Friday, July 13, 2018

The New Moon's Arms

The New Moon's ArmsThe New Moon's Arms
by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the beginning of this novel we meet Calamity at her father's funeral. She is a woman of middle-age who is dealing with the changes happening in her body and in how the world sees her. She is also still working on the stuff we come to understand she has always been working on about herself. I really enjoyed Calamity's story and liked her as a character (prickly, stubborn, foolish and all). There was also a magical-realism aspect of the book--sections mixed into the story--about how a group of beings came to where they are (I'm being vague so as not to spoil anything). I didn't find that part of the book nearly as successful. It wasn't clear how it related to Calamity's story for quite a while, and it was too vague to stand alone as a storyline. There was a third strand about a zoo that started off well, with an intriguing character I would have liked to learn more about, but never came to much and didn't connect clearly to the rest of the book. There was a magical-realism aspect to Calamity's story as well. The hot-flashes that are tormenting her as she enters menopause bring unexpected objects back into her world. I thought this element of the novel worked well as it not only gave us peek into Calamity's past, it was also a twist on the idea of the magic of women.
Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica and lived, among other places, in Toronto. I am counting this book toward the 12th Canadian Book Challenge. This is the book for the Summer Edition of the Literary Sewing Circle at Following the Thread. I have an idea for the sewing project to go with this book which, if it comes together, I will be posting about at Urban Quilter.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sword of Shannara

The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy, #1)The Sword of Shannara 
by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“The wind began to rush violently as he moved on, and he became aware of other creatures in the darkness. They came first as a vague awareness in his mind, then as soft cries that seemed to seep through the haze and cling inquisitively about him. At last they appeared as living bodies, touching softly with cringing fingers the flesh of his person. He laughed in maddened frenzy, knowing somehow that he was no longer in a world of living creatures, but a world of death where soulless beings wandered in hopeless search of escape from their eternal prison. He stumbled on amidst them, laughing, talking, even singing gaily, his mind no longer a part of his mortal being. All about him, the creatures of the dark world followed in cringing companionship, knowing that the maddened mortal was almost one of them. It was all a matter of time. When the mortal life was gone, he would be as they were – lost forever. Orl Fane would be with his own kind at last. Almost” --Sword of Shannara
This novel (according to Wikipedia) launched Del Rey and and its success built a foundation for the fantasy genre. It is really long and it took me a while to get into it. The influence of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is very evident and some of the writing is extremely purple and cliched. However, once the quest is solidly underway and more secondary characters start adding threads to the story it becomes much more interesting and I found myself drawn in. The writing never really improves, but after 300+ pages I got used to it.  I'm not prepared to commit to the 30+ books in the series, but I may read the next one in the original trilogy at some point. 
This book is on my Classics Club list. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the WorldOriginals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
by Adam M. Grant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was full of interesting studies and research, some of it familiar to me from When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. The argument that these disparate things come together to distinguish originals from everyone else was not pulled together as coherently as I would have liked. The writing style was engaging.
I heard about this book through the Next Big Idea Club--Grant is one of the organizers. This book counts toward my non-fiction reading challenge.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to VerseHow to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse by Thomas C. Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like to read poetry, but if you didn't I think this would be an excellent step toward fixing that problem. Foster is solid in his information, but casual in his approach and very aware of the objections that may arise in his reader as he explains the mechanics of poetry. It is covering the same material I learned in college from Perrine's Sound and Sense, but is shorter and less academic. I also found it funny (could just be me though).
"We need to be clear here that Old English doesn't mean Shakespeare (Early Modern English) and it doesn't even mean Chaucer (Middle English). Nope, we're talking about Anglo-Saxon before the Norman conquest brought a lot of French elements and made the language sound less like gargling." (p. 58)
I am adding another of Foster's books, How to Read Novels Like a Professor, to my TBR list as well as 2 books from his bibliography: Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook and Preoccupations: Selected Prose by Seamus Heaney.

I am counting this book toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Practicing History

Practicing HistoryPracticing History 
by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a bit of a hodge-podge as it includes essays on how to be an historian as well as essays about various historical issues. All of it is fascinating. Tuchman's style is clear and concise, but elegant in the choice of language. It is also filled with asides, many of them rather sharp, on the events being discussed.
"'One threat' to leave France to face Germany alone might have brought Clemenceau 'to compromise' (which suggests a capacious ignorance of the Tiger)." --from a review of a book on Woodrow Wilson, p. 155
I love the phrase 'capacious ignorance'. The essays on Israel, written at a point when its future existence was by no means certain, gave me a new perspective on the current state. The final section of the book is brief pieces, some articles and some speeches, that are contemporaneous with the events they discuss (the Vietnam war and the Nixon administration mostly). I was struck by the fact that many of her concerns about the direction American government was headed, have been borne out in the years since. 

As a resource on how to write history and biography there is a lot of useful information here.
"The problem is how and what to select out of all that happened without, by the very process of selection, giving an over- or under-emphasis which violates truth. One cannot put in everything: The result would be a shapeless mass. The job is to achieve a narrative line without straying from the essential facts or leaving out any essential facts and without twisting the material to suit one's convenience. To do so is a temptation, but if you do it with history you invariably get tripped up by later events." -from "The Historian as Artist" p. 49
The essays are also peppered with inspiration on life in general.
"Since life is only fun when you attempt something a little beyond your reach, I will proceed..." - from an address to the US Army War College on Generalship, p. 276
 I am counting this book toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Undermajordomo Minor

Undermajordomo MinorUndermajordomo Minor
by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"In actuality they were neither of them old men; their arms were still wiry with muscle, their backs straight and strong, and yet they had surpassed the mean, the center mark of their lives, and were both aware of an overall dimming." (p. 262)
As with his earlier novel, The Sisters Brothers, I really liked the style of this book. There is a dry wit to the narration that appealed to me. The story of Lucien Minor's life was interesting, but I felt like the characters in the castle, who were the subject of much of the story, were not developed enough.
This is my 13th book for the Canadian Book Challenge.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard Daniel Pink on the radio and thought his ideas about the importance of not just what you do but when you do it were interesting. The book includes lots of insights about how timing affects what we do and how we could do it better. nappuccinos are a brilliant idea that I can't wait to be able to try out and I will be paying attention to mid-points going forward. There were also quite a few bits that were funny. Social science rarely includes laughs, but it should. This is a book that I will want to re-read because I suspect I will get different things from it each time I read it.
This book counts toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber BridegroomThe Robber Bridegroom
by Eudora Welty

This is a fairy tale set in the American south by a master of Southern fiction. It was well-reviewed by the NYT when it came out in 1942 and I was inspired to read it after having read Atwood's The Robber Bride. The original tale is in the Brothers Grimm collection, and a variant of it is retold in Neil Gaiman's "The White Road." Welty's tale has the tempo and language of a classic fairy tale and blends in myths and legends from 18th century Mississippi.
This is one of my Classics Club titles and counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic by an author who is new to me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Lisa's Review: A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky by Amanda LindhoutSara Corbett

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

A House in the Sky is a beautifully written memoir by Amanda Lindhout. She grew up in Alberta in a not very fortunate family situation. As a child, she grew a sense of adventure, and escaped her home life by reading through any National Geographic she could get her hands on.

As a young adult, she worked to save money to travel to the places she had read and dreamed about, eventually dabbling into becoming a reporter. In 2008 Amanda traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia to cover stories about life there among all of the fighting. On her 4th day, she was abducted and held for 15 months.

I loved many things about this book. First being the description of the pure sense of adventure she had. I like to think that I love to travel, but was in awe of the places that Amanda  traveled to. Second, the courage and attitude she exhibits throughout her time in captivity. And third, the style of writing, and telling of her story was just beautifully written. I was captivated at the beginning all the way through to the end.       

Here are a few of my favorite passages...

I unearthed an old issue I had as a kid, with a story about a slab-like magical plateau somewhere in Venezuela called Roraima, covered in quartz crystals and drifting above the clouds. The names alone seemed delicious and made up. They ran through my mind like poetry as I walked home, erasing the blunt syllables of the place I lived, the places I came from. p. 27

For five months, we'd sat with Roraima on our coffee table in our little apartment in Calgary, its pie-wedge shape occupying the pages of our most treasured issue of National Geographic. And now the looking glass had flipped. We were like fantasy characters climbing around a picture that had gone three-dimensional. p. 35

I'd like to say I'd hesitated before heading into Somalia, but I didn't. If anything, my experiences had taught me that while terror and strife hogged the international headlines, there was always - really truly always - something more hopeful and humane running alongside it. p. 105

This is my eighth book read for the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge.
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