Iceland Defrosted

HisLit

A book that will grab you from beginning to end—especially if you enjoy traveling to exotic places and indulge in eating, drinking and being merry.  Iceland sounds like the type of place to visit if you are a sci-fi fan.  The reason I say this is because it is a country filled with “out-of-this-world” geological freakishness and beauty, all on the same island!  In the book, it is described as if you were literally walking on another planet.  Volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, lagoons, Northern Lights, crazy winds and geysers are just some of the highlights from this hidden gem.  You like beer?  Apparently Iceland has the best.  Their coffee is not far behind.  Looking for adventure, driving off the beaten path?  Plenty of square mileage for that; just make sure your vehicle is equipped with the right tires/gear.  Want to celebrate New Years in a big way?  This country knows how to party when the clock strikes midnight.  Everyone and their uncle has personal fireworks to set off on the street.  And don’t forget that grilling on BBQs outside throughout the Winter season, is also popular.  They even celebrate Husband Day in January!  Have I convinced you to go yet?  How about telling you that their water is practically the freshest and coldest on earth—if it were up to them, bottled water wouldn’t exist there.  Some areas of Iceland have a strong odour of sulfur; a result of the natural, geothermal springs.  But that shouldn’t bother men too much, as it resembles another smell they may be used to, when among a group of buddies 🙂

HisLit title read-alikes:
Ready to explore its fascinating landscape after reading Hancox’s experiences?  Besides a good travel guide, here are a few books that can better prepare you for your next trip to Iceland:
Iceland: Land of the Sagas by Jon Krakauer and David Roberts
Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jon Gnarr
History of Iceland by Gunnar Karlsson

If you always wanted to publish your own novel or record a kick-ass music album, you may be inspired by the residents of Iceland.  The top pastimes here are writing and composing songs—and they are pretty damn good at it too.  You’ll even become familiar with some Icelandic terms, once you are done with Hancox’s memoir.  Read it today, travel tomorrow!  … Just watch out for the trolls, elves and fairies …

 

 

 

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The Imitation Game

Book vs. Movie

  

The book recounting Alan Turing’s life is remarkable and interesting (sometimes going beyond my comprehension, because I am quite horrible at math).  The movie was based on the biography but it seemed to make more sense to me.  The real question is how these two compare.  Obviously, the book states facts and includes accounts from others about how Turing lived his very secretive life (unfortunately, many documents that included him were destroyed).  The film was a Hollywood rendition, which glorified Turing (and rightfully so!) but it added parts that either weren’t necessarily accurate or never happened.  The reason I know this is because I had read the section that had involved him in the war and cracking the code but in the DVD, it played out differently.  The most exciting part of Turing’s life was not spelled out clearly in his biography.  The movie showed how Turing approached the problem with his team and how dramatic the breakthrough became—but did it really happen how it was portrayed in the film?  No.  The book is very long and—truth be told, I sadly did not finish it but I would very much like to, eventually.  What I mean to say here, is that The Imitation Game was one of my favorite DVDs from 2014 but if it was not true to the biography, were we being fooled?  The movie was completely engaging because of how crazy the story came together and the hardships Turing’s team had to face when they did discover that they could solve Enigma.  It seems as though the things that made me enjoy this film the most were the fictional elements, which were created for cinematic drama.  Turing was a closeted homosexual and did get engaged to his friend Joan Clarke but other moments were written in to create tension and conflict (such as when Turing discovers a spy on their team, or when he is almost kicked off the team).  In this case, I would suggest that if you wanted to read what little there is to know about Turing’s real life (and even at that, it is many pages), you should definitely pick up the book.  If you wanted to see a movie with great acting and a clever/entertaining plot, watch The Imitation Game—knowing that it is loosely based on Turing’s life.  I only found out about this amazing man because of the film and I am sure there were others like me.  I wanted to learn more about him, so I started reading.  I think that was the most important point of the on-screen version.

 

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Before Green Gables

A Five Star Pick

As a hard core fan of the Anne of Green Gables series (which I only read when I took a Children’s Literature course in college), I was ecstatic when I knew this novel was in the making.  I always wanted to know Anne’s background and how she came to be an orphan.  It is written in the spirit of L.M. Montgomery’s style—tons of emotion, drama and fun.  Many critics would disagree with the creation of this novel but I think it was a good idea.  After all, anything that has to do with Anne is appealing to me and when I had finished the series, I was so sad that it had ended.  Budge Wilson didn’t overstep Montgomery, even though readers would argue that if Montgomery wanted to write about Anne’s past, she would have!  I will only say that if you want more Anne-like adventures, it is a satisfying read.  Good on its own but not vital to the original series (obviously).  So, if you decide to skip it, you will be missing out on the possible beginnings of our favorite red headed heroine.  Wilson is no Montgomery but she is a close second.  Her birth and early childhood took place during the time that Montgomery’s novels were being published.  If anyone were chosen to write a prequel, Wilson was deserving of it (and an East coast Canadian at that!).

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises & The Book of Polly

Book Pairing

  

I really loved the first tale in this pairing that when I read the latter, I realized there were many similar things between the two books.  I find it fascinating that one story can be almost like another, yet completely different at the same time.  It is definitely a good thing for readers, otherwise it would be hard to suggest new titles!  The thread that brings these novels together are the themes of a close relationship between young girls and senior women, humor and hidden secrets.  In the first book, Elsa is seven years old and has a strong friendship with her grandmother—indeed, she is about the only real friend that the little child has.  When her grandmother dies from cancer, Elsa is left to deal with the loss but also a mission that her grandmother left behind: deliver personal letters addressed to her neighbors in the apartment building that Elsa is living in, with her divorced mom.  The letters are like puzzle pieces that link all the neighbors together and becomes the key to the many stories that Elsa’s grandmother used to tell her.  She discovers that the tales were not too far from reality, even though they sounded fantastical.  With the second book, Willow is ten and has a very old mother.  Since her mom gave birth to her late in life, many times, Willow fears that she will be left alone very soon at a young and vulnerable age.  Sometimes, kids in her school think she is living with her grandmother.  Her mother smokes heavily and Willow believes that cancer (nicknamed “the bear”) will snatch her only parent away from her.  She also finds out that her mother apparently had a lover when she was much younger (before she married Willow’s now deceased father), who was sent to jail for an unknown reason.  It is up to Willow to find this man and uncover the secret that has been withheld from her for all these years.  The senior women in each story are quite outlandish in their behavior and don’t hold back their profane opinions.  Actually, they seem like the same person at times!  In both stories there is dark and light humor, with sad or dramatic moments but overall, quite nice and hopeful.  Each novel also contains interesting characters that you won’t soon forget and features a dog too.  One more bonus with Backman’s book is that if you liked Harry Potter, you will certainly enjoy some references that are mentioned in it.

 

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Us Conductors

HisLit

In this fictional account of Lev Termen’s life, we are presented with how the Russian scientist invented an electronic instrument, known as the theremin. We witness how his government uses this invention as a means to visit America in the 1930’s, making him a spy against his will. He settles down in New York and believes he will stay there after his ideas are shared with American companies.  Although he is married when he arrives in New York, he falls in love with Clara, a young woman who is about fifteen years his junior but who enjoys spending time with him and becomes one of the best theremin players out there. Despite Lev’s success with private theremin lessons and inventing new things, he is watched closely by both his home country and the FBI.  When a job he is sent to do goes horrifically wrong, Lev finds himself panicking and hoping that he can continue to thrive in his new life, without being caught. He insists on being with Clara, despite her rejections and eventual engagement to another man. After pretending to live a normal existence with a new wife, Lev is finally captured and brought back to the Soviet Union, spending years in the gulags and scientific labs. A heartbreaking, yet mesmerizing novel.

Hislit title read-alikes:
If you enjoyed reading Michaels’ novel, you may be interested in the following books:
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Curtain of Death by W.E.B. Griffin
The Voyage by Murray Bail

It is not surprising that Michaels’ book won the Giller Prize in 2014.  I was lucky to have the chance to meet him and see him demonstrate how a theremin actually works!  If you like a musical instrument that looks like a cool gadget and want to experience how it sounds, reading the novel will give you that satisfaction.  Truly something else to witness it in person, though 🙂

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Me Before You

Book vs. Movie

Me Before You (novel)   Me Before You (movie)

I was excited when I found out they were doing a movie of this book.  I somehow knew it would be a gem because it was filmed in the UK and featured British actors.  I was not disappointed in the least.  Yes, the novel has a bit more character development but the highlights of the story were wonderfully portrayed in the screenplay.  My favorite part of the movie was actually seeing the unique style that Lou has in her taste of clothing.  When reading the book, I could only imagine the outfits she wore from the descriptions but watching the bright colors of her clothes on screen, truly brought out her personality.  I especially loved the camera shot on her collection of shoes!  The actors were perfectly chosen.  A special mention goes to Emilia Clarke.  I don’t think anyone else could have done a better job than her—the facial expressions were the best I have seen in a long while.  She really made you love her character.  And what satisfied me the most was how the film ended: as realistically as the novel did, which is good, considering Moyes came out with a second book.  I only hope they produce a movie out of that and succeed in making it just as enjoyable.  What are your thoughts?

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The Penguin Lessons

A Five Star Pick

The Penguin LessonsThis memoir explores the adventure of a young British professor, taking the risk to travel abroad and landing on the other side of the world, to teach at a boy’s school in Argentina—during a corrupt regime.  Although this in itself is already fairly interesting, his life gets more complicated with the addition of a penguin!  Michell happens upon the oil slicked bird, thinking the suffering animal will not make it.  The penguin’s fight to survive and unending gratitude to the author become a fixture in their bond.  Never could you imagine how Juan Salvador’s life is changed and how he changes lives at the school, as a mascot.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned throughout the book:  things that ring true even today and perhaps more so, during these unsettling times in the United States.  How one little penguin could open our eyes is clearly seen, once you fall in love with him.  It doesn’t take long before you consider him a fellow man, despite being a  waddling bird.  Juan is silent, yet friendly and oh so dashing in his permanent tuxedo!  Even his name is charming.  The chapters are illustrated with sketches of Juan that Michell himself had doodled when the penguin was living with him.  It is a memoir that will make your heart swell and bring tears to your eyes … but then again, aren’t all animal anecdotes like that?

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