Another Friday - Where do the weeks go?

I can't believe it's the end of another week already. Why do weeks in Summer go by so much faster than weeks in Winter? And how can we get that turned around?  One good thing about it being Friday is the Friday Blog Hop hosted by Crazy For Books. This weeks question is "Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year? I've actually found a lot of authors in the past year that I'd never read before and am quite excited now to read their other books. Edith Wharton and Stella Gibbons are wonderful, but topping them all is Willa Cather. I read "My Antonia" and absolutely loved it. She alone added 5 books to my tbr. I was very taken with her writing. It reminds me of John Denver's music. I always said you could hear the wind in his melodies and that's how I feel about Willa Cather. She writes the wind and the scent of the earth into her prose and it's utterly satisfying. If you're here from the hop, leave a comment so I can visit you. If you're here not from the hop, I recommend you give it a try. It's a treasure chest of  good people, good books, and good reviews.

May your weekend be full of fun, family and great books and may your tbr go forth and multiply!

The Canadian Book Challenge

As posted a while ago, I'm taking part in the Canadian Book Challenge this year. It's hosted by Book Mine Set and it runs from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 and I'll be reading 13 Canadian books within that time period.

I've finally chosen the books to read. I may not read them in this order but here's the list:

1. The Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill...reading now for Book Club
2. Ivor Johnson's Neighbours by Bruce Graham...loved it
3. The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Don Ragged Islands and loved it
4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood...have never read Atwood (on my guilt list)
5. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway...because it sounds perfect
6. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler...on my guilt list
7. The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning...sounds good
8. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowatt...have never read Mowatt (guilt list again)
9. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence...have never read Laurence (guilt list)
10. The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy the title
11. The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud her writing
12. The Flying Troutman's by Miriam Toews...keep running into this one
13. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields...have never read Shields (guilt list)

Oh dear. It sounds like I chose most of these out of guilt, but I really am looking forward to reading them. I've been saying I'd get around to some of these authors for a long time, so I am going to feel very happy with myself when I get through this list. I'm also hoping I'll discover some new favorite authors, or at least like them well enough to check out their other books. I go to educate myself in Canadian Literature.

"Cold Comfort Farm"

"Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons

This is a very funny book....once you know it's meant to be satirical. Otherwise one would think Ms. Gibbons is not quite grasping reality. Fortunately I had read a few reviews so I knew what to expect and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is the story of a young woman of  manners, but no money, who needs a place to live when her parents die. She has no marketable skills and is rather disinclined to earn her own living anyway. She writes to several relatives to ask if they would be willing to give her a home and she ends up at Cold Comfort Farm with her aunt Ada Doom, who is the head of the family and only comes out of her room once or twice a year, and her cousin, Judith, who lives always deep in the depths of despair, has 200 pictures of her favorite son in her bedroom and believes there is no hope for any of her family, the Starkadders.

Aunt Ada Doom keeps her large family from leaving the farm by exercising her considerable gift for manipulation. Judith's husband, Amos, is a tormented preacher of the fire and brimstone variety, who feels called to show people their sinful ways but also assures them there is no nope for them because they will never be forgiven. The other inhabitants of the farm are all extreme in their own peculiar way, resulting in more of an asylum atmosphere than a home. That may not sound like a funny book but really, it is.

The names given to both people and animals are wonderfully ridiculous. The dairy cows are Pointless, Aimless, Feckless, Graceless and Fury. People's names include Mr. Mybug, Rev. Elderberry Shiftglass, Agony Beetle and Mrs. Hawk-Monitor. Names are such powerful things and in this book they create a sense of the ludicrous that makes the whole thing highly entertaining.

Flora, the young woman who goes to live on the farm, feels it is her duty to make all the others as normal as possible. Not that she has a great grasp on normalcy herself, but confidence and determination can overcome a multitude of deficiencies. And so she goes to work on them one at a time, with her endeavors in that direction making up the rest of the story.  

Usually I have to be able to relate to at least one of the characters in a book to really get into it. In this book they are all seriously unique individuals and though I didn't find anyone I could connect with on an emotional level, it doesn't matter. It's all just so ridiculous you can't help but laugh.

I think this would be a fun novel to study because there are so many characters and situations to analyze. It would be interesting to pull it apart and see what is under the surface. Alas I probably will never do that because I have a gazillion other books I want to read in this lifetime, but I might reread it and may even recommend it to my book club. That would make for some stimulating conversation and give me a chance to get a little deeper into it. 

Some lines that made me laugh:

1. "He was enmeshed in his grief. He did not notice that Graceless's leg had come off and that she was managing as best she could with three."  Seriously, how all-consuming would his grief have to be to not notice the cow's leg was missing? And how does a cow's leg just fall off anyway?

2. When Flora asks if she can go to town with Amos to hear him preach: " can poor miserable creepin' sinner".  Serious lack of people skills there.

3. "'I thought poetry was enough', said Elphine, wistfully. 'I mean, I thought poetry was so beautiful that if you met someone you loved and you told them you wrote poetry, that would be enough to make them love you, too.'" Uh huh.

A curious passage occurs when Flora calls her friend Claude from a public telephone:
"Claud twisted the television dial and amused himself by studying Flora's fair, pensive face......She could not look at him, because public telephones were not fitted with television dials.  Television dial? On a telephone? And he could see her while she was talking on a phone with no television installed on it? The book was first published in 1932 and the setting is declared to "take place in the near future". Hmmm. If I'm missing something here somebody please enlighten me 'cause that's just weird.

This is a book definitely worth reading. I see there are two more called "Conference At Cold Comfort Farm" and "Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm". They've been added to my tbr list, so hopefully I'll be able to find them. All those crazy people sort of feel like family. Again, hmmm.

Friday Blog Hop

I missed the hop last week, but I'm getting back on track and look forward to finding some new book blogs. The Friday Blog Hop is hosted each week by Crazy For Books. It's a good way to find other bloggers who share your taste in books and to get some good recommendations.

This week we've been asked to talk about the book we're currently reading. I'm about half way through "The House At Riverton" by Kate Morton. I think I like it. I should know by now but I don't. I like the writing and the structure of the story, but I haven't found a character that I can really feel yet. It's a pretty good story, I just don't quite see the point right now. Hopefully it will all come clear to me soon.

If you've arrived here from the hop, do leave a comment so I can return the visit and if you haven't, then stop by Crazy For Books and check it out. Thanks for stopping by!

"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What a great read! And a great title; the story is exactly what you would expect with a title like that. Major Pettigrew is a retired officer and widower, very well mannered but sometimes grumpy, who lives alone in a small English village. I didn't always like his attitude, but I loved his language, his house, his lovely manners (when he exercised them) and his sarcasm. He's a very entertaining old coot.

The other main character is Mrs. Ali, an elegant shopkeeper in the village. She is widowed, but lives under the watchful eye of her husband's very traditional family who have certain expectations about her behavior. I liked her, even if she was a little too perfect. It is nice to think that kind, intelligent people without flaws exist somewhere in the world. Not realistic, but nice.

The story is about their developing friendship, their family complications and life in their village, where they have quirky neighbors who are both lovable and irritating. I have no idea if this is meant to be a stand alone book or the first in a series, but I'm hoping for a series. I want to spend more time in their village, and especially the Major's lovely aging house.

Actually I think I liked the setting better than the characters. I did like the characters but the real charm for me is in the village and it's buildings and I'm slightly dismayed to realize it. I should be more taken with the people, shouldn't I?

Major Pettigrew is a gentleman of the old school. He knows how to behave, how to treat a lady, how to comport himself as either guest or host. Sometimes he's a little too fastidious, and even slightly superior which is unpleasant. Sometimes he's lacking in compassion, at one point thinking about "the nuisance of other people's losses". That bothered me. I can take him being a bit snooty or abrupt, but I wanted to shake him when he was unkind, because he knew better. He had suffered losses of his own.

Toward the end of the book, Major Pettigrew's son, Roger, who is an enigma to his father, becomes annoyed with his father for getting lost in thought. The Major grumbles that Rogers always assumes it is the beginning of dementia. It struck me how often we assume that, and how unfair it is. I think the elderly remember in the same way the young dream. Young people have their lives ahead of them and they think and talk about the plans they have, the things they'd like to do, the places they want to go. The elderly have their lives behind them. They think and talk about plans they made, things they've done and places they've gone. We allow the young to spend time dreaming, why can't we allow the elderly to reminisce? Why do we merely tolerate them living in the past, where their whole life is, but we encourage the young to think and dream and plan for the future, where their whole lives are?  My mother is 85. My niece is 19. I notice at family gatherings that my niece talking about her future gets a lot more attention and encouragement than my mother talking about her past. I think we need to give the elderly the same freedom to talk about their lives as we do younger people. I have no idea why this book sent me off on this tangent, but there you have it - my rant for the day.

So, if you're still here and haven't stomped off in disgust to some blogger somewhere who stays on topic better than I do, I loved this book. It's good reading, a nice story and funny at times. You should read it.

Pity Party

Hello all and welcome to my little pity party (which I realize I am far too old to be indulging in)! It's late Friday night and I completely missed the blog hop this week. I finished reading "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" several days ago and I should have written a post about it by now but I have not. It's been an interesting week here with a lot going on. My daughter and her family are moving to another province tomorrow and I think my lack of ambition can be blamed on the funk that has put me into. I'm sure I'll adjust, but right now it feels awful. I've been trying to read "Cold Comfort Farm" but I keep having to reread pages because I have no idea what they said. I know it's pathetic but I can't seem to talk myself into a better frame of mind. They will only be an hour and half drive away, but they've lived just up the road for 8 years and I can't quite imagine life without seeing them everyday. My granddaughters are 14 and 9 and are wonderful girls whom I dearly love. I know I'll still be able to talk to them online and on the phone and we can use a webcam, but it won't be the same. I won't be able to touch them. I guess I'm afraid that we'll lose some of the wonderful closeness we share. This must  sound very silly to those of you who have family spread far and wide. I'm sure in a year or so I'll wonder why I made such a fuss, but this is now and I don't like it one bit. Once they've moved I'll be grateful for the piles and piles of books I have to read, and I'll get back to blogging. But for the next few days I think I'll just do what I can to help them and try to cheer the girls up when they are feeling sad about the move.
Thanks for listening,

"The Help"

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I enjoyed every page of this wonderful book. I met characters I miss now that I've finished the book and I've visited in kitchens I want to go back to, so I'll be reading this one again. It was like a vacation, except that when I closed the book there were still meals to get, laundry to do, etc. It was nice while it lasted.

I'm impressed that this is a first novel and I very much hope it won't be the last. The characters are beautifully written and completely believable. The story is amazing and so very honest. I wanted to step into it at times and slap some people around but that's just me. You may have a more philosophical response to it. Either way, it will get to you. The injustice of the treatment of negro "help" in the South of the early 60's, and their dignity and strength in the face of hypocrisy and often sheer stupidity, will have you reeling from anger to admiration and back again throughout the book.

The basic story is of several white families in Jackson, Mississippi who have black servants. We get to know two of the "help" and one white woman quite well. The story is told in their 3 voices and what I learned about racism made me cringe.
The only white woman you don't want to pummel is called "Skeeter". She decides to write a book about what life is really like for a black woman in service to a family of whites. It's a risk for everyone; these were the days of the KKK and other idiots who took offense at whites who stood with blacks. Her  family and her new boyfriend don't approve, and she is shunned by her friends, but she is determined to finish the book.She had to interview the women in secret, and all were sworn to a vow of silence. Convincing them was difficult, because the girls all know the risk. Job loss was almost a certainty if you were caught. Worse than that, you could be beaten, killed, or imprisoned for stepping over some imaginary line of propriety. And some were.

As difficult as the truth revealed here is to swallow, there is some great story telling. It's a serious topic, but there is comic relief  from  Minnie, who has difficulty controlling her tongue. Most of the characters seem real, especially Aibilene who I admire and wish I knew. I liked that each character was written with strengths and weaknesses, creating people who were complicated and realistic. It made some of them easier to understand and forgive.

 The Pie Incident alone is worth reading the book for. Minny, the feisty,outspoken maid, gets frustrated beyond her limit one day and bakes her boss a pie. That's all I'm saying. You'll have to read it to get the rest.

I fear that someone, someday will make a movie of this book, but I really hope they don't. I can't see how it could be done well enough to do the book justice and that would be a shame. The book is very, very good and I think just about anyone would like it, so I recommend it to all.

Changing My Mind

In the six months I've been blogging about books I've come across dozens of reading challenges I would love to have joined if only I could devote 24 hours a day to reading. Everything from classics challenges to Australian, Japanese and South American author challenges to genres challenges. I told myself I would not join any of them  until my shelves and tbr list got down to reasonable, or at least sane, numbers.

But....and there's always a but....I found one I can't ignore. It's the 13 Canadian Books Challenge hosted by Book Mine Set. The rules are that you read 13 Canadian books between July 1st, 2010 and July 1st, 2011. (July 1st being Canada day if you live elsewhere and didn't know). You must review each book either on your own blog or on a site available to everyone like or another well known book site. 

I have several Canadian authours on my tbr and a couple I've been wanting to re-read so I'm looking forward to this. It's lovely discovering new local authours, and I will try to read some authours that I've been feeling guilty about not reading. That "should have read this" guilt has reared it's ugly head again. It's never going to go away is it?

The host of this challenge says it is up to the reader to decide what constitutes a "Canadian Book". Maybe the authour was born Canadian, or wasn't but is Canadian now, or maybe the story is about Canadians. If you consider it Canadian, then it is good for this Challenge.

So, I'm off to do some research and make a list of the Canadian books I'll be reading. I could choose books as I go, but I am a compulsive organizer so that won't work for me. I must make lists.

Happy reading,

It's Friday Again...

Time for the Blog Hop hosted by Crazy For Books. This is the day of the week that I add several more titles to my already insane tbr list, all from reviews read on other book blogs found through the hop. This week we've been asked to answer this question: Who are some of your favorite authors and why are they your favorites? 

My favorite author is C.S. Lewis because to me his writing is perfect, so if you are some literary genius who has stumbled onto this blog and can see all kinds of flaws in Lewis, please leave me to my illusions. Every single thing I read of his blows me away. He was an organized thinker and I love that. I also like Rosamund Pilcher because she can really tell a story. Hemmingway clears my head; Dickens makes me laugh; Thomas Hardy is just plain enjoyable. I read my first Willa Cather and Edith Wharton this year and like them both a lot. I guess I'd better stop there.

Thanks for stopping by. If you're here from the hop, leave a comment so I can return the visit. Have a great weekend! 

Teaser Tuesday

Hmmm. It's Monday night, but it's 12:53 am, so yup, I can post this now.

TEASER TUESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. It's an
opportunity to see what everyone else is reading and whether or not it sounds like something you'd be interested in.

She asks that you...
1. Grab your current read
2. Let the book fall open to a random page
3. Share with us 2 "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
4. Share the title of the book that you're getting your "teaser" from so that people can get some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.
5. Please avoid spoilers!

My teaser this week is longer because the sentences are very short. If I just gave you two, you wouldn't get a taste of the book at all, so I'm breaking the rules. Here are five sentences from "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett:

"I feel my lip curling. A course we different! Everybody know colored people and white people ain't the same. But we still just people! Shoot, I even been hearing Jesus had colored skin living out there in the desert."

"Butter Cream: A Year In A Montreal Pastry School"

Butter Cream: A Year In A Montreal Pastry School by Denise Roig

I found this book very enjoyable. It didn’t make me want to go to pastry school, but it did give me a pretty good idea of what it would be like. I found a lot to interest me in her story, probably because I love baking and I love memoirs, so what's not to like?

I think the most appealing part of the story is that the author is a beginner. She’s been baking all her life, but this is her first experience with “professional” pastry making. As a result, it’s an easy read for everyone. The reader learns the cooking terms at the same time as the author so there’s no “chef speak” leaving you wondering what the heck she’s talking about.

Having watched lots of  “reality tv” about chefs and cooking, I had a bit of an idea what to expect. It’s an incredibly high stress occupation, but like any other art, also very satisfying when you get it right. For people who are performance oriented, a beautiful cake or tart is a joyful accomplishment, even if you did drop, spill and wreck things in the process. It’s like poetry in a way. When you write a poem and you know it’s good, you feel immense satisfaction, but the pain/loss/fear/sadness you had to experience to create that poem was not enjoyable at all. Fortunately not every baking experience is like that, but some of the more complicated ones certainly can be. It’s worth it because of the beauty being created and the pleasure it will give to others. Well, ok, usually worth it. I am never, ever going to make petit fours no matter how much joy it would give anybody.

The author is honest about her teachers and classmates. It’s refreshing that she’s the kind of woman who sees the good in everybody, and that she is also realistic about their flaws and limits. I was left with the impression that she is a warm, kind person, someone it would be nice to have as a classmate. I’d like to know her.

She is honest, too, about her own abilities. As a 56 year old, she knew she would not have the energy of younger students, and that because of family and work responsibilities, it would get complicated for her when the pastry class demanded late nights, early mornings or weekends. She was often frustrated, sometimes lost, and at times driven to the limit of her endurance in class, but she stuck with it and reaped the rewards of her perseverance and determination. I’m not at all sure I would have made it.

There are some basic recipes in the book, things like pastry cream, genoise, ganache and butter cream. I’m hoping to work on a couple of things to see if I can perfect them. Some things, like puff pastry, I will never attempt because it’s too time consuming and because it’s easy to buy it frozen at any grocery store. I love baking, but at this point in my life I also love easy.

I learned some good things about method from this book, like how long eggs and sugar have to be beaten together and how to test that you’ve been beating them long enough, how to whip cream to get the best result, etc. I’ll probably be using the book as a reference in my kitchen, at least till I get pastry cream mastered.

Besides the recipes and methods, it’s also a good story, well told. I enjoy reading people's personal stories and found this one fun to read as well as informative. If you like to both read and bake, I think you’ll appreciate this book. I recommend it.

"The Sun Also Rises"

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A couple of books ago I read a memoir that felt like fiction; this is fiction that feels like a memoir.It is written in the first person, a man named Jake Barnes, and I kept wondering why others referred to him as Jake when his name is Ernest. Then for the hundredth time I'd remember it's a novel.

Jake is in love with a woman named Brett, who loves him too, but is engaged to another man and has affairs with two more during the story. We are told that Jake and Brett cannot be together because of injuries Jake sustained during the war. This isn't dwelt on at all, just mentioned, but the sadness of it permeates the entire book.

The characters all carry some kind of personal pain, and as Jake puts it "It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing." They suffer, behave badly, and suffer some more. Their pain stays with you when you close the cover.

I can't figure out why I like Hemingway. I didn't like any of the characters in this book very much. There was a fair amount of bullfighting in it and I don't like that either. Some of the dialogue was stilted and goofy (will I get struck by lightning for saying that?). There is no real plot, just an assortment of aimless people frittering away their time getting drunk and doing nothing. Doesn't that sound like a terrible book? If it was by anybody else I'd never have read it. So why does Hemingway hold such appeal for me?

For some reason I feel comfortable inside a Hemingway book. I feel like I can breathe in there, even when the atmosphere he's created is crowded, jaded and smoky. It frees me in some way. Is it the short sentences? The lack of adjectives? Maybe. There's no pretense, no contrivance (in the writing that is; there's lots of contrivance on the part of the characters). I forget that I'm reading a book and just listen to this man tell me about his life.

Some of the expressions used in dialogue were probably popular at the time the time was written but they don't make much sense now. Usually it's possible to get the general meaning of a word or phrase from the context, but Hemingway's writing is so spare, there's very little context to suggest a meaning. Hence the resulting goofiness mentioned earlier.

There are a few racist words used here and there, also common to that time I suppose, but offensive now. It's hard to get by them; they glare at you from the page and make you angry.

At times the dialogue deteriorates into pointless drivel (still no lightning?), although I do see it was meant to make the broader suggestion of the pointlessness of their lives. That's what the book is about really: the lack of purpose felt by people living in the years following the first World War. Not having lived then, it's too easy for me to pass judgment, and I so wanted to yell at somebody: "Find SOMETHING useful to do and go do it!"

I was left with one big, admittedly irrelevant, question. How in the name of time could anybody drink that much alcohol every day? They all drank from the time they got up to the time they fell into bed again. At one meal Jake Barnes drank 3 bottles of wine. And he drank other things before and after that. I understand why he drinks, but how was he not falling down drunk or passed out? How could he even carry on conversations?

It seems I don't have much good to say about "The Sun Also Rises", although it's mostly the dialogue I found disappointing. The rest of the writing is classic, breathable Hemingway.

I wouldn't recommend this book to many people; I know a lot who wouldn't like it. But if Hemingway gets under your skin and you haven't read it, by all means do. I loved it and at the same time I didn't like it much. That couldn't sound any weirder, but there you have it.

Friday Blog Hop

Welcome! It's Friday and time for the hop, hosted every week by Crazy For Books. Be sure to check out the list of book blogs on the host site for dozens of great reviews and recommendations. The hop is where I found most of the blogs I follow, not to mention the scads of titles I've added to my To Be Read list. 

If you found me through the hop, please leave a comment so I can return the visit. This week we've been asked to tell our names and a bit about why we started blogging, so here goes...

My name is Dianne and I started blogging at the beginning of the new year in January 2010. I had thought about it before but was a little intimidated by all the highbrow book reviews I was reading online. Around Christmas time I began to feel an urge to write that got stronger as time went by. A friend encouraged me to try blogging so I did and I was hooked in no time. It's a wonderful opportunity to talk about books and I'm meeting some nice people. The writing has given me confidence to try writing other things so I have to say that blogging has given me a lot more than I've given it. I plan to keep writing it as long as people will read it.

Hope everyone has a great book to read this weekend,

It's Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

I  have a couple of Canadian authours I want to recommend today. They are wonderful writers, both from the east coast which is also the setting for the two books I'm going to tell you about. I read them some time ago, but the hauntingly beautiful stories have stayed with me.

The first authour is Don Hannah. He is a novelist and playwright, and author of a beautiful book called "Ragged Islands". It's the story of an elderly woman's last days, of her family, her memories and her confusion. I was blown away by the author's ability to get inside this woman's head and tell the story from her point of view. Brilliant.

The second is Bruce Graham who was once a television news anchor and now has several novels to his credit. I've only read one so far, but am looking forward to the others; I love his writing. The one I read is called "Ivor Johnson's Neighbours". It's set in a small town in Nova Scotia and tells the stories of the people who live there. They are people like the ones we all know in our home towns, seemingly ordinary, but made vibrant through Graham's insight and high-definition prose.I absolutely loved this book.

Time to put my feet up and do some reading, then maybe head out to see the Canada Day fireworks. I hope you'll check out these books and that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I did!