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Audiobook – The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

>> Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This is the first of his books I’ve listened to that have not been part of his Botswana series. It was quite different. The story itself is quite slow moving and at least in the beginning, not all that interesting. Isabel Dalhousie is an independently well-off woman, living in Scotland, who is the editor of the journal “Review of Applied Ethics”. She witnesses a young man fall to his death from a concert hall balcony. Her sense of moral obligation leads her to find out more about this young man and his death. Along the way we meet other characters including Isabel’s beloved niece Cat, her possibly unfaithful boyfriend Toby, Isabel’s opinionated housekeeper Grace and others.

Isabel spends a lot of time thinking about and discussing ethical dilemmas. At first this seems a bit heavy handed, but at I got to know Isabel and delved deeper into the story, it was actually interesting enough to continue listening. She doesn’t have the ability of Precious Ramotswe (From McCall Smith’s Botswana series) to come out with the kind of verbal gems that ought to be on greeting cards or refrigerator magnets. I haven’t decided yet, whether or not I’ll listen to any more of this series. It lacks some of the charm and humor I found in the Botswana series, but knowing my habits, I’ll probably end up listening to at least one more in the series.


Dracula by Bram Stoker

>> Sunday, January 28, 2007

This was my second book for The Winter Classics Challenge.

I’m not really sure why I’ve never actually read this, but I am most definitely glad that I finally did. I was hooked nearly from the first few pages. The moodiness of the writing and the layer after layer of suspense had me wanting to just hide away and read it straight through. I hadn’t realized that the book is not written in a standard omniscient narrator or single point of view. The tale is told via journal entries, letters, newspaper articles, etc from the various characters as the story unfolds. The sense of participating in Jonathan Harker’s growing sense of unease right from the beginning is compelling.

What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature, is it in the semblance of man? I feel the dread of this horrible place overpowering me. I am in fear, in awful fear, and there is no escape for me. I am encompassed about with terrors that I dare not think of.

I knew he had left the castle now, and thought to use the opportunity to explore more than I had dared to do as yet. I went back to the room, and taking a lamp, tried all the doors. They were all locked, as I had expected, and the locks were comparatively new. But I went down the stone stairs to the hall where I had entered originally. I found I could pull back the bolts easily enough and unhook the great chains. But the door was locked, and the key was gone!

Reading this book took me back to Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. We’d play Monopoly and watch the old black and white horror movies on TV. I’ve seen several movie versions of the Dracula story, but all of them have been adapted enough to make reading the original feel like reading a fresh story.


Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

>> Sunday, January 21, 2007

I finished this excellent book today and it was wonderful. It was definitely an investment in time and effort, but the story and the characters will stay with me. I'm counting this one for all three of my current challenges - The Winter Classics Challenge, The Chunkster Challenge and the TBR Challenge.

This book has it all. Of course, at 1463 pages long there’s room for plenty. There are heroes, villains, tragic heroines, orphans, Napoleon, Waterloo, a grandson disowned by his grandfather, a son striving to honor the request of a dying father, an evil innkeeper and his equally evil wife, a policeman who won’t give up on his search for a former thief, priests, nuns, criminals, idealistic young men, political turmoil, etc, etc, and it’s wonderful. There is way too much plot to even give a hint without either giving away something or just having it so far out of context that it doesn’t make any sense. Yes there are parts that are probably worth skimming and some parts are much easier to read than others, but I am so very glad that I finally read this. The large and varied cast of characters is so well written that even the minor ones play an important role in the story as a whole. Thanks to Booklogged, Boofkool, and Mizbooks – your challenges inspired me to read this Classic Chunkster that’s been on my TBR list for ages.

Just a few more favorite passages . . .

On Napoleon and Waterloo:

Napoleon had been impeached before the infinite and his fall was decreed.

He annoyed God.

Waterloo is not a battle; it is the changing face of the Universe.

More on Waterloo:
The shadow of an enormous right hand rests on Waterloo. It was the day of Destiny. A power beyond Man controlled that day. Hence the breakdown of minds in horror; hence all those great souls yielding their swords. Those who had conquered Europe collapsed to the ground, with no more to say or do, feeling a terrible dark presence approach. Hoc erat in fatis. That day the perspective of the human race changed. Waterloo is the hinge of the nineteenth century. This disappearance of the great man was necessary for the coming of the great century. One, to whom there can be no reply, took it in hand. The panic of heroes can be explained. In the battle of Waterloo there was more than a cloud, there was s meteor. God has passed over it.

On Buildings and Architecture:
Part of the building has recently been torn down, but what remains still conveys an idea of what it once was. The structure, taken as a whole, is not more than a hundred years old. A hundred years is youth in a church, but old age to a private house. It would seem that Man's dwelling shares the brevity of his existence, and God's dwelling, His eternity.

On turning points in the life of Jean Valjean:
And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments in his life, the first, when every doors were closed and human society rejected him; the second, when human society was once more howling on his track, and when prison once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he would have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment.

A young girl grows up:
She had not only grown, she had become idealized. As three days in April are enought for certain trees to put on a covering of flowers, six months had been enough for her to put on a mantle of beauty. Her April had come.

More on the inadequacies of the French prison system:
Robbers do not cease operations because they are in the hands of justice. They are not so easily disconcerted. Being in prison for one crime does not prevent the inception of another. They are artists who, simultaneously have a picture on exhibit in the salon, while painting a new one in their studio.

On nature after a spring or summer shower:
Nothing is so beautiful as greenery washed by the rain and wiped by the sunbeam; it is warm freshness. The gardens and meadows, having water at their roots, and sunshine in their flowers, become vases of incense, and exhale all their perfumes at once. Everything laughs, sings and proffers itself. We feel sweet intoxicatioin. Spring is a provisional paradise, sunshine helps to make man patient.

Taking on a book this size is not for everyone, but if you're thinking about it I highly recommend that you give it a try.


Audiobook - Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton

>> Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Having finished the Mrs. Pollifax series I was in need of a new light mystery series for my driving around audiobooks. The title of this one caught my eye and the fact that it was read by Donada Peters was a plus.

Agatha Raisin is a 53 year old single woman who owns her own successful PR firm in London. She sells the business and retires to a cottage in the English countryside. The villagers of Carsley are pleasant enough, but not exactly welcoming. In order to try to become part of the community Agatha decides to enter a quiche competition, but when the judge dies after eating her quiche, it’s not exactly the thing she’d like to be known for among the villagers. Agatha’s efforts to defend herself and learn the truth provide a fun tale full of quirky characters.

I’ll definitely be continuing this series as audiobooks because the light mystery genre is perfect for ‘driving around town listening’.


Baby Afghan for a Friend's Granddaughter


Yarn - main color - Lion Brand Baby Soft - Candy Print
- border - Lion Brand Jamie - Pink


Making Progress in Les Miserables

>> Monday, January 8, 2007

I haven't dropped off the planet. I'm reading a ginormous book.

I knew that diving into this book to kick off 2007 was going to be a challenge, but I’m so glad I did. I always worry a bit when buying a book that was originally written in another language. I've been the vicitm of some bad translations and (unknown to me when I started) abridgments. I did some research and settled on the edition shown in the picture. It’s a 1987 unabridged translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee that is based on the classic C. E. Wilbour translation (which was the first major translation published only a few months after the novel in 1862).

The book is divided into 5 major parts and I’ve finished the first part and started the second. This is an extremely complex novel and a very dense read at 1463 tightly packed pages. I’ll consider it an accomplishment if I finish this before the end of January.

The Book opens in 1815. Jean Valjean has just been released from 19 years of imprisonment that resulted initially from the theft of a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children. His attempts to escape led to multiple extensions of his sentence. He arrives in the small town of Digne unable to secure a place to sleep due to his ex-convict status. He is sheltered by the local bishop. After stealing the bishop’s silver and getting caught Valjean is given the gift of an opportunity to change his life. The bishop tells the police that he gave the silverware to Valjean and in fact he forgot to take the candlesticks too. The bishop then makes Valjean promise that if he takes the candlesticks he also has to promise to become an honest man.

Two years later in Paris, we meet Fantine, crushed by the loss of her first love and father of her illegitimate daughter. She returns to her hometown after leaving her young daughter Cosette with a family who agrees to look after her for a monthly stipend. While working in a factory, Fantine struggles to keep up with the monetary demands made by the family who has Cosette.

Fantine’s struggle to survive and provide for her daughter and Valjean’s struggles with his conscience while at the same time being hunted by the police chief Javert are compelling reading.

A few favorite passages so far . . .

Hugo definitely sees the prison system as flawed:

Jean Valjean was not, as we have seen, born evil. He was still good when he arrived at the prison. There, he condemned society, and felt himself becoming wicked; he condemned Providence, and felt himself becoming impious.

I loved this paragraph:
That day was sunshine from start to finish. All nature seemed to be on a vacation. The flower beds and lawns of Saint-Cloud were balmy with perfume; the breeze from the Seine vaguely stirred the leaves; the boughs were gesticulating in the wind, the bees were pillaging the jasmine; a whole bohemian crew of butterflies had settled in the yarrow, clover, and wild oats. The stately park of the King of France was invaded by a swarm of vagabonds, the birds.
Jean Valjean struggles with his own conscience:
He also saw, as if they were laid bare before him in palpable forms, the two ideas that up to then had been the double rule of his life,--to conceal his name, and to sanctify his soul. For the first time, they appeared absolutely distinct, and he saw the difference separating them. He recognized that one of these ideas was necessarily good, while the other might become evil; that the former was devotion, and the latter was selfishness; that the one said, “neighbor”, and that the other said, “me”; that the one came from light, and the other from night.
I'm looking forward to more of this one and wish I had some vacation days scheduled so I could sit and lose myself in it.


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