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Michelle CH

Currently reading

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Willa Cather
Progress: 200/297 pages
A.S. Byatt
Progress: 17/555 pages
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally
Alisa Smith, J.B. MacKinnon
Progress: 45 %

House of Leaves

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

Frankly I like my books more straightforward. House of Leaves felt too clever for my liking. There are several story lines running at the same time and there are points when the writing needs to be read in a mirror or is highlighted with copious (and I mean copious) footnotes. Even though the novel was designed to take the reader on a journey, to me it felt like too much work and not enough of a reward. Throw in an unreliable narrator and I couldn't wait until the end finally came. It is also deceiving in length, much of the book's bulk is made up of appendices and end notes. Kudos to the author for keeping it all together as he was writing.


I liked the idea of a house that inexplicably expands on the inside but stays the same size on the outside. The house is a separate character in its own right and you can feel the malice that seeps through it. Although if my home was this bizarre I would have left much earlier than the Navidson family.


An expedition of men to find out where or how the house is expanding was the most interesting part to me. It was where the book really picked up and was filled with the right amount of terror and suspense.


This was a buddy read for me and my reading partner had also read Infinite Jest which has a similar structure. Overall, I just don't think that book was the right fit for me.




Reading progress update: I've read 105 out of 403 pages.

Agent 6 - Tom Rob Smith

Not as strong as Child44 but still enjoying a peek behind the Iron Curtain - what a horrible way to live.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

Lots of painful storytelling in this book - literally. One reason why I enjoy reading so much, is that I learn things that are outside of my day to day experiences. In Snow Flower, the ancient tradition of foot binding is central to the story. While reading, I looked up articles and the history of the practice just to understand the 'why'.


What I found is that it is an terrible, demeaning and male driven process that made for a difficult and painful life for women living in Imperial China. Unbelievably it was also considered highly erotic and sexual - a perfectly bound foot could drive a man to fits of ecstasy. Crazy and you could never make such information up.


I would argue that the foot binding in Snow Flower really is what drives the relationships and hierarchy - having the perfect bound feet could elevate families to before unknown wealth and prestige. It is they "why" of much of the storyline. If not for perfect feet then...


Even so, I felt like the story was told in too much of a self-centered fashion. A lot of "woe is me" and not too much empathy or insightful development from the main character. Eventually I ended up feeling like it was a story being told for the sake of being told. No emotion or feeling - or that important element - a connection!



Although the reader gets a historical perspective, it didn't feel true to me. While a wonderful well of potential, the story was told just for the telling.

Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 297 pages.

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

Willa Cather is a master of the Old West.

The Road Home

The Road Home -

Beautiful writing. Hoping for some couch time today to keep reading.

My second Mary Stewart

Airs Above the Ground - Mary Stewart

I didn't enjoy Airs Above the Ground, as much as my first Mary Stewart mystery and there were several reasons why. The first is that the story centered around horses and I am not a big horse person. I like horses but breeds, training and showmanship ends up being boring reading for me. The airs above the ground are beautifully described and I think that this is a great novel for horse admirers.


The mystery at the center wasn't strong in my opinion and I found very little intense page-turning happening until the end. There is a chase scene at the top of a castle through turrets and walkways that was very well written but alas it was too brief. I wish there was much more of that action throughout the book.


The pluses are the brief love connections between Vanessa March (the heroine veterinarian) and her mysterious undercover  spouse. The sassiest parts are the subtle passion and 'relations' that happen between the two married characters. I love that it isn't all detailed but there are clues to what is going down between the two.


Mary Stewart is also a great scene setter- I love her descriptions of Austria, the country side and people. As a reader you very much feel like you are there.


I know that she has some stronger novels and I will definitely be reading more.



Dear Ms. Gaskell,

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

I feel like we have so much in common and might have long discussions on worker's rights, social justice and workplace reform. But why must you drive me crazy with drawn out scenes?


Margaret Hale as the heroine drives a compelling story and I love your ability to contrast the industrialized North with the pastoral South through her eyes. However, I could have done with less of the details that spread out page after page. I know you must think my comments ironic considering how I love Dickens and Austen.

Fortunately, they do not kill off characters, as often as were dying or dead in North and South!

(show spoiler)


One more small thing, I do wish that the ending hadn't tied itself up so quickly. It is quite jarring for the reader. I also think that a little romantic mystery is nice; but I always knew how it would end.


Your ability to show frivolous and flighty characters was spectacular and lightened up what could have been a very heavy read.


I am definitely looking forward to reading your other novels, Cranford and Wives and Daughters.





Oh my

Working on my HTML skillz...please forgive me while I adjust fonts and colors. It's a hot mess right now

One of my top picks of 2013

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

You know how sometimes you judge a book by its cover? Come, on...we all have done it. I am so guilty of making this mistake with Child 44. I also prejudged the story based on the blurb. And I am the first to admit that I was so wrong!


The first few pages really reel the reader into the story. It is the Ukraine at the height of the vast famine that overtook the country in the 30's- you can feel the despair, hunger and desperation. From there the story jumps to a more modern Stalinist era and an incredible action filled chase.


Tom Rob Smith can weave two seemingly disparate events together into an page turning read fest. I couldn't wait to see how the prologue fit into the story overall.


Officer Leo Demidov is the hero of the story and I initially despised his relentless faith in the 'system' and uncompromising loyalty to the common (Stalinist) good. As with any system, when there is mass paranoia, deceit and suspicion it is almost impossible to win. Demidov finds out first hand how he not only was used an instrument for evil purposes but also how precarious each person's position is in a totalitarian system.


It also cleared up for me how there has always 'seemed' to be such low crime rates in communist countries. If anyone admits the system is broken then questions start to bubble to the surface. Proving that a killer is on the loose is a challenge for anyone who wants to keep their privileged status. Will Demidov ensure that others are protected from the killer or will he protect his own position in the system? I can't wait to read the next book and hoping that the writing, plot and character development stays this strong.

Perfect...another to add to the wishlist

Landscaping With Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise. - Lee Reich

My obsession for organic/sustainable gardening began this past summer. I followed blogs where ordinary people were growing their own food/fruit and became terribly obsessed and enamored with the idea of producing my own organic veggies and fruits. One lovely blog, Sustainable Eats mentioned this book and I had to check it out. BTW, Ms. Sustainable Eats transformed her entire yard into a food producing mecca with every imaginable fruit/vegetable available to her and her family.


I am lucky enough to live in a city where the library has access to almost every book you could ever imagine in just a few clicks. I was able to check out all of her recommendations including this one. I renewed the book the maximum number of times and compiled lists of plants to try and grow. Inspired, I bought two kiwi vines (yes, you can grow your own kiwis!) and will wait for spring to see how we will do.


If you are a casual fruit grower or a little bit nutty and obsessed, like me, then this book is definitely one for you to read. The landscaping you can create with fruit plants/trees is amazingly beautiful and serene. Much of what I fell in love with was reminiscent of an English garden aesthetic.


In this book, I learned about the art of espalier and how it allows for amazing fruiting plants to be grown in small urban spaces. I am also inspired to try new things such as pawpaws. This book proves that you can have a beautiful garden that is renewable, edible and leaves a lasting legacy.


This is on my wish list to buy.



"“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?"
"Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers."
"Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age," Ignatius said solemnly. "Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books."
"You're fantastic."
"I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he's found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.”

― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

To be continued..

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2) - George R.R. Martin

As with the first book I liked the story but didn't loooove it. We continue through the saga of a civil war and the fight for the throne in the Seven Kingdoms. There were some parts which I found sped along really well, capturing my attention completely, and others where I felt like the story dragged on a bit.

The best thing is that I started this book shortly after I read the first, I think that if any more time had passed I would have forgotten much of the back story and characters.

I still find Tyrion one of the best thought out and most personable major players within the novel - his wit and insight is appreciated by this reader. His ability to undermine Cersei and King Joffrey will make you want to clap out loud. My second favorite is Ayra, she is amazing girl and I could read a whole book just on her story.

I've started to watch the series but haven't felt really drawn into it as I know others have. Sometimes it is hard for me to translate a book into film, television show or play. I'm not rushing to the third book but will probably pick it up at some point.

Yo La Tengo

I'm here because I want to re-kindle the love I have for reading and sharing my thoughts with others. GR was my former site of choice and it makes me so sad and angry to see how things have devolved in the last year.


I love reading and smart, funny friends. Above all, I love honesty. If we don't like something, we should have the opportunity to say why. Most people are intelligent enough to take what they read and make their own decisions.


I hope this is my new and final home. To tell you the truth I am so tired of shuffling my books around. First I had them at GR and just when I thought they were all organized, I had to move them to LT. Now, I hope they can live here in peace.


Other stuff about me:

I love to travel, watch films and I work way too much.


I'm a financial advisor with my own practice - so that leaves me little time for my other passions.


I tend to become obsessed with topics, so bear with me. Knitting, cooking, gardening, social policy, historical eras - all are fair game.


I have a super-cute cat who never behaves (but that is ok).


I love to cycle and when I am not partaking in my other obsessions, I ride, even in the winter.


Good conversation and humor are some of things I value the most.

Quotes I love

“You may think it all very fine, Mr. Huntingdon, to amuse yourself with rousing my jealousy; but take care you don't rouse my hate instead. And when you have once extinguished my love, you will find it no easy matter to kindle it again.”
Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Fresh Food from Small Spaces

Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting - R.J. Ruppenthal

Mehhh. Kinda of boring and really not that helpful. Ruppenthal gives a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but no real substance. It's like a Cliff Notes version of gardening on  a micro level. He covers way too much from composting, worms, sprouts, mushrooms, etc., etc. but only at a surface level. I wish he had focused on a few topics for those with small spaces - now that would have been a good idea. You can't be everything to everyone.

Just beginning...

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

I've only read one other Cather novel -  My Antonia, it was a great portrayal of the Upper Mid-West during its heyday. This is so different. Set in New Mexico, I'm enjoying the insight into the Catholic church and how the absorption of this area by the US affected the native Mexican population. So far, so good.