2016 Resolution Round-Up

Last year around this time (ok, maybe it was late January), I shared my resolutions for 2016.  So now that’s it January 2017, let’s see how I did:

Blog more. Once again this resolution was a bit of a disappointment. Oh… the grand intentions I had… I’m not even sure I’ll put this on the list for this year, since 2016 was quite the failure.

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Ann’s quasi-successful 2016 Reading Challenge!

Read 11 Books. Yipee! I actually polished off 14 books this year. I had this handy 2016 Reading Challenge that I printed out and taped to my closet door as inspiration. The year started off great and I was adhering to the Challenge fully, but then partway through the year I started to deviate from the list. The “abandoned”, “intimidates” and “owned but never read” were really hard to do, especially when friends and colleagues were recommending some really great reads. So in the end I “abandoned” the rest of the list and then just concentrated on making it to at least 11 books. So 14 is quite the achievement. And if you can’t read my chicken-scratching in the picture above, here’s the list in no particular order:

  1. Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
  2. The Widow by Fiona Barton
  3. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  4. Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank/Otto Frank
  7. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  8. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  9. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
  10. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
  11. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  12. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  13. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
  14. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The stand-out, by far, in the above list is I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I recommend this book to everyone.  It is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read.  As I’ve said to friends, you often expect there to be a plot twist in a book, but in this case the way the book is written is the twist.  Say whaaat?  I know, now you’re curious right?  Just read the book.

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Check off at least one thing from my Bucket List. Done! I blogged about my super-quick trip to Stonehenge here. But I’m also happy to say that we visited PEI this summer too, which is a province I have never been too. So that means I’ve done at least two items from my Bucket List. However, I still need to actually post my Bucket List, because really, I could just be making all this stuff up, but I’m not, I really do have a list.

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The beautiful red sand beaches of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Oh and our beautiful feet too.

Write a Blog Post for every book I read in 2016. Fail. I did two (see the list above and note the two sad, little links) and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Curate a Friendship. I think I put a little more effort into connecting with my few close friends this year, but naturally I could have done better. I did have a girls weekend in Quebec City back in May, which we all agreed was a much needed get-away and something we hope to do more regularly. As for curating a new friendship, that proved to be a bit more challenging. Well, there’s always 2017, right?

How did you do on your resolutions?  (Better, I hope.)

Ann

 

 

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Book Report: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The cover of the book describes it as ‘part whodunit, part coming of age (with) secrets behind every door’. The brief summary on the inside cover sets the scene as the summer of 1976, a neighbour is missing and two kids, Grace and Tilly, decide to figure out what happened, and in doing so reveal all kinds of secrets no one expects.  Sounds tantalizing, right?  That’s what hooked me in.  Unfortunately, the book, in my opinion, didn’t live up to this even brief plot outline.  I’ll be honest, I pretty much forget that it was a whodunit halfway through the book.

It’s the sizzling, hot summer of 1976 in Great Britain (I know, I’m already having a hard time to suspend my disbelief about that one), and Mrs. Creasy is missing. The rumour mill on the quaint cul-de-sac starts churning concerning her whereabouts.  Grace and Tilly, both ten, decide that if they can find God (as if God is some misplaced shoe), then they will surely find Mrs. Creasy.  The neighbours all suspect the recluse Mr. Bishop, is somehow involved in the disappearance.

The story jumps back and forth both in time and in who is narrating the story. For the most part the story is told from the perspective of Grace, the ten year old, but other parts are told in standard third-person, leaving the reader somewhat disconnected.  Something happened on the street ten years prior that all the neighbours are whispering about, and are suggesting it’s connected to the current disappearance, but the author is so vague about the details, it doesn’t generate the momentum it is clearly intended to create.

The neighbours on the street are indistinguishable and not memorable. Grace herself, despite being only ten, seems unrealistically wise beyond her years at some moments, then like a kid at others.  The book is filled with religious overtones, the title being the main one, but I had a hard time understanding why, as most didn’t really seem to add significantly to the storyline.

Finally, since I didn’t grow up in 1970’s Britain, I found myself looking up all kinds of unusual British words and food references – sou’wester, Black Jacks, Flying Saucers, Angel Delight among others.  I suspect if the setting was in the US, these 70’s cultural references would be more nostalgic, but for me they fell flat.

As you might expect there was a bit of twist at the end of the book, but I was already so disconnected from the characters and the story, that I barely noticed. And in fact, once I was actually finished the book, I was like, “is that it?”

So if you haven’t guessed by now, the book was a bit of a disappointment for me. But if nothing else, it satisfied by goal of reading a book that was published in 2016, so that’s a plus!

Ann

Book Report: In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea. The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
In the Heart of the Sea – The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick.

I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to buy this book, maybe it was because the recently released motion picture of the same name (and directed by Ron Howard, no less) was such a flop.  Or maybe it was because it is the true tale that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  Whatever the reason, author Nathaniel Philbrick pens one great fish tale.

In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick recounts the story of the early 19th century tragedy of the Nantucket whaleship Essex.  Through extremely well researched material, including historical first-hand written accounts from two of the survivors, he weaves together a wonderful narrative of life on Nantucket, the whaling industry at the time and the sperm whale that would ultimately sink the Essex.  But I think what may have peaked my interest the most is the incredible account of survival he details so vividly.

Having read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand in 2014, I was interested to hear this similar-type tale of survival at sea, adrift in the Pacific ocean, but in a truly pre-modern era, 1820 to be exact. The details are fascinating.

Spoiler alert: a whale (a big, male sperm whale to be exact) sinks the ship while it’s basically in the middle of the Pacific ocean.  I know, not really a spoiler.  Miraculously the 20-man crew all survived and were divided between three small, open whaling boats (not to be mistaken for a ship, these small boats were only 25 feet long and were powered by only oars, not sails.)  Salvaging as much as they could from their capsized main vessel – including casks of fresh water, extremely valuable navigational equipment and some ‘hardtack’ (a type of dried bread baked into a rock to prevent spoiling), the whalers set out to return to South America, over 3000 miles away, against the prevailing winds and ocean currents.

That decision turns into an 89 day odyssey at sea under the most challenging and harrowing conditions imaginable.  Philbrick goes into descriptive detail as the days turn to weeks, then to months.  Provisions and supplies dwindle to beyond starvation levels, and the survivors are forced to make the ultimate decision – consuming their dead shipmates.  Ultimately only eight whalers survive and their epic tale becomes maritime lore.

What Philbrick does so seamlessly in this book is describe the emotional plight of the men as their situation becomes more and more dire.  He includes modern-day research into starvation to explain the mental and physical toll it takes on a human being, but without distracting from the story line.  The reader is left with an agonizing account that almost makes you feel like you where in the boat yourself suffering alongside.

The depth of knowledge Philbrick provides into the mentality of seaman, and whalers in particular, from that time, truly transports you back to a different era.  He outlines with great detail how whales were pursued, harpooned and left to die.  How the whaleship was basically a whale oil factory at sea.  How the conditions on the ship were so wretched, the smell so putrid, the fire burning the whale blubber so intense that it was a wonder any whalers returned for a second or third voyage.

This was an excellent read of a truly gripping tale of survival against the most extreme odds, in a time when the odds were already stacked against you.

Ann

 

 

2015 Round Up (a little late…)

Phew!  So far this year is not off to a good blogging start.  Sharing my 2015 round-up on day five of 2016 – yikes!  Oh well, life goes on.  So how well did you do on your resolutions from 2015?  Unlike 2014, I didn’t write down my resolutions for 2015, and guess what? I didn’t really achieve any of them. So I am definitely writing down my resolutions for 2016.

And since I didn’t write them down, I don’t really know what they are. This is more-or-less what I think in my head were my 2015 resolutions:

Read 20 books

Yes, that was a 2014 resolution too, but I still think it’s a good one to have. I didn’t do too bad this year, but clearly my annual book reading resolution should be 11, because that’s how many books I read again this year. Here’s my 2015 list in no particular order:

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  4. Still Life by Louise Penny
  5. Dead Cold by Louise Penny
  6. House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
  7. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  8. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  10. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  11. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
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#4 and #5 are missing from the stack above as they were loaned to me by a friend.

No super stand-outs from the list above for me, but I would recommend #10, #1 and #6. And if you like a good mystery, I really enjoyed #4 & #5, both of which are set in the fictional Quebec town of Three Pines with a unique cast of re-occurring characters.

Blog at lest once a month

Fail. In fact, I think my original resolution was to blog at least 2-3 times a month. Super fail. If I think about it, I believe I even intended to spruce up my blog. Epic fail. I don’t know about others, but finding time to blog is challenging. My day job has me in front of a computer all day so the last thing I want to do when I came home is spend more time in front of a computer. I have kids, a husband, a house, friends, other interests; honestly I don’t know where to find the time. I do enjoy blogging though. I find myself thinking about things in terms of whether they are blog-worthy, but then putting those thoughts on paper (in a computer?) seems to be the difficult part. Perhaps if I only commit to reading five books, I can use that time to blog? LOL. Alas, I have come to terms with the fact that this is my blog and I can choose to blog as much or as a little as I like. This makes me feel better.

Take more walks

I have done this. Perhaps not as consistently as I would like, but I have really tried to get out, clear my head, take in the view and just generally spend some time to myself. I have occasionally had my daughters come along with me and it’s nice to chat and discuss things with them, even if it’s about whether or not people walk their cats.

If only all my walks could be along the beach.
If only all my walks could be along the beach.

Buy a new house

Confession time. Yup, we bought a new house. It’s taken me quite some time (read: years) to convince my husband that we needed a larger home, but he finally got on board and in the summer we finally found the right house in the right neighbourhood. We decided to keep our first home and rent it out. So now we are officially landlords. All of this happened in the span of 2 months – from buying the home, to getting our house ready for renting to moving into our new home – it was a whirlwind. But I’m really glad we did it and I think it’s a great long-term strategy for us. So far things have been smooth, but this blog might be a good spot to share the journey – the ups and downs of being a landlord and owning an investment property. Stay tuned.

And now I will begin writing down my resolutions for 2016 and then writing a post about it so that I can at least  attempt to ‘blog more in 2016.’

Ann

 

Book Report: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman

(no spoilers below so keep reading)

If you’re even vaguely into books, you’ve probably heard that earlier this year a long-lost unpublished manuscript by Harper Lee was discovered.  You’ll also remember that Harper Lee was the author of the much-acclaimed and award winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird which was published in 1960.  It was her only published book.  Over fifty years later this lost manuscript is her second novel, Go Set a Watchman.

Now, I did try to resist reading other reviews of Go Set a Watchman to try and have a fair and balanced opinion of the book.  What I did do, was go back and read To Kill a Mockingbird again to reacquaint myself with the story and the characters.  It had probably been close to 20 years since I first read it, and honestly, beyond remembering the names of the main characters and that of Boo Radley, I really couldn’t remember too much of the plot line.   I’m definitely glad I re-read it, but it is not a pre-requisite for Go Set a Watchman.

Written in the 1950’s and set when the main character in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean-Louise is twenty-six, Go Set a Watchman is the original manuscript Harper Lee submitted for publishing.  That manuscript often jumps back to Jean-Louise’s childhood, and thus her editor at the time suggest she re-write the story from the point of view of her as an eight-year old, and thus, To Kill a Mockingbird was born.

In Go Set a Watchman, Jean-Louise Finch returns home to Maycomb county, Alabama from New York city for a visit with her ailing father, Atticus Finch.  Many of the secondary (and even tertiary) characters from To Kill a Mockingbird become central in the plot line, which seems to ramble and go on at length describing events that are less than relevant. Once the story really gets going, and trust me, this is well into the book, it is really about Jean-Louise’s struggle to understand her father, recognizing that perhaps he is not quite the man she had once idolized as a child.

What the book is not, is as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, even if it feels like it could be.  In fact, beyond the character names and the location, the two books are basically unrelated.  Both however, deal with the central issue of civil rights and race in the South, but in very different ways.

Many critics of Go Set a Watchman, were displeased with the portrayal of Atticus Finch.  I did read that somewhere before I read the book, so I had that in the back of my head.  But what I hadn’t expected was my discovery that Jean-Louise is perhaps the ‘Atticus Finch’ of this book.  She, like her father in To Kill a Mockingbird, lives to a higher standard and this is her internal struggle, set against the backdrop of the burgeoning civil rights movement within Go Set a Watchman.

It’s written in the third person but seems to jump to the first-person on a regular basis, often within the same paragraph, which I personally found a little unusual. This is not a page turner by any means.  If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you will be disappointed.  If you thought To Kill a Mockingbird was OK, you might read Go Set a Watchman, like I did, out of sheer curiosity.  It’s authentically written in 1950’s prose, so that in itself makes it more interesting than most books.  If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird (how did you graduate high school?) and are deciding which to read first, skip Go Set a Watchman and read the classic.

Ann

Remembering: A Glimpse into life in London – 1945

Last year on Remembrance Day I shared a story that my grandfather had chronicled while serving as part of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War stationed in Halifax.  I’m so lucky that my grandfather kept a journal and later, in retirement, turned his journals into family books about his life, his travels and his work abroad.

This year I’d like to share part of an excerpt from his book that details his life while living in London in 1945.  My grandfather, Lt. G. F Kelly, was Staff Officer Electrical Engineering and Liaison Officer to the Director of Electrical Engineering, Admiralty, Sir James Pringle. He was part of the Canadian Naval Mission Overseas with the Weapons and Equipment Department.

By 1945 the years of war and rationing had weighed heavily on Britain:

In the stores all goods were rationed and there was very little selection.  The pride and joy of all officers seemed to be a Royals Razor which had it own chrome case which included the honing stone.  These were not rationed but the Royals Store on Regent Street would sell only a small allotment each day to service men.  This meant lining up at 0800 for store opening at 0900.  I did this trip three times and got razors for dad, Mr. Mason (father-in-law) and myself.

Shirts were hard to find but they could on occasion be bought from Naval Stores.  At the time we wore white shirts with detached, starched collars.  Once your shirt went through a London laundry it came back ‘tattle-tale grey’ and nothing would return it to its original white.  Starched collars were hopeless so we bought cardboard ones which only emphasized the greyness of our shirts.

Eating places were scare.  ‘Lyons Corner House’ of which there were several in London specialized in roast beef.  The chef had a very sharp knife and sliced the meat so thin that you could readily read the pattern of the plate through it.  The real saviors of England were Coleman’s Mustard and Bird’s Custard.  Put on strong enough mustard and you never noticed the sawdust in the sausage.  All desserts were smothered in custard and they all tasted the same.  Brussels sprouts were used at practically every meal and we developed a strong dislike for them.

A friend directed us to a ‘fantastic’ steak house, which was naturally ‘black market’.  It was in SoHo and to get to it you had to pass through a store, go down an alley and enter by a back door.  Naturally you paid for your meal two days in advance.  When we sat down we were offered an extra thick strip of steak, with lots of bright yellow fat.  Despite the fat we ate it up.  It actually was not that bad, until we found out it was horse. 

Canadian Naval Mission Overseas 1944-1945
Sorry for the poor quality, but this is a picture of photocopied picture. My grandfather is middle row, 4th from right.

I love how these few little paragraphs give a small but specific glimpse into the everyday life of Londoners during the war.

In other parts of his book he describes his first night in London and being awakened by the sound of air-raid sirens, which he promptly ignores and goes back to sleep.  The next morning he discovers the building directly behind his had taken the explosion and wardens were now searching the ruins.  In other parts he describes how he clandestinely acquired two bottles of rum on the otherwise “dry” dockyards of Bath, set up a little bar in his office and used his little bar to aid in his official liaison duties.

As I mentioned before, I’m so thankful to have these memories of my grandfather in writing so I can remember and understand the remarkable life he led and one day share his stories with my children.

Lest we forget.

Ann

 

Book Report: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

OK, I know what you’re thinking, this is a tween book… and I guess you would be right. I bought this book for my daughters for Christmas. In fact, I had to order it from Indigo since it’s not a normally stocked item. I ordered it because of all the books that I read as a kid (meaning, pre-middle school) this one made the biggest impression on me. I’m not sure why, but I just remember really, really, really liking it. So, since my kids had other books on the go, and I was looking of a quick read… voila!

westing game book

My recollection of the story line from (*cough*) thirty years ago, was pretty vague. I remember it being a puzzle mystery with clues that gradually build the story line with an unlikely cast of characters, but that was about it.

So as a brief little recap: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is about 16 people, all unrelated to each other, who are requested to move into a new, fancy apartment building on the shores of lake Michigan. Now, suspend your disbelief for a moment, as they all somehow agree to move into the building at basically the same time. This would be a realtor’s wet dream! The list of new tenants includes a podiatrist and his family, an Asian family and their teenage son, a state judge, a delivery man, a secretary, a dressmaker, a young medical intern as well as a few other interesting and unlikely characters.

We quickly learn that almost all of the new tenants have specifically been chosen as heirs to the Samuel Westing fortune. Sam Westing, the mysterious millionaire recluse whose mansion sits on a hill overlooking the town and more specifically the new apartment building, has suddenly just died, or was he murdered?   During the reading of the will, the heirs are each given a set of clues. The clues will lead to the murderer and whichever heir solves the puzzle will inherit the Westing fortune. The kicker: one of the heirs may be the murder!

It was a fun little read, just less than 200 pages, but it was actually better than I remember. And honestly, it didn’t feel like a children’s book at all. I was actually wondering if my girls would be able to keep all of the clues and characters straight, as even I found it tricky to keep all the details in line. Since the book was written in the late 1970’s there is the obvious lack of technology, particularly evident when one character hires a private investigator to dig up information (mainly old newspaper articles) on Sam Westing and the other potential heirs… something a quick Google search would uncover today. Also, a freak, but brief snow-storm ‘cuts them off to the world’ for a couple of days, which of course wouldn’t really happen in today’s wired world.

Overall, it was a great read, with some fun twists and plot turns throughout. The ending will make you wonder how you didn’t figure it out sooner. My girls are still elbow-deep in Harry Potter, but I’m curious and excited about what they think of The Westing Game, and if they will enjoy reading it as much as I did at their age.

Ann