A Book Club of One’s Own – California by Edan Lepucki

There’s nothing I like more than a good speculative fiction.  And there’s nothing I am more disappointed by than a specfic that starts out really well and then the point of it is lost somewhere in the middle and ends in a way that seems like a cop-out.

When I started reading California I was sucked right into the world that the two characters inhabited.  A married couple living in almost total isolation after the world has all but collapsed around them.  There are communities where those who can afford it live and seem to continue life just as it was before things started going wrong; an apocalypse as slow as a glacier.  The couple, Cal and Frida left the city.  Cal is handy on the land because he went to a college that encouraged the all male student body to work on farms and get experience of how the land works.  Frida bakes.

With a name like Cal – short for Calvin but people have called him California in the past – you’d think that he would be the main character.  He’s not and he is.  He’s not because the story switches point of view between Frida and Cal and so we get to see different interpretations of similar and tangential events.  But Cal’s actions and decisions are what count.  Frieda’s purpose is limited to one thing she can do that Cal can’t.  Aside from that one thing, Cal chooses what and if the do things.

Somewhere in the middle of the story, a curve ball is lobbed and it reduces the world and all the events that have happened and will happen to a single person.  Weird when the apocalypse took such an organic and logical course across the entire planet.

The end of the story is a let down, which does reflect the feelings of the characters and does, I suppose, leave us with the possibility of a sequel.  I’d like a sequel because I liked Frida.  I also liked the style of writing, it allowed a greedy reader like me to be totally immersed, especially in the first half of the story.  If this ending is the ending, it is a cop-out: too easy, too clean, too convenient.  And a Cal choice, not a Frida choice.

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Cauliflower, Pancetta and Mushroom Bake

Cauliflower, Pancetta and Mushroom Bake.

I made this tonight for dinner and it was very yummy indeed.  I didn’t use pancetta because such yumminess is difficult to find here.  I forgot to get an onion but I had a leek which I used and it seemed to work nicely.  Sadly I didn’t have the time to photograph the evidence of me using three pots at the same time!

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Do you believe in amnesia?

I have just had stitches in my shoulder taken out.  This is the last milestone in what has been the strangest journey of my life.

Two weeks ago I went in to have very routine surgery on a rotator cuff issue.  Here is what I recall:

1. Having a panic attack on Wednesday morning at about 9:30am as I am rolled into the operating theatre and my doctor, my lovely, lovely doctor, talking me back to calmness.

2. Feeling the plastic of the tube down my throat and knowing that if I could just create a gap between my throat and the tube then I would be able to breathe again.  All around me were people talking, softly and purposefully, but I have no idea what they were saying.

3. Being in my apartment and really needing to know the time but the time on every single device in my house told me a different time, so I called people, including people in countries other than China, and found out that it was for certain three thirty in the afternoon and I went to bed.

4. 20 hours later I awoke in my bed feeling very, very, very confused.

What happened between Wednesday 9:30am and Saturday 7am has been told to me by those who witnessed parts of that time.  I will give you the ‘highlights’:

1. My mother told me that I was convinced that “they” were out to get me.  She asked me what “they” were wearing and I told her white trousers and blue jackets.  “There you go,” Mum said, “they are the nurses, they are there to help you.”  I was massively underwhelmed  and said “I can’t believe that you are on their side, I can’t believe you would side with them,” etc, etc and then hung up.  Mum called me back immediately and I said “Oh, I know what they are doing, they make you call so that nobody else can contact me,” and hung up again.

2. My friend came bearing gifts of my favourite foods and I mentioned to him that he might see the parade of the 100 year old people if he were lucky.  “How do you know they are 100?” he asked.  “Well,” I said, “they are at least 80.”

3. Another friend visited twice.  On one occasion I told her that at the wedding that was happening the man with the plastic leg (who says plastic leg??) kept leaving his leg all over the place and I had had to take it back to him several times and if she saw it on her way out, could she do me a favour and return it to him.

4. My doctor and his wife and his three children visited me.  I spoke eloquently and  lucidly about my life in China and was terribly interested in how my doctor’s wife found life Beijing.

None of these things, and many more that are not as pleasant (pulling out lines in my arms and feet – yes, plural), do I have any recollection of.   When these stories have been told to me, they have been exactly that: stories.

I am not sure that I really believed in, or, perhaps, understood amnesia before this.  I thought perhaps that if I tried really hard to recall then some things would seep through.  The funny thing is, I don’t even try to recall because those moments do not exist in by brain.  It would be like me trying to remember when I sailed around Cape Horn because I never have, I don’t sail, don’t even really know where Cape Horn is, I’ve never had the time or space or opportunity to do that and that is what the loss of those days feel like – not a loss because there is no possibility that it could have happened.

Kinda cool, kinda freaky.

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A Book Club of One’s Own: Michael Connelly – The Reversal

I have been a fan of Michael Connelly for years.  I have particularly liked his Detective, Hieronymus Bosch.  I love the way he drives me around Los Angeles, a city I don’t know, and makes it a city I want to know, one that I think I know as I read, smiling at the familiar suburb names, road names, canyon names as they were more than words on a page.

I saw Michael Connelly ages ago at a Sydney Writers’ Festival and he disappointed me.  I’m not entirely sure what I wanted, but what I got was a grumpy old man who did not seem to be pleased to there, did not seem pleased to be talking about this thing that he does that the entire audience loved – this character of Los Angeles.  He sounded petulant and entitled and right, no matter what.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 17.36.05So, I didn’t read anything new that he published for several years.  Until last week.  I read what is the third installment the in Lincoln Lawyer series.  I have read the first one, now I have read The Reversal.

In this novel, I was reading the grumpy old man I saw at the Sydney Writers’ Festival all those years ago.  Harry Bosch had morphed from reflective to entitled.  His internalising of things became the petulance of someone with something (unidentified) to prove.  His detective skills transformed into keeping things secret lest anybody suggest a different route or way of thinking.

The story is told from the dual perspectives of Mickey Haller (the Lincoln lawyer), in first person, and Harry Bosch, in third person.  All this served to highlight is that both of these characters are the same.  Just different ages and perhaps their vanities are slightly different.  But both are chauvinistic, even more so from pretending that they are not.  Both need to prove themselves and in doing this they are simply a pair of prats.

Crime fiction has been a great love of mine.  I think my heart is breaking.

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I made dinner!

I’ve never been good in the kitchen.  My culinary skills are limited to picking up my knife and fork.  This year, I hope to change that a little.  I am trying to learn how to cook and have challenged myself to make one thing a week.  So far, I have made muffins that turned out like rock buns and steak – all by itself.  On my list of new skills to learn is the art of folding and making a sauce to go with my lonely steak.

This week I tried out a creamy mushroom, asparagus and pea pasta sauce and…success!  Edible!  Quite yummy!  Can make again!!

Recipe?

Melt a little butter in a large pan and gently cook some crushed garlic.  Add as much mushroom, asparagus and green peas as you like and let that all cook down in the mushroom juice.  Add a wee bit of stock (I used beef because it was all I had and it was good) and then some creme fraiche. Put some chopped green stuff in – I used rocket because my herb choice is limited but it was ok.  Then mix the cooked pasta in – I used curly stuff because I had it, I am sure that a flatter pasta like the bow tie stuff would be better.

Woo hoo!

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A Book Club of One’s Own

I read a lot and every now and then I get to talk to someone about books I am reading or books they are reading, but this only happens every now and then.

Today a conversation about books happened.  One of my students came to class early and we got talking about how different Mongolia might be today if Hitler had won the war.  It was a mind-blowing conversation (for me anyway).  I asked him if he felt that, at international schools, he feels that there is a dominant view of the world no matter who is in the class or who is teaching.  His answer was not surprising and wonderful at the same time.  He definitely knows that his way of viewing the world needs to be presented in particular ways for it to be accepted.  He also talked about several of my colleagues who clearly challenge themselves to consider and include and discuss views of the world that are not dominant.

None of that was about books, but our conversation about history and what would Mongolia be like today (which is where is is from) made me think of a book I have recently read and I told him about it.  It is called The Long Price by a writer named Daniel Abraham.  It is a fantasy novel but that really does not do it justice.  The land is fantasy and there are magics.  Abraham has a beautiful understanding of story and the long and complex plot unfolds perfectly.  There is never a moment where the story seems unnatural or clunky.  I had such a good time reading this book, the craft is superb but does not stand in the way of the story.  I felt like I was reading King Lear where every single word takes us to an and through the complexities of the lives of characters and countries that is wholly authentic and not a bit contrived, and deeply, deeply about humanity.   It really is beautiful.  It is a fantasy novel and it is excellent literature.

http://www.danielabraham.com/books-by-daniel-abraham/the-long-price-quartet/

 

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The 100th Post

Today, the day of my 100th post, I have been busy mending and making things.  And feeling very self-righteous to boot.

I finished making all of the squares for my string quilt:All squares finishedI made a cover for my new laptop (macbook air):

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I framed a beautiful card my Mum gave me and, because the frame was a tiny bit too big for the card, I put a piece of fabric behind the card that I used to make the quilt I gave Mum for Christmas…

20150104_135551I darned a lovely pair of fleece lined stockings (which I will not show you a picture of because there is now nothing to see).  I sewed the unravelling neck of a much loved cardi back on (again, my skills have left me with nothing to show…), I fixed up the neckline of and added some bling to a top I made before Christmas and I wrangled the underwire of a (new, god-dammit!) bra back into place.

This has left me feeling very pleased with myself. So pleased, it is the topic of this, my 100th post!

Happy New Year!

 

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