Sunday, April 26, 2015

RE-READ: The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/317519.The_Magician_s_NephewThe Chronicles of Narnia have always held a place on my favorite books shelf.  I've re-read the whole series countless times but it's been several years since my last re-read, probably at least a decade.  In the meantime, I've had a good bit more experience with reading widely in YA and MG literature as an adult.  I wondered how it might affect how I reacted to the Narnia books now.   I think it is safe to say that these books, for nostalgia's sake will always have a place in my affections but I was curious how I might react to them semi-objectively.  My goal is to re-read the whole series on audio this year.

The Magician's Nephew was the sixth Narnia book published but chronologically it is a prequel and tells the story of the creation of Narnia.  I decided long ago that I preferred to read the series chronologically rather than in publication order though I perhaps would not recommend that approach to a new reader of the series.  The Magician's Nephew is a strange little book - I remember thinking so when I first read it as well  - and has a different feel to it than the rest of the Narnia books besides perhaps The Last Battle.  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a much less strange introduction to the world of Narnia. 

THOUGHTS

- I have always liked the connections Lewis makes in this book to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Digory is the Pevensies' great Uncle who they go and stay with and the Wardrobe is made out of the wood of the tree that was grown from a magic Narnian apple.  The presence of a lamp post in the middle of a wood is explained as is the great uncle's unexpected response to the children's stories of Narnia.  It also explains who the White Witch is.  It's neatly done and I like the connections.

- There is much more winking and nodding to his audience in the book than I remembered.  He addresses young readers directly and makes several more "adult" jabs at the Uncle's lasciviousness and fondness for brandy.  It is really very slyly funny.

- In comparisons with some of the other MG and YA I have been reading I do have to to say that this book (and I suppose the entire series) comes across as less sophisticated, simpler and more deliberate in its message delivery.  It may just be the writing style which doesn't delve too deeply into the characters.

- I listened to the audio narrated by Kenneth Branagh and as you might expect, he does a great job though I wasn't crazy about his Aslan.  But how does one adequately portray Aslan?  I'm not sure it can be done.

- I was kind of keeping an eye out for sexism, as the topic had recently come up in a discussion about his books.  I ended up being thoroughly confused on the matter.  Lewis was definitely a product of his time - when Aslan chooses the first council among his new creations, he chooses only male animals.  However, I do think he had a very high opinion of women as Polly, and Digory's Aunt for that matter, are portrayed as being smarter and having a good bit more sense then their male counterparts.  *shrugs*

- The strange and eerie.  The wood between the worlds with all the ponds and quiet that makes one drowsy is such a creepy image.  There is a moment when the children almost forget to mark their "home" pond that is really frightening.  Jadis' world with the empty buildings and the row of thrones occupied by frozen giant human beings is also quite an eerie image.  Narnia for me produces happy comforting feelings but there is very little of that feeling in this book.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book still gets 4 out of 5 stars but one of those just might be awarded because of my love for the book in the past.  Lewis is definitely like no other but my greater experience with YA literature these days has rubbed a tiny bit of the shine off.  I'll be interested how I feel about the other books in the series as I get to them.
So what's your verdict on this book?  Have your feelings about it changed over time?  Where does it fall in relation to the other books in the series?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - In which I love books meant for 11 year olds

OUTSIDE

It's another Saturday of rain, rain, rain.  Rain isn't bad obviously but it is kind of a bummer because I am down in Southern Iowa teaching a class at a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop.  It's a really fun organization that provides a couple of weekends a year when women can get together in a friendly environment to get exposed to shooting, kayaking, fishing, bird watching, dutch oven cooking etc.... I'm teaching probably the least outdoorsy class, lol - Landscaping for Wildlife.  I feel bad for the participants that they are getting a very wet and soggy weekend.  Many states in the U.S. have a BOW program so if it sounds interesting check it out!

The garden is doing well but not a lot has changed.  I forgot to check on my mustard and flax seeds that I planted to see if they are sprouting.  They've gotten plenty of moisture!  I'm pretty disappointed in how my peppers and tomato starts are coming along - they are still pitifully small and are just producing secondary leaves.  At this rate they won't be ready to go out until late May.  Woe.  Woe is me. 

I also have a LOT to do elsewhere in the yard and am looking forward to having some free weekends to work on it. 

LIFE

It's been all about the pets these days.  A few weeks ago I crowed that my diabetic cat had gone into remission and she was no longer diabetic.  Sadly, it looks like that was too good to be true.  In the weeks since that had happened, she seemed to continue to lose weight, despite eating well, until she was getting very thin.  Then her appetite started to slide off.  I spent a bajillion dollars and got every blood test known to human kind and there was nothing wrong with her except mildly elevated glucose levels.  The vet said that if it wasn't a cat with a history of diabetes, she would have put the slightly elevated level down to stress.  Sigh.... So my cat is still just barely diabetic and had to go back on shots of insulin.  The good news is, since the shots began again, she is acting much more like herself and her appetite has leveled out.  The bad news is I am back to having a very high maintenance cat that needs regimented meals and shots twice a day.

It was also time for the dogs vaccinations and to get stocked up on all the heartworm and flea and tick preventative meds.  So LOTs of money spent at the vet this week.... My pets are my chosen luxury item so I guess that's how it goes:0).

Soggy Doggie
WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

M*A*S*H and more M*A*S*H.  It's become comfort watching for me - nothing like some time spent in the Korean War to relax you.  I think I just started season 8.  While the show definitely evolves and changes across the seasons, it really stays pretty good - at least so far.  I know Radar leaves in Season 8 which is a bummer because he is one of the better characters on the show.  Apparently the actor who played him was not AT ALL like his character and was a difficult personality who clashed with most everybody.  This is why I've gotten so that I like to know as little as possible about actors and authors that I like.

The reading has been good this week!  I finished my two middle-grade reads: The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series #1) by Maryrose Wood and Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Collins.  They were both 4 star reads and so much fun!  To replace those, I started listening to Mister Slaughter (Matthew Corbett series #3) by Robert McCammon which is part of one of my favorite historical mystery series and Diamond Solitaire (Peter Diamond #2) by Peter Lovesey.  I am also determined to finish Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2) by Dan Simmons this week, before the end of April.  It's all series all the time over here!

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:
SUNDAY: Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey.  This is the first in the Peter Diamond series and you can probably surmise by the fact that I have started book two that I really liked it!!
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Authors.  Well, at least for now:0).
THURSDAY:  Tough Traveling: The Ace.  This is a character trope that is not a favorite of mine but I highlight a few characters from fantasy that I think fit this bill.

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:
SUNDAY: Re-read Review of The Magicians's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who... Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish
WEDNESDAY: Review of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
THURSDAY:   Tough Travels - The Big City.  Hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

Well it's 9:00 pm now on Saturday and I'm ready for bed, lol.  Hope y'all are more lively than I and that anyone participating in Dewey's read-a-thon today is still going strong!  Have a great week.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tough Traveling - The Ace


Tough Traveling is a fun meme that aims to tour all the tropes big and small, abhorred and loved that are littered across the fantasy landscape. It was conceived of and is hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and here's how it's explained on the blog: 

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week's trope is The Ace

Some people are just ridiculously good at everything.  Be it magic, swordplay, or all of the above.  THE ACE has no equal.
As I was mentally flipping through my fantasy books, I realized I could think of  many characters that could be considered Aces (Hermione Granger, Miles Vorkosigan) but in my mind they don't really fit the trope.  The Ace is a little more extreme in my mind and they often swim in the shallower end of character development pool.  I am actually not a bog fan of this character trope unless it is done for ridiculousness' sake.


- Kvothe from the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

There's no way that you could accuse Kvothe of being poorly developed but he is ridiculously good at everything.  He's an exceptional wizard, fighter, musician and, as we find out in book two much to my eye-rolling disbelief, lover.  He's a legend and it will be interesting to see where else Rothfuss takes him.

- Legion (Stephen Leeds) from the Legion Series by Brandon Sanderson

Legion is an interesting take on this trope.  He does in fact have knowledge and skills in a vast array of subjects and his expertise is sought out by the most powerful people in the world.  His knowledge and skills however come from his wide array of personae or aspects, all experts in different disciplines, that most people, including Legion himself, believe are imaginary.  Is he really just so amazingly brilliant that his mind had to shatter to deal with it or are the aspects something else?

- Kelsier from The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson seems to like this trope (though the above and this one are the only books of his I have read) which is probably why I struggle with him.  Kelsier is a master Mistborn, a legend who escaped an inescapable prison and who plans to take downq no less than a God.  His plan to do so is also clever and incredibly well-planned.

-  Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so Gilderoy isn't really an Ace but he thinks he is or more accurately he wants others to think he is.  He's actually completely incompetent and reading his boasting and self-justification of his magic gone wrong is hilarious and very irritating.

I'm not sure why I couldn't come up with a million of these characters - I feel like I run into them a lot though maybe more frequently in romance novels.  If you want a vaster array than my paltry list, check out what the other participants have come up with

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite (well kinda) Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists.  It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Because I like to make a bigger and hairier deal out of everything, I found myself perplexed by this week's topic.  What does favorite authors really mean??  There are authors whose work I adore and I've read a ton of their books but their books haven't really made an impact on my life besides giving me joy.  Then there are a handful of authors whose books I adore and though I've maybe only read 2 or 3 of their books, I've walked away feeling wiser or more aware of life's truths after reading them.  I feel like they both deserve a place don't they?  So I think I'll list some favorites from both categories.

They share a couple of characteristics: 1) If I haven't already I'd like to at least try everything they've written and 2) I've liked, if not loved, everything I've read by them.  They are first and foremost authors I enjoy reading.  There is nobody like Proust or Thomas Mann on here (I've actually not read either - perhaps they are delightful!).

The Impact Authors

1) C.S. Lewis

I'm pretty sure I've read all of his fiction and dipped my toe into his non-fiction.  The Chronicles of Narnia was a treasured favorite of my childhood and while I'm not a religious person I am fascinated by religion and I think Lewis deserves some of the credit for that.  Reading Narnia first as a straight set of adventures and then when older picking out all the symbolism and allegory kept me completely spellbound.  I loved how well these books worked as both

2) Dorothy Dunnett

For me, reading her books is like being completely immersed in a different time and place. I feel like I come out understanding exactly what it was like to live in 16th century Europe. She is the historical fiction writer that all others must live up to in my book.

3) Lois McMaster Bujold

She's the SF&F writer that everybody seems to forget about.  She writes equally well in both genres and her emphasis is always on character which I think is why I love her so.  Many of her books leave me feeling happy AND contemplative and I love that.  She may not be as ground-breaking as Ursula K. LeGuin or C.J. Cherryh but she is quietly writing some of the best character-driven fiction out there. 

4) Edith Wharton

I hesitate to put her on this list because I've only read her major works  - Ethan From, The Age of Innoncence, House of Mirth and The Buccanneers - but I love how she writes and how brilliantly her stories dissect the society of her time.  I find her books incisive while also completely mesmerizing.  She also is a complete genius at writing interesting, complicated characters.

5) Jane Austen

So Austen does the same thing as Wharton but with a sly wit that makes every part of my brain smile AND she manages to give them all a happy ending.  I wish there were 30 more Austen novels and I would devour them all and feel like I had a better grasp on human nature after each one

The Fun Crowd


6) Georgette Heyer

She wrote regency romances in the first half of this century and did so, so delightfully that she made me fall in love with the romance genre again ;0).  I've read 16 of her books and positively adored at least 15 of them.  I finally had to stop mainlining her books because I needed a few in reserve for when I needed to be infused with a little joy.


 7) Agatha Christie

I could read Agatha Christie books on a constant loop and be pretty happy about it.  I like the era her books are set in and the mysteries are usually bar none. 

8) Patrick O'Brian

I need to re-read the Aubrey and Maturin series because it gives me such joy and gave me the never-to-be-fulfilled yearning to be part of a British Man-O-War's crew circa 1800.  Seriously. Weevilly biscuits and all.  Especially if Stephen Maturin was along and we could geek out about Natural History and I could convince him that he didn't need to kill EVERYthing.  And if he actually looked like Paul Bettany.

9) Mary Roach

She almost went in the impact group because her first book Stiff changed how I think about non-fiction.  Since reading it, she is on my immediate read list for everything she publishes.  I'm tempted to break into her house just to read all her notes (Just kidding! sort of.). In all her books she tackles subjects that are somewhat taboo and handles them with a balance of humor and respect that must have been difficult to master.  It is obvious that she finds much joy in all her subjects and it's completely contagious.  Don't think you are interested in the gastro-intestinal system?  Read her latest book, Gulp, and you'll discover that you are completely fascinated by it!

10) Garth Nix

I love his imagination and am really bummed that I've read most of his major works.  His YA is inventive and interesting and his characters so easy to get behind.  I'll read anything he puts out.

Well, that's ten.  I think if you asked me to make this list tomorrow it would likely be different.  Some of these will be favorites for my whole life while others are likely just favorites for right now.  I will probably look at other's lists and completely regret that I didn't include another ten authors that are my REAL favorites:).  But it's getting late so I better stop dithering....

Sunday, April 19, 2015

REVIEW: The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/815595.The_Last_Detective
The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
Original Publication Year:1991
Genre(s): Mystery, Contemporary
Series: Peter Diamond #1
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrated by: Simon Prebble

I think probably the best thing I can say about this older mystery title is that it  frequently surprised me.  That's what a mystery novel should ideally do - lead you along a winding path to a shocking conclusion.  The conclusion was perhaps not shocking but the rest of the book definitely kept me on my mental toes, going places I didn't expect and fully embracing a complex plot and characters.

A young red-headed women is found floating in a lake and no one seems to know who she is.  It is not even clear if her death is the result of foul play.  Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath murder squad is given the case.  He's an old school detective who shuns technology and  is currently under a cloud of corruption charges.  Nevertheless, he tackles the case with energy and soon discovers that it has more layers than he ever expected which involves some rare missing letters written by Jane Austen. 

Peter Diamond at first appears to be the quintessential cranky British detective - he bullies his inferiors and alienates everyone while believing staunchly that his ideas are the best.  Quite frankly, I was struggling to sympathize with him.  A change in his life occurs midway through the book however and it reveals a different side to him and by the end of the book I had developed a grudging respect for him as a reader must with these cantankerous old cops.

The book also, somewhat unexpectedly, turns the narrative over for a few chapters to two of the key witnesses in the case as they tell the story leading up to the victim's death from their perspectives. Both are under suspicion so the whole time I wondered if they were reliable narrators.  It adds a dimension of suspense as well as providing a broader view of the crime.  It also muddles the picture of what exactly happened. 

I went into this book expecting a pretty generic sort of British mystery.  While still having all the elements of those mysteries it ends up being a little more interesting and complex then expected.  Diamond's not going to become my favorite detective of all time but he did develop into an intriguing figure.

Simon Prebble was a great narrator for the audio version of the book. 

FINAL VERDICT:  A surprisingly complex contemporary British mystery.  Excited that this is the start of a series and will definitely be reading on in the series! 4 out of 5 Stars.
 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday in the Garden - Toad Abodes and Bug Hotels

OUTSIDE
I'm sitting cozy in my living room listening to the rain fall outside punctuated by thunder.  It's been a fairly productive day so its quite peaceful.  I just hope it is not coming down so hard it's beating the crap out of my new sproutlings.  (The peas and carrots made their appearance this week.)  Looks like it is coming down just hard enough to give everyone a nice drink.

I was able to do some field work this week and got some more nice views of the bison on Dunn Ranch Nature Preserve.


Finally this BBC wildlife video was floating around this week making me smile.  I love David Attenborough and the BBC is doing some of the most spectacular wildlife/nature film making that exists right now. 

LIFE

I'm teaching a class next weekend on Landscaping for Wildlife. It's a 3-4 hour class I do every year and I always incorporate some kind of crafty project into the class.  For the last 5 years I've done Toad Abodes.
They are simple, easy and fun but it was time for something new.  So I've been scrambling to see if I can get my act together to do Insect Hotels with the one pictured below being close to what I'd like to emulate.  Part garden art, part Insect hibernaculum.
Source
The problem is?  I'm not crafty AT ALL.  I have no natural talent or instinct for making things with my hands and being creative in that way.  Every time I try something I just get frustrated with how poorly it goes so I don't practice a lot either. (This lack of handiness is also why it wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had to buy a 120 year old house. But I really like old houses - none of this open plan B.S. for me, lol!)  Basically there is no way I am going to be able to put together 18 wooden shadow boxes by next Saturday. Nope.  Not going to happen.  That's why I spent some time today at the recycling center digging through a bin picking out milk jugs and getting the side-eye from the other folks dropping off recyclables.    My idea is to cut the milk jug in half and use the bottom as the container for all the hibernation materials.  I'm trying to think of some way to make it more attractive but in the end I'm just hoping it at least stimulates the folks in the class to think about the benefit of having insects in your garden and landscape and not just reviling them as pests. Yay bugs!

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

First things first - it was one of my favorite bi-annual events this weekend! The library book sale!  For $7, I got all the treasures below.
Peter Lovesey is an older mystery writer I just discovered who I really like so was excited to find a couple of his books as well as another intriguing older mystery.  Also some good fantasy and sci-fi, a Barbara Pym and a favorite MN DNR publication on landscaping for wildlife!

Continuing with books, I did finish two this week despite feeling pretty uninspired by reading at the moment.  I finished my re-read of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.  I also finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.  I totally get why there is so much love for this book but I didn't love it entirely and sadly I think part of that is just my mood at the moment.  Is it fair to judge and review a book when you hit it at the wrong time?  I made some progress in The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons today and picked up a couple of middle-grade books to replace the books I finished: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins and The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.

My watching this week has included a couple of movies which was a bit of novelty at least lately.  I watched (and review -see link below) Interstellar directed by Chris Nolan and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy directed by James Gunn. I had astronomically huge expectations for Guardians so it not surprisingly didn't live up to them but it was definitely fun. Also Netflix has gotten the rest of the seasons of M*A*S*H so I've been meandering through season 6.  Radar's gone for a big chunk of it which sucks.  Frank Burns is also gone which is okay but definitely changes the dynamic. 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:
SUNDAY: Re-reading thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The start to this series is really almost perfect.
TUESDAY:  TOP TEN TUESDAY - Literary Quotes.  I completely ignored the "inspirational" part of the instructions from The Broke and the Bookish but I was inspired to list the quotes that I did:).
THURSDAY: Review of Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan.  I liked it!

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:
SUNDAY:  Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
TUESDAY: The Top Ten Tuesday topic is all-time favorite authors.  Yikes! Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
THURSDAY: The Tough Traveling Trope of the week is The Ace - that character that is good at everything.  Jerk.

I may throw in another post or two in there but this promises to be another week of insanity schedule wise sooo.... we'll just see.

Hope y'all have had a good week tending your garden!

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.




Thursday, April 16, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Interstellar (2014)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon plus a bunch of other famous folk!
My Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Running Time: 169 Minutes (WOWZA!)

I've actually watched a few movies recently!  I've gotten so that I really prefer the medium of TV (I'm not sure how I feel about that but a discussion for another time) but I've been in a mood lately for some cinematic hijinks and drama.  I had heard only the briefest things about Interstellar - that it is Sci-fi and that people generally really liked it.  Seriously that's all I knew and I think that's a pretty great way to go into the film so I will try not to reveal too much.

Synopsis for context's sake: The Earth is toast.  A group of people head out into space to try and find a new home for the human race.  It has lots of consequences and also serves to reveal quite a bit about human nature in the process.

I really liked it though it wasn't what I expected at all.  I think I expected a solid space adventure, which it is, but it also has a very personal touch.  While it sometimes becomes unbalanced and the schmaltz takes over, I think this mixing, when it's in the right proportions, is what makes the movie standout and is why I liked it.  I loved Cooper and Murphy's Father/Daughter relationship so much and it gave the movie a heart and helped propel the urgency and add to the complexity of the mission. The movie is thoughtful and emotional and not always in the ways I expected.

It also has some seriously tense moments.  There are some scenes on a watery plant that are terrifying.  The movie plays around a LOT with time and relativity and that kept me stressed out for most of the movie.  It definitely pushed my buttons in the way that it is supposed to.  It also surprised me a few times with the directions it takes which is refreshing and great.

The visuals are spectacular which is exactly what you want in a movie in outer space.   The cast also does a spectacular job. 

Negatives?  It is a bit too long, I think.  In some ways I like that Nolan took his time and gave every piece it's due but I was antsy by the end even so.  As I hinted at above, sometimes the personal/sentimental side of the movie becomes a little over wrought.  The ending is also perhaps not quite right.

Taken as a whole though, the film really worked for me and it's nice to see a character/relationship based sci fi movie that has intelligence and the thrill ride you might expect from a space exploration film.

FINAL VERDICT:  If you are looking for an emotional and thrilling Sci Fi adventure that will also exercise the old gray cells, give Interstellar a whirl.  I really enjoyed it!

Have you seen this movie?  What did you think about it?  I could totally see this movie not working for everyone so I am interested to hear if anybody did not like it at all?