Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Walking Dead: 4.10 "Inmates"

And once again, we’re a week late on our Walking Dead posts. I’m going to give up on saying we’re one week late, and instead say we’re offering up weekly previews to the upcoming episodes. We meant to post this on a Sunday!! Because people liked our epistolary approach last week, and because we will always be in very different geographical locations, we thought we’d continue that format.

Dear Josh,
Well, we Canadians like to think we’re a hardy bunch, but occasionally this weather gets us down. In my case, it was looking up on Saturday to see a hole in my ceiling above my bookcase and realizing that my beautiful cathedral ceilings slope down on one side against the house, where the snow has been melting off and on for the past three months, sliding down the main roof and creating a massive ice rink between the two. It was inevitable that it would come through. But maybe, in the end, we are hardy, since I was out there knocking down icicles and my husband got right up on the roof, shovelling the whole thing off and then proceeding to work his way through three feet of ice up there. The leak has stopped. The hole in my office ceiling is huge and ugly. Ah well. I guess it could have been worse, right? RIGHT?! 

Yeah, I could have had walkers up there. 

On to this week’s Walking Dead! Another well constructed story, I thought, where we catch up on the remaining groups, each split up to have their own focus: 

-Beth and Derle
-Tyreese, Mika, and Lizzie [Borden]… and Judith!! You called it! And Carol!! I called it! :) 
-Maggie, Bob Stookey, and Sasha
-Glenn on his own
-Glenn plus Tara

Each story had its own theme, and yet each one overlapped with the others. They didn’t necessarily happen in chronological order, which is the best part (Tyreese and the girls leave the grapes behind that Beth and Daryl find), but show how each member of the group separated, yet they all follow the exact same path out of there. Beth and Daryl’s story opened with a voiceover of Beth writing in her diary months earlier, reminding us what a young girl she was and still is, and yet at the same time how much she’s grown up since writing that naïve entry. Tyreese has his hands full with a baby that won’t stop crying and two little girls who handle stress in very different ways. Maggie has one goal and one goal only, and that’s to find Glenn… and when she eventually kills a walker with black hair and black shirt, it looks like she thinks she actually DID find him and just killed him. Glenn wants to find Maggie, but must work together with a girl who had helped the Governor, the very man who’d put them all in this mess in the first place. 

I think the Tyreese story was the one that intrigued me the most, although I was pretty much on the edge of my seat for a lot of it. Lizzie is clearly the one who had been dissecting rats in the basement of the prison, and now, as Judith is frantically crying and Mika is begging Lizzie to make her stop, I seriously thought we were about to have a M*A*S*H moment there. Thank god Carol showed up when she did. At the end of the first half of the season I said I thought it would be great if Carol would meet up with Tyreese’s group and have to deal with that awkward moment of wondering if he knows what she did, while he’ll be leaning on her as a friend not knowing what she’d done. And sure enough it looks like that’s how it’s going to play out. How long before they’re reunited with the others and Tyreese discovers what happened? Until then, I’m thrilled to have Carol back and think it’ll be an interesting storyline (although I’m always a tad disappointed when things play out as I suspected; I like surprises far more). 

What was your favourite storyline? 

Whoa. There’s an icicle outside my office window that’s as big as I am. Gulp. 

Take care,

Dear Nikki,
Well, our vacation is over, I am sad to say. Mostly sad, anyhow, because to be completely honest, five days at Walt Disney World is about as far as one can push the happiness before something breaks. The truth is that for every attraction in each of the parks, there are roughly fifteen stores filled to bursting with things your children MUST HAVE PLEASE PLEASE DADDY OR I’LL JUST DIE. Couple this profoundly aggressive marketing with the physical strain of kids who are walking six or seven miles more per day than the norm, then multiply by the cumulative mental stress of said kids being a preteen brother and sister prone to goad one another to physical violence for fun (and with a frequency that would make Desmond Hume cry like a newborn), and you can imagine how quickly the potential for emotional eruption balloons from most likely to nigh-inevitable. That, I will not miss.

But hey – the bloodless parts were terrific.

We drove back on Monday, and I was right back to work on Tuesday, so I’ve just finally had a chance to catch up on this week’s episode. The vignette approach did a good job of getting us up to speed on everyone else from the core group, but using such a fractured structure wasn’t able to offer much in the way of substance, dedicating only ten minutes or so to each pocket of survivors. As for Beth and Daryl, we saw that the youngest Greene is trying hard to stay hopeful, and her presence is forcing the youngest Dixon to keep his usual cynicism in check, at least to a point, but there wasn’t much more to their interlude than that. The Maggie, Bob and Sasha section showed just how hard Maggie is taking the uncertainty surrounding Glenn’s fate, and Lauren Cohan was great. However, while the whole bus sequence was torturously tense, it was pretty much the full extent of their story this week. Both of these were solid enough sections, but they were also rather cursory, and neither revealed more than what we assumed to be true anyway.

The Tyreese and Glenn scenes offered more meat, if not necessarily surprises. Baby Judith is alive after all, and more important, little Lizzie is proven to be our amateur surgeon, just as we suspected. So funny that you invoked the M*A*S*H finale, because that is exactly what kept coming to mind as I waited for the tow-headed psychopath to suffocate poor Judith to quiet her. Glad that’s not what happened, but it still provided the most intense moments of the episode this week, I thought.

There is a similar storyline from the comics that I suspect we might be seeing set up here, a sad interlude involving two brothers named Ben and Billy. I won’t discuss specifics to prevent possible spoilers, but suffice to say that things get very dark. This show has never shied away from the awfulness, but murderous children will certainly take things to a new level, and I’m very interested in seeing how far they’re willing to go.

Speaking of the comics, we saw a few other nods to the source material this week in the last-minute introduction of several characters immediately recognizable to anyone who knows the source material, not to mention allusions to the ‘sanctuary’ we heard about over the car radio back in the first half of the season. The poster that Tyreese & co. find posted at the train tracks is labeled with the same word in its statement: ‘SANCTUARY FOR ALL, COMMUNITY FOR ALL. THOSE WHO ARRIVE SURVIVE,’ alongside a map with a location marked TERMINUS. Locals know that Terminus was the original name of the city of Atlanta, which first came into being simply because it was the spot chosen for the end of the railroad line into the southwest. To this day, ‘terminus’ is the name used for train or bus stations that serve as a final destination – the end of the line. Is that what it will prove to be for our survivors? And how are we to take the implication? Comforting, or ominous?

Well, I’d best get back to work. Hope things turned out ok in your study, as I can’t immediately think of many more terrifying word strings than “hole in the ceiling above my bookcase.” Even typing it made my throat clench up.

Dear Josh, 
Yes, I’ve got stacks of books on the floor near my fireplace and away from the hole in the ceiling as we continue to melt the ice from the roof (one week later, still working through it). And just in case that sentence also scared you, it’s no longer a working fireplace. :)

Your trip sounds remarkably like mine last January when we took the family to Disney World. I think that place is meant to drive parents completely batty by the end of it. Here was my account of my husband’s griping throughout the day.

I’m writing this from Niagara Falls, where we’ve taken the kids for the weekend. The Falls themselves have partially iced over, which looks amazing.

And you’re right about the Sanctuary. It’s unclear if it’s safe or a trick, but in a scene last season when Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, and Bob Stookey were out driving they heard a woman’s voice on the radio saying, "Those who arrive, survive." This is clearly the same place. I’m intrigued and excited about what that holds.

It looks like both of us zoomed in on the same story being the most intriguing, which means the others were just pushing the story forward. For me, the best thing about this episode was the non-linear format. Daryl and Beth pass by a log and the camera holds on it. I thought it was focusing on the grey fungus growing on the side, and took it as clever symbolism: the fungus is a living thing feeding off the dead, but in the rest of the world the dead are feeding off the living. Only later did I realize that wasn’t fungus at all: it was the dead bunnies that Lizzie was methodically killing (and not offering up to eat). Then we see the shoe lying by the walkers in the Daryl scene. Later, the camera zooms in on Tyreese’s shoe and it looks identical to the one on the ground. This sort of storytelling created more suspense and intrigue than if they’d told it straight.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s with the kids right now watching the Canada vs US hockey game. People are swarming in from the street just to watch it, buying coffee so they can stay. I love being in Canada during the Winter Olympics. So far we’re up by one with only a couple of minutes to go. Yesterday someone posted on my FB wall that the loser of this game has to keep Bieber. Fingers crossed it’s you guys. ;)

Any final thoughts on the episode?
P.S. Looks like you get Biebs, woohoo!!! "Baby, baby, baby, oh..."

Dear Nikki,
Niagara Falls sounds like a lovely way to spend a family weekend. Never been there myself. However, I did once visit a McDonald’s in Montreal, and let me tell you: you’ve never had a McMuffin until you’ve had a saucisse McMuffin avec oeuf.

I think we’ve covered the high points for this episode, but there were a few other notable developments we haven’t brought up. Foremost was the return of Lilly’s sister Tara, who is now accompanying Glenn along with the as-yet-unnamed new faces from episode’s end. I know you weren’t a big fan of her character during the Brian’s Song storyline, but I was glad to see her just for the connectivity her appearance provides. We discussed the narrative issues I had with the show’s attempts to redeem Philip Blake, but despite my eagerness to put those events in the rear view mirror, I still welcome a messier, more plausible denouement than the brisk economics of ‘Hershel’s dead; prison’s gone; on the road again; the end.’ I don’t really understand why we’re given such a hasty dismissal of Lilly’s fate, with Tara merely telling Glenn about how she saw her sister passively overwhelmed by walkers – suicide by zombie, in essence, as escape from the multifold tragedy her life had become. This seems like a scene that belonged in the midseason finale rather than offered up in an offhand walk-and-talk exposition dump. Nevertheless, I was glad to get even these small measures of persistence beyond the practical necessity of running the survivors out of the prison, and I hope Tara isn’t back just to serve as cannon fodder for upcoming conflict.

Speaking of sacrificial lambs, this week’s confirmation that Lizzie is indeed behind all the ritualistic bunny slaughter has made me reconsider a theory I’d first dismissed out of hand back when the subject first came up. Namely, is is possible that Carol confessed to Karen’s murder just to cover for Lizzie’s burgeoning psychosis? The idea that Carol killed Karen as an act of simple, icy pragmatism was and is largely acceptable, but it still feels out of character to me, regardless of the changes her personality has sustained over time. This notion of her lying to protect her surrogate daughter seems more plausible now than I originally believed, and I think it’s something to keep in the backs of our minds as the situation further develops.

You guys have a safe trip this weekend. And congratulations, by the way, on Canada’s decisive hockey victory over the US team in the Olympic Games! After thirty-plus years, you’d think we would be getting used to it by now. But while it’s true you are the undisputed continental champion in many respects (please see: maple syrup production, immigration, universal healthcare, Gino Vannelli fan club membership), we still kick your butt in per capita hot dog consumption. So there.

Beth, after spending the day at Disney World with two children.

Dear Josh,
And do you ever rock that skill, my friend. It’s the morning of the gold medal game of Canada vs. Sweden, and every Canadian was getting up crazy early (on the west coast, 4 a.m.) to watch the game… which we won, of course. Special exemptions have been made for the bars to allow people to drink in the morning. Which prompted me to ask my husband why we’ve put these arbitrary restrictions on ourselves; if you have a beer with breakfast, you’re an alcoholic. If you have a beer with dinner, it’s normal. Hm. As someone who doesn’t want a beer with either, I guess I can’t really weigh in either way!

Just wanted to say one last thing, that we did actually discuss the option that Carol was covering up Lizzie murdering the people, at first dismissing the idea because there’s no way Lizzie could have dragged the bodies outside and doused them with gasoline, but later offering it as a possibility if Lizzie did the killing and Carol was the one who dragged them out and burned them. It was one of the early fan theories, and now one that’s gaining more ground after this ep.

Looking forward to this week’s installment! Yay Team Canada!!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Walking Dead: 4.09 "After"

And… The Walking Dead has returned! It actually doesn’t feel like it was gone very long this time, so I don’t think we have to really recap what happened in the last episode. Basically:
-Governor thought he might try to be a good person, didn’t happen
-bunch of people got sick in the prison, died
-Carol banished
-Rick still a dick
-Carl still wants to be treated like an adult
-Governor showed up at the prison with a tank, and the prison went ka-boom
-Hershel was beheaded by the Guv in the worst CGI since the submarines on Lost
-everyone has run away from the prison (‘cept Hersh) and they’ve all been split up

And so, we begin this week’s recap! I, Nikki, am in snowy, polar vortexy London, Ontario, Canada, and I’m trying not to hate my co-author, Josh Winstead, who is vacationing in Florida.

Dear Josh,
I just got back in after digging out the car. I can’t feel my fingers. I’m typing this with my nose. It’s like -27 or something out there. I looked at the five-foot snowbanks and thought, why don’t the people on The Walking Dead just head north? You could frickin’ FREEZE those puppies in the snow, and at least get a few months of peace. And in the insanely hot summers we have here, they’d just melt.

I hope you’re having a great time in Florida, and I actually do mean that sincerely! Did you catch this week’s episode yet? I was actually rather pleased with it. The Michonne flashback/dream sequence was wonderful (and confirmed most of what audiences had figured out) and the scenes between Rick and Carl were heartfelt and went a long way to helping us understand the kid. As always, when they separate the characters on this show, the episodes are so much more indepth and well written and acted. Having everyone split up is the best thing that could have happened to the show. If they can have each of them work through their personal demons, like a little show you and I used to watch about a group of people on a weird deserted island, and show us more flashbacks and really humanize this group of people, I think it’ll give the show the shot in the arm it’s so badly needed.

I hope you enjoyed it too! My nose is getting tired from typing. Send me a postcard when you can.

Dear Nikki,

Greetings and salutations from the Sunshine State! I don't blame you for hating me — it's a balmy 80 degrees here right now, which is about 26 for you folks on the Celsius scale, and it's supposed to stay this way all week. There's a guy sitting on a curb a few feet away from me who is wearing nothing but shorts and flip-flops. And he's sweating. Not to rub it in or anything.

We hadn't really planned to leave until Tuesday morning, but there was another winter storm headed towards home, and considering how the state of Georgia tends to handle such weather (short answer: laughably), we thought it best to simply throw everything together already and get the heck on out of Dodge. So here we are.

Fortunately, I did find time to watch the new episode before we made our hasty exodus, and I thought it was definitely a promising start for the second half of season 4. Coming back from the midseason break with such a quiet, contemplative episode was a pretty gutsy move, and like you, I really think it paid off. From that great wordless open as we and Michonne say our last goodbyes to Hershel and the prison, all the way through to Rick's wry one-liner finish, this outing was lean, measured and right on the money. Despite how much fun it can be when they ratchet up the tension or stage some huge gore-streaked action sequence, I always come away with a higher opinion of the smaller, carefully considered character work. Even the most unhinged mayhem fails to tie me in knots the same as those episodes when the writers take the time to explore in greater depth just what an unconscionable strain it would be on the human psyche to endure life in such a world.

In particular, Carl has received short shrift when it comes to the show expressing how a child would process a postapocalyptic existence like this. More times than not, he ends up coming across as an afterthought, and it was nice to be reminded that there is more going on in his head than what cursory examples we're usually given. Chandler Riggs did quite a respectable job with what practically amounted to a solo gig this week, and I hope this proves to be setting the tone for a more well-balanced Carl from this point on.

That said, my favorite stuff this week was Michonne's. Her role has been beautifully fleshed out this season, and 'Alone' filled most every hole in her backstory, confirming our suspicions without simply dumping the details in artless exposition. She broke my heart over and over in this episode, and I don't know how I could love her any more.

Which, of course, probably means she'll be dead soon.

Ok — going to buy an ice cream. Write me back and tell me what you thought of how pulverized and vulnerable was our local sheriff this week, and also how you felt about that cathartic is-he/isn't-he scene between he and Carl toward the end. Something tells me you were wishing the old man ill. And no wonder you're cold, ma'am...

-       j

Dear Josh,
It's a balmy –15 out there today; almost time to break out the shorts and t-shirts! Instead, I'll just do as other Canadians do and stay at home and cheer on our Canadian hockey teams in the Olympics. 

I actually felt badly for Rick in this one, shockingly. While Carl is screaming invectives at Rick's motionless body, I couldn't help but see everything Rick has tried to do for everyone, even if he's made a ton of bad decisions. Carl wants him to answer for everything, for not saving everyone, for not always making the right choices, for losing people along the way. But only when Carl is faced with what could happen without his father does he realize how important and needed Rick is. It was a really interesting way to handle it: silence Rick, make him unable to stick up for himself, and only by showing things through another perspective do we get a true defense of Rick. For a moment there, I actually thought Rick WAS dead, and I was shocked. They really had me going there for a second, since I don't read anything about casting if I can avoid it. Carl and Rick have always been two difficult characters for me to stomach all the time, and by finally isolating them into this very intimate story, I found a way to truly like them. I just wish the writers had done it ages ago. 

I thought the way Michonne's backstory was played out was truly unique. They could have shown us a straight-ahead flashback, but they didn't; instead it was very much rooted in the present, with us seeing shades of the present and not-so-distant past laid over the distant past. She's cutting vegetables with her sword. She's having a conversation with her armless lover and his friend. Her baby is on her hip and then he's not. The past is always haunting all of these characters, but when the present is a constant nightmare, it changes even the way you perceive what came before it. SO beautifully done. 

Any last words on this week? 

I hope you enjoyed your ice cream! Here in the polar vortex we eat ice cream to warm up. ;) Oh look, it's starting to snow. I'd better get the snow blower ready. On this Valentine's Day nothing says romance like hair that smells like diesel. 


Dear Nikki -

I was thinking of you today as I watched the heart-stirring 'O Canada' film in the World Showcase at Epcot, narrated by the Crown Prince of Canada, Martin Short. Couldn't help but hear a sort of Mystery Science Theater-esque running commentary in your voice as you pointed out vagaries and inaccuracies like a true editorial bon viveur. Pretty sure you would have had a field day with it.

Speaking of which, I can't help but be pleasantly surprised by your sympathy for poor old Sheriff Grimes this week. Then again, between the phenomenal makeup job on Andrew Lincoln and his solid performance selling it, I suppose I really should have guessed. And I too bought into the zombie fake-out near the end, which I realize may seem foolish in retrospect, thinking the writers would kill off the lead in the most successful show on television. Still, the moment was set up so well and played so effectively that I refuse to feel bad about falling for it. Carl's breakdown as he clutched his broken father and sobbed "I'm scared" was my favorite scene he's had on the show so far. Well, that and the whole "Got my shoe; didn't get me thing," followed brilliantly by that amazing shot of him perched on the rooftop in his single boot, the hand grabbing fruitlessly behind him through the window he couldn't get open as he casually eats a hundred and twelve ounces of chocolate pudding. Fantastic, iconic stuff.

And while we're on the subject of favorite moments, Michonne also racked up a couple of new ones for me. Her delivery of the speech to her dead lover was just so damn good. "You were wrong. 'Cause I'm still here. And you could be, too. And he could be." The way her voice broke at the end made tears shoot into my eyes like somebody pinched me hard, and it's practically happening again right now just thinking about it.

The ending, as well, when Michonne realizes she's found them... God, that's great tv. I find myself suddenly shipping for a Rick-Michonne pairing in a big way. Really looking forward to seeing what happens when they open that door.

In fact, I am very much looking forward to whatever's next for everyone, to a degree unusual for this show. The way this group has splintered in the wake of the prison battle serves to up the emotional stakes in every respect, and I hope they stick with it for the bulk of the season. And there's still the pseudo-mystery of the vivisected rabbit to address, not to mention the circumstances of Judith's disappearance. All in all, I'd say the prospects were high for some of the best stuff we've ever seen from The Walking Dead, and I can't wait to see where they take us next.

Well, I'm exhausted, and I suppose I should go wash off this face paint and get some rest. Just got a message that North Georgia suffered a 4.4 earthquake today. I swear I can't leave those guys alone for five minutes without the whole place falling apart. Still on vacation for three more days; hope they don't secede from the union again before I get back.

Stay warm up there. Sending you radiant vibes.

- j

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Addicted to Books! January Edition

Just to recap, this year my friend Sue and I decided we'd try just reading books on our own shelves (since we have piles of unread books throughout our houses), to try to curb our serious book-buying obsessions, making exceptions only for book club picks. One friend of mine told me I'm basically shooting myself in the foot for announcing that I'm doing this, since not only am I a writer who depends on people buying my books, but I'm an editor at a book publishing house who edits books I hope people will buy. And she's absolutely right. So I will reiterate that we're doing this, but we don't advocate others doing it. Instead, we hope that we can come up with some book ideas so you can go out and buy a book in our honour. And then tell us about it so we can live through your book buying vicariously. Sigh. 

Nikki: Hey Sue! So. We're one month in to not buying books and I'm starting to think this was a really bad idea. On the one hand, I always say I'm a book-buying addict: I get a rush walking into a bookstore and walking back out with 12 books in my arms, but then a few hours later I start to feel guilty, realizing I have hundreds — HUNDREDS — of books on my shelves that I've yet to actually read, and the more I buy, the fewer I'll actually have time to read. But now that I've cut myself off, going cold turkey (after, I'll admit, ordering a total of 10 books on December 31st that arrived in a giant glorious box at my home on January 4) I feel ill going near bookstores. I used to feel SUCH a rush going into Costco and gunning it to the book aisle. Or deciding to spend some time browsing in Chapters or at LA Mood, a comic book store in downtown London. Or stepping into a used bookstore just for that wonderful smell. There's this feeling of butterflies in my stomach, excited anticipation of what I'm going to find and what goodies I'm going to bring home. And the first time I went into a Costco in January and rushed to the book aisle… I suddenly realized that it doesn't matter if I find something amazing: I CAN'T BUY IT. And the letdown was huge. Why the hell does one bother going to Costco? I only buy the three pounds of paprika because I know I can sneak over to the book aisle in between the "necessities." I haven't even bothered to venture into a Chapters. I will admit I've found myself browsing Chapters online, or Amazon, but knowing I can't put anything into that cart gets me down in the dumps. And I did manage to go into LA Mood, but left pretty quickly after watching the rest of our Graphic Novel group buying books and realizing I can't do the same. UGH. And I haven't even gotten started on reading book reviews in magazines and newspapers, realizing that some book sounds SO GOOD and I can't read it until 2015. 

Killing. Me. 

So before we get into the actual books, how has the experience of NOT buying books been for you? Are you having as much trouble as I am? Or am I just the far worse addict? 

Sue: I have to admit that at first I thought it was going to be horrible. I remember you telling me about your very full cart on Amazon at the end of December and I panicked a little because I wasn’t up to date on my EWs and therefore wasn’t sure what other books were coming out or being recommended that I may miss if I didn’t get up to date.  I think that I bought 4 books before the end of the year and I was quite happy with those.  I’m lucky in a way as I don’t have a Costco membership so I don’t have to worry about that temptation because I would also find that very, very difficult.  I also think that the only other thing saving me at the moment from going through major book buying withdrawal is the fact that after Christmas I am so sick of shopping that I don’t feel the need to go and buy, buy, buy at Chapters. I usually start off my new year by reading quite a lot of books as I feel my social calendar is a little less demanding and I get more time to read (especially this year since the weather has been so bad – there’s nothing better than “hibernating” with a good book).  I have a feeling that I may have more difficulty not buying books when spring comes around and new books are everywhere and I’m out and about more and ready to shop again – that’s when I’m going to have a struggle on my hands. So far I am very, very happy and satisfied with the books I’ve been reading from my own shelves so perhaps that has also made the resolution not to buy books a bit easier. It’s also nice to have a feeling of satisfaction because I’m finally reading what I’ve collected over the years. I had made a list of all of my unread books before the end of the year and realized that I had many more than I had thought which to be honest felt a little gluttonous and also induced a little bit of stress. With every book I pull off my shelf and read those feelings are lessening! I’m enjoying the process of remembering why I bought these books to read in the first place which is really making it a lovely adventure!

That said, if we were ever to venture out to a bookstore together all bets would be off and we’d both be in MAJOR trouble so part of my survival is also not hanging out with you in bookstores!! Heehee

Nikki: Ha! That is SO TRUE. We really are our own worst enemies when it comes to book buying together. I still remember years ago the two of us going into downtown Toronto and we put two hours of parking in the meter, and then two and a HALF hours later we left the bookstore, each with two full bags of books, and had to run as fast as we could back to the car, which was sans ticket!! We felt extremely lucky that day, but then had to deal with my husband and your roommate ribbing us about how many books we'd purchased. It was like we'd spent an afternoon in a crackhouse and had come out completely stoned with bags of the stuff hanging out of our pockets. 

I agree that this weather is certainly perfect for reading. And so let's get into what we actually read! We've decided to talk about not just the books, but how we acquired each of the books. 

I read five books in January. I’ll write shorter reviews here because my longer ones are on my Goodreads page (come friend me!): 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: This had been recommended to me by so many people, and then my friend Chris Meades (author of the brilliant Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark and brillianter The Last Hiccup) sent me his copy for Christmas, so it was officially a book I owned! And while I wasn't so sure of it in the beginning — the humour is derived from chortling at a guy with Asperger's — you soon realize that you're not laughing AT him, but with him, and it's a book that truly opens up your mind to what Asperger's is and how all of us are able to change our strict mindset given enough provocation. I really enjoyed it and it had many laugh-out-loud moments. 

Saga volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan: I'm a huge BKV fan and had read the first volume of Saga before Christmas, and so this was in my big box of 10 books because I couldn’t wait to get the next one (vol 3 is in July: WHAT WILL I DO?!) and I LOVED it. This is such a great Romeo and Juliet type of story of two people from different worlds at war who come together and create a new hybrid life, and then immediately have to do whatever it takes to protect their new baby. Brilliant. And the illustrations are stunning. 

Pride of Baghdad by BKV: Because I was going to the Graphic Novel book club this month and wanted to pitch a BKV month (and they accepted!) I reread Pride of Baghdad. This was recommended to me by several Lost fans after Y: The Last Man became a key book on that series, and I bought it in . It's a one-off story of what happened in 2003 when a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo during a US air strike. Gorgeous and devastating. 

Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor: When I was doing my undergrad in English lit, one of my profs was offering a seminar course on African-American Women's Lit, but it was at exactly the same time as a Virginia Woolf course I had my heart set on, and I was devastated. I went with Woolf, and my prof was kind enough to give me the list of books on his curriculum. One of them was Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, whom he told me was his favourite author. So I read it and it was glorious. I've read it twice since, along with all of her other books (including Bailey's Café and The Women of Brewster Place). Her writing style is sublime, every sentence is like a poem, and I bought Linden Hills in the City Lights used bookstore (where I spent most of my off-time during university; seriously, 80% of my used books have the scrawled pencilled-in price with the CL under it on the front inside page) probably in 1995, and never read it. It travelled with me to do my grad work, then my first apartment, second apartment, first house, second house, and now third. And since it was the last book of hers I had to read, I finally sat down and read it. And doing so reminded me why we're doing this. SUCH a good book it made me want to pick up all of her other books and reread them. It's dark and dreary, I'll admit, and made for some depressing moments throughout the reading process, but it's SO beautifully written. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves great literature. 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris: To offset the dreariness of Linden Hills I picked up Sedaris's book to read alongside it. I've read everything by Sedaris and there's always a handful of essays that make me laugh out loud, reading passages aloud to my husband, and this was no exception. There's a chapter where he talks about language CDs and learning to speak new languages so he can test them out in foreign countries that is screamingly hilarious, where others were more poignant. He included a few fiction pieces, but I much prefer the non-fiction. I picked up this book last year (from Costco no less!) and unlike his other books, didn't read it immediately. It was great. 

Next month I'm hoping to hit some older books on my shelves. Where you found dozens, I literally have hundreds. Blergh. 

And how about you, what did you read this month?

Sue: Ah, I love our adventures!!

I read 5 books in January:

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon: I had bought this book in hardcover when it was released as it was Haddon’s first book after The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a book which I absolutely adored).  A Spot of Bother focuses on an older British couple (husband is retired and wife is semi-retired) and their grown-up children (gay son and relationship-challenged daughter). The husband begins having anxiety attacks and also begins imagining that a spot of eczema he’s noticed on his stomach is actually cancer. The whole notion of him having cancer debilitates him and things spin quickly out of control for him. The wife is having an affair with an old work colleague of her husband’s. The gay son has moved away from home and is having relationship issues of his own as he’s afraid to commit and introduce his boyfriend to his parents. The daughter is trying to decide if the man she’s marrying is due to his ease of dealing with her out of control son (from a previous failed marriage) or due to the fact that she does truly love him. The book was very funny and also very emotional. I loved way the story built up to one absolutely horrific day where the family is all together and everything goes wrong but turns out right in the end. Interesting comment on how family members can easily drift away from each other and not really know each other very well at all.

Ox-Tales Earth: This was a book of short stories released by Oxfam in 2009. I picked this book up at WH Smiths in a train station in England (my train stub was still in the front of the book). It was one of 4 books of short stories released to raise money for Oxfam (the others being Air, Water and Fire). Each of the compilations contained short stories from well-known authors who donated their stories to the collections. Some of the authors who contributed to this volume were Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin, Hanif Kureishi, Nicholas Shakespeare and Jonathan Coe. I really enjoyed these stories which ranged from a station master in rural Russia hiding a dying Leo Tolstoy from his wife, a white South African woman fighting to keep her love for her native country despite the current regime which was persecuting legitimate white land owners and the lengths she goes to in order to defend her love, a Rebus story from Rankin of exactly 200 words, a story about a man trying to regain his youth and the story of a young boy with autism and how his mother struggles with wishes of him enjoying the simple things in life. I wish now in retrospect I had read this book sooner and bought the other 3 editions because I believe I would have enjoyed them as much as I did this one however I can’t find them online anywhere. This is the downside to waiting 5 years to read a book!

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: I picked up this book in a used bookstore many years ago prior to reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Maguire in my book club. I bought it on the recommendation of so many people. I bought it before I read and disliked Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and it has taken me at least 10 years to summon the strength and interest to read Wicked. This must be a good book though, right?  It’s been a major hit on Broadway.  I think my initial disinterest of the book was the fact that it was related to The Wizard of Oz. I have seen many clips of the movie over the years but the few times I sat as a child to watch the movie on t.v. I was either terrified or bored. I had to actually read the synapsis of The Wizard of Oz so that I would have the background to read Wicked. I did find the premise of Wicked interesting – to hear the other side of the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and figure out why she did what she did and why she was who she was.  I enjoyed parts of the book but on the whole found that I wasn’t very interest in the story of Elphaba at least not until she was at school but that quickly passed and I found that her early years and later years weren’t overly satisfying story material for me. I found that the politics usually overshadowed finding out who Elphaba really was on the inside. I found it hard at times to pick up the book and keep reading.  Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have that childhood link to Oz. I’m not sure. In the end this is not a book that I would recommend.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:  Years ago I was part of a cyber-chat book club started by Nikki which was done by instant messaging (goodness how old am I?) and I believe this was one of the books picked that I had bought but didn’t end up reading. Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch, was recently released and has been much talked about lately. In recent articles I read that she releases a book every 10 years and I thought that I really should read some of her work. I am glad that I did. It was a very interesting study into human nature and human relationships. It was very well written and while a hefty read it was an engaging one. The story felt incredibly cinematic though I don’t believe it’s been adapted to film. I was very curious to find out how it would all end since there was an element of mystery and intrigue to the story and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. I will definitely read more Donna Tartt in the future.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold: Alice Sebold is most well-known for her novel The Lovely Bones which I loved. Funnily enough I found this book in hardcover at a dollar store for $2.00 a couple of years ago and thought that I couldn’t pass it up. The story is about a daughter committing a horrific act which then forces her to look back on her very tumultuous love/hate relationship with her mother and the resulting ups and downs in her own life from childhood to adulthood. I found this book very thought provoking and also heartbreaking. I don’t know if at the end I agree with the daughter’s decision but I do sympathize with her. I think this would be a very interesting book to discuss in a book club. 

Nikki: Just a quick response to the Ox-Tales book, but I did see them all for sale still on Amazon, so you could pick them up there. Next year, of course. ;) And also, I’d almost forgotten about that cyber book club we had! That was probably 10 years ago now, and we did it all in a chatroom every month. I did it because I had friends spread out everywhere in the country, and it was a great way for everyone to come together to discuss books. ;)

Looks like we're both off to a great start!! My final question for this month: was there a book you saw listed anywhere that you wished you could buy right away and read? (I know we're going to see these every month so I thought it would be fun to document them… and then next year let's go on a shopping spree on January 2.) ;) For me, it's a book I read about in Entertainment Weekly called A Star for Mrs. Blake, about five American mothers who travel to France to see the graves of their sons, who died in WWI. I almost cheated and bought it, but I held off. (But I'm hyperventilating just writing about it.) 

Was there one that you saw that you wished you could have bought? 

Sue: At our January book club meeting while we were picking books for the year, a fellow member pointed out a book because of its colourful and interesting cover (and I am hoping that it does become a 2014 book club pick). I was drawn to looking at the book again this past weekend when I visited Chapters.  It’s called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. In Tokyo, a sixteen-year-old teenager attempts to escape loneliness and bullying by writing a journal telling her great grandmother’s story (a Buddhist nun who lived 100 years) and a woman on an island in the Pacific finds a washed up lunchbox containing various items which she believes to be debris from the 2011 tsunami.  I’m intrigued to find out if/how their stories and fates become intertwined. I have to admit that I did have this book in my hands…but I resisted the temptation to buy.

Nikki: Wow, we are being so good. But for everyone else reading this, I hope we’ve given you some ideas and that you rush out and buy a book in our name! And also, I should confess that we’re already discussing that perhaps after a certain number of months, we reward ourselves by buying a book. Or five. 

See you all next month!