Welcome to My Nightmare: The Sleepwalker (audio)

Sleepwalking as a concept terrifies me. The thought of walking around unconscious to what is happening in the real world is right up there in irrational fears for me. That total loss of control of your body to your sleeping brain... ugh, no.

Sleepwalking: not this cute

In The Sleepwalker, my nightmare of losing that control is Annalee Ahlberg's reality. Over several decades, Annalee has gone walkabout while sleeping. She's found herself in unusual places after waking and either walks herself or is lead back to bed. One night she doesn't return to her bedroom.

Her daughters, 21 year old Lianna and 12 year old Paige, discover their mother missing while their father is away on a business trip. The police are called and after brief investigation everyone assumes Annalee walked herself into the river.

Though this seems like the most logical conclusion, Lianna isn't so sure. Lianna starts an investigation of her own, looking into the particulars of her mother's disorder, and her parents' marriage. She speaks to the people closest to her mother as the days turn into weeks with no sign of her mother's body. She finds herself drawn to detective Gavin Rikert, a man who knows all about this particular sleep disorder as he's a sufferer himself.

The trouble with Lianna's investigation is that she might find out too much.

The Sleepwalker was a real slow burner. At times I wanted it to pick up the pace. There are a number of red herrings (or slight of hand tricks since Lianna is a magician) and Annalee's disorder is not what it seems at first. There is a lot going on. I didn't know what to focus on.

As for Lianna, the narrator, I found her to be standoffish. I wasn't sure if it was the trauma of losing her mother or if that was just her personality.

The Sleepwalker has an interesting, and scary, premise. It's the kind of idea I don't want to think too much about. I don't sleepwalk, but I have had occasional bouts of hypnopompic hallucinations. They can be scary enough, though most of the time they're pretty cool and I'm now aware of what they are. I once woke with an amazingly large tree in my room, like Disney's Tree of Life!

I wasn't quite as enamored with The Sleepwalker as I was with The Night Strangers. Still, I wouldn't say avoid it.
About the Audio: Cady McClain is the main narrator: Lianna. She's always terrific. I didn't enjoy the brief interludes by an unknown narrator read by Grace Experience. Her voice took me out of the story. Maybe it's because I didn't know who she was supposed to be. 
My thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Lolly Willowes: She Just Wants To Be Alone

One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that - to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to by others

Laura Willowes has lived her entire forty-seven years in service to her family. After the death of her father, she is packed up like a piece of furniture and moved to her brother and sister-in-law's home in London. She's given a room, not the best spare room, and the job of taking care of her nieces and nephews. Her family at first attempts to find her a husband. After a few awkward dinner parties, they decide to leave her to spinsterhood. The family does love Laura, especially the children, who call her Lolly, and she becomes an indispensable member of the household.

For her entire adulthood, Laura feels as if she is missing something, something she can't put her finger on. The present Willowes like their smooth routines, even taking the same vacation year after year. Only the First World War disrupts their routine. After the war, Laura dreads more of the same, forever until she dies. She makes a spontaneous decision to move by herself to the country. The family is shocked. How can she live on her own? What is she thinking? But Laura is determined.

She loves living in the town of Great Mop, even if the neighbours keep strange hours and play music late into the night. She feels she's fitting in and the town belongs to her.... until her nephew shows up with plans of his own.

The classic image of the witch is of an old spinster kissing the devil's butt. Why do spinsters sell their souls to the devil? Well, Lolly Willowes would tell you it's so that they can be left alone. Selling their souls to the devil seems to be the only way for women to get out of family obligations.

"This wasn't in the brochure."
Laura wants the freedom to live her own life. To go for long walks, help her neighbour with his fancy chickens, to just lay in the grass and look at the sky. She's tired of taking care of other people's kids, of being useful. She just wants to do what she wants for a change. The town of Great Mop offers her an escape from her old life.

I felt for Laura who knows deep down that her life is being wasted. She does as she's expected uncomplainingly for decades, even giving up her own name and letting everyone call her by one the children chose. I cheered for her when she breaks free.

I didn't know what to expect from Lolly Willowes. It seems at first to be rooted in reality, but after Lolly leaves London, things take an unexpected turn. I thought her giving her soul to the devil would be more figurative, but nope, it's not. It gets a little weird. Nature and woodland places take on magical properties. Satan seems like an old world pagan god.

It's a funny but also serious book. It looks at the problem upper class single women in the early 20th Century had. There was no place for them in society. They had to be useful in order to not be considered burdens. The thought of a single woman choosing to live on her own was a radical idea. What is her purpose?

No witches were harmed in the making of this book, that makes it a winner!

Family Dramarama in They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

For my hygge reading, I picked They Were Sisters during the holiday season. I adore Dorothy Whipple's writing style. She wrote about the struggles of middle class English women in the earlier half of the 20th Century. She really gets into some serious issues in They Were Sisters.

Lucy is the eldest sister of the Field family. Her mother died when she was in university and she left school to help raise her siblings. This was the expected turn of events and Lucy did it all without complaint. Things became difficult for her as her two younger sisters, Charlotte and Vera, grew into women. They resented her involvement in their lives. Lucy ended up feeling like an outsider, like a woman many years older than her mid-twenties.

Wishing for their freedom, Lucy's sisters marry men they shouldn't. Charlotte marries an emotionally manipulative, mentally abusive selfish monster. Vera, the most beautiful among them, marries the richest man she can find, even though she doesn't love him. Eventually, Lucy gets married herself. Though she wishes for children, none arrive. She does have several nieces and a nephew. Because of their parents' terrible choices and behaviour, she finds herself still "meddling" in their lives as she tries to protect the children and give them the love their parents are unwilling to provide.

As an elder sister, I really felt for Lucy. It's frustrating to watch your siblings make decisions you don't agree with but can't do anything about. For Lucy though, the choices her sisters make have dire consequences. At this time period, there was little a woman could do if she married a terrible man. She had to stick with him until one of them died. The men could do whatever they wanted. In They Were Sisters, whenever a man has a bit of a rough time, he heads to Canada and promptly disappears from the narrative. The women stay where they are and play the hand they were dealt. The women aren't just fettered by legal chains, but societal expectations as well.

Fundamental rights?

Lucy must constantly walk a fine line, never appearing too meddlesome, but helpful, so that she keeps access to the children. Any one of the parents can cut her off at anytime. But even when they lock her out, she is ready to jump back into their lives whenever asked in an attempt to make things better.

They Were Sisters isn't always an easy to read book. There is cruelty, neglect, substance abuse, and infidelity. The worst is how the children are treated. Still, it's got a hopeful ending. What always impresses me about Whipple's writing is how she gets into the heads of her characters. Everything they do seems to have a logic, even if the reader doesn't agree with it; it makes sense to the character.

I liked Someone at a Distance more, but They Were Sisters is still an excellent book. You should read it.

Why is They Were Sisters hygge? Dorothy Whipple writes about the home, about families. Not everything is perfect in her homes, but without problems there would be no story. These are domestic dramas with the friction that drives the plot between people and their relationships. The drama stays within the walls of the characters' homes and rarely strays elsewhere.

Let's Talk About Stats, Baby!

It's the sexiest time of the year. The time of year when everyone is talking about their staaaaaaaaats! So hot.

In total, I read 48 books last year. This is how it breaks down.

  • 38 women authors 
  • 9 by POC authors
  • 22 books were on audio
  • 9 non-fiction (5 were essay/memoir)
  • 4 short story collections
  • 3 graphic novels of some kind
In 2015, I read 60 books total. The biggest change this past year was my listening to 22 audiobooks compared to 2015's 15. (And I don't want any grief about audiobooks. I can listen to them at work. They help me keep my sanity.) Also, I read 16 graphic novels in 2015 and only 3 in 2016. Huh. 

I increased my ratio of women writers- 79% compared to 73% the year before. My POC reads dipped- 18% last year compared to 25% in 2015. 

One of my reading resolutions last year was to read more worldly. More than 50% of the authors I read in 2015 were from the United States. I felt this needed to change. Here's how that turned out. 

2016: 52%
2015: 52%

Sigh. Yeah, literally no change there. And while I ended up reading more international authors, my own country of Canada suffered from this with only 6 Canadian authors read this year. Since it's Canada's 150th anniversary this July, I'm going to make an effort to read more Canadians.

Here's the break down by country*:
  • 25 American
  • 6 Canadian
  • 3 UK
  • 3 Nigeria
  • 2 India
  • 2 Sweden
  • 2 Australia 
  • 1 Japan
  • 1 South Korea
  • 1 Cameroon
  • 1 Italy
  • 1 Russia

Now that I've analyzed last year's stats, it's time to make plans for 2017. While I plan to read whatever floats my goat, I still want to have an idea of how I want my 2017 reading year to look.
So. The plan...

  1.  Read more Canadians.
  2. Continue to read internationally.
  3. Keep reading the ladies.
  4. Read from my own damn shelves.

I have some idea on how to tackle #4. I think I'm just going to go shelf by shelf, start reading something from it, and if it doesn't do it for me, put it in the give away pile. Let's see if that works.

So, that's my look back on 2016 and my plan for 2017. What's your reading resolution if you have one? 

*By country I mean country they were born in. I don't have time to check everyone's current citizenship or residence status, people.

Talking As Fast As I Can- On Audio

It's no coincidence that Lauren Graham released her new memoirs, Talking As Fast As I Can, just four days after the revival of Gilmore Girls hit Netflix*. Her book is the perfect accompaniment to the new series as she spends a good part of the book discussing her time working on the new show.

Talking As Fast As I Can briefly touches on Lauren Graham's childhood and school years. She recounts her years working toward her dreams of broadway, only to end up in LA. Mostly it focuses on how she came to be the young mom of Rory Gilmore on the early 2000s series.

If you are looking for juicy gossip, you won't find it here. She talks a bit about her boyfriend and co-star on Parenthood, Peter Krause, how they met and later starting dating. It's very sweet. It's the kind of conversation you might have with a nice lady you met at the hair dresser while you were having your roots touched up. Nothing too deep, but a pleasant diversion.

The real reason Talking As Fast As I Can pairs well with Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life, is the excepts from the journal she kept while filming the new series. If she ever had a bad day, you wouldn't know it. I was so glad to have listened to the audiobook read by Lauren Graham herself, because her unbridled enthusiasm for the show, its creators, and her costars pour out of her voice. It was so fun to hear the affection she has for Gilmore Girls. It was obviously a big part of her life for many years. (If we ever get a memoir from Kelly Bishop, I want to read that. I bet she'd have some stories.)

The audience for Talking As Fast As I Can is 100% Gilmore Girls fans. Maybe 45% of this book is about other things, but even Parenthood doesn't factor into the narrative it as much as GG. Lauren Graham knows who to pander to...and I'll take it! It was fun and she seems like a doll.

Since this was a review copy of an audiobook, I didn't have access to the photos she makes reference to throughout the book. I'm a bit bummed about that. But if you do buy the audio, and I recommend that you do, there is a pdf of the photos included.

*Yes, I watched the new series as soon as it came out on Netflix. I think it had problems, but overall I loved it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy via Volumes. All opinions are my own.

Wow! Ten Years! Can You Believe It?

Yes, I started this blog 10 years ago today. I know I haven't been blogging regularly lately, but 10 years is a big deal, I had to say something about it.

I had no idea where blogging would lead me. It's been a bumpy ride! At that time, I needed something to keep my mind busy while we waited to start building our house. So much has happened since then. Good and bad. My life is not the same. Thinking about how fast ten years went by makes me feel old. Dudes, it's been a whole decade! What were you doing ten years ago? 

So, ten years. Wow. Will I be here ten years from now? I don't know, honestly. Blogging has taken a back seat to make room for so many other things in my life. There was a time when I read over 100 books a year. In 2016, I read 48. I know that's still more than the average person, but it's not like it was. I used to review everything too. Now I feel less compelled to write about books that didn't move me.

But book blogging has been so fulfilling! I "met" so many great people. We contact each other in so many ways places now. Some even through snail mail. I've read a lot of great books, and learned a lot. I discovered new authors, genres, and new ways to get books into my brain. I had lots of fun participating in community events, readalongs, and readathons.

Book blogging helped me grow as a person. I am not the same person I was ten years ago and I'm sure book blogging has played a part in those changes. Blogging has changed so much too. I could never have predicted where it would go then. I'm sure it will change beyond what it is now. There are more platforms for discussing books popping up everyday.

So here's to ten years! Chrisbookarama, you have been good to me. I thank you for all that you've done for me. And here's to you to, Readers, you've made many a day a little brighter, made me laugh, and made me think. Thank you!

Quitting Books

I'm feeling...dare I say it...refreshed.

2017 is just around the corner and I am ready for it. 2016 was a garbage year.

Personally, it was fine. I learned to knit early in the year. Took a nice "staycation" with my family. (It had its ups and downs, but what vacation doesn't?) I reopened my Etsy Shop and it's been doing okay. I went back to work this summer too.

I was busy. I felt like much of my time was filled with activity. As a result, my reading suffered. When I was reading, I often felt like I wasn't reading anything that excited me. There were some great books, but a lot of forgettable ones. And ones I never finished. My DNF list for 2016 is loooong.

This week I'm reading something great. Something that really speaks to me: They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple. I don't want to get up from my couch. I don't want to check my phone, or do anything else. I can't remember the last time I felt that way.

My wish for 2017 is more books like this. I want to feel this way about everything I read. What that means for me is that this year, I'm going to give up on a lot of books. That might sound terrible, but I feel like that needs to happen. Reading shouldn't feel like a chore that needs to be done. I'm going to be a quitter. I will get myself out of this reading slump by quitting books that don't make me feel something. I will overwhelm my brain with books that excite me and toss the ones that I can't get excited about. It's not that these books are bad, they just aren't doing it for me. It might mean I read fewer books in 2017, but that's okay.

I'm ending this year with a book that makes me feel happy, and I hope to go into 2017 feeling more optimistic about reading, and possibly the world (I can hope). I am hopeful that reading great books will make me want to write about them here on the blog too.

2017. Here I come.