Review: A Sad, Sad Symphony

3 Jul

A Sad, Sad SymphonyA Sad, Sad Symphony by Cristian Mihai
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was rewarded this book in a LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for a review.

A Sad, Sad Symphony is a (very!) short story about Francisc Goyer, a musician and composer, and Oscar Wilde. A main theme was leaving a legacy through one’s art. There are two timelines running parallel throughout the story. The flow of events was confusing at first, because the first jump in time is jarring and unexpected.

We begin with Francisc as a heartbroken old man, while he is composing his magnum opus. The story then jumps back in time to Oscar telling stories to a group of people, where a young Francisc is in attendance. We then jump forward to Francisc walking through the rain to see his friend, and we end in the past with Oscar walking through the streets of London after meeting Francisc.

The story would really benefit from trimming most of the adverbs, since they don’t really add anything. Also, there are a few odd word choices (can a grin be “discontented”? does water “infiltrate” clothes?), but overall, it is well written.

Cristian Mihai is definitely a promising young writer, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

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Review: A Dog’s Purpose

26 Jun

A Dog's PurposeA Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this book. Get ready to cry like a baby when you read it.

Bruce Cameron captured the voice of the dog(s) perfectly.

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Review: The Sea Captain’s Wife

19 Jun

The Sea Captain's WifeThe Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a few mild spoilers in the following review, but nothing that will ruin the story.

The Sea Captain’s Wife follows Azuba, a young woman who grew up on the Bay of Fundy in the mid 1800s. We first meet her as an adventurous girl who wants to marry a sea captain and travel the world with her husband at her side. She rails against the traditional expectations of the sea captain’s wife: to be a good submissive mother, grow flowers, and spend her husband’s money on carriages and dresses.

The main story opens in the 1860s with Azuba married to Nathaniel, who is—duh—a sea captain, and he spends many months, sometimes years, at sea. He wasn’t home when his daughter was born, and didn’t meet her until she was almost three years old. He seemed open to the idea of taking Azuba with him until she had their daughter, and he saw the house that Azuba’s father had built for them. The house was someplace safe to leave his family.

Azuba miscarries their second child. She befriends the local minister, and they visit each other often and take walks together. After a picnic one day, they both fall asleep and become trapped by the tide overnight. Even though nothing inappropriate happened, the local busybodies label her a whore. The minister is sent away, and when Nathaniel comes back, he takes Azuba and their daughter with him on his next voyage, which takes them to England, to San Francisco, to Callao, Peru, and back to Antwerp, Belgium.

Something I wasn’t aware of before reading the book and doing some research was that this story was set before the construction of the Panama Canal, which meant that in order to get to San Francisco to Europe, ships had to go all the way around South America, ’round the horn, which was a treacherous journey. It really made me thankful for all the conveniences we have today. Could you imagine a trip around the world and back taking years?

Back in Europe, Azuba and Nathaniel had a tough decision to make. Should Azuba continue to take her children on the high seas and experience the world, but they would have to deal with the threat of pirates, terrible storms, and possible starvation or drowning, or should she take her children home and let them grow up in a life of relative safety, but only knowing their father as that guy who shows up a couple times a year?

I found the book so-so. It was well written, and parts of the story were very engaging, especially the return from Callao, but the ending just sort of faded away. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember exactly how it ended. It was entertaining enough to read at the time, but it’s definitely not a favourite.

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Review: A Storm of Swords

14 Jun

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The text I sent my boyfriend upon finishing A Storm of Swords sums up my feelings about this book pretty well: “Holy shit you have to finish clash of kings so you can read storm of swords holy shit.”

If you’re a fan of this series, the third instalment will not disappoint.

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Review: Journey to Virginland: Epistle I

11 Jun

Journey to Virginland: Epistle 1Journey to Virginland: Epistle 1 by Armen Melikian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was awarded to me in a LibraryThing giveaway. I was asked to provide a review in return.

I’m only halfway through this book so far, so I might add more to the review once I’m finished, but there are some things I need to address.

Here’s a quick lesson how not to do self-promotion. The text from the first giveaway has appeared in several reviews. I’d recommend you read it as well. When I entered the giveaway, I was looking for a book that was more than fluff, more than YA vampire luv (not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s your bag—I enjoy some fluff, myself) so I was willing to overlook the slightly-condescending tone used in the promotional material. After all, if you were an author who was trying to write something with a bit of depth, and your giveaway copies were awarded to someone who had only read something at the level of, say, Twilight, the review would probably consist of ZOMG BIG WORDS, LIKE TOTALLY ZERO STARS, and you’d likely want to let the people entering the giveaway know that this is a bit more advanced. Although, there’s probably a better way to tell your readers that it’s advanced, rather than suggesting they attend college before reading your book. I went to college, and I’m a pretty voracious reader, and I still had to reread several passages to figure out what the hell they actually said.

The following is the text from the second LibraryThing giveaway, the one after I won a copy. I’m not sure if it’s still up, but if I had seen it before I won, I can definitely say that I would not have entered the giveaway, and the author would have earned a prize place on my authors behaving badly shit-list:

Description: Some reasons for NOT reading this book:
1. The author caricatures the Holy of Holies of all religions. Jerusalem is Penisalem.

2. The author caricatures the holy of holies of the ideology and the prime representatives of the American empire.The USA is Satanland.

3. The book is experimental literature. Inverts on its head the conventions of the novel. It is Dog Lit, written by a dog who disbelieves in the opium of literature.

4. This book is for “anarchists,” “atheists,” “terrorists,” “criminals,” “satanists,” “moslems,” “subverters,” “drug dealers,” “the homeless,” “the stateless,” “the gypsies,” “the thieves,” “the blacks,” “traitors,” “whores,” “conspirators,” “co-conspirators,” “co-coconspirators,” and… “real Americans.”

The above text also appeared on the new giveaway on Goodreads. HOWEVER, on LibraryThing, the author goes on to add a fifth point:

5. One more reason NOT to read this book: The latest reviews assert persuasively that this book is rubbish. Don’t believe it? Read it for yourself:

“A conceited attempt to imitate Salman Rushie and others. Pretentious, self-congratulatory rubbish, e-mailed to Early Reviewers along with a poorly made YouTube marketing video. Shameful. The positive reviews of this novel have only re-iterated the points put forth in marketing documents, as no one yet has had the courage to stand and criticize it. This book is, quite simply, a vainglorious writer presenting mundane social commentary with a soaring vocabulary.”

While it is a fact that
a. The author has never read Salman Rushdie, and doesn’t intend to read him anytime soon, because as a citizen of Satanland, his domain is first and foremost Satanland, not Allahland or Ayatollahland, and as such, he wouldn’t feel a particular pleasure by demonizing Allah or Ayatollah, as the ideologues of His Holiness Diabolam Diabolum do basking under the sun of every literary crap that criticizes their ideological enemies. Rather, the author would not deprive himself from the intense pleasure of demonizing Satanland and its self-righteous and all-knowledgeable ideologues.

b. The author has made a “cheap” YouTube video because he is neither a member of the Satanic Plutocracy (he doesn’t own a bank), nor is he a successful capitalist investor or an inheritor of wealth or the means of producing wealth. Shame on him! Inferior creature!

c. The reviewer has never received any marketing material, therefore he has no way of knowing if others have. And the fact is none of the winners of LibraryThing have received any (but they will receive it henceforth!) And that none of the other reviewers of the book have used nothing from the marketing material, but have expressed their genuine experiences in reading this book.

d. The reviewer is a liar and an underhanded one whose sole aim is to discredit an author and destroy his ranking, because this writer destroys the ideological hegemony of his sacrosanct beliefs in capitalism, democracy, and the rest… (and brings a new voice in literature that he wants to suffocate—a voice that sounds bizarre to him, since it is a nuclear bomb in the ass of Satan’s Grand Narrative). This wouldn’t have been as insulting to the reviewer, of course, if the author’s knowledge of English was inferior to his.

e. The reviewer thinks he is more intelligent than the editors of major book review magazines and most of the readers and reviewers of the book, as well as all the judges of the 7 awards the author has won in Satanland, and feels a personal sense of responsibility to alert everyone to the prime danger of wasting their time by reading this book.

Nevertheless, we should believe in his genuine remarks, as “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” says the conventional wisdom.

Therefore, it behooves everyone to read excerpts on author’s website BEFORE entering into something that might prove to be after all a waste of precious investment time.

Now, I’m not an author, so I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that responding to negative reviews of your book in a negative way would be a very bad way to attract new readers. You come off looking like a dick. You just called one of your readers a liar, insulted their intelligence, and then posted that in a promotional piece for your next giveaway. Dude. Your balls must be visible from space.

Regarding the actual content of the book:
As I mentioned, I’m only halfway through, but I’m really struggling with this book. Another reviewer, Beatnick Mary, summed up this book perfectly: “It’s just a dull book with a convoluted idea and a lot of polysyllabic words.”

That is bang on. The book talks a lot without saying much of anything. It started out promising, with interesting lines like:

“They call me dog. Don’t ask who. Them. all of them.”


“Kill the dog!
Sex is outlawed in Virginland.”

which led me to believe that this was going to be a dystopian story, in the vein of 1984 or Brave New World, but it seems to have turned into a commentary on modern life with precious little in the way of narrative. I know there’s Dog, and Dog likes to fuck. Also, women are whores, or something. The rest of the book is essentially Look at all the words I know. I know all of these words. Also, gratuitous Latin!

That’s not to say that all of the writing is bad or over-the-top. Here’s one passage I did like, on page 55: “When I was less than a year old, my parents had me christened at the church of the forty Virgins in adonis. Nobody had thought of asking me first.”

Right there is a nice little commentary on how religion is forced on kids before they really understand the world around them. Sadly, these moments are too few and far between, and at this point, I can’t really recommend this book.

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What’s in my garden: 2012 edition

31 May

Our weather has been all over the place in eastern Ontario this spring. In March, we had the type of heat and humidity that we usually don’t see until July, then there was a cold snap, then it became super-hot again. Now we are finally smack-dab in the seasonal range.

My gardening skills have improved so much since college. Back then, I even killed succulents on a regular basis. Now I only kill them on a semi-regular basis. It’s a good thing my dog was able to let me know when he was hungry or thirsty, otherwise he wouldn’t have stood a chance.

This is the fourth consecutive year I’ve had a garden, and I can’t imagine not having one ever again. Even if I have to move to an apartment where there are only windowsills, you’ll find plants there. There’s nothing better than being able to pick a salad you grew yourself, provided you don’t discover the local chipmunk has taken a bite out of each of your cherry tomatoes. (That little bastard is lucky he’s so cute.)

I started off the growing season really eager to share my progress by taking pictures of all my seeds and the packages they came in, but, unfortunately, not many seeds came up, and the ones that did were really pathetic. I think most of the seeds must have been too old to germinate—some were from 2009—but even the seeds I bought this spring didn’t do very well for some reason.

My mom is trying to salvage some of the seedlings that are still alive—hopefully I will be able to get some nice juicy tomatoes and some special “dammit-why-didn’t-I-take-out-my-contacts-before-I-started-slicing-these” hot peppers before the frost hits. (If I ever have the chance to name a variety of hot pepper, that’s what they’ll be called, if only because I don’t know how to spell the shrieking noise that I make when I get capsaicin in my eyes.)

My plants

In order to compensate for my seedy failures, I made a trip to my local nursery (Hubert’s Springhill, a.k.a., heaven on earth) to buy some starter plants, which brings my garden to the total of:

  • Six tomato plants
  • Six sweet pepper plants
  • Nine Capucjiners blue podded pea plants (Every pea I planted came up. If only all of my efforts were this successful.)
  • Spinach
  • Mizuna
And one each of:
  • Lavender
  • Thai basil
  • Sweet basil
  • Cilantro
  • Peppermint
  • Orange mint
And my favourites:
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon verbena

If you caught the name of my blog, it should come as no surprise that I love lemon. Usually I buy my verbena a month before it gets planted outside, just so I can jam my nose into the middle of it and inhale. I still do it from time to time now that it’s outside, but the neighbours give me funny looks.

How does your garden grow?

Tomatoes usually go gangbusters in my yard, since my gardens are raised beds right along the south wall of the house. In my first year of gardening, a cherry tomato plant grew about 15 feet tall! It would have hit the soffit if it had been better supported. Peppers do well, too, but we’re really hindered by the short growing season here in Zone 4a. Even just a couple extra warm weeks would really make a difference in yield. I get quite a few peppers, but some are awfully puny at the end of the season.

Herbs, however, are a completely different story. Even when I keep them properly watered, I end up having to buy at least a couple of starter plants each growing season.

Does anyone else have trouble growing herbs? Other than basil and herbs from the mint family, they seem to be a lost cause for me. My sage? Dead. Both rosemary plants I bought this year? Dead. Cilantro? Surprisingly, it’s still going stro— oh, nope, it just died.

Maybe you have success growing herbs, and would like to share your growing tips? Please let me know your secret!

Them’s some good reads.

30 May

Hello. My name’s Sherri, and I have a problem. I have too many books.

Now, you might say, “Sherri, you have too many books? That’s unpossible! It’s like saying that you have too much love in your life, or too many puppies to hug.

While that’s certainly true, my real problem is that while I have a zillion books (give or take a frillion), I haven’t even read most of them. So that’s not a problem. That’s an effin’ tragedy, right there.

Rarely am I able to pass a bookstore without popping in “just for a few minutes”, and leaving an hour with a bag full of books and a noticeably lighter wallet. This habit of mine, combined with less time to read, has led to an enormous backlog of books. And, of course, that’s not even counting the books that I want to read, but don’t own.

The number of books I’ve read in my spare time since high school and college has been dwindling. It’s almost embarrassing how little I was reading—maybe 20 books per year. Before the internet, I always had my nose in a book. I blame both being an adult—stupid responsibilities!—and just plain laziness for my lapse in leisure reading. The internet is a wondrous, magical thing, but at the same time, it is such a huge time-suck. Do you know how many Youtube videos there are of adorable beagles doing adorable things? I do. BECAUSE I’VE SEEN ALL OF THEM.

In order to rid myself of this terrible non-reading habit, I made a New Year’s resolution. This isn’t something I usually do, because I know I have zero willpower. (See: my beagle overload). I made a goal on Goodreads to read 104 books in 2012, and so far, so good. I’ve read 48 books! You can see my currently-reading list over in the sidebar. Not everything I’m reading has come from my own shelves, but I’ve started to make a good dent in my unread fiction collection.

Earlier this year, I also signed up for a library card. It’s the first time I’ve had one since college. The reason I haven’t had a library card in so long is because the public library in my town has hardly any books. (I can’t explain that one either.) Luckily, they do offer access to the Overdrive service, so I’ve found it easy to devour a ton of books using that. I always have my phone on me, and I always have several books on my phone.

I hope this trend will continue. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get in all the reading I would like to do. Can we get someone working on adding more hours to the day, please? It’s 2012, you’d think science would have that figured out by now. Also, maybe someone could recommend a good nudist colony I could join? Think of all the time I could save by not having to do laundry! A girl can dream…

Do you have a backlog of unread books, as well? Have you tried setting goals using an online service? Let me know in the comments.