Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: All About the Classics

Top Ten Tuesday for me this week is all about Classics. I picked five I loved, and five I did not. This is making me think about the classics I have not read yet. That may be next weeks list.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Maybe if I'd been made to read this one in school I wouldn't have loved it so much, but as an adult reading it for the first time, it was wonderful. Attacus Finch is a version of Gilbert Blythe.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
I have loved this in every version I've looked at - print, audio, musical, television. Each time I adore a different character and I don't know if I will ever tire of Anne. And Gilbert, Matthew, and Marilla.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson
Not sure if this counts as a classic, but it was such a delightful little tale that it should be more read. 
I read this one the same time as Major Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and both have the same British feel.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I'm not usually a fan of the classic American novel, but this one is such a crazy ride. I always feel like it could be a Dateline Crime Special from the 90s. The Leo diCaprio movie version was also very well done.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I wish I had read this when I was much younger. Part of my appreciation of Jane Eyre is reading why other women have loved Jane. This is a book where the feminist analysis I've read greatly enhanced the experience. The most recent movie was also very good.

Least Favourite Classics

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I like Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest, but his other books have disappointed me. I've even tried Dorian Gray twice - once on paper, once audiobook, and while the idea of the book is fabulous, the execution leaves me sleepy. Part of it is the style of writing at that time and part is all his double talk.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
First book in my life that I did not finish. All it felt like to me was a bunch of guys doing drugs and avoiding life. Pretty sure we call it an opiod crisis today, but back then it was the beat generation.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Nothing here was offensive, just bored me and I couldn't even stick to the end to see what happened to silly Bilbo Baggins.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I couldn't get past the dialect in this one.

Lord of the Flies by William Goldberg
I hated this in grade ten, and when I listened to it last year I hated it all anew. I get why it is a classic, but the basic premise of resorting to evil and atavistic nature is the one I have a problem with.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

BOOK: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta, 308 pages

review copy from Simon&Schuster Canada

Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Leftovers, is becoming one of my reliable authors and moving into MRE (must read everything) territory. One of the things I like is that each of his books are so very different although all so far have been very readable.

Mrs Fletcher has many characters with decent backstories, very contemporary with autistic and trans characters, millennials and divorced parents discovering porn on the internet but the plot overall is minimal. Eve, divorced mom, takes her jock son, Brendan, to college, and needs to find ways to deal with having an empty nest. She takes an evening college course on Gender Studies and hopes to make some new friends, while Brendan has the adjustment of going from a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. The narration changes between the two - third person from Eve's point of view but first person from Brendan's. I liked this choice, as it lets the reader be able to have some tiny bit of sympathy for Brendan which would not be possible without his inner thoughts. His actions are terribly immature in nearly all cases.

There are a number of things that shouldn't make this a good read, but I really enjoyed it! The characters don't grow or change very much, especially the son. Not much really happens over the course of the year that the book takes place. Many characters make bad decisions, especially with their sexual partners, but I kept hoping they might improve. There was a happy ending that was pretty obvious. And yet, I flew through this fast and fun book and liked how all the characters tied together.

I think the title is wrong; it's okay, as Eve is the main character, but there are so many other things going on. The title may be a play on Mrs Robinson from the movie which almost works. It needs more of a chick lit title like The MILF and the Empty Nest

Monday, July 24, 2017

BOOK: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, 204 pages

Hogarth Shakespeare Series

1. After reading Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, I became interested in the Hogarth Series, rewriting of Shakespeare plays by modern authors with a modern take.

2. I love Tracy Chevalier's books. She has written some amazing historical fiction novels (Girl With Pearl Earring, The Lady and the Unicorn, Remarkable Creatures). When I saw that Chevalier was the latest author to tackle Hogarth with her take on Othello, I was pumped.

3. Anyone remember the Disney show Recess? It's a classic that follows all the stuff that happens at recess in elementary school. The hierarchy, the cliques, the rules and leaders that occur everywhere - the diggers, the teachers, the skip-ropers, the girl who tries to get the swing to go over. The rules and interactions on a playground are real as children learn to maneuver social situations a lot can happen in a short time of recess and lunch (or as kids today call it - big recess)

4. Othello is a play I have not read, but I'm familiar with some of the characters like Iago, Othello and Desdemona. Oh, remember the song Desdemona from Fame? Loved this.

5. New Boy takes place in the run of a day (Before School, Recess, Lunch, Afternoon Recess, After School - Othello is a 5 Act play). Osei, a new student originally from Ghana arrives at a 1974 Washington DC school and is the only black student. Dee immediately befriends him, but Ian is not happy to see the balance of the playground shifted. Betrayal and tragedy ensues.

6. I read this over one day and was impressed with Chevalier's ability to remember how real and intense childhood can be. The main characters here are in grade six, and 'going together' is a big deal but probably doesn't seem important to adults. Ian as a manipulative mean child is oh so real. Eleven and twelve year olds are in the conflicting age of starting to understand grown-up ideas, and then able to flip back to childhood games.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

BOOKS: The Red Umbrella and If I Run

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (audiobook)

This was a nice little find from YA Sync! Set during the Cuban Revolution, it follows a fourteen year old girl, Lucia, as life as she knew it changes forever. Early 1961, Castro is just beginning to make changes and Lucia's parents are concerned, but it doesn't really affect Lucia. Her friends are starting to join the young brigade, but they are still interested in trying to wear make-up and meeting boys. When Lucia sees someone hung in a tree her understanding of the revolution changes. (Only real violent scene, along with a bad *kissing scene with the guy she likes)

Because of these first scenes, I though the book would be darker but once Lucia and her brother get out of Cuba, things go very well. A lovely family fostered them, they fit in quite well in Nebraska, and it becomes all quite predictable. But, I really liked the predictability because I wanted things to work out well for Lucia and her brother! 

I'm not sure why some predictable books are okay while others are annoying. It could be my mood, or it could be something about the writing that transcends stereotypes. The writer creates characters with a little more depth. The topic of the Cuban Revolution was unique and I found that information enlightening, and then the characters were layered.

If I Run by Terri Broadstock (audiobook)

This one has tons of great reviews at Librarything and Goodreads, but... It is a suspenseful, girl on the run, told from two points of view, and it should have been in my wheelhouse. However, early on I became cynical and then once I started nit-picking, I could find plot holes to drive a truck through. So, this was an example of predictablity that didn't work for me. 

(I was also disappointed that it ended on cliff-hanger as there is a second book, If I'm Found. Books can be part of a series and have a sense of conclusion in each part)

There were strong Christian overtones as the main character struggled with her faith and would ask people she met about their faith. Oh, and she was perfect. Like unbelievably perfect (except for her lack of faith, but she leads a Christian life, saving and helping everyone she comes in contact with). I'm not anti-Christian but I didn't enjoy this aspect of the book. (Apparently the text version has a letter from the author that is very anti Planned Parenthood, which I'm glad I didn't have to read.) 

The mystery/conspiracy theory was not terrible, but as I started questioning, it fell apart for me. My sister was also listening to it, and she was quite enjoying it and finding it suspenseful, unless I ruined it for her, lol.  So, there is an audience for this book, but I am not it.  I won't need to read the second book.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

AUDIOBOOKS: YA Summer Sync (Dystopian Version)

Few more mini-reviews from the YA Sync free summer downloads. There are still 6 weeks of books to get.

I also just discovered Google Photos app, and now automatically am syncing my photos from my phone to the computer via all thing Google (that keypad for icons) It stores the pics in the cloud, freeing up valuable space on my phone for more audiobooks. It can be quite an operation on Thursdays trying to make space for the newest two audiobooks, but I think this will help. See how easily I can add a pic from my phone to my blog:

Here are some of the strawberries I picked on Monday. There is nothing like fresh PEI strawberries!

Feed - M.T. Anderson 

The world building here was good - the author just has the teen in the story narrating like a diary, using slang and talking without explaining what anything is. It makes you feel like you've landed in a future world and you try to make sense of things. I liked that about the book. The plot itself was beside the point for me, and a month or so later, I pretty much forget what the story was. I do remember that the 'feed' was like an implanted internet in their heads; and could profile you like google and facebook do based on your past activity. A reaction to the feed was skin issues. Overall, an okay read for the imaginative future that could be coming with our materialist bent.

Freakling - Lana Krumwiede

Another world building book, where communities have been isolated based on their development of PSI, or telekinesis. Kind of like how in Harry Potter world they use magic for everything, here they use PSI to eat, open doors, etc. 

The main character gets in an accident with his (evil) brother and loses his PSI. Taemon gets exiled to a nearby community which has a different form of PSI, and there is a longtime difference between the towns. There are power grabs, and discoveries of new ideas, and learning from history. There are a couple more PSI Chronicle books to this series, but I don't feel the need to continue, although the world building was done well.

The Gathering (Shadow House Book 1) by Dan Poblocki
Speaking of books I'm not planning to continue...
This one is not futuristic, but it is paranormal. I did really enjoy the set up of this book, as five children are invited to a particular house (the shadow house) under different pretexts, and they have to learn why and what is going on as once they get to the house, weird stuff starts happening and they can't leave. Also, no adults show up. A Stephen King type book for middle graders, which probably explains why I liked it the most. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top Series I Want to Continue Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is taking a summer break, but I am not. I'm looking up old topics, and totally snagged this one from Katherine @ IWishILivedinaLibrary who did this topic last week. (Like me, she is also making her own lists; rebels we are, lol)

Dr Siri Paiboun by Colin Cotterill
I just read the first book, The Coroner's Lunch and really enjoyed it. My library has nearly all the books about the reluctant coroner in 1970s communist Laos.

Shardlake series by CJ Sansom
Set in Tudor England, this series combines history with murder. I have the next few books that I picked up at yard sales, and I really liked the first book. They are long books which may be why I haven't picked up the next one yet.

The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isobel Dalhousie) by Alexander McCall Smith
Since I am up to date with the Number One Ladies Detective Agency,  this other McCall Smith series set in Scotland could keep me occupied. I read the first one years ago and found it only okay. For some reason, last year I read the second one and caught the appeal a little more. Easy, quick reads.

Harry Hole by Jo Nesbo
I read a couple of these popular Swedish police mysteries but then didn't get back to them.  They were good when I read them.

Miss Julia by Ann B Ross
A rare non-mystery series, Miss Julia is a southern lady who gets into scrapes, and is always trying to control the people around her. Light and fun, this series is now up to 19 books; I've read four.

Mrs Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman
Another series where I've read the first one, really enjoyed it, and then never got back to it.

Earth's Children by Jean M Auel
I only have the last book, The Land of the Painted Caves, to read, but it's been a long time since I read the last book, over ten years ago. The completist in me wants to finish Ayla's adventures.

Martin Beck by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall
I am up to book number 7 of 10 of this Swedish police series. This series is considered a classic in terms of police mysteries. The Ed McBain 87th precinct books I read in the 80s could be considered the children of this series, and I get the same feeling from both series.

Monday, July 10, 2017

BOOK: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

It's summer vacation, the weather is great, and there are lots of books to be read. I just got back from a quick trip to the cottage I share with my sister. I've done some local touring, and plan to pick strawberries at a u-pick tomorrow. Summer is good.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and One Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall, 288 pages

That sub-title pretty much sums up this sweet children's book. The family spends a few weeks at a cottage where they get into scrapes, make friends, and grow. 

from Amazon summary:
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.

Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.

I liked how it was hard to place the time - could have been the 1950s, could have been ten years ago. There is a real timeless quality. Computers are mentioned but the children don't have cell phones. It also reminded me of old Enid Blyton books where the kids are on adventures with parents not around. Overall, this was an easy sweet read and luckily, there are several more books in the series.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette
The Penderwicks in Spring

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books at the Top of My Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is taking a break for the summer so no new topics. However, I am not working for the summer so this is a good time for me to make bookish lists. Sigh. However I have decided to be a rebel and make my own lists from past topics that appeal to me. You may expect Top Ten lists from me over the summer. (Unless I fall asleep on the beach with my books and you don't hear from me until school starts in September.)
Happy Independence Day!

Here is a list of the Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List.

An large epic book:
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Summer is the perfect time to read a big, epic book. Last summer, it was The Fireman by Joe Hill. This year I am tackling a meta-mystery.

A Children's Book:
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
Summer is a great time to read some easy books, and I've borrowed this one from our school library. Also, Nan recommends.

A Mystery (new series):
Before the Frost by Henning Mankell
Next month's book club read is a Swedish mystery that I have never read. They will be excited that we have a book I haven't read yet.

An Audiobook: 
The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett
YA Sync books are piling up on me and I'll listen to more than this, but I am looking forward to Terry Pratchett's foolishness.

a Graphic Novel:
Susanna Moodie: Roughing It In the Bush by Carol Shields
A Canadian history book by Carol Shields in graphic novel form? yes, please.

A Young Adult book: 
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
Epistolary book about twins looks likes fun.

A Science Fiction fun book:
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas by John Scalzi
I've been wanting to read this one for a while, and recently found it at the library book sale. It's based on the idea that the guy in the red shirt on Star Trek was always going to be the guy who died...

An Ongoing Series:
World of Trouble (The Last Policeman) by Ben H Winters
This has been a great little trilogy and I can't wait to see how it all ends. Could be literally as an asteroid is headed to Earth...

A Nonfiction Memoir:
Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying by Wayson Choy
I almost forgot to put a nonfiction book on my list. Also Canadian since it is Canada150 this year.

A Classic:
The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
I've been slowly making my way through Margaret Laurence books. The covers are terrible the books are wonderful.

Friday, June 30, 2017

AUDIOBOOKS: Young Adult Summer Sync Books

Quick little reviews of some of 2017's YA Sync downloads

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde 
I read this ten years ago, found it boring, and still did. The idea of the story is great, but the execution and Wilde's absurd philosophical talk is just too much. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 
Another reread from ten years ago, this one is still as funny and amusing as it was the first time. Also absurd, but it holds up a bit better. 
This book also has the answer to everything, in case you were wondering, and is considered a sci-fi classic.

Bronx Masquerade - Nikki Grimes 
Another book written in verse for me this year. A high school class in the Bronx holds an open-mike Friday for students to share their poetry, and they learn a lot about each other, and what might be going on behind the surface. Nicely done, well performed on audio.

Boy - Anna Ziegler 
The LA Theatre Works downloads are simply an acted out play recorded live. This one is about the aftermath of a horrific accident on a baby, raised as a girl for a while until he finds out the truth. The psychiatrist who 'studies' him is terrible, but the play is dramatic and full of emotions. Gender is so much more complicated than boy or girl.

The Dead House - Dawn Kurtagich 
This was a crazy ride of multimedia sources - diaries, video footage, interviews which document a mystery. A fire years ago in a school and a missing girl. There is split personalities, paranormal stuff, some violence, pretty much a bit of everything. I had a great time talking about what all happened with my sister who also listened. As usual, discussing a book brings a new perspective and blanks were filled in. Overall, this was a pretty interesting young adult read. 

Teenage Diaries: Then and Now
Did you ever watch Seven Up from the old BBC programs? It followed a group of kids and interviewed them every seven years, from 7, 14, 21, 28, and so on. It was fascinating seeing how they grew, and a tad intrusive at the same time. This is a similar audio, revisiting several former teenagers who were profiled on Radio Diaries from NPR. Different people, different stories. Radio Diaries is also available as a podcast

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BOOK: Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald

Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald, 240 pages 

Norm Macdonald, Canadian comic, famous for his stand-up, his dry humour, his controversial time as host of SNL Weekend Update, a few unfamous movies like Dirty Jobs, and recently, playing Uncle Rusty on The Middle and a weird stint as Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, has written a 'memoir'. 

Before I started reading the book, I happened to notice on the copyright page: "The stories in this memory begin with the author’s recollection of events, which is – by his own admission – spotty.” Next I noticed the dedication - To Charles Manson (not that one). 

These were my first clues to the total foolishness that Norm Macdonald was up to.  Knowing that Norm is just telling a story with a long punchline let me in on the joke that is this book. I found it funny, but don't expect to read this and think you will gain insight into Norm Macdonald's life.  I will say I though the Manson joke paid off very well and I found the whole ghostwriter stuff pretty funny. 

I've followed Norm by times on Twitter, but he tweets too much to follow continuously. However, a few times I've read this stories on Twitter, such as the background to the Celebrity Jeopardy skit from the anniversary SNL show, which was pretty funny. He writes long stories on Twitter, which shouldn't be possible.

There may be germs of truth in the book, but most gets super exaggerated and flat-out made up. The whole gambling gambit, deal with the devil, falling out of windows are clearly made up. Some of the people are real (Adam Sandler, Lorne Michaels, etc) but I doubt the conversations are real. But once you get the humour, it just continues and you can enjoy the foolishness. I haven't seen all of Norm's stuff, so the famous answering machine joke was something I wasn't familiar with (and neither will you - he never tells that joke in the book) but in some reviews I've read, some of his jokes, like the moth joke, have been told before.

If you are half a fan of Norm, you might enjoy this, but it is not for someone unfamiliar with Norm's humour. I enjoyed the foolishness.