Saturday 29 January 2011

Finished 2010 Chunkster Challenge

I completed the aimed level for the Chunkster Reading Challenge (Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big) back in July and decided to continue aiming for a higher level, Mor-Bookly Obese.
This higher level meant going for 6 books over 450 pages, which I have now done.
1. Burmese Lessons - 463 pages
2. Crow Road - 501 pages
3. The Passage - 766 pages
4. A Fierce Radiance - 527 pages
5. The Forgotten Garden - 549 pages
6. The Ship of Brides - 482 pages
I also thoroughly enjoyed them all, but surprised myself with how long it took to get the last two.

The Ship of Brides

Finished January 29
The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
This novel follows four young women on their trip as Australian war brides, traveling from Australia to England in 1946. This trip really occurred, with the war brides traveling on an aircraft carrier that had been partially converted to create cabin space for them.
The history was interesting. The girls we follow include a farm girl well along in her pregnancy, a society girl, a nurse, and a very young bride of sixteen. Margaret, the farm girl is very down to earth and direct. She is friendly and comfortable with men. Avice, the society girl, has planned out her future, from picking her husband, moving the marriage up, and getting herself onto the ship. But she can't control everything as well as she thinks. Frances, the nurse, is a quiet and practical young woman, who has seen the worst of war in her nursing of POWs. She also has a sad past that she is escaping, but it keeps following her. Jean, the young wife, has also had a hard life, and has taken to marriage as her first chance for love. Her inexperience and longing for love may also be her undoing. The captain of the ship has issues as well: guilt, resentment, and discomfort. He gains more from this voyage than he anticipated.
With happiness, sadness, and a great story, this novel has a lot going for it.
Lots of good history, with the occasional lapse of fact that doesn't detract from the storyline.

It's a Book

Finished January 27
It's a Book by Lane Smith
This picture book is a hoot. Monkey has a book, and his friends, mouse and jackass, have lots of questions about the book, like "how do you scroll?" and "can it blog?" but he manages to convince them that it has its own value. Cute, and funny. The drawings are simple and effective.

Far to Go

Finished January 23
Far to Go by Alison Pick
This novel is set in Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the Second World War, when the Germans took over first Sudetenland and then the rest of the country. We look at things from the point of view of the young nanny for a well-off Jewish family. There is also a voice from the early twentieth century that we don't find out the identity of until the end of the book.
The story is a different voice and follows not only the arc of the German's in Czechoslovakia, but also the variety of responses to the German's presence. The nanny, Marta, has her own issues that influence her actions here. The small boy, Pepik, is put on the list for Kindertransport and manages to escape, but never sees his family or nanny again. His experience is something we hear about later in the book.
This is a sad book, but not in a manipulative way. We see a story that is based on real stories and real history and it is a learning experience as well as a rewarding tale.
Well told and researched.

Saturday 22 January 2011

My Reading Life

Finished January 20
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy, read by the author
This is a gem of a book. Conroy reflects on his life, showing how reading became a part of it, talking about those important in the development of his reading, and detailing his experiences. He takes particular time over some books that were key in his development, but mentions many many more. I knew before I finished the first CD of this book that I needed to get myself a paper copy to keep. There are so many passages that spoke to me, and bits I'd like to quote that I know I need my own book.
Conroy is open, reflective, and honest in his reflections. Reading has been the key to opening the world to him. It is what determined his career as a writer, and his development of friends. There were so many interesting anecdotes, particularly those involving other writers, that gave me new perspectives on well known people.
This book is not to be missed.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Mistress of Nothing

Finished January 16
Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
This novel won the GG for fiction in 2009 and I'd been meaning to read it for a while. It takes place in Victorian England and Egypt and is in the voice of Sally Naldrett, a lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon. Pullinger was inspired by reading the letters of Lady Duff Gordon and wondering what happened to Sally afterward.
Sally really did work for Lady Duff Gordon and accompanied her abroad on more than one occasion, including her trip to Egypt. Sally had been loyal to "her lady", assisting in treating her illness and doing whatever needed to be done to make her life easier and minimize the awareness of illness by others. In Egypt, Sally was surprised by her own feelings and wouldn't likely have acted as she did if her feelings were not reciprocated.
Pullinger makes Sally come alive here, and I found the voice compelling. Egypt and its social life of the time come alive, as do the local people. Sally shows her development as she comes to realize her lack of real power over her life due to her social situation. As the title indicates, she is really mistress of nothing.
This is a moving and evocative book of a past time.

Saturday 15 January 2011

The Paper Garden

Finished January 15
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany {Begins Her Life's Work} at 72 by Molly Peacock
This is a very different book than I expected. Peacock has taken 13 of the 985 works that Delany made and used them to illustrate her life.
Each work is the focus of a chapter, and each chapter moves through Mrs. Delany's life from childhood through old age. Each chapter also follows Peacock's writing of this book, from her first awareness of the wonderful art created by Mrs. Delany to the completion of this book.
It is a fascinating structure for a biography, a revival of awareness in this amazing set of artwork, and the inspiration that leads a writer to her subject.
Wonderful, unexpected, and enlightening.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Travels in Siberia

Finished January 10
Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier, read by the author.
Though nonfiction, this is an epic of a book. Telling of not only his own trips to Siberia (five in total) but also of others travels, this book provides an interesting view of a symbolic but little known part of the world. Frazier covers history, geography, literature, and politics in this amazing book. Frazier took on learning Russian to better equip himself for his travels, and talks about the greatest triumph: getting Russians to laugh on purpose. There is sadness and humour and so much more here.
I think that while I enjoyed the audio, reading the hard copy would have enabled me to look back at different sections, take note of particularly interesting passages, and skip some of the long lists Frazier was prone to.
In his own travels, he talks about the large numbers of beautiful women in Siberia, the preponderance of mosquitoes, and the type of garbage prevalent along the roadways. We see his friendships with the people of this part of the world and his Russian guides, his touchstones for Siberia in his own world, and the wonderful things that he learned. A great book with so much to offer.

Apocalypse for Beginners

Finished January 9
Apocalypse for Beginners by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler
I loved this book. It is written from the point of view of a young man, Mickey Bauermann, but focused on Hope Randall. Hope is from a family that is genetically predisposed to focus on the end of the world. As each family member goes through puberty they also become focused on a particular date as the end of the world. When that date is reached and world continues, they descend into madness. When her conceived date arrives, Hope's mother Ann decides she must head west from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. They only make is as far as Rivière-du-Loup before their car gives out. It is there that Hope comes into Mickey's life.
As Hope copes with her mother's increasing mental instability, she relies on Mickey and his family for the normalcy of life. Mickey is infatuated with her, but also in awe.
There is much humour and insight here, and above all, compassion.
Hope is well named, and her own wanderings in search of confirmation of her world ending date (July 17, 2001) are very interesting.
I highly recommend this book.

Saturday 8 January 2011

8 x 10

Finished January 7
8 x 10 by Michael Turner
This is a collection of vignettes of unnamed people's short experiences. Most vignettes have some sort of subject connection to the vignette previous to them, but one is unsure if any characters recur since no one is ever named. Pronouns are used throughout for characters.
The reference to 8 x 10 is a grid. Each vignette is introduced by a grid of this size with one square darkened. Not all squares are represented, but the grid is worked top to bottom, left to right. The experiences described vary widely and include a variety of relationships, both intense and casual, intimate and passing. I found only one that seemed outright strange.
To me, the structure and parameters of the writing encouraged thought and speculation. I found myself wondering whether the same character had reappeared, about whether one experience led to another, and about some characters mental health. A thought-provoking read.

Monday 3 January 2011

Two Generals

Finished January 3
Two Generals by Scott Chantler
This graphic novel focuses on the experiences of the author's grandfather in WWII. His grandfather, Law, was an officer in the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. He joined along with his best friend Jack and was part of the large force landing in Normandy in July 1944.
The book is a work of art, with a lovely binding. The story is done mostly in army green or red, which really makes an impact and fits with the experience told.
Moving, drawn beautifully, and told with emotion, this is a book to treasure. It is the details here, both text and picture that really make it come alive.

Another Challenge

Whats In a Name
This is a challenge I did and enjoyed in 2010, so I will try it again for 2011.
Here are the rules.
Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:
  1. A book with a number in the title: First to Die, Seven Up, Thirteen Reasons Why
  2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title: Diamond Ruby, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Opal Deception
  3. A book with a size in the title: Wide Sargasso Sea, Small Wars, Little Bee
  4. A book with travel or movement in the title: Dead Witch Walking, Crawling with Zombies, Time Traveler's Wife
  5. A book with evil in the title: Bad Marie, Fallen, Wicked Lovely
  6. A book with a life stage in the title: No Country for Old Men, Brideshead Revisited, Bog Child
The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Other Things to Know

  • Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • You do not have to make a list of books before hand.
  • You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

The Forgotten Garden

Finished January 2
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Told over the course of a century from the early 1900s to the 21st century, this novel follows a small girl, "Nell", and later her granddaughter from England to Australia and back again.
A small girl is left alone on a ship to Australia in 1913. She has only a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a book of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster at the Australian port and raised as his daughter. It is only on her 21st birthday that she finds out the truth of how she was found, and not until much later that she is given the clues to begin her search for her past. Following the clues she is given she makes her way to a manor on the Cornish coast.
Back in Australia her plans change again, and it is her granddaughter Cassandra who continues the quest for the truth of the past and Nell's origins in England.
This book has mystery, romance, and great stories.
At 549 pages, it also puts me another book towards the Chunkster Challenge.