Thursday, February 4, 2016

February Catch Up

January went by in a sort of blur. Did anyone else find that so? Our weather was unusually warm and mild, with one dip down into below-freezing temperatures and a four-inch snowfall that didn't stick around very long. Thomas had to miss a bit of work because of the snow and some cold and windy days when they canceled work. He was so glad to get back to work after his injury, and I was so glad for him to get back to work, that being off a few extra days in January pushed both of us closer to the breaking point than the entire eight weeks he was off in the fall. It really was strange. While he was off because of the broken thumb we were both relaxed, but on the days he was off because of the weather, both of us were on edge and grumpy. We're both over it now, though. :)

My mother turned 92 in December, and my eldest sister turned 68 in January.  Mom is doing very well at 92. She gets tired more easily and naps more often, but she is still very healthy and does whatever she feels up to doing. She reads a lot, listens to audio books with Alton, works puzzles with Barbara, and cooks only if she wants to. We're very fortunate to have Barbara, Lois, and Dennice right there with her and Alton. And Dennice is still a whirlwind, even at 68.

The kids are doing very well.  Eler Beth loves her job. Right now she is happy and satisfied doing what she does and caring for her own animals. She is busy all the time, and we still have never had any angst or drama with her. She is 20 now, but she says she has trouble not thinking of herself as 12!  Andrew's job is working out well, too. He's second-in-command of quality control at the company where he works, and they are giving him more and more training responsibilities as well. Right now he is working a lot of overtime while they are meeting a deadline. He and Alexandria are still together, and we still hope to hear wedding bells in the near future -- but we don't want them to feel rushed,so we keep that to ourselves. :) 

As for my reading goals I was able in January to cross off two of the books that had been on my To Be Read list for years, The Sherlockian and Virginia of Elk Creek Valley.  I also read two more in January which puts me on track for my goal of 50 books total in 2016 (24 of which must be off that TBR pile). The other two books I read in January were Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code and Cover Her Face. I first read Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl years ago and enjoyed it immensely. A couple of years ago I read the second in the series, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, and meant to continue with all the books in the series, but got out of the mood. So I decided I'd pick up the series this year and try to complete it if I could. I began the series on audio all those years ago and love the narrator, so I'm continuing on audio. Cover Her Face by P.D. James is a re-read, but I read it so long ago that I honestly couldn't remember how it ended. It was her first novel, and I had only read it once. I want to read her entire Dalgliesh canon, since there is only one that I have read more than once, and there are two I have never read; don't know how that happened. We'll see how many I can get read this year.

And that's about it, I guess.  I have much fodder for continuing my "Letters From My Sister" series; I just have to make myself sit down to write them. (I actually have drafts of several entries started.) I haven't felt much like writing for the past couple of months, but perhaps as March gets closer the muse will visit again. I'll be back soon with a new post, hopefully.

~ ~ Lori

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sherlockian; A Review and Recommendation, and The Second Book Crossed Off My List

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge


The Sherlockian by Graham Moore


Full disclosure here: I actually started this book a couple of years ago. I don't know if I had a lot of things going on at the time or if I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I put it down after reading the first few chapters. It has been on my TBR pile ever since. 

Excerpt from the book:

Sorry, I couldn't choose an excerpt. This book has too much "muchness" to choose an excerpt, and, besides, it's easy to find one online if you want. :)

THE BOOK

Published in 2010, the Sherlockian is about obsession and fanaticism in many ways. The modern part of the book is about Holmes and Conan Doyle fans; the historical part of the book is about readers' obsessions with Sherlock Holmes to the point of treating him as if he were a real person and not an invention of his author. The book also touches on the more militant and extreme views and actions of the Suffregettes.  

There truly are in our modern world Sherlock Holmes fanatics and Arthur Conan Doyle fanatics, and apparently there really is a group of Sherlockians called the Baker Street Irregulars. The main character of the contemporary part of the book is a literary researcher and Holmes enthusiast named Harold White. While attending his first meeting as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold discovers the foremost Holmes scholar murdered in his hotel room. The man had been scheduled to give a talk on the famous missing Holmes diary which he had claimed to have recently found. Harold is enticed into investigating the murder and finding the diary. In the turn-of-the-century portion of the novel, the main characters are Conan Doyle and his good friend, Bram Stoker. Their part of the story takes place in the last part of the year 1900, just before Conan Doyle brings Holmes back to life.  They are on the hunt for a serial killer, and this hunt happens to take place during the months covered by the missing diary. A lot is written about Conan Doyle's hatred of Holmes and why he killed him off and the public's reaction to the "death."  This is a multiple viewpoint novel, written with every other chapter taking us along the turn-of-the-century investigations with Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Instead of my trying to tell you any more of the plot, I liked this article in The New York Times about The Sherlockian. If you haven't already read the novel, this will give you a good preview of it.

Now, as for my opinion of the book --! Hmm. I liked it and didn't like it. I'm not a Holmes fanatic. I like a lot of the Holmes stories and LOVE the BBC series Sherlock. I liked the character of Holmes in the stories after he was brought back to life better than the earlier Holmes, but I can't say that I ever had a fellow-feeling or sympathy for him. I'm not an extremely big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I think he was prodigiously talented, I know I wouldn't have liked the man himself. That being said, my own favorite author is someone I know I would not have really liked much in real life, so I am quite capable of being a fan of a canon of literary work without idolizing the author. 

I do like to be able to sympathize with the main character(s) of a novel, and I really didn't feel that way about Harold or the secondary character Sarah. Their part of the story, the investigation into the murder of the Holmes scholar and the search for the missing diary (there really were missing diaries and papers from that period at the end of 1900, by the way), couldn't keep me interested and keen throughout. I kept wavering between boredom and wishing they'd hurry up and a sudden spark of interest and appreciation. Expect a couple of plot twists toward the end, only one of which I thought was well-done.

I liked the Conan Doyle part of the story better, but not because I could sympathize with him. I actually really, really liked how Moore drew the character of Bram Stoker best out of all the characters from both centuries represented. The story line for this part of the novel was more plot-driven, and the murders were more interesting. There were also references to other authors, contemporaries and real-life friends of Conan Doyle's, like Barrie and Wilde, and I really enjoyed those bits. Moore also has Conan Doyle getting very dangerously close to the murders in his part of the story, in surprising ways. I suppose they would be the plot twists to expect in that portion of the story, and I actually rather liked them.

There was nothing really wrong with the plot, and Moore is a talented writer. I thought he did well with the dialog, especially the 18th/early 19th Century dialog. I would have preferred a bit more fleshing-out of the characters in the modern portion of the novel, or at least a bit more liveliness to them, but perhaps there was really no way of doing that; Harold White was just too milquetoast for me. I don't think he could have been improved without totally overhauling him. He would probably work better on screen with the right actor playing him. I do not own The Sherlockian and will not add a physical copy to my book shelves, but I would recommend giving it a try if you haven't read it. There are more good bits than bad. On a scale of one to five I waver between a 3.5 and a 4. I would definitely read another book by Graham Moore.


THE AUTHOR

Graham Moore is a well-known screenwriter and author, probably best known at this time as the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Sherlockian was his first novel and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for three weeks.





THE NEXT BOOK

I'd Kill For That edited by Marcia Talley

Friday, January 29, 2016

First Book of the Year Down

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

 

Virginia of Elk Creek Valley by Mary Ellen Chase


*I actually wrote this post on January 12 but somehow left it as a draft and didn't post it until today, January 29!


Eleven days into the new year, and I have finished the first book and am halfway through the second book of the year. I can't help but be a bit disheartened at the knowledge that not too long ago I probably would have had three books read by now. I just don't read like I used to. At 49, going on 50, I guess I just don't do a lot of things like I used to do!

Excerpt from the book:
Elk Creek Valley was a blue and golden place that mid-summer morning in the Big Horn Country. It seemed like a joyous secret tucked away among the mountains, whose hazy, far-away summits were as blue as the sky above them. The lower ranges, too, were blue from purple haze and gray-green sagebrush, while the bare, brown foothills tumbling about their feet were golden in the sunlight. 


THE BOOK

Virginia of Elk Creek Valley, published 1917, is set on a ranch in Montana not long before the start of The Great War. Virginia is about 17 years old in this story which details a summer on her father's ranch where she has invited three of her best friends from their school back east, along with two male friends and her own aunt, also from the east. The book has the expected East meets West adventures -- trail riding, camping, a barn-warming, bear hunting -- but the story isn't just about spending a summer on a ranch. Almost all of the visitors learn some very personal and sometimes painful lessons during their stay, like letting go of preconceived notions about people and that it's better to admit a mistake and laugh at yourself than to hold onto your pride and make yourself miserable. 

It's a good little story, written in the style so usual for young adult books from the early 1900s and the descriptive prose reminds me a little of Zane Grey's writing. It has religious overtones, typical of this type of book, but they aren't pushy and they don't interfere with the story. It's the type of book I would have read when I was younger. 

The only thing I didn't like about the book was that it was actually a continuation of an earlier book about Virginia and her friends, and there were many, many references to people and events from that book. I read a lot of series books, and I'm used to the author being able to weave in facts that we need to have from a previous book in order to understand certain things. There was no such weaving here. Chase simply referenced people and things without context, which was a little jarring, especially when alluding to a possible tragic romance between Virginia and someone named Jim (we get the feeling that something terrible happened to Jim). I didn't know there was a previous book about Virginia and her friends or I'd have read it first, even if it wasn't in my TBR pile. 

All in all, though, the book was good, and now I can cross it off my list. The characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed out. The plot was believable. The pace was quick. The writing style would be considered "old-fashioned" to modern readers but was typical of the period, with really good descriptive narrative and decently flowing dialog. I probably won't read it again, and it isn't something I will keep as a hard copy. Out of five stars, I would give it a good,solid four. I will look for other books by the same author, in particular the ones she is most well-known for, those set in her native state of Maine.

THE AUTHOR

Mary Ellen Chase wrote more than 30 books, essays, and biographies during her writing career. She was born in 1887 in Blue Hill, Maine. One of eight children born to deeply religious parents, Chase was a scholar, teacher, and educator, earning an MA and Ph.D in English at University of Minnesota. She taught in a one room school, at a coed boarding school, a girls' private school, and two universities, including Smith College. She retired in 1955 and continued to live on-campus at Smith with her long-time companion,  historian Eleanor Duckett. Even after retirement she continued in education, both teaching (adult seminars at Radcliffe College) and learning (taking classes in the Hebrew language). She began writing at age 16, and set many of her works in her home state of Maine, but also wrote two books set in Montana where she lived and worked for a while recovering from an illness.


THE NEXT BOOK

Next on the list (as of this writing, I'm almost finished with it) is The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

So, how are you doing with your own personal reading challenge?

~ ~ Lori



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Okay, So I'll Tell You...

2016 Reading Challenge 

 

...How Many Books Are On My TBR List!

 

I don't know why I feel so ashamed to admit this, but today I wrote down and counted all of the books on my TBR list, and the grand total is 270. Is that normal?!?

Maybe it is. IS it?!?

Leave me a comment and tell me how many are on your list or in your pile. Let me know that I'm not alone!!

Okay, so once I'd counted all of them, I sorted them in genres and sub-genres, and found that the books on my list run the gamut of categories for fiction and non-fiction. Then I picked out the one I'm going to read first.  It may seem like a strange choice, but my first read is going to be a very old book called Virginia of Elk Creek Valley by Mary Ellen Chase, published in 1917.

Several years ago I did some OCR editing for Distributed Proofreaders for Project Gutenberg which digitizes books and other papers that are in the public domain and makes them available to read free online. One of the first books I helped to proof was Virginia of Elk Creek Valley. I proofed bits and pieces of it, but not the whole thing. It was a well-written little book and reminded me of books I liked to read when I was a child. I have meant, ever since I did the proofing, to read the book as soon as it was finished being digitized, but never got around to it. It seems rather fitting to make it my first book of the year.

If you haven't signed up for the 2016 Reading Challenge yet, you can click on the image below to do so.
Now I need to set aside some time each week to read blogs, particularly other bloggers who are doing this reading challenge. 

Happy Reading!

~ ~ Lori 

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2016 Personal Reading Challenge

New Series for Dusty Pages

 

It turns out I did not miss the deadline to sign up for this Reading Challenge; so I am going to play along with everyone else. If you'd like to join me for mutual encouragement and/or discussion of never-before-read books, then "Welcome!" You join the reading challenge I linked to above, or just do it your own way.


I'm not even going to tell you how many books I have on my TBR list. About a third of them are physically in my possession, sitting on more than one shelf of one of my bookcases. Several are already downloaded onto my computer or Nook, and the rest are simply names on a file in my Google Drive. I know I am not alone in having an enormous TBR list. I have watched mine grow seemingly exponentially this year!! Seriously, I've added so many this year without taking many off that it was starting to depress me.

So I'm going to set myself a challenge to read two off my pile each month. I believe that is doable. I listen to audio books a lot, so I will count that format in this challenge; however, I will only allow one audio in any given month off my TBR list. All of the books read that count toward this challenge have to be off the list as it stands right now. New arrivals to the list after December 31, 2015 will either have to be read immediately or added to the list and read in addition to the 2 per month off the standing list.  As in the challenge I linked to above, the books have to have been released in 2015 or earlier in order to count.

Now, I need to give myself some sort of reward for meeting or exceeding my goals. Hmm.... I'll have to think about that. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

I will post about my book(s) and how I'm doing with this personal challenge every second and fourth weekend (Fri., Sat., or Sun.) of every month, except January when it will be the third and fifth weekends.

So by the end of 2016, I should have taken at the very least 24 books off my TBR list -- and as for any physical book, it will have either been passed on to someone else, donated to a library, or, if very special, given a permanent place on one of my shelves.

Join me if you like! Set your own challenge guidelines or follow mine. Or just check back with me around January 8 or 9 to see how I'm doing.

 
  Happy Reading!!

~ ~ Lori

 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Revving Back Up To Blogging Mode

I'm trying!!

This has been a difficult month, with deaths, illnesses, and hospitalizations scattered amongst extended family and friends. My winter blues haven't been as bad as they usually are, but then it's just the beginning of winter.

I plan to get back into blogging gear very soon -- BEFORE the new year! And that means MY blogging AND reading other blogs.

~ ~ Lori

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two Funerals In One Week

Last week was very stressful. A lady beloved of our family who has had a chronic illness for the past three years took a turn for the worse and passed away last Friday. The day we went to see her in the hospital we found out that the younger daughter of another very good friend of ours had been found dead that morning by her boyfriend. Needless to say, I have had neither the time nor the desire, really, to blog or read blogs for the past week.

Our friend Dian, 79, along with her husband, Buel, who died three years ago, were like surrogate parents to my husband, Thomas. When we married, Buel and Dian and their children welcomed me into their family as well. When Thomas was a teenager they were a very good influence for him and had the kind of warm, fun family that he didn't have at the time and really needed. He could always be sure of a welcome at their house.

I liked them because, well, they were just likable people, but also because they reminded me of my own family. They were a very musical family, like mine, and Thomas used to enjoy going over to their house on a weekend evening with everyone singing and/or playing an instrument. That's how I grew up, too. I had come to be good friends with the two daughters of the family over the years, and Andrew and Eler Beth are friends with some of the grandchildren.

Dian had pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic disease. She had managed it well for the past three years, with a bad bout now and then. A couple of weeks ago her older daughter who is the only one of the four children who doesn't live locally, came down to stay with her for a while, to take her to some doctor's visits, and ended up staying two weeks because Dian's PF was getting worse. On Tuesday evening she passed out and was put in the hospital.

On Wednesday we were called because she was doing so badly that the doctor had said it was time to call in Hospice. He calculated from her lung function that she had a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. She was joking and laughing in the background when we were on the phone, and she asked for us to bring her a deer burger. She'd already had dinner that night, so we said we'd bring her one for lunch the next day. 

It is funny because I usually don't keep ground deer in the freezer. I don't use it ground very often, and I hate the thought of all those lovely steaks and roasts being ground up as a lot of hunters do. But we keep what I call "stew" pieces, and if I do want to make something that calls for ground venison, then Thomas can quickly grind up some for me. He had ground some for a friend two days previously, and I'd asked him to grind up about three pounds for me while he was at it. So I had the venison and I was honored to make Dian a burger.

So Friday morning I seasoned up the venison and made the burger the way Dian had particularly asked for it. We called the hospital and were told come right over; she wouldn't be able to eat the burger, but she'd know we had brought it. Her lungs had started failing much more rapidly than her doctor had anticipated, and he now gave her only hours to live. She had already instructed the family that when it came to that point, she didn't want to be kept alive only with oxygen.

I can't count the number of friends who came in to see her that day.  One of her granddaughters was with her husband visiting friends in New York,but had left at 9:30 that morning when they were called. Dian said she did not want to remove the oxygen until they got there. 

Dian knew us -- Andrew and Eler Beth were able to come by after they got off work --, and she knew we'd brought her burger for her. She was still trying to joke and talk to everyone. Almost all of her sisters and brothers were able to get in to see her. Sometimes her blood pressure would rise, and her oldest son would play one of her favorite songs on his guitar and the four kids would sing to her, and her BP would go down.  Once they started singing what she called "our song," a favorite of hers and her husband, and she moved her foot like she was keeping time and tried to sing along. 

We said our goodbyes and left around 7:30 that night, although we were welcome to stay longer. Thomas said he just couldn't be there when she went to sleep. At 11 when the granddaughter and her husband got there, the first thing Dian said through her mask was, "Did you have fun?" She visited with them for a while, all of her children and grandchildren in the room with her. Her oldest daughter asked her if she was ready to take off the oxygen. She replied that she wasn't quite ready yet, and she'd let them know when she was.  

Just before 3 a.m. she said she was ready. At 3:03 a.m. she went to sleep in death.

To the extent possible she went the way she wanted to go and when she was ready. To the extent possible she was in control. 

Her funeral is this Saturday. Thomas is one of the pallbearers. We will be at the visitation tomorrow as well. 

While we were at the hospital last Thursday we were told that the 29 year-old daughter of some good friends of ours had been found dead by her boyfriend that morning. The young woman had been in remission from cancer. They did  an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, but of course that won't be back for a couple of weeks.  That was a shock to everyone. It is especially hard on her parents. Her father is fighting cancer as well, so this has been harder for her mother and father even than one could imagine. Her funeral was Tuesday. 

So I have not felt up to blogging for the past week, nor have I felt like keeping up with blog reading. I am sorry for that, because I was really enjoying it. I'll get back into it over the next few days and continue to read some new blogs highlighted on the Blogher FB page.

~ ~ Lori