Archive for August, 2012

One thing I particularly enjoyed about Deep Connections was the way in which the author slowly teased out the twin secrets of why the heroine, Brenna, is being stalked and Slater’s family history. That seemed to me very well done.

I liked the characters, although I don’t generally subscribe to the “one true love/soulmate” way of thinking.

This was a light, easy read and I will certainly look out for the sequel. I gave Deep Connections 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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So, my copy of No Place on Earth has finally arrived, and I’m ready to make a start on my blog challenge to read the World’s Ten Most Difficult Books as defined by The Guardian. I plan to follow a similar format to Leigh Butler’s wonderful Ice and Fire reading blog; that is, I will read a few chapters each week, note what happens and my reactions to it. I hope to post once a week.

Before I get into No Place on Earth, some background information. Christa Wolf was born on March 18, 1929, in Landsberg, which is now Gorzow, Poland. Her father joined the Nazi Party and she became a member of the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth. In 1949, she joined the Socialist Unity Party and studied German literature at universities in Jena and Leipzig. She wrote numerous novels during her lifetime including The Divided Heaven, The Quest for Christa T., A Model Childhood, and Cassandra. She won several awards including the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1963 and Thomas Mann Prize for literature in 2010. She died on December 1, 2011 at the age of 82.

Published in 1979, No Place on Earth describes an imaginary meeting between the poet and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist and the poet Karoline von Gunderode. At a gathering of literary friends in the early summer of 1804, the two slowly come together, allied in that they cannot accept the world in which they must live.

This book has been a personal nemesis of mine ever since it was set as one of the books for my second year German university course. Now, this course was very well thought out. It paired a piece of classic German literature with a more contemporary work. We had studied Heinrich von Kleist’s play Penthisilea, and, as No Place on Earth has Kleist as a main character, the two seemed a natural pairing. We were expected to read it in the original German, Kein Ort. Nirgends. There were 25 of us in my class, and all of us struggled with this book. One unexpected advantage was that it bonded the class in loathing of this book like no other, a bond which lasted the rest of our university careers and beyond.

This was before the age of Amazon and the Internet, and despite tireless research by the entire class, we were only able to locate one copy of the English translation in the whole of Edinburgh. This, naturally, was in the possession of the tutor, the wonderful Dr Karin McPherson, who guarded that copy as a dog guards her bone. Eventually, one of my classmates managed to pry it from her, and immediately distributed it to the rest of us. Sadly, the English translation didn’t make getting to grips with the novel any easier…

So, please join me next week when I will tackle pages 3-25 of No Place on Earth to see if, twenty years later, I can start to conquer this Everest.

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson tells the story of Ethan Kaille, a man with a checkered past, who uses his conjuring skills to track down thieves and return stolen goods to their owners. When the daughter of a prominent citizen is found killed by non-conventional means, Ethan is hired to track down her missing brooch and to shed light on her murder. Tor McMillan was kind enough to send me a copy of this book to review. Here are my thoughts.

D.B. Jackson's writing style is light, easily accessible and engaging. It was very easy to become drawn into the story and to empathise with Ethan, the protagonist. Set in mid 18th century Boston, the book is a fun blend of historical drama, fantasy and murder mystery. Now, I am neither American nor a student of American history, so I am unfamiliar with the historical events referenced in this novel – The Stamp Act of 1765, The Sons of Liberty, the riots in Boston – but I was inspired to read more about this period of American history. I was intrigued to read in the author's note that the novel was originally set in a fictional world and that it was his editor who persuaded him to change the setting to 18th century Boston. It's remarkable how well that change worked and how seamlessly D.B. Jackson has woven historical events into his narrative.

The fantastical aspect of the novel is relatively subtle. D.B. Jackson's Boston is grounded in realism except that certain people can cast magic spells. The magic system is well thought out and reasonably well explained. I would have appreciated perhaps having the limitations of the system made clearer; sometimes it's as interesting knowing what a character cannot do as what he can do.

The plot is driven by the murder mystery aspect of the novel. It is what brings our protagonist into the situation, and all the other action follows from his involvement. I felt it was nicely done that right from the beginning Ethan admitted he was out of his depth, that murder isn't usually something he investigates. Having said that, this was the aspect of the novel that I, personally, found the weakest. That is not to say it was poorly done; I suspect I just have very high standards when it comes to crime mysteries – I'm thinking of the BBC's recent adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps I simply missed the clues, but I felt that the identity of the murderer came out of left field somewhat.

Naturally, when there is a mix of genres, some things get lost. The historical detail isn't quite as rich as it might have been in a purely historical novel; the murder mystery isn't quite as well planned out as a pure murder mystery; the magic system isn't quite as well developed as in a purely fantasy novel. (incidentally, regarding magic systems, it's well worth checking out Brandon Sanderson's article on their development).

All that being said, in the case of Thieftaker, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The blend of genres that D.B. Jackson has created works extremely well and makes a fun, interesting read. I would definitely recommend it, and have also picked up the short story set in the same world from Tor.

I gave Thieftaker four out of five stars.

Last night my husband and I watched My Week with Marilyn, which is an excellent film, by the way, and it got me wondering; who will be this generation’s silver screen legends? Who will leave the reputation of lighting up the screen a la Marilyn Monroe or Vivien Leigh?

It seems that in recent years Hollywood has focused more on special effects to draw audiences rather than talented actors. The Dark Knight Rises and Bourne Legacies are far more numerous than The King’s Speeches in Hollywood. Having said that, some actors do shine in whichever movie they’re in.

For the gentlemen, my first thoughts were Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio. Both of these fine actors light up the screen and add depth to any character they play. For the ladies I found it trickier to come up with some names. I had thought of Meryl Streep at first, but as my husband pointed out, she is not of my generation, fine actress though she is. Perhaps Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett or Renee Zellwegger? I imagine only time will tell.

It always seems to happen this way. I’d placed holds on three library e-books and all three became available within a few days of each other!

On my reading list I now have:

Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort by J.K. Rowling. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in French). For some reason it really amuses me to see how the Potter-specific terms were translated into French; “Muggle” becomes “Moldu”, “Squib” becomes “Cracmol” and “Crumple-Horned Snorkack” becomes “Ronflak Cornu.” However, Quidditch remains Quidditch.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. I think this was a recommendation I picked up from GoodReads. I don’t know much about it, other than that it’s a well written memoir by a Pulitzer prize winning author but it seemed an interesting read. It was free to borrow from the library, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Rapture by Kate Lauren. This is the fourth and final part of Lauren’s Young Adult fantasy series about angels and demons. It’s not the best series in the world, and probably not one I’ll invest in to buy, but again, I don’t mind borrowing it from the library to see how it ends.

Other than library books I have several other books I’m planning to read:

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson. Tor/McMillan has been kind enough to agree to send me a review copy of this book, which I’m expecting in the mail shortly. This sounds an interesting premise, so I’m grateful to the publisher for giving me the chance to review it for you all.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I picked this up from a Twitter recommendation by one of my favourite YA authors, Rick Riordan. I’ve not finished it yet because my library holds became available. To be honest, although the idea behind the story seems interesting (a world without women, where everyone can hear your thoughts!) it’s not grabbed me as much as I thought it would. That being said, I suspect that is more due to personal taste rather than any defect in the book itself.

No Place on Earth by Christa Wolf. I have just placed my order with Chapters for this book. I’m planning to read it as the first book in my attempt on The Guardian’s Most Difficult Books challenge. Although this is not on the list, this is my own personal Everest; having fought tooth and nail with the darned thing at university I’m determined to read it again.

Le Journal d’Onyx: Chevaliers d’Emeraude Book 6 by Anne Robillard. This is the continuation of Mme Robillard’s epic fantasy saga and the only reason I’ve not read this already is because I’m savouring the pleasure of waiting. I’m also impatiently waiting for Wellan Inc to release the second book in Robillard’s contemporary fantasy series A.N.G.E. in e-book format; I adored the first one, and Robillard has easily become one of my favourite authors. Expect a full blog post on her work at some point.

La Croix de Lucifer Book I by Dany Desjean. While travelling on the métro this morning I came across a poster advertising this new series which seemed to be in a similar vein to Robillard’s A.N.G.E. series so I think I’ll check it out while waiting.

Speaking of Quebecois literature, I found an excellent site to purchase ebooks: http://www.ruedeslibraires.com. It seems to be really fast on the ball when it comes to new releases. I’ve found Robillard’s books there weeks before Archambault or any other site. I’m certainly glad I held onto my Kobo as well as my Kindle, as Amazon really doesn’t do French language books well in Canada, and the Kobo allows me to read the books from the library and these other resources.

Next month I have two pre-orders which will download to my Kindle. The first is The Blinding Knife, the second book in Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series. I enjoyed the first one and he left it on a real cliffhanger, so I’m keen to see where it goes. The second pre-order is for the new adult novel by J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy. I’m keen to know if Rowling’s light, easy style and storytelling ability will translate to adult literature. Mind you, I think I’ve seen more adults than children reading Harry Potter!

I have eight days off work just now, so we’ll see how far I get through this list. Sigh I could get through it so much more quickly if life (and my Wicked obsession) didn’t get in the way…

It always seems to happen this way. I’d placed holds on three library e-books and all three became available within a few days of each other!

On my reading list I now have:

Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort by J.K. Rowling. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in French). For some reason it really amuses me to see how the Potter-specific terms were translated into French; “Muggle” becomes “Moldu”, “Squib” becomes “Cracmol” and “Crumple-Horned Snorkack” becomes “Ronflak Cornu.” However, Quidditch remains Quidditch.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. I think this was a recommendation I picked up from GoodReads. I don’t know much about it, other than that it’s a well written memoir by a Pulitzer prize winning author but it seemed an interesting read. It was free to borrow from the library, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Rapture by Kate Lauren. This is the fourth and final part of Lauren’s Young Adult fantasy series about angels and demons. It’s not the best series in the world, and probably not one I’ll invest in to buy, but again, I don’t mind borrowing it from the library to see how it ends.

Other than library books I have several other books I’m planning to read:

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson. Tor/McMillan has been kind enough to agree to send me a review copy of this book, which I’m expecting in the mail shortly. This sounds an interesting premise, so I’m grateful to the publisher for giving me the chance to review it for you all.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I picked this up from a Twitter recommendation by one of my favourite YA authors, Rick Riordan. I’ve not finished it yet because my library holds became available. To be honest, although the idea behind the story seems interesting (a world without women, where everyone can hear your thoughts!) it’s not grabbed me as much as I thought it would. That being said, I suspect that is more due to personal taste rather than any defect in the book itself.

No Place on Earth by Christa Wolf. I have just placed my order with Chapters for this book. I’m planning to read it as the first book in my attempt on The Guardian’s Most Difficult Books challenge. Although this is not on the list, this is my own personal Everest; having fought tooth and nail with the darned thing at university I’m determined to read it again.

Le Journal d’Onyx: Chevaliers d’Emeraude Book 6 by Anne Robillard. This is the continuation of Mme Robillard’s epic fantasy saga and the only reason I’ve not read this already is because I’m savouring the pleasure of waiting. I’m also impatiently waiting for Wellan Inc to release the second book in Robillard’s contemporary fantasy series A.N.G.E. in e-book format; I adored the first one, and Robillard has easily become one of my favourite authors. Expect a full blog post on her work at some point.

La Croix de Lucifer Book I by Dany Desjean. While travelling on the métro this morning I came across a poster advertising this new series which seemed to be in a similar vein to Robillard’s A.N.G.E. series so I think I’ll check it out while waiting.

Speaking of Quebecois literature, I found an excellent site to purchase ebooks: http://www.ruedeslibraires.com. It seems to be really fast on the ball when it comes to new releases. I’ve found Robillard’s books there weeks before Archambault or any other site. I’m certainly glad I held onto my Kobo as well as my Kindle, as Amazon really doesn’t do French language books well in Canada, and the Kobo allows me to read the books from the library and these other resources.

Next month I have two pre-orders which will download to my Kindle. The first is The Blinding Knife, the second book in Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series. I enjoyed the first one and he left it on a real cliffhanger, so I’m keen to see where it goes. The second pre-order is for the new adult novel by J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy. I’m keen to know if Rowling’s light, easy style and storytelling ability will translate to adult literature. Mind you, I think I’ve seen more adults than children reading Harry Potter!

I have eight days off work just now, so we’ll see how far I get through this list. Sigh I could get through it so much more quickly if life (and my Wicked obsession) didn’t get in the way…

Each summer one of the big musicals comes to Montreal for a month, and this year it was one of my favourites; Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. I’ve seen this show on Broadway (twice) and Toronto, and still love it.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it is based on Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked. This is a splinter-sharp prequel to The Wizard of Oz, focussing on the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Stephen Schwartz collaborated with Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book (i.e. the storyline and dialogue) for the musical. They made the decision to tone down the political undertone of the book and to focus on the friendship between Elphaba, the green skinned girl who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, and social butterfly Galinda (later Glinda the Good). I understand this is in no small part due to the chemistry between Kristin Chenoweth and Stephanie J Block during the initial workshops, so my thanks to those two fine actresses.

Now, this isn’t my favourite musical in terms of score – currently that would probably be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies – but having said that, there are a few hummable tunes to stick in your brain when you leave the theatre (“Defying Gravity” and “One Short Day” I’m looking at you…) For me the musical’s main attraction is
wonderfully written, strong, intelligent female characters and some incredible staging, notably the Act I finale, which is a real showstopper. It’s refreshing to have a musical in which True Love isn’t the main driving force. The theme that everyone in your life has something to teach you is also one I can appreciate.

My friend and I went to see the Montreal production a week or so ago, but we were way up in the gods (“in the nosebleed seats” to you Quebecers!) and I’d left my glasses at home. This meant that the view wasn’t as great as I might have wished. However, since I can practically since every line myself, I didn’t miss much. When the big musicals go on tour, they tend to try to give a cookie cutter replica experience of the Broadway production. My brochure notes that it takes 30 trailer trucks to move all the sets and other requirements from city to city. This does mean there’s little to distinguish one production from another, which can be a good or bad thing. In any case, the Montreal production is a professional, polished production and I adored it.

Since I saw it, I’ve had “Defying Gravity” running through my brain and I’ve been frantically entering the Wicked ticket lottery to win more tickets. So, in the words of Elphaba “if you care to find me, look to the Place des Arts…”

Recently, the UK’s The Guardian posted an article on the world’s most difficult books. These are:

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes;
A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift;
The Phenomenology of Spirit by GF Hegel;
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf;
Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson;
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce;
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger;
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser;
The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein;
and Women and Men by Joseph McElroy.

Now, I’ve not read any of these so I cannot comment on their level of difficulty. However, I did think this sounded like an interesting blogging challenge. There is also one book I will personally add to the list: No Place on Earth, by Christa Wolf. This was one of my set books at university and I could never get to grips with it. Maybe after, um, quite a few more years of life experience I may find it easier.

I will not be starting this blog challenge straight away – I have several books I’m reading currently, and ones I’m waiting to read so the challenge will have to wait a bit. It’s unlikely I’ll read the books quickly; most probably I’ll read a few chapters a week and try to blog once a week on what I’ve read. I also make no promises of completing this, but I’m willing to have a try.

Wish me luck!

So, I now have both an Android Nexus 7 and an Apple iPad. Many of the apps I have on both, so here's a rundown of them. (NB iTunes links are for the Canadian store). All apps are free unless otherwise specified.

On Both

e-Reading
Kindle (Apple iTunes, Google Play): Amazon's app for accessing their e-book content. This is one of the first apps I downloaded.

Kobo (Apple iTunes, Google Play): the app to access Kobo ebooks. The tablet version includes Kobo Pulse, Kobo's interactive e-reading community.

GoodReads (Apple iTunes, Google Play): GoodReads is the social network for readers on which I am very active. I also use it to keep track of my reading. Feel free to check out my profile.

Zinio (Apple iTunes, Google Play): Zinio is the app and content provider I use for magazines. Although I have it on both the Nexus and iPad, the iPad's larger 10 inch Retina display screen makes reading magazines an absolute joy. That is one type of reading I much prefer to do on my tablet than my eInk e-reader.

Overdrive Media Console (Apple iTunes, Google Play): Overdrive is the app used to access Overdrive's large library of ebooks for lending. Not every library is connected to this, but I am fortunate that the local library BAnQ is a part. Generally, I prefer to side load the books to my Kobo, but at a pinch, I can access them via Overdrive. For those of you with Macs: note that the Nexus 7 is not recognised by Adobe Digital Editions, meaning the Overdrive app is the only way I've found so far to read library books on the device.

Social Networking
I use the standard apps to access the usual social networking sites:

Facebook (Apple iTunes, Google Play) this is the official Facebook app. It does what it says on the can.

Twitter (Apple iTunes, Google Play): again, I use the official Twitter app. I hear there are better ones out there, but again this does the job, no fuss.

Flipboard (Apple iTunes, Google Play): this is your social network feeds presented in a magazine-like format. It's quite fun and very nicely done.

Skype (Apple iTunes, Google Play): I occasionally use Skype to make calls, but not very often. It's nice to have it available though.

Music and Cinema
Rdio (Apple iTunes, Google Play) : App is free, but requires a subscription for the streaming music service. Since subscribing to this, I almost never buy music now. Music quality is fine on both devices. It's particularly fun on the Nexus where you can use Google Voice to say "Listen to Somebody by Reba McEntire" (yes, I'm a Reba fan) and it will hook into Rdio and start playing the song.

Cineplex Mobile (Apple iTunes, Google Play): Most of the cinemas near me are now Cineplex chain cinemas, so this is a really useful app for me to check movie times and book tickets. I'm hoping that with the release of iO6 and Passbook this may be even more useful avoiding printing my tickets at all.

IMDb (Apple iTunes, Google Play): This is a valuable resource for cinephiles like me – on the tablets – iPad in particular – it is just such a joy to browse – full-screen trailers and hi-res images.

Netflix (Apple iTunes, Google Play) Access to streaming media via subscription. I really enjoy watching Netflix on the iPad, although I've not yet tried on the Nexus' smaller screen.

Utilities
STM (Apple iTunes, Google Play): This is the official app for the Montreal public transport system. On my iPhone it's probably one of the apps I use most frequently to check bus times. On the Nexus it's been superseded by Google Now, which brings up my local bus times before I even ask.

1Password Pro (Apple iTunes $14.99, Google Play – reader only): this is the app I use to manage my passwords. I have a full version on my iMac and it syncs seamlessly between my iPhone, iPad and now Nexus. NB, the Android version is read only. I did have to get a Dropbox account to manage the synchronisation.

BBC News (Apple iTunes, Google Play): I tend to get most of my news from browsing the BBC News site at my iMac but sometimes it's good to be able to catch up on the iPad or Nexus.

These are the apps I have installed on both the iPad and Nexus, and are the ones I use on a very regular basis. There are a few I have on the Nexus that are not on the iOS and vice versa

On the Nexus 7

Beautiful Widgets (Google Play, $2.59) This app allows for some fun personalisation of the device.

SmoothSync for Cloud Contacts (Google Play, $3.68): This, together with SmoothSync for Cloud Calendar (Google Play, $2.63) allows me to synchronise my iCloud contacts and calendar with my Nexus. It works beautifully.

On the iPad

Utilities
Bento (Apple iTunes, $4.99): This app hooks into Bento, the database program I use on my Mac. Its not being available on Android is rather a deal breaker for me to switch to an Android phone.

TV Stations
None of these apps is available yet for the Nexus. It should be noted that most Android apps are still geared towards phones rather than tablets; I imagine that will change in the coming months. I often enjoy curling up on the sofa with my iPad to catch up on shows I've missed. Now if only HBO Go would come to Canada…

CTV (Apple iTunes Streaming media from CTV.

CityTV )Apple iTunes): Streaming media from CityTV.

BBC iPlayer Apple iTunes): Streaming media from Auntie. Requires a subscription.

Global (Apple iTunes): Streaming media from GlobalTV.

CBC TV (Apple iTunes): Streaming media from CBC TV.

Games
I have not downloaded any games to the Nexus, although I appreciate it has the oomph for them. I have too many on my iPhone/iPad to mention. Here are my favourites. NB I accept no responsibility for time lost playing these games

Where's My Water? (Apple iTunes, $0.99) Guide the water past the obstacles to Swampy's shower. Highly addictive.

Cut the Rope (Apple iTunes, $1.99) Cut the rope at the right time to guide the candy to the little green monster.

Beyond Ynth (Apple iTunes $2.99): Guide Ynth around the obstacles to collect crystals. I lost weeks of time on this.

Boxed in 3 (Apple iTunes, $0.99) Move boxes around to clear the exit. Surprisingly difficult and addictive.

So there you have it, a look around the apps on my Nexus and iPad. Many of them are the usual suspects, but all of them I have used and still use on a regular basis. Enjoy.