Nothing Day

Finally. December 27th is here. The day I get to do absolutely nothing. I'm not even getting dressed today. No meals to cook because the fridge is groaning with leftovers, no visits to make or company to receive because it's all been done, no wrapping, cleaning or preparing because it's just plain too late. It is Nothing Day in my house. I can read, watch tv, read, play games, read, write in my blog, and read. I am responsible for absolutely nothing. I love Nothing Day. I slept, or at least stayed in bed till 1 pm. I've been reading since then and may go back for a nap in a few minutes. I'm even stepping over stuff on the floor that any other day would have to be picked up. I don't have a "to do" list. I won't even make one for tomorrow. Because Nothing Day, my friends, is inviolable.

So. Books. Did you get books for Christmas? I got two: Empire Of Illusion by Chris Hedges, a book I've been reading about for a long time and Anne Perry's Silent Nights, which contains two of her Christmas mysteries. I plan to read one or both of them this week, then I have to get into Eat, Pray, Love for book club on January 12th. That will be our travel book/dinner meeting, so I have to find a couple of recipes from Italy, India or Bali to cook for the meal.

I'm reading War and Peace with Daily Lit, the site that will break a book up into sections and email you one daily. It's a great way to read those books that will take forever without having to put off all the other books you want to get at. I get 2 sections sent to my inbox every day and it takes about 5 minutes to read it. It'll get me through War and Peace in about a year, whereas I might never get through it otherwise. I'm a few days behind right now but I can get caught up in half an hour or so. I think Daily Lit is a brilliant idea.

This year I took part in the Book Blogger's Christmas Card Exchange hosted by Anastasia of Birdbrained Book Blog. It was one of the most fun parts of Christmas this year. I got names to send cards to in various parts of the world, and I received cards from around the world as well. They all came with long notes/letters telling how they celebrate Christmas in their part of the world. Thank you to: Carla of , Ana of things mean a lot, Jess of start narrative here, Ryan of wordsmithonia and Courtney of stiletto storytime for the cards and letters. Thank you for the time and effort you took to tell me about yourselves and your Christmas celebrations.You reminded me just how enjoyable it is to get a lovely chatty letter in the mail. Everybody uses email now, but wouldn't it be nice to write letters again? Wouldn't it be fun to have a penpal and look forward to real letters on paper? 

Christmas Eve here is very busy, but I always wish it wasn't. I like Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. I like wrapped presents better than opened ones. I like thinking about Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Bethlehem before the busyness of present opening, dinner making and family visiting takes over. I like the anticipating, the preparing, the readiness. Music that I'm tired of on the 26th still holds profound meaning on the 24th. I'd like to spend the day quietly, but the clock is ticking so I get ready for the influx of family after church. It is long standing tradition that there will be homemade eggnog and a table filled with things like baked brie with crackers, puff pastry hors d'oeuvres, spinach/artichoke dip with baked pita chips and of course the requisite tray of Christmas sweets, cookies with a whole cherry hidden inside, mocha cakes and peanut butter balls and sugar cookies in the shape of snowflakes frosted and topped with sanding sugar to make them glisten like real snow. This year after we were all stuffed to the gills, my granddaughter read The Night Before Christmas and my son read the Nativity Story from Luke chapter 2. I had asked everyone to come prepared to share a favorite Christmas memory, sing a song or read a story. A few brave souls complied. We heard a few favorite memories, heard my daughter and her daughter sing "We Wish You A Tasty Fruitcake", and had a few laughs over funny stories. 

Christmas morning, we were all together for the first time in years. My son, Nick, and his girlfriend have been staying with us for a while and my daughter, Amanda, and her family are here for the week. There were eight of us and two dogs and a mountain of presents to open. We opened our stockings first then the men made breakfast and we tackled the presents. I love watching people open gifts. The surprise and delight on their faces makes up for all the hours and effort put into making Christmas happen. In the afternoon, Amanda and her family went to my son-in-law's parents to have dinner with his family. The four of us here had a traditional turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. Our usual Christmas dinner dessert is steamed cranberry pudding with butter sauce, but my son's girlfriend always had pumpkin pie at home and I wanted to have something that would make it feel like Christmas for her. After the kitchen was cleaned up (10 pm or so) we spent the rest of the evening watching Christmas-y things on tv. 

Boxing day starts with sleeping in, but not too late because things have to be prepared for the family gathering at my mothers. This is where I will see my sisters and family, and my brother. All in all there will be thirteen of us there. The meal this time is all finger foods, so I take teriyaki meatballs and another tray of sweets. This is a tricky gathering to navigate because certain topics can't be raised and certain opinions can't be expressed if peace is to reign. So we keep it light and hope for the best. We got home from that around 8 pm. I put on my Christmas red robe, poured a Bailey's, put my feet up, and thought "Woooo Hoooo! Tomorrow is Nothing Day!"

And that was Christmas. I love most everything about the season including the music, the gift-choosing, the pretty paper and cards, the story of Jesus, the candles, the lights, the decorated tree and the fancy foods. I don't like the family tensions, the hurry and fatigue or the budget limitations. I like it when Christmas comes and I like it when it goes and I get my living room and my time back. 

I love today. Nothing Day. A wonderful invention if I do say so myself. I highly recommend it to one and all. Now, I believe I'll go back to reading for a while. And then, well, then I'll do just whatever I feel like doing.

Have a great week everyone.

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson

My book club read this for our Christmas selection this year. I was surprised when I heard someone mention it because I read it many years ago and haven't really heard much about it since. In the early 80's we turned it into a play for the children's concert at our church and my daughter played the role of Gladys. At the time I thought it was rather a brilliant bit of character casting; if you read it you'll understand. My little girl is all grown up now and has two girls (14 and 9) of her own, but this book brought back a lot of great memories.

I don't know if anyone is reading this book anymore but it really is worth the couple of hours you'd have to invest. It's entertaining, sweet and funny and it's a Christmas book so of course it has a happy ending. Sometimes it's a bit over the top, but that also is expected in a Christmas book.

The story centers on a nativity play being put together by a harried church member who has to include in the cast a family of children who are unchurched, uncouth and unpredictable. They are refreshingly imperfect and outspoken (even swearing a couple of times), but that's easy for me to say because I'm just the reader. I'd have pulled my hair out as the poor woman who had to cope with it all and come up with something presentable for Christmas Eve.

 If you get a chance to read this one over the holidays I'm sure you'll be glad you did. It would also make a great gift or stocking stuffer for someone else. I've heard there's a movie based on the book but I haven't seen it. Maybe next year.

Getting Back to Reality

December. I can't believe it's just over two weeks till Christmas. I haven't been very attentive to this blog the past couple of months and I apologize to my readers. It's been kind of a crazy time and I didn't get much reading done, hence the lack of regular posts. For six mind-numbing weeks I was waiting to get tests results to find out if the cancer I had last year has come back. The symptoms pointed to that, but the tests didn't show anything conclusive. I was told there is "something" there (abdominal) but my Oncologist doesn't think it's cancer. I have to have one more test to make sure. An x-ray showed a spot on my lung as well, so I'm waiting now to have a CT scan that will show more clearly what that is. It will be the end of March before the testing is done, results are in and I see him again, so it's going to be another long wait. I think I'm past the shock and panic stage of those first six weeks though. I'm able to read and concentrate on what I'm doing and not feeling quite so scatterbrained as I did. There is Christmas to be celebrated and life to be lived and I'm not going to let what "might be" change all that.  So here's hoping I'll get some reading done in the coming weeks, well, once I finish the shopping, wrapping, baking, etc.!

Several weeks ago 100 Thoughts very generously awarded me the Life Is Good award and I am only now getting around to thanking her and passing it on. I have linked back to her blog so you can check out some of her reviews. I'm passing it on to Jamie at perpetualpageturner. I chose her and her blog because 1.-I like her positive attitude and 2.-although I am a lot, lot older than her, I'd still like to be her if I ever grow up. Which I probably won't. Go have a look at her blog;. She's....well she's likeable. You'll like her!

Award recipients are asked to answer the following questions:
1. If you blog anonymously are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now? I did consider anonymity in the beginning but it didn't feel right for me. I was a little nervous about family/friends reading it but I don't think many of them do anyway. Only a couple of friends are regular readers.
2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side. Well....I assured myself it would be a good idea to cut back on Christmas this year, a small tree, very little baking, fewer gifts, etc. I'm sitting here looking at the biggest tree we've had in years, there is already baking in the freezer and I have a stack of recipes sitting on the kitchen counter, and I can hardly get to my bed because there is a mountain of bags and boxes that need to be wrapped and put under the huge tree. Stubborn or stupid?
3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror? Someone whose outside and inside don't match.
4. What is your favorite summer cold drink? A mango margarita.
5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do? Read.
6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in life? What is it? I want to write something good.
7.When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching? The shy person. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.
8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment of your life what would you see? There was a moment when my son was about 5 and my daughter 10.  It was a Saturday and we were all at home. My husband was reading the paper, my son playing with cars in the hallway and my daughter was in her room doing nothing in particular, just enjoying a day off school. I was sitting in my chair in the livingroom reading when I became aware that the moment was perfect. Everybody was together at home, healthy, happy and doing something they wanted to be doing. It was so perfect, and I knew how precious it was and that it had to be savoured because there was no guarantee of having that moment again. I've never forgotten it.
9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events? I tend to write mostly about the books I'm reading. I'm not very comfortable making myself vulnerable, so this post is going to get read and reread and rewritten a hundred times before it's posted.
10. If you had the choice to sit down and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why? Read, always. I'm sort of anti-phone. I don't like making calls and I don't like it when the phone rings. I may be the only person left on the planet who doesn't have (or want) a cell phone.

I hope to have a review ready to post soon now that I'm reading again. Thank-you to all my readers for your patience. And thanks for being here.

"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn"

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This is yet another one of those books I've been hearing about all my life but never got around to reading. No real reason, it just never fell into my path. When I started reading book blogs, it was everywhere. It always got good reviews so I found a copy at a used book store and threw in in my pile.

I finally got around to reading it a couple of weeks ago, and oh my it was really good. I couldn't put it down. The story hooks you and reels you in with writing so good that you don't even notice it. That's so refreshing. Description and dialogue flow naturally so both story and characters develop at a good pace.

The setting is Brooklyn, NY, 1912. Francie, the main character, is 11 years old when the story starts and 17 when it closes and is one of the more memorable characters I've read in a while. I guess this is a "coming of age" story, but I hate to use that term. I don't know why I dislike it so much, but I tend to not read a book if that's how it has been described to me. Just one more of a long list of reading quirks I seem to operate by.

Francie's story is enjoyable to read because she doesn't waste any time feeling sorry for herself. She and her brother, Neely, make the best of whatever comes their way. They live in poor and always unpredictable circumstances but they live, really live, every moment, and they live it with hope. It's that hope that is never lost or abandoned that makes Francie and her family so very endearing. Francie is smart, funny and vibrant. I love her tenacity, her refusal to let life break her spirit and her quiet acceptance of all the little (and the big) idiosyncracies of her family members.

I like that the tone of the book stays positive through all the hardships yet never becomes sappy. It is realistic, neither a fairy tale nor fatalism. I'm finding so many books, old and new, that have nothing to offer but hopelessness. Pointlessness. Sometimes it seems like the more jaded or cynical the author, the more the book is esteemed. On the other end of that spectrum are books that are nauseatingly sweet. Characters are one dimensional, the plot never thickens, and everybody lives happily ever after. I don't like those any better than the hopeless ones. I like them like this one, real, sometimes even gritty, but still finding good in people and beauty in the world.    

I think this is one book I will read again one day. It's a great choice for anyone looking for a good story and a positive outcome. I most definitely recommend it.

"A Homemade Life"

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

 What an enjoyable book to read! The friend who loaned it to me is one of a handful of people whose recommendations I always read, and I don't recall ever being disappointed. This is one more I'm glad she told me about.

This is a memoir, and a recipe book, and it's successful at both. The stories the author tells about her family and friends are well told and interesting enough that you really want to know more. Well, except for that one story about how and to whom she lost her virginity. I didn't need to know that. Call me old-fashioned but I still think private things are best left private.

There are a lot of impressive recipes here. As I read each one (they are scattered throughout the book at chapter endings) I made a note of the ones I wanted to try for myself. Then I realized I was actually making a note of every single recipe in the book. They sound that good. And that's without pictures.

The ones I finally settled on are: Blueberry and Raspberry Pound Cake, Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears, Jimmy's Pink Cookies, Cream-braised Green Cabbage and Caramelized Cauliflower. Just writing the words makes me hungry. The one I'm most looking forward to is the Caramelized Cauliflower (strange I know. Not the recipe, me, for anticipating cauliflower more than Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears). I love cauliflower, but let's face it, it's boring. Unless you bury in it cheese sauce and most of the time that's just too much work/too many calories.

Molly Wizenberg writes a blog that I haven't had a chance to check out yet. It's at You can probably get a good idea of what the book is like from the blog. All in all I found it a lovely read and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves cooking and/or memoirs.

"Never Cry Wolf"

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

I have no idea why I haven't read Farley Mowat before, but I am sure I'll be reading more. Very well written and entertaining as well, "Never Cry Wolf" is the story of Mowat's Arctic adventure as a biologist with the Canadian Government. He was sent to study the wolves the government believed were responsible for the diminishing caribou population. His assignment was to find a solution for "the wolf problem".

One of the review blurbs on the first page says "...even if you don't give a hang about wolves or the arctic you will enjoy this book...", a sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with. I don't particularly like either the Arctic climate or animals (don't condemn me, I do rather enjoy kittens), especially wolves, but I loved this book.

The only reason I picked this book up is because in July I signed up for the Canadian Book Challenge and in choosing books for that, my guilt over never having read this well-loved Canadian author was stirred up. I did my duty, read the book...and fell in love. Now I want to read everything Mowat has written.

He's interesting, honest, easy to read and he has a delicious sense of humor. Interested in wolves or not, I found myself fascinated by his story. So fascinated, in fact, that I forgot to make notes and underline quotable passages as I read, so I don't have much to offer except to say it's a delight to read.

I may not be a convert to the Arctic or to wolves, but I am definitely a convert to Farley Mowat. I loved this book and can recommend it to pretty much everyone of any age.

This is my 6th book for the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John at Book Mine Set

"Christmas Treasury"

Christmas Treasury by Louisa May Alcott

I know it's a little early for Christmas books, but our book club chose this for our November selection so here we are. And besides I'm accumulating such a collection of "read this every Christmas" books that there isn't time in December for all of them anymore. I'm going to have to start earlier or give some of them up.

If you loved "Little Women" then you will probably love this collection of Christmas stories too. They are each centered around a young girl, and are sweet, wholesome and altogether lovely. Each one delivers a moral lesson, but it's done gently and isn't preachy. It's everything we know and love about Louisa May Alcott.

Unfortunately I don't think this was a good time for me to read this one. I simply haven't been in the right frame of mind and so didn't enjoy the stories as much as I should have.

I will make a point of reading them again, closer to Christmas, and I know I'll find them as touching and satisfying as I ought to then. I'll let them convince me that right always wins, that good always comes to those who do good, and that hard work is always rewarded. I want to believe those things and it's easier at Christmastime. The beautiful music, the sentimental movies and stories all tend to soften our hearts and for a few weeks we believe in a world that sparkles and shines. We know that come January we will go back to the real world, where good things do happen, but not all the time and people are good, but not all the time. It's fun to take a break from those realities in December and let down the walls we build to protect ourselves. At Christmastime we open up and let life be what we want it to be all year round. The stories in this book will be perfect then.

"Christmas Treasury" would be a lovely gift for any reader. It has a very nice red hard cover and a beautiful glossy dust jacket. From little girls to grandmothers, I think any girl would enjoy reading this collection.

"Of Human Bondage"

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

After finishing this book I feel the way a marathon runner must feel when he crosses the finish line. It took every ounce of perseverance I could dredge up to stick with it to the end.

The first thirty or so chapters were rather dull. For a long time, a very long time, none of the characters seemed to grow or learn anything or change in any way. They lived by their feelings, consequences never considered, thinking only of their own instant gratification.  For a while I thought I was reading The Picture of Dorian Gray again. Then, happily, the setting changed to France and that piqued my interest for a while longer.

At this point, Philip Carey, the main character, begins a series of strange relationships and makes so many bad decisions he should have won a prize for the sheer volume of them. He falls passionately in love with the most unsuitable woman on earth and allows that passion to rule him for years. The woman, Mildred, uses him viciously and breaks his heart over and over again. She is one of the most selfish characters I have met in literature. 

Maugham doesn't have much good to say about women. At one point a friend of Philip's says:"I don't think that women ought to sit down at table with men. It ruins conversation and I'm sure it's very bad for them. It puts ideas in their heads and women are never at ease with themselves when they have ideas."

Later he makes this statement about women in hospitals (attributed to Philip, but it sounded more like the author's own voice): "Like everyone connected with hospitals he found that male patients were more easy to get on with than female. The women were often querulous and ill-tempered. They complained bitterly of the hard-worked nurses, who did not show them the attention they thought their right and they were troublesome, ungrateful and rude."  Well, ok then.

I got frustrated waiting for Philip to grow up. He kept shooting himself in the foot then wringing his hands in despair over his own bad judgment. By then I was wringing my own hands in despair and questioning how much longer I wanted to read disappointment, discouragement and misery.

Then....ta da!....Philip began to look within himself, waxing philosophical and gleaning some wisdom from life. I also found some great lines which helped considerably. About three quarters of the way through these seven hundred and sixty pages, Philip began to grow on me. He had hit rock bottom, often the place where humans begin to grow up, and the book took on a more positive tone. Once it became more fun to read, it ended.

Just as your children only leave home after they get through the roller-coaster teen years and become pleasant, functioning adults you like having around, so this book ended with Philip's life changing for the good as he matured. The reader is given every sad detail of his misery, then is left alone with the assurance that things would be better now. So unfair. I wanted there to be another chapter or two about his life now that the future held some promise. I wanted to experience happy Philip. Alas, it was not to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed Maugham's writing. I wondered at times if he was a tad pretentious, or maybe he does just actually have a formidable vocabulary and know how to use it. These gave me pause and sent me running for the dictionary: "With the spring, Hayward grew dithyrambic." and "...he found an unexpected fascination in listening to meta-physical disquisitions."
Really? Dithyrambic?

Some of the great quotes I will take away from this book:

"He formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading; he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life. "

"One mark of a writer's greatness is that different minds can find in him different inspirations."

"But he had a feeling that life was to be lived rather than portrayed, and he wanted to search out the various experiences of it and wring from each moment all the emotion that it offered."

And my favorite:

"Kant thought things not because they were true but because he was Kant."  I love it.

Of Human Bondage is worth reading. It may take some patience as it did for me, or maybe you'll be able to get into it from the very beginning. Either way I think you'll find it worth your time in the end. I'm glad I read it. And I'm glad it's over.


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again". Such a great opening line. Immediately you feel Manderley is a wonderful place that is now out of reach, an experience that once was but can never be again. The sense of longing that line creates lingers throughout the rest of the story.

Rebecca is the deceased wife of Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley. Though she is never present physically, the memory of her, her larger-than-life personality and the impact left on the living characters are the core of the story.

The narrator is a young woman traveling in Monte Carlo as companion to an rather nasty older woman. She meets Maxim, falls in love with him and the rest of the book is about their relationship with each other, with Manderley and it's staff, and with Rebecca, whose memory just will not go away.

The interesting thing about this story is that the narrator is never named. She is only ever referred to as Mrs. de Winter and "she".  At first I found it annoying that I didn't know her name because it made her seem ineffectual, more of a shadow of a person than a real one. I've read that Daphne Du Maurier didn't name her because she couldn't come up with a name to suit her. Whether that is true or not, leaving her nameless certainly was effective in diminishing her as a person and leaving her secondary to Rebecca and pretty much everyone else.

It's hard to talk about someone who doesn't have a name: I'll have to call her "She". She had difficulty adjusting to life at Manderley and to her position as lady of the manor. Her nervousness was understandable. She was very young and inexperienced and had never lived the sort of lifestyle required of her present situation. Understandable or not, I got frustrated with her at times. She was afraid to explore the house and and get caught somewhere she didn't need to be, she was afraid of dealing with the staff and she just could not make herself take charge of situations when she needed to. Once, when she broke a china ornament in the morning room, she quickly scooped up the shattered pieces, put them in an envelope and hid them in the back of a drawer, not telling anyone until she was forced to because someone else was accused of stealing it. I wanted her to stand up to people more; her insecurity was almost embarrassing.

As for Maxim, I don't think I like him much. For the first half of the book, he's remote and sometimes slightly superior. He treats "She" (that just sounds so wrong) like a puppy, rather than his wife. Then there is a scene where he confesses what actually happened to Rebecca and his entire personality changes. He becomes tender and kind and starts telling her how much he loves her and how lost he'd be without her. I realize that unburdening oneself of guilt will bring relief, but if he really loved her so much, why didn't he mention that when he proposed? Really, it was a proposal, people, and he couldn't bring himself to say he loved her? And what was the purpose of treating her like a child or a pet? Why could he not call her "darling" until after he confessed?  If his guilt didn't prevent him marrying her, why did it prevent him being loving toward her?

I was a little dismayed that it never seemed to bother "She" that she was married to someone who could do what Maxim had done. Good grief, she was afraid of the servants but not him? The ending bothered me too. I don't want to give it away, so I'll just say that in some way justice was done, but in another way, it just didn't feel right at all.

This book may never be one of my favorites, but I liked it well enough and it was well written so I can recommend it, especially to anyone who likes a mystery. I've been putting off reading it because the cover is old and beat up (pathetic aren't I?) and I'm glad I can finally cross it off my list. And if that's the only real benefit I can see from having read it, I'm ok with that.

Friday Blog Hop

I haven't taken part in the hop for the past few weeks and I almost forgot about it this week. Just made it! For those of you who are new to the hop, it's a weekly blog party hosted by Crazy-For-Books every weekend. You sign up on that site, post about it on your own blog, then start visiting the over 200 blogs listed every week. This is how I've found most of the blogs I follow and I can't tell you how many great book recommendations it's given me.

Each week the host asks those taking part to answer a question. This week it's -

When you read a book that you just can't get into, do you stick it out and keep reading or move to your next title?

This is something I've struggled with a lot. For one thing it isn't fair to review a book I haven't finished, and besides that so much work goes into writing a book that it seems almost disrespectful to the author to not finish it. However, as middle age has begun to fade in the distance for me, I realize I no longer have an endless number of years to read all the books I want to read. So, in the past year I have "not finished" 4 books and I have a page on my blog listing the titles and why I didn't finish reading them. These are books from my tbr. Books on my "Guilt List" are different. I put them on the list because I feel bad, or uneducated, or negligent or something about not having read them. So I'm finishing them whether I like them or not as part of my continuing education. So far so good, but if I come to a really horrible one I don't know if I'll be able to force myself to finish or not. I got all the way through Anna Karenina though so that probably bodes well for the others on that list. Time will tell.

Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely weekend,

"The Cellist Of Sarajevo"

The Cellist Of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

This is a story told without a lot of emotion, as though a numbness has settled into the pages. Such horrific loss, unthinkable living conditions and fear from which there is never a moment of relief, probably leaves you with only two choices: become numb or go insane.

It is the characters who drive this story and not the plot itself. These people are braver than I can begin to comprehend. My favorite character is the cellist. He has determined to play his cello on the street where 22 people were killed by a bomb as they stood in line waiting for bread. He will play one day for each person lost. His refusal to be beaten down, even when he too is numb with suffering is a stunning testament to the strength of the life force within human beings.

The other main characters are: Kenan, a young man trying to provide for his wife and children in a bombed out shell of a city with no ready source of food or water, Dragan, a 65 year old man whose wife and 18 year old son got out of the city just before the war started, and Arrow, a young female soldier. Arrow is a skilled sniper who is turning into someone she doesn't recognize anymore and believes it has to be that way if she is to survive this war. Then she is assigned to protect the cellist.

The description of the city in ruins is as real as the room you're sitting in. The loss of the theater and the library, the image of a city once so full of life dying all around them is heartbreaking. Here are a couple of quotes that really got to me:

"Everything around him is grey. He's not sure where it came from, if it was always there and the war has simply stripped away the color that hid it, or if this grey is the color of war."

"For days afterward the ash of a million books floated down onto the city like snow" (describing the burning of a library housed in a century-old building).

I love the way this book is written. The four stories are told from their own unique viewpoints, but still they fit together like pieces of a puzzle to give a bigger picture of what war is doing to this city and it's people. The cellist and his music are the thread of hope running through all their stories. I couldn't quite imagine how the author was going to tie it all up at the end, but wow, it was beautifully done I thought.

Rather than give too much away, I'll just quote another few lines to transition from the sense of despair in the first part of the book to the hope that begins to rise toward the end:
"The men in the hills didn't have to be murderers. The men in the city didn't have to lower themselves to fight their attackers. She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that."

Each character, in their own way, comes to the same conclusion. They would hold on to their humanity no matter what and refuse to become the soulless creatures their enemies would turn them into. It's a sad story, but there are good things too. The ingenuity of people who have only themselves to depend on and the raw hope that is still there when everything else is gone make this a beautiful book. I watched a movie the other night that asked "Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man?". These characters face that question and their journeys to the answer make this book well worth reading.

This is my fifth book for the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John at Book Mine Set

"Sarah's Key"

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

This is one of those stories that will stay with me a long time I think. It tells of ten year old Sarah, her parents and her little brother, who were living in Paris in 1942. Sarah and her parents were among the Jewish people rounded up by Paris police under Nazi command, dragged from their homes and herded like cattle into the Velodrome d'Hiver stadium where they were kept for days with little water or food, no beds, no facilities and no idea what was going to happen to them.

Sarah's little brother, Michel. was sleeping when the Police arrived at their apartment. When she woke him he was terrified and didn't want to go with her; he wanted to hide in their secret place, a hidden cupboard in the wall where they played together every day. She knew he would be safe from the police there and they had toys, books, cushions and even a flask of water in there so he'd be fine till they got back. She quietly locked him in and promised to come back for him later when the police were finished with them. She slipped the key into her pocket, sure it would not be long.

The story alternates between 1942 and 2002. The more recent time setting concerns another family living in Paris. Julia, mother of eleven year old Zoe and wife of native Parisian, Bertrand, is an American journalist assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the "Vel' d 'Hiv" roundup of Jews in Paris. As the story unfolds, a connection between the two families in discovered and Julia becomes consumed with learning more.

About halfway through the book the alternating between time-lines stops and the rest of the story is told in Julia's time.  Anything else we learn about Sarah and her family is told as history and not from Sarah's time. I rather wish the author had continued writing Sarah's life as she lived it. It was by far the most intriguing of the two stories, and by that point I was completely invested in  this little girl so it was disappointing when her voice was gone, though I do understand it was necessary to heighten the mystery.

Throughout Sarah's story she is referred to as "the girl", which helps the reader to feel how quickly people were stripped of their personal identities. They were treated like a pack of unwanted animals. Who they were, their occupations, their pasts, what they thought or felt, none of these made any difference at all to their captors. They were considered nothing, all equally nothing, and that part of the book is hard to read.

The present day story of Julia and her family feels a little tame in comparison. Though it was perfectly readable, for me it was missing the fascination of Sarah's story. The characters are fairly well drawn, except for Zoe. I found it impossible to accept her as an 11 year old; she was just too adult in all her conversation.

I liked this book. I knew nothing of the experience of Jewish people in Paris during the war, and though it is a horrific part of history it is important to know. The author does a good job of unraveling the mystery of Sarah's life at a pace that keeps you involved and she provides a couple of subplots to give the story depth. And then, it's set in France which gives any book extra points in my view.

Sarah's Key is definitely worth reading and would make a great book club selection.

"Letters For Emily"

Letters For Emily by Camron Wright

Well this book certainly was the change I was looking for after Anna Karenina. I read the entire book in one day of just picking it up now and then as a break from something else I was doing. It's quick, light and easy, which leads me to a question I want to ask.

Do you review books you'd class as literature and this lighter kind of novel in the same way?  I always struggle with that and would like to hear some of your opinions on it. It seems almost unfair to use the same criteria for a book like this one as I would for Willa Cather or Jane Austen.

If I compared "Letters For Emily" to serious literary novels, I'd have to say it's a tad cheesy. The characters don't develop much and neither does the plot. It's not really memorable in any way. But, if I compare it to other books of this type it's not bad. It's an ok story and not too badly written. I read it quickly at a time when I needed a light read, so for me it accomplished it's purpose, or at least my purpose for it.

So. I have this struggle every time I read a book like this. I can't say it's very good, but I don't know if it's fair to dismiss it as fluff. There are books I would dismiss as fluff, but they'd have to be, well, fluffier than this one. And maybe what I say about it doesn't matter anyway since I'm not making a judgment on whether books are good or bad. This blog contains "thoughts on books I'm reading", so maybe I don't have to worry about being fair. I don't know. I just don't want someone who would love this book to skip it because of what they read here. Some of my favorite books got terrible reviews on other sites but fortunately I read the book before I read those reviews.

I'm getting tired of hearing myself talk about this so I'm stopping now. I do want to hear what others have to say though. Do you have one standard for all novels, or do you critique them within their specific genres?

"Anna Karenina"

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

(clears throat)............I HAVE FINISHED READING ANNA KARENINA!!!

There really should be balloons, or seventy-six trombones leading a big parade.
I am going to my guilt list to cross it off now. Ok, I'm back and that was very satisfying.

Now to give some kind of review. Hmmmm. Where to start. This novel has been read by millions and analyzed and reviewed and studied and critiqued by far more learned people than I and any review I attempt could only sound pathetic. So, I will simply say what I thought as I was reading it, though not everything I thought, because this is a family-friendly blog.

First of all did it really have to be over 800 pages long? Surely what Mr. Tolstoy was trying to accomplish could have been done in a few hundred less. But he is nothing if not thorough in making his point.

And I have to ask: are all Russians bi-polar? If this is the only Russian book you ever read, you would certainly think so. One minute they are ecstatic with joy and the next they have sunk into the depths of despair and there is no reasoning with them. And this dramatic change seems to come about with only a word, or a look, or a thought. I thought my house was all drama all the time, but we don't have anything on these people. Every conversation is an emotional roller coaster. Every love affair is passionate, dying, passionate again, etc. It's exhausting.

Tolstoy himself gives a good description of this when Levin refers to a concert he attended. "Gaiety, sadness, despair, tenderness and triumph appeared without justification, like a madman's feelings. And, just as with a madman, these feelings passed unexpectedly."  Madmen indeed. I questioned the sanity of some of these characters frequently. He goes on to say "All through the performance, Levin felt like a deaf man watching people dance." Perfect. He has described exactly how I felt all the way through Anna Karenina.

I didn't dislike the book, but I also didn't love it. I couldn't relate to any of the characters much. I didn't like any of them really. The Anna of the title seems brittle and distant. She isn't the character I will remember most from this story. All the characters have a harsh and blundering way of speaking to one another that I found un-natural.

I'm beginning to think I should stick to books written in English. There is only so much a translator can do. When a writer puts together a phrase in his native language, he chooses words that will both make his point and flow well together. The translator can choose English words that will make the same point, but much of the time the flow will be lost. Since I read more for the "poetry" of the prose than for the story, what I'm looking for is often lost in translation.

From what I've read, people consider this a great love story.  There is a love story in it, two actually, but to me they seemed secondary to the social, political and spiritual principles being analyzed. The last few chapters of the book deal almost exclusively with one character's spiritual struggles and awakening. I enjoyed all the philosophical discussions about the workers vs. the landowners and who was entitled to what. Tolstoy made some interesting observations about profit being immoral if it does not correspond to the work done to earn it. All of these things would make good topics for discussion at a book club, but my book club would shoot me if I asked them to read anything with 800 pages, because they all have lives.

One section I thought wonderful was where Levin knew that the woman he loved was also in love with him. I loved how he believed everyone he met was in on the secret. He found everything he looked at beautiful and all people kind and generous. The world was turning just for him and there was no flaw to be found in anything. What a lovely picture of what being in love does for you. 

Tolstoy also addresses the other side of that when Anna is overwhelmed by her feelings of despair. Everyone she looks at is unfriendly and unattractive. Her eyes see people as ugly. She sees no worth or beauty in anything around her. Life loses all meaning and there is no point to anything. Not as pleasant to read as the happier side of that coin, but just as real.

I must be honest and say that in places it was just plain boring. Bang-my-head-on-the-wall boring. Can you say that about Tolstoy without being struck by lightening? The truth is, if Tolstoy had never written a book, I don't think it would have affected my life in any detrimental way. Now don't get all mad and tell me how uneducated and shallow I am. I know already. I just couldn't get into this story and I didn't enjoy the writing. I am glad I read it though, because it was such fun crossing it off my guilt list and now I can recognize references to it in other books. And I will confess, that even now as I'm writing about it, the book grows better in my memory. Funny how that happens.

The Brothers Karmazov is also on my list. I don't know how long it is and I'm not going to find out until after I reward myself with a couple of lighter novels. Tolstoy and I will have to pace ourselves if we're going to have any kind of relationship at all. I think it's best to take it slow. Real slow.

"Glass Voices"

Glass Voices by Carol Bruneau

At long last I got a copy of this book into my eager hands. I've been reading about it for a long time and finally was able to get a copy through the local library. It had been described to me as a novel about the Halifax explosion, referring to the accidental explosion of a munitions ship in the Halifax, NS harbor in 1917.Because it happened in my corner of the world, I've been interested in reading more about it to get a better idea of who was affected and how. I know that 2000 people were killed and 9000 injured and that there was a horrific amount of damage, but I thought a novel would give me a better feeling for how people's lives were impacted.

The main characters are a married couple, Harry and Lucy, who have two children, one of whom is lost in the explosion and the other of whom enters the world amidst the chaos of that horrible day. The story is told from Lucy's point of view and begins with the now elderly Harry experiencing a massive stroke. As Lucy adjusts to her changed circumstances she looks back over the years at how the disaster changed their lives and brought them to this point.

The novel does deal with the explosion, but only as the event that catapults Lucy and Harry into the lives they live out in the book. Then the story moves back and forth between the years immediately following that event and the 1960's, the "present day" of the book. I was disappointed that the story wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I decided to give it a chance and keep reading.

There was something about the writing that didn't appeal to me. I found the flow of the narrative broken up in places, made a little confusing with too many similes and metaphors. Sometimes it seemed like every thought Lucy had included a figure of speech and some of them were odd, without a clear meaning, like "when Lucy wakes the air in the room tastes black."  um...? Other than that the writing was ok, the dialogue realistic and natural. There was more "language" than I like but that's a personal preference.

In addition to not enjoying the writing, I didn't like any of the characters. Lucy is fairly interesting, but I kept wishing she'd stand up to her husband. At the beginning of the book I didn't like Harry, then that developed into an active dislike, and by the end of the book I hated him. I did feel some pity for him as a stroke victim, how could anyone not, but I couldn't get past his vulgar behavior, his coarse treatment of his wife and his apparent belief that being a father brought with it no responsibility. It's not that I think him unrealistic, on the contrary, he's all too real and reminds me of several men I know. Harry made me very angry.

"Glass Voices" is an unhappy book from the beginning, then in the last chapter one more tragedy is thrown in and the story ends. My feeling about it can be described in some of the author's own words: it was "gloomy enough to make you jump in front of a train."  I really wish I could say something better.

This is a Canadian book, but it's not one of the 13 I had chosen to read for the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by Book Mine Set. I'll include it as an extra one for that challenge.

Home Again

I've been back home since late Friday night and am settling back into a routine of sorts. I miss my daughter and her family (and that room of my own). I have to say it was a very educational visit though. I learned:
1. to tell the Jonas brothers apart
2. that if I never see Miley Cyrus again it will be too soon
3. how to make toasted banana sandwiches
4. that a cat will throw up if it eats enough icing
5. there is still a place in the world where restaurants close at 8:00 on a Saturday night
6. a suitcase will expand in direct proportion to the number of books you buy while traveling - this last one was a revelation to me and has changed my life forever.

When I got home I picked up a book the Library was holding for me. It's called Glass Voices and is the story of a family who survived the devastating explosion of a munitions ship in the Halifax harbor in the early 1900's. I'm also still reading Anna Karenina and I'd say I'm about a third of the way through. I'm pleasantly surprised that it's more interesting than I expected it to be. I am hopeful that I will get all the way through it, but we'll see.

Thanks so much to Book Loving Mommy for awarding me the One Lovely Blog award. It's always encouraging to hear that others enjoy and appreciate what you do. If you haven't been to her blog yet, drop over and read a few of her reviews and check out the photo of her adorable kids. As a recipient it is my privilege to pass it on to other bloggers so I'm giving it to Reader's Respite, Literate Housewife and Kelly's (Former) France Blog. I'll email each one and let them know, then they can grab the button and post about it on their own blogs.

I realize that awards can be a bit of a sticky issue, and I do understand they can be time consuming. It's a shame something meant as a simple encouragement is becoming a chore more dreaded than appreciated. Originally this one was supposed to be passed on to 15 bloggers, but I'm only sending it to three. Maybe if we all cut way back on how many we send them out to, awards could become a good thing for all again. I think it would be great if we passed all awards on to just one other blogger. What do you think?

Friday Blog Hop

Friday has rolled around again and that means it's time for the blog hop, hosted by Crazy For Books. The hop is a way for book bloggers to meet each other online and share book recommendations and reviews. Each week we are given a question to answer or a topic to comment on and this week's is as follows:

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, let's take time this week to honor our favorite book bloggers and why we love them!

I have found so many great blogs that it would be impossible to mention them all, but on my side-bar you'll find a list of the ones I try to read weekly. A few that I particularly like are The Literary Amnesiac, Dead White Guys and Eclectic Indulgence, but really there are so many more that are terrific as well. Blogging has opened up a whole new world to me. There aren't many avid readers in my family, so finding them online, and being able to chat about books any time, is  wonderful. And the books! Authors I had never heard of are now on my favorites list and my TBR grows every week. The great thing is you get to know which bloggers share your reading tastes, so when they recommend a title, you can trust it. Blogging has been a very positive, and fun, thing for me and I hope to continue for a long time.

Check out the Crazy For Books link above for a long list of book bloggers to browse through. I know you'll find something you'll like.


Heidi by Johanna Spyri

I have always loved this book, but am not getting the same enjoyment out of it that I did when I was a child. I still love the story, only now I can see how cheesy it is. I don't want to see it, but it is rather glaring.

Still it's a lovely story of a little girl who is sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.  She's a storybook girl so she has no problem adapting to this huge change in her life. Her aunt, the only mother she has ever known, drops her off at the cabin of the somewhat grumpy old man, and leaves for a new job. Heidi makes friends immediately; she loves everyone and everyone loves her for her sweetness and innocence.

Her happy days in the mountains end abruptly when she is sent to Frankfurt to be a companion for the sickly daughter of a rich man. Heidi  doesn't adapt so well to this change.  She becomes fast friends with the sick girl, Clara, but finds life in the city stifling. Her life is much more structured in this grand house and she doesn't get the fresh air and exercise she's used to. In addition to that, not all of the staff find her tendency to be disruptive amusing and they are rather hard on her. She begins to decline until the Doctor says she must return home to get well.

Back in the mountains Heidi returns to the life she loves and regains her health. After a time, Clara and her grandmother come to visit. Clara also begins to get better in the mountain air and soon she is out of her wheelchair and walking. My skepticism says it's a bit ridiculous that she is healed simply with fresh air and goat's milk. Their daily diet is bread and cheese. No vegetables, very little fruit if any. Wouldn't they all end up with scurvy or something?  But, common sense must be suspended for awhile to really enjoy children's stories, so suspend it. I do and choose to believe that Clara is healed. And that Heidi really is that rare small child who is so full of wisdom that everyone who comes in contact with her is changed for the better.

It's not great literature, but I love it. Sometimes it's nice to read something that ends with all being right with the world. And sometimes it's just nice to read something wholesome. Such an old fashioned concept now, but sweet and lovely to find in a story for children.

I think Heidi is a wonderful book. If you've never read it, do indulge yourself. You'll find it a breath of fresh air in our often somewhat-less-than-wholesome society.

Happiness is finding a new used-book store...

I've been visiting my daughter and her family this past week and it's been the closest thing I've had to a vacation in a long time. Sleeping in, reading books, being goofy with my granddaughters and playing solitaire online. So peaceful. So relaxing. And a room of my own! And on top of all that, I discovered a used-books store just up the road. The guy at the counter is a bit of a curmudgeon but then, nothing's perfect. And when he saw I was buying 4 books, he lightened up a little.

I bought a small book of dog stories by James Herriot for my younger granddaughter and something for her older sister but I can't for the life of me remember the title. It's something girly with a pink cover and she seems quite happy with it.

While they were choosing their books I found about 20 I wanted, but I managed to beat myself into submission and buy only two. I got a nice copy of Anna Karenina, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I started reading it today, but I suspect it's going to take awhile to get through the 817 pages. It's one of the books on my Guilt List so I'm feeling quite happy with myself for buying it.

My other purchase was The Cellist Of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, one of the books I'm reading for the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. The curmudgeon said it was one of the best books he'd ever read (and I got the impression he's not so easy to please). At 250 pages, it looks like a baby sitting next to the Tolstoy; and with fairly large print and wide margins all around, it should be a quick read.

I wanted to start The Cellist right away, but didn't think it wise to put off starting Anna because I might keep putting it off indefinitely. I've been known to set aside the hard stuff till "later" a point in time that may never arrive. I'll probably read Anna for awhile and keep the other for when I need a break from that.

Really, is there anything better than a used-books store, the smell and the connection with other readers who have held these books in their hands before you? It's a treat just to walk into one, and walking out with a great find in your hands is even better.

So tell me about your favorite used-books store. Is there a great one in your town? Or someplace special you make a point to visit when you're in another area? Or do you prefer the big bookstores full of shiny new books?

"The Forgotten Garden"

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

There is something about Kate Morton's novels that doesn't click with me. I read "The House At Riverton" a while ago and though I found it interesting and had no problem finishing the book, it just for some reason didn't appeal to me much. Unfortunately I've had the same experience with The Forgotten Garden.

Again, I liked the cover and title, the settings, the era and some of the characters. It is set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the 1970's and present day.

The plot was complicated, but fairly well organized. It shuffles back and forth among four generations of women and I must admit I found it confusing at first. I like stories that are told in flashback, but this one has a lot of characters and it took me awhile to fit all the people into the right generation and time period. I had to flip back a few times to remind myself who I was reading about and why they mattered, but by the time I got into the second half of the book I was able to follow it more easily.

The Forgotten Garden is the story of Nell, her granddaughter Cassandra, and their attempts to unravel the mystery of Nell's past. She was adopted at the age of 4 by a couple who found her alone and abandoned on a ship bound for Australia. She remembers bits about her life before that, enough to send her searching for answers about who her mother was and why she'd been left to fend for herself on a ship full of strangers, and enough for her granddaughter, Cassandra, to continue the search when Nell no longer could.

As with 'The House At Riverton' I finished this book unsatisfied. All the loose ends got tied up, but I just got tired of people having so many secrets and nobody ever answering a question directly. Over and over again characters would think they had finally come to the right place for answers, then someone would walk away without saying what they knew, or they would tell what they knew but their disclosure changed everything they thought they knew before.

The central characters, the Mountrachet's, could be the poster people for the dysfunctional family. There was Linus, a disturbing man who was overly fond of his sister, then his sister's daughter, and then her daughter in turn. I found it peculiar that his strangeness was quite a strong thread thoughout the story, but it didn't go anywhere. He vows to himself that he will not lose them as he did his sister, then he more or less fades from the story, just showing up now and then to stalk his prey and make my skin crawl. I was quite glad to see him go, because I really did not want to read about him taking his obsessions any farther.

Linus's wife was Adeline, who was 'low-born' but whom Linus married to spite his parents (who also had some serious issues). Adeline spent her life trying to make people forget her past so that she would be accepted in "good" society. She pulled it off, but became a miserable old cow in the process,  ruining life for just about everyone around her.

Rose is Linus and Adeline's daughter. Eliza is the daughter of Linus's beloved (in a creepy way) sister, Gorgianna. Eliza is brought to Blackhurst Manor to be a companion for the sickly Rose. They become friends as children, but then they grow up and it all starts to fall apart.

I know I said the story was about Nell and Cassandra and I'm am getting to them but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Nell's life winds through the lives of all the characters mentioned above. Chronologically, Cassandra comes along later and is the one putting together all the pieces to the puzzle that is her family history.

At the end of the book, I had the same regret that I had at the end of 'The House At Riverton'. I wanted some good things to happen for certain characters but, alas, it was not to be. I think I'd put both of these stories in the category of 'tragedies'. There is a lot of unhappiness, though some of the characters are finally able to escape it.

I recommend 'The Forgotten Garden' to anyone who likes a good mystery to solve,and can live without an all around happy ending. For me it was just ok, nothing special. If you do read it, I hope you'll enjoy it more than I did.

"Three Men In A Boat (Not To Mention The Dog)"

Three Men In A Boat (Not To Mention The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

This book is an excellent comedy about three ordinary (and by ordinary I mean somewhat full of themselves and a bit silly) young men who decide they need a vacation. They rent a boat, pack up clothes, food, dog and other necessities and head out for an adventure on the Thames. It was written over a hundred years ago so the comedy is the old-fashioned kind: clean, dry,fun and funny. They will have you smiling over the predicaments they get themselves into even if you aren't in the mood for humor.

Everything that could go wrong does, but it's their clumsy and oh so human response to their difficulties that is so very funny. Jerome's wordy and witty view of things allows him to be sarcastic in such an innocent way that you could almost be convinced of his innocence.

My copy of the book also contains another of his stories: "Three Men On A Bummel", a bummel being a journey of some sort by land. I'm saving it for sometime when I need something entertaining as a break from more serious reading.

When I was deciding whether to read it or not, I came across a review that said it was "the funniest book ever written". I'm terribly skeptical about "funny" books, funny anything really. Comedy in movies and tv shows rarely ever make me laugh. I want to find them funny. I wish I could enjoy modern comedy more; for one thing laughter is a great way to reduce the stress of daily living and laughing together strengthens relationships. Someone once said "the shortest distance between two people is laughter". I believe that and have remembered those words just in time in several instances where tempers were flaring. Laughter makes all the difference and it frustrates me that I don't laugh more.

It was a relief to find Three Men In A Boat truly funny. Maybe there's hope for me yet. I'd like to find more books like this so, if you can recommend any to me, please leave a comment and tell me about the books you found funny.

I wanted to quote a few lines to give you an idea what the writing is like, but this author's comedic style is not pithy one-liners. His genius is in telling stories that are written tongue-in-cheek in their entirety. Most of those stories would require long quotes of several paragraphs. So, I'll just leave you with a couple of lines about the dog, Montmorency.

"I do not blame the dog (contenting myself as a rule with merely clouting his head or throwing stones at him) because I take it that it is his nature. Fox terriers are born with about 4 times as much original sin in them as other dogs are, and it will take years and years of patient effort on the part of us Christians to bring about any appreciable reformation in the rowdiness of the fox-terrier nature."

I recommend this book to everyone. It's funny, smart and entertaining, and well worth your time.

Friday Blog Hop

It's Friday again and that's mean the hop. Hosted by Crazy For Books, the hop is a way for book bloggers to get acquainted and to find lots of great reading recommendations. This week we are asked to answer the question "Do you judge books by their covers?".

My answer is a resounding Yes! If I'm browsing in a bookstore, it is the cover and the title that account for most of my purchases. Of course the blurb on the back has to be good too. If I'm shopping for a specific title the cover doesn't matter so much. I've only been completely disappointed a couple of times so it's been a pretty effective way of finding books I will like. I enjoy beautiful covers and will check out a nice one before I'll even pick up an ugly one. When I'm buying online, I sometimes spend a long time looking at all the covers of the various editions and have been known to spend an extra dollar or two for one I like. After all it's going to be on my bookshelf for a long time so why not get a nice one?

How about you? Are you swayed by covers and titles?  

"The Woman In White"

The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

Mr. Collins, where have you been all my life? This is my first book by this author and I'm really happy to have discovered him. I love the language of that era - he was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. I'll have to search out what else he wrote and add those titles to my tbr.

The basic story line goes like this: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy finds out girl is engaged to someone else, boy gets as far away from the situation as he can, girl marries other creepy boy because it was her father's death-bed wish. Here the plot thickens, in fact it gets very thick. Girl's ugly but intelligent sister moves in with the bride and groom, a very weird couple visits, and the inexplicable "woman in white" flits through the story every now and then leaving cryptic messages. Mayhem ensues. Lies, stolen identities, druggings and all manner of Gothic nastiness lead the reader on a winding path to, well I can't tell you because that would ruin it for you. I'll just say it's a bit of a wild ride with lots of melodrama.

The story is narrated by multiple characters, in the manner of persons giving testimony as to what occurred from their own point of view. I liked that in the beginning but around the middle of the book I found it getting a bit bogged down. It's never any fun to get bogged down in the middle of a 600 page book. I soon got into it again though and enjoyed the rest of the story. 

I could happily read this kind of language and nothing else for the rest of my life. (Understand that's not as long for me as it would be for most of you reading this!) I'm sure I was born in the wrong century. I hate email/facebook/MSN talk. All those letters and not a complete sentence or even a complete thought anywhere. I want to talk like they do in  this novel: "I tried to laugh with my little friend over his parting jest, but my spirits were not to be commanded."  Sigh. And how about this; "...some recent shock of terror had disturbed the balance of her faculties" ? Wouldn't it be much nicer to have the balance of your faculties disturbed than just be crazy?

 Wilkie Collins surely did know how to turn a phrase.  This is almost poetry " one extremity of a lonesome mahogany wilderness of dining-table". I love it, love it, love it. I'm going to be checking out his other books soon and if you like this kind of thing, I can only recommend that you do too.

Holy Heat Wave Batman!

For the 5th day in a row it's been hot, hot, hot. With the humidex, the weather woman says it's 40 degrees (Celsius) and even higher. In September. In Canada.  I remember Septembers when I sent my kids back to school in mittens it was so cold. This is crazy.

Last summer I had two air conditioners, but as Jerome K Jerome says "in keeping with the natural cussedness of things" this is the hottest summer on record here so the big air conditioner isn't working right and the small bedroom one was moved to another room to keep somebody else cool. :(

And to make things a little more interesting that $*#@ weather woman is telling us we're going to get hit with a hurricane early Saturday morning. All we've ever had here is the tail end of a hurricane with wind and rain, but this time the eye is expected to hit land in our area. I live on the bank of a tidal river so it might get interesting. If it stays this hot it's gonna rain hot water and we'll all be boiled.

In my admittedly insignificant opinion it's enough that we get the blizzards all winter. Our short little summers should be left alone.

And that's my weather rant. We'll probably lose power so I may not be back for a few days.

"Northanger Abbey"

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I love Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen. I wish she had lived longer and written more novels, but then maybe the few we have wouldn't seem so precious. I keep looking at beautiful leather bound sets that run in the $600 range and saying "someday", but really that's a lot of money. Still, maybe, someday.

I decided to re-read Northanger Abbey when I realized I couldn't remember parts of the story. It isn't my favorite Austen book; I think that will always be Emma, or Pride and Prejudice, or maybe Sense and Sensibility. I don't know. I keep changing my mind. Usually the one I've just read becomes my favorite for awhile.

I like the main character, Catherine Morland, but I don't love her as I do her other main characters. Catherine is sweet and innocent, but a little too susceptible to peer pressure and flights of fancy. She isn't the strong, intelligent woman that Elizabeth Bennet is.

Her romantic interest, Henry Tilney, is likable enough, but there are times when I fear he is laughing at Catherine, or at least taking just a little too much enjoyment in her naive suppositions about others. Still, when I read it I'm always rooting for Catherine and Henry to get together.

Austen always gives me somebody to enjoy hating and this time it's Isabella Thorpe. Actually there are two because Isabella has a brother, John, who is equally obnoxious. They are social climbers who spend all their energies trying to marry fortunes. They connive and scheme and lie until you want to shake them and then shake the people over whose eyes they are pulling the wool.

As much as I love the stories of Jane Austen, it's her writing that brings me back again and again. There's just no one like her. Her skill with sarcasm is a wonder to behold. For example:"Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of ministering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."  Wouldn't it be a hoot to sit and have tea and conversation with her?

Well that's my Austen fix for awhile. On to other things now.

Next up: The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins.

Time for the Friday Hop...

The Friday Blog Hop is hosted by Crazy For Books. This is what she has to say:
In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 300 links every week!! 

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.


1.  Enter your book blog link in the Linky List below
In your link, please state the main genre that you review:  eclectic, contemp. fiction, ya, paranormal, mystery, non-fiction, etc.  Please do not list every genre you review - if you are review a variety, please put eclectic!  The Hop gets jumbled up if the title is too long, so please limit to one genre.  I will be limiting the number of characters in the title to ensure the Hop doesn't look messy!  Thank you!
Example:  Crazy-for-Books (literary fiction)
NOTE:   You no longer have to enter the length of time you've been blogging, but do let us know if this is your first time hopping with us!

2. Post about the Hop on your blog.  Spread the word about the book party!  The more the merrier!  In your blog post, answer the following question (new question each week!).  If you have a question that could be used in a future Hop, leave it in the comments!  Thanks!

This week's question comes from Libraryscatbooks!

How many blogs do you follow?
I have a list of about 40 that I try to check at least 3 or 4 times a week. But then I try to check out the blogs on their blog rolls too, so it can take some time. If I'm not careful I could spend more time reading book blogs than books and that would just be pointless.  I am so grateful to other book bloggers for introducing me to authors I'd never read. I'm  having a blast doing this blog!
Enjoy your weekend!