November 29, 2011

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck: Review

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A gang of ne'er-do-wells in California after the Great War hang out in the house of their friend avoiding work and the law. Danny inherited two houses from his grandfather. One of those houses is burned down by his friends so they all pile into the remaining house. The guys have various adventures, drink a lot of wine and seduce any woman who will have them. Rinse and repeat.

That's pretty much how the plot rolls in John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat. The paisanos in Tortilla Flat fit well in the popular Guys Just Want to Have Fun canon, including The Three Musketeers, The Three Stooges, The Dukes of Hazzard, Harold and Kumar, and The Trailer Park Boys. Steinbeck relied on the King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table legend, arguably the genesis of that canon. Although the guys have many great adventures, they spend part of the time discussing their own brand of morality and deciding upon acts of chivalry. How these acts are accomplished is what gets them in trouble but at least their hearts are in the right place. 

I grew to love these guys, which is weird since I couldn't stand The Three Musketeers. Danny opens his home to anyone who needs a place to stay. Pilon is the philosopher of the gang, often rationalizing his actions in the name of the greater good. As the story progresses, the group grows larger, but the men see each other as great friends. They're always there for one another in their own peculiar ways. They may be poor but they are rich in friendship. Their antics are silly and entertaining. Unexplainable, mystical occurrences happen to them from time to time giving the story that mythic quality. I could tell that Steinbeck had great affection for his characters.

In the end, I was glad to have read Tortilla Flat, even though I had my doubts at the beginning. The reader can take it at face value as a comical story or one with a deeper meaning of friendship while struggling with poverty and hardship. It's no East of Eden but it is entertaining.

Recommended for Steinbeck lovers.

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November 28, 2011

The Lunenburg Werewolf and Other Stories of the Supernatural by Steve Vernon: Review

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I live in a province with a rich storytelling history. Nova Scotians have been swapping stories to impress their neighbours for ages. The more preposterous the story the better, especially if it can be told with a straight face. Some of the best stories are the ones involving the supernatural.

In The Lunenburg Werewolf and Other Stories of the Supernatural, Steve Vernon puts those tales on paper. In the title story, jealousy turns a man into a wolf. A werewolf isn't the only monster present in Nova Scotia. There is a Bigfoot (The Capstick Bigfoot) and a Bochdan (Beast of the Black Ground). A variety of people are terrorized by ghosts, and conversely comforted by them. There are selkies, witches, and phantom ships around every corner. And, of course, buried pirate treasure. 

Vernon starts each tale with an explanation of its origin, often there's more than one, before telling the story. He does so with style. These aren't stories written like they've been told by so-and-so's cousin. He gives each story a cast of characters with distinct personalities. Some of these are earnestly told stories with a tinge of heartbreak. Some are laugh out loud funny. And the last (Liam and the Lutin) is quite tongue in cheek. He sticks closest to "reality" in the stories that have been documented, like The Ghosts of Oak Island or The Haunting of Esther Cox. But I really enjoyed the stories where he let his imagination run wild. 

I'll discuss a couple of my favorites: The Quit-Devil and Beast of Black Ground. Okay, they're not just my favorites because they supposedly happened in Cape Breton, not totally, they're just very entertaining. In The Quit-Devil, a Glace Bay coal miner makes a deal with the devil to preserve his life. In the end, the man's sense of humour and work ethic wears the frustrated demon down. Beast of Black Ground involves two boys picking blueberries on cursed land in Grand Anse. The area is supposed to be guarded by a ferocious Celtic beast called a Bochdan. There's a twist at the end. 

Why I liked these stories the most is because of that combination of fear and humour. I could imagine the first person to tell each story with a twinkle in their eye. Vernon continues this entertaining tradition by putting his own spin on the tales. 

I highly recommend The Lunenburg Werewolf and just look at that cover. Beautiful and spooky!

Thanks to Nimbus Publishing for the review copy.

Ratings:


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November 27, 2011

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Snowy Thoughts

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Another Sunday, but not a lazy one. We have some things to attend to at our house today. When you're the mom of an active daughter, the holiday season is a busy one with concerts and Christmas fairs and all that jazz. Plus there's all the holiday preparations to take care of. My schedule over the next couple of weeks is a full one, as yours probably is too, but I'll still make time for reading.

I feel like I didn't accomplish much reading wise this week although I finished both a book and an audiobook. First, I read The Lunenburg Werewolf by Steve Vernon which is a collection of supernatural stories from Nova Scotia. I really ennjoyed it. I also listened to Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? That's a nice light one. I'll have reviews up for those soon.

I started Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple but saw I'm Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley on the library website so I'll probably read that next as I won't have it long.

We had a freak snowstorm this week. I heard we ended up with 40 cm of snow (I can't convert that for you non-metric people, sorry, but it's a lot). I don't know what it is about the first snow of the year here. It's like people had amnesia or there are a lot of visitors from snowless countries that day because no one knows how to drive in it that first time. It was only 6 months or so ago we had snow. Why do people forget how to drive in snow? This is Canada. It comes every year. Anyway the snow lasted briefly as now it's melting into a nice combo of muck and slush (mlush?).

Finally have you seen the latest from the Totally Hip Video Book Reviewer Ron Charles? All summary and no analysis makes Ron a dull reviewer. Something to remember.




Oh and December 3rd I'll have a  holiday themed post up for the Virtual Advent Tour. Hope you drop in for that. Also on that day Amanda is hosting a readathon just for kicks.

Happy Sunday!

November 22, 2011

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto: Review

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Shelley's husband Max died in an explosion (I'm assuming it was terrorism) a few years ago. She's still trapped in her grief. One day a stranger with her husband's face shows up and claims to be Max's grandson Paolo. He's in his 30s which also happens to be the age Max was. Of course, this is impossible. What else is impossible is his claim that Max is alive and living on a tropical island

Shelley doesn't believe him but decides to go along with the delusion and hops on a plane with him. Along the way, she tells Paolo how she met Max when she signed up for his European tour. Together they realize that the strange history lessons he gave with the tour were his own personal recollections of his past lives. As Shelley shares his stories they get a better sense of the man he really was.

OK.

I didn't have a problem suspending disbelief for Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto. That was the easy part for me. How I felt about Shelley and Max, however, is a different story. I never really bought into their everlasting love. For me, Max was a more interesting person in his previous incarnations. Modern Max was just a guy obsessed by chickens. I know that's weird because they are the same person but that's how it was for me. As for their love, all I saw was a guy who talked too much and a girl who did very little. I guess they were in love because they were in love and I was supposed to just get that. My feelings for Max and Shelley have a great impact on my feelings for the ending.

The ending. I have this friend who adores love songs while I hear one and think, 'Barf.' The way I look at it, depending on whether you are like my friend or like me will determine how you feel about the end. I was hoping it was going in another direction, but it went where it did and I can't decide how I feel about it. It's either romantic or really messed up. I'm leaning toward messed up, not Black Swan messed up, but messed up. 

I'm a swan, not a chicken.
BUT. I absolutely loved those stories of the past. I couldn't get enough of them. When one story ended, I couldn't wait for the next one. It was in these stories that Max's personality really came through. Samantha Sotto creates such a vivid sense of place and time. If she ever publishes an honest to goodness historical novel, I am there. She needs to work on those metaphors though (I was sure that elephant was real).

So, the romantic elements didn't work for me but the historical ones did.

Advance copy from Crown Publishing Group via Shelfawareness. Thanks.

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November 20, 2011

Mind Over Mussels by Hilary MacLeod: Review

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Another trip to The Shores and another murder. This time washed up actor Lance Lord is found on the beach with an axe wound to the head. With a hurricane barrelling down the coast, it's a race for the police to gather evidence before it all gets washed away.

Jane Jamieson heads this case; it's a chance to get herself to Toronto where the real crime happens. The odds are against her as she races across the causeway to the crime scene. On the scene is Hy McAllister. She literally fell over the body while jogging. Her camera may hold the only clues to a murder. 

The usual suspects aren't so usual: a feuding neighbour (now missing), a fitness guru and his companion, and two ex-wives with wildly differing personalities. Jamieson tries to go by the book but nothing at The Shores ever goes by the book. She finds herself conducting an investigation from a community hall during a fundraising ceilidh. Hy is doing some investigating of her own. Some not quite police approved investigating. Who will catch a killer first?

Despite the title, mussels play a minor role in Mind Over Mussels, unlike the first book Revenge of the Lobster Lover. In this second instalment, I learned more about the characters. I'm loving how Jane Jamieson sticks with her 'just the facts ma'am' approach in such a tightly knit community. It looks like a losing battle though. And what is the deal with Hy and Ian? Are they going to admit they like each other or what? Hy has seeeecrets and I wonder what she's keeping from us.

To read Mind Over Mussels, the reader must keep an open mind (punny!) and a loose grip on reality. The victim is found in Jimi Hendrix gear, for goodness sake, and whole Mind Over Muscles theory is kinda out there. So yeah, silliness! I sometimes thought too hard about that theory and it took me out of the story.

Mind Over Mussels is a good read if you're looking for something a bit different. Although I enjoyed Revenge of the Lobster Lover more, this is a good second and I look forward to seeing where the series goes next.

Thanks to Acorn Press for the review copy.

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Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Whisky and Books

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Happy Windy Sunday, Peeps! It is blustering. Any moment I expect a plump yellow bear in a red t-shirt to fly by my window holding an umbrella. I am tucked away safe inside my house.

This weekend is loads better than last weekend, which doesn't take much because any weekend not involving a funeral has got to be better than one with one. However, this weekend involved whisky. After reading this article, I felt I must drink my share in protest (Canadian Club is my whisky of choice). My head was only mildly angry this morning. Some of the comments annoy me, especially ones from both males and females implying that drinking whisky (or any hard liquor) is unladylike. Poo.

In bookery news, used books were purchased at the library sale. I needed 2 trips to be truly sure I found the best of the best. Many of the books bought were for the girl.



She's been reading the first Harry Potter late into the night. I think I have a fan on my hands. I told her I would read it after she did so we could talk about it. Good old Harry.

Of my books, I was happy to find The Republic of Nothing by Lesley Choyce as it's been on my 'want list' for some time. Agatha Christie is never a bad buy. I have no idea what the Bronte novel will be like but I could not resist a book with that as a title. The last purchase was La Tulipe Noire by Alexandre Dumas. As much as I love Dumas, I cannot read French as well as I would like. I was thinking of using it for an altered book project, found here on Pinterest. I am having my doubts about it now though since I have such issues defacing books, especially old ones.

That's about it for me this Sunday. Think I'll go have some tea and curl up with Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto. Enjoy the rest of the day!


November 15, 2011

Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (audiobook): Review

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Often when people think of modern vampire fiction they think of a seductive male leading females astray. In Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale, it is a female who attempts to lure another young lady to her doom

Laura is telling this story of her encounters with a young woman she knew as Carmilla. Laura lives a sheltered life with only her father and two governesses for company. She was about to gain a friend when her father's old buddy and his ward come for a visit. However, days before they are expected, Laura learns she has died under mysterious circumstances. After hearing this Laura is in the doldrums; then a carriage crashes right in front of the estate. A lady and her daughter emerge from the wreckage. The lady is okay but in a rush to get to her business which is all very hush-hush. Her daughter Carmilla is dazed and the lady begs Laura's father to take her in. How can a gentleman refuse? 

Laura makes fast friends with the beautiful young lady. She has the feeling that Carmilla is a little off- she's secretive, lethargic, talks trash about the peasants, really clingy- but still can't wait to see her everyday. During this time, there are several deaths in the village, all blamed on an illness. Laura herself isn't feeling so good and a doctor is called. Then an unexpected visitor arrives with a startling story.

Carmilla is a novella, all of 3 hours of listening time. It was a perfect book for Halloween. I've been burnt out on the recent vampire trend. Going old school and reading this early gothic vampire story is the cure. Bram Stoker was inspired by it and it resembles the Lucy part of Dracula. Actually Carmilla is a much better version with less swooning and histrionics. Thankfully there aren't 4 men droning on and on about the ladies' precious virginity.

Le Fanu has a way with prose and the writing is quite luscious, even better is that it's read by Megan Follows. Carmilla is the most interesting character in the story with the best dialogue.
"But to die as lovers may - to die together, so that they may live together. Girls are caterpillars when they live in the world, to be finally butterflies when the summer comes; but in the meantime there are grubs and larvae, don't you see - each with their peculiar propensities, necessities and structures.” 

Laura's vanilla pudding in comparison. Much of the conversations between the two girls reminded me of the ones had between Louis and Lestat in Interview with the Vampire.

Which brings me to the lesbian overtones of the story. It's mentioned in just about every article referring to Carmilla. It's hard for a modern reader not to see it when Carmilla says things like this to Laura: "Darling, darling," she murmured, "I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so." But was that Le Fanu's intention when he wrote it in 1872? Carmilla's attachment is almost parasitic; she clings to Laura and imposes her will upon her. It does fall in with vampire lore that they use their sexuality to dazzle and charm their victims. For Laura's part, Carmilla's affection makes her uncomfortable at first, but gradually becomes more accepting. She's quite naive and a little stupid. It takes her nearly to the end of the story to put 2 and 2 together.

Carmilla is short but beautifully written. I had several questions that left me thinking about the story's conclusion long after I was done. I'll be looking for more Le Fanu to read.

About the Audio: Megan Follows, Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables miniseries, does a beautiful reading the the book. She has excellent enunciation. There is a sample on the webpage for the book. I'll be listening to it again in the future.

This was a free audiobook on Halloween from AudioGO. It's only $5.97 right now.

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November 14, 2011

Short Story: Susan and Father Christmas

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I mentioned Persephone Books Biannually yesterday and after reading one of the stories in it, "Susan and Father Christmas" by Mollie Panter Downes, I had some thoughts I wanted to share. For a story written in 1938 it is quite modern.

In the story, Susan is a little girl anxiously awaiting Father Christmas to fill her stocking. Nanny is participating in the festivities by hanging holly and a cardboard bell. Susan's Mom, Mrs Ramsey, is not impressed. She "read in a book that children should not be confused by untruthful fairytales." She tries to convince Susan that Santa isn't real but Susan isn't buying it.

The story is told from Mrs Ramsey's point of view, which is a bit different because aren't we supposed to empathize with little Susan who just wants to believe in magic? Instead, I felt sorry for Mrs Ramsey, even though she's a stick in the mud. Nanny and Susan obviously have a relationship that leaves her on the outside. She even fantasizes that if she fired Nanny, she and Susan would be the best of pals. 

Mrs R has good intentions; she reads the books and wants to protect Susan from "the horrors" of the hypocrisy she experienced as a child. I think that's what made me feel bad for her. She's trying her best, or what she thinks is best, and yet it's not right for Susan. Susan is a different kid and needs her to play along with the fantasy. Mrs R just isn't getting it. I could to relate to her in that respect. She's just a mom trying to do what's right and getting it wrong.

It's that time of year again when Santa is everywhere and the kids start to think about him more seriously. I know my girl is getting a little old for Santa and I suspect she knows the truth but doesn't want to give up that belief yet. As long as she wants me to keep it up, I will. I'm still scarred from the Tooth Fairy incident.

Susan and Father Christmas was published on December 24, 1938 in The New Yorker and reprinted in The Persephone Biannually Autumn/Winter 2011-12.

November 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Little Bits

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Happy Sunday, All! I'm recharging after a very long, stressful weekend. Now it's back to normal and time to get back on track.

I didn't get much reading done but the husband and I did get out to see The Rum Diary. We liked it. It's a very grown up movie. We were 2 of 9 people in the theatre to see it though!

In other news, the Persephone Books Biannually arrived in the mail. It's so pretty (I meant to take a picture but time got away from me. Bellezza has one on this post) and there are so many articles to read. Can't wait to spend more time with it. Just after this came, I had the weirdest dream in which my downtown had a Persephone Books store. I was so excited but as in many dreams when I went to find it again, the store had disappeared. Sad.

Also in the mail arrived The Lunenburg Werewolf from Nimbus Publishing. Can't wait to read it on a dark and stormy night.


Finally, have you heard? The Virtual Advent Tour for 2011 sign ups are open. I have my date already: December 3rd! So excited about it! I've done it every year. I'm already looking for ideas.

I was going to post about the latest Twitter feud but I've had enough drama this week. Le sigh. Move along, nothing to see here. Maybe that's what someone should have said on Twitter too.


November 10, 2011

India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K Carr: Review

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India Black, don't ever change.

In the second book of the series, India Black and the Widow of Windsor, India and French are undercover once again this time to save the life of a queen. Queen Victoria has been persuaded to spend the Christmas season in Scotland where her enemies plan to end her reign and her life. India and French are incognito to smoke out the would-be assassins. When a couple of near misses bring them no closer to the identity of their quarry, they start worrying that next time will be dead on.

India Black is just as straight forward and tough as ever. She has a colourful way of expressing herself and giving her opinions on everyone from her 'bints' to the Queen of England. She doesn't have any sexy times in this one though she does have a tangle with Prince Albert (Bertie). The heat between her and French gets cranked up a bit. I think he's got a secret. Hmm, we shall see.

India scrambles around the story following suspicious dudes while posing as a lady's maid for an feisty elderly countess. When she's not finding secret passageways, she's reading Bible stories. Quite a change for India. It was fun reading and wondering if she could hold her tongue. 

I ripped through India Black and the Widow of Windsor over a day or two. It was great fun and left me wanting more. I can't wait for the next book in the series to see where the India/French relationship is going to go. 

If you enjoyed the first India Black novel, you'll like India Black and the Widow of Windsor too. I think it's even better.

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Thanks local library digital site! This is the first ebook I borrowed and read on my ereader.

November 8, 2011

"Etsy Love" Gift Guide

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I've started thinking about my online Christmas shopping already. Since the mail can be fickle, the earlier the better. One year I received a package the day before Christmas Eve. I was you-know-what-ing bricks. I vowed not to get myself in that situation again by ordering early.

I've found a lot of interesting things on Etsy throughout the year, the problem is I often forget to bookmark them for later. I remembered that many of the things I liked I also featured for Etsy Love in my Friday Bookish Buzz posts. I post them and then forget about them. I went back through those posts and I had an idea.


Ever since I found Pinterest, I've been adding new 'pins' to my boards nearly everyday. I've discovered that it's a great way to make lists. Lists of recipes to try, or projects to start. Why not put my Friday links on a board? Today I'll share a year's worth of Etsy Love links as a virtual pinboard with all of you. It's a Book Lover's Gift Guide. Maybe you'll find something to give a loved one or something for yourself this holiday season. Or maybe you'll find a gift for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap partner.

Click this Image!


Disclaimer: I have not been compensated by any of these sellers to be featured in the gift guide. I may have ordered a few items from the sellers listed but the majority of them I haven't done any business with. Always read the shop policies and feedback before ordering.

Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

November 7, 2011

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (audiobook): Review

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Thankfully an audiobook version of Zone One by Colson Whitehead, a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, does not involve sound effects of brains being munched. Actually I'm not sure if brains were partaken of. Fingers, yes.

Anyway...

Mark Spitz (not his real name, obviously) admits to being mediocre. He was mediocre in school, at work, and in life. He neither excelled nor failed. That all changed on Last Night. Last Night was the last night life was normal. That night every survivor had an experience that sent them running. A virus spread all over the world, turning it's victims into flesh-eating corpses. People either became the Dead or survived to live until the Dead caught up with them. Mark Spitz found that he excelled at one thing: surviving. The Dead might have caught up with many people, but not him.

Years after Last Night, Mark Spitz works as part of a clean up crew. He and his partners find the Stragglers, Skels (zombies) who for some peculiar reason are stuck in an ordinary scene of their lives, completely motionless. Mark Spitz has his theories. For now he tags them and bags them, as the new government works to clean up New York City, returning it to its former glory. It's part of a new optimistic outlook on the post-apocalyptic world. But can life ever go back to the way it was? Will it ever be over? Mark Spitz sees the danger in thinking too far ahead. Looking ahead can get you killed.

My very first Colson Whitehead and it involved zombies. Of course this isn't your garden variety zombie story. Even without trying I knew this was and wasn't about zombies. How many people now these moments of "before" and "after"? September 11, Hurricane Katrina, wars, tsunamis. It's the same for the people of Zone One. They remember the details of the moment their lives went from normal to what it is now. Echoes of these modern disasters are sprinkled throughout the novel. Things that made me go "hmmm..., what is he really saying here?" It's smart and at times satiric. The new government spouts nonsense mottos, hands out 'no-no cards', and enters into questionable agreements with industries.

Mark Spitz is an Everyman. He's average in every way, middle class and a bit of a slacker, exceptional in only that he is good at survival. Maybe the reason he's still alive has a lot to do with luck but he's also good at sizing up a situation. I liked Mark Spitz despite himself. He's stand offish and sarcastic. (What is his problem with Connecticut anyway?)

Then there's the Skels, particularly the Stragglers. Why are they still? Are they waiting for something? There is something disturbing about how the survivors pick off these seemingly harmless victims of the virus. But what else are they to do with them?

Zone One wasn't always easy to follow as it flickered in and out of the present time, to Mark's past before and after Last Night. It requires patience since a name or incident will be mentioned casually and it could be awhile before the reader finds out the significance of that scene or an explanation given. It's worth it though. It takes some time but the tension builds to an interesting conclusion. I hope Mark Spitz is still out there, making it through.

I highly recommend Zone One for anyone looking for a smart post-apocalyptic story.

About the Audio: Zone One is read by Beresford Bennett. He has a deep, masculine voice. All the men sound like butt-kickers but the ladies end up sounding like Marilyn Monroe with breathy voices. It's kinda funny.

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November 6, 2011

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: More Time

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If you're like me, you live in a part of the world that participated in Falling Back this morning. By setting back our clocks, we gained an extra hour today. How will you spend it? Sleeping in? Reading in bed another hour?

While we're on the subject of time, there are 56 days left of this year. Goodreads has been kind enough to tell me how many books I need to read to make my goal of 100 books read this year. I have 22 books to read to meet that goal. That's 3 books a week. The way things are going I don't think I'll make it. Well, no one is going to take me out back and shoot me if I don't. I set that goal myself, mostly because I've come close to 100 other years but didn't quite make it. It seemed doable in January 2011. I'm not usually interested in numbers but having it written down and in my face every time I log in makes a difference. I give it a sidelong glance as I update my books page.

At your current pace, you're 6 books (7%) behind.

Thanks, Goodreads. You're a pal.

What about you? Did you set a reading goal for the year? Will you reach it? Does it matter to you?

We had a little bit of snow yesterday, the first snow of the year, and while it all melted, it did make me think of Christmas. I try to buy books for people if I can but it's getting harder. I'm so particular about my own books, how can I pick someone a book I know they are going to love? My nieces and friend's kids are the most difficult. I don't know what they have or what they like. I'm thinking it's gift certificates for them. I'm fairly certain about the girl though, as long as she doesn't download them from the library first.

As for me, I'm asking Santa Baby for a Kobo Vox. They look so shiny. Anyone buy one yet?

Let's return to the present. I'm reading India Black and the Widow of Windsor. I'm enjoying this series. It's funny and just a teeny bit raunchy. I also started Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. Not sure what to make of it yet.

In the mail, The Doll by Daphne du Maurier arrived for a blog tour in December and an unsolicited mystery titled Red Means Run arrived.

How was your reading week?


November 3, 2011

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy: Blogher Book Club

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In times where political candidates try to outshine the other guy with their claims of purity, it's hard to imagine a world leader not just admitting to a scandalous sexual past but never apologizing for it. This is Theodora of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy.

Theodora eventually becomes Empress of the Roman Empire but her beginnings were not only humble, they were brutal. Theodora is basically sold by her mother to a dancing master after her father is mauled to death by his trained bear when she's just 6 years old. After years of excruciating training, she's then sold to a another company/brothel. She's not even thirteen. From here she sets out to carve her own path in life. She gains fame as a top notch performer, on stage and in the bedroom, before travelling to Africa with a Roman soldier. Things don't go so well and she ends up on the run in Egypt. It is here Theodora undergoes a spiritual change, finally finding herself and God. Although she wished to discard a life of selling her body, she is about to be used by men in a very different way. 

Theodora is a fascinating, often contradictory, character. I know very little about the real Theodora, although it seems that no one knows the truth about her anyway. There is much propaganda written about her and depending on what side the writer is on she's either a saint or a sinner. Stella Duffy portrays her as a fallible human being with a keen instinct for survival. She finds her salvation in the desert but isn't foolish enough to think the world has changed. Men are still men, and pursue their ambitions as ruthlessly as ever.

Stella Duffy did an excellent job of creating a character the reader can root for. She's a rags to riches gal. Part of her appeal for the people of Constantinople is that she is one of them. She knows like no one else what it means to live hand to mouth. I mentioned the word brutal and much of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is brutal. Selling a child into slavery isn't pretty and Theodora endures abuse from just about everyone. Since Theodora starts off the book having sex with nearly anyone, it's no surprise that those 
occasions in the book are treated as almost routine. It's just the way it is. This might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Although I enjoyed Theodora as a strong female character, I found it easy to put down, especially after Theodora returns to Constantinople. The book becomes much more political and slowed down a lot for me. Still, I feel like I want to know more about Theodora now!

Recommended
Did you know?

November 14 is the Eastern Orthodox Church's Saint's Day for Justinian and Theodora.
Throughout November Blogher Book Club will host discussions about Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore. Please join us there for more about this book.

*This is a Blogher sponsored review. Opinions expressed are my own.

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November 2, 2011

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Review

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Aldous Huxley, what is your deal? I don't know what happened during that whole last half of Brave New World. It was just...weird. And not in a good way.

I've read some classic dystopian novels that left me with a racing pulse and a brain that I'm sure grew as I read (1984, Fahrenheit 451) but Brave New World just left me thinking, "WTF?" This Better Book Title sums it up.

Anyway, it's the future and everyone is born in a bottle (not the Jim Croce song), and takes happy pills, and has lots of sex, and worships Ford, and plays Escalator Tennis. That's life. Everyone has their place. Then some guy screws it up by thinking about how he doesn't really fit in. He might be considered the hero except he's such a douche nugget that I really didn't care what he did. He finds a "savage" who worships God and wants a wife and babies and generally poo-poos everything about this Brave New World. And it all comes apart after that.

I'm not sure what to make of Brave New World. It's supposed to be a parody but takes itself very seriously, although at times it's inadvertently silly. (Escalator Tennis, anyone?) And while I don't mind authors using a character's speech, or in the case of 1984 a book within the book, to make a point, I found the awkward conversation near the end just plain preachy.

In my copy, Huxley looks back 20 years after writing the book and admits that it wasn't perfect but he wasn't willing to rewrite it. Maybe he should have.

I'm glad to have read this artifact of the dystopian genre but there are much better examples out there. Do you have a favorite? 

Ratings:

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November 1, 2011

Challenge Roundup: October

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This should actually be called RIP VI Roundup since that's all I read for challenges this month.

Let's have a look-see.

RIP VI

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian 
4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

All totaled I read 10 books (that I reviewed), and 3 short stories. I not only met the challenge that challenge got served!* I have 2 more RIP audiobooks to be reviewed so more like 12. That's the most I've read for RIP VI and I enjoyed every minute of it. There were so many great books to be read this year!

Anyway that was a lot of fun! Let's do it all again next year. (Links to the RIP books reviewed last month can be found in this post.)

Sadly, I have neglected The 5th Canadian Books Challenge but I plan on changing that soon.


*Please note, Chrisbookarama does not endorse reading challenges as competitions. Reading Challenges are for personal entertainment purposes only. Please play responsibly. If you or someone close to you has a reading challenge problem, seek help. Or don't: reading is good for you! Also eat your veggies and sit up straight.