Sunday, 2 January 2011

The "Where I've Been" Post

Happy 2011 to you all, Gentle Readers!!!  I hope you had a merry holiday season, and time for reading.

Where have I been, you are wondering.  How could I go the past month without posting, where is my year-end book special, and most of all, what happened to me during the Advent Calendar Tour?

It was a season I could never have predicted, my book-loving friends.  It began with a slip on the ice three days after I wrote my last post.  I fell twice, the second time falling backwards and hitting my head.  I ended up with a very minor concussion, and it has been the stress from the fall, the memory of falling, that has been haunting me from the beginning of the holiday season.  I was well looked after, friends and family took care of me and I was back at work a few days later, but the shock of the fall has reverbrated through my holidays.  It threw me off, and I couldn't seem to settle down into thinking again. I was able to read, thankfully.  And then family came.

This is the second year that family has unexpectedly come to stay and turned our holidays upside down.  This turned into a very traumatic visit for me, family secrets and drama, and we are still recovering.  So merry?  Sometimes, when it was just us.  It was a lovely holiday at times, and through it all I've been very happy that I am still here.  I know how serious my fall could have been.

It does mean that I have thought long and hard about my blog, which hasn't been sadly neglected but definitely suffered from lack of regular posting this past year.  I've wondered if I've run out of things to say about books, or if I need to say them publicly any more.  I've come to the understanding with myself that of course, duh Susan!  I love discussing books, reading your ideas about them, Gentle Readers,  as well as talking about what I love (or don't) about what I'm reading.  Books are my main passion in life.  And this blog is nothing if not my own labour of love about my love of books.  So, I do apologize for missing the Advent Blog Tour.  Happy late holiday wishes to all of you (and I really hope you all had a much better holiday season over all!!) It's still the New Year, so I can squeeze in Happy New Year, blessings and happiness to each of you, my Gentle Readers, for this coming year.  I am especially happy because the coming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Rabbit, and that's what I am.

Books of the year - not yet
I am going to do my book of the year in my next post (which Goddess willing will be tomorrow), mostly because I still haven't chosen my book of the year.  I discovered two wonderful mystery series - Martin Edwards' Lake District series featuring Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett, and Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, which I can't choose among either series for my favourite books because they are all so good.  Maybe I should do mystery series of the year?

Other stand-outs are Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day - I loved this book, and it made me laugh out loud so many times. What a lovely magical whimsical fun book, delightful for the soul and the possibility that today, or any day, could be the day when everything changes.  Persephone Books were reprinting this before the holidays, or I would have been able to give this as my present of the year to several people.  Next year..... 

Book of Lost Tales by John Connolly was not what I expected, a magical fairy tale book that lingers long after it is all over - highly recommended.   

The Darkest Room  by Johan Theorin - a gripping mystery that really could not be put down, filled with echoes from earlier tragedies and people coping as best they can with loss and their own dark family secrets.  Very very good, and one I did give for Christmas.   

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths was another standout book for me. A mystery featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway, it bridges time and space in a haunting poetic mystery about loss and death and children.  Another one given for Christmas (and read already by the recipient!).

One of the first books I read last year, Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, never left me.  It raised questions about immigration and race and crime within the family that set as it was in the midst of children, made this book much larger than its Icelandic setting would suggest.  The best mysteries do this, I find, take the story of a crime or a mystery and cast it into the world so it becomes a comment on today's society, wherever we find ourselves.  This is a writer who gets better and better with each Erlendur mystery.   

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar was so delightful and funny, I laughed out loud so often reading this hilarious account of two runaway Scottish fairies in New York City and the havoc they wreak on everyone and everything.  Also the first book to give a true account of what it is like to have Crohn's Disease (which a friend and a family member suffer from).  I'm beginning to think Martin Millar is one of those undiscovered writers that are like secrets in fantasy or historical communities.  I loved his Lonely Werewolf Girl, and now I thoroughly recommend this book by him. 

To Dream of the Dead by Phil Rickman is another in an ongoing series that I highly recommend.  I love Merrily Watkins, the exorcist  Anglican reverend, her daughter Jane, and the cast of characters in their village Borderlands setting along the edge of Wales.  This is a place of supernatural events, hauntings and old myths and folk tales that have ancient bases in reality, and it's up to Merrily to uncover what is human in origin, and what is other-worldly.  Whether places affect people, or people affect places, is one of those intriguing questions this series deals with in every book.  To Dream of the Dead is about just that, how the dead echo through time and how their legacy of religion can still have meaning, if we let it.  Against this is set the rising of the river running through Ledwardine, the village Merrily lives in, and the fear of nature unleashed. This mystery novel also uncovers some ancient roots of Ledwardine as well as more of the standing stones Jane discovered in earlier books in the series.  This is a mystery series unlike any other out there, about people and place and the senses of mind that we know on some level exists, even if we don't understand why and can't explain it. 

In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany is the first in an ongoing Canadian mystery series that I discovered thanks to a book blogger late last year.  It took me a little while to hunt this book down in my library, and I really enjoyed the setting in the Rockies.  I've lived in Vernon in British Columbia twice, and the feel of living amongst the mountains of BC is perfectly captured in this book.  I kept looking for Trafalgar on the map, even though it doesn't exist it feels like a real place!  Molly Smith is the rookie cop who is promoted to the detective squad temporarily.  I enjoyed the mystery and the Canadian context - a memorial to the America draft resistors to Vietnam War.  Very Canadian!  Very enjoyable and I'm off to find the next in the series, The Valley of the Lost.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy was a terrific fairy tale retelling of Hansel and Gretel, set in Poland during WW2.  This is the second book I've read using the horrors of war - of what people do, did, have done to one another under the guise of war, and retelling them in fairy tale settings to help understand these horrors.  Briar Rose by Jane Yolen was the first one I read, last year.  They both are true fairy tale retellings, scary and sad, filled with hope when all is lost, and the will to survive.  It isn't pretty, but then true fairy tales, the really nasty ones like Hansel and Gretel, tell it like it really is, too.  And we as children know this, as well as all children anywhere and everywhere.  This may be the best way to begin to heal from this war, the first stirrings of healing tissue.  We have to imagine our way through the horror so we can begin to understand, and then to forgive.  The only way we can prevent this from happening is through forgiveness.  It would be very interesting to know if the Germans or Russians are beginning to write any fairy tales too, to try to explain to themselves also what happened.  In the meantime, both of these are worth seeking out, and when you are ready, to take a trip through the forest to meet the darkness that is part of our civilization.

 Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton round out my books that made a deep impression on me this year. Who can forget a dragon society where the dead parents are eaten by their children, and the rules of courtship and marriage?  And what a dragon blush really means?  An original fantasy novel that brings dragons to life, in a wonderful Victorian society setting.  Funny, too.

Reading Goals
So those are some of the books I read this year that have moved me and marked me.  I will do a final round-up of what I read, tomorrow.  I am too depressed that not only did I not get to 100 books read this year, but I didn't get to my 50 mysteries either as my reading in December fell to 3 books. However this just makes me more determined to succeed this year in both these goals!

Fairy Tales
To honour fairy tales and the place I want them to have in my house, I bought Maria Tatar's latest collection, The Annotated Brothers Grimm.
This volume is translated by Tatar, and includes over 150 illustrations from all kinds of editions over the years, and Tatar's annotations on the texts.

I bought this because I, for one, love fairy tales when they come illustrated and especially, when the text is child-friendly.  I mean, we have one edition bought by a friend that is written in Victorian text, so it's wordy and unfamiliar in meaning to my kids.  The idea of fairy tales isn't that they are old, but that they are accessible immediately to that wordless part of the brain that knows these stories already.  With this book I hope to have my children move into the heart of the fairy tale world and be enriched by it, so the next time Rapunzel comes out as a Disney movie, I don't have to rush to find a copy of Rapunzel for my daughter to hear so she knows what Tangled is really about!  This is our nighttime reading, which I had started in the autumn with the two youngest children,  but had to stop when the Victorian retelling got hard on me just in the telling!

Happy 2011 to all you, my Gentle Readers.  I wish for all of you, as well as myself, time to read during this coming year, as well as joy and beauty and creativity all through the year. 

For those who are looking for inspiration, I can think of no better way than to go to Terri Windling's blog, where for the past month she has been posting some beautiful photos of the winter scenes they have in Doret, as well as - my favourite - photos of creative people's desks, from writers, sculptors, and painters.  Some of my favourite writers, like Terri herself, Charles de Lint and Jane Yolen, are there.


Daphne said...

How scary!! And it sounds like a bit of a rough season. So glad you are back and hopefully on the mend from it all. Take good care of yourself. I really, really want to read Miss Pettigrew -- I hope I can find it at a library soon, it's been elusive.

raidergirl3 said...

You do not need to apologize for missing posting. Heavens, I'm just glad to hear that you are okay and have come out of your holidays (who arrives over the holidays without warning?) and have some optimism for the future.

I love your list of best reads of the year, and note that I haven't read any books from either of your two best mystery series. There's something for me to look up. Loved Miss Pettigrew as well. Have you read Major Pettigrew? not at all related, other than in a delightful read.

Happy New Year Susan!

Gavin said...

I'm so glad you are okay! Missed your great posts and am happy you are back with us. Sorry about the family stuff over the holidays but it is past now:)

I must add Martin Edwards and Phil Rickman to authors to check out list. I just discovered Eliot Pattison's Detective Sham series. Do you know them? I think you would like them.

Again, I'm glad you are okay and back to your blog. Have a great week!

Anonymous said...

Susan, I feel like just giving you a big hug! So've just been hugged. So glad you are OK and I loved this post. So many good books mentioned. I've read the first of Martin Edwards series and need to continue. Have not read Jo Nesbo yet, but intend to. I have the 3rd Elly Griffiths book on the way to me (Book Depository, thank goodness) and I'm excited about continuing that series. I'm a big fan of the Molly Smith series by Vicki Delany. You must continue it. It gets better and better. I have the first Phil Rickman book in that series here, on your recommendation I'm sure, and want to read it this year. Ah, so many books. Happiness.

Thanks for sharing your reading journey with all of us. It is always a pleasure to read what you've been up to. May your 2011 be filled with much joy and great reading!!!

Thoughts of Joy said...

I'm not sure if I've ever commented here, but this was a post that I couldn't just lurk and leave. Sorry to hear about your fall and the holiday blues. Thankfully you had some up times as well and some fabulous reads throughout the year. My TBR list (or shelves) have some of your best reads on it. I'm excited to get to them.

Vicki Delany said...

Susan, thank you for your nice comments about In the Shadow of the Glacier. I'm glad you liked the book. Happy reading in 2011. Vicki

Literary Feline said...

I am so sorry about your fall, Susan, but am glad you are okay. Something like that would scare me as well. I am sorry too your holidays weren't better. Mine were mixed. Christmas Day itself was nice--just my husband and I and the animals. The weekend before the in-laws were in town, and while we had a nice visit, I wasn't feeling my best through most of it.

From the sounds of it, you read quite a few good books this past year. Of all you mention, I've only read Louise Murphy's and that one made quite an impression on me.

I wish you the best this New Year, both in life and in reading.

Molly said...

Oh Susan - I am so sorry about the fall and the scary-ness of it all and the stressful holiday. I am glad that you have come out on the other side and I hope that this New Year finds you feeling healthy and joyous.

I of course miss your postings, but you should certainly not stress about them. Post when you can, knowing that your gentle readers will love each and every one of them :)

Cath said...

Goodness, I'm so glad you're okay after your fall. The ice is lethal and I can testify to that as I too slipped over on ours but wasn't as hurt as you. You take care.

I read Shadow of the Glacier too last month and loved it. Agree with you of course about Elly Griffiths and Martin Edwards's Lake District series. Have made a note of the Phil Rickman book as it sounds just my thing. I think Tooth and Claw might be my thing too...

Happy New Year, Susan. I really hope 2011 turns out to be a good year for you and yours.

Memory said...

I'm so sorry the holidays were rought for you. :( I hope 2011 is way, way better!

Susan said...

Daphne: thank you! It was scary. I'm so glad the holidays are over, though it has made me more convinced to close our doors next year and just celebrate with us. Sounds heavenly, doesn't it? I hope you can find Miss Pettigrew too. You can order it from Persephone Books, over in the UK, they ship around the world for very reasonable prices (and trust me, my husband makes sure because otherwise I'd order far too much!!)

raidergirl3: thank you too, so much. I do feel badly about the blog tour because I do love the holidays and getting ready for them, and the blog tour is part of that now for me. Next year! and yes, my family are going to be advised to call ahead from now on. No more surprises!

Well, I hope you enjoy Jo Nesbo - I think you will - and so far everyone who has read Martin Edward's series has loved it, really, so i hope you can find them all as fast I did! lol I've read most of both of these series this year. I haven't heard of Major Pettigrew, so that will be added to my list! :-) thanks

Gavin: I haven't heard about Eliot Pattison, so that is going on to my list of mysteries to watch for.

Thanks for missing me, too. I hope you and everyone here are having a good start to 2011, too. I missed reading all of you, that's for sure!

Kay: thank you so much! that was a lovely warm hug. I do believe it was you who started me on Vicki Delany, so I owe you a big thanks and hug back. *hug* I'm thinking of giving a copy to my mother to read, I enjoyed it so much. I really like Molly Smith and her parents and the setting. Please let me know how you like the first Phil Rickman. A friend at work asked me about the series when he saw me reading To Dream of the Dead, so I started him on book one and now he's up to book 3 in the series :-) Happiness because of so many books to read is right!!

Thoughts of Joy: Which books of my best reads are you wanting to get to now? I hope you post about them, let me know. Not that I've been very good about posting about books i've read, so this was a way to catch up on what I really enjoyed. I think it's so cool when books pop up on so many shelves to be read at the same time (and aren't on the bestseller list either), don't you? Thank you for leaving your lovely comments, Joy.

Vicki: Well, I'm honoured! Thank you so much for coming by and leaving a comment! I do really enjoy your series - I wanted to comment more on the book, but I had to give it back to the library a while ago (I read this last spring) and all I can remember about the main detective's name is John! and his very interesting background. I liked his character so much. I feel ashamed I can't remember his full name! I will do justice when I read book two, which I am getting with some Christmas money. Our local Chapters is stocking your series, I hope you are happy to hear! Happy holidays to you, and I'm happy because Kay above says there is another one in the series now after book 4. Yaay!

Literary Feline: Your comments about Louise Murphy were what made me read it right then, for Carl's spring challenge. As I said to Joy above, I really like it when some of us end up reading the same books (or inspiring to read) at the same time. You got me to read The Darkest Room too, though I can't find your post to link to know.

I'm sorry you had a rough time of it over the holidays too, especially as you prepare for your new arrival. Take care of yourself and enjoy these last weeks before your precious bundle comes.

Susan said...

Molly: thank you for your lovely wishes! I'm glad everyone has forgiven me for not posting for so long and come back! You know how much I enjoy your posts, and how inspiring you are too. I hope 2011 has been good for you (all two days of it so far! lol), and that you had a really good holiday, Molly.

Cath: I dread the ice now whenever I see it, which unfortunately in Ottawa is fairly frequently. I hope you take care too with the ice. You have been having such a hard winter there! And hard year last year. I missed you! I'm glad we're both back blogging about our beloved books :-) and yes, that was deliberate alliteration! lol

You know that you have already added to my TBR list with the mystery series you read over the holidays too. I love sharing books we've read! you are so bad for my book pile, too :-) Happy New Year, Cath, and I hope you and Peter have a healthy one all the year through.

Memory: thank you! Me too!

Kerry said...

Goodness, I'm so sorry to hear about your fall. That must be awful.

I must admit that living in such a temperate climate as we do, I simply cannot imagine all that ice and snow you northern folks have.

I can appreciate it as something seen in photos, but the idea of it being outside my window just doesn't compute for me. Especially at the moment on a hot, summer's day.

You take care in that winter weather.

I'm sorry to hear about the surprise Christmas visitors too. That kind of thing takes a lot of extra energy, especially when you haven't got much to spare.

You post on your blog as much as you are comfortable with and no more. We'll all enjoy your posts when they appear, but don't stress yourself about it.

Sending some more hugs and I'd toss some warm weather your way if I could.

brideofthebookgod said...

It's lovely to have you back!!

Susan said...

Kerry: Thank you so much! You've been suffering from earthquakes down there, so you have all my sympathy and worry, too. i hope everyone is well in your family. We could use more of your warm weather though!

Bride: Thank you! and you know how bad you are for my book list, I've already been to see your Christmas loot. I'm posting about mine after I do my book of the year post. I'm hoping I can return the favour to you! It is good to be back, too :-)

Eva said...

I have missed you Susan! I'm so sorry you had such a bad fall, and I'm very thankful that you're alright and survived the holidays (I swear, if I ever get married, I'm eloping in order to avoid family drama).

I love The Book of Lost Things; in fact, now I rather want to reread it. And you have now added FOUR books to my wishlist (plus reminding me I need to get Tooth & Claw back out from the library and actually read it). I love how you always tell me about mystery books I've never heard of that sounds so wonderful!

Susan said...

Eva: Thank you so much! I've missed you too. I'm afraid to come look at your books of the year, you always add so many to my list! lol and they are always good. I'll have to do a post about what books bloggers have convinced me to try, and you'd be at the top of bloggers who have added to my pile! I'm glad you are settling back in so well, too.

I am so glad that you added 4 to your pile, and thrilled! lol

As for family drama, next year we are having a family only Christmas, I think. I might get some books read then too! lol

Thoughts of Joy said...

You asked, "Which books of my best reads are you wanting to get to now?"

TBR List: The Darkest Room (Theorin) and In the Shadow of a Glacier (Delany) - in which I was introduced to by Kay as well

On My Shelf: The mentioning of Indridason's work reminded me that I need to get to his second in the series.

Susan said...

Joy: thank you! I do hope you get to read them. I've just picked up the second in Vicki Delany's series from the library, and like Arctic Chill that I read last year, Indridason's book this year is still turning over in my mind. I've enjoyed all of his mysteries, and I'm one who agrees that they are getting better with each one, too. I hope you enjoy them all!