I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.
In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.
I’ve been practicing döstädning (death cleaning) for years without knowing it. My two sisters and I were responsible for cleaning out our parents’ home 20 years ago and we were all inspired by that experience to cut down (or at least try to cut down) on our own clutter load. We’ve had varying degrees of success.
Spring may arrive someday soon here in Western Canada and I needed some inspiration to get me back in the swing of things, purging the unnecessary accumulations of the past year, sorting older deposits, and clearing the decks for spring cleaning.
The author recommends a slow but steady culling process to deal with the pile-ups of possessions that afflict many of us in the first world. I know that I look forward to each spring, when I can count on a number of book sales and garage sales to be soliciting for donations. Each year, I contribute things that I am willing to part with and it gets easier every year.
I am pretty ruthless now with clothing—anything that needs ironing goes. So does anything uncomfortable to wear. There are very few ‘dry clean only’ items remaining in my closet. But a closet can be easily sorted in an afternoon—what I struggle with are things like photographs, paper files, and items which hold sentimental attachment for me. As tax time approaches, I’m going to be forced to deal with at least a few papers. Then I’m planning a photo sorting party to deal with all the photographs from my parents’ home, inviting a sister and a cousin to come for a day and help me get to the bottom of the box. Combining the necessary work with a good visit seems like an excellent idea.
The author advocates a very rational approach to these tasks—visualizing yourself taking the weight of these decisions off others and dealing with your own possessions. I find I’m only able to maintain this mindset in short bursts, so her slow-but-steady method works well for me. If you are a more emotional or sentimental sort, this book may not be the most motivating for you, but if you have a logical, pragmatic approach to life it should be a useful book.
The snow covered all the tracks, as the killer knew it would. But it couldn't hide the victim, the man who now hung naked from a lonely tree on a frozen plain.
Malin Fors is first on the scene. A thirty-one-year-old single mother, Malin is the most talented and ambitious detective on the Linkoping police force, but also the most unpredictable. She must lead the investigation while keeping her fractured life on the rails.
No one knows the identity of the dead man. Or perhaps no one ever wanted to know. When all the voices of the investigation have fallen silent, Malin can rely only on herself and her own instincts. And as she follows in the frigid wake of the killer, Malin begins to discover just how far the people in this small town are willing to go to keep their secrets buried.
Probably actually a 3.5 star book for me. It’s getting much harder to fool me, now that I’ve read a fair number of Nordic mysteries and I really treasure the books that do manage to pull the wool over my eyes. Midwinter Sacrifice managed to keep me guessing until the last chapters, when it just kind of stuttered to the end.
I liked Malin Fors, the female detective main character. I could appreciate her ambition and determination to solve a case. There was a little too much emphasis on her “feminine intuition” for me, since I think both men & women use their intuition and that police officers especially rely on it, no matter which gender they are.
I also like Malin’s daughter, Tove. Unlike so many detectives in mystery fiction, Malin lives with her daughter and tries to be a decent mother. Malin’s struggles to decide what is reasonable as a parent makes her very real to me.
Although I probably won’t hurry on to the next book, I can certainly imagine that I will get to it eventually to see what the Swedish detective investigates next.
A Gen-X librarian's snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.
Librarians spend their lives weeding--not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations.
I read this book to fill a Book Riot Reader Harder challenge (a book of essays). I can’t help but feel that I *should* have liked this book much more than I did. I suspect it’s not the author, it’s me. I’m a bit too old to appreciate the author's sense of humour fully, being on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Gen-X. Still, her essays are letters written to books found while weeding the library and that should be right up my alley.
I did like the book. Three stars is not a bad rating in my opinion. I think the author would be fun to have a drink with and discuss all the weird things that one finds in the library stacks. I’m always amazed, as a library cataloguer, what our librarians choose to add to the collection and what I find while I’m looking for something else.
I was heartened that I had read or at least heard of many of the books mentioned (and some still lurk in my TBR pile).
It's with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to two of the most wonderful women in my friendship circle.
Jean held out a hand and helped me out of a dark place after my parents were killed in a car accident in 1996. In 1999, Jean suggested to me that it might be a good for me to come on a birding trip with her to England. That trip turned out to be a magical one. We were six Canadian ladies with an English birding guide, Tom. We sang and laughed and birded and ate our way around England, Scotland and Wales. When we returned home, five of us stayed fast friends and continued to get together to bird, eat, and drink.
Jean had struggled with grief herself--her husband committed suicide, leaving her to raise six children on her own. Later, one of those children also took her own life.
Jean, you helped me find happiness again when I really needed it. You were a friend, a conspirator, a mentor, and a shining example of how to conquer grief. I will miss your mischivous sense of humour, our birding adventures, time spent around the fireplace, and our travels. Thank you for convincing me to go birding in England with you and thanks for your wonderful friendship.
She passed away on February 13, 2018.
I met Nancy on that same 1999 birding trip. We were soon calling her Nurse Nancy and she was organizing us from the very beginning. When we returned to Canada, it was Nancy who planned our first reunion and five of us continued to travel and bird together.
No one was more generous with her time and attention than Nancy. She thrived on gatherings of the people she was fond of. She always claimed that she chose nursing in the operating room because she didn’t have to deal with patients that way, but her actions belied her claims of misanthropy. Her house had a revolving cast of guests and boarders. If she suspected that you didn’t have plans at Christmas, you were immediately invited to her Christmas Eve gathering and enveloped in warmth. She is the only person I know who accidentally ended up the President of the Residents’ Council at her seniors’ facility.
Nancy was always a fun travel companion. She was always ready to share a laugh or a bird sighting. When we would travel as a group, her room became the common area where we would all meet for Happy Hour before going to dinner.
Nancy, you gave me loads of common-sense, motherly advice when I asked for it (and you refrained when I didn't ask). You supplied the organization for our various capers and a cabin at Sylvan Lake as a gathering point. I will never regret running a mouse-trap line for you on one of our visits. I will miss your laugh, your generosity, your phone calls to organize the next get-together.
Nancy departed on March 17, 2018.
Both women suffered from dementia at the ends of their lives. I quit visiting Jean when she no longer recognized me and was upset that a stranger was visiting her. I was worried at Christmas when I didn't hear from Nancy--and it turns out that my worries were justified. She had many health issues, including dementia, from October onwards.
Phone, visit, write, hug your elderly friends & relatives. We don't know how many more days we will get with any of them.
In the docket for the next week and a bit....
For my 2018 PopSugar challenge, The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson will be my book about mental health.
Still Life by Louise Penny will be the P entry for my Women Authors A-Z list. Now I Rise by Kiersten White will likewise be my W entry.
And then, just for fun, Vlad : the Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys. I met Humphreys as last year's When Words Collide conference here in Calgary. As a result, I recommended that my public library buy his latest book, the above. Now it is my duty to read it. :)
The House at Baker Street just seemed like too much fun to pass up and I've been patiently waiting for it for some time. The same with The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which I hope will kick-start my spring cleaning (if spring ever deigns to show its face here).
Have a lovely weekend, friends and happy reading!
I just looked at my public library account. I have 14 days left to read this book, so no problem. However, there are 2212 people patiently waiting in line for it!!!
Currently, the library has 11 copies and I note that 12 more are on order. I think that's probably a good thing.
Far above the merciless Underdark, Drizzt Do'Urden fights to survive the elements of Toril's harsh surface. The drow begins a sojourn through a world entirely unlike his own--even as he evades the dark elves of his past.
Third volume of back-story for Drizzt Do’Urden, drow fighter extraordinaire. This is the volume that connects to the Icewind Dale novels which Salvatore wrote before the Dark Elf Trilogy.
Our hero makes the shift from living as an exile in the Underdark to an existence in the unfamiliar world above ground. While he wasn’t accepted in his birth society because of his sense of morality, he is now judged according to his racial background by those who he meets along the way. Can he find people who will acknowledge that he is not an evil drow? Will he finally find someone to call friend and assuage his life-long loneliness?
Once again, the plot is driven by fight sequences, something which Salvatore seems to prefer writing. There’s a lot of dark brooding, but not much real self-reflection by the characters. Perfect for the brooding teen, not so great for the non-brooding older woman. Still, the books are fun to read and short enough to be ideal for a quiet evening at the end of a work-week.
Book 276 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.
My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty, and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him Einstein; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a particular black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of physics and cosmology.
Writing with characteristic humility and humor, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS at age twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time—one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.
With the passing of the great cosmologist last week, it seemed fitting to read his autobiography as a way of appreciating the man a bit more. It’s a very compact account of Hawking’s life, hitting the high spots without going into great detail. One of the more charming aspects for me was the inclusion of a fair number of personal photographs, many supplied by Hawking himself and his sister.
Numerous tributes to Hawking last week referred to his sense of humour. Unfortunately, that didn’t really come through to me in this volume. I can also appreciate that he wanted to be known for more than his ALS, but I thought that a little more detail about the disease would have been appropriate. It seemed to me that his family, especially his children, got extremely little page-time. I didn’t require a tell-all or anything too detailed, but knowing how the children turned out and what they chose to do with their lives would have been interesting. I also wonder if they worry that they may have a predisposition to getting ALS themselves.
To be fair, each person gets to be the star of their own autobiography. Hawking concentrates on what he obviously deemed the most important part of his life—his research. Many of the details that I’m interested in, he probably decided were not his to tell.
In 2015, Noah Strycker set himself a lofty goal: to become the first person to see half the world’s birds in one year. For 365 days, with a backpack, binoculars, and a series of one-way tickets, he traveled across forty-one countries and all seven continents, eventually spotting 6,042 species—by far the biggest birding year on record.
This is no travelogue or glorified checklist. Noah ventures deep into a world of blood-sucking leeches, chronic sleep deprivation, airline snafus, breakdowns, mudslides, floods, war zones, ecologic devastation, conservation triumphs, common and iconic species, and scores of passionate bird lovers around the globe. By pursuing the freest creatures on the planet, Noah gains a unique perspective on the world they share with us—and offers a hopeful message that even as many birds face an uncertain future, more people than ever are working to protect them.
I enjoyed this memoir much more than I anticipated. Late last year, I read this author’s Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica, which I enjoyed because I am a penguin fanatic. I have done a fair bit of travel in the pursuit of birds, so I picked up this volume with both hope and reservations.
I needn’t have worried. Strycker is a much better writer than many of the folks who pen birding memoirs and I enjoyed seeing places, people and birds that I know through his eyes. I think that was part of the enjoyment for me—getting to revisit some places, remember some birds and say, “Oh, I met that person!”
For those of you who aren’t obsessed with birds, a big year is a year devoted to seeing as many birds as possible in a certain area. There’s a certain competitiveness inherent in the practice which you can read about in The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession (or try the movie of the same name, which I enjoyed). As I read TBY, I found myself snorting occasionally as I identified with many of the behaviours described. Strycker takes the Big Year concept a step further as he decides to take his Year global and try to see half of the bird species on Earth (5000 of an approximate 10,000). While having no desire to participate in such an activity myself, it was intriguing to see how Strycker proceeded with the endeavour.
What I appreciated the most about this account wasn’t the list of birds. Obviously birds figure prominently in the account, but it was the connections with people, the difficulties faced during travel, and the time spent putting things into perspective—those made the tale worthwhile in my opinion. There was self-reflection here, plus no over-the-top environmental preachiness.
I’m unsure how interesting non-birders would find such a book—if any of my non-birding friends choose to read it, perhaps you could let me know?
Beautiful, brilliant, and dangerous, Morn Hyland is an ex-police officer for the United Mining Companies--and the target of two ruthless, powerful men. One is the charismatic ore-pirate Nick Succorso, who sees Morn as booty wrested from his vicious rival, Angus Thermopyle. thermopyle once made the mistake of underestimating Morn and now he's about to pay the ultimate price. Both men think they can possess her, but Morn is no one's trophy--and no one's pawn.
Meanwhile, withing the borders of Forbidden Space, wait the Amnioin, an alien race capable of horrific atrocities. The Amnion want something unspeakable from humanity--and they will go to unthinkable lengths to get it.
Although this is the first series by Donaldson that I can stand to read, I still can’t say that I love it. I’m not sure that I even like it. There really isn’t one character that I can actually identify with—there are one or two that I’m interested in and want to know what happens to them, but I can’t say that I like them. Mind you, that’s not necessary for a novel but it does make it easier reading.
The aliens in this universe seem to take a cue from Octavia Butler’s Oankali in her Xenogenesis series. Donaldson’s Amnioin also seem to be rather echinoderm-like and are interested in acquiring humans for genetic purposes. Selling someone to the Amnioin is seen as the ultimate evil in human trafficking. But when there’s money to be made, you know that some human is going to try to make deals with them—and it’s rather like trying to make deals with the Fae. You need to watch your wording and make sure you know all of the ramifications before you sign on the dotted line.
If you’ve got any issues with rape scenes, you won’t have made it past the first book. That said, don’t expect that to stop in this book. Morn actually has to go to sick-bay at one point, to get repaired after particularly rough treatment by Nick Succorso. Donaldson doesn’t go into graphic detail, thankfully, but there are more than enough hints to be horrifying.
The cynicism evident in the book is a bit depressing too—everyone seems to be on the take somehow, even the police force that Morn used to belong to. She followed her parents into that occupation and had taken pride in their upstanding reputation—this is yet another thing that gets taken away from her, along with her personal agency.
Book 275 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.
Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish—more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined—we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian—in other words, much like us.
What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives—a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.
Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean.
Fish get short shrift when we are thinking about animal behaviour. Consider the poor maligned gold fish, which is reputed to have an attention span of mere seconds. Incorrect, as it turns out—gold fish can learn tasks and retain that learning for months.
I’m not a diver. I can’t swim and water will always be a scary place for me, but I can see where this book would be very interesting to anyone who spends time in the underwater world. Fish are much more interesting that I gave them credit for. I’m a birder, after all, and so I’m a little biased (although I certainly know that the term “bird brain” is actually more of a compliment than an insult).
It’s difficult for us to imagine what a fish’s life is like—they live in a completely different medium than we do, have extra senses that we can’t fathom, and have unexpressive faces. I think that last point is the one that leads us to underestimate fishes—we value expressiveness over evidence, I think, because it’s something we’re good at.
If you are interested in matters of animal intelligence (and human judginess) I would recommend Franz de Waal’s excellent book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?.
My sister was supposed to come visit last night. She was dropping her husband off at the airport to go to a teachers' conference in California. However, we were under a snowfall advisory yesterday and the roads were just treacherous. On my short drive home from work, I saw all kinds of slipping, sliding, and fish-tailing. When she called me from the airport, we agreed that she'd be better off heading straight home, rather than venturing into the city.
But I had already put the Gingerbread Pudding Cake into the slow cooker and I can't say that I regret it. I will be making this again! Yum.
My sister will be back to pick up her hubbie on Sunday. His flight doesn't come in until after midnight, so we'll go out to dinner with a cousin and then visit until I have to go to bed. I'm glad, because even though she only lives about a 1.5 hour drive away, I haven't seen her since October.
The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.
I saw the film based on this book last year and really enjoyed it, but I had to wonder how much the screenwriters had fiddled with the facts to make a more engaging film. When I saw that this year’s PopSugar challenge included a category called “Book made into a movie that you’ve already seen,” I immediately knew which book I would be reading.
I was grateful for the author’s footnotes and references—she certainly did her research. I think we all feel we “know” about Queen Victoria, but I found I really only had a general impression of the woman. I had no idea until seeing the film that she had Indian people serving in her household or that she had become close friends with one of them.
In many ways, this is a story of a lonely woman who finds a friend and a new interest in life. I would agree with the author, that Her Maj was a romantic at heart and the exoticness of India (in comparison to Britain) was what drew her to Abdul Karim and his culture. I was impressed by her devotion to the study of Urdu and her proficiency in that language at the end of her life—she got a late start, but made excellent headway on a language that was far different than others she was used to.
As Abdul became one of her favourites, it was inevitable that he would become the target of people who were jealous. The Queen believed much of the rivalry to be a result of racism, and I would have to agree with her assessment. If Abdul had been a white man (like John Brown), there would still have been resentment, but not the volcanic rage that seemed to permeate the Royal Household regarding this Indian man. It must have been a very lonely life for Abdul, as well, with the other Indians begrudging him his relationship with the Queen, not to mention the hatred of the Caucasian members of staff.
Regarding the film versus the book, I think the film stayed pretty true to the facts. There were a few events that were left out (you can’t include everything) and a few things where the order of events may have been slightly changed, but it remained very true to the feel of the book. Overall, I would say that I enjoyed the film more.
An interesting window into the life of an intriguing woman.
Actually, this is just a fraction of my library book pile, but they are the ones that I'm going to concentrate on for the next week or so.
Three of them have holds on them, so they can't be renewed--Birding Without Borders, Dear Fahrenheit 451, and The Shoe on the Roof. The subject matter of the three couldn't be more different, so it should be an interesting week.
Now I Rise is the second book in The Conqueror's Saga. The first book, And I Darken, is the book for April in my real-life book club. I read that one last year, so I'm going to forge ahead into the second book before our meet up on April 6.
It seems appropriate to read Stephen Hawking's autobiography, My Brief History, to celebrate the great man's life.
And Gap Into Vision : Forbidden Knowledge is the next up in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project. I'm glad to have finally found a series by Stephen R. Donaldson that I actually kind of like.
Okay, so this will be my reward for doing housework this week!
I hope to make it tomorrow.
Antimony Price is on the run. With the Covenant on her tail and her family still in danger, she needs to get far, far away from anyone who might recognize her--including her own mice. For the first time in a long time, a Price is flying without a safety net. Where do you go when you need to disappear into a crowd without worrying about attracting attention? An amusement park, of course.
Some people would call Lowryland the amusement park. It's one of the largest in Florida, the keystone of the Lowry entertainment empire...but for Annie, it's a place to hide. She's just trying to keep her head down long enough to come up with a plan that will get her home without getting anyone killed. No small order when she's rooming with gorgons and sylphs, trying to placate frustrated ghosts, and rushing to get to work on time.
Then the accidents begin. The discovery of a dead man brings Annie to the attention of the secret cabal of magic users running Lowryland from behind the scenes. They want the fire that sleeps in her fingers. They want her on their side. They want to help her--although their help, like everything else, comes with a price.
I picked up this paperback in the store on the day it was released, but it took me a few days to get around to reading it. I went in knowing that the Aeslin mice really didn’t feature in it (Sam takes them to the airport and they head for home). Would the magic still be there without the mice?
I enjoyed the mouse-less adventure just as much as the previous books. It also helped that there was an adorable novella featuring Mindy & Mork (Annie’s mice) at the end of the book. I’m liking Annie better than I did in the previous novel and will look forward to her further adventures in the next one. The presence of “Aunt” Mary, the ghost, also ties in one of McGuire’s other storylines, combining the two nicely.
Obviously I read this because I love the series and I’m a big fan of Seanan McGuire. But it also filled a space in my PopSugar challenge (a book published in 2018).