The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The reception to this book was mixed and not that positive to be honest. I tried going into it unbiased. There are a lot of things about this book that I didn’t like, but strangely, I think it grew on me a little bit by the end.

There were too many characters and I didn’t really feel sympathetic for most of them. It took about a hundred pages before I could tell the characters apart. They all sort of blurred together for me. It took until half way through the book (around 250 pages) that I started feeling a twinge of pathos about one of them.

I enjoy Rowling as a writer. I think she does have weaknesses as a writer exhibited in the Harry Potter books too. She has decent characterization skills, but it wasn’t shown in this novel. Somehow though, I became less indifferent towards the end of the novel. It veered towards being a bit cliche though, but I think she hit some emotional notes correctly.

On the way, I do not regret reading this novel and it was not as bad for me as some readers. I don’t recommend it though. If this was not JKR, I probably wouldn’t be eager to read another novel.

Read November 11-17th, 2014.

Little House series round-up post

I am counting this as one Classics Club entry because technically I’ve reread most of the books except two.

  1. The Little House in the Big Woods
  2. Farmer Boy
  3. Little House on the Prairie
  4. On the Banks of Plum Creek
  5. By the Shores of Silver Lake
  6. The Long Winter
  7. Little Town on the Prairie
  8. These Happy Golden Years
  9. The First Four Years

When I started this read-along, I wanted to judge if the books were as good as I remember them and if reading them as an adult coloured my views. This was not my absolute favourite series as a kid, but it definitely had its moments. I’m someone who has always been pulled to the country and simpler life. I have a lot of old fashioned tastes and hobbies so the books worked on me in that level. I also enjoy history.

I was perturbed and saddened to find that Pa Ingalls did seem to be an irresponsible father at times. As much as he loved his girls, he was a bit shady and a poor man with finances. Most kids would have a lot of this stuff go over their heads, but even as a kid, I never understood why Charles Ingalls moved his family so much across the country. I also disliked the racism especially as voiced by Ma.

I would still read or recommend these to children, even though I have the aforementioned qualms. One of the best aspects of the series is Laura herself who is honest, brave yet realistic. She is inherently relateable to most young girls. The writing is good too. I think Wilder is a lovely writer. There is some memorable images and fun moments from these books. Credit to Laura and maybe Rose Wilder Lane for that. I think it’s written well for the most part.

More than ever, this readalong has really made me excited for Pioneer Girl. I look forward to reading Laura’s even less embellished childhood.

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I first read the reviews of this book earlier in the year, I didn’t think I would read the “final” Little House books. I don’t think I read this book when I was a kid or a teenager. Like Farmer Boy, I had missed out on it. Maybe I did read it and blocked it out because it is quite depressing in parts. Having said that, I think I liked it.

The story is considerably different in tone than the other books in the series. Laura did not work on it much after Almanzo died so it this could be considered an unfinished manuscript. The rawness and honesty in the books makes it interesting though. Laura doesn’t want to be a farmer’s wife which is in character. The young family suffer through so much in the books and there seems to be a lot less happy moments. It is no wonder why the previous/last book is called These Happy Golden Years.

A friend and I discussed how this book makes you wonder more about the marriage of Laura and Manly. There seems to be less good moments between them as they both suffer through bad luck on the farm and not the best financial management. I felt bad for them both. There was a distinct lack of romance in this book.

I am glad to have read this book. It makes one appreciate what one has now and how hard it was back then. I look forward to Pioneer Girl even more now though as I have become attached to Wilder’s writing again.

Finished reading November 11, 2014 on Kindle.

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby’s collected articles for “The Believer” magazine. This book is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read the whole thing. I’ve already read the previous three compilations and reviewed them on this blog. There are a few chapters of new content in this nearly 500 page book. I basically read that which amounted to a cracker with cheese snack of reading.

I got it from the library, but I immediately put this book on the wishlist for the future. I love Hornby’s writings about books. I wish I had his job

I’ve found some incredible and indeed, some of the best written books from him. His word is very analytical about literature and art but still accessible. On the downside, I’ve also found some boring books from him, but I take the bad with the good.

Read the lastfew pages on November 7, 2014.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel

I started this biography and Chinese history book in May when I was actually in China. I had already read eleven books, but they were all fiction. I thought it would be fitting for me to read a nonfiction book about China.

Since I read this on Kindle, I didn’t realize how long it was until I really started. I think it is about 1100 pages in actual book form. The subject was fascinating to me right away. I was able to cover the first 40% of the book when I was there, but I basically found it hard to finish it when I got back. I wasn’t as into the subject anymore, and it felt so right to me when I right it there. Since I got back to China, I have read it little by little. Fitting of an academic work, the last 30% of the book are notes and references.

This is one of the best biographies and history books that I’ve read in recent memory. It is incredibly well researched. It is very academic and it reminded me about all my university texts, but better. In fact, I did my graduate dissertation was on China covering much of the period discussed in this book.

I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know the history of China in the twentieth century. It covers mostly the political and economic history; however, Vogel includes much of the context on what China is today including its culture and even medieval history. It’s packed with information yet easy to read too. It is still a topic about Deng Xioaping, the Communist Party, and China so if you have no interest in these topics, it would be difficult since the book is very long.

I found it worthwhile because I learned quite a bit on subject I have studied before. I’m also proud that I was able to finish it and it was my major nonfiction book of the year.

Read May 28, 2014 to November 2nd, 2014 on Kindle.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

This novel is the retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view or rather focuses on the lives of the servants.

I picked this book up spontaneously from the library’s Express Books as I often do. Looking for some midweek relaxation, I read it last evening. It wasn’t particularly difficult to read, but I do feel I glossed over some of it.

There are some nice moments and if you’re familiar with the Austen books or the time period, it can be an easy read. I did realize early on that I wouldn’t really love this book. While I felt a bit for Sarah, I wasn’t really engaged with her all the time too.

I found most of the novel on the boring side. To be honest, this is a historical novel that feels like it randomly inserted characters with the same names as the ones in P&P rather than act as a homage to the work. I just didn’t really see the link between this novel and P&P other than it sharing some characters.

What got me most after I finished it was that the tone of the novel was very different than P&P. While Austen does have her dramatic and serious feeling moments, the satire, social commentary, and tongue in cheek nature of some of her characters make the novels light. There wasn’t any lightness to this novel. It felt dour and humourless. The ending was a happy one, but it didn’t make up for how most of the novel was heavy.

Reading the reviews of it afterwards on GoodReads, it polarized people. I can see some positives to it, but I would not call this a true homeage to Austen.

Read October 28th, 2014.

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Going into this reread of the series, I always remembered this book the most. It was the image of Laura and Almanzao driving back in the cold winter.

Of all the books. this is my favourite in terms of being enjoyable and it feels good. The Ingalls aren’t moving around, things are settled, Laura has grown up so much, and she is happy. There is one scary moment in the beginning, but it’s not as bad as the racism in the earlier books.

I just think this is a lovely book about the past. For me, it’s a classic.

I know that Laura and Almanzo didn’t have an easy life after this, but the book captures a good time. I would reread this novel again.

Reread October 16th-17th, 2014 on Kindle.

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

In this book, Laura takes on her first job, Mary goes to college, Laura is walked home by Almanzo Wilder, and she becomes a teacher.

There was one whole chapter on American patriotism which is something I can’t particularly relate to. I did like Laura’s sauciness to her Ma about Pa still liking her even if her waist it not as small as it use to be.

It’s really a wonder about each teenager having a whole orange at a birthday party. It really
makes you appreciate the fruit we have now. This book was nice, but more a filler to the last two.

Reread October 5th, 2014 on Kindle.

Sunday Salon: Transitions

Sunday Salon

Hello! It has been awhile since I wrote a Sunday Salon post. I have dropped off a bit with my Little House series readalong and fell behind actually. I may try to catch up this week.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gradually knit less. I even started a pair of socks over a month of ago, but I’m just one third through the foot. I should have picked an easier pattern to return to knitting.

I have many hobbies and interests, and of late, my social life and running/fitness has taken over. I am the most fit as I have ever been in my life. It’s taken me a couple years to have this kind of social network; I only had a couple of friends here three years ago. I even started a new work contract recently. I still watch some TV shows. I’m interested in “Outlander” and “Black-ish” these days. I have not seen a movie in a couple months though.

The saddest aspect is that my reading has dropped off significantly this year except for during my holiday to China in May. I took my reading goal down from 70 to 52 books, and even with that, I’m struggling at 31 right now.

I will always love reading and consider myself a reader. Lately, I’ve found it hard to be one. I don’t want to force myself to read either. I think it’s just a transitioning time for me, and I’ll definitely go back to bibliophilia when the time is right. Hopefully soon.

Have a great week!

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

As the title says, this book was just about one long winter. It is the most boring of the books so far. It’s just blizzard after blizzard and the belated Christmas scene at the end did save it for me.

Almanzo features again for the first time since Farmer Boy. I found the switching of narratives not seamless and a bit clunky. I did enjoy how every time the Wilder boys were mentioned, pancakes were featured!

Mary continues to be a sanctimonious wet blanket while Laura is still a relatable protagonist. I listened to half of this in audiobook from HarperCollins. I got use to the narrator after awhile. She made the singing more bearable too, but there is too much singing in these books.

All in all, the

Reread September 12-14 on audiobook and Kindle.

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Two years pass between this book and the last one. Almost immediately we are told that Mary has become blind and Ma had has another baby so now there are four girls. They experience their first train ride, hotel experience, and moving to Dakota Territory to become homesteaders.

There was a lot of singing in this book. A bit too much for me. I really enjoyed Laura’s adventures in the wild and Laura is so relateable. Opposed to Mary. She was Ok in the beginning (“you create pictures with your words, Laura”) then got annoying: “I really don’t know, Laura, why you’d rather those rough men… I’ve finished another quilt patch while you’ve been idling.” Carrie seems to be afraid of everything.

I do feel sorry for Laura. She is growing up and has to be the eldest all of a sudden. Pa tells Laura that Ma wants one of the girls to teach and it has to be her. Sigh.

Caroline’s racism returns again in this book: “I always heard you can’t trust a half-breed,” Ma said. Ma did not like Indians; she did not like even half-Indians.

They talk about how they wouldn’t have been scalped back in Indian Territory except for one and Caroline argues back. It doesn’t make sense though; it’s just prejudice. I mean they were in Indian territory! What did they expect? Her issue was with them moving to Indian territory and that was Pa’s decision.

On a final note, I like the side characters as usual: Big Jerry and the Boasts: “Mr Boast’s laugh tickles,” Carrie said.

Laura’s writing continues to be lovely in parts. I had forgotten how excellent a writer she is (or Rose, it’s hard to tell). It gives me more mixed feelings about the books. Sigh.

Re-read Sept 5-6, 2014 on Kindle.