"Anne Of Green Gables"

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

How could anyone not love this book? The characters are all wonderfully flawed and loveable, the setting idyllic and the story sweet, funny and satisfying. I'm quite willing to admit I'm biased, living in the Canadian maritime provinces, but I am fully convinced that I'd love the book as well no matter what the setting. Well almost convinced. Somewhat.

The story follows the life of Anne Shirley, an orphan adopted by aging sister and brother, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert who live on Green Gables farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada. They meant to adopt a boy who would be a help on the farm but wires got crossed and when they arrived at the orphanage to pick up their boy, Anne was waiting for them. Eleven years old, red headed and the possessor of a wildly overdeveloped imagination that gets her into trouble repeatedly, Anne's open heart and genuine goodness win everyone over eventually.

The writing is a delight to read. Anne can talk what my mother used to call "a blue streak" barely taking a breath between sentences, but her prattling includes such gems as "It's always wrong to do anything you can't tell the minister's wife. It's as good as an extra conscience to have a minister's wife for your friend."  The language the author uses is lovely, an almost poetic pleasure. The book is full of beautiful phrasing like "The Barry garden was a bowery wilderness of flowers which would have delighted Anne's heart at any time less fraught with destiny." I want to have written that phrase "any time less fraught with destiny".

At the end of this book Anne is I think, 17. There are several more books in the series that follow her into adulthood, marriage and having children of her own. They are all very good and I heartily recommend the whole series for young and old, but for me none of them quite measure up to this first one. Anne is such a wonderful, precocious, joy-filled child, it's a shame she can't stay a child forever. If that can't happen, and it can't, the next best thing is to read about her growing up.

I didn't discover the Anne books till I was an adult. I read continually as a child so I have no idea how that happened. I certainly had no problem finding my way to books that I should not have been reading. I don't know how I could have missed these books that were aimed specifically at girls my age, but I am grateful I found them when I did. Reading "Anne" this time was even lovelier because I was reading a hardcover copy I found in my grandmother's house just before it was sold and torn down. It was printed in 1945 by Ryerson Press and the pages are yellowed and in places stained by generations who read it before me. The book smells like the house smelled, aged and earthy and comfortable. I miss that house and that smell more than words can say.

If you haven't read Anne of Green Gables yet, you're missing out. Don't deny yourself this pleasure any longer. Book Depository has copies for under $5.00, so do yourself a favor and order one. I promise you you'll be glad you did.

"The Hatbox Letters"

The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning

Oh dear. Another book written in the present tense, though I didn't find that as annoying in this one as I did in The Nine Lives Of Charlotte Taylor. The narrator spends a lot of time reminiscing about the past which gives her plenty of opportunity to switch into the past tense so I guess that made it easier to read. And somehow the present tense seems to fit this story better, giving a feeling that there is no past or future, just the interminable now.

The title refers to nine old fashioned hatboxes found in Kate's grandparents house and filled with old letters, pictures, receipts, invoices, ticket stubs, etc. They have been in the attic for years but now her siblings want her to sort through them and decide what to do with them. Recently widowed and grieving she finds little else to interest her and so begins to put together the pieces of her family's history from the old documents and lots of imagination.

I found the book well written, but the story slow getting started. In the first two or three chapters there was little about the letters and much about the loss she has suffered and how it has changed her. And for me it was a bit heavy on similes and metaphors in the early chapters. There were so many of them they began to get in the way. Fortunately the tempo picked up and I got caught up in the story, both stories actually, past and present.

The sections dealing with Kate's grandparents lives were great, but very little of it came from the letters she found. It's all fictional of course, so Powning could have said anything in the letters, but instead she wrote most of the grandparents' story from Kate's imaginings. She imagines them responding to a situation in one way or another or she pictures them going here or there or saying certain things. It made it all a bit hard to believe for me. And even though it is fiction, the goal should still be to tell a convincing story.

The present day story of Kate dealing with the death of her husband and trying to figure out her place in the world now as a single woman is insightful and compassionate, but sometimes heavy and difficult to wade through.The title doesn't really give an accurate idea of what the book is about. There are hat boxes and there are letters, but what the book is really about is dealing with grief. That's the main story. And just as I found it slow to start, once I got within a chapter or two of the end I found myself getting bogged down again. I kept checking to see how much was left to read.

So I'm conflicted on this one. When I read this over it sounds like I didn't like it much and it's true I think it's weak in a few areas, but I still have to say it's a very good read and I'd be open to reading more of her writing. I do think you'll find it worth the time you'll invest in it. If you decide to read it, please stop by and let me know what you thought.

"The Piano Shop on the Left Bank"

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart

This book wasn't quite what I expected, but I quite enjoyed reading it. First of all I love the title.  Put pianos and Paris together and I'm hooked; the title gave me no choice but to find it and read it. I think I expected a little more Paris and a little less piano, but this works too.

The author lives with his wife, daughter and son in Paris. Walking his children to school every day, he noticed a small piano shop in his neighborhood and became curious. He had played piano as a child and began to think about buying one and bringing music back into his life. So one day he rang the bell and went in, and that began a friendship that would lead him into a Paris world of rare and antique pianos, music schools, teachers and students.  Wading through typical French reserve he found friends, the perfect piano for his apartment, and music teachers for himself and his children.

There is a lot of information in this book about pianos, old and new. There is history, tradition and lots of detail about how pianos are built and tuned. There was one chapter that got so detailed I began to get a bit tired of it, but the pace picked up in the next chapter and I finished the book quite happily.

The tone of the writing is a little more scholarly than I expected, but don't let that deter you. It's not a text book at all, but more of a memoir recounting the author's journey back into music. It's personal as well as very well written.

Paris and pianos. Turning the last page made me feel like I was leaving a world of beauty that I'm going to miss for a while. Ah well. All good things, including this charming book, must end. 

"The Nine Lives Of Charlotte Taylor"

The Nine Lives Of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong

There are things I loved about this book and things I didn't like at all. Let's start with the good stuff. 

The book is set in New Brunswick, Canada where I have lived all my life, so I recognized the place names, the weather conditions, the season changes, etc. I absolutely love reading about local history and this book is full of it. It tells the story of Charlotte Taylor (an actual historical figure) from the time she arrives as a young woman in the unsettled wilds of 1700's New Brunswick through her marriages, children and various living situations until her death in 1841. The bones of the story are true, the fleshing out is fictional.

It is a fascinating story and quite well told. It gives a nicely detailed picture of what daily life was like for the brave souls who settled in the Miramichi river area in the very early days. Their interactions with the native people who were here long, long before the white man and with the Acadien people who endured a shattering expulsion in 1755, make for a story full of beauty, suspense and pathos.

However. In the first half of the book I sometimes wished Charlotte had had less than nine lives. As interesting as she was, I found myself wishing things would move along a little more quickly and checking to see how many pages were left to the end. Then in the second half, and especially close to the end, years would pass with the turn of a page and in one place five years passed between paragraphs. I wish the tempo of the story had been a little more regular.

Another thing I didn't like was that the entire book is written in the present tense. Not "She thought" but "She thinks"; not "The summer of 1825 was hot" but "The summer of 1825 is hot". I found having the entire story written that way a little disconcerting. It seemed to halt the flow of words at times. Or something. I'm not sure why I didn't like it, it just felt strange.

There was one more thing I didn't like: Charlotte herself, especially in the latter years of her life. Of course there's no way to know what her real personality was like, but in the book I found her stubborn and lacking in compassion at times. On one hand it's realistic that every character has faults, on the other hand I didn't find her an appealing character.

Overall I'm glad I read it. It was good to learn some local history and it really is interesting. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good pioneer tale. It's not a great book, but it is a good story.

And the winner is.....

Congratulations to Melody from Fingers and Prose! She is the winner of the $20 gift certificate for Better World Books being given away to celebrate my first year of blogging.

This was my first giveaway and I must say it was fun! I hope to do more of this in the future. Thank-you to everyone who took time to enter and thanks for giving me a great first year in the blogging world.


One more day to enter for $20 Gift Certificate

Saturday is the last day you can enter to win a $20 betterworldbooks.com gift certificate. On Sunday the winner will be announced and contacted by email. Click here to enter. The link will take you to the "First Anniversary and Giveaway post". Leave a comment on that post saying you want your name included in the draw and that's all you have to do! Good luck!

Friday Blog Hop

Time for the Friday Blog Hop hosted each weekend by Jennifer at Crazy For Books.  This week's question is  "Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?" 
My answer:
I read a lot of classics and books that aren't classics but just old. I also read modern literature. I enjoy books that use good language. I like a good story, but I can do with a lesser one as long as the language is beautiful. Perfectly crafted sentences and flowing paragraphs are my addiction comfort reads. I find good writing much easier to find among older books than newer ones, but thanks to the book blogging world I'm finding more and more present day authors who write what I can enjoy reading. I do also sometimes read lighter books that don't offer much except entertainment value, but sometimes entertainment is what I'm looking for. There are so many genres for so many moods and I don't ever want to get stuck in one just because I think I should. I confess I am prejudiced against paranormal romances, but if someone could convince me that they have found one with beautiful writing, well composed characters and a well built plot I might bring myself to try one. Maybe. Check the linky list on Jennifer's blog  . You'll find lots of great blogs and bloggers, and many titles to add to your to-be-read list.

And now there are just TWO DAYS LEFT to enter the draw for a betterworldbooks.com $20 gift certificate. Contest closes midnight (atlantic time) Saturday, Jan 15th, 2011.  Who wouldn't want to win a prize you could use to order new books? In 48 hours the contest will be closed so enter now! Just leave a comment on this blog post  and you could be the winner! Winner announced Sunday the 16th. Good luck!

Three Days Left !

And then there were three. Days that is. Days left to enter the draw for a $20 gift certificate for betterworldbooks.com. Just leave a comment on this blog post to say you want your name included and you will be entered. That's all there is to it! Winner will be announced here Sunday, Jan 16th and will be contacted by email. Enter now!

Only 4 Days Left To Enter

There are only four days left to enter for a twenty dollar gift certificate to betterworldbooks.com. This is my first giveaway and I don't seem to be doing very well with it. I've got very few entries and am not sure how to convince more people to enter. I guess it's good for those who have because their odds of winning are way better than they would be with more entries. It's just sort of...deflating. On the other hand since the entrants are all familiar to me, it will be fun to tell one of them that they have won. I guess in this as in other things, size doesn't matter! Good luck!

5 days left for $20 gift certificate giveaway!

Enter now to win a $20 Better World Books gift certificate. All you have to do is scroll down to the post entitled "First Anniversary and Giveaway!", leave a comment to say you want to be entered and cross your fingers. The winner will be announced Jan 16th. The clock is ticking...

6 Days left for $20 Gift Certificate!

Six days till the deadline for entries for the $20 Better World Books gift certificate. They have free shipping all over the world so if you win, the $20 can all go toward books and not shipping charges!  All you have to do is scroll down to the post entitled "First Anniversary and Giveaway!", leave a comment to let me know you want to enter and cross your fingers. The winner will be announced Jan 16th. Enter now!

"Eat, Pray, Love"

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is one of those books that got so much hype I didn't want to read it. Then it was chosen for our January book club meeting so I pretty much had to. I liked it well enough I guess, but I don't think I'll ever read it again. There are sections of it I didn't enjoy at all.

Gilbert writes about a year in her life when she was traveling and trying to make sense of her life. Her story is divided into three sections: the first part is set in Italy where she spent four months in "pursuit of pleasure", the second part in India spending four months in "pursuit of devotion", and the last in Bali in "pursuit of balance".

I will admit it was an enjoyable read. I sometimes felt as though she were here telling me her story in person. Words come easily to her; she's one of those lucky people who can talk to anybody and make a friend in ten minutes. She is able to share her thoughts and feelings freely, which makes for great story-telling. It also makes for too much information at times. Why do authors think we want to read about their sexual experiences? If that isn't private, what is?  I can't be the only one who feels this way. Am I?

I liked the first part of the book because it's set in Italy. What's not to love? The language, the people, the architecture, the food - it's all good. Then she goes to India where her stories of the people and the culture are again fascinating, but the spiritual aspect begins to get a little confusing for me. The book wraps up with her four months in Bali, Indonesia, another really interesting place with interesting people. Gilbert amazes me with her ability to connect with strangers. I could spend a year traveling and never get to know anyone. Her way is far better.

In Bali, the spiritual part of her journey becomes even more muddled for me. By the end of the book, she's taken (what looks to me like) bits and pieces of various religions and rolled them all into something that works for her. It's isn't clear to me if she believes in a God who is creator and sovereign and separate, or if she believes God is in everything and everyone and therefore she, herself, is also God. Some things she says seem  to contradict other things and that leaves me losing interest rapidly.

So did the book live up to it's hype? Not for me. It was interesting visiting the three cultures she lived in and her writing is easy, and fun, to read. That's enough to make it a good book for lots of people, but for me the way-too-personal stuff and the really odd mix of spiritual practices and beliefs got in the way. I haven't seen the movie but I've heard from some that it's great and from others that it's awful. What do those of you who have both read the book and seen the movie suggest? Should I watch it? Will I like it? Hate it?
Let me know what you think.

Next up: The Piano Shop On The Left Bank by Thad Carhart

7 Days left for $20 Gift Certificate!

One week from today is the deadline for entries for the $20 Better World Books gift certificate. They have free shipping all over the world so if you win, the $20 can all go toward books and not shipping charges!  All you have to do is scroll down to the "One Year of Book Blogging" post, leave a comment and cross your fingers. The winner will be announced Jan 16th. Enter now!

"Empire Of Illusion"

Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

Wow. I don't know where to begin. I was so fascinated by what this author was saying I could hardly breathe, let alone put the book down. I started underlining the parts that really hit me and soon traded in my bookmark for a ruler so the book wouldn't be completely ruined by hundreds of crooked ink lines. The whole book hit me.

What Hedges does in this book is step back and look at the big picture of our culture. It's written about the U.S., but Canadian culture is going the same way. What he says applies to all of North America.

The language of the book makes it obvious that this is not a casual look at the state of our society; the author is deeply concerned. He believes our culture to be in swift decline and probably with good reason. It isn't hard to see how out of balance things have gotten.
  • Tons of bailout money have been handed to the very people who created the financial crisis in the first place while ordinary people lose jobs, homes and retirement funds. 
  • We pay our entertainers and sports stars vastly more than our teachers and healers. And that doesn't even sound unreasonable anymore. 
  • More and more tv shows and movies have us cheering for what used to be the bad guys. We're feeling sympathy for misunderstood blood-sucking vampires for pete's sake. One of my favorite tv shows, NCIS, has shown two different episodes in the past year or so in which a murder was covered up because it was committed by a friend or family member of a main character. These are characters who hold everyone else to the high standard of the law and yet the writers (and viewers by accepting it) are saying it's ok to have a different standard for those in positions of power. I can't be the only one who finds that frightening.
Things have indeed gotten twisted and we just don't seem all that concerned.

Hedges looks closely at five areas where we are living under the illusion that things are fine when in fact, they are far from it. He tackles the illusions of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness and finally the illusion of (North) America. Within those topics he looks at education, pornography, positive psychology and corporate control of government and media. What he says will not only confirm those nagging little doubts you've had about things being as ok as State-of-the-Union speeches and endless media talking heads would have you believe, but it will also give you a clear look at just how alarming our situation is.

I think this is an important book. I don't say that very often because most of the books I really love haven't had much of an effect on how history unfolds. But I think this one qualifies, not because I agree with everything he says (I don't) but because I do agree that we, North Americans, need to be shaken out of our complacency before it's too late.

I've been talking about the content of the book and haven't said anything at all about the writing. So, let me say that it is beautifully written. Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner (as part of the team that won the 2002 Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism),
writes intelligently, and honestly I think. He quotes freely from other books, interviews and media reports and he provides a  7 page biliography at the end of the book. He has done his research and knows what he's talking about.

I love that the book ends with hope. The situation may be dire, but it is not, and never will be, hopeless. The closing paragraph acknowledges the truth that hope and love exist now and will still exist when our world of illusion comes crashing down on us. In the "wreckage that remains" they will endure.

Friday Blog Hop

Welcome to the Friday Blog Hop hosted by Crazy For Books. On her site you'll find a list of book blogs where you're sure to find someone who has the same reading tastes as you and who can give you more reading recommendations than you ever thought possible. Be sure to stop by her site and check it out.

Each week she asks a question for us to answer in our hop posts. This week she asks: What book influenced or changed your life? How did it influence/change you?"

That's not easy to answer because I've read so many books that have made a real difference in my life. One in particular though was The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge. It helped me to understand that my relationship with God is one of love, and that He is not some angry father waiting for me to do something wrong so he could punish me. It showed me that I was seeing Him in the wrong way and that I could trust Him to just simply love me, always. And that changes everything. It's been a long time since I've read it, but the effect has changed who I am forever.

Have fun checking out lots of blogs at Crazy For Books and have a great weekend! 

Twenty Dollar Gift Certificate Givaway!

Just a reminder to post a comment on my anniversary post before January 15 at midnight (Atlantic time) for your chance to win a $20 gift certificate from betterworldbooks.com. Just take a minute and you could be shopping for your next new book by next weekend. Maybe even two or three if you're a good bargain hunter.
Good Luck!

First Anniversary and Giveaway!

January 8th will be the first anniversary of Ordinary Reader. When I started I had no idea if I would keep it up or if I would even be any good at it. A year later and I'm enjoying every minute of it and hope to keep blogging for a long, long time. The blogging community has been very friendly, and a treasure trove of book recommendations. I've been introduced to so many wonderful authors I'll never get to the end of my to-be-read list. Thank goodness!

I want to thank all of you who have taken your time to read Ordinary Reader, comment on reviews and/or sign up as followers. Your support means a lot to me. To celebrate the anniversary and show my appreciation I'm having my first giveaway. I know everybody does giveaways all the time, but this is my first so let me feel cool for just a second or two. Ok there I'm done.

So, the giveaway is a $20 GIFT CERTIFICATE from betterworldbooks.com. All you have to do to enter is comment on this post before midnight on Saturday, January 15th, 2011. One name will be drawn on January 16th and the winner will be announced in that day's post. The winner will then need to send me their email address so I can send them the gift certificate. I've bought from Better World Books several times and have always had good service, so I think you'll be pleased with them. They have clear instructions (on their home page) on how to use the gift certificate and they've got a huge selection of books.

And now it's time to start on my second year of reading and blogging. I've got a long list of titles I hope to finish this year and I can only hope they will be as good as the books I read last year. My hands down favorite from 2010 was The Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.  Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet had the pleasure of reading it.

Don't forget to get your entry in and good luck! Here's to a new year filled with great books and happy bloggers!


"Silent Nights"

Silent Nights by Anne Perry
(This book includes two of Anne Perry's Christmas mysteries: A Christmas Beginning and A Christmas Grace)

I've never been a fan of mysteries, but I am becoming a fan of Anne Perry. So far I've only read some of her Christmas novels and Tathea, a fantasy. I enjoy the victorian settings of her Christmas stories and I like the way she writes. A Victorian mystery is going to have drama of course, but she doesn't go overboard, at least not in the ones I've read. I'd like to get started on one of her series, which include a series about Detective William Monk and another about Detective Thomas Pitt, both also set in the Victorian period. She has eight Christmas novels of which I've read three, a series of World War I novels, two fantasy novels and several others set in various times and places. She first published in 1979.

 A Christmas Beginning
For me this was a "relief" book. I'm also reading "Empire Of Illusion", a very serious look at the decline of North American civilization. It's both fascinating and alarming and I'm only digesting one chapter at a time. A Christmas Beginning is the book I turn to when I've finished a chapter of "Empire". It's light reading, well written and just plain enjoyable. I do so enjoy a story in which people treat each other, and speak to each other, with respect and thoughtfulness.There just isn't a whole lot of that going around these days, so it's a great escape from reality when I need it.

The characters are fairly well written. There isn't a lot of time to develop them in a novella, but I find Perry's characters quite believable. They have strengths and flaws to round them out and we do learn a bit more about them as the story proceeds.

The story itself is about a London Detective who finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation on a small island off the coast of Wales. His "city" ways are not always appreciated, but local authorities have never dealt with a crime of this magnitude before so they enlist his help. I won't reveal any more of the plot except to say that it's called "A Christmas Beginning" because it takes place at Christmas time and the story does end with a new beginning for some of the characters. It's not really a Chrstmassy book in the way other stories might be. The mystery and the characters are the focus, not Christmas.

A Christmas Grace
Of the two stories contained in the book this one is my favorite, probably because it's set in Ireland. I've never been there but that doesn't stop me loving it and even sometimes longing to be there. Not so much the cities, but the countryside, the cliffs, the pounding surf and salt spray. I do love wild places and everything I read about Ireland makes me think I'd find lots of wild and windy places there.

This story is about a young woman who, while preparing Christmas for her husband and children, gets a letter asking her to go to the bedside of her dying aunt in Ireland. She goes reluctantly, and her experience there changes, and matures, her. She becomes friends with some of the local people and uncovers a mystery that needs solving, which of course she will do in the nick of time.

I find Anne Perry's mysteries a bit anti-climatic. There is a good build up to keep the reader guessing, but once the truth is uncovered it all comes to a quick end. There is no surprise or "aha" moment. At the end of one of these stories, I had to go back to find out who the criminal was; I had read it but the story was wrapped up so quickly I wasn't sure what had happened.

I will read lots more of Anne Perry's books because sometimes I just want something easy. I love the language of her books. I find it difficult to find books that are easy to read, yet written well, using a decent vocabulary. I'm looking forward to many more.