Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! See you all in 2010.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

BookBlips: vote it up!

3rd Annual book-a-rama Awards



Good-bye 2009! Hello 2010! Can you believe it? Another year, another decade. It's been a successful reading year for me. In total, I've reviewed 87 books. That's the most books in one year I've read since starting this blog. I was so close to 100 books this year. Maybe I can do it in 2010.

So like the last 2 years, I compiled my best and worst book list into the Book-a-rama Awards ©2009. Here it is!

The Best

Best Frightening Glimpse of the Future: It's back to the future with 1984. Scary totalitarianism government creates a brutal world. 1984 still hits a nerve today.

Best Protagonist: Eleven year old Flavia De Lucefrom The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Chemistry loving Flavia solves murders while plotting revenge on her sisters.

Best Non-Fiction: I read a lot of non-fiction this year. Biographies of authors and crooks, instructionals on how to save the planet and marketing your brand, coal miners and deadly plants. I learned a lot. But the one that inspired me the most as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book had me growing my own vegetables and thinking more about how far my food has to travel to get to my plate.

Best New Series: This is a tie between The Flavia DeLuce series and the Tattoo Shop Mysteries by Karen E Olson. Both The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Missing Ink are the first books in the series with the second books due out sometime next year.

Best Epic: And I do mean epic... An Echo in the Bone is the 7th in the Outlander series and while this one dragged on forever, it deserves to be on this list for all the die hard fans that have waited patiently for this book to hit the shelves.

Best Animals in Peril Book: Bunnies and violence that's Watership Down. The only way these bunnies could get in any more hot water is if they knew Glenn Close.

Best Pleasant Surprise: Michelle Moran has been on my radar for awhile but I never took the plunge until Cleopatra's Daughter. Wowie!




The Best of 2009

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Is a book for book lovers. It's atmospheric and dark with high drama. Great writing and a great story. Just the kind of book I love.

The Not So Best

I won't say these are the worst, just not as good as some of the others I've read this year. First, let's take a look at the books I couldn't finish.

Don't Call Me a Crook (DNF): I couldn't read anymore of 'Bob's' terrible list of criminal activities. Enough was enough.

My Lord John (DNF): This was Georgette Heyer's lifelong work but since it was unfinished and unedited it was a hard go to read.

Now, onto the books I wasn't wild about:

Weirdest Ending: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. LeCarre's macho spy novel ends abruptly.... Just like that.

"I Guess It's Just Me" Book: The Disappeared by Kim Echlin was in the running for the Giller Prize but it just didn't do it for me.

WTF Book: A retelling of the Biblical tale of Noah and the Ark Not Wanted On the Voyage was a metaphorical nightmare which had me saying, "WTF??!"

Dashed Expectations: I wanted more from Haunting Bombay but in the end I didn't feel it.

So that's it in a nutshell. I hope 2010 brings me more great reads. Happy 2010!


BookBlips: vote it up!

Graphic Novels Challenge



Yup. I'm joining the Graphic Novels Challenge for the very first time. I guess that makes me a Graphic Novels Challenge virgin. I just started reading graphic novels this year.

I'm going in as a Beginner (3 books) because I have no idea what book I'm going to read. I think I'll have to see the books before I decide.

Thanks Chris and Nymeth! Wish me luck.

BookBlips: vote it up!

The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie: Review

What do you with a dead husband's ghost? (♫♪ Early in the morning ♫♪) Sorry. The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie is a serious book so let's get serious. Ahem.

Sarah's husband David has joined the ranks of the dead (supposedly) after he drowned in the river. The problem is they never found his body. So Sarah is a little freaked out when she sees him in all his technicolor glory at the grocery store.

Her friends tell her this is normal. A woman grieving her husband is apt to think she sees him everywhere. But Sarah isn't all that sad about his death. Their marriage had been heading down the torlet for years. In fact, Sarah feels rather free.

Then David shows up with a plausible story for his disappearance and Sarah is in a quandary. Is David alive? Is he a ghost? A figment of her guilt ridden imagination? If he is alive, he's put her in quite the legal predicament.

The Widow's Season is a good book club book. There's is a lot of fodder for discussion: marriage, self-fulfillment, death. Fun stuff.

Sarah is a believable character which means that often she annoyed the hell out of me. She could give lessons on how to be a doormat. David has, as one character puts it, a "forceful personality" but still she is an intelligent woman. If she didn't like how things were going in her marriage, she could have stood up and said something instead of bitching about it. But no she continues to be a doormat even after his 'death'.

********Spoilerish***** (Highlight if you wish)

And then there's Nate. Nate the man-whore with the personality of a cornflake. That whole thing gave me the heeby-geebies. I'd let my brother-in-law(s) fix my car not what Nate does. Chocolate body paint? No thank you.

****End spoiler*****

I did end up enjoying The Widow's Season, even though I saw the twist at the end coming. Sarah did eventually pull up her socks and realize that she's responsible for her own happiness.

Recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Still Alive!

Whew! It's been a crazy few days. Ho Ho came to the house and left some gifts for us all. I have to say, my husband totally surprised me.



What is that? It's an Aluratek Libre ebook reader. He's really good at finding me technology I've never heard of before. It doesn't do fancy stuff like the other ones do but I can read ebooks now. Yay!

In other book news, my brother got me Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and a Penguin Classics Edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (the ones featured on Design Sponge).

My daughter did really well in the book department: Ivy and Bean, Babymouse (1-3), Coraline, Betsy-Tacy and Emmaline and the Bunny plus a few others I forgot.

I actually finished a book this week. So I'll be reviewing that shortly.

We had brunch for our family and it was a success. A success is when everyone has enough and we didn't run out of food.

Today we made some returns and I found a pair of nice jeans on sale. Plus I didn't kill anyone at the mall (husband and child included).

Tonight I plan on having a Bailey's and reading a lot.



BookBlips: vote it up!

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon: Review

When Suzan Colon got laid off in 2008, she felt the need to tighten her belt and as her Nana said, "Put up soup." Suzan decided to dig out the old family recipes that helped get her foremothers through the tough times. The recipes and documents she finds peeks her curiosity about the woman behind yellowed typewritten words. With time on her hands, she asks her mother about Nana's life as a young woman and finds out that she and Nana had a lot in common.

Cherries in Winter is a quick read at 200 pages, which is a bonus. Although I liked the idea of this book and I found the stories of Nana's life interesting, I was never really attached to the author. Colon is a magazine writer and the book reads a lot like several articles to me. I found it hard to drum up sympathy for her compared to what her grandmother went through. And there are many more people in worse circumstances at the present time.

So I only thought it was an okay read. On the other hand, the cover is yummy!

Thanks to DoubleDay for the review copy.


BookBlips: vote it up!

Julie & Julia: Movie

Julie & Julia is a movie made from a book, from a blog about another book. You follow? There are two stories running simultaneously throughout the movie. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) spends 2002 making every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and writes a blog about it. While back in the 1950s, Julia (Meryl Streep) learns to cook and starts writing with her collaborators what would become the cookbook.

Oh to be Julie Powell! Imagine someone throwing bags of money at you because of your blog. Julie & Julia makes it seem like it's inevitable. Write a blog. They will come. With their bags of money. The reality is no one is giving me a big pile of cash for my blog. A) I'm about 8 years too late and B) reading isn't as sexy as cooking- unless done naked. (Naked cooking is not recommended. Ouch!) But, as a blogger, I could relate to Julie. There were times when the only person reading her blog was her mom and she wasn't very supportive. The blogosphere can be a big lonely place.

As much as I could relate to Julie, Julia Child's story was much more interesting. First of all, it's Meryl Streep- as Julia Child! I didn't know who to be more impressed with: Meryl for her voice and mannerisms or the costume designer who made tiny Meryl into giantess Julia. Holy Whoa! Stanley Tucci was fantastic as Paul, Julia's husband. They were an adorable couple.

Julia's life has me fascinated and now I want to read My Life in France. I might even give French cooking a try (hold my hand). As for Julie and Julia (the book), I do plan on reading that too.


BookBlips: vote it up!

Reading Together: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett

A couple of months ago I picked up The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett for my daughter at the used book store. I thought it would be a good book to read together. Two months later, we finished it.

I read books to my daughter all the time; it's our night time ritual. But the books we read are either picture books or small chapter books (like Clementine). This was our first novel and first classic together.

I've never actually read this before so I was curious about it. It has a Bronte quality to it, especially since it's mostly set in Yorkshire. There are secrets, hidden rooms and gardens, and bitter heartbroken men, not to mention copious use of the word 'wuthering'.

The Secret Garden starts out with little Mary Lennox, the only survivor of a cholera outbreak in her home in India. She may have only lived because she was extremely neglected by her parents who would rather have parties than spend time with their child. Mary is sent to live with her uncle in England on an estate called Misselthwaite Manor.

Mary is relegated to a lonely part of the house where the only person she ever sees is a servant girl, Martha. I was wondering where Child Services were at this point. It's hard to feel sorry for Mary though; she's a selfish girl but the author makes note several times that she just didn't know any better.

Martha is a healthy, boisterous Yorkshire lass and doesn't put up with Mary's attitude. She tells her stories of her own big family, of the moorland, of the sad history of Misselthwaite Manor and it's owner. She encourages Mary to go outside and play. This is a new concept for Mary. Play? What is that? It does her good. By chance, she finds a neglected, secret garden and with the help of Martha's brother, Dickon, brings it back to life. As the garden grows, so does Mary in both body and character.

When we finally finished it, my daughter was excited to have read such a 'big book.' I was too! At times, she didn't want me to put it down, other times she was bouncing all over the bed and we only made it through a few pages. The Secret Garden is heavy on the description and while I enjoy that, it was a little much for my 7 year old. She did like when Mary found the garden and the boy Dickon. I think like Mary she was half in love with him. She liked telling me how many people knew the secret as we read and laughed whenever Mary bragged about how fat she was getting. That's not something we hear often now. We also both liked the art of Tasha Tudor in this copy.

Since this book was written 100 years ago, it has moments that weren't quite up to modern children's books standards. I found myself editing a few parts involving comments about the Indian servants. I did feel that the book was on the anglocentric side. English country air = good, foreign air = bad. But that was just how it was back then. The theme of nature and our connection to it was something I really enjoyed in the book though.

My daughter asked me about the age of the book about a million times, which drove me a little nuts, and whether they had cars, etc. I realize now that this is a great introduction to classic literature and history. This won't be our last 'big' book together. I'm already planning on reading Heidi, Little Women (even with the sad Beth part) and Anne of Green Gables.

Stay tuned!

BookBlips: vote it up!

Random Christmas Update

Ugh! I cannot think of any blogging topics this week. All my thoughts keep turning to all I have to do for Christmas. So why not share those thoughts with the blogosphere! Great idea!
  • So far I've managed to finish my shopping (I think). Hurray!
  • Nothing is wrapped yet though. Boo! 
  • Still waiting for package to come in the mail.
  • I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards. My mom always cleaned everything that didn't move and for some reason now I feel like I have to too.
  • Baked one thing: meringue cookies for teachers.
  • The tree is up!
  • No food shopping has been done.
  • Did my 'mail out' cards last night.
  • Bought a couple of bottles of booze (glug, glug, glug).
Besides all this, my daughter is an angel in a Christmas pageant and I had the bright idea to make a costume for her- without a pattern. The arms are wonky and it's way too big but it's good enough for me.












Remember Buy Books for the Holiday. Well I did! I boughted the books! Just about everyone on my list got at least one book for Christmas.


How does your holiday list look at this point? Are you freaking out or resting with a hot toddy in your hand?


Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


BookBlips: vote it up!

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella: Review


Every once in a while a girl needs a book like Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. Kinsella is the author of the Shopaholic series and like those books Twenties Girl starts out similarly. It begins with a young woman with troubles in both love and career. In this case the woman is Lara Lington, whose ex-boyfriend won't talk to her even after all the text messages she's left him and her new business partner has run off to India.

Lara's good at hiding bad things from her parents but when they all have to attend great-aunt Sadie's funeral, it becomes harder to avoid the ugly truths. All this pressure is getting to her. Suddenly, she's having hallucinations. What other explanation can there be for the yelling woman no one else can see at the funeral?

What seems to be a figment of her imagination turns out to be the 20's vintage ghost of her dead aunt. Sadie has one last demand request; Lara must find her lost necklace. Without it Sadie can't rest. Sadie isn't the easiest spirit to have around. She's pushy and nosy, spoiled and selfish. At first, Lara can't wait to be rid of her but as Lara gets to know this woman who was once her neglected great-aunt she comes to realize that they have more in common than just genes.

I loved, loved Twenties Girl! Yes, Sadie is annoying at the beginning but she has just died after living in an old folks home for decades. You can't blame her for wanting to 'live' a little. Lara is someone who needs to lighten up and could use Sadie's advice- especially when it comes to Josh, the ex. While Lara obsesses over their relationship, Sadie encourages her to 'take a lover or several lovers.' Some of Sadie's antics cause Lara embarrassment, like asking out a totally stranger, but Sadie can be very persuasive.

What I like about Kinsella is how funny and entertaining her books are. Lara is a typical modern 20 something- trying to figure it all out. She can be both endearing and frustrating. A believable character. At first, Sadie just seems like a flake but as the story progresses, Lara finds out that she is more than a party girl.

Although it is a fun read, there is another layer to the story. Sadie's family can't be bothered to visit her while she's alive, her funeral is an inconvenience to them. Even Lara is guilty of this. Toward the end of the story, Lara sees the elderly as they should be seen, as people.

At the nursing home:
"I feel a sudden lump in my throat as I watch. They're all Sadie inside, aren't they? They're all in their twenties inside. All that white hair and wrinkled skin is just cladding. The old man with the oxygen tank was probably once a dashing heartthrob. That woman with the distant rheumy eyes was once a mischievious young girl who played pranks on her friends. They were all young, with love affairs and friends and parties and an endless life ahead of them..."
Then there's the mystery of the necklace. I was pretty sure something was up but that plot took a few unexpected turns. I was quite happy with what Kinsella did there.

It only took me a couple of days to read all 435 pages so I'd have to say it's a quick, engaging read. Lots of fun and lots of heart too.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Random House for sending me this review copy.


BookBlips: vote it up!

Kaspar by Diane Obomsawin: Review

Kaspar, a graphic novel by Diane Obomsawin, tells the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man found on the streets of Nuremberg on May 18, 1828. Kaspar could barely walk or talk but held a letter "To the Captain of the 4th Squadron."

Kaspar revealed to authorities that for as long as he could remember, he lived in a tiny cell without light or human interaction. He would become a controversial figure. Was he for real? A feral child or a convincing fraud?

I had never heard of Kaspar before this book but apparently it was a famous case that inspired a number of books and movies. What I liked about the book was how it was told from Kaspar's point of view. It's obvious that Obomsawin takes the 'innocent' side of the argument from how she tells the story.

The style of Kaspar is childlike. The drawings are very simple and the text has a sweetness to it. Seeing Kaspar with his little horse made me smile. Still, the story is for an older audience. There is an undertone of sadness. Kaspar was incredibly neglected and has no understanding of the world. Everything is new and confusing to him. I was worried for him, hoping that no one would hurt him.



Although it's a short book, Obomsawin leaves room for the reader to fill in the blanks. I was left thinking a lot about Kaspar and whether his story was plausible or not. He supposedly had no contact with people until shortly before he was released, when he was taught to write his name. Later, he would write poetry and paint. So, it doesn't seem likely that he was telling the truth. Still, it's a fascinating idea.

Highly recommended

This is an English translation of a French Canadian work so it counts toward my Canadian Reading Challenge list.

Thanks to my local library for having this on their shelves.


BookBlips: vote it up!

Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs: Review

Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs is the third in The Friday Night Knitting Club series. In this book, Dakota Walker is juggling school and her mother's yarn shop while trying to make decisions about her future. She's driven and determined to gain experience as a pastry chef so she can open her own cafe. Dakota won't be distracted even when her Dad plans a surprise trip to Scotland to visit her great-grandmother. He feels she's missing out on what's important: family.

Big changes are in store for the ladies of the Friday Night Knitting Club as well. There is a New Year's wedding approaching and this time the bride's son will not fake a heart attack and ruin everything. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, the ladies will find new adventures in love and life.

Okay, so I haven't read any of the other Knitting books and worried that I'd be lost. That wasn't really a problem. It's not like it has a complicated plot. What I didn't like though was the unnecessary backstory. If I had read the other books, I think this would have driven me up the wall. I also felt a bit overwhelmed by numerous characters. There was a lot of them and their subplots for such a short books. Sometimes it was information overload.

But...

Once the story focused on Dakota, I got into the story and really enjoyed it. Knit the Season captures the holiday spirit perfectly with snow in New York and family reunions. I had tears in my eyes at times. I'm glad I read it when it is actually the season. I don't know if I'd be in the mood for it in January.

Anyway, enjoy this one bundled up in front of your Christmas tree or fireplace with a big cup of cocoa.

Recommended


BookBlips: vote it up!

Virtual Advent Tour 2009: Homemade Christmas


So this is Christmas and what have you done. Not to make you feel the pressure but the big day is coming up soon. Are you prepared?

This past year has seen a lot of people struggling to make ends meet. And really no one should go into debt over one day a year. In the past, I've pondered, much like Charlie Brown, about the commercialization of Christmas. Things have gotten much worse since I was a kid. The TV ads start earlier. The stores are setting up their displays even as early as October. There is so much pressure to buy stuff.

When I think of Christmases past, I don't remember the stuff. I remember things like putting a puzzle together with my family while we watched The Sound of Music. The time I spent with my family and friends. Watching my child and husband make perogies together.

That's not to say I don't enjoy giving presents. Of course I do. I love to buy something I know will make someone else happy. I love the rush I feel when I see that one thing and think, "This has so-and-so written all over it." But I also like to give gifts that I made myself. I believe it's a nice way to show someone how much you care about them by giving them something they can't get in a store. It also makes me feel that I'm still keeping the old fashioned traditions of homemade gifts alive.

I'm going to offer suggestions on homemade gifts. I haven't made them all myself but I have made some of them. I'll try to include a variety to consider the skills and time that you might have.

Crochet or Knit

I have to include this because I love to crochet! Even if you've never knit of crocheted before there are patterns available online for simple projects like scarves.

Another idea is amigurumi people and animals. Amigurumi is a Japanese fad in crochet and knitting. You can find really simple patterns or more advanced ones. There is pretty much a pattern for every animal so if someone has a favorite you can make it.



Sewing

These projects use basic sewing skills. They can be made quickly so you can make lots!

This Little Bird pattern free from Spool is sewn by hand so you can make them while your watching TV. Add a hanger and you got yourself a tree ornament.



Book weights are a perfect gift for book lovers. I made this pattern up myself. Cut a rectangular piece of fabric 11 inches by 6 inches. Fold in half (long side) right sides together. Sew 3/8 inch seam along one short side and the long side. Turn inside out. Fill with plastic pellets or if you prefer a natural filler like flaxseed. Hand sew the open end closed.



I made these sandwich bags from instructions found in Linen Wool Cotton by Akiko Mano. Even though they are sandwich bags I use them for other things, like for holding my crafting tools. You could fill them with toys or bath products as the gift wrapping!

The Book Pillow is another great gift for book lovers. The pattern is from Sew Liberated I haven't made one yet but Bethany did. She's also doing a series of homemade gifts. Check it out!

Food

My Mom makes Peppermint Meringue Cookies almost every Christmas. She has her own version but these detailed instructions from Simply Recipe are pretty close. Note though that they put the candy canes in the batter. My mom sprinkles them on the top. It's really pretty. The great thing about these is that they are a low fat treat! They'd make great teachers' gifts. Put some in a cardboard Chinese food type box from a craft store to make them fancy.

Puffed Rice Brittle makes a nice treat for people allergic to Peanut Brittle. It's also gluten free.

Paper Crafts



I've done paper stars for a previous Advent Calendar post but they are so lovely I'm mentioning them again. As single stars, they would make nice teachers' gifts. Crafter Abbie has instructions with photos.


There a lot of gifts you can make with origami but this tiny wreath  looks charming. I can see it made from fancy scrapbooking paper or even pages from a book (one that's fallen apart, of course).

Last year, I gave out printable calendars as gifts. I bought a pdf from an etsy seller and some white cardstock. Once you print them, you cut them, punch holes for hanging at the top. Add a ribbon and you're done! These bookmark calendars are sweet.

Miscellaneous

Scribbit's glass navtivity is beyond gorgeous. I have no idea how hard it is to make but it would make a nice gift for someone special.

I made bath salts for the ladies I know one year. Dreadlock Girl has a recipe for that. Use mason jars, add a ribbon and a pretty label. For an added touch, head to a second hand shop. They usually have tons of mismatched silverware. You could find unique spoons on the cheap to tie to the jars. Do a whole spa theme and make body scrubs and bath fizzies. Maybe crochet up a Tawashi in a soft cotton for a wash cloth and you got yourself a gift basket.

For the Girlie Girls, Homemade lip balm . Kids could make this stuff up and give it to their friends. If you want to go more natural, Martha has a recipe using beeswax. It uses a stove though so be careful. You can buy containers from craft stores but I can see no reason why you couldn't use those little pill holders I've seen at the dollar store.

These Mini Photo Books are quite fancy but it's a good idea. You could make them as simple or ornate as you like. They'd make nice gifts for Grandparents.

Finally, Design Mom featured gifts kids can make!

If you like the idea of homemade gifts but can't tell a glue gun from a stun gun, you can fake it and buy from vendors on sites like Etsy or 1000 Markets. Feel good knowing that you are supporting someone who creates crafts for a living.

Now while you're crafting your heart out, you'll need some peppy Christmas music to get you in the mood. Enjoy this video from Lenka "All My Bells Are Ringing." You can't help but feel good listening to it.



Merry Christmas!

BookBlips: vote it up!

Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris: Review

Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris, a collection of 6 short stories, was just a meh read for me. I heard that Sedaris was really funny so I had high hopes. I really wanted to like it.

I enjoyed SantaLand Diaries, the first story, for the most part. I was never an elf but I did work in retail at Christmastime and I can tell you it is hell. You see the worst of people and it takes you right out of the Christmas spirit. So I could relate to that story. There were funny moments, strange moments and moments where I questioned humanity.

The other 5 stories were odd and often on the macabre side. Sometimes they got a snort out of me but dead babies just aren't funny. I felt that he was trying to beat me over the head with a 'Christmas message' stick when all I really needed was a laugh.

Anyway I also bought Me Talk Pretty One Day so I hope that one goes better.

Bought at library book sale.

BookBlips: vote it up!

Basil by Wilkie Collins: Review

So in our hands is the confession of Basil who is out on the west coast of England hiding from someone out to get him. It's all very hush, hush with fake names and the whole sha-bang. Basil starts his narrative telling us about his family, specifically his father who is super vain and proud of his lineage. Basil has an older brother and a sister too. More about them later.

One day Basil is on an ominbus and hot pretty girl walks in and sits down. He gets stalkerish, follows her home and skulks around her garden. He does a little sleuthing and finds out that the girl, Margaret Sherwin, is a wealthy linen draper's daughter. The Horror! Immediately he tells the girl he's going to marry her despite her station. Here's the problem:
  1. He's known her for 5 minutes.
  2. His father is going to freak out.
Basil suggests that he marry Margaret in secret, so he has time to break the news to his father. Margaret's dad isn't too pleased with this but agrees as long as Basil doesn't 'claim' her as his wife (wink, wink) for a year, at which time she'll be 18! This has bad idea written all over it but Basil is so smitten he doesn't care.

Basil spends his evenings with Margaret and her mother as chaperon. She doesn't seem to have much personality but he attributes this to her youth and her station. He figures he can mold her into the woman he wants her to be, so it's all good. Enter Mr Mannion, Mr Sherwin's clerk. He's an enigma. He has no past, no friends or family. No one knows anything about him but he has a strange power over everyone in the house.

The year is almost up and Basil still hasn't told his father of his marriage but he's optimistic. Then a scandalous event occurs and Basil is on the run. Then more secrets! and plot twists! right until the end.

The first half of Basil took me awhile to get into. The characters are one dimensional and the foreshadowing is rather obvious. At the beginning, Basil has a dream of a fair woman who makes him feel happy and a darker woman who scares him. The fair woman is clearly his sister and the darker one, Margaret. Clara is meek and gentle, blond and kind. In other words a perfect woman. I found this annoying. Basil himself annoyed me- he's such a schmuck and I didn't think anyone would marry a girl he just met without massive amounts of alcohol being involved. I don't think I'm the first one to feel that way. Collins is quite defensive in his Dedication. He insists such things happen in real life.


Basil touches on the Victorian fears of the classes intermarrying. The whole world will go hell in a hand basket if that happens! And when Basil marries Margaret, well, there you go. It's perfectly fine for his brother Ralph to have a middle class mistress though, as long as precious Clara isn't sullied by her presence.

Basil is quite the melodrama. People swoon, break out into cold sweats and fall into nervous fevers at the drop of a hat. The bad guy is seriously bad and there is sort of a chase scene. Ralph steals every scene he's in. He adds a little levity to the story. Despite all the negatives, the second half is fast paced and quite entertaining.

I suspect that Basil isn't Wilkie Collins best, but it's still pretty good.

Recommended

********************************

Drop by the Classics Circuit for more Collins tour stops.





BookBlips: vote it up!

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell: Review

When Elizabeth Gaskell was announced as the winner of the Classics Circuit, I saw the opportunity to finally read The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is my favorite book and Charlotte Bronte- actually the whole Bronte clan- is fascinating a person. However, I felt I didn't really know much about her except for bits and pieces.

The Life of Charlotte Bronte is written as much by Charlotte as it is by Gaskell. Much of her life is told in her own words through her letters to friends. It's actually quite heavy on the letters. I had to take frequent breaks from the book since I found it was hard to read letter after letter. Still, reading her own words is a something I appreciate. It gave me a view of her I never had before, both the good and bad.


Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell had plenty of source material to work from for the biography. To Ellen Nussey alone, Charlotte wrote over 500 letters. Gaskell could pick and choose what or what not to include. While I found she covered much of her life, I couldn't help but feel that much was left out. Her marriage to Arthur Nicholls mystifies me. She turned down three marriage proposals and says many times that she is content to be single. Yet, in her late 30's she agrees to marry her father's curate. None of her letters about him are glowing with love. She's very quiet about the whole thing. Gaskell herself is the one who says they were happy. I felt there was much missing from this part of her life.

As a biographer, Gaskell has a few disadvantages. First, she was a friend of Charlotte. This may seem like an advantage since she knew the woman and have first hand account of her. But, in fact, Gaskell has a conflict of interest. She has a loyalty to her friend, even though she had died. After reading The Life of Charlotte Bronte, I read the introduction by May Sinclair. It seems that Gaskell left out some embarrassing facts about her, like her crush on her married professor, M Heger.

Constantine Heger


Gaskell is also a novelist and as May Sinclair says in the introduction of novelists writing factual accounts:
"His imagination, that only knows itself as creative, has to become passive. There are moments when he must repress it entirely in the interests of truth. And yet there is the impossibility of keeping imagination altogether out of it."
She does get carried away at a few points and turns to down right editorializing when it comes to the fall of Branwell. He was Charlotte's brother, an opium addict, who nearly ruined the family with his debts before he died. Gaskell lays much of the blame at the feet of his married lover. She demonizes the woman when it's obvious that Branwell was no angel to begin with.

 Charlotte Bronte


Still, Gaskell provides a vivid picture of Charlotte. She's fiercely loyal to her family and friends. After the deaths of her two elder sisters as children, she takes the place of eldest sister to her motherless siblings. She clucks over them all like a mother hen. She was never separated from them for long until their deaths. The hardest letters to read are the ones during and after the deaths of Emily and Anne. They are heartbreaking letters. Within a year, Charlotte lost all her remaining 3 siblings.

After their deaths, Charlotte felt the responsibility of caring for her father alone. He didn't seem like the easiest person to care for and his failing eyesight didn't help matters. He required a lot of care. Even success as a writer didn't free her from this task, as Gaskell points out:
"a woman's principle work in life is hardly left to her own choice; nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents ever bestowed."
I'm sure many women today have similar feelings. No matter what career she has, there are always matters at home to take care of and it seems to always fall on the woman.

All through Charlotte's life, she suffered from nervous disorders. If she were alive today, she'd be on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications! I think much of this stems from her father's odd child rearing beliefs. The children were so lonely and isolated that by the time they went to school they were painfully awkward and shy. Charlotte was never comfortable in social situations and understandably this became worse after her last sisters' deaths. Her letters are riddled with references to her headaches and declining health. Was this real or imagined sickness?

After her marriage, Charlotte became pregnant and what little good health she had quickly deteriorated. She became violently ill with morning sickness (which for many women is 'all day sickness') and died either from the effects of it or pneumonia.

It's clear that Gaskell admired Charlotte Bronte as a person and a writer. She gives her praise and often there is a defensive tone in her writing. You wouldn't want to cross her. Glimpses of her own personality show through even though this is about her friend. This is my first Elizabeth Gaskell and I'm not sure if it's the right place to start but if you are a Bronte fan, I highly recommend it.

My thanks to the Classics Circuit for the opportunity to review The Life of Charlotte Bronte and my local library for the book.

***************************************

This is also a great choice for the All About the Brontes Challenge and the Women Unbound Challenge.

In Defense of Classics


Lately, people have been defending their favorite genres, especially from the much hated 'fluff' term. I read a lot of different things. Take a look around here. This year especially I've been reading outside my comfort zone. Some might even suggest many of those books fall into the fluffy category but my real love is classics. Yes, I read dead people.

Now most of the commenting on these blog posts are of the 'fill your boots' variety. People don't care what you  read, as long as you read. I agree with that but I'm also feeling people are quick to write off the classics. It's okay to diss classics but hands off everything else. I feel almost like people think I'm a literary snob for liking them. I'm starting to feel guilty about liking them and trying to defend them. I feel like people are taking what I'm saying the wrong way and it's frustrating.

Classics aren't just for pipe smoking guys in tweed jackets (pardon me if you like tweed jackets). They're for everyone. And here's the thing if you read one classic you haven't read them all. It's not a genre. If you read Jane Austen and hated it that doesn't mean you hate classics, it means you hate Jane Austen! There's a wide variety to choose from and you might have a favorite book that you don't even know is a classic.

Finding a definition for classic books is a hard one. I like this definition it's pretty much what I think but I'll tell you mine. I've been part of an online classics book club for years and are selections have a huge time range, and cross all genres. To qualify it must be at least 20 years old and be readily available to most members (I say most because it's not always easy to find even the common books everywhere). Meaning it's never gone out of print because if it hasn't there is a reason why.

So knowing this you got a lot of choices. Like sci-fi? Mary Shelley, HG Wells are for you. Romance? Gone with the Wind. Want to feel that your life is fantastic? Read Thomas Hardy- everybody dies. Women's issues? The Handmaid's Tale. New York society? Edith Wharton. Dystopian? 1984, Fahrenheit 451. Just want to have fun? The Three Musketeers. Young people making bad choices with little parental supervision? Wuthering Heights. There is something for every taste, 'literary,' 'fluff' whatever. Bleak House by Charles Dickens has spontaneous human combustion! For reals!

Want to try a classic? Tell me what you like and I'll make you a suggestion. If you don't like it, that's fine. I won't be too hurt. And it goes both ways. Do you feel that I'm missing out on something? Suggest it to me and I'll try to read it next year. But make it a good one. I only want your best picks.

Or you can tell me:

What is your favorite classic book?


BookBlips: vote it up!

Cranberry-Blueberry Muffins




These yummy muffins were a recipe I adapted from December's Homemakers magazine issue Sweet and Sour Bran Muffins. I made a few changes because of the ingredients I had at home. You could use any berries you have. They're really good right out of the oven and quick to make up. Perfect for breakfast.

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup Red Fife** flour (or whole wheat)
3/4 wheat germ
1/2 packed brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 salt

1 cup milk
1/4 vegetable oil
1 egg
juice of half a lemon + about tbsp of lemon zest

1/2 cup frozen cranberries (thawed & chopped)
1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Whisk dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately. Stir both together until combined. Fold in berries. Put batter in muffin cups. Bake in 350* F oven for 35 mins. Makes 14 muffins.
  
Enjoy!

**I used Red Fife because that's what I had. It is similar to Whole Wheat. The recipe calls for Whole Wheat.

BookBlips: vote it up!

All About the Brontes Challenge



Yes, shut up, I know I said I was going easy on the challenges but I couldn't pass this one up. I love the Brontes so I must do All About the Brontes hosted by Laura's Reviews. Besides it doesn't really start until January. I have buckets of time.

Here is my list for All About the Brontes:
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  • Either Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys or Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier (said to be inspired by Wuthering Heights)
  • Watch my Jane Eyre DVD again
I'm reading The Life of Charlotte Bronte now so I already have a head start. Yay me! Will you join me?


BookBlips: vote it up!

Louis Riel, A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown: Review

Okay, so I didn't know what to make of Louis Riel, A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown  when I started it. It's a biography in graphic novel form of Canadian hero/rebel Louis Riel, depending on your point of view. It seems like complicated material for a graphic novel. Can you really break this topic down into tiny black and white boxes?

I admit I don't know a lot about Louis Riel. I couldn't have been paying attention in history class. All I know is that people tend to get cranky whenever someone wants to put up a monument to Riel. He's a hero to some, a traitor to others. Riel was a Metis (a unique ethnic group with French and Native ancestry) in the Red River area of what is now Manitoba. When the Canadian government makes attempts to force the Red River Settlement to become part of Canada, the locals turn to Riel, an educated man with the ability to speak English to negotiate for them. That's when a tale of corruption, insanity, rebellion and racism begins.

Brown admits that he took some liberties though he points out that he makes note of this in the Notes sections. For awhile, I thought he would make Riel a Super Hero who can do no wrong but things got a little weird when he has a vision and believed he was a Prophet. At least, he became a fallible hero after this point. I wouldn't write a term paper with this book as my only source but it is an interesting look at the man. Brown suggests other books for those who are interested in reading more.

The art itself is simple and stark but also not intimidating for this Graphic Novel newbie. Even though it's a serious topic, there is dark humour throughout the book. And every time I saw guys on horses I smiled. (They just looked so cute! Yeah, that probably wasn't the intention.)

Anyway here's an example from the book:



Even though it's a fairly long book, I read most of it in one afternoon and I get to count it as a book for the Canadian Reading Challenge. Yay!

Recommended

Thanks Library.


BookBlips: vote it up!