Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar, Day 18: in which we are sick, and books I want under the tree

So my family have slowly succumbed to a virus this week.  A cold in one child, a sore throat and hoarseness, and chills in the other child.  Husband is now losing his voice.  And today I could feel it creeping in, the virus, making me move so slowly, and start to ache everywhere.  Throat no deep bookish thoughts or long post today, my dear readers.  Instead, my bookish advent calendar item for the day is a question to you, dear readers:  Is there a certain book or two that if you don't find under the tree this year, you will go out and buy in the new year?  If so, which book is it?  I'm curious to know what you are longing to read.  Myself, I'm really hoping to find The Martian by Andy Weir,

and  The Fabled Coast:  Legends and Traditions from Around The Shores of Britain and Ireland by Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood.

 A third book I just discovered and REALLY want to read is The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.  It's not on my list, I found it after I'd given my wish list to my husband.

So I suppose the question I am also posing to you is, should I tell him that I've found another book already I really want?

*****Edited to add:  I must be really sick, since I already blogged about wanting the first two books under the tree in an earlier advent calendar post!  lol  I suppose this post is about finding that last-minute book that you really like the look of, and is it too late to ask for it?  

Book Advent Calendar: Day 17: SurLaLune giveaway for fairy tale lovers

Ok, for all the fairy tale lovers out there, and I know there are many of us, here is a fabulous holiday giveaway on SurLaLune blog, open to everyone!!! You have until Dec 22/14 to enter.  The prizes are a must for any fairy tale library: 

"Register for the chance to win a set of 3 SurLaLune Library Titles: Bluebeard Tales From Around the World, Cinderella Tales From Around the World, and Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World. Go to the SurLaLune Fairy Tales Giveaway to enter for a chance to win.
To make it more interesting for us all, I am also asking "What fairy tale item is on your holiday wish list?" I will share the answers during this week and and next with the SurLaLune readers, so be sure to give me an "online name" to use when you enter for me to share on the blog. "

I want especially the Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World, and Bluebeard Tales From Around The World. 

I  enjoy comparing how the tales change from country to country and century to century.  All the little tweaks and changes give clues to what is changing in that society. What concerns are new?  Are the stories being changed for the audience?  How are adult versions different from children's versions, if there are any? So yes.  This is a lovely giveaway for the holidays. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar Day 16: Connie Willis short story e-treat

A special treat for science fiction and Christmas readers:  Connie Willis' new e-book All Seated on the Ground is available through Subterranean Press (link here) at a low price (really low!) for the next few days.  This is a new story by her featuring her trademark humour and romance.  As the site says, ...."she's also a huge fan of the holidays and their accompanying frivolity and nonsense, and has written a marvelous array of Christmas stories, including Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know” (made into the CBS movie Snow Wonder), “deck.halls@boughs/holly”, and now the hilarious “All Seated on the Ground.”  
Sadly this book is not available in e-book in Canada!  *sob*   Nook book (Barnes and Noble), Amazon in the US, and Kobo in the US only. So, if you are in the mood for some humour and a good Christmas story, and you live in the US, this is your e-book advent calendar treat for the day.  It sure is would have been mine.  Happiness is a new Christmas story from Connie Willis!  Extra happiness would be if it was available to users everywhere. I hope the publishers are taking note......At least I just received a copy of her book Miracle and Other Christmas Stories for my X-mas box.  I can console myself with at last being able to read these through the holidays. My advent calendar treat for the day!


Book Christmas Advent Calendar day 15: the Times 100 Notable Books and The Interestings book review

I was looking at the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014.  I'm not sure why I look at these lists of regular fiction.  Somewhere in me the English Honours graduate is hoping I'll someday turn into a literature reader, I think.  It's time for a change, though.  Out of this list of 100 books published last year, I have heard of 16.  Ouch!  One I've been waiting for:  Hermione Lee's biography of Penelope Fitzgerald.  I don't know whether to be happy that I've heard of that many fiction and non-fiction books, or sad that I only know about those few. Because really, this list is about regular fiction.  There is no genre fiction on it:  no historical fiction, and especially, no mysteries, science fiction, or fantasy (or horror for that matter).  And the change for me is, I have to admit to myself that I am a genre reader mainly.  I love mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, and poetry.  There is one poetry book on the list, of which I'd just heard of so I could count it.  Kind of literature-studying self is slumped in the corner, drinking a hot chocolate and wondering moodily if I will ever finish Les Miserables, or Bleak House, or Moby Dick, all of which I've started in the past two years.  Will I throw over the Establishment and proudly declare I love genre fiction?  Of course I do!  and yet....when I read Middlemarch for  the first time 5 years ago, I loved it, completely and utterly loved it.  Jane Austen is by far one of my favourite authors of all time, her books read and reread through the years.  I'm not completely hopeless when it comes to classical literature. 

A book review:  The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

So......maybe I should just say, most modern fiction doesn't interest me.  And before you wave your hand, I will also say this:  I read The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer earlier this year, which was on the 2013 100 Notable books. I enjoyed it, in parts it was very good, though I found it an odd novel too.  It would draw me in, I would be completely wrapped up in the story, and then something would throw me out of it.  The big something is what the core of the story is about, our value system. I disagreed vehemently with what the Goodman family decides in their time of crisis.  So much so that I put the book down and it took almost two weeks to decide that I could pick it up again, at least because I wanted to (hoped) they wouldn't do what they did.  They did, and for me, it changed the novel.  The Interestings is supposed to be about Jules Jacobson and her friends she meets at an arty summer camp when she is fifteen:  Ash and Goodman Wolf, Ethan Figman, Cathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay.  Everyone is exceptional except for Jules.  She is the narrator of the story, the one through whose eyes we see the others take central stage around her.  I liked Jules, though I got annoyed with her and wanted to slap her when she just couldn't see that the others weren't special at all.  It takes her too long to see it, though as she represents middle-class America infatuated with the wealthy 1% which the Goodmans represent, it makes a kind of sense.

The Interestings takes its title from the idea, the hope that 15 year olds have that the whole world is waiting for them, and they (all 15 year olds) have something to offer that the world wants.  Some unique art or talent or voice, some expression that the world needs.  The book goes from the 1970's through to present day.  I really enjoyed the early parts, the 1970's, which I grew up in.  The 1980's are not my favourite time, and it feels like in the book the author doesn't know how to make it fit into Jules idea of how to make your mark in the world.  To give the characters credit, they all try hard to succeed.  And bless Ethan, because he is the moral center of the story.  Gifted and almost ugly, he has a shining soul that sings out from the novel and makes it a better than average novel. 

One of the problems with the book is that the things I wanted to know about, such as when Ash and Jules get pregnant at the same time, I wanted to go through the experience with them.  What was it like for Jules to be so poor, and Ash so rich?  How was their medical experience different?  Didn't they compare notes being pregnant, as very close best friends do?  We don't get to see much of this, Jules (and the author) skip over this with a brief mention, and it's this that made me realize that the book doesn't focus on what makes people interesting, which is the stuff of their lives.  What makes them individual.  Indeed, it takes Jules almost the whole book to come to this realization, that Ash and Goodman aren't good people, and aren't that interesting.    We do get some things like how Ash and Ethan offer Jules and her husband money to move to a bigger apartment in New York City.  Ethan is the only successful one of the group, he becomes a millionaire, and he is desperate to keep his friends close to him.  It's an odd moment, and not one that sits comfortably with Jules and Dennis, or me the reader. 

It's only when Jules and Dennis buy the same camp they met at and run it for a year when she is in her 50's, that she comes to realize she can't buy her happiness back, and that she can't create it for anyone else.  The Interestings is really about how we make the story of our lives while we are living it.  And Jules, desperate to escape her boring suburban life as a teenager, only realizes long into adulthood how cruel she was to leave her mother and sister behind in her attempt to escape.  Jules really isn't that nice a person. 

This is the problem I have with modern fiction: it doesn't seem to know what story to tell about the times we are living in. There isn't a shape to our society any more.  The rules that could be broken, have been.  And so while The Interestings is interesting, enjoyable, funny and sad, and deeply involving in places, it also is superficial, too.  As a comment on modern life, this is how the novel works.  This is the times we live in.  Art is a by-product of luck, knowing the right people, and having a gift.  And hard work does not make up for not having a true talent. 

I recommend it, as a 4/5.   It's good, but not great. 

So what do you think?  Is the 100 Notable books of the year a worthy list?  Do you read many books off of it? 

 Hurray!!!! I read two books off the 2013 100 Notable books!!!!  Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is on it also!!!!!!! Ok, so maybe not all is lost for this list.  Maybe this was just a bad year for genre fiction....though, truly I do read genre fiction for the most part.  And I think the very best of sf, fantasy and mystery should be on the 100 Notable books of the year.  What do you think?  Why aren't they?  And Longbourn, which I will review!  That's three!  I won't review it today's late, and sleep beckons. 

Big breath:
I am a genre reader.  There!  I said it!  *whew*  the world didn't crumble, despite my English honours grad staring our the window, longing for some Hardy to match her mood of gloom.  On to my science fiction book In Conquest Born, which I am enjoying. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar Day 12, 13 &14 : some reading time

After a bad bout of anxiety, I am back here to give my advent calendar for Friday, Saturday and today. I wasn't able to settle down enough to write until today.

  I will be writing posts during the coming week, several are planned.  However it is late and I have been stolen away by both Downton Abbey (catching up on Season 3 now, it is addictive) and I'm reading.  Slowly, but I am 100 pages into a science fiction book:  In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman.  This is progress of the best kind for me, in terms of being able to have longer periods of concentration.  So, shhhh, here are some pictures of reading I grabbed from online.  I hope you have all had some time to read this weekend in between getting ready for the holidays.  That is my wish for us all, that we all find time to read in the coming holidays.  Happy Book Advent Calendar for this weekend, Gentle readers.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar Day 11: After the storm

Well, it wasn't quite a storm though we did receive 17 cm of snow officially (about 8 or so inches) all through the day and night yesterday.  Here are some photos (click on each to make them bigger) I took during my walk today.  I will let the photos speak for me about my thoughts for the day:  peace, and stillness, during this holy season. May you find the time to reflect on what means most to you as we approach the end of the year.

One good thing about being home is that I do have the time now to reflect, and I am becoming aware of how much I love silence, and solitude, in balance with all the noise and activity (and love!) that comes with being part of a family.  I need both solitude and to be part of my family.  I am grateful to have both.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar Day 10: Food and books, and cookbooks stash

   I love Terri Windling's blog Myth and Moor.  On Friday, December 5 she blogged about food blogs that have to do with books.  You have to scroll down to Dec 5's post.  She has put up photos of the most amazing foods recreated from novels, photos of dishes that several bloggers have been recreating  from various literary sources, or from poets and author's diaries and journals.  They are fascinating to look through.  I have listed all of the blogs she mentions under a new setting on my sidebar, Food and Book Blogs.  I will be going to peruse each one in depth.  Some have the most delightful stories and anecdotes about authors.  Glorious pictures about food.  I am so delighted to discover these blogs.  I love the idea of eating the food that characters did, or authors loved.  Especially older books.  Who can resist trying to recreate Jane Austen's Brown Butter Bread Pudding Tarts? 
 Or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell's Black Forest Raven Cake?


I also love Terri's blog because she talks about the creative process, what it's like to be an artist in today's world, the struggles to be creative.  She discusses nature, and fairy tales, and so many other interesting topics.  The post on Dec 4 is about the folklore of food.  In this post she talks about books that feature food, like Joanna Harris' Chocolat.  Her blog is interesting, creative, soul-nurturing.  And now I have all these lovely new-to-me food and book blogs to go visit!  This has been like a Christmas present for me, so this was my advent calendar opening for the day.

For your treat, I thought I would show a few photos of the cookbooks I currently have. Cath at Read-Warbler did a post last week on Show Your Bookstash,  from Carolyn at Riedel Fascination who come up with this idea.  Margaret at Books Please and Pat at Here, There and Everywhere blog did a post on Dec 7. So here are my cookbooks stash, on their bookshelf in the dining room:

The only cookbook not on the shelf is The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Lane, which is on my classics shelf with the Jane Austen books.   If I feel like shaming myself in revealing just how double-booked my shelves are in my reading corner, I'll take some photos for you tomorrow.

I'm interested in the history of food, how we eat, how the way we cook and serve food has evolved over the centuries.  A book that I just realized you can't see on my shelves because it was hidden by some papers is Kate Colquhoun's Taste: The Story of Britain through its Cooking.  That's a book I've dipped into on occasion and loved.   The magazines on one of the shelves are all food magazines, which I love to look through and cut out recipes from. 

An idea I am forming is that I think in 2015, one of my goals is to start using my cookbooks more.  I like the idea of cooking my way through a book, like Julie Powell did with Julia Child in her book and the movie, Julie and Julia. 
I loved how she cooked her way right the way through the cookbook.  I might try something like cooking a recipe from every cookbook I own, or something along those lines.  I need to try expanding my cooking.  I love how cooking is a marriage of magic and alchemy in the kitchen. I love the comfort I get from making good food for my family, that tastes good and I know is nutritious and healthy.  I definitely want to explore taste and colour and spices more.  And maybe I'll check on those book and food blogs for some other creative ideas to do with cooking over the next year.  A literary feast sounds fun, doesn't it?

Of course I confess I haven't read Julie & Julia, I've only seen the movie.  And I haven't read Chocolat or Like Water For Chocolate yet, though I have seen those movies as well.  *hangs head in shame*

Here is something soul-comforting and immensely nurturing that I baked yesterday:

The taste of homemade chocolate cookies is sublime.  Yum.

So what are some of your favourite books that feature food?  Have you discovered a favourite recipe/dish/food because of a novel?