It Happened in 2001…

20171214ma_5575
I have a pretty good memory. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that we didn’t always have the things we have today. Like high-speed internet? Cell phones? YouTube? Facebook? Flat screen TVs?

Yes, some of these things existed in 16 years ago. Some of them did not. For example: I know that I got my first cell phone in 2002. But when it comes to technology, I tend to be a late-adopter. (I got my first CD player in 2000, way after everybody else!)

But what about flat screen TVs? I know they were available for sale back in 1997. Of course I didn’t own one. But… did ANYbody own a flat screen TV back then? All those first-adopters?

Why does this matter to me? Well, I am working on a writing project that involves the year 2001. And I’d like to know what kind of technology people used back then. I’m hoping you can help me out.

Please take a minute or two to fill out the info in a survey I created below…

(Can’t see the survey? Click on this link.)

Thanks for taking the time to fill this out!

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Review: The Seventh Wish

theseventhw.jpgBook: The Seventh Wish
Author: Kate Messner
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Charlie goes ice fishing and ends up catching a fish that grants her wishes. But the wishes all sort of backfire on her. When news hits the family that Abby, her sister, is facing the struggle of a life-time, Charlie’s determined to make one more wish…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the opening with the ice flowers. That was a beautiful image to start the book. Especially with introducing the sisters, Charlie and Abby. (I do wish Messner that done a little more with this imagery later on in the book. So much potential there! This is where an Epilogue would have worked so nicely. A year later… Charlie and Abby go in search of ice flowers…???)

2) I loved the Fairy Tale element of this story. It had a Fisherman-and-his-Wife vibe. I love how the wishes don’t quite work out. (Like with Bobby vs. Roberto!)

3) I also loved the dramatic element. I don’t really want to reveal it in a spoiler, so if you want to find out, you will have to read the book yourself.

4) The word-game that the family plays was fun. “I’m thinking of a word…” It was truly heart-breaking when, in the second-half of the book, the dad tries to play the game, but the mom just can’t do it. It’s very touching when he reveals the word.

5) I love the Serenity Prayer and I like how it was worked into the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There are some really tough themes in this book. And it’s coupled light-hearted fare like Irish Dancing and a Wishing Fish. This felt a tad disjointed to me. It’s like the book didn’t know what it was… A Fairy Tale? A Drama?

2) The drama element is well set-up, but then poorly executed at times. Especially when the mystery is solved half-way through the book. Charlie finds out right away, at the same time as her parents. I wish Messner had dragged this mystery out a bit longer. Let Charlie worry a bit more. Let her wonder why her parents are always whispering about something, or speaking in low tones on the phone. This wasn’t HORRIBLE, but I thought it could have been drawn out a bit more to better effect.

3) I can’t believe the mom and dad let Charlie go alone with Abby to the dance competition. I don’t want to give a spoiler here, so I won’t explain… other than to say that suddenly explaining that the dad had a flu bug or food poisoning was NOT the best set up. And there is NO WAY the mom needed to stay behind to bring him tea, water, etc. He’s an adult. He’d probably sleeping most of the day while they were gone. Frankly, I was not convinced. So much so that it brought me out of the story (which is not a good thing). It just seemed like the author needed some excuse to make the parents stay home. Well, in my opinion, it didn’t quite work. 😦

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 stars (out of 5) – This was an odd mishmash of genres. I loved the Fairy Tale element of the wishing fish. I like the drama element. While I’m not sure if Messner fully pulled it off, I did like the book and it’s good enough to get 3.5 stars from me.

Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.

Review: The Seventh Most Important Thing

9780553497304Book: The Seventh Most Important Thing
Author: Shelley Pearsall
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Arthur gets in big trouble when he throws a brick at the Junk Man. As part of his probation, he now has to work off hours doing the Junk Man’s bidding… which leads him to the List of the Seven Most Important Things.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I like the cover, even thought it’s slightly misleading. (Light bulbs are NOT the seventh most important thing.) But it works. Because, at least light bulbs are on the list 😉

2) Arthur is nicely developed as a character… How he struggles with dealing with his dad’s death. How he deals with his mom and sister. How he navigates the odd instructions given to him by St. James (aka the Junk Man, aka Mr. Hampton).

3) I love how Mr. Hampton is the one who suggests Arthur work for him during his probation. What a wise man.

4) This story, I found out after reading the book, is actually based on a true story. Sort of. The characters are fictional. But Mr. Hampton and his artwork is real. Which is pretty amazing. You can actually look online to see the full display of the artwork.

5) I’m glad there’s an epilogue. I like how it takes place seven years after the main story. (Seven is an important number in the book!)

6) I love the Biblical imagery in the book as it relates to the artwork. But I also like that it wasn’t in your face. The quotes especially: “The people perish for a lack of knowledge” and “Fear Not”.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I almost put this book back on the shelf at the library. Reading the back blurb, I wasn’t sure I wanted another juvenile delinquent story. But, I kept it and am I glad I did!

2) Somehow I missed that this book takes place in the 1960s. When I looked back, I saw that it gives the date in the first chapter. But like I said, I missed that. I wish the author had put more 1960s hints into the following chapters. To give us a better flavor of the times. (I kept wondering why these people didn’t have cell phones and such.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 stars (out of 5) – I really liked this book. And even more so, when I discovered the history behind it.

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.

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.