Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Recent reading (more Poldark!)

My reading year began the same way the last one ended ;) with a good dose of the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, set in Cornwall in the late 1700s.  I picked up where I left off at Christmastime by reading books #6 & #7 in the series, The Four Swans and The Angry Tide.

"The Four Swans" takes its title from the swans on the river in Truro, observed by both Morwenna & Ross. To Ross, they seem to represent the four main women in his life (Demelza, Caroline, Elizabeth and Morwenna), each of whom faces challenges in her life and her marriage in this book.  For Demelza, it's her attraction to a handsome young naval officer, rescued by Ross in France (who has a way with a pen);  for Caroline, it's dissatisfaction in her marriage to Dwight because of his devotion to his medical career and his patients;  for Elizabeth, it's George's jealousy and suspicions about their son's parentage that continue to overshadow their marriage;  and for Morwenna, it's a loveless arranged marriage to a pompous young minister (who has a foot fetish, no less!!).  Demelza's brothers, Sam & Drake, are back too, and both dealing with broken hearts in their own ways.

As Goodreads reviewer Marilyn says, "Whatever else you might think of Winston Graham's writing, his characters are sterling. They screw up, redeem themselves, then screw up again. Real people, fascinating in their human-ness."

"The Angry Tide" continues these storylines, with Ross now a member of Parliament, and there is a good chunk of the book that takes place in London, as seen through a visiting Demelza's eyes. I could have done with a little less of London, but overall, I loved this book, and I loved the characters' pronouncements on life, love, marriage and death.  The last part of the book ties up several ongoing storylines, as the 18th century draws to a close and another century dawns, and Ross faces his 40th birthday. It packs one emotional wallop after another, with a stunning ending. If you love these books & these characters as I do, you will want to have Kleenex on hand. (And while I never want the books or the TV series to end, I vividly remember how the 1970s TV adaptation ended -- and there's a part of me that cannot wait to see how the current cast & producers handle the challenge!)

The next five novels in the series after these two take a leap forward in time 10 years, and focus more on the lives and loves of Ross & Demelza's children. I read all of them years ago, with the sole exception being the 12th & final novel, "Bella Poldark."  The producers of the "Poldark" BBC/PBS TV series have said they are not sure they will continue filming the novels past this one (because of this leap in time), so I am not sure I will continue to re-read the later novels;  at least, they will not be a priority for me in the same way the others were. I will probably look to read something else next. But I would highly recommend the whole series. :) 

These were books #1 & #2 that I've read to date in 2017. I have set myself a goal, through the Goodreads Challenge, to read 24 books in 2017.

Monday, January 16, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Blue Monday

Today is supposedly "Blue Monday," the most depressing day of the year, as first determined in 2005 by a professor in Wales who looked at factors that included the weather, debts, time since Christmas and motivation.(Apparently, the idea was also popularized by a travel company as a marketing ploy to sell sunspot vacations.)(!) 

I was reminded that today might be "Blue Monday" by a story in my Facebook "On This Day" feed, and did some Googling, which confirmed that yes, it is indeed today. Not only that, several British newspapers were of the opinion that this year's Blue Monday could be even gloomier than usual, because of all the upheaval caused by Brexit and the election (and upcoming inauguration) of Donald Trump in the U.S., along with the large number of celebrity deaths over the past year -- including, most recently, George Michael & Carrie Fisher -- that reminded aging baby boomers and Gen-Xers like me of our mortality.

While the papers might have a point in that respect, personally, I'm not feeling it today. True, it's a bit of a grey day (with freezing rain in the forecast for tomorrow -- UGH), but it's a relatively mild 3C outside, and we even had the balcony door open a crack for a little while to air the condo out. We ran our usual Monday errands -- a visit to the bank ABM/ATM, lunch & then grocery shopping at our favourite supermarket, a stop at the drugstore to pick up a few things and then a browse at the bookstore, with Starbucks coffee/tea lattes in hand -- and dh is making his favourite beans & rice for dinner tonight. We had dinner last night at BIL's, with both nephews there and entertainment provided by Older Nephew's adorable puppy. Last week was my birthday, and they all came over for cake & coffee -- puppy included. It's been a very long time since I had anyone besides dh around to celebrate with me on my actual birthday, which helped make up for the fact that I was turning another year older.

I find my own low point usually comes a few weeks from now, in February, when it seems like the winter is never going to end. Although I will admit I had a few "screw you, winter" days last week when both bad weather and a visit from Aunt Flo conspired to keep me at home for three claustrophic days in a row. 

How about you? Is today a Blue Monday for you?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here 

Monday, January 9, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: The fools who dream

My newsfeed was abuzz this morning with Meryl Streep's speech at last night's Golden Globe awards. Political commentary aside, I was struck by how she emphasized the value of the actor's job -- the artist's job: "to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like...  we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy."

She also said, at the very end, "As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art." 

In her most recent blog post, Pamela made the obvious connection that also came to my mind:  "Not surprisingly, when I heard that expression our stories, our blogs came to mind.  Many originated from broken hearts. Each, I believe, is a form of art — a beautiful expression of the human experience. Story-telling from one person and one generation to another is one of the oldest, most powerful forms of shared communication."

One reason I didn't watch the Golden Globes is that SIL & I went to see "La La Land" together yesterday  (neither of our husbands being big fans of movie musicals -- silly boys ;)  ).  It's an old-fashioned movie musical (dancing among the stars, anyone?) with some very modern twists and a decidedly modern ending. It also stars the wonderful Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I thought they were fabulous in "Crazy Stupid Love" a few years back, and was delighted to see them teamed up again. Their photos should be in the dictionary alongside the entry for "chemistry."  :)

There's a song that Emma Stone sings (filmed live, all in one take!) at a big audition near the end of the movie that ties in nicely with Streep's words -- and with what so many of our blogs are all about:

Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish, as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make

It's a song about pursuing your dreams.

It's also about the cost of those dreams, the toll that pursuit can take.

We know all about both, don't we?  Here's to us, then...!

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mom'd, again...

It happened again yesterday. Same mall, same young girl all dressed in black, trying to lure me over to her kiosk with a sample held in her outstretched hand. "For you," she said. I smiled and shook my head and walked on.

"You can take it with you, Mommy!"  she called after me.

I kept on walking -- but here is my new year's resolution:  if she ever calls me "Mommy" again, I am going to stop, look her in the eye, and politely (I am Canadian, after all, lol...) but firmly tell her, "I am NOT your Mommy. Only one person in the world gets to call me that, okay? I know you mean well, but I think you had better think of a new sales pitch."

(Or words to that effect. But definitely "I am NOT your Mommy."  Good grief...!)   

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Current

(An occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "Right Now.")

Current Book(s) -- I have three books currently half-finished -- and I just realized that two of them were (still) half-finished when I wrote my "Right Now" post of Nov. 20th (erk). I did do some reading over the Christmas holidays, but clearly, it was other stuff. ;) The two holdovers from November are "Canada" by Mike Myers; and "Mr. Churchill's Secretary" by Susan Elia MacNeil, a mystery set during WWII.  Also "The Four Swans," by Winston Graham (book 6 in the Poldark series).  And of course, a cast of thousands waiting in the wings...!

Current Playlist -- I don't have any digital music on my phone, and mostly listen to our local classic rock station on the radio. The most recent music I was playing on the stereo were some Christmas CDs, pre-vacation. I have a fairly sizeable collection of Christmas CDs (plus a few cassettes...!) that I've collected over the years. Two recent picks: I love to put on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi when I'm putting up the Christmas tree, and we also enjoy Blue Rodeo's Christmas album, which came out a year or two ago.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure -- "Helping" dh finish off the container of Lindor milk chocolate balls that Mrs. Santa put in his stocking. ;) Also finishing off the chocolate chip panettone that BIL & SIL gave us. Dh doesn't like panettone, so I've been eating most of it. (It's a tough job but someone has to do it, right??) ;)

Current Color -- Lots of burgundys & greys.

Current Drink -- Starbucks tea lattes (tall non-fat Royal English Breakfast). Would you believe I didn't indulge in one of their holiday drinks this year??

Current Food -- Dh has a sore throat, so lots of his favourite bean, chickpea & lentil soups this week.

Current Favorite Show -- The new season of "Sherlock" began last Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece -- yay!! Only three episodes :( but in this case, quality vs quantity. ;) "Victoria" also starts this month on PBS Masterpiece -- looks interesting. 

Current Wishlist -- More space in our storage locker -- because I'm not sure how the Christmas tree is going to fit in there, once we take it down (we got rid of the old one when we moved and bought a new one this Christmas, so we will need to make room for it). :p I think it WILL fit, but not without some reorganizing (or some grumbling from dh...!). :p

Current Needs -- I can't think of too much that I desperately need at the moment. We're probably going to go back to the furniture outlet where we got our other furniture earlier last year and get two new end tables & possibly a coffee table to match the other stuff (we're still using the tables we bought when we were first married -- = 31 years old, & kind of scratched up). I want a coffee table again, but dh is pulling for an ottoman instead.

Current Triumphs -- SIL & I had discussed going out for dinner on New Year's Eve (with our husbands, obviously, lol)... but we didn't get around to doing anything much about it until the day before. I decided to take things in hand, and made a reservation for the four of us at a local chain restaurant that was offering a special prix-fixe NYE menu. (By then, the only available time slots were before 6 or after 8, but that was OK with us; we normally have a fairly early supper anyway.)  Everyone enjoyed the meal, albeit we all got overly stuffed -- the meal included a choice of appetizers (which we don't usually order when we eat out), choice of entrée, and choice of dessert (something we also don't normally order), which came with a celebratory glass of prosecco. BIL, who isn't a great fan of eating out, said several times that he was glad we were doing this. So I consider that a triumph in my books! ;) 

Also, we went to see a movie after dinner ("Passengers").  Dh & I usually go to the movies on Sunday afternoons (sometimes cheaper & often less crowded), so dinner AND a movie are a rare occurrence! 

Current Bane of my Existence -- You would think that since Christmas is over, the stores, parking lots, etc., would be a lot quieter? Well, Monday was a bank/government holiday hereabouts -- and local schools didn't get out until Dec. 22nd -- which means they're not heading back to class until next Monday, Jan. 9th. Which means a lot of people are still off work this week... which is why the stores are still pretty packed, with long lineups at the cash registers. Ugh!!

Current Celebrity Crush -- My previous picks (Aidan Turner (aka Ross Poldark),George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and Sam Elliott) still stand. :)

Current Indulgence -- See "Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure," above. ;)

Current #1 Blessing -- No snow to shovel or clear off the car (underground parking!)!! Dh is ecstatic every time it snows & he doesn't have to clear it, lol.

Current Slang or Saying -- Hmmm, not sure I have one.

Current Outfit -- Black yoga pants from Reitman's and green waffle-weave long-sleeved holiday-themed PJ top from Old Navy ($8!).

Current Excitement -- Hmmm, not much that I'm excited about at the moment. My birthday is coming up soon, which means a day to do what I want & dinner out -- although it also means I'm yet another year older (yay?).

Current Mood -- Still feeling some of that post-holiday glow -- but bracing myself for the inevitable post-holiday/post-birthday/endless-winter blues...

Monday, January 2, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: "Passengers"

Dh, BIL & SIL & I went to see the movie "Passengers" on New Year's Eve (after a great dinner out). I like both Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt, the sets & special effects were pretty good (we saw it in 3D), and the premise is intriguing (albeit I found it, and particularly the film's climax & resolution, to be pretty implausible).

In case you haven't heard, the plot involves two passengers (guess who) aboard a spacecraft headed to another planet. The catch is that all 5,000 passengers and crew are "asleep" in hibernation pods;  the journey will take 120 years and the ship is on autopilot -- that is, until a technical malfunction wakes up our hero (Jim) & fellow awakened passenger, Aurora, 90 years ahead of schedule. As malfunctions begin to pile up, it's up to Jim & Aurora to find a solution, not only to save themselves but the ship's human cargo.    

Glitzy sets & pyrotechnics aside, what grabbed my attention were a few intriguing lines of dialogue that pointed to a major underlying theme of the movie. Underlying the whole "fight for survival against impossible odds" storyline was the idea of two people finding themselves thrust unexpectedly into a life they never thought they'd be living -- that they'd rather NOT be living -- a future that's completely different than the one they thought would be theirs. And coming to terms with that, and making the most of the life you have, even if it's not the one you planned or expected or originally wanted.

I found an "official' quote from the movie that illustrates this theme perfectly:
  • Aurora: "You can't get so hung up on where you'd rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are."
Another quote that I remember (I'm paraphrasing here): "This life may not be what we planned -- but it's ours." There's a whole long soliloquy at the very end along these lines, too.  (I would love to find a script, eventually, to be able to read the whole thing & quote it accurately.) :) 

Needless to say, I sat there in the theatre with my mouth hanging open, thinking, "Hmmm... now where I have heard THIS before??"  ;) 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Recent reading: A plethora of Poldark ;)

The last three books I read in 2016 were from Winston Graham's Poldark series. As I've written before, I first read the Poldark books and was a big fan of the original BBC/PBS television series, back in the 1970s. I began re-reading the series when a new television series based on the books began airing on PBS a couple of years ago.

The series began in 1780s England, with Ross Poldark returning to his native Cornwall from fighting in the American Revolution. He finds his father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and his sweetheart, Elizabeth Chynoweth, thinking him dead, is now engaged to his cousin, Francis. To the horror of local society, Ross takes in an abused miner's daughter named Demelza as a kitchen maid, falls in love with her and marries her. 

As the series continues, the French Revolution casts its shadow over England. The poor are getting increasingly poorer and more desperate, and the forces of industrialization and commercialization -- represented here by the upstart Warleggan family -- are challenging the dominance of the old order. 

Jeremy Poldark & Warleggan, the third and fourth Poldark novels, formed the basis of the BBC TV series season that just recently ended on PBS in North America. As with the previous novels, the storytelling is masterful. The characters and relationships are complex and wonderfully drawn, and you learn a lot about the history of the time and how people lived.

As "Jeremy Poldark" opens, Ross is facing trial for inciting the locals to loot and riot after a ship owned by the Warleggans runs aground in a storm, and Demelza is desperately maneuvering to save him. The trial, the recent death of his daughter Julia, a lingering attraction to Elizabeth place a strain on Ross's relationship with Demelza, just as she discovers she is pregnant again (with the title character). As a bereaved parent who saw many of our support group friends and clients go through subsequent pregnancies after loss, I was impresssed with the very realistic way parental grief is portrayed in this book. Like many parents, Ross & Demelza find themselves grieving the loss of Julia and approaching the prospect of having more children in very different ways, which drives a wedge between them. Grief is not a major plot point but, as it often does, it forms a backdrop and informs other events that follow. 

 In "Warleggan," cousins Ross and Francis embark on an ill-fated partnership to revive the family mine, Wheal Grace, and free themselves of the influence of their enemy, George Warleggan. When Ross's relationship with Elizabeth deepens, a furious Demelza retaliates by encouraging the attention of a handsome Scottish officer. The relationships between men & women and how easily misunderstandings and damage can occur is a recurring theme in this book.

The Black Moon, the fifth Poldark novel, takes its title from the black moon (lunar eclipse) that takes place as George Warleggan & Elizabeth's son, Valentine, is born. Great-Aunt Agatha Poldark, nearing her 100th birthday, pronounces it to be a bad omen -- something she reiterates with great relish to George later in the book.  There is a long interlude in France, where Ross risks everything to rescue his friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, from a French prison. And we are introduced to two of Demelza's brothers, Sam, a devout Methodist, and Drake, who forms an unlikely (and socially verboten) friendship with young Geoffrey Charles Poldark, son of Francis & Elizabeth -- and with his governess, Elizabeth's cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth -- adding to the existing tensions between the Poldark & Warleggan families.  

"The Black Moon" and part of the next book in the series (which I am currently re-reading), "The Four Swans," will be the basis of the next season of Poldark, which is now filming in Britain. Air dates TBA. Needless to say, I can't wait! 

These were books #22, #23 & #24 that I read in 2016, for a final total of 24 books read, meeting my Goodreads challenge. :)