A Letter to Nell’s Fans

*Originally published 2016/02/19

Today Harper Lee died.  As you have read in previous posts, her novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been a great influence in my reading and thinking.  Today I want to take a moment and thank this amazing woman for  not just writing a great book that brought me more than a few hours of entertainment.  She has inspired me  I know that most readers leave TKAM wanting to be lawyers and change the world of law and justice.  I left TKAM wanting to be a writer.  I am not the person that will change the world in any way – no grand illusions here.  BUT I want to bring awareness of what our world is like now and hopefully inspire others that can change the world.  Lee wrote this novel in hopes of writing more works. She didn’t think it was going to be a best-seller or that it would mean so much to people.

I read TKAM and I came away with the one fact…the world is not fair.  It’s not black or white, right or wrong.  People do terrible things to good people and sometimes they won’t pay the consequences.  Not to get too deep, but it me question my own ideals, values and religion.  Every time I read the book I measure myself in a way.  I am a thinker, a worrier, a planner, and I express myself in words and writing.  I write because it frees my thoughts.  I choose to be an outsider and peer at the world in many lenses.  I know some people see it as hiding or not living my own life…but I love stories and being around them and telling them…it’s my thing. Whether anyone reads them or not my words are out there…I am out there.  That is what Lee has given me through her writing…a purpose that is just my own.  With my grandmother’s death three years ago this month, I have let go of the “must be” for the “I am”.  Ms. Lee might be gone but for me she will never be forgotten.  I hope she has found peace and is with her beloved sister.

The Book of Romance

*Originally published 2016/02/13

Something a little personal to celebrate Valentine’s Day

Say the words, romance novel, and you get an instant reaction.  It can be the roll of the eyes, stink face, looks of superiority or the look of stars and smiles.  I fall somewhere in between roll of the eyes and look of star and smiles, because I am a romantic at heart but realist in the brain.  I grew up with the reality of arranged marriages.  99.9% of my older relatives (grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, aunts and uncles and any one else from that generation) married because they were told to by their elders.  In those marriages a few found love, some found hell, but most found compromise.  My older cousins were set up by people and went on dates and then very soon were married.  There was romance but they don’t talk about it much. I didn’t have much personal guidance in love, romance or sex.

I grew up with a lot of movies, TV shows, soap operas, Hindi movies and every kind of book.  That was my education to love.  And what I saw was grand passion, crazy stories of getting together despite all obstacles, and having everything work out.  The man sweeps the woman off her feet, loves her no matter what and both overlook anything negative.

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great Years

SO when  I pictured my dream guy…which I did pretty early in life as I have always had this desire to find another person that gets me.  In Kindergarten I was always in the plastic house rolling my eyes when no one but me knew how “playing house” worked.  In grade one I was trying out the wedding thing by getting married at recess to almost anyone willing to do what I say.  By preteens I was crushing over whoever was cool on TV at that time.  Basically, I knew I would marry and I always knew I would find “the one.”

Sweet Valley High and University Years

Then I hit my teens, no one had asked me out since the fourth grade and I started to see it wasn’t about me and what I wanted…it was about compromise.  I have this tendency to fall for a guy who I know is out of my reach or unattainable because I don’t want to be hurt.  I’d rather be rejected right away because at that stage I can still pretend like I don’t care.  So while I read and tried to be good at school my mind was still on why wasn’t I getting my love story, even if it is the teen drama version.

Bridget Jones’s Diary Years

By my twenties I had the “I don’t care about guys and getting married or having kids” down pretty good that at times I even believed it myself.  In my late-20s to early-30s I would try dating but I was scared to take it seriously because romance equals love and me…while I was feeling like I did not have that thing in me that makes guys want to romance me.  With that kind of attitude why would they?  Now at 35 I look back and think of all the time I wasted letting my head lead my love life.

The Wallflowers Years

I know you are thinking…so romance novels are bad for women? No, they are actually good for women.  I was so busy trying to be someone I am not and trying to look smart I am not sure if it got me anywhere.  In 2010-11 (approximately) I started to read more romance – contemporary and historical.  Two people I met on Shelfari who read similar books and had the same passion for reading were recommending authors that I now enjoy.  These two women, my book soulmates, introduced me to smart romance novels (ie: not just Danielle Steel or unrealistic stories) that had storylines that really can happen.  They show heroines as smart feisty flawed women who are supported by men just as flawed.  I know, some of you want to reach out and pat me on the head…but I am okay.  I am not married with kids (yet) but I have better understanding of when it comes around.  I won’t settle for less but I am also not reach for the unattainable…I know my worth and my flaws and I am hoping that I someday to get my  Mr. Worth and Flawed.

Bottom line: Read a good romance novel where real shit happens and guess what?  (Gasp!) You have not lost any IQ points and may have learned something new…just saying.

It’s All About the Badges!

*Originally published in 2015/08/04

When I was in the first grade I (read: my mom made me) joined the Brownies (Canada) and the best thing ever was earning badges.  I still have my Brownie sash with my badges and have to admit I do regret not trying to earn more.  I did have the personality that follows the Brownie honour; though I hated camping (as being outdoors for me meant reading on the deck with lemonade, bug repellent and indoor plumbing), had a fear of all animals (as you can’t talk them down with pleading and little girl tears) and was too shy for fundraising (ie: my dad would sell my cookies at work, while my mom sold the rest to family).   Since then most of the badges I have earned have been for participating in sports (ie: showing up) as speed reading still hasn’t been accepted as a sports activity (rapid eye movement and straining of the brain, I guess are still unappreciated).

A few years ago I joined NetGalley (NG)  (a service that provides ARCs to “professional readers and helps promote new and upcoming titles. Professional readers refers to reviewers, media, journalists, bloggers, librarians, booksellers and educators”) that has helped me try new books and let other readers know what I think.  I believe a year or so ago they provided/rewarded many of their professional readers with badges.  I am lucky to have been awarded 3 out of 4 badges, plus a badge for a 2015 challenge.

So what exactly is on my reader sash? I am glad you asked!

My first badge – and is basically a participation badge (ie: signing up) – was provided to me so I may let my readers know that I am a professional reader.  I am reading – advanced, new or reissued- books in exchange for my honest review.  You may think that I may feel obligated to give positive reviews as I am getting FREE books to read.  The Brownie in me will never allow me to write a favourable review in exchange for free books.  I will always give my honest opinion on a book (and try to give you enough examples on why I feel that away about a book) so you can take that review to make your own decision.

The first badge I earned was my Frequently Auto-Approved badge.  Auto-Approved is when a publisher allows a reviewer to select any of their books that are available on NG.  The badge is awarded when a reviewer has been Auto-Approved by four or more publishers.

The second badge I earned was my Top Reviewer badge.  This badge is awarded to reviewers whose reviews have been published by the publishers (you must have at least three reviews published for this badge).

My goal for 2016 is to earn my 80% badge.  To earn this I have to at least complete 80% of reviews.  From all the books I have been approved to read I have to review 80% of those. ( I am at the 60% range)

Lastly, the badge for Book Advocate 2015 was given out this month to those who are serious about advocating books through reviews, and in having this badge you express your pride in books and reading. More on this later (other than accepting this challenge I have not delved into this challenge).

 

*UPDATED:

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I was also awarded the Book Advocate 2016!

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Last year I was also awarded this badge for having written over 500 reviews on NetGalley!

 

I want to thank all of you have supported me by just reading my blog and reviews so that I can continue to do what I love – read and write 🙂

Book What Now?

*Originally published in 2015/07/30

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Google Image

In the world of trilogies and series many fall flat with repetitive plots, frustrating readers with love triangles or never letting the couple become a couple, and/or start to be ghostwritten/co-authored so the series can churn out 2-3 books a year (but alas, lack the original author’s talent).  

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Image: Pinterest

James Patterson’s Alex Cross and The Women’s Murder Club were two of my favourite series, but by book 7 I could figure out the plot faster than the author probably had intended. As I kept reading I no longer cared how the women or Cross would finally tie up all the loose ends. I kept picking up the next book more out of routine.  I was noticing the books I enjoyed by Patterson were usually written on his own (or with Andrew Gross) and wondered why he would team up with an unknown author rather than writing on his own which worked well for him.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have divorced myself from the Cross series as it feels too much like a chore to even pick up the next book (Alex Cross’s Trial).  I have separated but not given up The Women’s Murder Club so will give book 8 a chance when I have the energy to try to reconcile.

 

Another series I have divorced is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.  I find myself shouting (way too much)…”Pick one, already! Please no more monologues on how hot and mysterious Ranger is compared to how sexy and good Morelli is.” While I love Lula’s sass and Grandma Mazur’s comebacks and antics I just can’t take the cliched plots and same secondary characters being recycled as new ones (and stopped officially at Fearless Fourteen).

9490739b6d476f1b19b32ba98074fca7I have always felt obligated in finishing a series once I start just like my OCD tendencies will only allow me to start at book one for any series.   But enough was enough.  Why was I reading a book I could just as easily put down and never think about it again when there were so many books that made me do the Snoopy dance when I just held it in my hands?  I have broken the chains of series obligations and taken my reading time back.

So you can imagine my apprehension on starting a new-to-me series with a high number of books.  An acquaintance  once talked me into reading JD Robb’s (aka Nora Roberts) first book, Naked in Death.  I went in not wanting to like it as it seemed like a daunting task.  I finished the book and went, meh.   I felt good that I was off the hook in starting a new series.  Then my dear friend (who inspired me to read Stacy Green’s series) convinced me to try the first book (and ultimately the series) again by just her passion for this series…and I felt left out in chats.  In March 2012, I started with book one again (liking it but not loving it) and then picked up book 2, 3, 4, 5,

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Image: Amazon

etc.  There was no love triangle, and the couples do not get boring or drag, each plot is different and the suspense had me staying up nights trying to finish them.  The fact that this series is set in the future with some futuristic aspect adds to the freshness.  There are few repetitive factors in this series (might contain spoilers so won’t go into them) but it’s comforting rather than eye-rolling.  Call it sci-fi mystery romance, romantic suspense or plain mystery…this is a series that will keep you reading.

Here I am almost three and half years later listening to book 48 (plus 10 novellas) and still loving the In Death series.  It isn’t Eve’s romance with Roarke that makes me download the next audio with glee, but the friendship between Eve and Peabody, the insights from Dr. Mira, the banter between her and Summerset, the fabulous secondary characters that bring the world of In Death alive and the way Eve Dallas loves her job and does it well.  There are bad books in this series but I have not rated any book less than 3 stars and would still recommend people read them (as they are still good just not great as the standout ones).  I will let you know how I feel when I get to book 50 on how it’s going but I am very impressed with Ms. Roberts’s writing and her ability in keeping my interest.

Agree or disagree with my thoughts on In Death, Alex Cross, The Women’s Murder Club or Stephanie Plum? Let me know! Or any series I should stay away from as you have divorced yourself from it?

Whistling While I Work…

*Originally published 2015/07/29

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Image: Make Use Of

There comes a time in life when we must leave our comforts and pleasures for the drudgery of…housework.  Well, for me, having learned from my mom and Bibi (Punjabi for grandmother), I actually find a great sense of accomplishment when I have cleaned and organized my living space.  As a kid it definitely earned me brownie points and more time to “read”.  I wasn’t that into going to school but loved the getting ready for the school year routine.  I would organize my closet to fit my new first day outfit and a few other new classic pieces (jeans and shirts), and clean my room so that that year I would definitely study more.  To help that “study more” vibe I would set up my desk with new and old school supplies (I am a little…um, crazy over office supplies) along with my backpack. 

Lastly, and my favourite, was organizing my bookshelf.  Last year it was sorted by country of author so this year would be publisher…no wait, format.  While anyone else would see this housework as a major task in itself and feel content with just finishing it, my type-A personality scoffs at this meager challenge. To make that little voice, not just hush, but be impressed I do all of that while reading a book.  Okay, I made that sound a little more impressive than it is, but hey it is my blog.

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Image: Google Image

To prep for this annual event I would get my dad to take me to the library and checkout The Pistachio Prescription by Paula Danzinger, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume on audio.

Throughout the years I have listened to audio books while making the very long commute from my home to University and later work (at the same University but by transit this time) and have really enjoyed it.  The past five years though I have tried to incorporate more “reading” time by listening to more audio books.  Now that I don’t have to carry around a bunch of cassettes (ack, I have just dated myself) or CD discs (or the dread flip the cassette or add next CD) I find listening to books a lot more practical. 

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Image: Penguin Classics

I clip on my iPod while I wash dishes, cook meals, do housework, while on the computer, in the car, before bed and at my old job I was able to listen to a book in a day or two while going about my usual work (no mistakes on any that work, either).  And, it’s not just simply listening to a book being read to me but finding a narrator that can suck you into the writing and make it come to life.  Being a fan of theater and old time radio programs this is very important to me and I can be a bit picky.  If a narrator can’t engage me I will move on to another audio book (and read the book at another time).

Long story still long, I will be doing some posts and reviews on audio books in the coming months.  There will be no set time as listening to audio varies for me.  I will try and give you some notice for when I will be posting about an audio book (I usually get these audio books from my library’s eLibrary).

Audio books…yay or nay?

Stamp of Approvable

*Originally published 2015/07/16

For more information on Alice Munro and her works please visit her website.

Munro collective stamp.

As I was looking through the recent book news I noticed an article from CBC about Canada Post releasing a tribute stamp of Alice Munro.  I am so excited to see, not just a Canadian icon, but a great writer receive such an honor.  The stamp is amazing with a picture of the author (taken by her daughter) and a sample of her handwriting.  It is something I am going to try and get for my own book collection. 

 “Because if she let go of her grief even for a minute it would only hit her harder when she bumped into it again.” Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” – Harper Lee

“but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down—well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down. ” Harper Lee

 

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Movie Poster

When I was nine years old I was in a split class of Grade 5 and 6 (I was in the fifth grade).  It was the only time that I was in a split class and it was one of the most eye opening experiences in my elementary school life.  It was in this grade that I learned about injustice and that there was this concept of “the other”.  I am East Indian, but what that meant was not clear to me – and even now, I am not sure.  Religion was not big at my school and if anyone ever went to church or temple regularly it was not discussed (we did say the Lord’s Prayer for the first few years of my elementary education). I knew my family’s religion was of Sikh faith and we identified ourselves with Punjabi culture but it was always second to being Canadian.

 

There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life. […]” HL

 

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Penguin Edition

I grew up being in the minority, but at that time I would not have known it.  My friends and I liked the same books, movies and TV shows and even giggled over the same crushes at our lunch break, or after school at the mall.  I just happened to have darker skin and spoke Punjabi to my grandmother.  No one treated me any different that I noticed. This was the grade I discovered Judy Blume’s preteen novels (and from her Iggie’s House I learned that having darker skin and a culture different from most people could define you, and could cause people to dislike you just based on that).  As a class we read That Scatterbrain Booky about the great depression and Anne Frank’s Diary about World War II.  For a more positive activity we also created our own creations of Robert Munsch picture books which we sent to him in the mail.  Yet, the memory that stands out the most for me was watching To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck.  We watched the movie for an unit on Justice and Law.  I wasn’t a fan of black and white films at that age but was just happy we were watching a movie and not doing math!  Twenty minutes in and I was hooked…I don’t know if I understand everything but I did learn about injustice; and from then on I saw the world a little different.  The world wasn’t saved by Superman nor were all bad guys put in prison.  

 

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” HL

 

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Harper Lee

Atticus Finch influenced my sense of what is right and I wanted to be a lot like him – not a lawyer, but trying to do the right thing even when it’s not wanted or the easy route to go.  I read the book in the sixth grade and while the large concepts were over my head, I enjoyed the writing and Scout’s point of view.  Even at that age Harper could explain a lot through Scout.  My dad had seen the movie when it first came out and enjoyed it so I’ve seen it many times over the years with him.  Each time I watch it I get shivers during the courtroom scenes.  I have read the book twice more since the sixth grade  (once during the summer before I started college, and again on my own time while I was taking American History courses in University) and it is still inspiring.  Now when people ask what my favourite novel is, I say that To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) is in the top 3, in no particular order (Will write another post on my top 3 favourite books at some point).

 

“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.” HL

 

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Lee and Truman Capote

The fact that Harper Lee never wrote another book has been a hard concept for me…how can she not write another piece…not even another TKAM novel or even another format.  How about short stories? Essays? Letters? So then of course to satiate my thirst I had to find a biography and find out more about Ms. Lee (Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J Shields).  What the heck? She was friends with Truman Capote? Capote who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany (very different than the movie) and In Cold Blood?  Now I really wanted more! So like my wishes for chips to suddenly become a weight-loss food , or that I could build a travel machine to go back to the golden age of movies, I added I hope Harper Lee writes a second book to the wish list.

 

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.” HL

 

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Cover reveal in 2015

Flash forward to February 2015 – “Harper Lee’s missing book is found and will be published this summer” felt like a hoax.  And, then began the story of Lee’s sister dying which left Lee vulnerable to the new estate execs and their wishes.  Harper Lee has said she will never publish another book so this does seem suspicious.  Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman (GSAW) before TKAM, but her editor found Scout’s story as a child more intriguing so Lee went on to rewrite her book to what is now TKAM.  The original manuscript was put away where it was “lost” or purposely hidden for over 50 years.  Now it seems like this novel came out of nowhere and published quickly before anything can be done.  

 

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” HL

 

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Quote from GSAW

So, as a fan of Harper Lee and TKAM will I be reading GSAW? Yes, I will.  I will because I have absolutely no will power when it comes to my own personal miracle coming true.  I don’t want to go against Lee’s wishes but why was this novel not destroyed if it was never to be published? (Okay, that may be justification for my weakness).  I am hoping that secretly Lee would want her true fans to read it.  Fine, I will take any reason as the temptation is too great for me – after all I am a book addict.  I do wonder how much money will go to Harper Lee versus those who have made the deal for this book to be published.  To sleep better at night I may just borrow the book from the library. Plus, I will give up chips for a whole month as penance… 

 

Anyone else going to read GSAW? Hey, I need to know there are other fans out there like me, lol.

 

 

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Image from the Guardian

 For preview of first chapter:

 

Go Set a Watchman – First Chapter


*NOTE: All quotes are from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

*Original post was published in 2015/07/16