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Book Review: A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

February 22, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: A Spell of Winter by Helen DunmoreSummary:
Cathy and her brother Rob live with their emotionally distant grandfather on family land in England because her mother left, and her father died in a mental institution. Cathy and Rob seek refuge with each other against the world, but World War I won’t let them keep the world at bay forever.

Review:
I generally enjoy controversial books, and I heard that this historical fiction included the always controversial plot point of incest. The short version of my review is: it’s amazing how boring a book about incest and WWI can actually be. For the longer version, read on.

The book is told non-linearly in what appears to be an attempt to build suspense. The constant jumping with very few reveals for quite some time, though, just led to my own frustration.

I was similarly frustrated by the fact that Cathy’s childish interpretation of her father’s mental illness never progresses. She never moves from a child’s understanding to an adult’s understanding. This lack of progress gave a similar stagnant feeling to the book.

Of course, what the book is best-known for is the incest between Cathy and Rob. I found the scenes of incest neither shocking nor eliciting of any emotion. There are scenes where Cathy and Rob discuss how “unfair” it is that they cannot have children and society will judge them. But then again there are scenes that imply that Rob took advantage of Cathy. Well, which is it? It’s not that I demand no gray areas, but the existence of gray areas in such a topic would best be supported by a main character with insight. Cathy remains childlike throughout the book. Indeed, I think the characterization of Cathy is what holds the whole book back. Because the book is Cathy’s perspective, this lack in her characterization impacts the whole thing. What could be either a horrifying or a thought-provoking book instead ends up being simply meh. A lot of time is spent saying essentially nothing.

That said, I did enjoy how the author elicits the setting. I truly felt as if I was there in that cold and often starving rural England. I felt as if I could feel the cold in my bones. That beauty of setting is something that many writers struggle with.

Overall, this book read as gray and dull to me as the early 20th century English countryside it is set in. Readers with a vested interest in all varieties of WWI historic fiction and those who enjoy a main character with a childlike inability to provide insight are the most likely to enjoy this book. Those looking for a shocking, horrifying, or thought-provoking read should look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Friday Fun! (January: Freezing Cold and Baking)

February 1, 2014 1 comment

breadHello my lovely readers!  I hope all of your new years started off well.

I’m sure most of you are aware of the intense cold snap that hit the United States this month, and Boston was certainly no exception.  There were a few nights where, even with our heat cranked all the way up, it still wasn’t exactly what you’d call warm inside our apartment.  The few times it did warm up, we got snow.  In fact, the month rolled in with quite the blizzard.  I got to get some exercise in shoveling out our steps and portion of the sidewalk, not to mention my boyfriend’s car (obviously, this was a joint venture).  With it being so cold and me having a 30 minute walk as part of my evening commute home from work, I’ve had to get creative in how I bundle up.  My dad had bought me some fleece-lined tights, and those have become my base layer.  So cozy!  Like wearing your jammies under your work clothes (but looks professional).  However, when I tried to get more, I couldn’t find any for less than $20 plus shipping, so I’m stuck washing them a lot.  Thankfully, today was our first warm day in weeks (43 degrees F!!) Yayyyy

Since it’s been so cold, and also since my dad gave us a Kitchen Aid for Christmas, I’ve been doing a lot more baking.  Basically anything that will let me run our oven for justifiable reasons, since that heats up our studio apartment.  I’d been struggling with getting my bread to come out right, so when we visited my dad back at Thanksgiving, he went over the process with me and caught two errors.  First, I wasn’t letting the yeast grow enough before adding the flour (I’m an impatient person), and second, I wasn’t kneading it long enough.  Well, the second problem was easily addressed with the Kitchen Aid.  The first was addressed by setting a timer with a set amount of time to wait before adding the flour.  My first loaf done with these tweaks and the Kitchen Aid came out perfect!  I was very excited.  Another recipe I finally perfected this month was vegetarian Thai red curry.  I read a tip that combining soy sauce with seaweed replicates the flavor of fish sauce better.  I also started using full fat instead of low fat coconut milk.  It came out much more authentic.

Coming up on the blog this month, I’m hoping to read another one of my 2014 review copies and offer up another giveaway (enter the one currently running if you haven’t had the chance yet).  I’m also hoping to read another book for the MIA Reading Challenge.  I’m glad I already got one read for the challenge and enjoyed it!  I’m also hoping to make an announcement this month of another project I’m working on, but I need to finish up some behind-the-scenes work first.

Happy reading!

Friday Fun! (Soup Season)

February 18, 2011 6 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  It’s alternating between a pleasant 40-something degrees and so fucking damn cold that you just want to curl up under your pile of blankets and stay there forever.  This clearly means that it is soup making season.

The great thing about soups is not only do they warm you up, but they also actually taste better when reheated than the first time around.  Plus when you make a huge pot, there’s enough for dinner, lunch the next day, and some leftover to freeze for a busy evening later in the month.  As such, I’ve been making soups non-stop yo.

I have a plethora of options for actual soup recipes, as opposed to what I did in previous winters which was dump boullion, veggies, and pasta or rice in water and call it good enough.  No, no.  Now I’m making such things as Thai Butternut Squash and Lime Soup or Kale Potato Soup or Root Veggies Red Lentil Dal.  It’s divine.  It’s awesome.  It’s healthy.  It’s one of the pluses to cold weather.  I mean, seriously, I can’t imagine downing that dal in 90 degree heat.  Just would not work.

Of course, when the soup doesn’t cut it to warm you up, gin always also helps.  (Yes, I know technically it thins your blood so you get colder, but you still *feel* warmer, and that’s the point, isn’t it?)

Happy weekends all!

Friday Fun! (Graduation and Strategizing Season)

December 10, 2010 8 comments

This week I finally finished all of my graduate work not only for the semester, but ever!  My MLIS will be officially awarded in January, but as of this week, I don’t ever have to do homework or go to class again!  I am so excited, not only to finally be done, but to officially be a professional librarian.  🙂  Not to mention that I’ll have more time for reading and writing for fun, hehe.

In other news, the winter cold has finally hit Boston.  I am so glad I managed to find a nice, cheap pair of warm boots just in time.  My pair from last winter fell completely apart by the end of the season.  I blame salt and all the walking I do all the time.  Thus we have entered what I refer to as the strategizing season.  Bostonians start walking that line between looking cute/fashionable and actually being warm.  There of course is a whole urban dweller look to being warm though.  The multiple layers.  The knee-high boots for the ladies.  The various versions of gloves that still let you use your smartphones and iPods.  My personal favorites are the commuter gloves that you let fold back the fingertip of the glove to use your smartphone, but glomits (fingerless gloves with a mitten flap you can fold back) seem to be the most popular on the bus.  Personally, I currently have two pairs of fingerless gloves.  I need to get the commuter gloves.  My fingers can’t take it.

Then there’s the how to stay warm at the bus stop strategies.  There’s the stationary dancers who hop from foot to foot.  The leaners who attempt to block the wind by leaning against something.  This strategy makes sense at bus stops with a shelter.  At ones without a shelter though, they wind up leaning against a telephone pole, and I honestly think any warmth they feel is psychosomatic.  Then there’s the stoic crowd that I’m generally a part of.  We stand there firmly in one place either staring the direction the bus is supposed to come from glaring at it or employing the watched pot never boils concept and looking the opposite direction.

But it’s not just the commute that’s cold.  If you have to pay for your own heat, your apartment tends to be not as warm as one would like either.  The layering employed for the commute gets extended inside, only the coat is replaced with a sweatshirt in an attempt to trick yourself into thinking that your apartment is actually a bit warmer than outside.  At least there’s no wind inside.  Personally, I acquired an electric blanket to put at the bottom of my pile of blankets.  This means that I’ve been winding up in bed earlier and earlier every night.  Since the tv isn’t in there, this means a lot more reading is occurring.  I’ve also heard of other strategies, such as running the oven, doing jumping jacks, drinking tea repeatedly, running the hot water in the shower, etc…  Ah, winter.  How we’ve missed you.

I actually don’t mind the cold that much.  I’ve lived in New England my whole life, so I’m used to it.  I do, however, think it’s a travesty when it occurs without snow.  I love snow! You hear that, weather?  If it’s this cold out, you may as well make it snow….

Friday Fun! (A/C, Rent, Gardening)

June 11, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Last weekend saw a heatwave here in Boston that finally convinced me to buy an a/c unit.  My brother informed me that the new models use far less electricity than I previously had thought, and my dad offered to contribute some money toward one as an early birthday present, so one was acquired! Of course, the day it arrived was so chilly that I had all my windows shut, lol.  We plan on installing it this weekend in preparation for the imminent return of the heat. Long as we can find an electric drill to borrow somewhere.

My lease is up the end of August, so I wound up discussing renewing it with my landlord.  He told me he’s probably going to have to raise my rent due to taxes.  A friend reminded me that it’s a renter’s market, so that’s a bit odd.  However, I also just remembered that he gave me a deal when I first rented it, knocking $50 off the original monthly amount he wanted, so I guess that evens it out?  Either way, I really don’t want to move.  I haven’t been in one place for more than a year since I was 15 years old (15 through 18 consisting of switching back and forth between parents’ houses), and it would just be nice to have 2010 be The Year Amanda Doesn’t Move Anywhere.  Also, with the job hunt and graduation in January, I’m expecting that my entire financial situation will be very different in a few months, so I’d rather wait to move until that happens.  Anyway, cross your fingers for me that it doesn’t go up too much and that I’ll overcome my patriarchy-induced tendencies to not advocate for myself in monetary situations!

In container gardening news, one of my tomato plants is getting tall, and I’m wondering when I should stake it.  I’m a bit clueless about tomato plants.  The other one is kind of failing to thrive. It looks healthy, but it’s still only 3 to 4 inches tall.  I added some dirt and watered it, but I don’t know what else to do.  Thoughts on that?  The good news is, my pepper plants are doing awesome!  I may have discovered my gardening niche.  I also just planted some onions (yes, in containers).  I’m super excited about that, because they’re my favorite veggie! Unfortunately, two very sun-lacking days followed my planting of them, so I’m not sure if that’ll affect the germination.  Next up, I need to figure out some way (*cough* some free way *cough*) to raise my long container for spinach so it’s closer to the light.  I’m thinking using empty boxes since that’s about all I have laying around.

I have yet to decide exactly what I’ll be doing tonight and Saturday (but I guarantee some reading and some videogaming).  Sunday I’ll be doing some invasive species removal on the Charles River. Stoked for that! What will you be doing with your weekends?