Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

The last couple of Hornby novels were starting to confirm that I loved Hornby’s non-fiction writings more than his novels. This novel reminded me why I keep reading Hornby’s fiction.

This novel was delightful, snappy, and full of distinct characters. I really enjoyed the dialogue and the pacing. The novel is about the cast and crew of a 1960s British sitcom, and there were just enough period details to make it fun and believable.

I’ve been ruminating a lot on romantic relationships and there were characters and relationships in this novel in that same vein. There is a central romance, but it’s subtle and the man in love with the protagonist has a crush on her for years. He admitted he would be happy if he could just eat breakfast with her everyday for the rest of their lives. I thought there was a good emphasis on companionship, both romantic and platonic in this novel.

I am very glad Hornby seems to be really back in the novel game. While I didn’t dislike his last couple of novels, they were not as memorable for me. This one makes me more excited about reading all his works.

Read May 23-24, 2015.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

A good start to a mystery series.

I read the first few pages of this novel back in February, but I didn’t really pick it up until recently where I finished it one weekend day as I often do. I had a Not Great week. I had not read a book in a few weeks so this was just right. It was a hot, humid day. I needed this book after a long week. I sunk into the mystery.

It was not the absolute best mystery, but pacing was right. I think it is a bit too long though, but I enjoyed it. Now that I’ve been reading J. K. Rowling for almost seventeen years, I’ve become use to her style. There is a certain wry humor and I share her love of English words. Having read The Casual Vacancy, I could see the similarities in her characters and themes as well. She is not a perfect writer nor the most literary, but she has become almost a comfort.

One thing I really liked was how London it felt. I knew that area of central London well and reading the street names brought feelings of nostalgia. Rowling has always been an interesting observer of class as well. I think she tackles it just as well as any modern British writer. Maybe even better because of her backgroun.

While I did not absolutely love Strike at first, I did find him a fascinating character and well drawn. I really liked Robin too. I wish there had been more of her. It’s got a good Holmes/Watson dynamic. I am looking forward to reading the next novel.

Read May 9, 2015.

This entry was posted in Books.

No-Knead Bread Diary Vol.1

bread

This is a bread technique I’ve wanted to try for some time. I actually like kneading. I started doing this in January when I moved into an apartment with a kitchenette and almost no counter space. I have wanted to own a dutch oven for a long time too.

Yeast: Unless otherwise stated, I used Fleischmann’s Traditional Active Dry Yeast. I didn’t proof it before using.
Salt: Fine sea salt or kosher salt.
Water: Room temp distilled water or room temp boiled tap water. I didn’t measure my water as I would always just pour enough to get a sticky dough.
Proofing: My first rise was usually 18 hours or more, but due to my schedule, I’d often have a very short second rise for about an hour. I found no significant difference with a longer second rise.
Non-stick Grain: I experimented with flour, wheat bran, cornmeal, oats, and polenta. Plain or WW flour was best because cutting made a mess of the others.
Dutch Oven: Lagostina 4-qt round dutch oven from Canadian Tire. I could not afford a Staub or Le Creuset yet; I would have to order a Lodge one online. The Lagostina is enameled on the inside unlike the Kitchen Aid and it had the dimpled lid (perfect for steam) unlike the Cuisinart. The only downside is that it’s a bit wider than I like and not 4″ high, but that’s alright for now.
Lid: I usually covered the bread for about 15-20 mins and uncovered for another 10-15.

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Time and Again by Jack Finney

I started this 1970 time travel novel on the day of “Mad Men”’s 7B premiere. This book does excel in its details about 1882 New York City. It was an interesting historical novel to read about 1970 as written by a writer of that time. It had some interesting moments about how someone would think about it. There was even a line about “seeing Negroes… and I prevented myself from going over there to tell them I had liked Martin Luther King Jr.”

The plot and characters were alright. Neither aspect was exceptional. I thought the protagonist and most of the characters were decently drawn out. I understood their motivations. At times, I was a bit irked that for a man trained by a government time travel programme, he made a number of historical gaffes in the past. The plot prodded along. I did no find it very compelling and not much actually happened until the last quarter.

I found the actual time travel method used in the book to be a bit silly. Maybe it was the style at the time, but there was no technology or magic involved. It was never explained in detail. The author just wanted the character to go back to 1882 more than anything.

The ending was interesting. I will no spoil it, but there is a paradox involved. It is not annoying because I think for the purposes of character and plot development, I liked the ending. However, if you have read or watched even a couple of time travel books, shows, and movies, you’d realize the paradox.

Not a bad novel. I recommend it to New Yorkers since if I lived there I’d love to find time and explore the city as the characters did.

Read April 5-6, 2015.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

This was such a simply yet nicely written memoirs. There is such a deep humbleness to Hadfield even though he admits to being an overachiever.

He is very self-aware about life and goal setting. There was a big emphasis on being prepared while enjoying the journey. At times, it felt like a good self-help book does. I wanted to emulate this man. I definitely admire him more so now after reading the book.

I also think his message and the writing about his life is not over the top or pushy. He seems to be grateful and happy with his life. He’s also worked hard and had struggles. As another optimist, I liked that. Good read.

Read April 3, 2015.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Robinson’s Gilead was one of my favourite novels of the last decade. I found it had some of the best prose of modern literary works. I knew I had to read Robinson’s other works.

When I started this novel, I had a feeling I would not love it quite as much as Gilead which is a tall order for any modern novel. I did really enjoy the writing though. Robinson’s unique storytelling and voice runs through this more darker and somber novel.

There was an ethereal quality to it that reminded me of fantasy novels by Neil Gaiman. The characters in this novel are not exactly the most relateable for me, but Ruth the narrator is a character the reader can sympathize with.

All in all, I enjoyed the prose immensely, but I would not recommend this novel for those who dislike literary fiction or who do not already like Gilead.

Read March 28-29, 2015.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

I’ve had this in my library pile for awhile. I am not sure why I put off reading it because it’s a novella more than a novel.

The only other time I’ve read Tóibín was his translation of Beowulf. With that and this novel, I can’t deny he is talented and writes well. However, he is one of those authors whose prose I respect and deem talented, but I don’t find his characters particularly engaging.

I did like this book more as I read it because I’ve had an affinity for Mary since I was a child in Catholic school. I was not there long nor am I Catholic, but Mary’s always been a comforting and fascinating person from religion.

Since reading this book over a week, it’s left a better impression than when I read it. I think reinterpreting Biblical works is a great source for literary exploration. I support it especially by good writers such as Tóibín.

Read March 28, 2015.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I believe this book is essential reading for anyone who likes the Little House series. It made me fall in love with the series again and also admire Wilder more than ever. I am glad this book has her raw writing, but also lots of great historical notes about her, Lane, and life on the frontier. Editor Pamela Smith Hill did an excellent job.

An original manuscript (which she intended to be edited by her daughter) from that time is not the most polished, but I did appreciate seeing Wilder’s natural prose. She did have moments that showed she was a great writer as the series leads you to believe.

The stories in the manuscript are much more realistic and grittier than in the series, but it still retained that voice of innocence. I ended this book liking everyone more including Pa and Rose Wilder Lane.

The physical beauty of the book is an added bonus. It’s a hefty, wide hard cover book with photos and a lovely cover.

I really enjoyed this book and it cements my love of Wilder as an author and the Little house series even with those little caveats I had during the reread.

Read March 22-25, 2015

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I knew who the murderer was when I started this book. I had heard this story adapted on a BBC radio programme. This coloured my reading of the book and made me look more closely at the murderer.

I’ve only read a handful of Christie novels, but I’ve seen a number of the mysteries adapted for TV and movies. I find her an engaging novelists. There is a quality of timelessness to her books. I knew the work was early twentieth century, but it could have been anywhere from 1900 to 1960. She gives so much more to her characters, their psychology, and relationships.

This one has some great psychological bits and clues. Even knowing the murderer, I forgot how it happened precisely. I did find the murderer suspicious and there are indeed lots of character clues as well as real ones for the culprit.

Hope to read more Christie soon.

Read March 8-9, 2015.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Another fun installment in this YA urban fantasy and steam punk series.

I’m glad the the little love triangle finally resolved itself in this one. It was not a bad triangle either, but it was obvious to me what the true pairing of this series would be. I find Sophonria interesting still and has matured over the years. So has Carriger as an author. There is a little more introspection from this protagonist when compared to the previous Carriger series.

As the third book, the ending made a significant impact on the characters. Fun stuff. Recommended for those who like light urban fantasy reads.

Read February 19-23, 2015.

A Dance of Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Finally, I’m all caught up to the Song of Fire & Ice series. It’s taken me a couple of years to get through these books. I haven’t rushed through them. I’ve enjoyed reading them for the most part, but I had to space them out. They can be a tiring reads.

Case in point, I found the first half of this one particularly hard. It dragged. There was very little or no action, and I became frustrated with certain characters. It just felt they were spinning in circles. I found this one book even more depressing than the previous ones. It also seemed more violent and there were even more examples of women being treated as chattel or just a means to an end.

I just do not know how Martin is going to finish everyone’s stories in two more books at this rate. I expect there will be more than two books left. Every time he kills a character, another takes their place. I do like a few of these characters, but there are many that I don’t care for. In fact, I forgot about a couple of them especially all the ones who want to marry Dany.

It has been frustrating about how close some of the characters are to each other, but still so far. I think these books could be edited down.

In any case, I enjoy the show too and think they’ve done well adapting this book series. I will also read the next book whenever it comes out. I do want to know what happens to my favourite characters and this “game of thrones.” It has been a long and somewhat rough reading experience, but I’m still going to continue with this series. It’s been entertaining at least.

Read February 10-15, 2015 on Kindle.

A Feast of Crows by George R. R. Martin

I enjoyed this read as I have most of the Song of Fire & Ice series, but I did miss knowing what was going on outside of Westeros.

Having said that, this book started more slowly than the other novels. I did like how female dominated it was. As Cersei, Arya, Sansa, Brienne, and other female characters stories were told. It did make me miss Danerys though. At least there was Jaime who has become one of my favourite characters.

The ending was less cliffhanger-y than the previous books probably because the other half of the book is in Book Five.

In other news, I’m rather proud that I read this in one day. I’ve definitely gotten back into my reading groove with all these good books in the new year.

Read February 9, 2015.