January 31, 2012

Challenge Roundup for January

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I didn't write up a post for my December challenge books since I only read 3 Canadian books, bringing me to 6/13 books read for The Canadian Books Challenge

January wasn't a great month for challenges. I'm stuck at the same number for Canadian books. I'm 0 for Gender in SFF but I have big plans for next month.

However, I did cross off 2/12 off my audiobooks for the Audio Book Challenge: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and A Far Cry from Kensington

And just because I don't have enough to do (ha!) I created a personal challenge for myself. I was browsing through some public domain titles and found a few with a similar theme that I'd like to read. The Genteel Ladies in Foreign Lands Challenge. I plan on reading these memoirs written by women about their travels beyond their own backyards. I don't have a particular order but I hope to read them all by the end of the year.



*Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie (1852): Moodie wrote of her experiences as an immigrant in Canada. Yes, Canada is not a foreign land to me, but it was to Moodie.

*A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird (1873): Published letters to her sisters back in England, Isabella travelled on horseback through the Rocky Mountains.

*Travels in West Africa by Mary Kingsley (1893): In a time when spinster ladies did not travel unaccompanied to foreign countries,  Mary did.

*In Morocco by Edith Wharton (1920): When Edith Wharton wasn't destroying New York society with her pen, she was travelling. 

This is a personal challenge but if you'd like to join me in reading any or all of them, you're welcome to play along! Let me know and maybe we can read them together.

(The photo is of my Grandmother on a road trip. My challenge, my Granny.)

January 30, 2012

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Review

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Stodgy, old school, snooty, stick in the mud, set in his ways. All ways to describe Major Pettigrew. Where have manners and propriety gone? He doesn't like what the world has become, with its fixation on acquiring material things, his son Roger included. Roger's is too busy getting ahead. He barely has time to attend his uncle's funeral, and now that he has a glamorous American girlfriend, Major Pettigrew expects to see him even less.

The shock of his younger brother's death leaves the Major shaken. So much so, that the lovely Mrs Ali, the local grocer, offers her help when she comes for the newspaper money. Having broken the ice, the Major and Mrs Ali strike up a friendship which grows into something neither of them expected. But what seems perfectly natural to the both of them is looked upon with suspicion and ridicule by family and friends. 

For some reason I had to talk myself into reading, or listening actually, to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure I knew what it was about before I downloaded it. I had a few issues with it but it's a pleasant enough story.

The Major is a man with high expectations. He knows what people should or shouldn't do and mostly they disappoint him. The exception to this rule appears to be with the women he's attracted to, in fact they seem to be the opposite of himself. There's not much they can do that he doesn't approve of. His wife, who died some years ago, was a bit of a firecracker. Mrs Ali is a widow herself, that bonds them, but she's also warm and well read. She's a refined lady, in his eyes, despite being a grocer's widow. The problem is not just of class but one of race because she is of Pakistani heritage. She has a nephew (and family elsewhere) who doesn't approve of her new friend. The Major has his country club laughing behind his back. Their romance has to navigate faux pas and downright racism from all corners.

I loved that this is a romance where the couple involved aren't young, this is a golden years romance. Both of them had previous marriages. At first, the Major rubbed me the wrong way. He doesn't make allowances for anyone. Soon I warmed up to him, mostly because of how sweet on Mrs Ali he is. They are adorable. There is a scene at a cabin that had me grinning. Mrs Ali too made the story delightful. However, I had an issue with some of the secondary characters. They don't have much depth and are nearly stock characters. It's as if the stepped out of a Monty Python skit, "Hello, we're the racists. We'll be over here doing racist things. Carry on." Then there is Roger. While I know Roger is supposed to be shallow, I found him beyond belief. Could anyone be that clueless? Get an emotion, pal.

In addition to romantic entanglements, there are plots involving a pair of guns, land development, and an unwed mother. It gets complicated. There are some silly antics from the locals and the end is a little contrived but it's still one to read.

Recommended for romantics.

About the Audio: The narrator is Peter Altschuler who did an excellent job. I usually have a problem with male narrators trying to do female voices but I enjoyed how his voice went a little softer for the women. Nicely done.

Ratings:

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January 29, 2012

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Scattered Thoughts

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Goose Lane Books, the publisher of The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, a book I enjoyed, contacted me with this news:

[Fredericton, NB] In 1994, still in the birthing years of the Internet, Goose Lane Editions, Canada’s oldest independent book publisher, made history by becoming one of the first publishing houses in the world to launch their own website.


After 18 years, the site has gone through numerous transformations, changing to suit our evolving culture as technology improved and users became more computer-savvy. Now, we are proud to announce the newest iteration of www.gooselane.com, with new features, new content, and a new promotion to kick off the launch.


In addition to a complete visual redesign, we have added new website elements such as twitter feeds and ongoing blog posts by our many employees. Sample chapters are available for many books, and an ongoing stream of events and notices is added to the
main page every day.


To celebrate our launch, we’d like to extend a special offer. For every day the week of January 30, we will be offering one book a day at a special highly-discounted price. Roadsworth, YOU comma Idiot, The Famished Lover, Miller Brittain, The Black Watch, Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy, and Ganong: A Sweet History of Chocolate will each take over one day of the week with a drastically discounted price to help celebrate our new look and attitude. All this, in addition to our regular feature of free shipping on orders of $60 or more. To take advantage of these offers, simply create an account with Goose Lane. By doing so, you’ll also ensure that you are regularly updated on upcoming special offers.


We’ve been around a long time, both physically and electronically. Here’s to many more years together.

Mmmm...chocolate.

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I continue on with the Fitness Challenge. I'm getting along quite well. I'm taking classes I enjoy which I think is a big reason I'm sticking to it this time. Have you ever been to the blog Skinnytaste? I've just discovered it, thanks to Pinterest. The author makes regular recipes healthier. She includes Weight Watcher points and calorie count. This week I tried the Chicken Tikka (I threw it all in the slow cooker) and it turned out really nice. I'll add a bit more spice next time than I did this first time. I was a bit scared. Last week I made Poulet au Vinaigre and it was so good! It tastes rich even though it's only 242 calories.

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I may have come out of my reading rut. I finished a book on Friday, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim. I'll post my thoughts on that later in the week.

I didn't buy, borrow, or get any new books this week. I did get the new Nimbus Publishing catalogue. Lots of Titanic books are coming, it being the 100th anniversary of the sinking in April.

Today I have to "Rescue" a couple of books for Goodreads or I'm going to lose them. I had an email from them last night.

That's about it for my reading week. How was yours?

January 26, 2012

Surely It's a Review...and Don't Call Me Shirley*

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A review: what is it? Who can claim the title of "reviewer"? It's the latest book blogging discussion, so it seems. Maggie Stiefvater gave her two cents this week. That's her opinion. Also this is not a new discussion. I'm pretty sure I wrote about this in response to some other kerfuffle years ago.

I've always used the word "review" in my blog titles because, back in the day, I read some blogging advice that this would help people find my blog. Of course, these are not reviews in the sense that she would like. I'm not an academic in any way shape or form. This is not the NYT (duh). Reader or consumer reviews are  just a different animal from those type. Sort of like meningitis, there's viral and bacterial. Bacterial is super serious, not like viral. My reviews are viral meningitis. I will continue to use review in my titles. Other people use Thoughts, or Opinion, and perhaps "Response to" could be used. It's all the same. As Raych pointed out "I am here to lol and get shouty about things." Yes, I am. Perhaps, like those late night TV psychics (do they still exist?), I should have a disclaimer: "For entertainment purposes only." I will tell you what lotto numbers to play but what you do with them is your own business.

But I will exercise my right as an English speaking person to commandeer the word review (because now sick means awesome?). Surely if bloggers can review ice cream or pretzels, I can review books. Granted reviewing books is not quite like reviewing food. ("To Kill a Mockingbird was delicious. Pairs well with a nice Pinot Grigio.") Surely if the English language is flexible enough to use tear as a word to describe both eye juice and what happens when you get your heel caught in your skirt, I can use review for my own purposes. Wording is the personal choice of the blogger. It's not my place to tell you how to run your blog. I'm not going to sweat over review unless the book blog police show up. Surely we all have bigger fish to fry. Carry on...

And don't call me Shirley.

*My Dad always thought that joke was hilarious. He says it all the time. I'm afraid. I'm using his jokes now.

January 25, 2012

Literary Introverts and Extroverts

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I've been reading Quiet by Susan Cain, a very thought provoking book on personality. I'm fascinated with it so far because I consider myself (and have all the hallmarks of) an introvert. I've come to the conclusion that it's just how I am. Cain claims that the world today, in particular Americans, have come to see extroversion as a virtue and introversion as a fault.

Early in the book, she says that during the first part of the 20th Century there was a shift from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. The Culture of Character was one in which the ideal person was "serious, disciplined and honorable," whereas in the Culture of Personality boldness is the ideal, and that's why people are obsessed with celebrities today.

funny pictures history - early kardashians

I've read my fair share of pre-20th Century lit and couldn't help but think of the introverts and extroverts of those books and whether they were heroes or villains. Here's a look at the ones that popped in my head:

Fanny Price, Mansfield Park (introvert): Fanny was the very first person I thought of. She is the epitome of the Culture of Character. She's all character and not much else. When she stands next to Mary Crawford, she practically disappears. In the end, Fanny gets her man because she's such a good person while the vivacious Mary is run out of town. Some modern readers admire Mary more than Fanny.

Jane Eyre (introvert): Another quiet soul but at least she has some gumption. She shines in one-on-one situations like verbal sparring with Mr Rochester. Her competition for Rochester's affection is Blanche Ingram, a social butterfly. Jane saves the day and wins her guy. Blanche gets a one way ticket to Scramsville. 

Becky Sharp, Vanity Fair (extrovert): Vanity Fair is a novel without a hero (at least that's what Thackeray said) but the most memorable character is Becky Sharp. She's quick and bold, but also without morals. She doesn't do so well at the end but the quieter characters find love and happiness.

Emma Woodhouse, Emma (extrovert): "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," so said Jane Austen. Yet, people do like Emma. She is bright and outgoing, also spoiled and gossipy. It takes a quieter person, Mr Knightley, to show her the error of her ways.

The Bennet Family, Pride and Prejudice (extroverts): This is a tough one because Mr Darcy's extreme introversion is seen as pride, not a good thing. However, the Bennet family, with the exception of Jane, are extroverts whose behaviour often ends in embarrassment for Lizzie and Jane. Even Lizzie, who has a smart mouth, isn't appreciated. Jane is their little star. It doesn't hurt that she's pretty either. Jane and Lizzie get married to the partner of their choosing, Lydia has an uncertain future, and Mrs Bennet still has to find husbands for the remaining two girls.

Pip, Great Expectations (introvert): Pip gets bullied by the stronger characters and jerked around by Estella. Pip does end up content by the end while the bolder characters end up...er, dead.

During the 20th Century, things start to change, the chatty heroine Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables is an extrovert who develops character with the help of two introverts. She might gain control of that temper but she stays her outgoing self. She'll never be serious or quiet. However, she doesn't end up dead or shunned at the end of her story. She gets a happily ever after and is universally admired.

So, were these authors reflecting the societal ideals of the time or were they acting out an introvert's fantasy? (Not sure if they were all introverts but Charlotte Bronte certainly was.) Are introverts heroes in modern literature or was that their moment in the sun?



January 24, 2012

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark: Review

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Despite having a couple of Muriel Spark's books on my shelves, I've never read any of her books. Seeing that the library had A Far Cry from Kensington available as an audiobook, I thought maybe that was the way to ease into them.

It's difficult to explain the plot to anyone. It's all over the place and I wondered how things were going to come together by the end.

In the 1950s, Mrs Hawkins lived in a rooming house in Kensington with a variety of characters. She worked for a shady publishing house (her boss would be convicted of forgery) and she was obese. She noticed that being a large woman meant people thought of her as matronly and reliable, even though she was a 28 year old widow. This caused them to ask for her advice. Eventually, she would tire of the burden of their problems and shed her extra pounds. (Remember this, it's important.)

Anyway, Mrs Hawkins has a nemesis, Hector Barlett, a guy she calls a pisseur de copie. He's an ass kisser extraordinaire with anyone involved in publishing, including Mrs Hawkins. When she insults him, he works hard to make her life miserable. Meanwhile, the rooming house is involved in a mystery. One of the tenants is getting threatening letters and phone calls. Plus another tenant's father keeps asking Mrs Hawkins to find the young lady a job in publishing. So, she has her full at home and work.

These events push Mrs Hawkins to make some life changing decisions. Ones that will take her far from Kensington.

I enjoyed so much about A Far Cry from Kensington: the quirky characters, the setting, even the plot though I wondered where it was going. Mrs Hawkins is a sensible woman, most of the time. She can't help herself around Hector Barlett, however. He brings out the worst in her and keeps costing her jobs. He himself is a character you have to hate. Everything about him is hateful. Even though I cringed every time Mrs Hawkins called him a pisseur de copie, I couldn't help admiring her tell-it-like-it-is attitude. She won't compromise her morals for a job.

It was interesting that the publishing industry at that time is portrayed as a being peopled with well intentioned yet incompetent fools. They are a cast of forgers and upper class twits, yet everyone wants to be in publishing. Even Mrs Hawkins can't seem to break herself out of the business. Perhaps because although it's a trade, it's a high class one, perceived as being full of a better class of people.

Even though the mystery is a big part of the plot, it's always in the background. It isn't until the end that we see just how big a part it has been playing. It was there all the time. Quite sneaky.

Mrs Hawkins isn't a character I will forget soon.

Recommended.

About the Audio: I was convinced that the narrator, Pamela Garelick, was Mrs Hawkins. Her voice encapsulates her. She's very good with other characters' voices and accents as well. In one case, there is a very minor character with just a few lines of dialogue. This woman is a Polish immigrant living in Scotland. She gives her a Polish accent with a hint of a Scottish brogue. It was perfect. Great attention to detail.

Ratings:

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January 22, 2012

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: We Just Want to Read

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It's hard to be a reader these days. Well, if you've got the money to buy all the books you want, it's probably easier, but a two book a week habit is an expensive one. As Karen from Sassymonkey Reads pointed out earlier this week, her library enables hers. Her library saved her nearly $1400 last year. If it wasn't for her library would she have spend $1400 on books? I don't know about Karen but I wouldn't. I buy books, yes, but I wouldn't spend that amount on books every year. That's a mortgage payment.

Every week, I hear depressing news about reading. Library funds being cut, books being banned, publishers making it more difficult to borrow and share ebooks, changing public domain laws, book stores shrinking floor space for books. These last two weeks I read 2 pieces of news about publishers pulling audiobooks from Overdrive, the online library service. I use Overdrive for audiobooks a lot. I use audiobooks to expand my mind while doing mindless tasks. There's nothing intellectually stimulating about cleaning a toilet.

I can see why the publishers think this is a good idea. It's too easy to borrow now. We have the technology. We made it better. But, hear me out, is this a good idea? If the thinking is borrowers will convert to buyers, I think they are wrong. Not if the reader can't afford it. Not now anyway. If I could afford it, I would buy all the time. And maybe someday I will (after that mortgage is paid). But...by borrowing audio or paper books, I get to try out authors I wouldn't give a second glance. I might find a few I'm willing to buy when I have the money. I'm careful with my money. I don't throw it around willy-nilly. I don't take chances on authors whose work I'm unsure of. And...libraries buy books. They kinda need to.

A business should cultivate a culture where its customers will remain customers. If the alternative to borrowing means buying, there will be people who just won't read. They can't afford it. Take from someone who knows, once you get out of the habit of reading, it's hard to get back into it. You wouldn't think it now, but I went years without reading a book. I was "too busy." I got back into to it slowly. My library really helped me find authors I liked and whose books I ended up buying. 

There are already so many people yelling that no one reads any more and that the book is dead. Why pull the plug on readers?


Anyway enough cranky.

Speaking of audiobooks, I listened to A Far Cry from Kensington this week. It was interesting. I'll have to gather my thoughts on that one. I also started Quiet by Susan Cain and it's giving me a lot to think about. I also won Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison on Twitter. Should be interesting.

funny pictures - The internet


Did everyone hear about the SOPA blackout this week? Here's Salty Ink's take on it and pretty much how I feel too.

January 19, 2012

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: Review

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Reading The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is a bit like seeing Titanic for the first time. There's no getting around the ship is going down, but who, if anyone, is going to survive? History tells us that Masada is a done deal. Rather than be enslaved by the Romans, the inhabitants of this Jewish fortress in the desert committed mass suicide. Fun times.

Hoffman never lets us forget that bad things are a-coming. There is no dancing in steerage for our heroines. It's suffering right from the get go. Yael has a hateful neglectful father, who never misses an opportunity to remind her that she murdered her mother- by being born. She's got all the confidence of a beaten down dog. If you've murdered your Mom, where do you go from there? When they have to leave Jerusalem in a hurry, they end up hiding in the desert before making their way to Masada. 

Yael is assigned a job in the dovecotes with a group of women: Revka, caregiver to her daughter's two boys; Shirah, the Witch of Moab, and her two daughters Aziza and Nahara. She thinks her secrets are the Worst Things Ever but as we find out, these woman all have their own, some heartbreaking, some surprising. As they recount their terrible histories, they experience the events leading up to the fall of Masada. 

I didn't think much of Yael at the beginning, and she's my least favorite of the women in The Dovekeepers. Yes, she's had a tough life and her father isn't going to win Father of the Year but her rationalizing drove me nuts. She has a friend, her only friend, but she sleeps with this friend's husband (this isn't too spoilery since it happens in the first 50 pages). She feels guilty about it, yet she does it anyway. It was her destiny or written in the stars or whatever. This is the excuse of a lot of the things the women do: God put me on this path, who am I to change it? Yael thinks everything is a bad omen. Even if other people see something as a good omen, she's right there to say, "I knew it was a bad omen." Maybe you make your own bad luck, yes?

Then there's Shirah, the woman everyone believes is a witch because she follows the tenets of a now outlawed branch of Judaism. She does practice a kind of magic, spells, cures, etc. Sometimes it's very woo-woo and at one point, Shirah is trying to exorcise a demon, which should have been Serious Business but I thought it funny. She pretty much just bullied a women into a Law & Order-esque confession. She also suffers from "it was written in the stars" syndrome when it comes to men. 

Aziza is the most fascinating character, which was surprising. I can't say much about because the surprise is the best part. I will say that I enjoyed her story because it is so different from the other women. I found it sad, however. Since she is the child of Shirah, her fate is in her mother's hands and lives at her whim. If given the choice, would she have had a different life? I didn't want Aziza's story to end when it did.

There were things that bothered me but loved the historical aspect of the story. Even though it's over 500 pages, I read it in a couple of days. It's so compelling. For the most part I loved the writing. There were times when I thought it was a bit much. It is a brutal story. Awful things happen and those Romans are not even human. I can't imagine the brutality. I came away thinking of the waste of it all.

So, it's not a happy book but it is fascinating. If you don't love all the characters, you'll at least love a couple. Even though it wasn't always easy to read these terrible things, I'm glad to have read The Dovekeepers.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for the review copy.

Ratings:

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January 16, 2012

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes: Review

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I'm not usually a big fan of short stories but I loved this collection of wartime fiction from Mollie Panter-Downes.

Mollie was the wartime correspondent for The New Yorker. Her "Letters from London" let Americans (and the rest of the world) know how the people were coping with the stresses of war. She also wrote fiction for the periodical during the same time period. These short stories in Good Evening, Mrs Craven: the Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes give one the sense that they are as informative to the reader to what was happening in the country as the letters were.

Where the letters give facts and a general sense of things, the stories get more personal. Each of the 21 stories are quite brief. She rations her words the way she might ration butter. The characters' worries and fears, hopes and wishes permeate every sentence. I had the feeling when I read the stories that I was peeking in the windows of these people's homes. The stories are in chronological order which gives the reader a sense of the psychological and emotional impact the war is having. At first, the characters are nearly excited in their preparations for the war. There is a sense of urgency as they get down to business. Later as the war progresses into it's fourth year, excitement gives way to a tiredness, a wanting to get the war over with so life can carry on. Not life as they knew it, they know that it's too late for that but something other than fear and hunger.

As expected of Brits at the time, there are few emotional outbursts from the characters. Tears at the most. They really did "Keep Calm and Carry On." Told mostly from an upper-middle class point of view, the class separation is evident. In the story "In Clover," a woman lets evacuees from London stay in one of the buildings on her property. Right away she comments on their shabbiness, the behaviour of the children, the appearance of the mother. After some time the family must get the feeling they are not wanted, they return to London before the Blitz. On the other hand, the lower classes can be just as snobbish. In "Cut Down the Trees," a landed lady enjoys the camaraderie of the Canadian soldiers staying on her property while her housekeeper is scandalized by her behaviour. She doesn't realize, as another character in another story says,  "that they were bang in the middle of a social revolution."

It isn't all grit and hardship. Mrs Ramsey and her sewing circle appear in two separate stories. The ladies take on politics and local matters make for cringe-worthy yet hilarious results. There is a sly wit in Panter-Downes's stories. In "Combined Operations," a couple take in friends only to find that circumstances make their situation too close for comfort. Invasion of personal space seems to be a theme in her stories.


While stories of war tend to be about men and the battlefield, Good Evening, Mrs Craven shows that battles are won on the home front too. Women worry about their men and children and do the best they can not only to get through these times but do their part. It's an interesting piece of history. I just wish there had been more. A full length novel from some of these stories would have been lovely.

Ratings:

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January 15, 2012

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: A Blah Reading Week

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So, I abandoned my first book of the year. That's always disappointing, especially in January. It's not a good start to the year. The book was The Tragedy of Arthur. I read 33% (thanks Kobo) and couldn't read any more. As a result, I haven't finished a book this week. 

I did start The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. It's a not a happy book, not even a little. It's interesting but I'm not sure it's the kind of book to read while in the midst of the January Blues. I'm going to need some happy books after I finish it. Any suggestions?

I've been having an audiobook dry spell too, as my library isn't getting the kind of books I like. There are lots of series mysteries, and non-fiction I have no interest in. I went through the older titles, hoping to find a few I missed. I downloaded A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark. So far, so good.

I hope you all are having a better reading week than I am.

My daughter finished her first Harry Potter book this week! She read it all on her own. It took her awhile because she is a bit like me. She'll have 2 or 3 books going all at once. Her school bag had 4 books in it one day. I asked her about it and she said she needed them in case she got bored. I can't really argue about that. Anyway, I told her I would read Harry Potter after she did. So I have one to start now. 

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The second week of the Fitness Challenge ended well. I managed nearly 3 hours of exercise. I tried a new class, one with weights. It's a lady focused class. I had no idea what to expect, but just decided to take a chance. I enjoyed it but whoa, what a workout! There were women 20 years older than me putting me to shame. My Sponge Bob arms were a wobbling and the next day I couldn't lift them above my waist. 

The gym and my classes were full, full, full too. All the New Years Resolutioners jumping into the fray. I'm told every January starts that way.

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Have you noticed that I have threaded comments? I do, I do! Blogger finally got with the program and gave us a better commenting system. Yay, Blogger! If you want to install them on you Blogger blog, find out how here on this post

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That's about it for this Sunday. The girl has a cold so I don't think I'll be doing much today. I'm off to have some coffee and get this day started.


January 11, 2012

Rambling Geezer, or Thoughts on Trends

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Back in my day...
Sheila from Book Journey expressed her thoughts on how book blogging has changed since she started and the discussion in the comments is so insightful. Old and new bloggers alike have commented on their experiences. As I read the new bloggers' comments, I wondered if maybe the advice I give to new bloggers is outdated. Blogging trends have changed so much since 5 years ago when I started. It was a different place. The advice I give bloggers might have as much relevance as my Grandmother's advice to me when I was a teen to not wear red because "red is for bad girls." I tried not to laugh. Okay, Grandma.

These last few months I've seen older bloggers, like myself, say, "What's with the giveaway blogs? What the heck is a blog hop?" I realize now that these trends are what newer bloggers use to gain influence and attention the way that 5 years ago reading challenges and memes did. Whether or not these trends will be successful I do not know. In 5 years, there will be something totally different I'm sure. I don't know how I would feel as a new blogger now. There are so many blogs out there. How would I find my place? What would I do to get someone to comment on my blog? That's a hard question to answer and I just don't know.

Anyway, I wanted to look at my past advice and work out if it is good or, like my Grandmother's ideas, totally square. These are mostly just thinking aloud ideas.

Reading Challenges: These were all the rage a few years ago. Everybody was doing one or two or a dozen and just about everyone hosted one. Now the refrain I hear most often is "I don't want to get too overwhelmed." Fair enough. We're all busy. I think people don't have as much time to read challenge books because they have deadlines from publishers or want to read the new releases. Or they've realized that they just can't do every challenge that comes along. 

I still believe challenges are great ways to meet other bloggers, especially if the challenge is in your niche. If nothing else, you'll find a few blogs to follow (and read lots of interesting books). Hosting a challenge, on the other hand, might not get you a lot of traffic. People tend to stick with the tried and true (Once Upon a Time Challenge, The Canadian Books Challenge) and the fairly general ones. If you plan on challenging yourself to read all of Maeve Binchy's work in a year, you might be going it alone.

Memes: I always talked memes up as a great way for new bloggers to connect with others. When I started blogging, there were a few memes like Booking Through Thursday that I participated in. In one week, 30 or so bloggers would participate. It was easy enough to comment on all those blogs. Then it got huge and I couldn't keep up. Now it looks to be about the same as it was when I started. 

Of course, there are hundreds of memes out there. You could do several a day if you wanted but readers tend to get bored if you do too many. Hosts of memes encourage mutual commenting but if the meme is a big one, it can be a daunting task. I'm still not sure if the meme thing is a good way to get attention any more. What do you say? Yea or nay.

Other advice I've given: 

-Commenting on lots of blogs: You probably have to keep commenting on the same blogs to get their attention. And say something, not just "nice blog." If you follow bloggers whose books or style you like, you'll have more to say. 

Bloggers are busy creating content or reading or living their lives. Not everyone can comment on every blog that comments on theirs everyday. I also don't know how the Big Bloggers can possibly comment on everyone's blog. They could have hundreds of commenters a post.

-Twitter: Yeah, not so much. A year ago I would say get yourself on Twitter but it's so big now you get easily lost under everyone else's tweets. 

Pay attention, because this affects you.
Thoughts on New Trends:

Blog Hops: I have no opinion on these as I barely know what they are.

Giveaways: Ok, I've done a few and they really didn't increase my traffic. The people who entered them were mostly people who already followed me. It was hard getting people to enter even. Giveaways are a dime a dozen these days. Readers have their pick of the litter. Gone are the days people got excited when someone was giving away a old copy of Wuthering Heights (for the record, I still get excited about that!). And the "Follow my blog" thing causes small mutinies. Plus, if bloggers are funding giveways themselves, it can get expensive and how do you keep track of them all? If you want to do giveaways because you enjoy it, by all means do it!

Reviewing New Releases: I like the latest thing. To be the first. To start a trend. But being the first can be lonely. When I review new books, I don't get a lot of comments because there is no one else to talk about it, even if that book is popular in a month or two. If you can, leave off reviewing those books until you see other people talking about them. Then you have something to talk about with those bloggers. :)

I'm probably missing tons of other ones. So, what trends have you noticed from old and new bloggers? Are these the best ways to get noticed and find blogging pals? What has been your experience? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Why am I asking so many questions?


January 9, 2012

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt: Review

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I loved The Children's Book but never did finish The Djinn in the Nightgale's Eye by A.S. Byatt. Still, when I saw Ragnarok available for review on Netgalley I requested it. It sat in my queue since September. Finally, over the holidays I took the plunge and read it.

In Ragnarok: the End of the Gods, Byatt recounts how she became fascinated with Norse mythology as a little girl. In Ragnarok, she refers to herself as 'the thin child', a World War II evacuee to the British countryside. The thin child discovers a book titled Asgard and the Gods written by a German Dr W. Wagner. Since this is wartime, the child is curious about this book written by a German who've she's only heard as being people to be feared. She becomes fascinated by the world and the gods in the book. She tries to compare them to the Christian God and the stories in the Bible. She comes to prefer the world in the book and the how their world ends.

I can see why Byatt was interested in these stories during this time. It must have seemed as if the world was ending. Perhaps these stories helped her make some sense of it all. There isn't a story here other than a child reading a book and the memories of the woman who was that child. The myths are told in a straight forward fashion. She says in the afterword that the gods don't have personalities only attributes, so don't expect great characterization. It's Byatt's style that's the money here. 

I rarely wish for forewords but in this case I wish the afterword had been the foreword. I would have appreciated what she was trying to accomplish more than I did while reading it. In the end, as I read the afterword I thought, "Oh, okay that makes sense to me now." The stories of the gods are sometimes weird and make little sense. Why do they do what they do? Who knows. Mostly because they can. I enjoyed reading about this strange world, though I was less enamored with the giant sea serpent Jörmungandr than Byatt is. That was a long couple of chapters. (She ate fish, then she ate some more fish and got really big.)

Ragnarok is a strange but interesting little book, beautifully written. I feel that I could read it again and get more out of it the second time round. This is part of the Canongate series on mythology retold by celebrated authors. 

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy.

Ratings:

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January 8, 2012

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Off With a Bang

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Whew! It's a new year and already lots of stuff happening out there.

Did you hear Raych from books i done read had a baby girl? What a way to start a new year! 

someecards.com - Congratulations on being only 19 babies away from your own reality show


There's not so great stuff too. Raych will have plenty of fodder for her BBAW year in review. This week seems to have unleashed some sort of crazy-virus. Goodreads drama, author drama, reviewer on reviewer drama. It's weird. My theory is that everyone overloaded on carbs over the holidays and the sudden swing into healthy eating has everyone's chemistry out of whack. It's just a theory, mind you.

Really, I've only ever had good experiences with authors, dare I say pleasant, which is why when someone has a bad experience it's so jarring. If you care to know more, visit Katiebabs for the run down of some of them (there were more actually). I end up cringing when I reading some of the antics. I'm ashamed and embarrassed for them, even if they are not, because I know it can't end well. I don't understand vicious replies with personal attacks to negative reviews. There is no defending such behaviour. If you got to do it, don't publish it for the world to see. It ends up biting you in the bum.

Two posts were written during this brouhaha by author/reviewers that I think give good advice for both reviewers and authors. First, My Goodreads Pledge by Phoebe North created a list for both reviewers and authors to follow when using Goodreads. I love Goodreads. It's a happy place for me. I must live in a sheltered Goodreads world because I never see any of the drama that happens there. Still, Phoebe gives a good standard for behaviour when on Goodreads. It comes down to using common sense and being polite. Then there was A Really Long Post on the Author/Reviewer Relationship by YA Highway in which Veronica Roth tries to work out the tangled relationship of reviewers and authors. I especially like what she says about books being products and reviewers being customers. I agree that customer has a right to their opinion on a product, unless you expect a toaster to act like a microwave (just buy a microwave!) but that's a story for another time. 

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So, did you notice I changed my template? I was getting bored with the old one and Blogger has such nice customizable ones now. It's not like a couple of years ago when they had hardly anything. I was inspired to do it by Coffee and a Book Chick. Her new template is so slick! I had the old one for awhile so when I saw hers I knew it was the right time for a change. I still have a pink and green thing going because of my header and, well, I like pink and green. Maybe when I get tired of my header I'll change my colours.

In book acquiring news, I picked up The Map of Time at Ye Olde Used Bookstore. I downloaded a few free books from deceased authors from Girlebooks for my new Kobo Touch. These include: The Shuttle by Frances Burnett Hodgson, Consequences by E.M. Delafield, Legends of Vancouver by Theryn Fleming, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, and The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbitt. I'm looking for a good translation of The Dream by Emile Zola thanks to Amanda's great review.

I finished the first book of the year. Yay! It's Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes and it's so good. I also started The Tragedy of Arthur and I don't know what to make of it yet. 

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The Fitness Challenge is going well despite the fact my yoga class was cancelled this week. I made myself go on the Wii that day instead. I reached my goal for the week- 2 hours of exercise.

I'm also using an app to track my eating. I was rather smug going in thinking I eat what I'm supposed to. I was in for a surprise. It's those 'little' snacks that get you. I'm not trying to lose a lot of weight but I would like to rid myself of the muffin top (if it's possible).

Tracking what I eat has been an eye opener. I've found that I eat more sugar than I should and not near enough vitamins and minerals. The first few days were terrible and I ended up going to bed so hungry. After that, I started making better choices and spread out my snacks. It's made a huge difference. I'm much more aware of what I'm eating. However, I hope I don't give in to temptation before I reach my goal.

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I watched Midnight In Paris this weekend and I enjoyed all the literary references, especially after reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. The way he's portrayed in the movie is exactly how I imagine him. Paris was so beautiful in the movie. It makes me want to go there. 

Over Christmas vacation I caught the American Horror Story marathon and I'm hooked! What a dark show though. What is with that house? Does it make people crazy or are they already that way when they move in? Constance is a whack-a-doodle. And Tate is scary as hell. I have 2 episodes left to watch and I'll be all caught up.

So how was your first week of the new year?


January 4, 2012

This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy: Review

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Better late than never, right? I read This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy Christmas week and I can't say that it inspired feelings of comfort and joy. It should be retitled: It's Christmas, Shut Up and Eat Your Turkey. Or possibly: A Cheater's Christmas.

I used to read Maeve Binchy by the truckload and while her books are realistic, they certainly aren't happy. This collection of short stories is no different. It's a variety of stories about families who barely get along, women having affairs with married men, unhappy housewives/daughters/sons/etc. It's Christmas and everybody's miserable. Somehow they all muddle through and salvage something from the season. 

In the title story a woman who does everything for her family decides that this year they will all help out. Instead of making this announcement, she passive aggressively dilly-dallies over the Christmas preparations. Her family is perplexed: why isn't Mom cooking like she usually does? They think they have a solution but of course being selfish jerks they do not. There is so much wrong with this picture. There are a number of stories of women crying in their wine as they wait for their lovers to visit them over the holiday season, usually for a brief howdy-doody away from the wife and kiddies. Those were very cynical, if you ask me.

There were a couple of good ones though: Miss Martin's Wish and A Typical Irish Christmas. In the first, Miss Martin, dumped at the altar years before, goes to New York for Christmas. The children she teaches convince her to do it. Somehow they have the idea that if you wish on the Statue of Liberty it will come true. It has a heartwarming end. A Typical Irish Christmas sees a new widower heading to Ireland to escape his memories. He helps a father and daughter resolve their differences. I wanted more of this! Sad but then Happy, like It's a Wonderful Life. Granted most of the protagonists have an epiphany of some sort, even if it's "Maybe I shouldn't sleep with married guys any more." It's a Christmas miracle!

Maeve Binchy does tell a good story and none of these were a chore to read., even though they weren't all happy ones. Maybe it's best not to read them all at once at Christmastime, not if you want to keep your Christmas spirit. Humbug.

PS- Yes, that cheesy gold covered copy is the one I have. Jealous?

Ratings:

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January 3, 2012

5th Annual Chrisbookarama Awards

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Another year, another awards show. Once again I'm joining the ranks of the other book bloggers making their Best of 2011 lists. 2011 seems like a blur. I read so many books; some destined to be favorites, some not so much. You can find my thoughts on these books under Book Reviews.

First up, let's have a look at 

The Fabulous!

Best Book So Scary It Needs to Go In the Freezer: That would The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. There were some spine tingling moments in this one. Do not read it when alone.

Best Kick-Ass Heroine: India Black. She's a whore but not one with a heart of gold. If you got the money honey, she's got the time. Or she can be blackmailed into chasing down Russian spies. Whatever. 

Best Crazy/Weird Ending: Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon was a twisty wild ride right up until the end. 

Best Unintentionally Funny Book: The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons. Oh the drama! Oh the swooning! And Pirates!

Best Girl Power Book (Non-Fiction): Record Collecting For Girls by Courtney E Smith. Girl, put your records on. Don't be intimidated to start your own music collection. 

Best Quirky-Wirky Book: Tie between Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and Home to Woefield by Susan Juby. Both have spunky heroines who've never met a problem they can't handle and involve farms of woe.

Best Reason Authors Should Narrate Their Own Books: Tina Fey. I laughed my butt off through Bossypants

Best Frightening Glimpse of the Future: The Giver by Lois Lowry is hopefully not where we're headed. Then again I wouldn't want to live in Colson Whitehead's Zone One either. 

Sweetest Book (In a Good Way): The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Just a little girl and her Grandma on an island. So quiet and lovely.

Best Teen in a Work of Fiction: Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason. I loved that girl.

Freakiest Short Story: I read some doozies but The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman-Perkins was the best! It made a cameo on an episode of American Horror Story. Get that lady out of the wallpaper!

Best Mantra from a Book Ever: "I prefer not to" by Bartleby the Scrivener.

Best Loooooove Story (Sort of): Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy. So purdy.

Finally,
The Best Read of 2011: Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I was impressed by this quiet novel. I loved the main character and her ability to get it together. It made me want to read more from this author.

The Best of 2011

The Not So Fabulous :(

Too Quirky For This Girl: The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart. I just couldn't buy the goings on in that one.

Too Squicky For This Girl: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Yuck, TMI. 

Too Much Teen Angst: Mackie from The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. Play this boy some Morrissey. It was all sad face all the time.

Most Confusing Glimpse of the Future: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. What was going on that last half?

Not My Favorite Austen Re-Mix: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud. No, just no.

No Non-Fiction: Slow Love by Dominique Browning. Not Stroller, not again.

Everybody Loved It...But Me: Every review I read from every other book blogger loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenson. I only thought it was okay.

Just Couldn't Finish It: Pioneer Woman, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. I'm sure Ree Drummond is a wonderful blogger but I couldn't listen (audiobook) to her gushing over Marlboro Man any longer.

So that was how 2011 looked for me reading-wise. This was the most I've read in one year that I can remember. Audiobooks made a big impact on those numbers. This was also the year I tackled Henry James  (again) and this time I won. Nice try, James.

I'm ready for 2012! I hope I find some good books and I hope you do too. How was your reading year?


January 2, 2012

Year the Fifth

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5 years! If my blog was a person, it would be going to school for the first time this year.

Aap-Noot-Mies / Primer in the classroom

On the date of my blogiversary I usually like to take a look back at what I've learned and what I want to accomplish. I'm not sure what I want to do this year. The past couple of months I've read some great books. They aren't the most popular books around. They didn't attract a lot of comments or attention on my blog but that's okay. I loved reading them and sharing my thoughts on them. Those are the kind of reviews I most enjoy writing. I just hope people enjoy reading them.

I've cut down on the number of review books I accept. I still accept the ones that appeal to me. I love being a member of Netgalley. There are so many review books to choose from and while I don't pick many, I feel this is the best way to get review books. The digital copies also free up space on my shelves. Plus, now that my library has digital copies, I have that option too. I just wish there were more older books available. If you're interested in reviewing books on your blog, even if you are on the ebook fence, it could be worth investing in a cheap ereader.

As for my blog, I'm not sure where I'm going. I haven't looked at my stats in a long time. I used to look at them nearly daily. It doesn't seem as important to me now. That might have to do with how I look at review books. My Twitter break wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I'm going to go back but not log in as often and do a few other things suggested by the commenters on my Twitter post. Thanks, you guys! Some of my crankiness has disappeared. Yay! I'm also planning on helping out during Armchair BEA again. That was such a rewarding experience last year.

Personally, I want to make a few changes. I've joined the Get Moving Fitness Challenge (previously known as the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge). I want to loss the pounds I gained over the last 10 years (before I had my daughter) and get fitter. My family has a pass to the Y and I plan on making good use of it. I'm not going to make any crazy resolutions though. I know I'd be disappointed if I can't keep them.

Pen en papier / Pen and paper

Five year olds face challenges and learn a lot that first year of school. They also make friends and have lots of fun. I hope it's the same for blogging five year olds. Well, I've signed up for a few challenges, I hope I learn a lot this year, make new friends, and have a lot of fun!

And because it seems appropriate, here's a song I've been listening to for weeks now. It was a free itunes pick. It's Kathleen Edwards Change the Sheets from her new (January 17) album Voyageur. If all the songs are this good, I will be buying it. A new year is like changing the sheets, fresh and clean.