Monday, July 23, 2012

A Million Lights

When I had climbed the worn stone stairs and pushed open a heavy oaken door, my nostrils were assailed by the smell of old books, ancient leather, beeswax and candles. A long and handsome gallery was before me for the Library had originally been the Great Hall of the the Abbey. This floor was divided at intervals by bays projecting at right-angles form the walls and carrying bookshelves so that there was only a narrow way through its centre. The bays were big old oak constructions rising to a height several feet above a man's head. This part was the old chained library and many of the books were still fastened in that way.
-Charles Pulliser, The Unburied


Right now, light is streaming through my open windows and I can smell the summer air. 
I live for moments during twilight- I want to immerse myself in the soft glow and just stay there, suspended between this world and mine.

Having been busier than usual, summer seems to be going by awfully fast. However, I did get to do a bit of travelling- there was one place in particular I had to drop by and that was Ottawa: I had a date with Monsieur Van Gogh. 
My heart was stirred as I moved from one painting to another- his portrayal of floral and gardens are exquisite. He can paint something so ordinary as dandelions and portray them in an extraordinary light.
It was lovely visiting the National Gallery of Canada- stepping into the Van Gogh exhibition amidst hushed voices and the look of wonder on their faces is a welcoming sight. I always feel at peace when I'm at an art gallery- it's the same feeling as when I step inside a church.
Some of my favourite paintings were there, including:

File:VanGogh-View of Arles with Irises.jpg
View of Arles With Irises

File:Van Gogh - Blick auf Saites-Maries1.jpeg
View to Saites-Maries

Of course, I couldn't leave without getting a couple of books! From the gift boutique, I purchased:


Speaking of books, I recently joined Random House's Random Reader Challenge!
 I will be reading Touch  by Alexi Zentner.

Summary: Touch begins with Stephen, an Anglican priest, returning from Vancouver to the northern BC town of Sawgamet where he grew up, just in time for his mother’s death.
Sawgamet was founded by Stephen’s grandfather Jeannot, when he heard a voice in the woods calling his name and his dog, Flaireur, refused to take another step. Back then, as Stephen remembers it from the stories passed down to him, men were giants, or even gods, striving to tame the land. The world of Sawgamet was enchanted, alive with qallupilluit and ijirait, sea-witches and shape-shifters; Jeannot saw caribou covered with gold dust and found gold nuggets the size of boulders. Sometimes winter refused to end, and blizzards buried the whole town in snow for months at a time. Sawgamet was a place where Jeannot had to kill a man twice and then carry the bones around with him, bound in cloth, to make sure he stayed dead.

Years later, with his mother on her deathbed, Stephen tries to piece together the past from myths and stories and memories that he’s not sure he can trust. And not everything is magical: if life in Jeannot’s Sawgamet was richer and brighter than it seems for Stephen now, it was also harder and more brutal, with both fire and ice claiming too many lives before their time. Jeannot never knew his son, Pierre, Stephen’s father, who was himself maimed in a logging accident; Stephen’s childhood was marked by tragic loss, and a lasting pain he must now confront as he considers how to pass Jeannot’s stories on to his own daughters.

A chronicle of the birth of a town and the passing of a way of being in the world, Touch is unique, compelling and full of marvels. But this book captures the most personal moments in life as well as the most dramatic ones – Alexi Zentner conveys three generations of a family’s intimate emotional experience in language that pierces the heart. This beautiful and moving novel is a great story told by a natural storyteller, and to read Touch is to enter an enthralling world that you’ll never want to leave.

I also signed up for the Olympic Readathon, which goes from July 27th-August 12th. With the books I have yet to read, this will definitely help ease the process. My goal? To read 1400 pages! Fellow bookworms, accept the challenge and sign up!

From Books-To-Films:

For this post, I am delighted that there's now a trailer for Cheerful Weather For The Wedding which stars Felicity Jones and Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern! Based on the 1932 classic by Julia Strachey, it's sure to delight fans of period drama. I also recommend reading the book beforehand.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My 50 Book Pledge Update: Books 13-26

An ordinary man can... surround himself with two thousand books... and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. 
-Augustine Birrell


Hello everyone!

I hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend! As previously mentioned, I have taken the 50 Book Pledge for 2012. Great news: I'm almost at #30! 
On the other hand, inform a fellow bookworm of this amount and he/she might resort to a bit of snickering- I know it's not a terribly huge number and others might have reached 80 or a gazillion by now- but an achievement is still an achievement, small as it might be.

As always, I'm sharing my thoughts of the books I have read so far:

13. The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Opening: "The truth is that, to her, I was not fully human."

Thoughts: I read this as a result of the book being the April selection for my book club. When it came to discussion, we all agreed it was a thoughtful and interesting read. Kate Pullinger takes us back to Victorian London, where due to tuberculosis, Lady Duff Gordon and her devoted maid Sally, sets sail for Egypt. The romantic image of travelling up the Nile stays rooted in the back of the reader's mind, where love, betrayal, and hope is as deep as the Egyptian night. It was interesting to discover that the story was based on true accounts: Lady Duff Gordon had in fact written a book based on her time in Egypt. This book is a great travel read.

14. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Opening: "I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old. It was the summer after the war, and the Ayreses still had most of their money then, were still big people in the district."

Thoughts: I am a fan of Sarah Waters' works, having read The Night Watch and watched the series which the BBC had adapted ( if you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend it). The atmosphere of rural Warwickshire provided a Gothic mood to the story and the suspense throughout the novel gripped you until the very end. I enjoyed Waters' way of writing as it's vivid and even poetic at times. A wonderful story overall.

15. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Opening: "The tooth broke three days after she received the awful news. There was no blood. No pain, even. For three days she believed that it was her heart that had broken into tiny fragments, but turned out it was another part of her body that decided to mourn the news."

Thoughts: It was my first time reading one of Umrigar's books and it won't certainly be my last! Umrigar took a fragile subject matter found within our lives and shed warmth to it through the characters' persona, wit, and humour. Reading about Laleh and Kavita, one almost feels as if they were old friends. I loved the way the characters would converse to one another throughout the book as it felt incredibly genuine and relatable at times. I laughed and got misty-eyed throughout-there were even moments where it left me wondering about the course of my own life. A fantastic read.

16. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Opening: "The boy had been crouched so long that his legs had fallen asleep beneath him- but he dared not move now. For here, in a small clearing in the frostbitten forest, were the creatures he had waited so long to see. The creatures he'd been sent to kill."

Thoughts: This was quite the jump from The World We Found! At first, I was hesitant, as this was the same author who massacred (yes, I know) Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, Abraham Lincoln as a Vampire Hunter had a certain charm to it, along with the buzz it was getting for its film being released this summer, furthered my curiosity. It was a definite page-turner, captivating your imagination until the very end. There were moments where I would be reading in bed and I had to quickly look over my shoulder a couple of times. Grahame-Smith's ability to weave the historical with the fantastical is impressive, as I found myself finishing the book in two days, with little sleep.

17. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Opening: "Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize."

Thoughts: This is a book of epic proportions (I know- I just had to throw that one in!) considering that Bryson is trying to fit millions of years of history into 560 pages. From the origins of the universe to Einstein, Bryson's writing is easy to follow through and deserves to be enjoyed by all. A perfect fireside or hammock read.

18. Rack, Ruin and Murder by Ann Granger

Opening: "Monty Bickerstaffe lurched along with his distinctive gait, his arms swinging by his sides. The movement endangered the bottle-shaped bulge in the sagging plastic carrier bag dangling from his right hand."

Thoughts: Rack, Ruin and Murder is the latest addition to the Campbell and Carter crime novels. When a dead body turns up in the residence of Monty Bickerstaffe, it unravels a mystery which touches all in the quiet village of Cotswold. It's up to Inspector Jess Campbell and Inspector Ian Carter to find the answers, and the truth  as it turns out, can be very surprising. This was my first time reading the Campbell and Carter novels, and I enjoyed it immensely. I love a good mystery, and Granger delivers. I look forward to reading her other novels.

19. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Opening: "I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission."

Thoughts: Ah yes... the title speaks for itself. 
It all began when a friend and I heard about the buzz that this novel was gaining. At first, I didn't know that it belonged to the erotic genre, thinking it probably had to do with a story which talked about a Wall Street man in his early 30's whose incredible life garners a trilogy! Hence the tie (he probably wears a lot of suits, working in Wall Street and all), the mask (he must get invited to a lot of fancy parties), and the handcuffs (probably got thrown in jail as they uncover his horrible business undertakings). Silly me. 
Well as a bet, I decided to see how far I would go until I'd throw the book away. In the end, I won, as I did finish it, living to tell the tale. Why is it called Fifty Shades of Grey? What the reader eventually finds out is that "Grey" is actually Christian Grey, a man who likes to deliver, um....pain. Then there's Anastasia Steele, who falls for Grey, and from there, both set out to embark on... naughty things. Although I have read the first book, I will not be reading the other two- not my cup of tea.

20. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabrial Garcia Marquez

Opening: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

Thoughts: This highly acclaimed novel had been on my "To Read" list for many years, so I was determined to read it this year. Beautifully written, Marquez has a distinctive way of describing places and people in a way that leaves you haunted, long after you've shut the book. The story of the Buendia family is compelling and I liked Marquez's usage of different time frames to help captivate the plot. It was interesting to read about a world such as Macondo, the city of mirrors, where it seems to be both paradise lost and found. I highly recommended.

21. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Opening: "It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn't know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently?"

Thoughts: Pamuk takes us to Istanbul during the 1970s where we discover a love story unfolding. What's memorable about this story is how the protagonist, Kemal Bey, guides us through his past by acknowledging certain pieces of objects from time to time, signifying the most treasured and unforgettable moments of his life. Wonderfully written, this Nobel Prize winner successfully captured regular moments found within our lives and elevated it to such great heights. The story moved me deeply from the very beginning with the line "It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn't know it." Don't we all have a moment in our lives where we felt such a stirring? Such is life.

22. Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

Opening: "Bob Dylan looks bored. It's May of 1965 and he's slumped in a quilted armchair at the Savoy, a fancy London hotel. His Ray-Bans are pulled down low; his eyes stuck in a distant stare."

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book- I couldn't even put it down at times. Lehrer's thoughts and the research he gathered on how creativity works were incredibly insightful and super interesting to read- from the surprising origin of 3M, to how daydreaming can be used as a productive tool, Imagine is filled with anecdotes that we can be applied to our own lives. A fantastic read.

23. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Opening: "For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose."

Thoughts: The Language of Flowers was the May selection for my book club. I'm glad we chose this book as it was such a unique read, where the book reflects on the meanings that each flower holds- made popular during the Victorian times. We are drawn into Victoria's world where she grew up living from foster home to foster home, having never been truly loved until Elizabeth takes her into her own home. It is within this setting that Victoria is first introduced to the language of flowers. We then see Elizabeth when she is eighteen and having captured the florist's eye for her extraordinary talents with flowers, she touches the lives of others through their meanings- including her own. It was surprising to find that flowers such as yellow roses meant jealousy or infidelity, or that peonies meant anger. A captivating read overall.

24. A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant

Opening: "Some years ago, my father came home with a carton of old letters that time and humidity had compacted into wads of barely legible paper. He announced that he had found them in the attic of the old family palazzo on the Grand Canal, where he had lived  as a boy in the twenties."

Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. An elegantly written story about love during eighteenth century Venice, where Andrea Memmo, who is actually the ancestor of the author, embarks on an affair with Giustiniana Wynne, an Anglo-Venetian. The story is almost too grand to be true- it's as if the lost manuscript were written by the likes of Shakespeare himself. It's a real thrill to discover that such an event really did take place- be it a lifetime ago. A fascinating read.

25. Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

Opening: "It was a fine warm day when, together with SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Tristan Eugan Heydrich, the Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, I arrived back from Prague at Berlin's Anhalter Station. We were both wearing SD uniform but, unlike the General, I was a man with a spring in my step, a tune in my head, and a smile in my heart."

Thoughts: Prague Fatale is the latest addition of the Bernie Gunther crime series- and like Rack, Ruin and Murder, I happened to stumble across this read with a thrill that I had discovered another fantastic series which I would thoroughly enjoy. Kerr writes in a way that one could imagine the plot unfolding like a film noir. The combination of smoky dialogue with dark humour and wit found within the characters is delicious. Highly recommended for the reader that delights in a good mystery.

26. The Unburied by Charles Palliser

Opening: "Few books in recent times have created as much controversy as The Thurchester Mystery when it was published three years ago. I have sat many times in the houses of friends in the town and watched families, bitterly divided by conflicting theories, quarrel fiercely about it."

Thoughts: This is a book which is best accompanied with a hot cup of tea. It's an intelligent read, as Palliser delights us with a tale which includes a town ghost, to buried secrets found within the Cathedral Close of Thurchester. While I found the historical material to be very interesting, it does require a certain level of patience to absorb the amount found within this book, with the suspense building rather slowly. Regardless, I enjoyed every minute of reading The Unburied, with its description of ancient buildings, old manuscripts and books, as well as the intelligent conversation between the characters. I look forward to reading his other works.

Until next time!


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