Monday, 30 January 2012

The Last Nude

Around the World in 52 Books Challenge:  6/52 (France)

The Last Nude, by Ellis Avery

My Goodread's Review

3 out of 5 stars


This book was not my original choice for France.  It was a book I chose for my personal challenge to read a new release each month in 2012. When I started reading this book, I realized that it could also count for the Around the World in 52 Books Challenge.  I'm all about double dipping and making one book count for more than one challenge, so I broke my own rules and swapped out the original selection.  Now that I've clarified that - onwards and upwards.

I'm stumped.  I don't know what kind of a commentary I can write about this book.  I am not an art intellectual, for lack of a better word.  I  know what I like, but I don't understand a lot of it.  I went to  Tamara de Lempicka's website and looked at her paintings.  There are some that I really like.  But ask me about composition or any of that stuff and I'll give you the deer-in-the-headlights stare.  Give me a quilt, on the other hand, and I could happily and obsessively discuss the techniques involved. 

So much for discussing art as a commentary.

I could discuss the total irrelevance of the publisher's write up to the actual story.  Ahh - nah! 

Have I ever told you how much I hate writing book reviews and commentaries?  I remember having to write the dreaded book review in school.  I never did get great marks on them.  If the teacher taught us how to dissect a story and observe the inner machinations of it, I was probably daydreaming during it. 

The only thing I remember being dissected in school was a badger and the boys dragging its entrails around the ball diamond where they had dissected it.  It was in health class.  We had segregated health classes back in those days.  The girls talked about menstruation while the boys went out to the ball diamond and did fun things, like dissecting critters.

But I have digressed.  I was talking about writing book reviews.  The teacher would ask us to write our opinion of the book.  Often my opinion was marked as incorrect.  How can my opinion be incorrect?   Maybe my opinion doesn't agree with what is commonly accepted.  That doesn't make it wrong.  It makes me an individual.

Perhaps that's why I never did like poetry, except for my own.  I recall a teacher asking, "What does green symbolize in this poem?"  Sheesh!  Green could symbolize almost anything.  Let's try a few of them on for size. 
  • Inexperienced as in a green rookie on his first day at work. 
  • Money
  • Colour
  • Alive or fresh, as in a green branch of a tree
  • Envy
Are those the usual connotations of green? Did I get them all? I have always believed that symbolism is as personal as the person interpretting the symbol.  Green, to me could conjour up the memories of the grass stains on my jeans from the first time I got drunk.  The culprit was Lamb's Dark Navy Rum.  Needless to say, I don't drink rum anymore.  If I was to write a poem and reference "green knees", who would get the connection?  It certainly wouldn't be my grade 10 English teacher.

Okay, so maybe I didn't get good marks based on my writing skills and not my opinion.  And maybe the symbolism of green could be determined in the context of the poem.  I'll concede those points.  But I still don't like writing book reviews.

It's midnight and time to think about going to bed.  I think I've blathered on enough tonight.  Perhaps I should change my blog name to "She Blathers".   I'll sleep on it.

One of my blogging friends always ends his entries with "Thanks for reading." I think that's a nice sentiment.  If you've gotten this far and haven't given up on me being a lost cause, thanks for reading!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Book Thief

Around the World in 52 Books Challenge:  5/52 (Germany)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My Goodreads Review

5/5 stars


I'm going to be late for work, even though I am my own boss and don't have to be at the office by any per-ordained time.  It's just that it's JANUARY!  I have five more payrolls to do, and two more GST reports to file (three more if I count my own) by the end of the month and time is running out!  I hope my blathering doesn't sound rushed or incoherent.  Okay, sometimes it's incoherent when I'm not in a rush.  I don't need anyone pointing that out.

So, commentary on the book.  Did I tell you that I loved it? 

Do you peek ahead when you are reading a book?  Or do you like to savour the suspense to the very end?

I peek.  Not at the very end of the book, but at various spots throughout.  It relieves the tension and allows me to slow my reading down so that I can enjoy it instead of rushing through like a crazed woman on speed.  I miss things that way, and I don't like to miss anything. Don't leave me out of the loop or I'll come running over and ask, "What did you say?"  Yes, I'm one of those annoying people.

If you believe that peeking will destroy the story, you may not want to read this book.  AND, you may not want to read any further in this entry.  We'll wave goodbye to each other right here.  Bye!

Zusak writes with spoilers!  Shocking!  You learn fairly early on that Rudy dies.  Zusak explains why he reveals that tidbit.  The audience for whom he writes is children.  He tells them up front what is going to happen so that they can prepare themselves.  He also tells them to create suspense.  I know you are asking how giving away a spoiler like that can build suspense instead of desroying it.  Because you don't know when or how it's going to happen.

It's pretty hard to flip pages on an audiobook so his style suited me perfectly. 

I've run out of things to say.  I had better get a move on and get to work.  I don't want a bunch of  grimacing employees flooding up my email, or cursing me on the phone.  I have finished the 6th book out of the challenge as well and I will likely write about that tonight, or tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


I was recently interviewed by one of my fav's, Kat who writes as The Auzzie Zombie Blogger.. mmmm brains!  She may even get me reading the odd zombie story.  Here is the interview here.

Thanks for interviewing me, Kat.  It was fun!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Around the World in 52 Books Challenge:  4/52 (Antarctica)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing

My Goodread's Review is here

Is the great age of exploration over?  Is there any place left on earth that is unexplored or uncharted that is waiting for some soul with enough courage and curiosity (and perhaps a bit of stupidity) to discover it?

What's left?  We've already explored all the land masses, the oceans and even caves.  I guess space is what is left.  So much for grand adventurer who doesn't have the means to go space travelling.

I remember exploring as a kid with the neighborhood kids.  One summer we decided to hike into the woods and build a tree house.  The first step was to pack food.  Into my bag went boxes of jell-o.  We were into sticking our fingers into our mouths to get them wet and then into the jell-o crystals.  By the time we were done, our tongues and fingers had changed colour.  If the jell-o was lime, we'd be green.  Grape jell-o would turn us purple.  Of course, the obligatory peanut butter and jam sandwiches were included.  Perhaps even an apple or two found its way into the bag.  Some of the kids were required to scavange hammers, nails, rope, and all things necessary for our journey.

We gathered at the end of the street.  When the last straggler arrived we set off down Lover's Lane.  There was a lane at the end of the street that was lined with trees.  Very soon after the entrance, it curved out of sight.  On one side was an undeveloped area.  On the other, a park.  It was perfect for the local teenagers to go for a bit of smooching and...  I do believe that I may have walked down that lane with boyfriend or two when I got older, but I'm not telling tales.

With high spirits, we marched down the lane, swinging the bags clutched in our hands and keeping in step as we sang,

The ants go marching one by one, ahum, ahum.
The ants go marching one by one.
The littlest one stops to scratch his bum
And they all go marching
To the earth
To get out of the rain
Boom, boom, boom.....

At some point, we left the lane and headed into the trees, looking for the best place to build our tree house.  We discovered the ruins of an old house.  All that was left was the earthen cellar. We sat on what may have been benches carved into the wall to hold vegetables from the garden.  It didn't matter what it was used for, our imaginations filled in the blanks.  Somebody found an old jawbone.  Was it human?  It had to have been.

When we sated our curiosities of the old house, we continued on.  Finally, we found a grouping a trees that would be perfect for our construction.  The sound of hammers banging on wood and shouted orders mixed in with giggling and laughing rang through the trees.

That night, all through the neighborhood, kids slept soundly from fresh air and exercise, dreaming of their adventures in the woods.

These days, kids don't seem to go outside to play with dirt and twigs or whatever else they find at their disposal.  My family is planning a holiday this coming summer in celebration of our parents' 60th wedding anniversary.  They all want to go on a Disney cruise to Alaska because of all the activities planned for kids.  I suggested that we go to the mountains and rent a few cabins.  My brother nixed the idea because there is nothing for the kids to do.

Seriously!  Don't you remember all the holdiays we spent in the mountains as kids?  We always managed to find something to do even if it was herding the slugs through the pine needles.  That simple exercise occupied us for hours.

I remember one camping trip that involved exploration and near death. We camped alongside a creek filled with rocks.  My brother and I decided they were stepping stones and away we went to see where the creek led.  It led to the roiling boiling Frazer River in British Columbia, Canada.  The creek opened up into a wide clear area.  People were wading in the water.  We advanced forward further and further.  I took one more step and there was nothing there.  There was a drop off with a current pulling me towards the river.  As I went down, I reached up and grabbed onto my brother.  I pulled myself up and backwards to safety.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  We turned around and made a beeline back to the safety of our parents.

Oh oh!  Memories have come flooding back!

Another camping trip in the Rocky Mountains of BC found us at a tourist viewing spot of a spectacular waterfall.  There was a safety bar installed to keep people back from the wet rock cliff.  My parents were admiring the view when my father noticed me.  I was edging along on the wrong side of the barrier.  In a voice that brooked no disobedience, he demanded, "Janice, get back here right now!"  They held their breath as I capably found my way back.

Yes, I was a little daredevil.  I think I've tempered my desire for life threatening situations, but I still like to go exploring.  I still want a grand adventure!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Blood of Flowers

Around the World in 52 Books Challenge:  3/52 (Iran)

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

My Goodreads Review

I want to fly away on a magic carpet - over the oceans, across the mountains, high on the winds.  I want to feel passion.  I want to infuse the senses with aromas and strong but succulent flavours.  I want to be a succulent woman.  I want to eat pistachios, pomegranates, dates.  I want to buy a Persion carpet, hand knotted in rich colours.  I want to paint my walls orange, red, saffron.  I want to walk into my house and smell cloves, cardamom, cinnamon.

Okay, so I've lost my mind.  I  have a lot of "wants".  One can only dream.  *sigh*

I decided to make some of it happen.  I brushed off the old apron and pushed my husband away from the stove.  I reclaimed my kitchen.  Tonight, for supper we had Persian Pomegranate Walnut Chicken .  (You will have to follow the link because I'm too lazy to type the whole thing out.)

Twice in the book, the protagonist (nameless throughout the story) talked of a Pomegranate Walnut Glazed dish.  I don't remember the meat that was cooked with the glaze.  That's the problem with audiobooks; it's hard to go back and find little things like names of dishes.  The first time she mentioned it, her aunt had her grinding the walnuts into a fine powder.  The second time, her mother made the dish for her and ground the walnuts a little coarser because that's they way they liked it.

Whether or not my dish was even remotely similar to the one in the book doesn't matter.  What does matter is that it rocked!  The sauce was so infused with flavour that it tickled my taste buds.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  It had a nutty flavour with an underlying hint of sweetness mixed with garlic, onion, and cinnamon.  The chicken was tender and moist.

Next time I make this dish, and I will make it again, I will not let my husband make the accompanying rice dish.  It was a spicy fried rice, Szechaun in style.  Its hot spiciness downplayed the richness of the chicken dish.  I'll make a saffron rice next time if I can find any saffron.  It was an inappropriate mix of cultures.

This small taste of Iran has only whet my appetite.  I want more!

I think I'm far enough into the post to change the subject.  Many people will have likely quit reading by this point and will miss this seque into another fantasy trip inspired by the book.  Should I say by a small part of the book? 

Sex!  Oh!  Gasp!  I said it!  Shame!

I rather enjoyed that part of the book.  I think I'll read a bit more smut erotica.   Any recommendations?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Around the World in 52 Books Challenge:  Book 2/52

Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile ParkinMy Goodreads Review

A couple of years ago, I walked into a bookclub meeting, clutching the book,  Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir.  "I do not want to read any more of these kinds of books!" I exclaimed almost tearfully. "I find them too disturbing."

My friend Bernice said, "They're supposed to make you feel disturbed." 

And thus began a discussion as to the merit of being exposed to graphic descriptions of the autrocities inflicted on people by fellow people.

Tears of the Desert is set in Darfur during the Sudanese genocide which started in 2004 while Baking Cakes in Kigali is set in Rwanda during the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide that occurred in 1994.  Tears of the Desert is a memoir while Baking Cakes is a novel.  Is it fair to compare the two?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

I was about a quarter into Baking Cakes when I came across a very thought provoking section.  Angel and her husband were travelling to Cyangugu with his collegues when they stopped to see the memorial set up at the Murambi Technical School, the scene of a large massacre.  (Further reading may be found here:  When the men returned from the school, they commented that they saw the sentiment, "Never again" written repreatedly in the guest book.  Angel recalled that they had seen the same sentiment in the guestbooks in Germany at memorials for the Holocast.  She wondered if there would be another occasion when people would write, "Never again" in future memorial guest books.  Of course, the Sudanese genecide had not yet accurred when she was contemplating the possibility of history repeating itself.

History does seem to repeat itself inspite of our remembering.  We remember the Alamo.  We remember the Holocast, Pearl Harbour, 911, the Rwandan and Sudanese genocides.  And still, war breaks out in hot spots around the world.

The difference in these two books was the portrayal of the genocides.  Tears of the Desert had graphic descriptions of female genital mutilation and the rapes of young girls who had not yet healed of the procedure.  Baking Cakes was more about the hopes of healing, rebuilding, and reconnecting. Even the chapter on female genital mutilation indicated hope in the changing of people's beliefs and cultures. While I did ponder all those dark things, I didn't feel overwhelmingly disturbed.  I actually felt like I had read something monumental, something with balance.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Oracle of Stamboul

Around the World in 52 Books:  1/52

The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas

My Goodreads Review

I have a very strict definition of historical fiction.  It is a historical event or person brought to life in a story.  The history should be factual as much as possible.  It should make you feel as if you were there, during the time period, witnessing the event.  James Michener was one of the best writers of historical fiction.

It seems that lately, people assign the label historical fiction to any piece of work that is set at least 50 years in the past.  We now have offshoots - historical romance, historical mystery, historical fantasy to name a few.

This book, while it was set in the late 1800's and did relate the historical events of the time, was more fantasy.  Was the intention to tell a story to bring that time period to life?  Or was it the intention of the author to create a fantasy around the time period?   Actually, that is the crux of the definition of historical fiction for me.  What is the purpose behind telling the story? 

I make no apology for my opinion.  I know how I like my historical fiction.  End of story!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Offical Kick Off

Today is the day!  January 1, 2012, is the official kick off of the Around the World in 52 Books challenge from Goodreads.

Yesterday, I tried to do a blog entry that listed my top 5's of 2011.  When I got to my favorite covers and inserting a bunch of images, things went sour.  I gave up and scrapped the idea.  I need a Blogspot 101 crash course.  So bear with me as I stumble my way around.

Here is my list:

1. Antarctica - Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
2. **Afghanistan - The Storyteller's Daughter: One Woman's Return to Her Lost Homeland
3. **Argentina - Tropical Night Falling
4. Australia - A Town Like Alice
5. Austria - The Bells
6. Barbados - Caribbean
7. Bosnia - People of the Book
8. Burma - The Forgotten Highlander
9. ** Brazil - The Seamstress
10. Canada - Any Known Blood
11. **Chile - The House of the Spirits
12. **China - Ocean Devil: The Life and Legend of George Hogg
13. **Croatia - The Tiger's Wife
14. ** Cuba - The Island of Eternal Love
15. **Denmark - We, the Drowned
16. Egypt - Crocodile on the Sandbank
17. England - The House at Riverton
18. Ethiopia - Cutting for Stone
19. Fiji - Fiji: A Novel
20. France - The Tenth Chamber
21. Germany - The Book Thief
22. **Greece - Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus
23. **Haiti - Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy
24. **Iceland - Silence of the Grave
25. India - What the Body Remembers: A Novel
26. Iran - The Blood of Flowers
27. Ireland - The Secret Scripture
28. Israel - The Red Tent
29. Italy - The Glassblower of Murano
30. Japan - A Pale View of Hills
31. Kenya - Out of Africa
32. Korea - The Calligrapher's Daughter
33. **Mexico - Aztec
34. ** Netherlands - Lust for Life
35. New Zealand - The Bone People
36. ** Nigeria - Purple Hibiscus
37. Norway - The Snowman
38. ** Peru - The Green House
39. **Pitcairn Islands - Pitcairn's Island
40. **Poland - The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
41. Russia - The Bronze Horseman
42. **Rwanda - Baking Cakes in Kigali
43. Scotland - The Stonor Eagles
44. South Africa - The Covenant
45. Spain - The Camino
46. **Sri Lanka - Anil's Ghost
47. Thailand - The Windup Girl
48. Turkey - The Oracle of Stamboul
49. United States - Honolulu
50. **Uruguay - The Invisible Mountain
51. Vietnam - Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
52. **Zimbabwe - The Grass Is Singing


Netherlands - Girl with a Pearl Earring
Spain - Incantation
Spain - The Painter of Battles: A Novel
Mexico - The Falling Woman
**books I need to acquire

I have already started The Blood of Flowers.  It's in audiobook format and I needed something to listen to on my last couple of days to/from work.

I will be starting The Oracle of Stamboul today.

As you can see, there is no order to my madness.  I'll be reading books based on how they fit in with other challenges and my personal whims.

Oh, one other important note.  I am not going to do reviews of these books.  Instead, I will do a commentary based on something inspired by the book.