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.
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!
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.
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.