"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 "...at 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.