK: The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens

The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens, 369 pages

Canadian Book Challenge 5; 2nds Challenge

I thought The Girls by Lori Lansens was good, but I just adored this book. Mary Gooch is a character whose struggle to find herself I won't soon forget.

Mary Gooch is morbidly obese, and on the eve of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, her husband disappears. Life is hard for Mary, and physically she is struggling to just get around. Her husband Gooch has been her life and his disappearance sets her world upside-down. As she searches for him, she ends up finding herself. It sounds trite, but the writing was so good, and Mary's reaching out to people, letting others help her and learning that she has value in her own right was very satisfying. The Wife's Tale is set in the same small Ontario town as The Girls. The girls, conjoined twins Ruby and Rose Darlen are mentioned in this book as well. I believe Lansens' other book, Rush Home Road is also set in the same town.

In some ways the ending wasn't enough; I wanted more! But Lansens told all she needed to and Mary's life, while not tied up neatly at the end, was really more of a beginning. I would love to have read the same book from Jimmy Gooch's perspective as well. He was a character that I really liked (even though he disappeared from Mary's life) and would have liked to have learned even more about him.

also reviewed: leeswammes;

Monday, July 25, 2011

BOOK: The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, 304 pages

Paris in July

This book gave me the best of both French worlds - life in mid 1500s during some religious strife, and life in a present day small village. Parallel stories as Ella Turner, a transplanted American arrives with her husband and begins to trace her ancestors and Isabelle du Moulin, four hundred years earlier, deals with her in-laws, and the battle between the Huguenots and the Catholics. These two women seem to have some connection, and as the story progresses, their stories become more and more entwined.

I really liked the historical half of the story and learned a lot about the role of Calvin and the Reformation in France. Isabelle married into a family partially against her will and battled for herself and her children. It wasn't easy being a woman in 1572. Ella, the modern woman was a kind of strange character, and I found some of her choices and decisions odd. She struck me as selfish and self-centered, rather immature. She seemed too young to be having a life crisis and like a junior high kid worried about how people were looking at her. The French characters she met as she delved into her ancestors were better drawn.

So while Ella was a silly twit, the parallel style of writing, back and forth between Isabelle and Ella was very effective. This was Chevalier's first novel, and her style has progressed. I loved her other books I've read, Girl With Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn both of which just stayed with the historical aspect. The Virgin Blue was still a decent read, perfect for Paris in July, other than selfish Ella, but the way she brought the two stories together was compelling. I'm a fan of Chevalier and look forward to her other historical books, Burning Bright (William Blake and English history) , Falling Angels (Edwardian history and suffragettes) , and Remarkable Creatures (fossil hunting in 18th century England).

Friday, July 22, 2011

BOOK: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Annabel by Kathleen Winter, 460 pages

Orange July (shortlist 2011); Canadian Book Challenge 5

In 1968, a baby is born in a small town in Labrador. Only his parents and the midwife realize that the child is born with both male and female sex organs. Annabel follows the life of Wayne as he grows. Don't expect a story like Middlesex, if you've already read that book. Annabel is more about fitting in, being comfortable with who you are, whatever that might be, and the delicate balance within a family of parental love.

Winter writes a beautiful, slow story. Wayne, his parents and the midwife are all characters the reader gets to know and hope for. There is less about the male/female than you would expect; it's there, but not so much from Wayne's thoughts. Labarador is a huge character and I was pleased to get to know it as I doubt I'll ever get to visit. Wonderful book overall!

I was born in 1967, so I knew I would be able to culturally relate to Wayne throughout his life. All the song references seemed spot on for me. (Those high school years are such a noticeable signpost. For example, it was September 1984 that MuchMusic debuted because it was the weekend before school started in grade twelve and we stayed up all weekend watching videos.) There was a reference to a Subway store in St John's after Wayne graduated from high school, which struck me as odd. I was well into university before Subway started becoming popular, which is late 80s. I did a little research and it turns out that the first Subway restaurant in Canada was in Newfoundland in 1986, the year Wayne graduated high school.  Well done!

some other reviews:  bellistra magazine discussion; geranium cat at geranium cat's bookshelf; jules at jules book review; buried in print; jackie at farmlanebooks; amy at amymackiereads;

Friday, July 15, 2011

CHALLENGE: Paris in July

I've never been a huge Woody Allen fan, but when I saw Midnight in Paris was playing at my favorite local indie movie theatre I decided to go. I don't think I am a Woody Allen fan after watching this, and there are all kind of problems I could describe with the movie, but Paris was not one of them. It was beautiful.

Owen Wilson, an aspiring novelist, is in Paris with his fiancee. He is unsettled and questioning his career change. One night drunkedly walking back to his hotel one alone, he is invited into an old car to go for a ride. He ends up driving back to the 1920s of Paris, and partying with the Fitzgeralds, Scott and Zelda, Ernest Hemingway, Alice and Gertrude, plus assorted other famous painters and artists. I'm sure I missed many references to people and times. Isn't the movie poster gorgeous?

Owen Wilson was clearly channeling a young Woody Allen. The thing that really surprised me was the audience reaction. The movie was amusing, and I smirked, but the whole place would bust out laughing, guffawing actually, over the slightest comment or situation. It seemed to me that fans of Allen's movies were prepared to laugh uproariously at his movie. I'm guessing these people don't watch Wipeout and laugh at idiots falling down.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

BLOGGING: It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

 It's been a while since we've played this meme, but luckily nearly every book has a setting of some kind. So, inquiring minds want to know - Where is reading taking you today?

Since it is Paris in July, I thought it was time to head to Paris, so I am in Paris in the 1700s, as Antoine Lavoisier is beginning his scientific career. He's known for a few things, most notably his experiments and discovery of oxygen and hydrogen and his understanding of conservation of mass.  But, as all good nonfiction should do, I've also learned he was a major developer of the metric system. I love the metric system! I love it so much, I show my physics class this video every year:

Back to Lavoisier. Not to give anything away, but since it is around the Revolution, and he is nobility, it doesn't look good for him.

I am reading Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution by Madison Smartt Bell from the Great Discoveries series.

Where is reading taking you today? Leave a comment or write a post. Spread the word.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

BOOK: Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill, 330 pages

Orange July (shortlisted 2008); Canadian Book Challenge 5

Winner of Canada Reads 2007, I think I have been mixing this book up with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. While Glass Castle is a memoir, Lullabies for Little Children is fiction, though I gather from reading about the author, that it is somewhat based on her experience growing up in Montreal.

Baby, the twelve year old narrator, is being raised by her father, Jules, a heroin addict with some mental health issues. Baby's mother has died, and Jules has raised her since he was fifteen, living in downtown Montreal. While they may not have much stability, there is love. Twelve year olds are at the best age, since they are still kids, but are getting mature enough to see the world around them, and beginning to understand their place in it. Baby is a strong character and proves the adage that if children have one person who loves them, they have that support they need to turn out okay. Eventually, as she ages, and with Jules disappearing at times, Baby begins facing adult situations. When the local pimp makes her his project, Baby reaches a cross roads, conflicted by the grownup world and her friendship with a 'normal' twelve year old. The contrast between Baby's time with her friend Xavier and her dates with Alphonse the pimp are stunning.

The first half of the book, with Baby's stream of consciousness, was really strange. Her view of Montreal and her life thus far was weird and I wondered how the author came up with each bizarre incident. They seemed so random, but then life is random for children, especially ones who don't have a lot of stability. Once Baby's life had been established, I found the second half of the book much stronger. Some people are survivors.

You could not make a child with bad memories into a kid with good memories. A really effective social worker would have to be a time traveler who could go back in time and undo the abuse most kids [in detention] had suffered. p 191

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

BOOK: Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, 288 pages

Mystery and Suspense Challenge; book 7 in the Erlunder series (available in English)
translated by Anna Yates

Yah! Another book in the Inspector Erlunder series has been translated into English. I notice it's a new translator for this edition. There is just one more now that is written left to be translated. This is my favorite detective series currently on the go. The Icelandic setting is dark, and the mysteries are good, told from the police perspective.

I've always wished there was more of a focus on Elinborg or Sigurdur Oli, two of Erlunder's detectives. In this book, Erlunder has gone off to the eastern fjords and we finally get to have a book from Elinborg's perspective. We meet her family, and get to see what goes on in her head as she tackles a case, trying to balance the terrible situations she runs into on the job with her children at home.

A young man is found in a pool of blood, and as Elinborg delves into the case, she finds double lives, drug dealers, and connections to some past missing person cases. Missing people is certainly an ongoing theme in the Erlunder books. She deals with colleagues who don't cooperate, and children who aren't getting along and witnesses who lie. I found this book read very quickly, with just one main mystery to be solved. The overall feel of the story was different - whether due to the different main character, or the translation, I'm not sure. Elinborg is more practical, less introspective than Erlunder and the narrative reflected that.

Erlunder wasn't around at all and now I am wondering what will happen with his ongoing story. Hurry up next book to be translated!!