December 31, 2011

100 Books and What Santa Brought

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I did it! 100 books in 2011. Goodreads provides this handy little graphic on members' Stats page. I love the visual. Most of the books I read were 4 stars with 9 books marked as 5 stars. That's some good readin'. 

From this graphic, I see that I borrowed a lot of books thanks to my great library. I'm so lucky to have such a resource close at hand and now with digital borrowing it's even better. I'd like to make the Canadian piece of the pie bigger in 2012.


The ebook slice of the pie is a nice size and I suspect that it will be bigger this time next year. Santa left a Kobo Touch under the tree for me! I'm enjoyed using it this week while reading Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt. It's taking some getting used to and I'm still figuring it out but I'm liking it. 

I also got a couple of books for Christmas too: Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy (I loved Everything Beautiful Began After, it was a 5 star) and Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes (a Persephone book).

We had a wonderful Christmas here. It was a white Christmas which was a nice surprise. The day before Christmas Eve it started snowing. It was beautiful. My family and I took a walk while it snowed. It was a wonderful quiet moment before the season really began. We've been busy ever since. 

December 24
Sometime soon I'll make my own Best Of 2011 list (I've seen a few around already) but for now I just want to wish you all a...

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2011

The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason: Review

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After Melwyk from The Indextrious Reader reviewed The Town That Drowned, I grabbed it as soon as I saw it at the library. It has to be one of my favorite books from 2011.

Ruby lives in a small town in New Brunswick near the Saint John River with her parents and her little brother Percy. She's not looking forward to starting the new school year. Her cousin and best friend moved over the summer. In fact, she was her only friend and the one person saving her from relentless bullying. Ruby is known as the girl with the weird brother and after an incident where she fell through ice last winter, she has a reputation for strangeness herself now too.

You would think crashing into freezing water would gain sympathy, not scorn, but something else happened when Ruby fell through the ice. She had a vision of her town underwater while people she knew floated by. She called out to those people when she was half unconscious. Now she gets picked on because of it.

It seems that some of Ruby's vision is coming true when government surveyors come to town. A new dam will raise the river around the town and engulf much of it. This news rocks the townspeople. What will happen to them all? Where will they go?

Although Ruby's story is fictional, it's based on real events. In the 1960's, people's homes were moved for a dam to be built in New Brunswick. The Town That Drowned realistically portrays a town dealing with this upheaval and the emotions they bring out. The townspeople are afraid, angry, defiant, suspicious, and even resigned. Ruby's father works in an unrelated department of the government and when a couple of trouble makers start gossiping, Ruby's family become pariahs. 

It's not all doom and gloom though. They still have their loyal friends, like neighbours Miss Stairs and Mr Cole. Over the two years that the dam is being built, changes come into Ruby's life. Her family make their own preparations and worry over Percy's reaction. His eccentricities include an aversion to change. With everyone moving, an antiques dealer and his son Troy come to make a few deals. Troy steals Ruby's heart. 

The Town That Drowned is Riel Nason's debut novel and she did a fantastic job finding a voice for Ruby. I loved this clever teen. I'm reluctant to let her and her family go. Ruby's dad reminds me a bit of Atticus Finch. He's a good man. The Town That Drowned is a quiet little novel, a coming of age story. There are triumphs and tragedies. I had such an emotional reaction to the events that happen to the characters. They were so real to me. And the ending is so hopeful and uplifting. 

Highly recommended. Thanks Mel for bringing it to my attention.

PS- I love the cover. The image comes from this Flickr set. It's so appropriate. 

Ratings:

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December 29, 2011

Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain: Review

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This is an odd little story. My feelings on Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain are all over the place.

David Wilson is a lawyer who had the unfortunate luck to be heard saying something smart-assed when he moved to the town of Dawson's Landing. The people who heard him took it the wrong way and nicknamed him Pudd'nhead. His practice is doomed. He also has a peculiar hobby, collecting fingerprints. 

At the same time, Roxy has a baby and also must take care of the master's son Thomas Driscoll. Roxy has a scare which makes her realize that her son Chambers, a slave and 1/32 black, could be sold down the river at any time. It's a desperate action but she switches Chambers with Thomas. "Thomas" grows into a spoiled, self-centred young man whose greed leads to crime.

Pudd'nhead Wilson is as much about perception as it is about slavery. Puddn'head is perceived to be stupid when he is quite clever. It is his smarts that find the real criminal. Then there are the two babies who resemble one another, despite one being a slave and the other the son of a slave owner, that they are interchangeable. However, one is doomed to be a slave because his mother was born a slave, and her mother, and so on. As far as anyone knows, Chambers is Thomas and vice versa. Even when Chambers finds out his real parentage, his perception of himself changes, for a short time at least.

I mentioned being torn by this book. I wanted Roxy's boy to grow and thrive but he turns into such a huge jerk. Especially to his own Mom. Maybe it's forgiveable (but not really) when he doesn't know who she is to him but then he finds out and... ugh. He is terrible to her. I even have conflicting feelings towards Roxy. She has such a difficult decision to make and then does the only thing she has the power to do. Later though she does some questionable things for questionable reasons. She's probably the most complex of the characters.

Puddn'head Wilson is a combination of the tragic and the comic. It's hard to know how to take it. But I guess that's Mark Twain.

Recommended

Ratings:


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December 27, 2011

The Giver by Lois Lowry: Review

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What can be said about The Giver by Lois Lowry? This is what good young adult fiction is. And it's dystopian!

Jonas lives in a community where everything is carefully regulated and all choices are made for people. They are told when to sleep, what to eat, when to exercise, even who to marry. The people are kept in a state of near childishness where bad things are kept from them. They are married but not really 'married.' They do not have their own children but ones are chosen for them to raise. They have little attachment to each other. The smooth running of the community is everything and anything unpredictable could upset the balance of things. Even strong emotions.

Jonas is becoming a Twelve, which means his career is being chosen for him. Everyone is shocked when he is picked to be the next Receiver: a complicated position which requires one person remembering the history of all the world, including the painful stuff, and keep it from the other people. It's a bit of a mind bender but you'll get it. The present Receiver is now the Giver because he gives Jonas his memories. Of course Jonas's mind is opened to a whole new way of thinking and feeling. A way that his family and friends can't relate to. You can only imagine what this does to him.

The Giver is what Brave New World could have been if it was good. The worlds are similar, except for the fetus tinkering. Love and bonding are suppressed by drugs. Life is mapped out for the people. I can see why The Giver is aimed at kids just entering their teens. At this point in their lives, they are becoming separate from their parents and making more and more decisions for themselves. The Giver teaches them that yes, making decisions isn't always easy and you will make mistakes but the alternative is... this. Also, there are a lot of bad things in the world but it is better to face them than hide from them. 

The ending is ambiguous but, when you think about it, perfect. How better to prove the point of the story by making the reader choose the ending?

I was surprised to read that The Giver has been challenged and called "the suicide book." This clearly is a case of 'context is everything.' A society that chooses suicide as a solution to problems is a doomed one. Anyone who read The Giver can draw that conclusion. 

Ratings:

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December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

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A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS


I hope Santa has something good in that cup to keep him warm! May he bring you all lots of great books tomorrow night.

Merry Christmas!

I won't be around much since all be eating all the things and helping the girl play with her new stuff but I will have a couple of reviews up next week. Then A WHOLE NEW YEAR! Have a good one!

December 22, 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James: Review

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Yes, another Pride and Prejudice fan fiction novel. If only Jane Austen were alive to rake in the royalties. But wait! What is this? Written by P.D. James! Well, now, that's different.

The night before the famous Lady Anne's Ball (now hosted by the present Darcys, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth) a hired coach tumbles into the drive and Lydia Wickam rushes out. Barely coherent, she babbles on about shots being fired and how Wickam is surely dead. The Darcys get more sense from the coachman: Wickam and his friend Denny barrelled off into the woods. Shots were heard, then Mrs Wickam went into hysterics. 

Darcy, a young lawyer friend, and Colonel FItzwilliam (just returned from a ride) form a search party, prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. What they find is Denny dead and Wickam hovering over the body, crying and wailing that he's killed his only friend. Before long, the law comes for Wickam and he's on trial for his life.

Death Comes to Pemberley could be retitled: Law & Order, Pemberley Unit. This audiobook just needed that iconic Bong! Bong! for every scene change. I wasn't thrilled by the book. There was a lot of set up before the story really began. I didn't mind most of that actually. It was fun hearing what the neighbours thought of the Darcy romance and what happened to the characters after the marriage. After Denny's body is found, the story takes a turn. Elizabeth is hardly in it after this. Darcy takes over the show. Not that he does much more than observe the courtroom drama.

James sticks close to that Regency style of writing but it was repetitive. A couple of times I thought, "Didn't I already hear this?" and that Epilogue was tedious. As for the characters, Colonel Fitzwilliam has turned into an arrogant douche nozzle. Lydia is the most annoying person the world but I couldn't believe she could be as bad as she is here. The Darcys are as dull as dirt.

I just went back to Goodreads and rated it lower while writing this as I now realize how disappointed I was by Death Comes to Pemberley. I've never read any P.D. James but I suspect she has done better. Maybe my hopes were too high.

About the Audio: The performance from Rosalyn Landor is the best part of the story. Her voices and accents were very entertaining.

Ratings:

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December 20, 2011

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg: Review

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Sisters Miranda and Olivia embark on a week's vacation to Barcelona and choose to stay at a hostel. A few months previous Olivia had a mental breakdown the day she was supposed to head to college. This vacation is Miranda's attempt to get Olivia back on her feet.

A mistake when booking lands them in the dorm instead of a private room. Miranda tackles the language barrier but fails to persuade the manager to get them what they planned for. Mr Brown, kind older man, offers his and his son's room to them but Miranda is skeptical of his generosity especially when she learns he's a Southern preacher. He's got to be up to something, right? Especially since Miranda's new acquaintance Lenny harbours such a prejudice against the Browns.

Over the week, Miranda and Olivia tour the city making their own discoveries and their own disastrous mistakes.

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg was inspired by E.M. Forster's A Room With View, which I never read. I seem to remember bits of the movie from when I was a kid. Anyway, I am glad because I'm sure it would have influenced my reading of this book. I'm not sure how it would stand up to comparison and I liked this one all on its own.

I've read some negative reviews of The Queens of All the Earth, some of whom tagged it "Romance." Perhaps they were expecting a 'kissing book.' There is some kissing but it's not a romance. In fact, it's more of a psychological study of two sisters with abandonment issues.

Their father abandoned them years ago and has recently died. Their mother, the academic, had little interest in raising them. She takes a laissez faire attitude toward parenting and has few maternal instincts. When Olivia has her breakdown, she makes a statement similar to, "Oh well, she had a breakdown. She'll be fine in a few months. Ta-ta! I'm off to be all anthropologist-ish now." Miranda takes over the role as parent to Olivia, to the Extreme! She's so overbearing and suffocating, planning naps for the girl who is 18 years old. I know her mental state is fragile but back off a bit.

Olivia, for her part, seems content to be pushed around by Miranda even though she disagrees with some of her decisions, particularly the decision to distance themselves from the gentle Browns for the company of the arrogant travel writer Lenny. Lenny is so judgemental and opinionated, thinking of herself as an expert on every topic. Miranda might consider herself more worldly than her sister but she's a terrible judge of character.

While this is a coming of age story of a girl with problems, there was not the current tendency to describe teenaged angst through pages of self-flagellating navel gazing. Olivia's pain is expressed metaphorically, sometimes as a dream about a favorite tree outside her bedroom window at home. The reader doesn't have to suffer through rending of garments to get the point.

There are often dreamy, lyrical passages and vivid descriptions of Barcelona. If you're looking for a fast plot and a tidy ending, look elsewhere. If you want a slowly told story about finding yourself, then The Queens of All Earth is for you.

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Thanks to Harrison Demchick from Bancroft Press for the review copy.

December 19, 2011

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple: Review

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Ellen North is busy, happy housewife living in the country outside of London in the 1950s. If she has one complaint, it's that it's hard to find good help in the country. Her kids are off doing their own thing and her husband is a successful publisher. Ellen keeps a nice house, and a neat garden. When she can, she visits her mother-in-law Mrs North. The visits aren't enough for Mrs North, though you can't blame Ellen for forgetting about her. She's a hard woman to please and spends most of her time complaining about her family.

Mrs North decides to show them all a thing or two and hires a French girl, Louise, as a companion. Louise is quick to ingratiate herself with Mrs North, often at the expense of Ellen. The family doesn't think much of Louise who is snobbish and rude but Mrs North loves her. 

Louise is a spoiled, self-absorbed young woman of humble origins from a small town in France. After her rich boyfriend dumps her for a more socially acceptable partner, Louise takes herself to England. Like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, she wants more than this provincial life. Too bad for the Norths that she sees herself as an Emma Bovary.


I don't know if this next section is spoilery or not. It's kinda obvious where things are going from the beginning. However, if you are someone who likes to know nothing about a book then you should stop right here because I'm going to talk about Someone at a Distance A LOT. Anyway, just go read it and come back so we can talk about it. It's good!

I want to read everything that Dorothy Whipple ever wrote. Everything. Like Carol Shields or Edith Wharton, she has a way of making the most ordinary things extraordinary. There isn't much to the plot. A man leaves his wife for a younger woman. That's not a very original story but in Whipple's hands it is spellbinding. Every person is a complex character, even Louise. I am convinced that she is a sociopath. The woman has no empathy for anyone. She only thinks of herself. However, for one teensy moment, I felt sorry for her. I do think that she loved Paul and that his marriage hurt her deeply. That was a brief bit of sympathy; Louise is a character you will love to hate.

More than any character, I enjoyed Ellen the most. She is a genuinely happy person. Being a housewife is her career, one that she takes great pride in. Unfortunately for her, she gets fired and like anyone who has lost her job is at a loss as to what to do next. I felt proud of her when she finally pulls up her socks and gets things together. Of course there were moments when I was frustrated with her. It wasn't her fault that her husband cheats, if he wanted to he would have no matter what, but as I put it to my husband, "I trust you but there is no way I'd invite some young French twinkie to come live with us." She just can't see what Louise is until it's too late.

Maybe Ellen is naive or perhaps she's been married so long that she thinks her marriage is safe. There are hints of this throughout the story. Ellen isn't bothered by Avery's (her husband) flirting with girls at parties, they sleep in separate beds, and have a relationship that is nearly more like siblings than spouses. When Ellen is left by herself to make Christmas dinner for the family, plus Mrs North, Louise, and her husband's partner, because the regular help hates Louise, she gets frustrated. Where is Avery? He spends the day napping! That's grounds for divorce right there. I mentioned this to my husband (I talked about this book a lot with him) and he observed, "But she let him." And that's the trouble. She doesn't tell him how she feels about this or anything else that bothers her and neither does he. They just sail along like everything is okay... until it's not.

The preface remarks that Someone at a Distance is not a feminist novel. Maybe, maybe not. Ellen loves what she does. She's a housewife and there's nothing wrong with being a happy housewife. There's a feeling of change running under things though. Ellen tackles all the housework herself despite the fact they can afford to have help. It's just hard to find. Maybe this is more of a class issue but then another character named Mrs Beard says to Ellen, "We're not the new sort of women with a University degree in Economics." No, but they know how to get stuff done and Ellen does this with gusto once she sets her mind to it. I won't say what she plans but when she tells people about it they react with a "You can't do that!" Her reply is, "Why not?" Indeed, why not? Ellen can do anything. Then there is Mrs Beard, a woman I can see as Rosie the Riveter during the war. If nothing else, the war taught them to carry on.

Is that you Mrs Beard?
I could talk about Someone at a Distance forever. I keep thinking about all the characters. It's amazingly well written with such insight into a long married couple. Yet it's plan spoken- no long descriptions of the scenery. It's 400 pages but I wish it were longer. If you like characters that are real, then you must read it.

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple is my first Persephone Classic and I can't wait to find more. Plus, isn't that cover beautiful?

Highly recommended

Ratings

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December 18, 2011

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Twitter Break

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I'm having a Twitter crisis. I was such a Twitter flag waver once. I loved Twitter. I loved to talk about books with my bookish friends but lately it's lost its lustre for me. Many of the people I talk to on to are no longer using Twitter as often as they did or just not at the time I'm using it. That's not the biggest reason I want to take a break though.


Lately, when I log into Twitter, I get aggravated by something I see on there. I can't even tell you a specific example. It's just making me cranky. I'm not sure if it's the Twitter atmosphere that's changed or if it's me. Maybe my tolerance for that type of thing has lowered. It feels like there is more self-promotion, more shit stirring, less discussion. People seem a lot angrier now than they were. I need a break.

I've been contemplating it for about a week now. I even made an attempt to avoid Twitter for a few hours the last time I was annoyed with it but it's become such a part of my blogging routine, I logged on without even thinking about it! I could purge my following list or go private but I'm not sure that would solve anything.

It's timely that Jill from Fizzy Thoughts mentioned dissatisfaction with book blogging yesterday and has quit Twitter altogether. I don't think I'm quite ready for that... yet. I do find a lot of interesting stories on Twitter and I like to say Hello to people too. It might be the only place I get to talk to my pals but there is so much other stuff going on in the background. I don't want to miss out on the fun parts of Twitter. Is there another venue for bookish conversations? Unplugging for awhile might see me returning to Twitter refreshed and with a better attitude... or I might find I'm fine without it.

Has anyone else quit Twitter?

Let's move onto to happier topics.

After updating my Goodreads page, I only need to read 3 more books by December 31 and I'll make my Goodreads goal of 100 books! Yay! I think I can do it.

This week I finished Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg. I'll have reviews up of those soon. I picked up The Town that Drowned by Reil Nason from the Library because of Mel's review. Last night, I finished  The Giver by Lois Lowry and started the audio version of Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

I straightened up my bookshelves this week too. It's ridiculous. I need to read faster! There is a boxful of ARCs in a closet that need disposal. I'm going to start accepting ebook ARCs only (with a few exceptions) because I just don't have the room for the paper copies.

Finally, I have to agree with Jill that book blogging has lost some of its "sense of fun" so let's take a page from Cyndi's book and just have some. This video brings back memories. So, Jill if you're reading this, this one's for you.



December 14, 2011

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander: Review

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In perusing my library's audio catalogue, I found His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander which sounded like it might be rollicking seasonal good times so I downloaded it.

Lady Veronica Smithson is going on a man hunt. She's been widowed for 3 years and wants some lovin' but without the strings that marriage brings. You know those strings, a man bossing her around, using her money, diddling the maid and there's nothing she can say about it, that sort of thing. Since this is Victorian England and there are no nightclubs, Veronica must find one through her friends. She thinks she has the perfect guy to keep tucked away for when she needs him: Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater. Despite his stuffy sounding title, he's a guy who gets around. A world traveller, an adventurer, a randy gentleman. He's also her bff's cousin so she can get all the deets on him easily.

Sebastian is home again in England. This time he's thinking for good. It's time to find a wife and start a family. Someone reliable but not boring. He thinks he may have found her in the form of the widowed Lady Smithson. She's feisty and apparently as attracted to him as he is to her. Surely she wouldn't say no to becoming his bride.  He's quite shocked when she tells him her plan but maybe he can get her to come around to his way of thinking. Maybe a Christmas rendezvous at his new estate will show her all that she'd be missing by not marrying him.

First off, I loved the premise of the story. I loved that Veronica was the sexual aggressor while Sebastian was picking out china patterns. It's sort of like She and Him's Baby It's Cold Outside where Zooey Deschanel is the pursuer. No "Say, what's in this drink?" from her. She has a point about losing her rights as a free woman but she did have a happy marriage to a man who let her have her own way. I'm not sure why she thinks she'll never find a man like that again. Like many romances, a good conversation would clear things up... but then there would be no story, right?

So sometimes Veronica bugged me but her friends are a riot. I did have to wonder at the mixed messages they sent Veronica: "No, the scandal!" "DO IT!" "I will have nothing to do with this!" Make up your minds people. I enjoyed the Sex and the City type scenes with her and her friends at the cafe. The uptight Portia would fit right in with Charlotte. Since this is a series, I suspect we'll be seeing more of Portia. I hope so.

Things rocketed right along until they end up with everyone and their dog at Sebastian's house over the holidays and then I got bored. I started thinking about Christmas cookies and wrapping presents. There was  a lot of talking, talking, talking and not much doing. They thought and talked too much. I wanted more high jinks. There was potential for high jinks but it kind of petered out. I knew that Sebastian and Veronica would get together but I didn't really care. The tension didn't interest me much at that point.

It was a good start and I liked the storyline though. I will look into the next in the series which appears to be about Sebastian's older brother and his wife.

About the Audio: Performed by Susan Duerden. What I'm finding about listening to audiobooks is that I can't listen to sexy-times. I can read them no problem but having them read to me... Blech. I'm embarrassed for everyone. Yes, my prudishness is very specific. Luckily, there is only one sex scene and once the narrator started describing love sticks and whatnot I fast forwarded right quick. It was like it never happened. :)

Ratings:

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December 13, 2011

The Doll, The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier: Review

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Daphne du Maurier sure knew how to write a short story. Having read her books and many of her short stories, I've always found that her talent shone best in her short fiction. She could say so much in just a couple of pages.

The Doll, The Lost Short Stories of Daphne du Maurier is a collection of her early work written when she was in her twenties. Most of the stories had been published in magazines and then forgotten about. Her writing career was just beginning; bigger things were to come. 

The Doll, the title story of the collection, I reviewed earlier this year and a few other stories were published in The Rebecca Notebook which I read last year. A few of the stories I had never read before. There is not a particular theme to the book. The stories run from noir, to funny, to introspective. Many are about the disappointment of romantic relationships. From those stories, you would think that du Maurier didn't believe men and women could be happy together. All relationships end in bitterness. Not much of a romantic at that age.

I had a few favourites though:

There was one I found quite funny because I could relate to it. In Week-End, a couple in love take a holiday which ends in disaster. I once had a similar situation on a trip with my husband when we were first dating. Unlike the couple in the story, we got over it and can laugh about it. Maybe if the couple had a sense of humour about it they might be where my husband and I are now. 

Frustration is also a funny one. The frustration is over a couple's difficulties in having a wedding night. *wink, wink* The irony is a little over the top but so hilarious. You can't help but sympathize with them while laughing at their predicament. 

In The Happy Valley, the protagonist dreams of a house in a valley. Dreaming of a house? Hmm. Where have I heard that before? This story is closest to the types of stories she would later write. There is an element of the supernatural as the protagonist is seeing a vision of her future. 

With the variety in this collection, there is sure to be a story or two for you. The Doll, The Lost Short Stories  is an interesting look at a master storyteller at the beginning of her career.

Recommended. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review copy. For more opinions, see the tour schedule

Ratings:

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December 12, 2011

My Bookish Box Set: Drama for Your Mama

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I haven't done this type of post in awhile but thought I'd dig it up.

Origins of this feature:
Every so often I get emails from a certain big box bookstore that I've purchased from in the past with the declaration, "If You Liked...., Then You'll Like...." The trouble is I often wonder how these books are related. Who made the decision that these books are similar enough that having liked one, I'll like the other? Was it a real person? Or a computer generated list?
I've thought about this form of marketing and believe I know a few books that belong together. If there was a box set of related books, like they do those movies at Halloween or Valentine's Day, these are the ones I'd choose to package together.
Save the Drama for Your Mama


Wideacre by Philippa Gregory 
Beatrice is land crazy. All she wants is Wideacre and she'd do anything to get it. And I mean anything...

My review of Wideacre





The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
An innocent girl escapes her evil uncle and finds herself on the doorstep of the Castle of Wolfenbach.

My review of The Castle of Wolfenbach

What could two books written 200 years apart have in common? Incest, family secrets, murder, draaaaaaama! When reading either of these books, you'll think that you could be doing something more productive with your time, like learning Chinese or playing the banjo, but you just can't tear your eyes from the page. They are so bad they're good. One warning though, Gregory doesn't shy away from the icky details.

If you are in the mood for over the top drama, either of these books will do.


December 7, 2011

Meep! Meep! Quick Reviews: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Hark! A Vagrant

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In an effort to keep on top of my reviews before the end of the year, I'm flaking out and doing a couple of mini-reviews. Also, if I don't put down my thoughts on these I'm going to forget about the details.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (audiobook). Mindy has a new fan. I've found Kelly from The Office amusing in a "I can't believe she just said that" way but I didn't know much about the actress who plays her. Mindy plays Kelly well but she's not Kelly Kapoor, thankfully. Mindy recounts her experiences in The-a-tre, writing Matt and Ben (an off Broadway play) with her friend, and making it in Hollywood. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is not just anecdotes from Mindy's life but advice like, how to sneak out of parties. She also confirmed my suspicion that Amy Poehler is the nicest person in the world. I enjoyed listening to Mindy's perky voice. It's also short so it's a quick listen. Not as funny as the other NBC lady comedian/actress/writer's book but quite good. 

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Cape Breton born Kate Beaton turned her doodles into a career. Hark! A Vagrant is a collection of some of her best strips. Historic and literary figures are no match for Beaton's quirky sense of humour. If you think Hipster French Revolutionaries and Sexy Tudors are funny, then you will enjoy this book. The best strips, for me, were the literary ones. I thought they were hilarious. Some of the other ones, I didn't find so amusing. That's that thing about humour, not everyone finds the same things funny. If you want to get some idea of her work, check out her website. Look at her shop too. I want a Bronte Garden Party t-shirt! (Oh Anne, you are so practical.)

Both recommended.

December 5, 2011

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley: Review

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There's something about Christmas and murder, at least the fictional sort. Last year I read, Hercule Poirot's Christmas. It was a great pick for the season. This year I picked up I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, another murder mystery. It's becoming my thing.

Flavia's father, in a desperate bid to keep Buckshaw, allows a film crew to use the house as the set of a new movie. Soon the hustle and bustle of numerous strangers hauling equipment fill the halls. Famous actress Phyllis Wyvern arrives and agrees to do a little Romeo and Juliet to raise funds for the church. Not only is the house filled to the rafters with actors but half the village turns out for the show. Christmas is only days away but a storm threatens to keep Father Christmas out and the invaders in.

There couldn't be a Flavia de Luce mystery without a murder. When a body is discovered, Flavia (and Inspector Hewitt) is on the case! 

This might be my second favorite Flavia de Luce novel after Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's a condensed Flavia mystery. Flavia has to get to the bottom of things before Father Christmas arrives. The suspects have nowhere to go. With everyone thrown together, there are more opportunities for the development of relationships that we've seen throughout the series. Flavia's father is practically non-existent. He's emotionally unavailable; he actually tells her 'only foreigners cry.' She's eleven! She finds father-figures in other men, like Dogger who is all messed up from the war. Inspector Hewitt is her rock star. She works so hard to show him how smart she is. I saw so much of her affection for the two men in this book.

I love Flavia's mix of  innocence and precociousness. Sure, she loves her poisons but she still wants to believe in Father Christmas. Her idea of building a chemical Santa Trap is typical Flavia. 

I haven't mentioned much about the murder because it comes so late in the story and is almost secondary. There are so many hints at family secrets that I was more interested in what was going on off stage. What were the de Luces up to during the war? Who was Dogger before he was a prisoner of war? What secret is her sisters hiding?

The one thing that bothers me about the series is how often Flavia is almost killed. It happens a lot! And I just don't dig Children in Peril. Please stop. 

At just over 200 pages, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows was a quick read. I was hooked by it right off and didn't want to put it down. Grab a hot cocoa and settle in by the fireplace for this one.

Highly recommended.

Ratings:

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December 4, 2011

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: The End Is Near

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Hello fellow lovers of books! How was your weekend? Mine was less of the usual "Let's clean out a closet" and more of the Fun Times. I did some free spa-ing and then there was a live hockey game. I spent much of the time asking, "What was that whistle for?" not being sporty. It was nice because I had a stressful week, one of those where all the little things pile up and make me scream, "Calgon Take Me Away!" You know what I'm talking about.

The end of the year is glaring at us from our TBR piles. I'm very ashamed of my "Borrowed from Mom" pile. I have quite a mountain going on there. She lent me a lot of Philippa Gregory though and I can only take a bit of crazy-train Gregory with long breaks between. Still, I need to either read them or lie about reading them and give them back. She's going to think I lost them. 

There were so many bookish plans for the year that I never got around to. So many books I meant to read but never got to. Next year, people, next year. 

Right now, I'm reading Someone at a Distance and it is getting good. I'm loving it. I also have Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton which is good times. Next week, I'll review a couple of books. Hope you'll pop in for that.

Last night, the hubs and I watched Christmas Vacation, mostly because I love when Eddie says, "The shitter's full." Klassy.

;

December 3, 2011

Deck the Halls! Virtual Advent 2011

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Juleaften
Wow, this is my 5th year as a Virtual Advent participant! I'm so glad Marg and Kelly keep organizing it every year. It helps get me in the holiday spirit!

It's the first weekend in December. Are you decking the halls? Are you setting up your tree or your lights? Maybe you've been thinking about it and need a little push to get you going.

Like the people in this photo, my Grandmother is Danish. She immigrated to Canada when she was quite young. As a child, every Christmas Eve the grown-ups would sneak a Christmas tree into the house, decorate it with lit candles, flags and homemade ornaments, then reveal it to the children. It was a sort of surprise to get the children excited. The surprise Christmas tree fell out of favour, as well as the lit candles, but flags and homemade ornaments continued to grace her tree.

Over the last few years, I've tried to make at least one ornament for our tree. This decoupaged ornament is this year's addition.



I've seen these decoupaged glass Christmas balls on Pinterest but didn't find any instructions so I came up with my own. It's pretty simple. You can give it a try too! Warning: You will get sticky and covered in glitter. Here's what I did.

First, the supplies needed:
  • Glass (or plastic) Christmas balls 
  • An old book or papers (an old copy of A Christmas Carol or music sheets would be nice. I used a French book since anything French is très chic)
  • Mod Podge
  • Glitter (I used Martha Stewart, sparingly because it's expensive)
  • Clean plastic containers (raid the recycle bin)
  • Foam brushes
  • Ribbon or string
The instructions:

Cover any surface you don't want glitterified. Cut a few pages of a book into strips, 1/2 inch by 1 inch approximately. Remove hanger from ball. Squirt some Mod Podge into a plastic container.

Using a strip at a time, brush Mod Podge onto one side of paper. Apply to ball and work your way around the surface making sure to cover the ball completely. Let dry.

Place the hanger back on the ball and attach a temporary ribbon or string for hanging. Cover whole surface of ball with a layer of Mod Podge. Sprinkle glitter over ball with container underneath to catch excess.

Hang the ball somewhere safe until the glue is completely dry (probably overnight). 

Et violà! A sparkly, bookish ornament for your tree!

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For the little kids, this free Santa's Beard Advent Calendar from Inviting Printables is really cute. Just stick it up on the fridge and everyday glue a cotton ball to Santa's face.


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After you have the house tinselfied, sit back with a hot cocoa or, my fave, a coffee with eggnog. Put up your feet and play a little Sarah McLachlan. And of course you need something Christmasy to read. Here's a story from L.M. Montgomery, a story about decking the halls and ending a feud.

I hope this is the start of a fun filled month for you! Please check out all the stops on the Virtual Advent Tour, including my tour partners for the day Alex, Amy, Charlotte, and Angel .



December 1, 2011

Challenge Roundup for November

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Is it possible I'm only participating in one reading challenge? That doesn't seem like me, but it appears to be true. At this moment I am only signed up for 5th Canadian Reading Challenge. I read 2 books this month: Mind Over Mussels by Hilary MacLeod and The Lunenburg Werewolf by Steve Vernon, bringing my total to 3. 

So, of course, I had to check out what is new over at A Novel Challenge. A Novel Challenge is a blog dedicated to posting about the latest reading challenges. There are a lot! It's crazy!

A Novel Challenge


I think I'm going to join Gender in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Challenge hosted by Pippi Bluestocking at Cynical Bookworm. Ever since reading The Yellow Wallpaper I've wanted to read Herland by Perkins Gilman. I also want to read Frankenstein again. For the others, I'm going to attempt to just pick a few I haven't read without knowing what they are about and diving in. 


The other challenge I'm joining is hosted by Teresa's Reading Corner, the 2012 Audiobook Challenge. I'm going for "Going Steady" 12 books as my goal. I like Audiobooks so this should be fairly easy.




Hopefully, these challenges will make me a better readers. How about you? Any new challenges you've signed up for?



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