Friday, November 29, 2013

Une Vie

My first Maupassant!  I have wanted to read him for quite some time.  I don't know why.  My experience with French authors is pretty limited, but then after reading Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I wanted to just dive on in and immerse myself in the culture, perhaps hoping to rexperience the haze of joy I felt in reading Hedgehog.  I was not disappointed.   Maupassant is an interesting fellow.  I skipped the introduction because it was very long, and I didn't want to spoil Une Vie...I will go back and have a look later after I have finished the rest of the book (some shorter stories are tacked on). 
As stories go this one was enthralling.  It was full of melancholy, it seemed to wash out everything else, even the painful or shocking parts, kind of softening the blow I suppose.  The protagonist Jeanne makes some bad decisions and suffers all of the consequences, continually.  I couldn't put it down, being over curious about how it would all end, and it ended just as it started, softly.  It puzzles me, and annoys me just a little bit, but then that just means that Maupassant did a great job by making me care about the story.   I am looking forward to reading his other books, but have learnt from this year's experience that too much isn't a good thing, so I will pick Maupassant up again in a couple of months (perhaps after I have done some more research).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Great Tunes to Read by...

First up is Ozric Tentatcles’ Paper Monkeys.  This instrumental music was absolutely perfect to listen to while reading the Winston Science Fiction Series.  Their futuristic sounds magically enhanced my spacey reading experience.

Bernard Haitink with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s  Tchaikovsky: The Symphonies was vital in my reading of Android Karenina, even with it’s crazy “quirky” sub plots, was really the only way to go, I don’t think I can ever read Tolstoy without Pyotr Ilyich’s music in the background.  It was weird, in a fanatic way, you can’t help loving the Quirk.
Read some Scandianvian crime fiction this year?  Adrian Lux and The Swedish House Mafia were listened to a great deal while I read Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy.
The Icelandic post rock group Sigur Ros was very apt for Quentin Bates’ Icelandic mysteries,
 Finland’s Husky Rescue for Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson.  It was a cultural learning experience for me to sample all at once, the differences in each Scandinavian country and their music as well as their literature.
Swedish folk rock group Junip kept me company for many other books read this year, as well as the Scottish electronica group Boards of Canada.
  I value electronica in many ways, but having it enhance my reading experience drives me to seek out more from this wonderful genre. cool, mellow music of Kurt Vile was also used to great advantage.  This music is so relaxed that I think you could read practically anything and it would be an easy going peaceful experience.
 Steven Wilson’s album this year covered all of the rest.  While it is hard to pick just one particular favourite amongst all the music I listen to, I do like to choose him very often as great music to read by. Not just this particualr album, every album of his is a sublime experience, to read by, eat by, drive by,  whatever you want to do!

In Memoriam

It has been an emotionally charged year for me while I read Ray Bradbury.  I guess you could almost say that I dwelled too much on my own feelings of loss, but it was difficult to avoid such feelings when I was reminded again and again that he was gone, every time I read something that was so sentimental, something so very Ray.  If you understand him, it is very apparent in all of his work the absolute joy he had in life, in his very own life.  The mysteries he wrote (Death is a Lonely Business, A Graveyard For Lunatics, and Let's All Kill Constance) are vitally a self indulgence and an homage to his life, his acievements, his very soul.  You can see in them everything he ever was.  I won't attempt such a feat again as trying to read as many books of his as possible, as it was overwhelming in it's scope.  Add to that the grief of his passing and it was one very potent, emotional roller coaster ride.  
I will make a habit however of reading something every year.  I would like more than anything to just slow down a little and take the time to consider each story, write about them, even research them, just pull it apart in every way possible, giving to the story a concentrated attention that helps me to see everything it is and could be.  He has made an indelible mark on my life.  He is responsible in part for the kind of person that I am.  At isolated, rare moments in my life I have looked at the world through his eyes and believed in the beauty of and the joy in living that was his very own precious belief.  Can you blame me for loving him so much?

The Winston Science Fiction Series

Winston came out with these ‘jewels’ of science fiction for the kids (or I should say…the boys) in the fifties and sixties.  They aren’t quite what you would give a kid to read these days which is what makes them that much more special.  The main premise, get a kid out into space (or something alternatively outlandish or un-Earthly), make him face adversity and survive, preferably while being brave, intrepid, heroic, intelligent and strong beyond his years.  
Apart from not giving us girls a fair shake, I just love these stories.  They are a part of another era long gone, that teenage boy dream of going out into space, before it was a reality, and showing us at the same time what a person ’ought’ to be like, forward thinking, smart, strong, brave, and an all around good person, always being selfless and thoughtful, the ideal future human (blah, blah, blah).  Misogyny aside, what a great thing for impressionable kids to aspire to? (In a Leave it to Beaver kind of way...) I really am trying not to be too sarcastic about this, they were, after all, meant to be a good thing. 
I read over a dozen of these books this year and some stories had issues that I thought were very important to consider and discuss (can you imagine some young lads in the fifties and sixties, sitting around and having literary discussions about this?)  I would like to believe that they did.  In the interest of fairness, there were only a few books that were outrightly derisive of girls, for the most part, if there were females in the stories they were a mixed bag of sensible, intelligent women who could hold up under extraordinary circumstances... it just wasn't important to mention it very often (or at all...).  I value these books because they are something special from a period of time where Science fiction was still in it's infancy, and as a series goes, they were very attractive to look at, the covers were all intriguing and very spacey.

Pretty aren't they!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kid Lit #3

All the Wrong Questions
Who Could That Be At This Hour?  #1 by Lemony Snickett

Who Could That Be At This Hour by Lemony Snickett is the hilarious first instalment of his All The Wrong Questions series.  I have always loved a good mystery, and this one will keep you on your toes, as well as improve your vocabulary. 
Not only is it full of action, it has lots of unusual, irritating, and interesting people and a unique setting, it has many references to other books (the titles are not mentioned, so it is fun to figure out which ones they are), and the longer words are defined which is great for kids who already don’t know what the words are.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1
By Charles Gilman; illustrated by Eugene Smith

Quirk has done it again!  I loved, loved, loved this book! Here we have the perfect blend of strange, creepy and horrific (which I am sure H.P. would have given his two thumbs up for).  Not only will the front cover draw kids in but the story will hold them…this is the kind of stuff that kids should (in my opinion) just lap up.    The black and white illustrations throughout were superb, giving the story that extra little oomph.  I can’t wait to read what’s next, and I really can’t wait to get this book on to the library shelf! 

Phineas L. MacGuire Erupts!
 By Frances O’Roark Dowell

An all around feel good book, written with a sense of humour and an enthusiasm for science.  I liked the message this book gave about friendship and gender roles.  The experiments in the back of the book will also be a lot of fun and be easy to do.
The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda
This one has been sitting in my school basket for quite some time, and I had been putting it off because it was obviously a fantasy story and I was just off the genre all last year.  This year is different, and I actually really enjoyed this story.  There were lots of references to fairy tales, nursery rhymes etc., which were pretty funny eg. “Polly ran off to put the kettle on”,  I got a good chuckle out of that one. 
Naomi’s Road by Joy Kogawa

A troupe performed this opera at my school last fall and it has taken me all this time to pull out the book, and then listen to the opera (the group very kindly left two copies of the opera for class discussion).  I personally think that this is a topic that isn’t discussed as much as it should be when November comes around and there is some attention paid to Remembrance Day. 
I want to seek out Kogawa’s other novels and her adult story of  ‘Obasan’ of which ‘Naomi’s Road’ is based on.
The New Normal by Ashley Little
This book did not turn out to be what I had expected: an issue book!  Instead the main protagonist Tamar is engrossing, interesting and funny.  I had in the recent past just talked to someone who had become a widow about how she should not be seeking to get her old life back, but how instead she should be building a new life around what her circumstances really are now that she has to live without her husband, and in this book you get to see Tamar do just that, learn to live her “new normal” life.  This is a definite ‘must read’ for teens.

Of Mice and Men
   Since I did not study this book in highschool it was shocking to realise just how much this particular book has invaded popular culture.  It immediately occurred to me on reading certain lines spoken by one of the protagonists, Lennie,  that Looney Tunes had parodied this character and it was disturbing to realise that, because this story is so profoundly sad, that the folks at Warner Brothers thought it darkly amusing to feature this in a children’s cartoon.

I have always been reluctant to read Steinbeck.
Of Mice and Men was simply awful.  Well written, but about such an ugly topic.  I was impressed by Steinbeck’s imagery of the outdoors at the beginning and end of the book (it is curious that he did it that way instead of establishing scenarios throughout the story and changes of scenes).  It is almost as if he can see only beauty in nature and that humans are not worthy of the same effort.  The book was clearly written as something to be acted out in a play, and I can honestly say that I will not be attending any performances.  I was left feeling nauseated, sick at the ugliness of human nature which even Steinbeck’s descriptions of the scenery in the last act did nothing to cleanse from my heart.  
I hope that rest of his work is unlike in character to this one, but I suspect it will be.

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle
I watched the Studio Ghibli movie first, which was a wonderful treat (and so sweet!), so I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the books.  Howl’s Moving Castle, being the first in this trilogy was wonderful, full of mystery, romance and magic.  As with any movie, there are always parts that cannot be included, so it was a real treat to get all of the things that were missed. While both movie and book are similar there are many wonderful variations and I would recommend both, but perhaps watching the movie first (shocking I know!)
Castle in the Air, was another exciting story, and this time with an Arabian Nights flavour full of enchantments, magic carpets, and djinn.   It reminds me of the Narnia Chronicles, in it’s diversity of climates, culture and magic.   
The House of Many Ways finishes off this special trio of books.    I really enjoyed reading them all, and look forward to reading this author’s other collections.   I was so comfortable and at ease I can’t help but want to find out how her other books are written and if this is a style that will dominate all of her fiction.  It was such a pleasure to read.  

The Houseguest

For us die-hard Pride and Prejudice fans who just want that little bit more from the story, this book is a delicious little treat.  I have been, and suspect always will be a sucker for new ideas, variations and twists on the universal theme.  I adore this story because one of the minor characters Georgiana Darcy has more of a leading role in this variation, which in itself provides much food for thought about her initial role in the original story, and it's catalitic role.  I wonder if anyone has ever thought about writing a variation that does not include her?  It would certainly be an entirely different story (or in my opinion, no story at all).  I am especially fond of the relationship that Adams developed between Elizabeth Bennet and Georgiana Darcy, it was cute and sweet and had me wishing for a little sister of my own.  Naturally the relationship between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth is fascinating in this variation too, complete with all of it's inevitabilities (the misunderstandings, the confusion, and that simmering sexual tension).  This version includes all of what I consider to be the vital ingredients for a Pride and Prejudice vagary, and I do recommend it to fans of this kind of story.
I first encountered this book at  Fan.Fiction.Net    I went back and re-read it twice before it was mostly removed from the site inviting us to buy it at  It was my first Kindle purchase, and I was extremely excited to buy it.  You can look at the authors othre fan fiction here Elizabeth Adams  it is worth a peek, and you can buy her e-book here The Houseguest.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Miss Me?

 It is hard to believe that it has been nearly three months since I last posted anything.  I have not stopped reading!  I have just been extremely busy at work and when I have been at home I have not had the patience to wait for my incredibly, painfully, slow internet connection to upload any of my work, so blogging had to go for now.  But that has all changed this week!  I finally have a super fast connection.
 My first thing to try out was buying e-books from  I can't tell you just how satisfying it was to buy a book online and receive it three seconds later! 
I will now proceed to publish what I have written over the past two months.  It isn't as much as I had thought, and only very rough drafts as I have been too preoccupied with my job and very tired as well.  With the addition of another classroom at my school I now have twice as many responsibilities, plus the new teacher wants me to provide an activity as well as story time, and I now have a preschool group that comes in twice a week.  I thrive on the challenge!  I just love it when I read a book to a group of kids and I make successful connections, and I am very happy to be now reading to preschoolers as well, it meets a need in myself to reach as many kids as possible.
It will be a very busy day today, I will be doing a continuation of my theme from last week of English folklore and fairy tales with a factured fairy tale called Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs, and then we will finish off our project from last week which is a large picture of a beanstalk though today we will be adding a little Jack and a giant at the top of the beanstalk (giving the kids the option to make the giant with a scared 'aargh I am falling face' or an angry 'fie fi fo' face). 
I promise to get working on those blog entires this weekend, it is amazing that even though I have not been posting I have now over 5000 views on this blog, thank you!  See you soon!