Shortlist ~~ Three down and three to go!

When the Orange Prize Shortlist was announced a few weeks ago, I really didn’t think I would get many of the books read before the winner is announced on May 30th. I’m a big user of the library and I planned on putting them on hold at my library in Illinois figuring they would be there when I returned this week. But just for kicks I decided to check the shelves of the Anchorage Library last week and see if they might have any of the 6 titles available. Low and behold I found half of them just sitting on the shelves waiting for me! Don’t you just LOVE libraries!!

It turns out that I had already read The Forgotten Waltz and just forgotten (how apropos!) but Foreign Bodies and Half Blood Blues were new to me

When I read The Forgotten Waltz back in October I only gave it an average rating on Goodreads. As soon as I read the first page I remembered the reason I didn’t love it…the main character Gina. She is just not very likable and the story just seems unsatisfying because of that.  I felt the prose itself was beautiful but the plot just seemed ho hum. I sat down and reread the ending again and felt exactly the same way.

Foreign Bodies also didn’t wow me I’m afraid. It also seemed just average and nothing extraordinary, so when I finished it I was feeling pretty disillusioned with the selections the judges were making for this prize. I noticed the Goodreads average rating for this book is only 3.13 so I guess I’m not the only one you didn’t love it.

So thank goodness for Half Blood Blues a book I can actually rally behind for the win! I loved this book from start to finish and I can understand why it has been up for so many awards. It is well written, has a terrific story and a main character whom I really liked.

I decided not to give a synopses of these books since that is easily found on the Orange Prize website, but instead I just wanted to put a few thoughts down on virtual paper.

It’s pretty disconcerting though that I only liked 1 out of 3 of these books since one of my favorite books, Gillespie and I ,was left off of the shortlist. Oh well, here’s hoping the last 3 books are a bit better!

The continuing saga of the Alaskan Adventure!

Since Jasmine and I are coming close to the end of our stay in the Great State of Alaska I think it’s time to post a few more pictures of our exciting experiences. We didn’t get to do all of my favorite things this trip because of the vast amount of snow (you can gather from that last statement that I am not much of a snow bunny and don’t ski, snowboard or sled!), but we did make it to three of my favorite spots, The Alaska Zoo, Potter Marsh and the Glen Alps Trailhead.

Potter Marsh is this very cool wildlife viewing area about 5 miles south of us along the Seward Highway. There is a huge boardwalk that lets you walk quite a distance over the marsh and view the various birds and wildlife that call the area home. My favorite part though is the beautiful view of Turnagain Arm. Just stunning!

Potter Marsh boardwalk

Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh

Glen Alps in the Chugach State Park is really my favorite place in Anchorage. The trailhead parking lot is only about a 15 minute drive from our house but when you get up in the hillside area of Anchorage you feel like your about a million miles away from civilization. What’s great is that there are several trails leaving from this same parking lot and there is a trail for every skill level.

There is a 1.5 mile trail (one way) that heads up to the top of Flattop Mountain. This is the easiest and most popular mountain hike in the area and admittedly one that I have yet to conquer.  I’ve made it about halfway up and chickened out, but other visitors we’ve hosted have managed to make it to the top during a hail and rain storm and lived to tell the tale!

It was still very snowy when we went over last week,  so I didn’t get a chance to conquer my fear of the mountain, but we did manage to go on a couple of different trails and Jasmine was able to play in vast amounts of the white stuff while we soaked in yet more gorgeous scenery!

High above downtown Anchorage!

Glen Alps Trailhead

Everything’s happening at the zoo!

I really love zoos and I’m lucky that Anchorage is home to the small, but mighty, Alaska Zoo. I love this zoo because of its winding, woody pathways and intimate habitats.

These, very close to the path, enclosures truly get you nose to nose, and up close and personal, with the residents. While there are quite a few native animals residing here, there are also a few that have traveled great distances to live the dream, move to Alaska, and have tourists and screaming children stare at them all day. These include 5 yaks, 4 snow leopards, 3 alpacas, 2 tigers and a 2 humped camel that’s mad (this sentence reads a lot better if you sing it to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas starting with the 5 golden rings part!)

Anyway, for whatever reason the animals were all in rare form today. I don’t remember ever being at a zoo where all the animals seemed so active and riled up. The polar bears were swimming and frolicking, the brown bears were wrestling and the wolves were howling!

All and all a lovely day at the zoo, under beautiful blue skies, but with a very funny feeling that I was being watched…..
and stared at…..
the entire day!

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

I read a lot, although time and time again I’m reminded that I’m not well read. There are so many authors that I have omitted from my reading repertoire either through genre prejudices, preconceived notions or just plain ignorance. Dorothy Whipple is an example of the latter. Thanks to Ali at http://heavenali.wordpress.com/ for enlightening me and introducing me to this delightful author and her terrific body of work!

I had a difficult time finding a copy of any her novels through my usual sources so I ended up buying a copy through Amazon.com. Whipple’s novels have been reissued through Persephone Books in the UK, a terrific source for women’s fiction of the 20th century. I encourage you to click on the link above and give their website a look-see. I’m hoping to make a few purchases before the year is through!

“They Were Sisters” was recommended as a good place to start as a new reader to Dorothy Whipple and I must say it has wetted my appetite to now read everything she’s written.
What seems in description to be a simple story on the surface is anything but under the capable hands of Whipple. During the 30’s and 40’s, in a time when middle-class women were still obligated to attach themselves to a man for their well-being, it’s interesting to see how the personalities of Lucy, Vera and Charlotte, the three sisters in the story, caused them to pick the men they married and what the effect those choices had on their lives.

When their mother died, Lucy, being a bit older than the other two girls, took over the role of woman of the house, helping her father with the house and her younger siblings. As a result Charlotte and Vera don’t treat Lucy as a peer but more as a parent who they resent and mock for her adult behavior. It’s a sign of the times that there were two brothers in the family but they were not given any responsibilities, and were so wild, that their father gave them a lump sum of money and shipped them off to Canada. As a result they don’t play much of a role in the story.

Charlotte is very insecure and falls in love with a bully, who domineers and abuses her throughout her marriage. Vera is a beautiful, narcissist who marries for money, not love, and as a result is tired of her husband and seeks comfort through her friendships with other men. And then we have Lucy, who marries a man who is companionable and steady. Lucy continues to play the role of nurturer and tries her hardest to stay close to her sisters even though they aren’t as keen on the idea as she would like.

Masterfully telling the story of the sisters as they move through the challenges of adulthood, Whipple writes a novel that is difficult to put down. I can’t wait to read another of her novels very soon!

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Eating Alaska Style

Anchorage is a city full of coffee houses and huts, brew pubs and restaurants. In other words it’s my kind of town!  Of course there are the usual blight of chain restaurants, of the Applebee’s variety, that seem to have infiltrated every nook and cranny in our great nation over the last several decades, but luckily independently owned restaurants abound as well.

hut closest to us!

Coffee, as you know, has been removed from my daily routine (although I have snuck in a cup or two…shhh!) but for those who are still able to imbibe, there is no shortage of places in town to purchase a cup of piping hot java. There are literally coffee huts on every block of Anchorage. They are stuck in parking and vacant lots everywhere you look and each has its own unique name and decor to attract customers.

This site, http://www.lastfrontier.org/coffeehouses.htm , has some great hut photos!

I am also a fan of brew pubs and alehouses….thank goodness beer has not been removed from my diet!  I have two favorites, Snow Goose and Firetap with the Glacier Brewhouse coming in a close third. All have great menus and a variety of beers that aren’t available in my neck of the woods. If available I try to pick Halibut and chips, my all time favorite meal in Alaska! Luckily Nanook is amiable to taking me out to test the grub and grab a pint when I’m here, so we’ve managed to visit all three in the last several weeks!

Snow Goose

Enjoying a caribou burger and a pint @ Snow Goose

My beer flight at FIRETAP, because I couldn't just pick one!

Lest you think that the only places we’ve eaten at have beer on the menu, we have managed to go to go to a few Asian restaurants, Yamato Ya and Tempura Kitchen. Okay, as I reread that last sentence I realized I’ve fibbed…both of these restaurants have beer on their menus! But I can say that wasn’t the main reason for dining there!

Bento Box @ Yamato Ya

There are certainly a plethora (borrowing my friend’s favorite word) of dining options in this city including one we spotted yesterday. I’m definitely going to have to try this one day when I’m not so full!

Reindeer Hot Dog Stand

(as always click on the blue highlighted areas for more info!)

A Surrey State of Affairs: A Novel

If you want a light, laugh out loud funny book to sandwich between those intense, deep, drama filled novels you’ve been reading lately, then A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford is just the ticket for you!

I loved this book for its wit, its characters and its silliness.  It’s written in the form of a blog (and no, that’s not the only reason I loved it!) by Constance Harding, a middle-aged housewife and church bell-ringer.

She has an older unmarried son she wishes would meet a nice girl, a surly teenage daughter, and an inattentive husband.  Oh yea, and a young, attractive, Lithuanian housekeeper that isn’t exactly a whiz at her job.  Constance’s life is pretty much a shambles but the funny part is that she doesn’t realize it, it’s only us, the readers of her blog that are in on the joke.

The whole time I was reading this book I was picturing one of my favorite television characters, Hyacinth, played by Patricia Rutledge, on Keeping up Appearances.  As those of you that know the show, Hyacinth Bucket (pronounce Bouquet!), is always dressed immaculately with her flowery, candle-lit supper dress and her pearls. This is how I pictured Constance as she typed away on her computer, writing her blog, blissfully unaware of the reality of her life.

If you want a good giggle and a very fun read I highly recommend this one!

{Oh, and one more thing, if you happen to notice me becoming a blogger, who is blissfully unaware of the reality of her life, you will give me heads up!}

World Book Night

Tomorrow the world, or at least the U.S., Ireland, Britain and Germany, will be celebrating World Book Night. A terrific idea started in Britain in 2011 with the tagline “spreading the love of reading, person to person”. 

Sponsored by publishers, booksellers and librarians, the goal in the U.S. is to give away over 500,000 paperback copies of over 30 popular book titles tomorrow and in the week to come. Book givers were chosen after applying online and putting in a request for the title they would like to gift. Each Book Fairy (my term not theirs!) was then given 20 copies of one of the 30 titles and tomorrow they will be sharing the love of reading to people who otherwise might not be able to have access to these books. How fun!

I am currently kicking myself for not signing up to do this!  When I knew I would be in Anchorage on World Book Night, I decided that it might be too difficult to get the books and so I opted to skip this year and try to do it in 2013. What a dope!

I look forward to reading other bloggers experiences during this celebration of books and hope to not sit on the sidelines next year but to get in the game!