Tuesday 30 December 2014

And I'm back, with books I received for Christmas, a book review, and feeling better

Well, I'm sorry I missed wishing you all a Merry Christmas last week.  I was very sick with a bad cold for most of it.  It was all I could do to get the Christmas dinner cooked and not just give up and go to bed!  It was very quiet, as we all had variations of this cold.  I was the last one sick with it, and the longest  - not boasting, this is what having a chronic illness does to me.

At long last, yesterday I began to feel better, and today I was able to go outside without that special wheeze I get when I'm sick.  I'm well enough to blog again, which is also a relief after making a valiant attempt to blog every day for the Christmas month.  I enjoyed it, so I'm planning on continuing to blog every day if I can. 

I don't have any lists done yet for this past year.  However I do have two happy things for you: 
1) my pile of book goodness (presents) from this past week.  Included are books from my box of books to myself:
   Still Writing - Dani Shapiro
   The Explorer - James Smythe
   The Echo - James Smythe
    All Mortal Flesh - Julia Spencer-Fleming
    I Shall Not Want  -  "         "           "
    Through the Evil Days - "   "        "
    City of Dragons - Robin Hobb
    Blackout - Mira Grant
    The Heist - Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
     The Year of Reading Dangerously - Andy Miller
     The Dark Lord of Derkholm - Diana Wynne Jones
     Reflections on the Art of Writing - "    "        "
     Young Woman in a Garden - Delia Sherman
      Highfell Grimoires - Langley Hyde
      Autumn, All the Cats Return - Philippe Georget
      Ghost Girl - Lesley Thomson

A very lucky book reader, I think.  Very grateful to be reading a little more now, as time goes and I begin to heal. 

2) I READ A BOOK THIS PAST WEEK!!!!!!!!!!  Yes, a heavenly chorus is singing hallelujah.....and no pun, the book was Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis.

A quick review:  8 stories are included in this collection. They all feature Christmas, whether the season, or in the case of Inn and Epiphany, taking elements of the religious story of Christmas and retelling it with a modern twist.  Both are among my favourites in this collection.  Now, you may be wondering how I as a pagan can read Christian fiction and like it.  It's simple. I was raised a Catholic, and no matter how far in the spiritual world I go, those stories I first heard are part of me.  So when the story of Mary and Joseph is retold so poignantly (and brilliantly) in Inn, with some kind of time hole opening so that Mary and Joseph are there at the church in modern day USA, in the middle of winter, dressed for the desert, it takes kindness and charity for someone to take them in and find them back on their path.  The ending made me cry.  This is the spirit of the this time of year. 

In Epiphany, Mel is already on the road.  He is a pastor, who upped and left his church when in the middle of a sermon about not knowing when Christ will come again, he has the strongest feeling that Jesus has already arrived, is here, and waiting for people to find Him.  Even though he is Presbysterian and so not supposed to have epiphanies or visions, he cannot shake the intense feeling that he must go, right then, and head west.  Even though he does not know what he is looking for, or whom, or what signs, he starts driving.  Along the way he keeps seeing fair rides on the backs of trucks.  And he stops to help one of them who has run by accident off the road, because it is just after Christmas and everything in Iowa is icy with snow and storms and fog.  Then he meets a woman who keeps turning up wherever he is, who is driving west, and then another person....to say any more would be to ruin the sweet nature of this gentle story.  It is another modern version of part of the holy story of the birth of Jesus/Christmas, and so well done that I didn't catch on until near the end.  He does have a bout of doubt, and I found that I did not want him to quit his quest to keep looking for the coming of Jesus (or arrival).  There is something about faith that I want to see rewarded, and this story is about that. 

Miracle is about the film 'Miracle on 34th St' versus 'It's a Wonderful Life'.  Everyone in the story but two people love 'It's A Wonderful Life', the other two people loving 'Miracle on 34th St'. Of course, the girl who loves 'Miracle on 34th St' doesn't love the guy who also loves it, she wants someone else who loves 'It's a Wonderful Life'.  It takes the special humour and tricks from her guardian angel to show her her true love.  With lots of the little scenes and dialogues that make Connie Willis's writing so delightful for me.

These are my three favourites from the 8 stories, followed by Newsletter which is hilarious as a young woman finds something strange is happening to people when they suddenly begin wearing hats in the weeks before Christmas. Are they being taken over by aliens?  I had read this story in another collection before, and it is just as good in the reread.  Willis has an ear for dialogue, comical scenes, and wry comments that make me burst out laughing time and again.  It was so good to laugh this Christmas, and I have a feeling I have a Christmas collection to reread for every holiday season now. 
 5/5 Perfect for Christmas 
  Relief that  I read a book for Christmas: priceless

Dr Who Christmas Special
Oh, and I have to say:  Wasn't that Doctor Who Christmas Special wonderful?  I loved it. Dark, scary, funny, brilliant.  One of the best Christmas specials ever for Dr Who. A dream within a dream within a.....featuring Santa, Rudolph, and scary dream creatures.  LOVED it.  How do you wake yourself up from a dream?
So, may I wish you a belated Merry Christmas, and be the first to wish you happy preparations for the new year.  It's almost 2015! 

Monday 22 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar day 22: I am sick

My cold has worsened.  I had to step out for last-minute things ** even with my cold because we have a storm coming in over night.  Freezing rain, snow, rain.  Who knows?  So I dashed out, and now I know I probably shouldn't have.  I'm shivering and huddled under blankets, about to have ginger and honey tea, watching the Dr Who Marathon that is running on our Space channel all week until Christmas night, when the new special airs.  My husband is also sick with this cold, while our children are recovering now.  Let's hope it's done with by the 25th.  *achoo* No reading, my head is all stuffed.  The Dr Who marathon was showing Season 4 with Donna today.  We have had fun picking out references in the early episodes that happened later on in the season or even later on in the show with other doctors.  Such a well-written show!  And perfect when I need to be entertained and cuddle with my kids at the same time.

** I confess:  I had no cranberries, no sausages, no bread, and no birthday cake for my daughter's birthday on Wednesday.  So I had to go out.  What's turkey without stuffing???? or cranberries??? lol  And the birthday cake!!!  We had put it off all weekend by staying in, hoping this would help our colds disappear faster.  My husband ended staying home from work today. We both were worse this morning. He's improving, or seems to be.  Fingers crossed for me.....

Book Advent Calendar Day 21: Happy Solstice to you

Happy Solstice to you, dear and gentle readers.  It is now the turning of the year and the sun will stay gradually longer each day. 
Winter is not all bad.  It does give us an excuse time to be indoors and read by the fire.  There is a quietness that settles on the earth and in the air up here in the northern hemisphere in our winter.  A time to be still, to dream, and to wait.   Creativity and growth and new life can only come after a time of darkness, and planting seeds.  In my life, in the midst of this PTSD crisis I have been in for the past two months, there is a slow change in me, a settling down again of some of what was stirred up.  The soul has it's own time.  So I am learning how to sit still, and what being peaceful feels like.  These are good things for me.  It's good that it is winter now, I think.  It matches what I need inside me.  I am certainly more calmer than I was, though the anxiety is there, just under the surface. 

My wish for you and for myself  is:   May the coming year be filled with peace, contentment, and many good new books.    May the light increase in your life, and mine.                   

Saturday 20 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar Day 20: Dark night of the solstice, and some links

    I have declared this a  pyjamas day for us all here in my household.  We are all in various degrees of this virus, with my husband and I having very bad sore throats today.  I think the universe wants me to be silent and listen more.  Which, as it's Dec 20, and the day before the solstice, is something I was hoping to do anyway.  This year the solstice is extra special with the new moon occurring on the same day as the solstice.  So this is like the dark of the year, and the dark of the moon, combined.  Here is a link to a blog where Beth Owl talks about the significance of tonight.
Beth Owl is a tarot card reader and one of my favourite blogs to visit for insights in how to live more naturally with the seasons.  This has been a long-time goal of mine. I've only recently come to realize that I want to hibernate during the winter season, including through some of the holiday season.  This is the second year in a row that we are all sick at the beginning of the holidays, so it looks like we all need some time to be quiet when the holidays start.  Do you notice something similar, or another kind of rhythm, when the holidays start for your family?  Do you go to a lot of social activities - work, school for the children, friends?  I used to do more.  I love gatherings and potlucks and parties, open houses, though as I've gotten older I've realized that I am truly an introvert and gatherings tire me more quickly now.  So it's about finding a balance between social activities and quiet time now.  Have you discovered anything similar for you?

Celebrating the solstice
 There is something refreshing about silence, and about thinking about the meaning of this season.  It is the change from one year to the next, so one thing I like to do is think on what I learned this past year, what I'd like to leave behind, and what I'd like to let in and learn about in the next year.

Some fun links:
 Scary Icelandic terrors for Christmas:    **Shiver.**  These would have been terrifying to hear about as a child!  And I still have to buy two articles of clothing for two of the males in my family.

Crimson Peak:  Oh my goodness, anything that  features Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddlestone in a Gothic setting is going to be fun!  This is something to look forward to next year when there are no more new Hobbit or LoTR movies to look forward to. Just look at this picture released by the movie company:

Lovely dark stuff. 

Happy last night of the solar year to you. 

Friday 19 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar Day 19: The Battle of the Five Armies - I wanna go to the movies!

 When Viruses hit:
The nasty cold that hit my children is now hitting my husband and I full on.  It was a day of naps for me, followed by watching Downton Abbey - I've just finished Season 3 this evening.  Then watching some tv with the kids for our nightly cuddle.  I'm fine if I don't move.  I'm so happy most of the shopping is done, and I did the groceries yesterday when I was first starting to not feel well.  I think it will be a quiet weekend, and we are hoping we all get better asap as we have a birthday as well as Christmas next week.  AND, equally important:  so Holly-Anne and I can finally go see The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies.  I haven't seen it yet and I'm disappointed we have to wait past this weekend!  NOOOOOOO!  So, for tonight, here are some wallpapers to dream over until we can get out to the theatres.   I can't believe I have waited a year to see this movie and now we are so sick we have to put it off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you have seen The Battle of the Five Armies, please leave me a comment and let me know if you liked it or not.  But no details!! Even though I have read The Hobbit many times, and The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales many years ago and so have a good idea  what they have changed from or added to creatively outside the books, I still aim to be surprised, delighted, moved, and enthralled when we do get there.  I just want to know if you enjoyed it!!


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 sore....so 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 sad.......my 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 though.....it'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? 

Book Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 9: distracted by shiny things

So I was supposed to do a post today on my favourite books in other genres I read this past year, however I've been distracted by shiny things and am changing my post to The Books I Most Want to See Under My Tree this year.  I have to warn you, I am not greedy I just love new books - shiny and sparkly too!  So there's a fair number I'm excited to look for:

A Dark and Twisted Tide - Sharon Bolton (Lacey Flint #4)
One Was a Soldier - Julia Spencer-Fleming ( Rev Clare Ferguson # 7)
Through the Evil Days - "     "        "            ( "       "         "           #8)
Thin Air   -  Ann Cleeves (Shetland mystery #5)
Murder in Thrall - Anne Cleeland
 The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Martin Beck #5)

The Martian - Andy Weir
Forty Signs of Rain - Kim Stanley Robinson
The Echo - James Smythe

City of Dragons (Bk 3, Rain Wild Chronicles) - Robin Hobb
Blood of Dragons (Bk 4,  "      "        "            )         "      "
The Dream Thieves   (Book 2 The Raven Cycle) - Maggie Stiefvater
Year of the Griffin - Diana Wynne Jones

Parasite - Mira Grant
Blackout - (Newflesh Book 3) Mira Grant
Mayhem - Sarah Pinborough
Coldbrook - Tim Lebbon

The Fabled Coast - Legends and Traditions from around the shores of Britain - Sophia Kingshill, Jennifer Westwood

H is for Hawk - Helen MacDonald

London - A Social History - Roy Porter
If Walls Could Talk - Lucy Worsley

Anything by Jo Shapcott
Penguin Selected Poems and Prose - Edward Thomas
To Be the Poet - Maxine Hong Kingston
A Thousand Mornings - Poems - Mary Oliver
Evidence    -                                     "   "
Thirst -                                            " "
White Pine -                                    " "

Ok, I don't have a reasonable expectation of receiving all these for Christmas.  That would be rather wonderful spectacular, wouldn't it?   I think I did this list - which I am giving to my husband and eldest son  as they prepare to go out in to the wilds of Ottawa to Christmas shop over the next two weeks -  just to show myself that even if I can't read for long yet, I have high hopes that I will soon.  In the meantime, these are the books that I  want to have ready lined up on my shelf for when I do begin to read a lot again. 

What do you want to see under the tree this year for yourself?  Do you have any particular books picked out yet, or on a list given to a loved one? 

*shiny*     *sparkly*  new books!!!!!

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar, Day 8: Mystery books for the Christmas tree - meme from Kerrie

    Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise has a cool meme going, where she lists the 10 books she would give as presents this year.  The 10 books are the 10 best mysteries she has read this year.  Her post is here.
      I think this is a super idea.  The 10 best books read, or you could do 10 best books in a genre, or whatever you like.  So I was looking through the list of books I've read this year - 78 so far, including 34 mysteries - and this is the list of books I would give as Christmas presents this year.  I don't do a points rating like Kerrie does, I go by how I remember the stories and if they have a hold on me still.  And how much I enjoyed them!

Susan's 10 Mystery books for the Christmas tree
1. Like This, Forever - Sharon Bolton.  LOVED this mystery. Review here.
2. The Detective's Daughter - Lesley Thomson.  Reviewed here last week.  I just gave a copy to my mother for her birthday (so already given!). 
3. Talking To the Dead - Harry Bingham.  Another different main character, she suffers from Cotard's disease, where she thinks at one point earlier in her life she is dead.  Now recovering, Fiona Griffiths starts working as a constable.  Very interesting character, and the other characters are good.  Really enjoy the second one, as well, Love Story, With Murders.
4. True Murder - Yaba Badoe.  Chilling.  Suspenseful.  Wonderful characters, and creepy in places. Highly recommended.  Unforgettable gut-clenching ending. 
5. The Man on the Balcony - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.  Number 3 in the Martin Beck mystery series from Sweden.  A chilling story of the abduction and murder of young girls, and how the police have to hunt for him with very few clues.  Will they find him, or not?  A mistake is made early on by Beck, which makes the reader (at least I did!) spend my time going, "come on Martin!  Think!"  The painstaking investigation is representative of a true policeman's work.  Very good and suspenseful.
6. To Darkness and Death - Julia Spencer-Fleming. Reviewed here.
7. Invisible City - Julia Dahl. Reviewed here last week.
8. The Magus of Hay - Phil Rickman. Reviewed here.
9. White Bones - Graham Masteron.  Reviewed here.
10. The Outcast Dead - Elly Griffiths.  The latest in the Elly Griffiths mystery series, as good as all the others.  This series is consistently good with all the characters, though sometimes the plot can be a little uneven. Not in this case. A set of bones is uncovered during an excavation, and Ruth is called in.  She identifies a female skeleton and a child's skeleton.  The female skeleton has a hook for it's arm.  Norfolk just happens to have a historical figure of a woman in the Victorian century who ran an orphanage for unwanted children, and several disappeared.  She was hung for the murder of them.  Is this her skeleton?  Dark, disturbing, and at the same time sad.  Ruth doesn't believe in the folktale told about Mother Hook who sold her children to the resurrection men for money.  For, along with the bodies, she uncovers a journal.  Very good mystery, unputdownable as ever with Elly Griffiths.  Several side stories also advance, which I love to see in a mystery series.  And we discover a little more about Ruth herself and her relationships in her family.  A solid mystery with several macabre elements.  Highly recommended as they all are in this series.

Bonus mystery:
I really wanted to add the first Anna Dean mystery, Bellfield Hall, featuring Miss Dido Kent, though I couldn't think of who likes Jane Austen type writing as much as I do.  If you know someone who loves Jane Austen, then this is the mystery book for them.  Fun, and as close to Jane Austen as we can get if she were to write a mystery.

I liked doing this so much, I think I will do a separate list tomorrow that includes the other different genres I read this year, as I read some good fantasy and non-fiction and found a new poet I love.

So there you have it.  What would you give as a Christmas present that you really enjoyed this year? 

Monday 8 December 2014

Book Advent Calendar Day 7: Christmas tree

So it's Book Advent Calendar, Day 7 today.  18 more days til Christmas!  Not that I'm counting. Not at all.  It seems to be approaching rather quickly now.  For today's calendar, here are some pictures, as we put our tree up today.  I'm including photos of my family too after we decorated it. (You can click on the photos to get a better look). There is none of the five of us together, we haven't figured out how to do the timer on our cell phones yet.  If you look carefully, you will see tardises on the tree.  I love those Dr Who string ornaments!

And if you look carefully at the close-up of the tree, you will see on the book shelf a Hobbit Lego set.  A Christmas present last year for my daughter, who loves all things Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  She's asked for Smaug this year, so we'll have to see what Santa brings her. The countdown IS on at our house for the next installment of the The Hobbit, opening here on Dec 17.  So very very excited......

Sunday 7 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 6: My daughter loves books

Book Christmas Advent Calendar Day 6:  My daughter loves books

Today my daughter became a reader, a lover of books.  She is almost 12 years old, her birthday is in two weeks' time.  Holly-Anne was slow to learn to read, and for a long time she struggled with how to hold the story in her mind while she did other things.  We kept finding books for her that she was interested in, many featuring dinosaurs or animals, as she loves animals.

Then early last year, she discovered the Dragons of Fire series, and she was hooked. "Dragons!" she said.  She read all the ones that had been published. (She is waiting impatiently for the next book in the series to be published next month.)  In the meantime, while she was waiting, last year all the kids in her Grade 6 class were reading this new series:
 Spirit Animals.  Holly-Anne devoured all of them and is waiting impatiently for the next one in this series to come out, in January also.  The cool thing about this series is that popular children's authors are penning different volumes in the series, so it is a great introduction to each author's writing styles. Maggie Stiefvater, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull (book 1), and Tui T Sutherland so far.  Some very big names.
  In desperation this past summer after finishing the last Spirit Animals book so far, she picked up a cat series book I had randomly picked up at a used bookstore for her, Warriors: Midnight by Erin Hunter. She read it, and then discovered that the books actually started in an earlier series, so she went back to read that series first. 

This morning, she finished book 3 (borrowed from the library) to one of the first sets.  She was restless after.  Got up from the sofa.  Tried to watch some tv.  Tried to play her Pokemon on the 3 DS.  Finally she came to me and said, "Mom, are you going out today?"  I asked why, secretly hoping.  "I want to buy the next book.  May I?"  Well I'm never going to say no to that, am I?  Her father was going out in the afternoon, so they went out to the mall where she knew the bookstore carries the cat clan series, and she bought the next two books in the series.  When she got in the door, she promptly opened the next book and started reading it.

My little girl.  Almost a tween, and now a book reader.  She needed to know how the cat clan goes on after the big fire!!  A story lover.  She took her own allowance money to buy the books for herself.  I am so proud and delighted.  My daughter is buying her own books and reading them as soon as she gets home. 

Friday 5 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar Day 5: Suzanne Vega - Book Of Dreams


This is one of my favourite songs. Her voice is light and sweet, and in the lyrics, she describes some of what dreams are like - a mix of images and things taken from the day, to reveal hidden truths.

I also keep a dream journal, and have for many years.  Over the years I have found my own recurring symbols and themes, and then it's fun when they change or added to in my sleep by what happens in my waking life!  I'm fascinated by dreams and what they reveal, and by how they  contain the same themes the world over, and  yet are different for each and every person.

In a way, this video is also like how a book can only contain what is put into it, made up of various symbols that have meaning to the author, and the miracle is when someone else understands the book, too.  How difficult communication really is, and how marvelous when it is obtained.   Books are magic, and hold so much in them.  Anyway I love this song so I thought I would share it with you as my bookish theme for today's advent calendar!

Thursday 4 December 2014

Book Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 4: The Taste, and cookbook pleasure

Book Christmas Advent Calendar Day 4:  The Taste, and cookbook pleasures

So for today's advent calendar book treat, I want to talk about Nigella Lawson and her cookbooks.  Nigella is currently appearing on The Taste on ABC  TV, the 3rd season premiering tonight.  Nigella has been one of my cooking heroes since I lived in England in 2000.  She was just starting her cookbook career at that time, and appearing on her tv cook shows.  The first cookbook I bought by her was Nigella Bites, her third cookbook.  In that cookbook I made several recipes, the Aromatic Lamb Shank Stew being one of our favourites from this book.  I went on to buy almost every book she has put out.  For me, her best books are How To Eat (several recipes in this book are regular features in our kitchen), Feast (food that celebrates, so many good recipes in this book), and my favourite, Nigella Kitchen.  In this book is our favourite crisp chicken cutlets (which I call parmesan chicken) recipe that the kids adore, buttermilk scones which even the kids like (they are picky about scones), Ed's Mother's Meatloaf which is spectacular with the hardboiled eggs in the middle.  In How to Eat is the best meatball recipe for kids, and chocolate lava cakes (to name a few).  Easter Egg Nest cake which I have featured on this blog is her recipe.  She is a divine cook. 

One of the things I love about her is her openness about how she loves food, and loves to eat it.  She shares in making food for friends, family, and all those late nights when all the losses she has had in her life are too much, she consoles herself by looking through her cookbooks or online shopping for them.  When I read one of her cookbooks, I feel like she is in the kitchen talking to me, friend to friend.  I don't envy her last two years and the personal journey through the dark side she has made, and I am so happy she has made it through and is on The Taste again this year.  She is the embodiment of women who love to cook for their families, and who know that food prepared with love is the best kind of food there is. 

What does this have to do with Christmas, you say?  Two things.  One, food and Christmas - well that is what Christmas is about too, isn't it?  Good food, as well as family and friends, love and the new year.   two - well.....there's a book of Nigella's that I don't have, that I really really want. Nigella Christmas.  I put it on a couple of wishlists but the hint didn't materialize, and now her book is rarely available here now.  So this might be a dream for a few years to come.  One day, I will find it.  Uh-oh.  I just discovered that I blogged about this book back in 2008!!

The thing about Nigella and food is, that, well she is sensual when she works with it.  She likes the feel of food, how it tastes, the textures, the colour, how is pleases every sense.  I love that about her, as this is how I feel about food too.  It can be a whole sensory experience to eat a meal, if it's done right.  Just how it looks on the plate can be inviting (or not).  She is one of my pleasures in life, and her cookbooks are like a trail through my own history too now.  This year I worked from that cookbook, this is the year I fell in love with her cooking, this is the year I made so many recipes from this particular book.  I've learned to let myself savor the act of cooking more, and the pleasures of making food and understand a little how magical it all is, because of her writing about food and loving to eat chocolate cake.  She's like my dream best friend, a little shy, enthusiastic about food, and loves chocolate. 

I do have to say though that her choice tonight of deep-fried macaroni and cheese as her team's taste - I knew right away what was going to happen, and I was saying to the tv, no, no no!  Not deep fried macaroni and cheese!!! that's not childhood in a taste!  I was right, sadly.  Let's hope I have better luck finding Nigella Christmas than she does in picking her teams (she lost badly the previous two years).  Or, I can hope she has another cookbook in the works....

By the way, her Quadruple Chocolate Loaf cake is the best.  Divine.    Also her Everday Brownies, featured at my 7 year blogversary in Oct. These brownies are a family classic now.  For chocoholics, this is as good as her chocolate cloud cake and the chocolate lava cakes recipe.  A girl can never really have too much chocolate, can she? 

Sci Fi Experience 2015

It's here.  The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, hosted by the warm and kind Carl Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings.   This challenge runs from Dec 1 2014 to Jan 31, 2015.
Yes, I'm going to sign up.  I will read at least one science fiction novel between now and the end of January!  Yes, I am only committing to one, because of my dismal finishing of books since Oct 22 (still at 2 books read since then).  I have a whole stack of SF books, and if it weren't so late, I'd take a photo, so maybe tomorrow or the next day for an Advent Calendar treat. 

I have three  SF novels I really want to buy for Christmas: 
Points of Hope, A Novel of Astrieant by Melissa Scott -  just reviewed by Cath over at Read-Warbler, a lovely review. 
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane, one of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014
ok, four
A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias, another of Publisher's Weekly Best Books of 2014

Carl has also just reviewed DA by Connie Willis,which I happen to own and can't remember the ending too, so maybe I can read 2 books for the sci-fi challenge!  DA is a novella, too, so well within my reach (for these days). 

This is a sad state I am in, isn't it?  I hope my mind starts to settle soon.  I miss reading for long stretches of time.  I can do it occasionally, once a week or so now. 

I do really enjoy this challenge. I have read some wonderful books for it in past years.  Here's hoping it can help me slip back into more reading. Thanks for hosting it again, Carl! 

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Advent Calendar of Books

So, as blogging has been so difficult for me this year, and reading so terribly hard since Oct 22, I wanted to do something a little different in the run-up to Christmas.  Instead of having a chocolate advent calendar, I thought I would write every day about books.  Either a book review of a book I've read and particularly liked, or thoughts on reading, or books I want for Christmas, or anything bookish that catches my eye.  So, it will be a surprise every day for 24 days.

Of course, I have already missed two days, so you get a triple treat today.  Three bookish things! 

Day One: Book Christmas Advent Calendar In which I review a book
                     The Detective's Daughter by Lesley Thomson

I read this book in March of this year.  Stella Darnell is a policeman's daughter.  Jack is the son of Kate Rokesmith, an unsolved murder from 30 years ago, that haunted Stella's father.  Upon DI Darnell's death, Kate begins sorting through her father's papers to prepare to empty his house.  She comes across a book of papers and realizes her father never got over not solving Kate's death. 

This isn't a simple murder mystery, however.  Stella is a little different, although it is not spelled out in the book, I suspect she is Obsessive-Compulsive to a high degree.  She runs a cleaning company and everything has to be spic and span or else....everything in her life is run the same way.  It is interesting in this novel to see what happens when she meets Kate Rokesmith's son, Jack who was 4 when his mother was murdered.  He was the only witness.  The story that Thomson weaves around grief, parents who are oblivious to their children's wants, and coming to terms with loss, and the slow uncovering of who killed Kate, made for a fascinating mystery novel.  I liked that Kate had to feel compulsive about her cleaning, and how she changes when she meets someone more damaged than she is, is enjoyable and realistic.  I liked the characters, and the mystery, very much.  If you want a good mystery with some emotional glimpses and growth in characters, this is one to get.

Day Two:  Book Christmas Advent Calendar:  surprise!  another book review!  hurray!
                      Invisible City by Julia Dahl
I came across a review of this book in one of the mystery review magazines I occasionally buy. I read it this past July. It is a debut mystery, featuring a female reporter who has arrived in New York City from Florida.  The catch?  Her mother is from New York City, and was one of the Hasidic Jews.  Rebekah Roberts doesn't remember her mother, her mother abandoned her and left her father when she was a baby, and disappeared.  Rebekah has come back to New York City to find what happened to her mother, while she works as a stringer newspaper reporter.  She is called out to cover the story of a dead woman discovered at a building site.  The woman is a Hasidic Jew. One of the men who arrive on the scene from the Jewish community is a man named Saul, who recognizes Rebekah because she looks so much like her mother. Her Hasidic background gives her access to the community, with some members willing to talk with her because she is one of them.

I thought this was an excellent debut mystery.  I was drawn to it because of the Hasidic Jewish storyline, which is rarely featured in general fiction. In this novel (as in real life), it is a culture closed off to much of the Western city around it, functioning, with the permission of the city fathers, with its own laws and customs, which Rebekah learns about and questions because she has not been raised in the Hasidic tradition.  We learn much on the way along with Rebekah.  Fascinating.  There are few stereotypes in the characters we meet, the mystery is decent and heart-breaking as we get to know the family members, and at the heart of it is what Rebekah learns of her mother and why she might have left her all those years ago.  Highly recommended.

Day Three: Book Christmas Advent Calendar: in which I confess, I was finally able to look at  some used books.

This is what I bought: and they are NOT for my Christmas box of books!!!  I'm a little naughty, aren't I?  Plus, still reading every so slowly.  Two books finished in 6 weeks, with another almost done now.  However, I can look at books again in a store so this is a big improvement for me. 

Because I'm reading so slowly, and haven't been able to shop much for Christmas, I don't have much of a Christmas list done yet.  I'm just beginning to look at what books are out now. Do you, Gentle readers?  What books are you really wanting for Christmas?  Have you done any secret book buying that is not a present for anyone this year, but is for you and just because you love books and they are irresistible?