Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Jane of All Trades

Jane of Lantern Hill
-L. M. Montgomery

Jane is an awkward eleven year old living with her mother and grandmother in a old house in the city of Toronto. Jane's pretty but spineless mother can't stand up to her grandmother and Jane's life is dull and restrictive. One day Jane has the shock of her life when she is told that her father is not dead, her parents are only separated and her father is living on Prince Edward Island. Shock follows shock and Jane is told she has to spend her summer with the father who abandoned her. 

I found it surprising how this book focused on divorce which was still a scandalous issue in the 1920's. Words that jump to mind with LMM's writing are usually homey, cosy, pleasant and not scandalous! This didn't put me off though and I mainly enjoyed the book except for one frustrating issue.

What aggravated me was how as soon as Jane landed on Prince Edward Island she suddenly became this domestic goddess and neighbourhood succor. In Toronto, Jane doesn't excel at anything but on P.E. Island Jane can do everything and at blue ribbon level. The only thing described that Jane cannot do is bake doughnuts. Also she is afraid of cows for a short time but she manages to quickly overcome this fear - Amazonian woman that she is. In the space of one short summer Jane goes from having never done any house work or cooking to being able to; keep house for her father, cook every meal, entertain guests, have a flower garden that is the envy of the island, grow vegetables that are superior to all the neighbour's vegetables, polish the silver and scrub the floor weekly, swim in the ocean daily, spend countless hours playing, have a clutch of devoted friends, be the best friend of every adult and even - I kid you not - coach the local lonely bachelor in writing his love letters. 

At one point in the book Jane's father asks her the question that every reader is asking themselves,
Who taught you how do all these things? 
Jane opens her eyes wide and coyly says, Who taught me? why no one! I just seem to know what to do.
At which point the reader curls their lip sardonically. 

But putting aside unrealistic eleven year old's this was another solid L.M. Montgomery book and I rated it 3.5 Stars. 

"Could she possibly be in ignorance of the fact that Jane's pick peonies, were the talk of the community?"

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Trustworthy Hero

Thief's Magic
-Trudi Canavan

I decided recently to try a new fantasy series and 'Millennium’s Rule' seemed an appropriate choice on many levels. The author has good reviews, she is Australian (supporting the home land) and the last book in the trilogy is set to come out at the end of this year. Brilliant, I thought, I shall devour the first two books become completely addicted and then I will join the screaming, slathering crowds waiting outside the book store on the release date. Alas, it was not to be.  
My rating - 3 Stars 

Setting - I really liked the steampunk setting of this book. It had an old worldly feel to it while there are still machines and robotics. In this world system, magic is common but it is possible to use up the magic in a particular space. Say you wanted to magic some Turkish Delight out of the air, you could do that but a stain or smear of blackness would appear where you stood to show that the magic had been used up. To get more Turkish Delight you would have to take a step to the side and use that magic or wait the time it would take for the magic to replenish itself and the stain to disappear. 

Rielle's story line - Rielle is a teenage girl living in a world where magic is feared. Only the priests are allowed to use it and if other people use it or can see the magic stain they are considered 'tainted' - barred from paradise after death. Rielle can see magic stain but she has kept it a secret all her life until things get complicated when she falls in love with a poor artist called Izare. 
I didn't find this story line very interesting, while there were moments of suspense it was generally very predictable and I was never sure if I was supposed to trust Izare. I didn't trust him as a character but I was unsure if that was my cynicism or the author's intention. Some of his actions were far too Pimp like and controlling for me to like him.

Tyen's story line - This is the story line that kept me interested. Living in a different world to Rielle, Tyen is at university studying magic. At the beginning of the novel Tyen reluctantly steals a magical book from the university and then has to try and evade capture. I say he reluctantly steals the book because Tyen is incredibly honourable. To Tyen the rules are there to be kept and he will put himself in harm’s way to keep the rules and not hurt others. This at times seemed like strength of character and at other times foolish naivety.
17302559If your treacherous professor asked you to go for a walk and then suddenly suggested you both stroll down a deserted, secret passage would you be wary? Tyen wasn’t. He wouldn’t do anything as underhanded as attack someone so why would his professor?

Overall - I found Tyen’s story line interesting but slow and Rielle’s quite yawn. With this book not capturing my attention and being over 500 pages I don’t think I am willing to give up the time to finish the series. However I will probably look up how it ends when the third book comes out. 

"His pulse quickened as he caught the object... and his heart sank a little. No treasure lay in his hands. Just a book. Not even a jewel-encrusted, gold-embellished book."

Friday, May 27, 2016

Did Not Finish

Black Dove, White Raven
Black Dove, White Raven- Elizabeth Wein

95% of my reading is for pleasure and 5% is for obligation. I also enjoy learning while I am reading so that is why I am drawn to historical fiction, biography and history books. Sometimes there will be a book that is available for me to read or listen to and I'm not too excited but I think that it might make me a broader reader or more intelligent so I plod on. In cases like this however, if I am not enjoying it after giving it a reasonable chance I put that book right down and say adieu to the characters. In a way I love giving up on books. I'm reading for pleasure, not uni or to be payed so I'm not going to suffer through a book I dislike.

The last book I didn't finish was "Black Dove, White Raven" by Elizabeth Wein. This was a surprise. I have read two other books by the author and really enjoyed them both and now I'm reading her third book and can't get past the first 50 pages! I was listening to this at school and I had an hour after school just to twiddle my thumbs before a concert. The perfect time to listen to a book and do some theory or Hanon practice but I just couldn't bring myself to continue with the book because aspects of it were too frustrating to me.

One of these frustrations was the intelligence age of one of the- at that time 8 year old- main characters Teo. My life revolves around 8 year old boys, I think I have a pretty good grasp on their maturity level and their use of language. 8 year old boys do not use fancy language or metaphors! In this book Teo kept on coming up with these pearls of wisdom and sentences all connected by these great metaphors. 

The boys I know at the age of 8 are clever, hilarious people but they like to talk about the games they play, how the chair they are sitting on makes a funny noise and that they can run faster than anyone else. One of my grade 3 cello classes delight in singing LOUDLY "Pin, Pong, Peddle!" to the tune of Hot Cross Buns. Who knows why? this to the them is the height of wit and and they could sing it for hours. 

In this novel Teo soliloquies for a paragraph on how his step mother's depression was like the handle of a pitcher which had been broken off and even if it were to be repaired it would still have the marks of the break on it. Maybe I mix with the wrong 8 year olds but I can't imagine any of them coming up with that without some serious nudging, 

Another frustration was that the story was structured around an unrealistic idea. The novel begins when Teo and Emilia are in their late teens and living in war torn Ethiopia around the beginning of World War Two. The first chapter lets the reader know that Teo for some reason is in custody and Emilia is doing her best to get him released. Emilia decides to petition right to the head of state in Ethiopia by writing him a letter or you could say, a book. In fact the very book we are reading. She feels that giving the Ethiopian head of state an intimate look into Teo's life from age 5 where she recounts anecdotes and descriptions of minor characters he will come to realise Teo's innocence and need for freedom. Adding to craziness of this, Emilia mentions in her opening that she is writing in a language that the head of state cannot read so he will need to have his translators translate it for him which Emilia acknowledges may be tricky since they are in the middle of a war. 

This 'hail mary' plea bargain just seemed too far fetched to me. I found it difficult to lose myself in the book as I kept on reminding myself that the official translators are supposedly translating this description of Teo ad Emilia's school life because some how it is of as much importance as the gun fire outside. 

I was disappointed that I didn't enjoy this book, I really wanted to but overall I felt like this book was trying hard to be beautiful and deep but trying so hard it was noticeable and unnatural. If you want to read a book by Elizabeth Wein I recommend "Rose Under Fire" and "Code Name Verity" but give this one a miss. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Month of Haiku

Hunting Shadows
- Charles Todd

Cathedral Sniper -
Which victim was the target?
Old hatred simmers.

The Wide Window
- Lemony Snicket

Orphans and Aunt Jo
Her note warns about Capt' Sham 
Flesh leeches are near.

Book of a Thousand Days
- Shannon Hale

Two girls locked away,
One - loyal, One - scarred and scared,
Both must conquer fear.

Nurse Matilda
- Christianna Branch

"You don't want me here,
But I will stay and help you
Till you see what's right".

Anne's House of Dreams
- L. M. Montgomery

Tears and joy mingle,
The unexpected happens,
It's all quite flow'ry.

The Lone Star Ranger
- Zane Grey

Action, Adventure
Ego at the start and end,
Pew, Pew, Pew, Pew, Pew!

Right Ho, Jeeves
- P. G. Wodehouse

Bertie wants to help,
But dealing with newts and sharks,
Jeeves' brains are required.

Henrietta, Who?
- Catherine Aird

A murder by car, 
A girl's lost identity,
A jumble of lies. 

Through the Fire
- Hester Burton

Fire in Pudding Lane,
No escape for the Quakers -
Innocents locked up.

"Even when I'm alone I have real good company - dreams and imaginations and pretendings. I like to be alone now and then, just to think over things and taste them. But I love friendships - and nice, jolly little times with people." Anne's House of Dreams

Monday, March 28, 2016

A man, a woman and a cat

Futher Chronicles of Avonlea
- L. M. Montgomery

A number of years ago I decided to try and collect the full set of L. M Montgomery books. I already had two or three in a particular edition and I liked how they smell old and have water colour covers. Since then I have regularly trawled second hand books stores, online stores and ebay and my collection now stands at 19 books. Most of the covers look fantastic but there are a couple that have clearly been done by a different artist and the cover art for these books can be questionable.

One of these more unusal covers is for the short story collection Further Chronicles of Avonlea. For your enjoyment I have placed here a picture of the cover.

This cover is so confusing! 
11492593What is happening and what is going on with that cat? The woman is sitting down you would assume, but the angles make no sense. What is that brown thing in her lap, a blanket, a leg or the side of the chair? If it the side of the chair what is her other arm propped on? Is the cat also sitting on her lap or is is sitting on some material that coincidentally matches the colour of her dress? The cat is three times the size of her head, why is the cat so large? How is that coffee table standing? The legs seem as if they wouldn't be able to hold the weight of the plant. And then the man, why is he sitting behind her? If he has come to talk to her why would he sit facing her back? Why is he so cheerful? Maybe she doesn't know he is there? Why is she ignoring him if she does know he is there? I'm pretty sure the man and the cat have a shared joke.

This is one of the most bizarre covers I have ever seen but thankfully they aren't all as strange as this one. I have read the short story that centers around this cover art but I can't remember it at all, I think I need a refresher. Maybe it is about a man and cat who trick a sad woman to sit in a narrow uncomfortable chair so they can laugh at her. 

Here is one of my favourites covers from this collection - 


And here is my collections so far. I only need three more to make it complete. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Questions on Classic Books

1. What is a classic book that you didn't like?
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  This is a prequel to Jan Eyre and I didn't like this book because of how much they changed the character of Rochester. He is never the classic hero in Jane Eyre but he is definitely the bad boy in the novel Wide Sargasso Sea which turns him into a cruel, shiftless and self absorbed man. The greatest issue Rhys seems to have with Rochester is his actions towards Bertha and I understand how this section of Jane Eyre is foreign to modern readers. In today's society when someone in your family has a mental illness it is frowned upon to lock them in an attic. But mental health was viewed very differently in the 19th century and I don't think there are clear examples of Rochester's neglect of Bertha. Bertha is actively trying to kill Rochester and he still provides medical help for her as well as a full time career. I have no problem with authors having a go at writing sequels or prequels to classic books but this vast removal from Charlotte Bronte's vision frustrates me. It is like someone coming along and drawing skeleton men all over the sails of the Sydney Opera House and saying it is all right because they view the opera house as a place of death and skeletons. Maybe they do view it that way, fair enough, but it is not their property to doodle on. 

2. What is your favourite time period to read about?
Medieval, Viking, Roman, 16-19th Century Europe, Regency, Elizabethan, American Civil war... I could go on. This question should be worded what time period do you not read about. 

3. What is the classic book that you are most embarrassed you haven't read yet?
To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. I keep putting this off because I am worried the the ending of court case will frustrate me too much. I know most of the story already, do I actually have to read it?

4. What are five classics you would like to read?
Dracuala by Bram Stoker, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliff, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

5. What is your favourite movie or tv series based on a classic book?
Cranford based on the novels set in the village of Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I like how the tv series and novels show excitement in the little things that occur in village life. 

6. What is the worst classic to movie adaption?
Pride and Prejudice 2005. Similar to Wide Sargasso Sea, I feel this adaption goes too far away from the novel. Lizzie's station in life is changed, the whole village is much more rustic and unrefined, and the characters are crass. At best this was the idea of Pride and Prejudice but certainly not a close copy of the original. There would have been no pig just wandering around indoors at the Bennet household!!

7. What is an under hyped classic you would recommend to anyone?
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. This book is not completely unheard of but it is certainly over shadowed by Treasure Island. The protagonist David Balfour is an unreliable narrator and his indecision and mistakes create a lot of confusion and adventure. Alan Stewart who travels with David is also a very complex character and I found I kept switching my opinion on whether he was a scoundrel or not. This book set in 18th century Scotland sees David and Alan being pursued over sea and through the Scottish highlands. This is a good old fashioned adventure book, that could be read by anyone!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bertie steps up to the plate

Thank you, Jeeves,
- P. G. Wodehouse 

In this Jeeves and Wooster novel chaos, miscommunication, and conflagrations once again harass the hapless characters. The book begins with Bertie's realisation that his calling in life is to be one of the world's great banjolele players. This calling is very clear to him but not to any of his neighbours, friends or Jeeves and soon Bertie is faced with a decision. Either he must cease his aspirations with the banjolele or Jeeves will leave his service. The decision is made and the banjolele comes out on top. Bertie moves to the village of Chuffnell Regis with his new man, the morose Brinkly but Bertie and Jeeves will not be separated for long. The cottage where he will be staying is owned by Bertie's old school friend Chuffy and Chuffy's new valet is Jeeves. Joining the throng at Chuffnell Regis is; Seabury - Chuffy's nephew who is demanding protection money, Sir Rodderick Glossup - the famous nerve doctor who believes that Bertie should be certified, J. Washburn Stoker - the american millionaire who hates Bertie and his daughter Pauline Stoker, who was once engaged to Bertie.

Bertie must ward off a murderous valet, escape kidnap and try to save Chuffy's love life all while being harassed by the ever watchful Police Sergeant Voules who lives next door. 

I love Jeeves and Wooster books because they are cleverly written and they can always brighten my mood. I also love them because of Bertie's character. He is not a clever man, in fact Jeeves himself states that Bertie can be "mentally somewhat negligent" but his other qualities make up for this in spades. In world politics today it seems like those looking for power see strength in rudeness, bullying and intimidation. I will always prefer the Berties of the world who find that the qualities of cheerfulness and resilience are just as compelling.

My rating; 5 Stars

"He sighed slightly. All this talk of my going to shows was distressing him. What he really wanted was to see was me sprinting down Park Lane with the mob after me with dripping knives... The man annoyed me. I hadn't the slightest objection to his spending his time planning massacres for the bourgeoisie, but I was dashed if I could see why he couldn't do it with a bright and cheerful smile."