Wednesday 29 February 2012

Last post for February...

On this snowy day, the last day of February in this leap year, I wish I had some book to write about that would be somehow symbolic, something that would reflect the rarity of the day (Feb 29) or the anticipation of change from February, or bleak mid-winter, to March, and the expectation that spring is just around the corner.  Alas, I don't have anything like that to write about in my post today, but I hope it will still be interesting for you to read.

I've had a busy morning with unexpected dental work (yuck!), but hopefully I'm on the mend, so I'm drinking my tea cautiously to avoid exposure of my sensitive tooth to the hot liquid.  (I'm enjoying it less this way than when I drink with "total abandon", but it's still yummy).  I finished The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill last week.  Remember in my last post I talked about this author and this stand-alone novel?  Well, it was something different for me, as I've never read any Reginald Hill novels before, although it is  along the lines of the type of books I enjoy, that is, British mystery and crime novels.  This one was well-written and interesting, with several storylines involving different characters who interact in different ways depending on their relationship to the stories and other characters.  It tells the story of Wolf, a poor boy and son of a woodcutter on a wealthy estate who falls in love with the daughter of the estate and goes off to better himself in the hope that he will be deemed worthy of her hand.  This he achieves, and it is a fairytale relationship that suddenly comes crashing down in an instant.  The rest of the novel relays Wolf's attempts to uncover what has really happened, who caused it, and why.  It was this "fairytale" quality which did not particularly appeal to me - if you recall, I recently tried to read a John Connolly novel that also read like a fairytale and I gave up on it not far into the book.  But this novel was complex enough, and had enough other content, that I was able to stick with it and gloss over the fairytale imagery used by the author.  In particular, one character stood out for me and kept me interested.  Alva Ozigbo, the main character's psychologist, was most compelling for me, as her parts in the novel were written in a style that reminded me of Minette Walters.  The reader often got not just her dialogue to other characters, but her inner dialogue and personal thoughts.  Perhaps she was most interesting because her character was the most "transparent", that is, she seemed to have the least to hide, so what you saw was what you got (well, the reader got more than the other characters in the book, because he or she was privy to Alva's inner dialogue, too).  It was definitely well-written and thought-provoking, so well worth reading, even if some parts do not appeal to you personally.

Now I'm reading The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin.  This Scottish author is a favourite of a woman I used to work with, Sylvia, who grew up in Edinburgh, where many of Rankin's novels are set.  He is probably most famous for his "Detective Inspector Rebus" series.  I've read a few novels in that series, but haven't read anything by Rankin for quite a while.  This novel is the second in a new series, "Inspector Malcolm Fox", and it features Fox as the lead investigator of the Edinburgh Police Department's Complaints Department.  In this novel, he and his team are investigating the arrest of an officer in the Fife Constabulary who is accused of asking for and/or receiving sexual favours from females in return for his willingness to turn a blind eye to criminal behaviour, real or imagined.  This leads to investigation into possible widespread police corruption and cover-ups spanning more than 20 years, and involves not just the Complaints Department, but the local police and those at HQ.  It's gritty and realistic, with absolutely no trace of anything resembling a fairytale!  I just started it yesterday, and am about a third of the way through.  I would definitely recommend it, and other novels by this author, if you are interested in Scottish crime fiction, and Edinburgh in particular - the city is referred to and described so often, it is practically a character in and of itself.

And I'm about halfway through my audiobook, Dead Center by David Rosenfelt, part of the "Andy Carpenter" series.  I've listened to another of this author's books, Don't Tell a Soul, (a stand-alone novel) and thought it was good enough that I could try another.  This one is not a disappointment.   Andy, an independently wealthy lawyer, is called away by his former girlfriend to a small town in Wisconsin to represent Jeremy, a boy accused of murdering is ex-girlfriend and her friend after a night out at a bar.  The girlfriend is from a closed religious community in a nearby small town called Center City,  so called because the religious leader who founded the town believed that it was the religious centre of the universe (or at least the country, I can't remember which).  Anyways, this legal mystery has an interesting storyline, it is well-written and light in tone, but it is also informative regarding legal processes and procedures.  And there's a bit of a lovestory - will Andy and Laurie get back together?  Can they make their relationship work?  The narrator uses just the right tones for both the narration and the characters, which also appeals to this listener.  Mystery, lovestory, ultra-religious cults, and great narration - could anyone ask for more from an audiobook?  Not this listener!

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Monday 20 February 2012

Happy Family Day!

I thought I would take advantage of the extra day off work I have this week to write my post on Family Day Monday rather than wait until Wednesday morning, when I have less time to write.  I have lots to write about on this lovely, crisp sunny day after a long walk and as I settle down with a hot cup of homemade curried pumpkin soup... mmm!

Before I forget to do so, I wanted to mention something that ties in with my book club discussion of Pride and Prejudice.  I meant to write about it last week, but I was so excited to write about the 2 books that I had finished that it completely slipped my mind.  The famous opening line of P&P is "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."  If you recall, I wasn't overly taken with this novel and wondered whether I would be able to contribute in any meaningful way to the discussion.  Another book I have came to mind, and I thought it would provide an interesting opportunity to contribute to the discussion without actually discussing the novel.  I have an uncorrected proof of Mark Crick's Kafka's Soup:  a complete history of world literature in 14 recipes, which is a collection of "recipes" written in the styles of 14 famous writers, such as Jane Austen, Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Homer, and my favourite, Raymond Chandler.  The recipe written in the style of Austen is for "Tarragon Eggs".  After the ingredient list, the cooking instructions begin with this:  "It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, if kept too long, go off."  It goes on to suggest that the main character, Mrs B-, hopes to make good matches for these eggs in the coming weeks.  I read online that Crick, a British writer and photographer, made a comment to his publisher that cookbooks would be more interesting if the text were written better.  His publisher asked how Crick would improve on this, and he said that it would be more interesting if the texts were written in the styles of the great writers.  This is how this project supposedly came to be, and I must say, it is hilarious!  I especially enjoy reading aloud the recipe and cooking instructions for "Lamb with Dill Sauce a la Raymond Chandler" in a gruff, grisled tone that I associate with Humphrey Bogart (isn't he the one who played in all those films based on Chandler's novels?)  I read the "cooking instructions" for Austen's Tarragon Eggs aloud to my group in what I thought was an appropriate voice and they found it very funny.  I passed the book around to them, and one member asked where she could get this book.  Unfortunately, we don't have it at the library, so I think if anyone is interested, they would have to order a copy online.  Anyways, there's my plug for Mark Crick.

I finished reading Laura Lippman's Life Sentences late last week.  Remember it was the one that had an opening line commenting on it being Valentine's Day and I actually started reading it on Valentine's Day?  It was a bit disappointing, to say the least.  I stuck with it, though, as I kept hoping it would all come together in the end, which it did, sort of.  I think I summarized it already but in case I didn't, it tells the story of a moderately successful writer who is looking for a subject for her next book when an old acquaintance from childhood, who was imprisoned for 7 years for the death or disappearance of her son, is suddenly in the news again.  She decides that she will explore her childhood and try to get this person to talk to her, to have the opportunity to tell the real story behind the crime.  It was just the type of story I love, childhood secrets explored in adulthood, old friendships and alliances revealed and rekindled or extinguished, as the case may be.  But this book was just too unfocused, to vague, brought in too many characters' points of views and stories.  Lippman didn't seem to know what she wanted this book to be, an exploration of the challenges writers face when they are between books, a quest for the truth behind the imprisonment of a woman for a crime that may or may not have been committed, the problems an adult daughter faces when trying to understand her father's abandonment, or the problems Americans faced in the 1960s when attempting to form interracial relationships, among other things.  This book ended up tackling all of these issues and focuses, but not very well, in this reader's opinion.  I believe Lippman would have done better to reduce the number of characters who presented their stories in first-person narratives and narrow the focus to maybe the writer and her quest for the truth about her friend's involvement in the crime and subsequent imprisonment, and how that relates to her relationship with her father, mother and stepmother.  But again, that's just my opinion.  I will definitely read some of her other stand-alone novels (I think I have I'd Know You Anywhere checked out from the library and sitting on my desk at work waiting for me to read).

I'm now reading The Woodcutter by British writer Reginald Hill.  Hill, who recently passed away, is probably most famous for his "Dalzeil & Pascoe" mystery series, which I've tried to read but have never really taken to.  This is a stand-alone, published in 2010, and tells the story of a man who grew up as the son of a forester on an estate, fell in love with the daughter of the estate owner, got rich and educated, and married her.  This fairy-tale story all comes crashing down when the main character, Wolf, is arrested and charged with possession of child porn and paedophilia, as well as fraud.  As he sits in prison maintaining his innocence, he reveals his story to his psychiatrist through journal entries, which he passes on every week.  Through these pages, we get insight into the details of Wolf's life, and I expect there will be clues as to what has happened to him, who has caused such chaos, and why.  I'm about a quarter of the way into this 500+ page hardcover, and I'm very interested in finding out all the details and discovering the answers to the above questions.

And finally, my husband and I went to see the new film "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" this weekend, and I must say, it was amazing.  It was very intense, the intensity created and maintained by the incredibly slow pace of the plot and action throughout the film, and of course the amazing performance of Gary Oldman as George Smiley.  I don't know how well the film was adapted from the novel, as I've never read that book, although I believe one of this film's Oscar nominations is for Best Adapted Screenplay, so I'm guessing they did a good job.  I really enjoyed it, but I found it difficult to understand all the details as they were happening.  Like with a film adaptation of a Shakespearean play, I had to just "go with it" and hope that I get the gist of the story by the end, which usually happens.  Just as in those cases, that is when all things in this film became clear.

I think that's it for today.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Wednesday morning tea and post...

I seem to be back on schedule this week with my posting time, although I had to resist the strong urge to write on Sunday.  I have much to tell you today, so no time to comment on the weather or my tea.

Since my last post, I've read 2 books and am a third of the way through another novel.  The first book I read after Pride and Prejudice was Paganini's Ghost by Paul Adam, a cozy mystery set in modern-day Italy, but filled with details about historical figures, including musicians and their musical instruments.  It tells the story of a violin-maker who becomes involved in the murder investigation of a Parisian art dealer the morning after a concert at which a young, up-and-coming violinist performs using Paganini's famous violin.  It was a wonderful, light read, beautifully written, with interesting characters, some  compassionate, some mysterious, but all relevant to the plot.  The settings, too, were intriguing, as the story moves from the small town of Cremora to Milan, Paris and London.  I'll admit that I know almost nothing about classical music and musicians (except that I enjoy listening to classical music while reading), but I found this book very interesting and informative.  The author provided details about musicians and historical figures I've heard of but never knew much about, and he provided this information in an accessible way that was never condescending.  It was like a gentle walk through a portion of Paganini's life, with a tour guide pointing out the sites of major events.  While I often prefer a book with deeper meaning and more substance, every once in a while I like to treat myself to a light, easy read, especially one which offers a good mystery and an opportunity to learn a bit about classical music and musicians.  If you're NOT interested in classical music, this may not be a good choice for you.

The next book I read was Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.  I started it on Saturday morning and looked for opportunities throughout the weekend to read, so that I ended up finishing it on Sunday night.  It was the type of book that I literally could not put down, it was that compelling.  It tells the story of Christine, a woman who suffers from a type of amnesia where she has lost most of her memories from before her accident and has no new memories from after the accident.  She is able to form new memories, but can only retain them for the period of time that she is awake.  Every day she wakes up in an unfamiliar bed with a man who must tell her who she is, where she is, and why she is in this house, and this bed, with him.  On the back of the book, one reviewer compared it to the film "Memento", in which a man is unable to form any new memories, and he begins to suspect that people are taking advantage of his condition for their own ends.  In the novel, Christine also suspects those around her of lying to her or omitting certain events in her life.  A common theme in fiction is memory, and the unreliability of one's memories.  This novel takes that theme to a whole new level; not only is the main character remembering her past in a subjective, possibly unreliable way, she is being told her memories by someone she may or may not be able to trust.  What a fabulous first novel from this British writer.

And finally I'd like to talk about the novel I'm currently reading, Life Sentences by Laura Lippman.  I mentioned in a previous post that I really enjoyed another of her novels, What the Dead Know, about a woman who suffers amnesia and claims to be one of a pair of twins that have been missing for many years.  This novel is about a woman who has had some success writing her memoirs but not so much as a novelist.  She decides to investigate an unsolved murder involving a childhood friend for her next book, in the hopes that it may redeem her status as a successful writer.  I'm not enjoying it quite as much as the other novel, but I feel I have to finish it, since I began reading it yesterday, Feb 14, and the opening line of the book is "'Well,' the bookstore manager said, 'it is Valentine's Day'".  Coincidence or fate?  I like to believe I came upon this book at this time for a reason.

And that's it for today...

Bye for now!

Sunday 5 February 2012

Tea and oranges on a Sunday morning...

Whenever I have a cup of tea and a bowl of Clementine oranges, as happens often around the Christmas season when Clementines are plentiful, I am reminded of that Leonard Cohen song, "Suzanne".  Remember when he sings, "And she feeds me tea and oranges that come all the way from China"?  What a great song that is.  I haven't listened to Leonard Cohen in ages - maybe I'll do that today.

I decided to write today as this week is going to be very busy and my usual post time, Wednesday morning, is now booked up.  I was going to wait until Thursday evening, but it's probably best to do it now, then I can always write again later in the week if I wish to do so.

My book group met on Friday and we discussed Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  Some members did not show up, but the person for whom this book was selected was there, and of course it was a lively discussion.  In my research before our meeting, I discovered that the first draft of this book, written shortly after Jane herself fell in love with a cousin but they were forbidden to marry for financial reasons, among others, was entitled First Impressions.  I think that would have been a suitable title for the published draft, perhaps even more suitable that the final choice, as Pride and Prejudice sounds so condemning, harsh and judgemental, whereas First Impressions sounds more, hmmm, maybe "innocent" is close to the word I'm looking for.  For this reader, the book seemed more about first impressions, misconceptions, and subsequent misunderstandings among the parties involved in the relationships and their family members.  I understand that Austen's work is often described as "biting social commentary", and perhaps this is true, but to this reader, what stood out most were the unfortunate, often hasty and incorrect, judgements that were formed by some of the characters upon their first meeting with the others. But enough about the choice of title for the book.  In our group, the bulk of our discussion focused on the lack of choice for women at that time, and the fact that their only goal seemed to be finding a husband; for Mrs Bennet, the husband with the largest annual income was the best possible choice.  I remarked that, in the novel, there was no mention of the girls pursuing their own personal interests or hobbies, such as drawing or riding, and it was mentioned that, in the film version(s), they were indeed undertaking these activities.  It was then suggested that, since this was originally written in 1796 and published in I think 1813, Jane's contemporaries would have known that the characters would have been doing these things, that it would not have to be written about in order for it to be understood.  Perhaps that's one difference between a "classic" and "historical fiction", that a classic was written at the time in which it is taking place and for contemporaries of the author and the book's characters, whereas historical fiction is set in some period in the past but written by a current-day writer, and so the settings and lifestyles must be detailed for the reader.  I must say, I'm not a big fan of  historical fiction, but I often enjoy reading popular classics - I now think I understand why.  Anyways, we discussed the foolishness of Mrs Bennet, the potential harshness and cruelty inherent in Mr Bennet's treatment of his wife and some of his daughters, the annoying behaviour and attitude of Mr Collins, and the disbelief we felt in Mr Darcy's abrupt and complete change in attitude towards Elizabeth, her family, and their unfortunate financial situation.  Most of the members, including the person for whom this book was chosen, found it difficult to read for various reasons, such as the sentence and paragraph structure, the unusual ways in which some words and phrases were employed, unusual spellings for some words, and the difficulty in keeping the characters straight, especially the difficulty in being clear about who was speaking (that was my difficulty;  Austen never wrote "Elizabeth said" and "Mrs Bennet replied" - I guess I've been spoiled by contemporary literature!)  Having said that, it was decided that we were all glad to have had the opportunity to read this novel, but that perhaps it was more entertaining to watch the film versions, particularly the 1995 BBC version starring Colin Firth.  I have never seen this, but I have Part I at home now on DVD, borrowed from the library.

To finish up, I wanted to briefly talk about the audiobook I'm listening to right now, Room by Emma Donoghue. I mentioned in an earlier post that I don't usually enjoy reading books written from the point of view of a child or teenager, but that I was really enjoying this listening experience.  I'm somewhere in Part 7 of 9 parts, and I can't wait to get to the end,  it's that interesting.  I have tried reading this book in the past and could not get past the first few pages, but the audiobook is amazing.  I think this is largely due to the narration, particularly the narration done for the child, Jack.  This audiobook, downloaded from the library, uses multiple narrators, something I don't usually like, but the narrator for Jack has the style so down pat that it's almost as if a five-year-old is speaking.  I'm tempted to take out a copy of the book to read through to the end, but it wouldn't be the same in print.  I guess I'll just have to find more opportunities to listen... since it's such a lovely day, maybe I'll go for a long walk and finish "reading" Room.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Tea and post time again...

It's sort of sunny and quite mild outside today, almost spring-like on this first day of February, and my cup of tea is a good companion as once again I consider what I've been reading.

My next book club meeting is on Friday, and the selection is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I'm about two-thirds finished, and I have to say, it's not "grabbing" me.  Is it politically incorrect these days to admit that you don't like Jane Austen?  I feel as though I'm offending so many by making that statement, because she continues to be popular and to have a following nearly 200 years after her books were first published.  After all, look at the books related to or inspired by her works:  The Jane Austen Book Club, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, some would even say Bridget Jones' Diary (more on that later), and the teen book I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend, to name just a very few.  This is not even mentioning the many, many film version of her novels that continue to be released on a regular basis, as well as the films about Jane herself, I'm thinking particularly about "Becoming Jane", which was released in 2007.  So Jane Austen is still very much in style even today, and yet this novel is doing nothing for me; in fact, it is a struggle to get through even a few pages.  Having said that, I do remember reading this in university and not really enjoying it, preferring instead Persuasion, which leads me to assume that it is this title in particular, and not Jane Austen's whole body of work, that I find challenging to read.

Why did I choose this novel as a book club selection?  Well, since we meet every four weeks, I can sometimes choose a book for us to read that has some relevance to the time we are discussing it.  For example, in October I try to choose something that either pertains to the autumn or something that is scary or suspenseful (think Hallowe'en).  For the February meeting, I usually select either a romance/love story (Valentine's Day) or something that commemorates Black History Month.  Pride and Prejudice is considered to be a love story, and one of my members really wanted to have Jane Austen on the list for discussion, so this seemed like a good time to schedule this novel.  I suspect that I will appreciate this novel much more after our group discussion.  Even now, after looking at the title of the novel in print here, I realize that it is a novel about "pride" and "prejudice", which I had never really thought about before.  As I finish reading the last third of the novel I will keep this in mind and consider who is proud and in what ways prejudice influences the choices of the characters.  Throughout my reading experience, I was conscious of the fact that the female characters had only one goal in their lives, that of obtaining a husband.  I thought, "If only they had something else to do with their time, they could be so much happier, and freed of this pressure to meet and marry a man of at least a modest income."  Maybe I'm reading this as a 21st century girl who has always been independent and self-sufficient.  I'm also past that stage in life where the most important thing is to meet someone, fall in love and get married, although I'll admit that such a thing has never been that important to me.  I wonder if this novel appeals more to younger women, who are still fresh new participants in the world of dating and relationships.  It certainly reminded this reader of how lucky women are today, to be able to make choices and live independently, free to pursue their own interests without feeling pressured to marry.  I felt this when I read The Bell Jar, too.  I recall specifically a scene in that novel where Esther was considering the fruit on the tree of her life, where she could choose the fruit that represented a career, or the fruit that represented marriage and children, or the fruit that represented her life as a poet, and her frustration because she had to choose just one fruit;  she could not have them all.  I believe that today women can have all of these things, that they do not have to choose which fruit to pick.  We can see, then, the progression of changes for women through literature.  Elizabeth Bennet, in Britain in1813, had no choices other than marriage or spinsterhood.  Esther Greenwood, in America in 1963, had choices, but she could only choose one path.  Today,  I like to believe women can choose many paths simultaneously.  Look at that, I'm appreciating P&P more already!  (it is interesting that both P&P and The Bell Jar were loosely based on the lives and experiences of their authors).

Just briefly, I want to talk about Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding.  Actually, I can talk about the film version, but not the book, since I've never read the book.  I will assume, however, that the main character in the film is a fair representation of the same character in the book.  I have heard this book/film referred to as a modern-day Pride and Prejudice, and I suppose it could be the case since it is about a young British woman who is searching for a husband and has challenges when judging the suitability of various partners.  But Bridget Jones is insecure, clumsy and obsessed with her weight, whereas Elizabeth Bennet, while young and opinionated, possesses self-assurance and self-confidence.  The male characters also do not coincide with the characters in the Austen novel.  I'm certainly no Austen expert, but I think calling Jones a modern-day P&P is making a broad generalization.  While they are both "love stories", I think the occurrence of any real similarities are few.  Perhaps I should read the book first before making any more comments on that.

Oh dear, I feel as though this was a somewhat controversial post.  I will finish reading P&P, and will relate the highlights of the group discussion next time.

Bye for now!