Friday, 30 December 2011

The books I received for Christmas......

Here are the books I bought all autumn for my gift box to myself.  I had so much fun!  I would see a book, and instead of feeling guilty for buying myself a book in the midst of shopping for others, it became a present to myself.  In the end, the family 'gave' me the box, and it became my big present because I bought so many books!  They all shook their heads, not quite believing that this was all I really wanted.    It was most delightful to open the lid and see all the books waiting for me. My children for the first time selected gifts at their school fair for us, and next to their carefully chosen gifts, my books are my favourite gifts of this season.



The titles:
The Secrets of Pain - Phil Rickman
All Clear - Connie Willis
Winter of Secrets - Vicki Delany
Right-Hand Magic - Nancy A. Collins
The Curious Gardener - Anna Pavord
Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Ashes to Dust - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
 Real Cooking - Nigel Slater

Smokin' Seventeen - Janet Evanovich
The Shadow Woman - Ake Edwardson
Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop - Otto Penzler
Dark Matter - Michelle Paver
The Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards
Die With Me - Elena Forbes
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent - Galen Beckett
The Whale - Philip Hoare
******My son gave me three books for Christmas, and even asked me for a list. I was thrilled!  They are the ones lying in the front:
The Face of a Stranger - Anne Perry
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction - Alan Jacobs
Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

I am also the very lucky recipient of some book gift cards, to Amazon.ca and to our Chapters store here in Ottawa.  I haven't finished using them yet, so I will let you know what else I buy for Christmas in books! 

 Using surgery is a fine excuse, don't you think?
As I am facing my knee surgery (just a day operation, a scope to remove the piece of floating cartilage) on January 16,  I am facing a week at home, on crutches for the first two days.  I think that's a perfect reason to be buying books, don't you?  For my layover....plenty to read then!  With that in mind, I confess that I went second-hand book shopping today, after my pre-op visit to the hospital this morning. It was to the Book Market, a second hand bookstore which has several outlets in the Ottawa area.  My first job when I moved to Ottawa was at the main store in the downtown area, which sadly recently closed. However, close to the hospital I was at this morning, I saw there was one of the other outlets I had never been to before.  So what's a girl facing surgery going to do?  More book shopping!!  Here is what I found today:

The Museum of Horrors - edited by Dennis Etchison
Brimstone Kiss - Carole Nelson Douglas
A Sudden Fearful Death - Anne Perry
Borderline - Nevada Barr
Condition Purple - Peter Turnbull
The Wisdom of Father Brown - G. K. Chesterton
Playing with Bones - Kate Ellis
Evil Angels Among Them - Kate Charles
Graveminder - Melissa Marr
Thirty-Three Teeth - Colin Cotterill
Bryant and May on the Loose - Christopher Fowler
Ae Fond Kiss - The Love Letters of Robert Burns and Clarinda
Identity Theory - Peter Temple
Just After Sunset - Stephen King

I even got a discount  today, because I bought so many at once!  She said it was the season....

Advent Calendar of Books
By my count, that's 33 new books in my house this month!  Counting the ones my son bought me.  If I don't count them ( I didn't buy them!), then that's one book per day.....with one day off for Christmas. It's like having my own advent calendar of books!  Only I 'bought' one every day, instead of opening a calendar. I like it, what do you think?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Boxing Day smorgasbord

Good evening my Gentle Readers. Here I sit, full of turkey and peace.  I had a lovely quiet Christmas, and hope you did too. I will be posting about the books I picked out received in the mystery box of books I filled all fall, tomorrow, when the pictures are loaded from the camera onto the computer.  At the moment there are several little films of Holly-Anne performing in her school play on the camera also, and it takes quite a while to download onto the computer.  It's late here, so for now, I am eating chocolate and just about to start one of the books in that box: The Secrets of Pain, by Phil Rickman.  It's a hardcover, so I can't carry it with me, and just the thing to take me through more snow falling tomorrow night. Ghosts and snow, chocolate and on holiday, what could be more perfect?

I came across this lovely interview with Elly Griffiths, author of the Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries, here on Kittling Books. It's just the interview to get me ready for ordering her House at Sea End, which is out in softcover next week.  Yaaay!

Mystery Challenge or, how to make your mouth water over mysteries.
Wendy over at Musings of a Bookish Kitty is hosting a challenge.  And not just any challenge:  a mystery challenge.  Irresistible!  It's called Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012. The sign-up Link is here.  I have been thinking and thinking about what challenges to join, and here is one that I'm leaping at.  I can read in 12 categories of mysteries to choose from!  This is like a cornucopia of mystery books for me.  Any kind of mystery I want, as much as I want.  A smorgasbord of mystery reading. Since this is what I read most of, this is like a tiny piece of heaven for 2012. Of course I'm going to overdo it - who doesn't at a feast??? even diabetic me has been eating too many chocolate biscuits the past two days, - so I'm going for Shamus who Has Seen It All.

This means reading at least twelve books, one from each category.  The hard part isn't finding the mystery books - 9 of the books I put in my mystery box, are mysteries!!- it's putting them into their categories.  So I will do a longer post with the books I am thinking of, though here is a rough initial list:

Shamus Who Has Seen It All
Cozy:      Bury Your Dead -  Louise Penny
               Death of a Celebrity - MC Beaton
               Death of a Perfect Wife -  "    "
Historical WhoDunnit -   any of:   - Sovereign by CJ Sansom
                                                    -   The Face of a Stranger - Anne Perry
                                                   - The Janissary Tree - Jason Goodwin
Police Procedural - any of:  Deadlight - Graham Hurley
                                        -   Roseanna - Maj Sowall and Per Wahloo
                                        -   Looking Good Dead - Peter James
Whodunnit:                 -   The Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards
Locked Room Mystery:       Bloodhounds -  Peter Lovesey
Caper Stories:   any of:        Dancing Aztecs - Donald Westlake
                                              Doors Open - Ian Rankin
The Spy Novel:                     Our Kind of Traitor -  John Le Carre
The Professional Thriller:  any of:      Winter Study - Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon is a Park Ranger)
                                                     -       Ashes to Dust - Yrsa Sigurdardottir (lawyer)
                                                   - House at Sea End - Elly Griffiths (archaeologist)
Hardboiled/Noir:  any of:          -   The Impossible Dead - Ian Rankin
                                                -     The Snow Leopard - Jo Nesbo
                                                 -  Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer
Inverted Detective Story - can't think of any at the moment, need to look through my shelves when I can get off the chair. 
Psychological Suspense:  any of:  - The Private Patient - PD James
                                                     -  Nightlife - Thomas Perry
                                                    -  Truth - Peter Temple
Spoofs and Parodies:      another hard category for me.  Something by Jasper Fforde, most likely.  I think I have the last one in the Thursday Next series to read.

Isn't that a list to make your mouth water???  I'm so excited!  some titles may change, this is from a quick survey of my book shelves and books I had previously lined up to read.

The sign-up is open all year, so if you aren't decided on joining this, there is lots of time. There is also a category for reading at least two books only, from any sub-genre.  So if you wanted to try a mystery, here is a challenge to get you to try it. 

Well, this was unexpected, like unwrapping a late gift!! 

Now I'm off to see if I can finish another book tonight and creep ever closer to my goal of 100 books this year.  92 books read, 8 left to read, and 5 days.  Nothing like a challenge, right?? 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's that time of year, gentle Readers.  Time to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a very happy 2012.  I wish for each and every one of you, new books to read, gift cards to go buy books you really want to read, and a joyful holiday, whether you are with family, friends, or enjoying some solitude. Wherever you are, may peace be part of your day.


                                                  MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Girls who read are COOL

I should be writing my list of favourite books I read this year, which I promised in my last post.  Sadly, I find that my brain has shut down for the evening.  We are finally ready for Christmas - more or less, all the wrapping still awaits, and I'm about to watch A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sims version) with my daughter.  I love the creepy effects. 

In the meantime, I thought I would give you this link to a wonderful post on why it's good to date a girl who reads, here.  I have to thank Terri Windling for the original link, it was on her post a few days ago.  I wish I had had this post to read when I was younger.  It would have saved me when all those people rolled their eyes at me when I said I like to read. Or who asked what I was reading and yawned as soon as I showed them my book. I have never been ashamed of reading, good heavens no!  It's others who have turned away from me because I read, that startled me.  I have often felt alone in my reading habits, especially as a teenager and young adult, before I began working in bookstores and discovered there was a whole world of readers out there, book lovers like me. Now I find through here that there are so many of us who love the pages and bindings and words as much as I do.  How many of you had your own library card when you were twelve?  How did the writer of that post know that I did?

May you find a book you've always wanted to read, under YOUR tree this year, my Gentle Readers!!!  And remember: it's easy to buy gifts for girls who read.  All we want are books!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Folktales to begin the new year, and the books I didn't read (again)

Books I Can't Wait for in the New Year
So there I was on Friday, looking through the Guardian book site on my lunch time at work.  This is always a dangerous thing to do, since I am always finding out about books I haven't read yet.  This is what happened

on Friday.

It's not out here until the beginning of January, but honestly, after reading in the Guardian this review by Neil Gaiman on this Alan Garner new book, who could resist this?  It looks so good, so perfect, a lovely way to begin the new year. 

Among Others by Jo Walton is out on Jan 3 in softcover.  I've been waiting 8 months for this.   All of you who've read it - Carl, Memory, Nymeth,  have loved it.  I so want to read it too!  Two weeks now, and counting......
 The House at Sea End by Elly Griffiths is also out in softcover Jan 3. I think I like this day already.  This is part of the ongoing Ruth Galloway series which I am really enjoying.

Since I don't own these yet, I thought I'd ask you, what books are you waiting for to come out in the new year?

Random thoughts from other people's blogs:
In news around the book blogging world, Carl has a wonderful post up on books he thought he would have read by now, and hasn't, and wants plans to read next year.  If you have some of your own (and I dare any book reader to not come up with a list of those!), let Carl know what they are.  My  post today is in answer to some of the questions he asked in his wonderful, thoughtful post.

Nymeth also has a wonderful post on books she wants to read as soon as they are out next year.  I've already checked out the Diana Wynne Jones book on writing, which Amazon sadly isn't even listing here yet.

****Edited to add: I had to get off the computer in a hurry as the children were waiting to use it to search for cheats for their Star Wars Wii game.  While I was off, I remembered I had read Care's lovely post about how she failed at reading certain books this year, and challenges, here.  So if you are like us, drop us a line so we don't feel quite so guilty alone about not being the kind of readers we think we should be.  It's all in fun, I know, both wanting to be more well-read, and the plans we make for reading.  It's awfully fun to cross books off the to-read list!!!*******

Some books I thought I'd read this year, and haven't:
Certainly I have books I thought I would have read by now - indeed, Ulysses is top of that list, since I started it last winter, and it languishes on my to be read pile, along with Samuel Pepys Diary, which I also really want to read, started two years ago, and then got sidetracked.  That's only two.  Any Charles Dickens this year - and I'd better finish A Christmas Carol this year, or I am in trouble with myself! **I just checked, and I now own 4 novels by Dickens, PLUS Drood by Dan Simmons, which I also haven't read.  Points finger at self: read Charles Dickens in 2012, Susan! I haven't read either of the annotated Jane Austens I picked up,  nor have I finished the House by The Thames by Gillian Tindall, which I started reading when I got it out of the library, went out and bought my own copy, and now it sits on the same shelf. I wonder if it's possible to have ADHD  when it comes to reading??? Kraken or Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.   I really can't believe I haven't read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest yet.   Or Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb - I have loved the other two series.  So how have I missed this series?  Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. Oh, there is so much I planned to read this year and haven't yet!  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Settlefield. A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan.

 Books I thought I'd read by now in my life, and haven't.  That's a harder question to answer.  Ulysses, certainly. Any novel by Ursula K LeGuin.  The Gentleman's Daughter by Amanda Vickery.  London the Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  Anything by Neal Stephenson - I own Cryptonomicon, Anathem, and Quicksliver.   Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein.  I can't believe I haven't read Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, when I loved the Swedish version of the movie so much that I bought it, and everyone who has read the book says it is one of the best vampire novels ever, and I loved  his Handling the Undead earlier this year.  I really can't believe I haven't read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest yet.    Anything by Anthony Trollope. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. War and Peace, on every 'I will read this year' list I've ever done. Emily Dickinson.

100 books?
So for the next week, I am setting some reading goals for 2012.  I've been looking at all the challenges surfacing, and thinking over joining some.  I did discover that I read more when I have lots of room for spontaneity.  While it's still in question if I will reach 100 books read this year - 10 books in 10 days, more or less....Christmas and New Year's in the midst of that......I remain optimistic that I will.  I already have had the best reading year in the past 15 years that I've been keeping a book list.  That is something, my friends, something indeed. So I am very proud of what I've accomplished, even if I might fall just short of my goal. My next post will be on the books I did manage to read this year and there are some that I am delighted I did get around to reading, and some new ones that thrilled me.

Meanwhile, Gentle Reader, let me know - are you happy with your reading year?  Is there anything you are really looking forward to coming out in 2012?

I hope you are finding some reading time today, on this Sunday before Christmas!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Mortal Love, Peter Lovesey, and The World's Wife - reviews!

I have been remiss at writing on here.  I plead shopping for birthdays and Christmas.  And another trip to the emergency room last week.  All that aside,  I have so many books I want to write about that I've read this year!  I've debated on writing about each book separately, or choosing a character series, or grouping them.  I still can't decide, so meanwhile, here are 4 that I have wanted to write about for the past couple of weeks, all of which I highly recommend and really enjoyed.



Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand.  Remember when I wrote about this book in November, and I was disappointed in it about halfway through?  I am here to say that this is probably the number one reason I don't often blog about a book while reading it - I am often wrong in my assessment, and I am delighted, completely thrilled to say now, I was wrong.  Ok, the beginning of the book is slow, and feels muddled because we are getting viewpoints and stories set in different times.  It all works so very well at the end.  What the book is about, is art, and faerie, and myth, and how when we get a glimpse of the Otherworld, it can shatter us for our daily reality.  It's about how some people spend the rest of their lives trying to capture that moment, that beauty, over and over again.  It's also about how other people find a way to hang on to their sanity, to let the strangeness of the glimpse of the other realm wash over them, and change them so that daily life is enriched, vibrant, and tinged with melancholy because it's not what was glimpsed.  It's about art, and how art changes our perceptions.  And it's brilliant.  I don't want to say who the myth is who is brought to life, because that is part of the mystery and enchantment of this story.  The myth is so well written and brought to life so beautifully that it works.  The reason myths are so powerful is because somewhere deep within us, we know them, we relate to them - this is what gives the myths their power.  It's an archetype we instinctively, deeply in our minds, know without having words to fully explain how and what we know. Mortal Love is about this deeply held knowledge, and how it inspires longing for whoever glimpses the myth.  I highly recommend this book, especially for anyone who enjoys art and wants a glimpse of what it is like to have to write, to paint, to sing, to create.  Once again, here is Nymeth's excellent review which convinced me to try the book.  Thank you, Nymeth!

This leads me to The World's Wife, by Carol Ann Duffy.  This is a collection of poems that take the myths we all know, Greek and Roman and Norse, and give the woman's point of view - the hidden voice, the other, the silent one.  The wife.  The one we never hear about.  What was it like to be married to Aesop?  to Darwin?  to Midas?  to be Penelope, waiting for Odysseus to return - or maybe not. The poems are filled with the voices of real women.  Penelope isn't waiting for Odysseus, pining away - she is enjoying her solitude, and using her cunning in weaving to keep all the suitors away, so she can be alone.  How clever!  and then she hears Odysseus' footsteps and her precious private life is gone.  Mrs Midas is about what it was like after Midas made his wish to turn everything to gold.  Of course he can't touch her, he can't touch anything. She misses the touch of his skin so much.  One of my favourites is Little Red-Cap, which opens this book of poems.  I love how the wolf lures her by holding - what else?  a book of poems.  Poetry.  And how he has a wall of books, and how in the end she becomes free.  It's a true poem, about how knowledge is always the lure, and with enough wits and courage and hunger to know, you can survive the wolf and the woods.  Brilliant.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book of poetry.  It has given me a new way to look at the fairy tales and myths. It  reimagines the world through the eyes of the women who don't explore (or make) the world but who through loving men, and determining if they stay or go in the marriage, find that determination is just as exciting as anything their more famous husbands have done. 

The last book I want to talk about is really an ongoing mystery series by Peter Lovesey,  featuring Peter Diamond.  Last year I reviewed The Last Detective, here.  Now I want to talk about the next two in the series, Diamond Solitaire and The Summons. In Diamond Solitaire, Diamond is on his own.  He quit the force at the end of The Last Detective, and we see him struggle to find his place in the world.  He tries being a Santa Claus, one year!  And it's being a security guard that leads him to find a silent girl asleep in the department store he is guarding.  He is fired as the security guard since he didn't notice her before, and of course it is not as simple as the girl wandering away from her parents.  This little girl is from Japan, and very special. It is delightful to see how protective and caring Diamond is of this abandoned little girl, and when his suspicions are aroused by the people who claim her, he follows them all the way back to Japan.  A very solid second book in the series.  The Summons opens with Diamond depressed because he has not been able to find any permanent work  It's been two years now since he left the force.  Unexpectedly, a summons arrives: a criminal Diamond helped put away, has escaped, and is holding the daughter of the ACC hostage and has asked specifically for Diamond.  The criminal claims he is innocent of the charges.  This is the book about how Diamond discovers he made a mistake, and that he is a policeman through and through.  How he gets his job back, and what he learns while going back over the case and reinvestigating the original crime, makes for a solid mystery with excellent characters and very good dialogue. It's fast-paced and while I spotted who was involved early on,I didn't know for sure, nor why, and I was thrilled when I was right at the end!  which makes for a feeling of being clever (and a really good mystery writer makes the reader feel clever, I find).  I really like this series.  This has to be one of my favourite discoveries in the past year, and I thank Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for reviewing the 10th book in the series - Skeleton Hill - last year and pointing me to this character. I also find it hard to resist a series that uses the real life author Jane Austen as a sort of ongoing backdrop to the series.  In The Summons, it is one of Jane's supposed houses that she lived in while in Bath, that plays a part in the book. 

If you have reviewed any of these, let me know and I will link to them.

I hope you are ready for Christmas, and enjoying the season.  We are planning a games party for the children on Saturday, as a way to give them something to do and share in the excitement leading up to the holidays.  As it's my daughter's 9th birthday on Christmas Eve, the tension excitement around here is so high in the final weeks to her birthday that this is when we build our gingerbread houses and try to keep them busy.  We don't have any snow yet, so there is no playing outside and making snowmen. I am enjoying the lack of snow, utterly content to not see any this winter, while my knee continues to heal. No snow means no slippery patches.......no hats, and no boots either!  I could get used to this!

Happy reading moments for you, my Gentle Reader, in the build-up to the big day.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Book covers - art for story's sake

I don't usually buy different editions of books.  I'm happy with one good edition - normally. However, lately Penguin have begun really tempting me with new illustrated covers on their Penguin Deluxe Classics that are beguiling, intriguing, artistic, and totally fabulous.  Today I found at Books on the Ceiling blog two more covers of books that I really want:

Sense and Sensibility has this gorgeous pink cover with a tea cup.
 
Persuasion has this cover by the Audrey Niffenegger:  I love it too.


Then over at the Penguin site (I linked it above) there is this one for Pride and Prejudice, which I think is perfect:

and then just because it's gorgeous, here is Jane Eyre

 This cover of Wuthering Heights might make me dare to face the boring Catherine one more time - I read it for Heathcliff and the descriptions of the moors and the weather, NOT for Catherine.  I once yelled at her out loud I was so mad at her wimpy teary character.

This cover though, could tempt me.

So what about you?  Have you ever been tempted by covers?  Do you own multiple copies of a book simply because the covers were beautiful? I could really do with owning all of the above!!! They are so pretty, so moody, so interesting and lovely. I wonder if one or two might find their way into my Christmas box of books?

And why not dream over owning beautiful editions?  That's partly what makes books so irresistible - we can change the cover, and illustrate some part of the theme or text or character, differently than other editions do. I've often bought specific books over other editions because of the artwork on the cover. And then referred back to the cover often, to gaze at it while I mull over something I'm reading in the text. Covers are - can be - part of the experience of reading the book, when they are done right. I think that is one reason why I am against the kindle - I don't get that experience of the book from cover to cover, from seeing the front and letting it work it's way through my imagination while I read the story itself.  Artwork and storytelling build on one another, at least in books, or they ought to.  Even though the above covers are more representational than representing an actual scene in each of the texts, to my mind each of the covers instantly reminds me of the story in some way.  That's what great artwork on the front of a book can do.

So, are there any special editions you are dreaming of for Christmas?  Any covers you've seen recently that tempted you, or were irresistible?  Do you agree with me about covers, or could you care less, so long as the story inside is good?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

'Tis the season for the sense of wonder - Virtual Advent Tour 2011


 Welcome to Dec 1, and the countdown is on!

I love the season of Christmas and the New Year.  The snow, the tree, the lights, the music, they fill my heart with beauty.  What I also love is the sense of comfort that the traditions around Christmas bring.  It's funny, for I am 48 years old this year, and I find I am creating more new traditions for this time of year than I did twenty years ago.  Back then, I wanted to keep everything the same as my original family did.  Right up to opening stockings only on Christmas morning, and all presents after breakfast.  As I've grown up and away from my first family of childhood, though I am creating traditions that are for now.  I like the mix of the old and the new, I am discovering. 

Here is a tradition that I started last year:  I found this right before Christmas, a tiny wood tree with ornaments to hang in it.  This year, the kids put the ornaments on. It's so adorable.

A few years ago, a friend at work gave me these three lighted houses.  As you can see, the village is growing:


One year, the people kept turning up on top of the houses.  I asked my daughter - she was 3 or 4 at the time - if she was moving them.  She said yes, and I asked why they were on the roofs.  "Because there is a flood coming, Mommy!" she said seriously.  We love this little village, and add to it every year.  This has become a new family tradition now.


One of the things the kids like most is their advent calendar.  My mother is a quilter, and she made them each an advent calendar when they were babies.

Now, the kids rush every morning to see what is waiting for them to start that day.  That's a lovely way to start any day, isn't it?  With a little present waiting for you?  It's usually some chocolate, as the squares are small and its' difficult to find anything small enough to fit in.  My kids don't really care - it's the surprise they like.  

The new tradition for this year is a surprise: the kids don't know.  Holly-Anne and Graham will wake up tomorrow to find this waiting for them.
 
Yes, that's right, the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar.  I really bought it because of the Yoda Santa Claus figurine.  I love it!  I'm really excited.  I know my kids won't let me build it with them, though I will be right alongside with them each day as they open each door.  One day when they are older and beyond this, I think hope that the calendar will stay with me - I know I will love putting this together every year.  I'm so excited for tomorrow, to see their faces! 

And this is what makes me think about what I also really love about this time of year: surprises.  I used to lay awake before Christmas when I was a child, thinking about what I wanted, wondering what would be under the tree for me. If I get a present early now as an adult, I keep it wrapped and save it for Christmas Day with NO peeking!, to open and so really, I can savour that sense of surprise and waiting and anticipation.  That's what I think this time of year really means for me: a sense of wonder.  Anything can happen.  It's the closest time for all of us to be that little child again, and let that little child come out and play, and no one bats an eye.  So you might find me playing with Yoda Santa Claus when no one is looking.......

And because this is a blog about books and you know that it wouldn't be Christmas for me without new books, I decided a couple of years ago to give myself a box of books every year.  Through the autumn, I buy books that I want to read, and into the box they go.  Even though I know the titles, I'm not allowed to read them, or to look at them once they're in the box.  Just knowing that the latest Phil Rickman - The Secrets of Pain  - in hardcover no less! -

is among the many books waiting for me on Christmas Day, makes me excited.  The joy I feel opening that box, the sense of wonder and yes, a little greed as I hold all the new books in my hands and wait for Christmas dinner to be over (I'm the one cooking it so I have to wait until it's all over with!) so I can read, deciding all day which of them will be first.  There's nothing quite like knowing there is a whole boxful of new books waiting to be read, is there? Some others I've added are  Michelle Paver's Dark Matter in paperback, and Yrsa Sigurdadottir's Ashes to Dust (finally! I waited most of the year to find this!), Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, among some did I say greedy?  no, I'm not greedy or I'd add more books to the box! others.

I think this is a most lovely time of year, when we remember to look in the faces of the ones we love, and share in their delight, when we make memories that become suffused with love and tenderness as the years go by.

May your holiday season be bright, and filled with love, and joy, my Gentle Bloggers.  Thank you for stopping by.  I'll see you tomorrow as we go through Day 2 of this lovely Virtual Advent Tour. I can hardly wait to come see what you like or want to talk about, this year! Happy Holidays!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent Virtual Tour 2011

It's that time of year again.  Perhaps it was the snow that fell on Wednesday, that has brought Christmas to mind.  I think it was also seeing Arthur Christmas today with my children.
 
  A very sweet, fun movie that reminded me that Christmas - or this season for those who celebrate something different, this time of year as the old year winds down and the new year is just on the horizon - this time of year is filled with love and looking both forwards and backwards.  I came out of the theatre and quite suddenly, felt ready for Christmas in our home. Tomorrow we are putting our tree up, and I have been baking tonight to get ready for it.  I won't say any more, because I am still working out all I am going to put in my post for the Virtual Advent Tour.

Yes, it is also that most fun time of year, here in blog world, time for the Virtual Advent Tour 2011. I am excited to once again be participating in this most fun virtual tour of Christmas on all of our blogs. I love going to see what each of the participants has chosen to write about for that year. Recipes, tree decorations, Christmas ties, riding on the snow, music - whatever we like, and are in the mood to celebrate for that year.  I have signed up for  opening day for the Advent Tour.  Stay tuned, Dec 1 is almost here!  It's not too late to sign up, either.

I haven't been reading very much for the past few weeks. I am making my way through Mortal Love, by Elizabeth Hand.  I like parts of this book, though parts are also bothering me - not all artists are mad!  Art isn't crazy making!  - so I'm finding a bit of a tough go, because I love, absolutely adore the Pre-Raphaelites, who are in the background in this book (so far anyway, I'm a little over halfway through).  I wish I loved it, like Nymeth did (her review is splendid, so I linked to it), and the book reviewer at the bookstore I picked the book up at - she adored it too.  Perhaps going through the emotional states of a separation is not the best time to be reading about madness and art! As I am a writer and poet, some of what this books says is interesting about how the creative urge attracts hangers-on, too, and how it is difficult to draw the line between having a life and giving one's all to art - is there a line?  what happens when we draw one?  or don't draw one?  Questions that I ask myself as I try to do both.  It is good, I'm just not in love with it, and that I find disappointing. 

I did pick up Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill.  I have just started it.  I have to say I had a very odd reaction when I started reading it:  I imagined doing what Susan Hill did, not buying any books for a year.  A whole year!  I think I panicked.
 
  No books - and so many I am waiting to come out in paperback in the spring!!!  I think I almost had an anxiety attack at not buying any books for a year.  So, while I love the idea of just reading what I own and I know I have enough books on my shelves to keep me busy for at least a year without any new ones, it's not the right time for me to do it yet.  So it got me thinking.....Have any of you thought of not buying any books for a year, and reading what is on your shelves, instead?  Not just for a month, or a season, but a whole year?  Are any of you feeling a little wiggly and uncomfortable at the idea of not buying any books for a year?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

46 days left.....

That's right.  46 days left until this horrible year is over with.  I shouldn't say horrible, I should say 'year that challenged me and stretched me and made me realize what I needed."  In other words, one of those years where so many things fall apart.  I wasn't going to say anything here, but I see now of course that it's affecting even my blogging.  My husband and I separated in the summer.  We are still in the midst of sorting everything out.  I am trying valiantly to get to my 100 books total, and write fabulous reviews of the really good books I've been reading, but I'm a private person, and as much as this separation is good in the long run, it's emotionally draining and I can't think of bookish things to write about yet.  I love my books, I just can't write much at this time.  So please bear with me, I miss all of you and will be back as soon as I can.  I won't say I'm taking a blogging break!  I'm not!  I'm sorting my life out, and reading as much as I can to help me stay as centered as I can.  I really wish it weren't affecting my blogging, but it has. 

So stay tuned.  In the meantime, Nymeth has a lovely post up today on Christmas bookish shopping.  It's fabulous. I want it all!  those mugs with books!  and I will be back as soon as I can.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

RIP VI round-up - 4 novels of thrills and chills, and one fairy tale

Happy late blogversary to me!!
I am dismayed to see that it has been two weeks since I last posted.  I am chagrined, since I meant to post more often these past few weeks, and get back into some semblance of regular writing here.  However, my life is beyond topsy-turvy this year, it is whirlwind of change. And somehow, I have passed my anniversary again!  Every September I get ready to celebrate blog cake and drink with you, and every mid-October I suddenly realize it's gone past, slipped by in the annual frenzy that is October for us.   For today, happy late 4th anniversary to me!  October 1, 2007, was my very first blog post, here.  I've come a long way since then, and not so far, either.  I've made some very good friends, I've learned about Christmas customs around the world thanks to Kailana and Marg's annual Christmas Advent Tour, and most of all, I've discovered that the love of books is indeed the world over. This love of reading, and sharing the books we love, talking about and discussing ideas that books hold, is what I cherish the most - our book blog community.  So even if my posts are a bit far between, it's not because I love you any less, my dear book community, it's that so much is occurring in my personal life that I am not able to come here to talk about books as often as I would like right now. 


RIP reviews:  books I really enjoyed
So, because despite my wish to talk about each book I read in its own post, in order to get these reviewed in this last week of Carl's RIP VI challenge, here are five more books I have read for RIP this year:
Winter House - Carol O'Connell            
   Long-time readers of this blog will know of my love for Detective Kathy Mallory, fictional police detective in the ongoing Mallory series by Carol O'Connell.  Mallory is a detective unlike any other.  She was kidnapped as a child and sold to a child snuff video maker.  She escapes, but what this has done to her, has made her into a beautiful, feral person, completely amoral, and yet with her own sense of right and wrong.  She is also highly intelligent, and the way O'Connell writes about her, surprisingly vulnerable as well as loyal.

Now onto the book - Winter House is a gothic mystery.  Winter House is the name of the house where a most famous massacre in NYC history took place.   The Winter family, whom of most were massacred nearly 60 years ago, consisted of   9 children and  2 adults, plus two servants (a cook and nanny).  Only 4 children survived, two of whom disappeared shortly after.  They were all killed by an ice pick stabbed in the heart.  The case is unsolved though generally believed that one of the surviving children, Nedda Winter, who was 12 at the time, and one of the ones who disappeared, is the killer.  Winter House opens with the discovery of a burglar who is dead in Winter House, stabbed through the heart with an ice pick, and the discovery that Nedda Winter has been found and brought home secretly by her niece, for a reconciliation with her two surviving siblings. Kathy Mallory picks up on the case because it is set in such an infamous locale, unsuspecting that Winter House is more than just a house darkened by its tragic past.  This is a case that will threaten her and her friend Charles Butler's sanity.  Is Winter House haunted?  Maybe.  It's a house where nothing is what it seems, where no one appears as they are, where murder is only the worst of the crimes committed on and by the Winter Family.  It's a very good mystery, though a bit convoluted in how Nedda Winter goes undiscovered for so many years.  Tarot cards play a part, as does jazz, and a bird.  Very very gothic mystery, and perfect for RIP. 4.5/5

Tricks - Ed McBain
 I just finished this mystery last night.  I am really glad I read it, after putting it on my RIP list for the past 2 years.  This is a pure police procedural.  It is set in New York City also, like Winter House, and is one of many books in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain.  It takes place in a 12 hour period, on Hallowe'en night,  covering  the different crimes that take place for the evening shift of the 87th precinct.  There's a cut-up corpse whose body parts are found in different locations of the city; there's the police set-up to try to catch a serial rapist/murderer, and there's a gang of children raiding liquor stores and shooting the owners.  I really enjoyed this mystery.  I liked the blunt cop talk, the realism of policing the streets, of working with partners, of talking with civilians, of trying to solve crimes in the midst of facing dangers, and of the risks and payouts men and women of the badge take and face every night.  There are several deaths in this novel, most by gun, and a chilling cat-and-mouse game between the policewoman set up as a decoy for the serial rapist, and the rapist.  Good plain policeman's work, and little bit of luck: very enjoyable novel to read, and sets the mood for Hallowe'en next week.  4.5/5 
Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Chris Priestley    
I have been on a reading spree this weekend, as I suddenly realized October was almost over and I was nowhere close to my goal of 80 books read by the end of this month.  That will leave me 10 books each for November and December to make my 100 books read in a year.  Luckily it's a break in between birthdays and seasonal events, and cloudy enough outside that I don't feel guilty AT ALL staying to read as much as I can.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is absolutely delightful.  It is a young adult novel of ghostly terror tales, told by Uncle Montague to his great-nephew (or great-great, or even further back, no one knows for sure) Edgar, in his great old dark house all by itself in a corner by some woods.  Edgar goes to visit him when he is home from school, to hear these ghostly tales of eerie horror, even though the woods slightly frighten him, even though his Uncle lives only with the mysterious Franz who Edgar has never ever seen, even though the house is so dark and so cold, that Edgar goes - and has seen only - the study, where they spend all their time in front of the fire drinking tea and eating biscuits, and the lavatory for when Edgar has had too much tea. In this darkly thrilling house - because I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but I would love to see this house, and go into it, because of the ghostly presences we become aware haunt it.  The tales themselves are everything good ghost stories are:  filled with all kinds of children who never quite fit in with their surroundings, who find mysterious girls and boys appearing to them, who lead them to danger, to horror, and sometimes to death.  Haunted trees, paintings, macabre items, and terrifying glimpses of madness and horror - these stories have them all, told delightfully by Uncle Montague to lonely Edgar.  When we finally reach the ending, as Edgar starts his walk home through the same forest that still makes him uneasy, Uncle Montague reveals his terrible secret, and it is so satisfying.  This is one of the best ghost story novels I have read in a long time. I can hardly wait to read it to my children.  The illustrations are eerie and fabulous, reminiscent of Edward Gorey - down to the pen and ink black lines and off-kilter subjects - and I am totally in love with both. 5/5

Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs - retold by Randall Jarrell from the Brothers Grimm, illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert                
I put all that down for the author/illustator, because they are both important for why this retelling of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs is so enjoyable.  Many of you know that while I read the Disney versions of many Grimm tales as a child, I am not a big fan of Disney.  I discovered this edition of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs sometime this year, in a second-hand bookstore.  I picked it up because the illustrations are lovely.  I really just grabbed it without looking at it closely, because of the pictures.  I didn't know that Randall Jarrell was a poet, and I didn't know that he kept the original ending of this fairy tale. I was shocked, thrilled and a bit disturbed by the ending which is what a fairy tale is really supposed to do to us. The Evil Queen Stepmother is made to put on a red-hot iron pair of dancing shoes and dance until she dies. I was disturbed in part because I think of this ending as the ending to the Red Shoes, and shocked because I still think it is too good a death for the wicked stepmother.  That got me thinking to what Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs might really be about: beauty.  In some versions of Snow White, she is kind, so kind and soft-hearted and sweet that the Huntsman spares her life, that the animals love her, that the dwarves love her, etc.  What this retelling - and I have to go back and reread the original Grimm, too - makes clear, is that it is Snow White's beauty that affects how everyone treats her.  Several things occur to me here:  where is Snow White's father, the king?  Nowhere. This isn't a story about parents and children (because he doesn't look for her either, does he?  Does he even notice she's gone? what kind of father is he?); it's a story about women and beauty.  From the opening lines when her mother asks for a daughter as beautiful as the red blood on the snow when she pricks her finger:  "a daughter as white as snow, as red as blood, as black as the wood in her window frame."
Nothing about her character, her personality, nothing about being good or pure or kind or loving.  It's about looks.   Snow-White - named because she looks as pure as white snow, another image of purity and beauty-  is shaped by her looks, from her name, to why she is cast out (jealousy), to why the huntsman saved her , to why the prince falls in love with her, to why the dwarves don't stone her or drive her out: her beauty. It is the making of her doom, and also her future happiness, with the making of her place in the world beside the prince, because she is beautiful.  As an illustration of how we judge others by how they look, this book is perfect.  As a book about how Snow White's goodness outshines her beauty, we see this by how the animals don't eat her, and how she bargains with the dwarves for her livelihood : not through sex, but through keeping house. It is fortunate for her that she is a child, and not a teenager, when she is cast out!  It is why I love fairy tales too, and having read this version, I am reminded that the best fairy tales are dark, and about the good and the bad in the human heart. I loved this version, and can see myself rereading it many times in the future.

The illustrations are superb.  The dwarves, wonderfully, magically, are not rendered boyish or non-sexual, but are true dwarves, each with their own face and body, short men. Each with their own personality and character clearly designated - not happy, or sleepy, or another stupid name like that, but real people.  I wonder if the dwarves serve a deeper purpose in this tale than I ever suspected, in that once they get over her beauty, they tell her she must do - she must earn her keep.  It is this that makes this fairy tale so magical for me, not just that the animals love her so, but that she makes her way willingly in the world and earns her way not through her beauty, but by working.  I love the fact that in this version, the dwarves are there at the end, making music in the castle as the prince and princess (because Snow-White is a princess after all) marry.  The other picture I absolutely love, is the one of Snow White fleeing in the forest:  all the animals have come to watch her, drawn to her beauty, and they are partially hidden in the drawing, so it draws your eye in to the scene. It's a lot of fun picking out all the animals, all rendered true to their forms, too.  Wonderful. 5/5

Poltergeist - Kat Richardson
The final book I have read for RIP VI so far - because I am reading two more this week, I hope - is the second in the Greywalker series.   My review for the first in the series, Greywalker, is here.  I read it last year for RIP 5.  (and look, I missed blogging about my anniversary last year too!) Poltergeist is about just that, a poltergeist.  It's not so simple though, as it is also the result of collecting a group of assorted people for a psychological project on what happens when you gather a group to see how far the group will go when they believe they have created something for which they are not responsible for the subsequent actions of.  In this case, paranormal research:  if you create an entity from scratch, a personality, will it begin to have a life of it's own?  What if someone in the group does have latent psi skill of some kind?  And all the members are carefully chosen for their strength of will or suggestibility? What if they do pool their collective mental and emotional energy, who is responsible for the entity?  It's a fascinating premise.  PI Harper Blaine is recommended to come examine if there is something 'fishy' with the experiment, as there is more poltergeist energy than the coordinator things there should be, and he is wondering if someone is sabotaging the experiment.  One person involved in the experiment dies shortly after.  PI Blaine is not your usual private investigator, though.  She died for two minutes, and ever since she can see spirits, talk to ghosts, and walk in the world between this world and the next; the gray world where vampires, zombies, the undead, the ghosts, hang out. She's also smart, and wary, and soon comes to the conclusion that she is being set up to take the fall for the experiment if it fails or more people die.
I really like Harper.  She is still coming to terms with being able to see the dead, the undead, and everything else, and what it means for her life. The series is set in Seattle, and the author, Kat Richardson, uses some real settings - houses, streets, events - to ground this series in the here and now.  I love how the supernatural affects - intersects - with reality, with how Harper has to learn how to ignore the supernatural around her, because they are everywhere.  This novel also involves theories about what causes poltergeists, and hauntings, and how people can be the agents allowing them in, and how this would work. There is a groundedness to this series that makes it viable - she has a ferret names Chaos, who when is let loose in the house, creates pandemonium and chaos much like a poltergeist would. She has a few friends, who give her space and who also have their own unique talents - like calling to like, as it were. I really enjoyed the theory about how ghosts can seem to walk through walls - its because for them, they are stuck in their time period when they lived, where most likely there wasn't a wall or door there. In other words, ghosts walk and see what they know from their lifetime, not from what exists in the now.  I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first, as I like the supernatural  a bit more than sorcery which the first book featured.  Highly recommended, a lot of fun, and very good. 4.7/5

This is also an eerie series, with encounters with the undead, the supernatural, evil, filling both books in the series so far.  I've run out and bought the next two, Underground and Vanished. I hope to catch up soon, as Labyrinth, the one from last year, has a lot of good reviews.

So how is your RIP VI reading coming?  Have you been enjoying this challenge?  Are you in a mood for Hallowe'en in a week's time?  I can't believe it's only one week away.......

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Feed - Mira Grant, plus some more horror stuff

Feed by Mira Grant is a fabulous zombie book.  Think of a modern, socially relevant novel that features blogging as part of how the story is told, while all around the storytellers are zombies, and zombie attacks.  Think of a political event, an election, and trying to run an election while avoiding large crowds because they attract zombies.And then think of that hidden fear we all carry around, you know, that fear that the government is NOT telling us what we need to know to survive, and indeed, in this novel, discover that the government might be working for maintaining the fear instead of solving it. Relevant  to today's world? Oh yes. And then throw in two of the cleverest, questioning-everything twenty-something main characters, and you have Feed.  It's about media too,which the word 'feed' plays into - how news is reported, and how to find who to trust to tell the news.  Who do you trust now?  Who would you trust in the event of a world calamity?

In Feed, we learn how the world has changed 20 years after a virus has been released that changes its victims into zombies.   It is riveting reading, full of surprises, including one at the end that found me crying while I was standing in line waiting for a bus.  That's how good Feed is.  Even if zombies scare the dickens out of you like they do me, get this book.  It's really good.  If the tv show The Walking Dead is about how the world ends now with zombies, Feed is about how we have survived the collapse of the world.  It's a  very good horror novel, and one that even those who don't read alot of horror can read, I think.  The gory parts aren't as bad as the tension of waiting for the attacks, because just knowing zombies are lurking everywhere creates its own tension.

As I said, zombies are my 'thing' that I am terrifically horrified by.  I can't even get through 'Night of the Living Dead', which I've tried to.  I can watch 'Sean of the Dead' because of the humour, but not 'Night of the Living Dead'.  I mention this because 'Night of the Living Dead' is referred to in Feed, as is George Romero, the director of this movie and most of it's sequels.  Oh, I have seen 'Dawn of the Dead', barely - stuck in a shopping mall with the undead is kind of like how I feel on most shopping days.  Most of the time, the lurching mindless bodies of the brain-dead fill me with a suffocating panic.  I dream of fighting off zombies, when I do dream of them.  Not werewolves, not vampires - interesting that two of my children have dreamt about vampires, but not zombies, I think.  It's my fear, and that's what I think fear is - intensely personal, a visceral reaction to something that comes deep from my gut, an instinctual 'run away' as fast as I can. So I know there's an important truth there for me too.

What do you think?  Do you have a personal horror or nightmare figure that seizes you when you come across it?  Do you avoid certain types of books or movies because of this type of figure?   have you ever wondered why you are afraid of something?  I have! and now you know - zombies are my thing.  And I still think Feed is an excellent horror novel, despite the eating of flesh.  I'm currently looking for Deadline, the second one in the series.

Look! I bought another book for RIP!!
I read this for Carl's RIP VI challenge.  I am having so much fun with this challenge.  I also bought a new Hallowe'en short story collection that is just out:


Hallowe'en, edited by Paula Gunn.  I found a link to it, here, on Amazon.com, although they are saying that it's only available as an e-book for Kindle.  Since I'm holding a real book in my hands, they're wrong! lol it's a collection of hallowe'en short stories, featuring all the wonderful scary authors you would hope for: Ray Bradbury's October Game, Peter Straub, Charles de Lint, E. Nesbitt, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Sir Walter Scott, Norman Partridge, Caitlin Kiernan, Edgar Allen Poe, and many more - a wide range of authors from several centuries, all featuring hallowe'en in the story.  I've already read the first story, and plan  to indulge to read more to get ready for Hallowe'en in two - 2! - weeks.  Since I'm currently in a mini-slump of reading, despite being so close to my goal of 100 books read this year, I'm hoping this will charge me up for the final run. 

Scary images to get into the mood for Hallowe'en:
Over at Book Chick City, Carolyn and Laura (the Book Chicks)  are featuring a lovely scary collection of scary art to chill you.  I also love how they managed to decorate their header with hallowe'en items!  I want them too! The very first image featured in the photos is one that we also have in front of our National Art Gallery here in Ottawa, and I hate walking underneath it.  The scary art also features the previously-mentioned zombies.  They really are everywhere!  Is there anything  featured in this collection of art that scares you?  Let them know! and me.  I want to know I'm not the only one scared of spiders and creaky noises in the night and the shambling, walking dead.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Fine and Private Place - a book and an anxiety attack, RIP VI reading....

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle is not the normal sort of ghostie/ghoulie horror story that would incur a nightmarish anxiety attack.  But it did for me.  On the surface, this is a sweet ghost story - it's slow and meandering and wonderful to read on a warm autumn day with golden sunlight falling all around you.  It's the story of Michael Morgan, newly deceased and waking up as he is buried.  It's the story of Laura, who is buried two weeks later.  It's the story of Mr Jonathan Rebeck, who has hidden in the cemetery for almost 20 years, subsisting on food a raven brings him.  Rebeck is a living man, he can talk to the raven, and he can also talk to ghosts. Why he's hiding out, and what happens to him, is as much fun to watch as what happens to Michael and Laura as they share the experience of being dead together.  It's a sweet story full of love and gentle wisdom about death, and the more I read it, the more I enjoyed it. Except.......

Except I woke up the night that I finished reading the book, in a panic attack.  I'd had a dream that my eldest son was going on a trip to Thailand - a gap sort of trip - and I was worried about his job, if it would be waiting when he came back.  I woke up at this point and felt terror seize me.  I'm going to die and fade away like the ghosts do in A Fine and Private Place! I thought.  It's my worst nightmare, it's a fear that I've struggled with for many years while I searched out my spiritual faith.  For a moment or two I was frozen, seized with horror because I absolutely dread the idea that we don't exist after death.  I had to tell myself it was ok, that it's not what I believe - I believe we continue on in some way after death, that our spirit does come from something and goes somewhere afterward.  I will admit that in A Fine and Private Place, how the ghosts talk about how most of the dead simply go to sleep and drift away until nothing of them remains seems peaceful, and then I remember that it's one thing to read it in a book, it's another to contemplate as reality for you and me here.

In a funny kind of way, A Fine and Private Place helped me heal where I still had some work to do around this area. I have had incidents over my life that have shown me that there is a 'me' that goes on, and it was putting this belief to the test with the fear that made me realize that it's ok, that both beliefs can exist.  Some people think there isn't anything after death, that this is all, and then there is the long darkness.  Some people like me think that there is much more to life than this, that this is one important stage in life, but that the spirit exists beyond and through this, that the universe is spirit and that we do continue on after.

It's funny what reading ghost stories and horror can make one understand about one's self, sometimes!

And despite my waking fear, I really enjoyed A Fine and Private Place.  It's sweet and gentle, and filled with unexpected tenderness about life, and wondrous thoughts about how a ghost might want to try to remember what it's like to be alive.  It certainly makes me appreciate all I can do just by being here, in this moment, feeling the wind blow, waiting for the rain to come, enjoying the windows open on one of the (probably) last warm evenings of the year.  It's harder to warm up to Jonathan Rebeck - I really wanted him to stop being so afraid! - and wanted a little more of the raven, who was very interesting.  I really like how Michael and Laura fight to stay ghosts and not just dissipate into nothingness.  This is a very interesting ghost story with a philosophical bent, just like a conversation you could have if you found yourself wandering in a cemetary one day.  I really like it.

This is another book read for RIP VI.  I am over my total of 4 books to read for the challenge, and I have a whole pile of books to read yet!  Despite my anxiety, or in spite of it - I don't care, I'm reading horror still! 

So how about you, have you discovered any gems yet during this RIP read?

Two great bloggers wrote about horror reading.......
I am thrilled to announce that as well as Emily's wonderful post on why she reads horror, Geraniumcat has also joined in, and posted this last week: her  fabulous thoughts on why she reads horror.  I am excited that they took my questions and wrote about horror and ghost stories, that's part of what blogging is for me, sharing our thoughts and ideas about why we read, and about what we read.  They both wrote thoughtful, serious posts about horror.  If you have any thoughts as you go through Carl's challenge, please write about them - I would love to see why you read ghost stories/horror/thrillers, dear Gentle Reader. Or let me know in the comments if you are shy (and a surprising number of us are shy about why we like what we do).

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - RIP VI

Lately I have been having a little Buffy nostalgia.  "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was one of my favourite tv shows in the 1990's.  My eldest son grew up watching it with me.  Every week we would wait for our next episode of what danger Buffy and the Scooby gang could get into, fighting vampires, demons, monsters, and the dangers of growing up in Sunnydale California.  I loved the mix of humour, teen angst, horror, scariness, and fabulous monsters week in and week out.  I enjoyed so much watching the characters grow and evolve, all the while facing dangers and temptation and learning about what they could do.  Buffy is one of the few tv characters I have dreamed about.  This is an awesome tv show, that even when I rewatch it, has aged  well - it's timeless, magical, scary fun.  With a group of friends who share the scariest moments in life:  Willow and  Xander, and Giles, Buffy's Watcher, and Angel, the vampire who is Buffy's love of her life.  Plus the adorable bad vampire frenemy Spike, who is so bad that he's good.  Yes, there were cheesy moments and so-so storylines, but on the whole the writing and dialogue were superb.  The acting was good, and sometimes the show could be dark and terrifying and haunting and beautiful. 

Imagine my surprise when I learned that there were graphic novels out now, with the approval and some assistance of the chief creator and writer himself, Joss Whedon. In 2009 I read vol 2 No Future for You, and vol 3 Wolves at the Gate.  In 2010 I read vol 4 Time of Your Life. I wondered, each time, would it be as good as the tv show?  Would the characters be true to themselves?  What were they doing,  after the 8th and final series ended on tv?

I have no fears now.  The graphic novels pick up from where the tv show ended.  All the characters are there, Willow, Xander, Faith, Giles, and Buffy herself.  At first it was odd seeing them on the page, after spending 8 years watching them on tv.  Then, magic happened.  I heard the snarkiness in Xander's voice, the softness of Willow as she screws up and saves Buffy in the nick of time, and most of all: Buffy.  Buffy, a little more grown-up, a little world-weary, and never ever giving up.  She's still feisty and running around saving everyone, still irrepressible and beautiful.

Peril the First
So for this year's RIP VI challenge I borrowed  another book in the series, Predators and Prey, from the library recently.   I read it this past  weekend, enjoying it immensely.  The art and the storytelling are prime Buffy writing, and the imaginative use of toy kitties is fun. They never will be quite the same for me, either.      Plus it has a monster that if ever brought to the screen I would have to run screaming from the room.  And it still manages to have tender moments, friendship, and humour. Amazing.  I think I might end up buying this series.
Verdict: I highly recommend this graphic novel series for anyone who is missing Buffy, or needing some fun and slightly creepy vampire novels to read. .

Perils of the Screen
That's not all - reading Predators and Prey vol 5 (which indeed features a scary monster that is nightmare -inducing) made me want to see some Buffy again. I happen to own the first four seasons, so I watched "Fear Itself", episode 4 of Season 4:  the Hallowe'en episode about trick or treating at a frat party.  Only it's not just a frat party, a monster has been summoned and the frat house turns into a house of fear for whoever enters.  Each of the Scooby gang have to face their own personal fear, before they face the monster at the heart of it all.  Very well done, and exactly right for RIP. It's a perfect mix of humour - Anya the demon dressed in a bunny costume is hilarious!  Oz as God!  - and the scenes in the house are delightfully shivery.  Next up:  "Hush", from this same season 4, which won Buffy the Vampire Slayer an Emmy award.  This episode is very frightening and magical and even funny at moments.  It is truly terrifying in the best way that fairy tales can be, very dark, very scary, and fabulous.  The episode says: " They are creatures from a fairy tale, first they steal your voice, then they start stealing hearts."  It's also perfect for RIP, and I'll write about it when I see it, hopefully by this weekend. 

apologies (blogger is being bad!)
I do apologize, Blogger is not allowing me to add any photos tonight, of Buffy or the Peril of the Screen photo.  I am sad, I love this photo and was looking forward to using it!  Next time then.....

Saturday, 10 September 2011

RIP VI - Anya's Ghost and The Thirteen book reviews, plus Under the Dome and The Strain

I am feeling so proud of myself:  I have already read two books for RIP VI, and I'm working on book #3!!  Plus, for fun, at the end, I'm going to throw in book reviews for two other horror books I read just before the challenge started.
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol.
This is a YA graphic novel, newly published this year, and a terrific read.  It's about Anya, who falls down a well, and what she finds at the bottom.  It's about high school, and fitting in, and discovering that no one is exactly as they appear.  And it's about discovering that even ghosts aren't all that they appear to be, either.  The characters are all fun and wonderful, from Anya herself, a teen Russian emigre who has done everything she can to fit in, including shortening her surname to something pronounceable, to all the teens at the school - the author has taken the popular girl, handsome boy, gym class, and made them universal  figures: we all knew a girl in school like Elizabeth, beautiful and graceful, and her boyfriend Sean, good at sports and gorgeous, who Anya has a terrible crush on.  Anya's family - her round mother who feeds her and younger pest brother seem familiar, from the first page.  Yet, Anya's mother with her round smiling face and 'eat, you're too thin' jump off the page like concerned, loving mother she is.  They are real people caught on the page.   Anya's ghost is the other main figure, and it's so much fun to watch how the ghost moves around Anya, and what Anya learns from the ghost.  This is a little darker than you would expect, which makes it all the more believable and fun to read. Including myself, every teen I know comes up on the dark in their teen years, in themselves and in others. Anya's Ghost is a graphic novel about the truth behind the image, just like the ghost who is more than she seems.   Plus, it's a ghost story.  I really liked Anya, and I'm really glad she did what she did at the end. Lovely graphic novel, a little bit eerie, and very enjoyable. 4.7/5

The Thirteen - Susie Moloney
Susie Moloney has published three other horror novels:  Bastion Falls (which I haven't read yet), A Dry Spell (read quite some time ago), The Dwelling, and just this month, The ThirteenThe Dwelling scared me so much - a true haunted house story, with an ending that still bothers me (in the good way, that I'm still thinking about it) now, several years after reading it.  Susie Moloney is Canadian, and it's lovely to have a really good horror novelist in Canada.  That's not to say we don't have lots of short story writers in horror, we do, but a consistent good horror novelist - Susie Moloney is one of our best.  Plus, she shares my name, sort of (I've never been a Susie).  So, onto The Thirteen:
The premise of The Thirteen is that a circle of women have a made a deal with the devil in order to get all that they want.  Now, being someone who knows quite a few pagans, many of whom are practicing wiccans, normally I wouldn't give this book another look.  I get tired of the idea that witchcraft and wicca are 'bad' and evil.  Certainly you can use magic for ill, to harm another - and in a way, what these witches in The Thirteen find out is that even with the best intentions, if you make a bargain with something that is inherently evil, all your good intentions turn on you in the end.  The price they pay is high, and that's part of what makes this book so satisfying.  The other part is that the heroine, Paula Wittmore and her daughter Rowan go home because Paula's mother is in the hospital, and what they find in Paula's old childhood suburb Haven Woods, is anything but a haven.  This is a fun read, with magic shown properly - the bad uses of it, and the good. It's creepy, and it's fun too - Paula finds love in the most unexpected place, and in the end, it comes down to family.  Even the ending, which is a bit of a shocker, makes sense.  Very well done 'witchcraft gone bad' book, a lot of fun to read, and makes good use of those soulless places, the suburbs. I think this might be the most satisfying of all of Susie Moloney's books to read.  Highly recommended. 4.5/5


So, my two freebie reviews for this RIP VI challenge, are for two books I read just before the challenge started.  I couldn't wait!  One really good read, and one so-so.
Under the Dome - Stephen King.
Unputdownable.  This is the most recent of King's novels, a hefty 1,072 pages.  It is good.  One of his best novels, for me.  I loved his resolution - it sounds preposterous, and yet, who among us hasn't had that very same thought?  I can't reveal it for those who haven't read the book yet, but it's a thought I think everyone has had.  It's all to King's credit that he makes this a good horror novel from two angles:  from the mystery of the dome that is placed over the town, and if they can solve it, and from the townspeople themselves, especially the awful family of  Jim Rennie and Junior Rennie.  It even had moments that made me laugh out loud, in the midst of horror and nightmare scenes - pantries were never my favourite place to begin with, but now they will carry with them an unforgettable image of Junior and his girls. It's good to see black humour in a novel of Stephen King's, and Under the Dome has it.  Which didn't detract from the horror or the believableness of the book - I found the laughter good, like King had taken time to be with his characters and see that in the midst of terror, there can be moments of hilarity and humanness.  All of King's strengths are here:  his amazing realistic characters, the way a small town works - the power of the town council, how most people try not to think too hard about what's going on, about how terror can be used to control a population.  I found the last particularly satisfying given the last 10 years of Western culture and the feeling of terror that we've never managed to let go of (I have my own cynical reasons for why this has happened).  The heroes - Barbie, Julia, Andrea, Scarecrow Joe, Norrie, and all the one who act bravely and still die - they are ordinary people who could be any one of us.  That is Stephen King's greatest strength in his writing, his characters and how they talk, that they are just like you and me, caught on the page.  I started reading and I couldn't look away.  The horror is good, and creepy in places, though this is not a 'ghost story haunted house' book, this is about the horror that we do to one another when under stress. And that makes it one of his most frightening and realistic horror novels of all.  4.7/5 (because throwing in a haunted house would have been so cool! lol)

The Strain - Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

                       I wanted to like this book. I really did.  I picked it up with all good feelings, because Bride had bought it - she is usually a good judge of horror books.  The sequel is out in paperback too, so I thought cool, I could get in on the series.  Alas, I didn't find much that was believable in this vampire novel.  There are moments that are very good, and very eerie, and how the vampire plague spreads was quite good.  But the premise - that some old guy from ancient history revived itself during the Holocaust, and has somehow eluded any notice until a dead plane lands, with a mysterious big box aka the coffin, arrives and 'disappears' on video - and no one thinks, hmm, Dracula even - that bothered me.  Dracula and the box of earth have filled our literature since the beginning of the 20th century.  I'm not saying the old creature couldn't stay hidden, I just found the idea that someone else wanted him brought over in order to start a plague, a bit iffy, AND how did the vampire know to start a plague in New York City? Was he hired?  If so, what could a vampire possibly want that anyone human could offer him? (except the way over the ocean, but as Stoker showed, pretty easy to arrange.....)  So, I had struggles with this book. I kept seeing it as a movie, and I think that's exactly how it was written, as Guillermo Del Toro is a movie maker first.
     The characters are good, the setting - New York City - very believable, especially the infighting amongst who had responsibility for the flight, the bodies afterward, though why only four survivors - again, not explained.  If you need to escape completely for a day, this would be a good book to do it in, as it is well-paced and full of action.  Just not entirely believable.    I will say though, how the plague expands - that's the best part of the book, the horror part.  I wish we had more of the horror, the being stalked by the newly made vampires, that eerie feeling of being watched, and the slow realization that something is wrong, in your house, in your street, in your neighborhood.  Maybe Bk 2 will have it..... 3.5/5.

So, how has your RIP VI reading going?  Have you read anything good and satisfying so far?

If you are in the mood to discuss horror, Emily over at Telecommuter Talk has a post on why she reads horror, here.  She took it from my previous post with questions I asked at the end, of my thoughts on why I read horror, here.  Do you have any ideas about why you enjoy reading ghost stories or horror, that you are discovering while you make your way through this challenge?  Why do you look forward to this challenge so much?  What have been your favourite discoveries over past RIP reads?  Please let me or Emily know, we both love to discuss horror, as you can see!  (Thanks Emily, too, for doing a whole post on this subject!)

My favourite RIP reads
I've been a part of RIP for three years now.  I have read some really good ghost stories, been thoroughly scared, and discovered some very good novels.  In fact, one of my RIP reads became my books of the year:
Lonely Werewolf Girl(actual book review here) - Martin Millar - 2008.  I see that The Woman in Black - Susan Hill, and The Terror - Dan Simmons, and The Night Country - Stewart O'Nan, were all read that year.  No wonder I couldn't decide which to pick - in looking back, these all could easily be my books of the year.  In fact, I thought The Terror was,  I loved it so much also, for a separate year.  I think in my mind they are tied now, both are so good.  2008 was a banner year for me.  Coraline by Neil Gaiman - another YA horror book that lingers.  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle.  They were all on my top 10 books for 2008.  I've linked to all my reviews in case you are looking for something to read for RIP, or just want to see what I thought about the books.  Those are all my favourite reads, too, now.  Books that are permanently on my shelf, along with The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Passage by Justin Cronin.  I couldn't wait for RIP to read the last two, but if I had, they would be part of this select group.