Year: 2015

An interesting and engaging graphic novel about an artist and art. It started with a depressing and self-pitifying protagonist. There lots of lows, but as it reached the end, there were some wonderfully rendered and expressive moments in this novel.

I particularly enjoyed David’s relationship with Harry. I liked those moments the most. While I liked Meg, I found that the author – as did David – treat her more as a muse rather than a fully, fleshed out character. She had too many shades of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I wanted to know more about her truly.

Overall, a good graphic novel and I enjoyed the themes of art and life.

Read December 26, 2015.

I am halfway through this series now. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a series this long. Even with taking breaks with other books and taking my time, this has been a long experience.

My usual issues with the series and Novik’s writings continues: Laurence is still stuffy, plot picks up much faster after half way point, and not enough female characters. However, this novel made up for it by being much more suspenseful and interesting because of the African plot. The book was much darker as a result since it dealt with the slave trade and the ending is a true cliff hanger. On a lighter note, there was a small romance plot, but it only made wish this story had a stronger romance. Of course, none could eclipse the central relationship between Temeraire and Laurence.

I would have immediately started Book 5 if my Kindle’s battery didn’t need recharging at home.

Read December 25, 2015 on Kindle.

Happy Holidays!

In brief, I liked Joyce’s prose right away. There is something so simple yet good in how he puts words together.

However, the plot, the dialogue, and the character left me a bit wanting. I did like it in the beginning, but not much actually happens in terms of plot. You really have to relate to Stephen to enjoy it. I am not male or religious enough to have done so.

This book reminded me of Catcher in the Rye, but I like this book much better. I prefer Stephen much more than Holden Caulfield. It’s a similar angsty and reflective coming of age story but this one with a much more Catholic bent.

This was my first Joyce, and I do not think it will be my last. However, for a book less than 300 pages, this took me much longer than I would have liked. I hope Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake is better, but I won’t try those out for awhile.

Read December 9-25, 2015.

Book #3 in this series, and I’m still not in love with Will Laurence.

The pacing in this novel is better than the last one’s long sea journey. I found the overland trip interesting and the novel covered Central Asia, Turkey, Austria, and Prussia. However, reading the Napoleonic Wars for three books is making me tired. It feels longer than War & Peace at this point.

I do enjoy this series, but I am finding myself dissatisfied with Laurence’s continued stuffiness. He is a good Captain, but sometimes, his incessant conservatism is annoying. With the last book and this one, they have introduced an enemy. It’s a female albino dragon whom I find myself more sympathetic with than anything. I find the characterization of the enemy lacking because I don’t really see their motivations and hatred for the protagonists. I wish there more and better written female characters in this novel.

The novels are still addictive adventures. Onwards to the next book.

Read December 19-20, 2015.

This series is distracting because I want to read it all in one go. I even stayed up past my bed time and lost sleep reading the ending.

As hinted by the end of the last book and this title, Termeraire and Laurence go to China in this novel. The first half of this book dragged for me as they spent all of on the long sea voyage. When they finally got to China, it was a lot more interesting to me. The world building and alternate history of China was well done and I though Novik even wore the Chinese politics almost as well as the many historic fiction Chinese dramas I’ve written. Fights for the throne were common and more so with dragons no doubt.

I really liked Termeraire interacting with the Chinese dragons and how he very much is a “young man” in this book when he was more of an impulsive yet keen child in the last book.

While I find Laurence a good character overall, I did have a few moments where I felt like rolling my eyes at him. He really can be very stuffy. He’s given to less formality than he was before, but there was not enough direct and straight forward characters in this book to complement him. It was also more of a male dominated novel than the first time; I yearned to read more about the female dragons and female companions.

Still good stuff and I went to bed thinking about having a dragon like Termeraire as my companion. I will however read other books because I’ll blitz through this series if I’m not careful.

Read December 6-7, 2015 on Kindle.

This was fun. I actually had to stop myself from starting the next book in the series right away. I knew if I started, I would have trouble with the other seven books in the series.

My friend Kathrin recommended this series to me after I lamented the Song of Fire & Ice series did not have enough dragons. This series definitely has dragons.

This book is like the Master & Commander, Horatio Hornblower books except instead of ships, there are dragons. It’s set in the Napoleonic war and offers an alternate history. Again, with dragons! They talk and are faithful to their one handler or human. The relationship between Temeraire and Laurence resembles something like lovers or child/parent. It is unique.

There are not a lot female characters in this book which makes me a bit sad, but I hope there are more interactions with those that remain. I do like how noble Laurence the protagonist is. He’s very much like Horatio Hornblower. However, he needs characters to shake him loose and a well developed romantic interest.

All in all, I’m really glad to have been recommended this series. It will help with the reading rut I’ve had this year and give me good holiday reading.

Definitely recommended for “light” fantasy lovers and those who enjoy alternate history.

Read December 5-6, 2015.

This is a collection of stories from the same town of characters. I had hoped it would be like Gaskell’s Cranford, but it was a bit more like Faulkner and Stoner by John Williams.

Faulkner and Hemingway were allegedly inspired by Anderson. He is definitely a good writer and there definite moments of powerful prose and characterizations.

“Like a thousand other strong men who have come into the world here in America in these later times, James was but half strong. He could master others but he could not master himself.”

Anderson really seems to be able to get into a lot of characters in a quick succession of time. However, I found most of the stories too glum for me to enjoy fully. It’s one of the reasons I have no tried to read Faulkner again.

I yearn to read more books that are slightly less depressing. The ending is hopeful though I did feel I spent 250 pages with highly repressed characters. That’s a bit much. I did like it for the most part, but I do not think I will search out Anderson anytime soon.

Read November 30-December 2, 2015.

Spy (09 11 2015) – Saw this in Berlin with my friend. She highly recommended it and wanted to see it again. It is indeed funny because all of the cast were firing. Pairing McCarthy with Melinda Hart, Stratham, and Bryne was brilliant. I’m not a fan of crude humor so those jokes didn’t always work with me, but in general, this was a funny, satirical spy movie. Hope the sequel is just as fun.

The Hundred Foot Journey (17 11 2015) – Plane movie. Lasse Hallstromm always directs this cute European Anglophone movies. I liked the book, and as an adaptation, it mostly got the spirit of the film. It’s hard to go wrong with Helen Mirren in the French countryside with food. Wish I knew more about Hassan’s family though. Charlotte Le Bon looks lovely though.

The Second Best Marigold Hotel (17 11 2015) – Plane movie #2. Cute to see the same characters again and I adore most of the actors involved. The inclusion of Richard Gere was actually a bit random though. Ending with all the couples was on the cheesey side. Bless Maggie Smith though. Her snarky and poignant role stopped the ending from being over the top corny.

This took me way too long to read. In fact, two months! I read other things in the meantime. I am the type of reader who prefers reading books in a couple of sittings because spreading it out will result in me being distracted by other things.

The book’s narrative did not help. The narratives switch between three characters and certain sections of the story are non-linear. None of the characters meet until the end of the novel which was frustrating, but it made me keep reading.

I have to say that I liked two of the characters. I adored one of them a lot and the writing in the book is good. I was frustrated at times with the narrative style, but I knew the ending would be well worth it.

I had an emotional reaction to the ending. This is a novel about the second world war and it reminded me The Book Thief which I also had a deep reaction too. However, I feel the ending frustrated me too because it took me so long to get to that point. The climax and ending shocked me in a way, and I felt sad by it.

The book is good and I’ll definitely remember my fondness for one of the characters. I do wonder if the timing of the book affected how I felt about it. All in all, I have mixed feelings on it. I felt there was one or two high points about the book, but I’m not sure if the book also worked as well as it could have.

Read September 19-November 28, 2015 on Kindle.

Now that actual bread and baking season is among us, I found that my spring bread entries were still waiting to be published. Other than the standard Cranberry, Sunflower, Seed, and Orange loaf, the other two were good, but not necessarily standards. I’m already in process of attempt #10. More actual bread pictures will follow (hopefully).

Attempt #7 – May 26, 2015 – Cranberry Sunflower Seed Orange

24 hour first rise. 15 mins covered. 25 mins uncovered. Maybe the long first rise was a bad idea because this loaf came out too wet. For the first time, it was so stuck to the dutch oven that I had to rip it out in half. Not much rise. Still tasted good.

Attempt #8 – May 30, 2015 – Toasted Grains – Quinoa, Flax, Millet

1 tablespoon of butter
1 cup mixed grains (quinoa, flax, millet)

Idea taken from Girl Versus Dough. I rinsed the quinoa earlier in the day and let it dry. I melted the butter (more than 1tbsp maybe?) and toasted the grains on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes. I used way too much butter, but it smelled fantastic. Proceeded with my usual recipe (almost one third WW flour).

First rise was about 20 hours. The smell of the bread was even more lovely this time because of the toasted grain.

Attempt #9 – June 13-14, 2015 – White Loaf

Idea taken from The Kitchn. I only used white AP flour, same yeast/water, but I added 11g of kosher salt (accidentally poured too much). After the first rise of about 14 hours, I shaped it into a loaf and put it into my 10×6″ silicone Ikea loaf pan. Even with the silicone, I lightly oiled it with canola and put wheat bran in it. The oiling was not necessary, but the wheat bran made a nice crust. Second rise was for over an hour. I put it in oven for 30 minutes, turning it half way at 15 min. It did not have a good vertical rise (most my breads don’t for some reason).

It was a bit too salty as expected. Crust was still good, but more delicate than usual. I’d do this loaf again though 430g of flour seems a lot for a small loaf.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (16 10 15) – A bit long. Hawkeye really grew on me; Jeremy Renner shone in this movie. I like Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. Everything else was standard Avengers fare.

Trainwreck (26 10 15) – I really enjoyed this. While there were a few scenes that went on too long, most of the movie worked for me. There aren’t enough good romantic comedies like this anymore. Schumer and Hader were wonderful. I thought Schumer did well in her dramatic scenes. The supporting cast was fun. Swinton! At the end of the movie, I wanted more and to follow these characters. A sign of a good movie.

Pitch Perfect 2 (27 10 15) – I knew this would not be as good as the first movie which I really enjoyed. I even have some of the songs on my phone. This second movie was slower paced and I wasn’t as engaged. It had some nice moments and songs, but not enough of them. Not essential viewing.

Rewatched Movies

Groundhog Day (20 10 15) – Was feeling a bit sick so movie time. I read a FiveThirtyEight article on most rewatched movies. Many commenters noted that this was not on the list, but it should have been. I agree. I love the spiritual aspect of this, and it’s my favourite Bill Murray movie.

I wish I could write like Marilynne Robinson.

Robinson’s works are internal. Not just in terms of the character’s inner lives and thoughts, but the setting. Gilead is the internal, spiritual workings of one man. Housekeeping has this surreal setting of home life and Home continues that setting. All of them have this focus on home life, house life, and the mind of the characters. She somehow captures what it is to be like an introvert so deftly.

I would even say it can almost be a bit clausterphobic how good she is with that isolation people often experience. In this novel, the moments between the family remembers felt almost too real as if I was watching real people talking together. It was very raw and incredibly candid that oddly, during one scene at the end, I wanted to look away.

Very few writers capture the rawness of emotions she does and in a way, the humanity of it especially with respect to the family dynamics. As usual, not much in way of plot happens, but I appreciate the amazing character writing.

Read October 18-20, 2015.