My Favorite Romance: The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle is my favorite romance and one of my favorite books ever. It's one of L.M. Montgomery's grown up stories. No spunky red head orphans here.

Spinster Valancy Stirling leaves her overbearing family to live the life she's always wanted to live- even though she only has a small amount of that life left. By freeing herself from family expectations, Valancy opens herself up to new opportunities, including love. She finds a kindred spirit in Barney Snaith.

I reviewed The Blue Castle way back in 2010. I raved about it then. I still love it. It's time for a reread.

The Blue Castle suffers from some of the most godawful covers I've ever seen though. I mean, look at this.

What is even happening here? It looks like Robin Hood is attempting stand up CPR on that woman.

And this one...from 2014! It's from Sourcebooks. Come on, guys, I expected better from you.

Buy it anyway. It's excellent!

Here We Go Again: Spark Joy

Spark Joy

Marie Kondo follows up The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up with the illustrated guide Spark Joy. I found Spark Joy to be more helpful than the first book. It's still filled with some woo-woo ideas about what makes inanimate objects happy, but also some practical advice.

What frustrated me about Life Changing Art was how she glossed over the category komono (miscellaneous). Other than clothes, papers, books, photos, and sentimental objects, everything else falls into this category. That's a pretty broad category! Spark Joy gives more detail on how to tackle things like dishes, bathroom items, electronics and the like. She also provides ideas about how to store all the things that "spark joy." I actually rearranged my closet with these ideas in mind. There are also illustrations for her folding method.

I'm not sure if Marie Kondo was addressing some criticism, but she does seem to emphasize that she doesn't want people to throw out everything they own. Even though this seems to be her own goal. There is some cringe worthy examples from her own life, however.

"I have bid farewell, at least temporarily, to countless things that didn't bring me joy and, to be frank, the absence of a discarded item never caused a catastrophe. There is always something in the house that would serve as a substitute.
...After discarding a hammer because the handle was worn out, I used my frying pan to pound in any nails."

Nooooooo! This would be a divorce worthy offense in my house. Using my frying pan, an expensive wedding present, as a hammer? No. Lady, buy the right damn tool for the job.

I think if you are Konmari'ing your life, Spark Joy would be a nice addition to your decluttering library. If you find Marie Kondo a little much, maybe you could try Claire Zulkey's recommendations instead.

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

5 Love Stories for the Unromantic

5 love stories for the unromantic

I'm not known for being a romantic. I roll my eyes at Facebook declarations of love on Valentine's Day and send my husband sarcastic Some Ecards in lieu of my own.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe in romance. Romance for me is my husband filling my gas tank (*notaeuphemism*) or fixing my computer. I'm not a jewellery and flowers girl.

Romance novels can be fun and I enjoy them from time to time, but love stories aren't just stories that have passionate kisses on the deck of a ship. Love stories don't even have to be about romantic love. I've complied a list of  5 somewhat unconventional love stories for this upcoming Valentine's Day.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Orphan Anne finds love in an unlikely place: the home of two elderly siblings. They make an odd but loving family. Anne also falls in love with Avonlea, and finally finds a place to call home. 

Barks and Purrs by Colette. People have a special relationship with their pets, but what do pets feel? Barks and Purrs is told from Toby-Dog and Kiki the Demure's point of view. While Kiki might be standoffish, Toby is all love: "I love—Her and Him devotedly, with a love that lifts me up to them."

H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. After Helen MacDonald lost her father, she bought herself a hawk to train. The hawk becomes her whole world.

Lady Into Fox by David Garnett. A man stays devoted to his wife, even after she suddenly turns into a fox.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Lucy grew up in a family that loved to cook and eat. They loved to travel the world, trying different dishes. Relish is Lucy's love letter to food.

    Have you read any unconventional love stories?  

    She Stopped Eating Meat, What Happened Next Will Shock You: The Vegetarian

    The Vegetarian

    Okay, I had to try the click baiting title, because it is appropriate for this book.

    The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a book told in three parts. In the first, Yeong-hye suddenly stops eating meat after having a disturbing dream. Her husband is concerned about this, not about Yeong-hye, but how her behaviour reflects upon him. Her family is also embarrassed by her refusal to eat meat, especially as she becomes more and more withdrawn from reality. She stops sleeping, even speaking less and less over time. Things come to a head during a family gathering.

    The second part is told from Yeong-hye's brother-in-law's point of view. He becomes sexually obsessed with her after learning about a birthmark she has. He tries to incorporate her into his "art."

    Finally, Yeong-hye's sister is left to deal with the aftermath of the previous events. She struggles with feelings of guilt. As Yeong-hye's mental state deteriorates, she tries to make the right decisions involving her sister's health. What is right in this case? Is there any help for her?

    This isn't simply the story of a woman who becomes a vegetarian. She didn't do it after reading GOOP. She didn't have pangs of conscience for farm animals. The vegetarianism is just the tip of the iceberg. This is an unconscious protest. In a way, The Vegetarian reminded me of an updated female Bartleby the Scrivener. In Melville's tale, Bartleby stops behaving the way society expects and withdraws from the world. He stops working and replies, "I would prefer not to" when asked to do anything. This becomes frustrating to those around him. Yeong-hye also doesn't do what society expects. She's expected to obey: her husband, her father, all of her society. When she refuses because she "had a dream" (her "I would prefer not to"), it throws her family into confusion.

    The men in The Vegetarian are the worst examples of male privilege. Yeong-hye is an object. Her father treated her cruelly growing up, her husband treats her at best like a maid; his behaviour becomes increasingly disgusting. Her brother-in-law uses her for his own ends without taking into consideration her fragile metal state or the fact that she's his sister-in-law. Even the male doctor in the third section is angry that Yeong-hye won't meet his expectations.

    It's interesting that the story of Yeong-hye is told through the eyes of people around her. We see very little of her personality. It's as if she has none. When she does speak in brief interludes, it's through images and dreams.

    The Vegetarian isn't for everyone. There is some violent content and imagery- some of it sexual. There were several parts where I wondered if I would make it through to the end. I am glad to have read it. I've been thinking about it since I finished it. It sure was disturbing though.

    About the Audio: Most of the audio is narrated by Stephen Park. Small sections (Yeong-hye's voice) are narrated by Janet Song. It's a short production at just over 5 hours. 

    Translation by  Deborah Smith.

    My thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

    The Vegetarian

    My Thoughts on I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson

    I Quit Sugar

    I've never been into fad diets. They never seem sustainable to me. I've always believed that if you eat a balanced diet and don't overindulge too often, you'll be okay. I found out that maybe I wasn't doing so good.

    I started tracking my eating habits a few years ago with an app called My Fitness Pal. I couldn't believe how much sugar I ate in a day. There is so much hidden sugar in everything. I set out to cut it back this past January. Not for any particular reason, no one told me I had to, but I wanted to give it a try and see if I could at least reduce the amount a day.

    There are lots of blogs and books out there about getting off of sugar. I picked Sarah Wilson's book I Quit Sugar because I could get it from the library. Not for any other reason. I started my sugar-free experiment in January and while I'm doing okay-ish, I'm getting a bit bored. Every morning it's an omelette and a spinach salad for lunch. What I need are recipes.

    Before she gets to the recipes in her book, she discusses how she quit sugar. She had some health issues and thought sugar was the culprit. Like me, Sarah decided to experiment with cutting out sugar and advises others to do the same. Her method is an 8 week program: a week to cut back, a detox (no fruit), and then a gradual adding of sweetness back into your diet.

    She makes a lot of scientific claims, but doesn't back it up with studies. Show me the science! at times she contradicts herself, so it can be hard to follow her advice. Anyway, I'm not planning on cutting out all sugar (psst...I had a small piece of fudge last night). I just want to be more aware and have snack and meal alternatives.

    Which brings me to the recipes...

    Breakfast: More eggs. Eggs everywhere! Though I have to admit, they are pretty filling. There were a couple of other alternatives here: chia puddings and parfaits, granola. There are some pancake recipes too.

    Smoothies: A bunch a smoothie recipes I haven't tried yet.

    Meals: Lots of soups.

    Snacks: The famous kale chip, and a cracker that sounds like bird food.

    Desserts: Some cream or cheese based desserts. Also Raspberries Ripple, a frozen raspberry concoction. Note: She uses brown rice syrup as a sweetener. I don't know why this is so special. I had to hunt all over town for it. I ended up finding it at Bulk Barn.

    Ingredients. Some of the ingredients were challenging to find (see the brown rice syrup comment) and I hope I will end up using the stuff. Some of it wasn't cheap.

    Coconut in Everything If she can find a way to cram coconut in something, she will. Coconut oil, raw coconut, flakes, and flour.

    Sprouted nuts? Every time nuts come up, she wants them "sprouted" aka soaked. She gives some blah-blah-blah about it that sounds like BS to me. I looked this up and the supposed benefits are so few that it doesn't seem worth the effort.

    In the end, this book has some good pointers on curbing cravings, a couple of recipes that aren't too bad, and some ideas that should be taken with a grain of salt.

    I did get a new granola recipe out of it.

    I Quit Sugar

    Happy...Whatever Day!

    Yes, it's that time of year again! Goundhog Day! But also Day of the Crepe...and Play Your Ukulele Day???


    February is weird.

    (You don't want to know how long it took me to photoshop a groundhog playing the ukulele.)

    Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Holy Crap! It's already February

    This time last month we were celebrating the new year. We're a month in, people! Time to get out the Valentine's decorations.

    I have 3 books on the go, because that's how I roll. Me, My Hair, and I, Spark Joy, and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. I'm hoping the Marie Kondo one will jump start me back into cleaning. I did tackle one subcategory- electronics- over the weekend. Now to do something with all the items that need tossing.

    I fell off the no sugar wagon after I got sick this week. It's hard to eat well, when you feel like crap. I ate ice cream instead.

    Tomorrow is another day.

    Although I do not like musicals or know anything about American history, I am listening to the Hamilton Cast Recording. I'm actually interested! That is a feat! He is doing the Schuyler sisters wrong. I have 9 songs left, so don't ruin it for me.

    In other news, I knitted a sock! One sock. #2 is a WIP.

    I missed this when Chris posted it, but it's important. His Dad is sick and needs moral support. Check it out!

    There goes another week in 2016! How was your week?