The More Popular the Book

20160628ma_2092The more popular the book…

The less likely I am to read it. Or at least want to read it.

Like Harry Potter. I’m just not crazy about these books. Oh, I’ve read the first three in the series. And, to be honest, I didn’t hate them. But I didn’t LOVE them either. So, I stopped after number three.

Why?

Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might have to do with the fact that these books are just so popular. There is just too much hype.

I’ve never liked hype. Cabbage Patch Kids, anyone? These were the be-all, end-all to dolls when I was a kid. But I did not have one. I did not even want one. Basically, I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

They were just too popular.

I wonder that if I had come across Jane Austen’s books in the late 1990s, would I have read them? Luckily for me, I read and loved Pride and Prejudice well before the big 1995 mini-series that rocketed the book to superstar-status. (Oh, I realize that P&P was well-loved long before then; but after 1995, it gained a following of people that never even read the book… People that loved Darcy in his wet clothing in that infamous pond scene. I hated that scene, by the way, purist that I am.)

Here’s one thing that I’ve noticed. IF I already like the book (or the author’s writing style), then I don’t care how popular it is.

Take for example The Hunger Games. I read the first two books in the series blissfully unaware of how trendy they would become. By the time the final book came out, I was already hooked and so I read it anyway. (Not to say I don’t think Mockingjay is a perfect book. I believe it has its flaws, but I think Suzanne Collins is an amazing writer. She really is. I absolutely love her Gregor the Overlander series. But even in that one, she seems to fall apart a bit on her final book.)

I wish people would just stop the hype. Stop insisting that I should love Harry Potter. Or that I have to read this book or that book.

A lot of times I disagree with the quality of what’s in vogue. For me personally, I don’t need the validation of millions of readers to know what makes a good book. “Everybody’s reading it” is not necessarily a recommendation in my view.

But am I missing out of some good stories?

Perhaps. That’s why I will sometimes pick up a book I am resisting… just to give it a shot. Just in case I’m missing a gem of a story. But, I’ll tell you this. That book has a very steep mountain to climb. Because it’s got to overcome my bias against the popularity that surrounds it.

Basically, this book has surpass my expectations.

Problem is, most popular books rarely ever do.

Advertisements

Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

How Much Tea Do You Drink?

20170527ma_1327I’m a bit of a tea fanatic. I drink tea pretty much all day long.

Pot after pot. Mug after mug. Summer or Winter.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m drawn to books that feature tea. And one of my favourite series that does this so wonderfully is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

I love this series.

So, when I recently read a review of one of his books by somebody who hated it (they gave it one star), my reaction was: Wait! How can you hate Mma Ramotswe? Turns out this person was expecting a mystery novel. Okay, I get it now. Really, these books aren’t really about the mystery, even though Mma Ramotswe is a detective! (In fact, I find it funny that the books are sometimes marketed that way.)

No, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is really about Life. And people. The series delights in highlighting the quirks of people. Every single character has their own little special foibles, including our protagonist: Mma Ramotswe.

Like Mma Ramotswe’s obsession with tea. (In particular, redbush tea.)

“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.
~ The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

And every one of McCall Smith’s books has some sort of tea in them.

In fact, these books are chock full of tea!

In an interview, he was asked about this. Here’s his response: “Naturally, when I came to write my Botswana novels… tea played a part in the narrative… Some assume that the tea-drinking has some symbolic meaning; in fact, it is merely a novelist’s device for ensuring a break in between other scenes. I suppose, if pressed, I might come up with an explanation in terms of its calming effect; it is no doubt true that tea-drinking is a calming thing to read about, but that is not necessarily why I write about it. One can always do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

And do you know how many cups of tea Mma Ramotswe drinks in just one day?

Well, we find out in a delectable passage from a later book in the series: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

“We spend quite a lot on tea,” mused Mma Makutsi. “If you add it up, Mma. You have… how many cups of tea do you have, Mma Ramotswe? Ten? Twelve?”

“I haven’t counted, Mma Makutsi. And you yourself―”

Then our two favourite tea-drinkers start to make some calculations. Counting each cup from the time they wake in the morning…

She paused. “How many does that make, Mma?

“I think that makes eight,” said Mma Makutsi. “Call it ten.”

“Ten cups,” said Mma Ramotswe thoughtfully. “And we haven’t counted the evening tea. That must be added. So maybe fourteen cups of tea in all.”

In my opinion, it’s these passages about tea and such that make McCall Smith’s work so delightful to read. These tea-breaks are the times when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi get around to philosophizing about life. As so often happens, the two women come to different points of view. (Mma Makutsi has some very strong opinions.) But Mma Ramotswe always knows how to solve these tricky situations.

“That’s not true,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But let us not argue, Mma, because I believe it’s time for tea and the more time you spend arguing, the less tea you can drink.”
~ Precious and Grace

And finally, two more of my favourite Tea Quotes from the books:

“The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea.”
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

“It was time for tea as it so often was.”
~ The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Now I think it’s time for a cup of tea…

P.S. To answer the question in the title of this post, I think I probably drink about 7-10 mugs of tea a day. (Yes, despite the existence of my pretty teacups, I tend to drink out of mugs for everyday.) So… not quite as many as Mma Ramotswe. I don’t know if anybody drinks more tea than Mma Ramotswe.

Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

tumblr_nu2gor8S001ta4uato1_1280[1].jpgBook: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Author: Mildred D. Taylor
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic plot: The Logan family must deal with the ugliness of prejudice in their Mississippi hometown during the height of the Great Depression. They are the only black family to own their land, and there are plenty of people who aren’t happy about that. But the family is determined to stick together to keep the land and persevere.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Cassie is a wonderful narrator. She’s such a spunky character! (Although, in many ways, I see this book really as the story of her brother, Stacey.)

2) Which brings me to Stacey… What an insightful character. You can see him struggle to grasp the world around him. I love how he takes the blame for T.J. during the cheating episode. Although, he’s not all goody-two-shoes about it. He exacts his revenge (but learns a HUGE lesson in all of that).

3) And then there’s Jeremy. He’s really the only good white character in the book. I love how he stands up against the bigotry of his own father. I love the scene where Stacey’s own father warns Stacey about Jeremy and how he will one day turn on Stacey. Somehow I (and I think Stacey felt it as well) think that Stacey’s father is wrong on this one… that Jeremy would not fulfill this prophecy. I think Jeremy is different. And I think Stacey knew it.

4) But, wait! There’s more characters to love. I just love the whole Logan family. From Big Ma down to Little Man. (Why is Little Man called “Little Man”? Doesn’t matter. It works.) Papa. Mama. Even Mr. Morrison, who is not really a family member, but is living with them.

5) I love how Uncle Hammer [*SPOILER] gives up his beloved car for the family. It’s horrible that he has to do it, but it such a wonder portrayal of sacrifice on his part. [*END SPOILER] He does it for the family.

6) Oh, T.J.! This character wanted to make me cry. In so many ways, he is so despicable. Especially with what happens to Mrs. Logan. And while I hated this character, Taylor was able to make me also feel extreme pity for him. Yes, by the end of the book, I wanted to reach out to him and help him to get back on the road to redemption.

7) [*SPOILER] The fire at the end of the book was a great climax. Even better is the discovery of how the fire was set. However, even though this is a spoiler, I will not make this into a super-spoiler by revealing the answer to that question. [*END SPOILER]

8) And finally… The poem (referenced in the title of the book) is amazing. It makes me want to cry and fume and change the world all in one.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Come on! I gave this book 5 stars! I rarely give out 5 stars, but this book gets it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 stars (out of 5) – I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before now. It’s been on my list for awhile. It’s a wonderful, but sad, look into the past. And as history has a tendency to do, we see glimpses of our present world. A world that could use a whole lot more kindness. Thank-you Mildred D. Taylor for giving us this book!

Black and White Challenge #1

I’ve been intrigued this black and white challenge that’s been going around the internet. You know the one? “Seven Black and White photos of your life. No people. No pets. No explanations. Challenge someone new each day.” Except I don’t challenge anybody, unless they want to do it. And I’ve also decided that I’m going to do it weekly, on Saturdays.

So, here’s Number 1…

20171114ma_5285

What Shall I Call Thee?

20170824ma_4747
Growing up, one of my best friends would often refer to our favourite authors by their first names. (In fact, she still does it today.) And, by extension, any book by said author. So an L.M. Montgomery book would become a “Lucy Maud” … As in “Have you read this Lucy Maud?” (Later she’d shortened it to simply “Lucy”.)

And I’ve noticed that this with other people as well, typically regarding women writers. Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are “Louisa” and “Laura”. Jane Austen fans even have their own special designation as “Janeites”.

But why do we call authors by their first name? Is it because it makes these authors feel more like our friends? Well, that’s my guess.

But, I’m different. For me, it’s important to use the author’s name under which they published. So “Lucy Maud Montgomery” is written or spoken of as “L.M. Montgomery”. And thereafter, in the same conversation or article, just as “Montgomery”.  (Which becomes a slight problem if we’re talking about the Brontes!)

I think this may stem from this realization… Authors are people that have private lives. For example, “Lucy Maud” was never really called “Lucy” (her grandmother’s name) in her lifetime. Her family and friends called her “Maud”. And for most of her published life, she was “Mrs. Macdonald”. And yet, she published under the name “L.M. Montgomery”.

For me, that knowledge is enough. “L.M. Montgomery” she would be.

So, while C.S. Lewis was “Jack” to his friends, he was “C.S. Lewis” to me because that’s how I knew him.

And then there’s Jane Austen. I’m definitely a fan, but for some reason, I cannot (and will not) call myself a “Janeite”. I will not call her “Jane”.

I think, for me, it’s a respect thing. Respecting the work of the author. Respecting the boundaries between an author and the reader. Although, when my friend does the opposite? I find it endearing. It’s like Jane Austen really is her friend!

So, what’s that say about me? Hmm…

P.S. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong side to this. But it interests me to find out where other people stand. What do you tend to do?

P.S. 2 – If you’re curious to know… The photo above is of a statue of “Lucy Maud” at the L.M. Montgomery Museum in Leaskdale, Ontario.

Review: The Losers Club

losersclubBook: The Losers Club
Author: Andrew Clements
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Alec loves to read. This year, he has to stay in the after-school program and so he starts a reading club… which he calls it the Losers Club, so that everybody will just leave him alone to read. But then other kids start joining the Losers Club, including his former-friend-turned-bully.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Alec loves to read. Hello? I’m hooked.

2) I love all (or at least most) of the books Alec loves. I completely understand his desire to just sit and read. To get lost in a book. When we were in grade 6, my friends and I would have fit right in with this club!

3) The younger brother, Luke, was a neat character. I like his Yoda impersonations. I also like how Clements connects the two brothers story-wise through the bully, Kent: The Losers and the Mini-Losers.

4) I love WHY Alec lets the younger Lily join the club. Especially what he says to her about how she identifies herself as a loser. (But I won’t spoil it here.)

5) Lots of wonderful reading quotes in this book. For example this passage about the value of old books:

Nina looked at the book. “It’s really old—actually, a lot of your books are old, practically antiques. Like that copy of Treasure Island in your backpack? That book is ancient.”

“So what?” he said. “And anyway, books aren’t like that. A book is either good or not. And if it’s good, it never gets old.”

6) Kent’s character arc was well-done. He doesn’t seem quite like the caricature of the school bully. He’s a little more complex.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A bully named Kent?? Really? This seemed very strange to me.

2) While I like the brother Luke’s Yoda impersonation, I thought it was a little weird to have the mom do it. Why have two characters have the same quirk?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This has become one of my favourite Andrew Clement books. Probably because of all the reading that is done in the book.

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂


51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!


51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)