Wednesday 30 January 2008


I haven't written much lately because I have a visit to the DENTIST tomorrow.....with luck, my new front tooth will be implanted. If all goes well. If my bone healed from the graft. And I get sedated..... BUT, if there was no healing of my bone, then I will wake up and have to go through getting a bridge made. So, since dentist = pain in my world, I have been steeling my nerves for this visit and so haven't been on the computer much. And, no, nothing exciting happened - my youngest son threw his head back almost 2 years ago and hit my dead front tooth, and knocked it lose. when they found yet another infection - at least the 4 th one in that tooth - and that the roots were cracked, it was decided it had to come out. Of course, the story of how I crashed my bike when I was 8 and knocked part of my front teeth off so I have caps on them, is a much more interesting story! But that's why the tooth eventually died.
There is a book meme from last Thursday that I want to do, and Short story Monday to catch up on, and some links to other blogs that have fascinating blogs - check out biblio addict's blog on RADD (Reader's Attention Deficit Disorder) and So Many Books blog on how you can learn from fiction as well as non-fiction (from an article she read). Fun and interesting reading. I will write more tomorrow when the sedation wears off and I stop drooling.
In the meantime, fingers crossed all goes well and happy reading! I'm almost done Widdershins....

Sunday 27 January 2008

no Mansfield Park tonight!!

Well, there went my plans......every other PBS station in the US must have been showing Mansfield Park tonight, but not ours (from Watertown NY) which was showing an antique auction instead!!! Blech!!! Ok, I love antiques, but not when Mansfield Park should have been shown!!! So my LSS went online and saw that M.P. is on sale in February on dvd (first release) so my review will have to wait. To continue!!

Oh well, will go read more Widdershins, which I am loving so far.

Thursday 24 January 2008

The Remains of an Altar and not finishing a challenge....

Reading the eighth book in the Merrily Watkins series - The Remains of An Altar by Phil Rickman - was like picking up a book in the continuing life of a character. I know that's what series are supposed to convey; with this series, it feels like it. The characters - Merrily, the vicar, her daughter Jane, her boyfriend Lol, Gomer Parry the neighbor, Sophie the Archdiocese's secretary......these are all continuing characters around which each book is built. Merrily is a vicar, a Deliverance consultant - she is the church's recourse and answer, when the unexplained happens to people, and ordinary answers aren't enough. She's an exorcist. And she is always explaining that she has never had to do a full exorcism, nor seen anyone's head spin like in the movie!
The series is built on the unexplained - hauntings, or feelings of something wrong - that don't go away, almost always around someone's death. Each book is atmospheric, set in a location around Hereford in the border country with Wales, with Merrily being called out to different villages in each book to help people resolve their problems. When I mean atmospheric, I mean there are moments of genuine spookiness, goosebumps, terror. Sometimes things are explained, sometimes not - and this is satisfying for me because ghosts/ghost stories/legends, the esoteric, can't always be explained.
This series is also about faith, about Merrily finding hers in spite of all the barriers she faces: being a female vicar, being a deliverance 'consultant', being a widow, being a mother of a strong-willed teenage daughter.
In this eighth book, we don't get to see Merrily struggling with her faith as much as we do in the earlier books, as the first book in the series opens with her beginning her work as deliverance consultant. What we do see is the spiritual geography of Britain, ley lines, music, and sacred sites playing the central role, as Merrily is called to the site of multiple accidents under the pretense that people have seen a 'ball of light' just before crashing. I can't say any more without revealing crucial elements of the plot, which I don't want to do - I want you to go read this book, Gentle Reader, if you want to, not spoil it for you!

I can say that I love this series, and have given the first book, The Wine of Angels, to everyone I can. The series is about things I love - mysteries, faith, ghosts, spiritual questions, myths and local lore (especially in Britain, where every spot seems to have some story associated with it!) - and very real characters trying to find the truth. The series I would have liked to write, one day!!! So if you are looking for something different and interesting to read, I reccomend all the books in this series. The Remains of an Altar does have gore a-plenty, but also the music of the spheres. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

From the Stacks Challenge: I have realized that with 7 days left, I am not going to finish this challenge! I grabbed Robinson Crusoe last night, and then I paused. Was I reading it because I wanted to, or because I felt I had to, to finish the challenge? When there is no way I could read Cryptonomicon in 5 days or less. I looked at my challenge books, all of them, and I asked, what do I want to read? Because this is what this is all about - reading books I want to. And I looked over what I read this month so far, and realized I hadn't read any fantasy yet, and i wanted to read one. Normally I read 3 or4 in January, so the reading challenges are changing my reading habits, but I don't want to lessen the fantasy I read! and I thought, I want to read Charles de Lint's new one, Widdershins, that I've wanted to read since I saw it was finally going to get Jilly and Geordie together!

I love how Charles puts the fairies and European myths on one side and the native legends and figures - some like fairies - on the other. As i have some background history with Aboriginal knowledge - my brother is Ojibway (he is adopted), I have moved in Ottawa's native community in past years and met many elders, been to ceremonies and many powwows, I can say with some knowledge that how Charles uses the native characters is correct, and even better, he has some understanding of how the myths work. I don't mean to sound as if I am an expert! I do know that Aboriginal sense of time and land is different from the European sense of it, so it is difficult to write about if one isn't grown up in the culture, and Charles goes further by putting them side by side in the same books/series, the Newford series. I expect at some day in the future his genius will be recognized for how he has mythologized the Canadian landscape, especially here in the Ottawa area - he lives here, and one of his early novels Moonheart is set in downtown Ottawa. It's a mix of urban fantasy, celtic fairies, and music, and now, growing more present in his work, are the native elements. This makes it unique, as far as I know. There are many aboriginal writers out there! but not many that mix Celtic/European fairies with Celtic and aboriginal shamanism and aboriginal legends like Coyote. That is why I hope one day Charles is recognized for contributing a unique body of literature to Canadian writing. In the meantime, his stories are always fun to read, exploring interesting ideas, with wonderful characters and settings. He almost always has an artist of some kind also, and music - Celtic fiddling - plays a big part also. For those who don't know, Charles fiddles himself, and he is often found in local Ottawa pubs fiddling with his group.
Anyway, I only started reading the book on the bus this morning, and already I am trying to figure out if the house really needs cleaning this weekend, so I can grab more hours to spend with the book instead! My book self says I cleaned so thoroughly last week, do I really have to do anything this week? My non-book self (and this is a very tiny part of me) says I feel better when all the puzzles are off the floor and everything is tidy...uh oh, just writing that is boring!!
Stay tuned for further reviews, but I am delighted that I am learning to be flexible with the challenges - they are there to challenge me, but they are not courses I have to pass! And they are all books I want to read!! Which was the purpose of them, make myself read more books this year. I have to say the Writer's Strike has helped immensely, although instead of watching tv I find myself blogging instead! At least I am spending more time thinking about books, reading about them on other blogs, and not just watching tv. I feel sorry for the writers, being a writer myself, and I still watch some tv - but not having to watch the new episode of something each night of the week has made the past few months feel like summer - I'm free from having my time used there, so that I can use it here (or somewhere else). And my reading is going up.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Meme - My House

MEME: My House

kookie did it, then chris, then raidergirl3..
Now I'm doing it.......go ahead, it's fun! we can always compare dust bunnies sizes.....

What kind of soap is in your shower right now? Ivory (Graham has eczema)

Do you have any watermelon in your refrigerator? in the winter?

What would you change about your living room? Buy some more book shelves! Books are piled on the floor (no room in the shelves), organize the kids' toys, and get a gas fireplace. Oh, and a sectional sofa set so there is room for all of us to sit!!

Are the dishes in your dishwasher clean or dirty? Clean

What is in your fridge? leftover roast chicken, leftover sausages, leftover tacos, milk, cream, apple juice, chocolate milk, yogurt, vegetables, baking soda (for smells)

White or wheat bread? whole wheat

What is on top of your refrigerator? binoculars, watering can, two baskets - one filled with flashlight, thermometer, odds and ends, the other filled with all kinds of batteries for the multitude of toys we have that require them and for our digital camera

What color or design is on your shower curtain? I have two - a clear one, and a striped one that is multicoloured - pink, green, white, orange, blue, red

How many plants are in your home? 6 spider plants, 1 ivy, 1 philodendron, 3 spiky kind

Is your bed made right now? why would I make it when I'm just going to get back in it tonight?

Comet or Soft Scrub? Neither. We have an enviromentally-friendly home, so Ecover does it for us (available at our neighborhood organic food health store)

Is your closet organized? to me. It might not look like it to someone else.

Can you describe your flashlight? Big! so we can find it and see our way to find the candles

Do you drink out of glass or plastic most of the time at home? Glass, but I have a collection of plastic/deck glasses that I use sometimes, and the kids definitely use plastic

Do you have iced tea made in a pitcher right now? hahaha in the winter?

If you have a garage, is it cluttered? No garage, but I bet it would be cluttered, if my basement is any indication!

Curtains or blinds? Curtains

How many pillows do you sleep with? one curved one for my back, which I hate, but keeps my back from hating. Now if only I could do something about the leg cramps and thigh ache....

Do you sleep with any lights on at night? No!! I hate light when I'm sleeping (my husband doesn't care)

How often do you vacuum? not often enough

Standard toothbrush or electric? standard

What color is your toothbrush? white with purple sides

Do you have a welcome mat on your front porch? I have 2 mats inside to catch the snow and mud.

What is in your oven right now? Nothing. It's 11 pm.

Is there anything under your bed? probably some kids toys, and a multitude of dust bunnies, and probably some English money from when Holly-Anne was playing with her purses

Chore you hate doing the most? housework!!

What retro items are in your home? china, some of which are 1970's, a tablecloth from teh 1970's, this desk the computer sits on.....

Do you have a separate room that you use as an office? The kids are young enough to always need someone there, so the computer sits in the corner of the living room. I have my own room upstairs, with more books and a small table for writing, but as we don't have a third computer yet I don't use it as an office yet. Someday....

How many mirrors are in your home? 5

What color are your walls? yellow - kitchen; buttercup yellow downstairs hallway; cream - light beige everywhere else.

What does your home smell like right now? leftover tacos?

Favorite candle scent? no particular favorite. vanilla maybe?

What kind of pickles (if any) are in your refrigerator right now? garlic baby dills

What color is your favorite Bible? no favorite

Ever been on your roof? No

Do you own a stereo? Yes, 2. One is in the living room, one is in the basement.

How many TVs do you have? 3 - one for watching up stairs, one down for video games and the loser of the toss when hockey is on (or soccer from England), or when the kids want to watch different movies at the same time, and a smaller one in the kitchen/dining room corner that I have on to watch while I cook, or when we want different things on while we're on the main floor (usually because kids are watching a video on the main tv in the living room)

How many house phones? 2 landlines. No cell phones!

Do you have a housekeeper? nope

What style do you decorate in? Style! Unfortunately none yet....mish mash of bought items and things given to us. English style in the kitchen with some china displayed on the walls

Do you like solid colors or prints in furniture? both, a nice mix

Is there a smoke detector in your home? Three

In case of fire, what are the items in your house which you’d grab if you only could make one quick trip?
photo albums, my Goddess figurines, my writing, the computer, my tarot cards

There you have it.

Short Story Monday - Fragile Things

I know this is Tuesday, but I fell asleep last night before I could write the blog about the stories I read.
First, The Fairy Reel, a poem. It has interesting ideas - split souls, that happens when one hears the Fairy Reel, and the heart stolen as they steal your breath - a cautionary poem, a warning about fairies. And the poet is right - they are dangerous, as well as tantalizing. I can't say I like this poem, though it is beautiful - just like a fairy.
Next, Closing Time. My favourite, of last night, and possibly of all the stories I've read so far. It's a ghost story, and creepy. I will never look at playhouses outside again in quite the same way. This is a very good story, and deservedly was placed in 'Best of the Year' anthologies.
Last, The Hidden Chamber. Another poem, and also very creepy. It is based on Bluebeard, and empty houses, and hidden rooms, and ghosts of those who went before. It is very unsettling, capturing the obsessiveness and unwillingness to let go of the wife-killer (or at least Bluebeard's version), and playing upon the word 'chamber'. That's all I'm going to say, except, you'll have to read it for yourself!
The story that still haunts me most though, is 'The Problem of Susan". It haunts me because it rings true, at least to me it does. this is how Susan would turn out, I think, at odd times of the day or night. I don't often have one story reappear in my thoughts two weeks after reading it, so this story has something for me that I need to work out!
I am enjoying this book very much.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Banned Books Reading

I have seen the button and ongoing reading lists on other sites (thank you to Caribou's mom site for this button and blog that gave me the final push!!) and have decided that as a reader and as a writer, to start reading banned books. It is abhorrent that we feel the need to ban good literature because it offends someone. One of the purposes of literature - writing - ideas - is to discuss, is to think about the world we live in. Would we ever know about how African slavery has affected millions of African-Americans without Roots? The Colour Purple? Racism - To Kill a Mockingbird? How about Harry Potter books? Farhenheit 451? (These are off the top of my head, I will look at lists tomorrow and add more. I'll add links to lists I find). It is incredible to me that we are so righteous as a society that we cannot permit books that portray negative images to be read by our children. Our children experience alot of these conditions in their daily lives - racism, bullying, mockery, sexual abuse and exploitation, cruelty. Why would we ban books that allow them to find some comfort, that they are not alone in their experiences? How many lives have been saved because a child - an adult - read a book that made them feel someone understood, someone else knew? Alot of these bans are by well-meaning parents and school boards, concerned about what their children are reading - or so they say. I think that what is at stake is freedom of ideas, freedom of truth. A book is one point of view; another book is another's. Neither is fully right, nor fully wrong. Banning books means we are afraid of another opinion, afraid to see ourselves as another sees us. The very best writing and writers tell the truth, about all of us, about the state of the world - not preaching, but revealing. And our attitude to their writing tells us how enlightened and free and open to hearing one another we really are. I would rather, that if I am unable to for some reason, reach my children or someone else's, that there be a way for them to be comforted and understood. I do not, and will not, understand how banning a book prevents children from knowing these things exist.
Sorry if I am ranting, but the very idea of banning a book offends me. I am not talking about books written that trample on other's rights - evil books that spit hatred at others for their race or religion, or use perversion as a means to pleasure and not to reveal, which I think hurt the world by being written, and yet serve a purpose.
I am talking about good books that are honest and tell the truth. We need those books. So I am joining the Reading Banned Books, and for me it is an open-ended challenge, an ongoing challenge. I have to see if any books on my current reading challenges are banned, and then see what I can fit in, but I hope to be able to include 6 banned books this year, as a minimum.
In the same way that reading the Man Booker Prize books - and eventually the Pulitzer Prize winners, etc, plans in the works - will bring to me I hope the best of what we are currently writing, I want the Banned Books to bring me the books that have ideas worth thinking about and discussing.
This is what intellectual freedom is all about. This is part of what our freedom should be about.

Northanger Abbey - Masterpiece Theatre

I hadn't seen any tv version nor read the book for quite a few years. I found myself laughing this evening at some of the humour, and delighted, and crying when Henry finds out how silly Catherine has been. It is a delightful story, about the dangers of reading bad gothic novels. I found myself astonished as Gillian Anderson, who is introducing this series, announced that Jane Austen wrote this novel to support Gothic reading by women!! I should think not. From all I have read, and understood about Northanger Abbey, Jane wrote this book in protest against the silliness of all the young women who read the novels and allowed their imaginations to run wild. She was being sarcastic - pointing out that young women could be reading better books than The Castle of Otranto and the Monk.
The most interesting thing about Northanger Abbey is the innocence Catherine displays; she is not able to protect herself against the wiles of Isabella and her brother John, is completely unsuspecting of any motivation except kindliness and consideration. While all the other heroines of Jane Austen are unmarried, none are as innocent as Catherine, who is unworldly in the deepest sense. All the other heroines display awarenesss of their position in society, and wealth, and that people can marry for reasons other than love. In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen has Henry finally admit the dark secret of Northanger Abbey - his father did 'kill' their mother, but not in murder, but by marrying her for her money, and not for love. His coldness eventually kills her. And as this is Jane's first novel, I think she allows herself to say this openly, while in later novels she shows unhappy marriages (I can never read about Charles and Mary in Persuasion, without wondering how happy he was getting Mary when he wanted Anne, and how hideous Mary is as a person to be married to, so selfish and self-absorbed), rather than having anyone spell it out so clearly again. As always, her ideal is to marry for true love - the meeting of souls - which again Henry and Catherine illustrate at their first meeting, their quick meeting of their minds in banter and teasing.
Northanger Abbey also shows the very real benefit of having rich neighbors when one doesn't have rich connections. Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, all have not wealthy heroines; only Emma is wealthy in her own right. Anne in Persuasion is dependent on her father since she is so old and unmarried in the novel. Emma does for Harriet in Emma what rich relations (the Allens seems to be a popular name for rich relatives/neighbors etc) and neighbors do for Lizzie and Catherine - bring them out into society where they meet (or in Elizabeth's case, meet again on his home ground) their future spouses. In a world bound by social and family connections, these play an important part for unmarried young women to meet future spouses, and to broaden their knowledge of the world. Certainly Catherine by the end has learned her lesson - don't let your imagination run away with you, if you read books. Even Henry says, "I really think perhaps one can read too many books," but he was meaning trash novels of the 19th century, not reading for intellectual pursuit. At the end we see Catherine teaching her younger siblings how to read, and the inference is both that she has the temperament and character to be a parson's wife (which Henry will be), and also that learning to read is important. Jane's point was girls were wasting their time (and maybe opportunity and intelligence) with silly gothic novels.
I really hope Gillian Anderson was being sarcastic!
And Henry Tilney is very charmingly played by JJ Feild, another handsome and charming collection to Austen Males We'd All Like to Marry. It was fun to see Carey Mulligan again, she who plays Lydia in Keira Knightley's version of Pride and Prejudice. She plays Isabella, the conniving 'friend' who plans to marry James (Catherine's brother) until she finds out he has only a little money. Catherine is too innocent to see Isabella is a flirt and a schemer, determined to marry for money, but she is not so innocent as to welcome back Isabella once Isabella dumps her brother for Captain Tilney, Henry's older brother, and Isabella is left ashamed after Henry seduces her. Catherine maybe innocent, but she has a backbone and ideas of her own, so she is not a boring goody-two shoes character either. She is sweet and good-natured, as all of Austen's heroines are.
Next week is Mansfield Park, which I have never seen. I am anticipating this already.......6 days and 22 hours to go......
Happy reading, and hope you are able to see Northanger Abbey!

Friday 18 January 2008

I lasted 18 days before I bought a book.....

I thought I could get through the month......but I couldn't, after all! Tonight I went to Collected Works, just to pop in and see if they had Susan Hill's first book in her mystery series. They didn't, but they had other ones, lots of other books! I had to put The Book Thief back, mostly because I am not quite in the mood for what reading the book will do to me - I know it will affect me like Diary of Anne Frank does. So it went back on the shelf, as did Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I can get that next time. What I did buy was
-La Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky - my mother was raving about it after I gave it to her for Christmas, saying it was such a well-written book using grammar and words, writing that she hasn't seen for a long time, so she was slowing down her reading of it so she could enjoy it more;
- The Fair Folk ed by Marvin Kaye - an impulse buy! but I am into fairies and dragons right now, so might as well buy it while it's still in print (it was paperback anyway)
And then when I went up to the cash, I discovered I had two books on hold that I'd ordered before Christmas! somehow how my LSS forgot to pass on two messages left earlier this month:
-A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park - first in a trilogy - getting raves in the fantasy world, and it does look really good
-St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves, by Karen Russell. How could I resist that title?? And it was on several Best Book of the Year lists, looks like magic realism, maybe.....interesting, anyway, a collection of short stories. See? I am trying something new, already!!
So, I happily bought some books! I am so delighted by them. All of them I will read this year, they look so good that I have to read them! and La Suite Francaise was already in one of my challenges.
H-m-m, do I admit that I ordered two more books, too? The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, and Susan Hill's first mystery series book.
So, now that the kids are in bed, I can start's Friday night, and except for grocery shopping, I don't have to go out tomorrow or for the rest of the weekend because our evening out at our friends' house down the street, watching a masterful dragon/lizard/giant snake-with-guns-and-missiles movie was put off while my friend recovers from bronchitis (our recent colds wouldn't help with this.....). So, I have lots of reading time ahead of me! And cold temperatures loom at the end of the week, which is when I hibernate because I hate being cold! so, The Remains of an Altar it is - and so far enjoying it very much, as usual. Ghostly things, evil people, faith and prayer, characters I would love to know - Merrily and her daughter Jane and new boyfriend Lol.....I'll review it when I'm done, it's book 7 in the series, and I have really enjoyed them all so far. A few have creeped me out too, which is the whole point of ghostly stories, but these are mysteries too, and very well done. Scary and mysterious, slightly haunting, you will have to try one, Gentle Reader!!
Happy Reading, and let me know when you broke down and bought your first book this year :-)

Thursday 17 January 2008

And she was bad when she stayed home sick......

Bad because I joined two more Book challenges today!!! Like I need to join any more!!! I couldn't really get on the computer much today, I have a bad head cold, and my daughter was home with the same thing. Bad enough I couldn't read, and when I got on the computer, I fell asleep! Which is what I did yesterday at work and why I stayed home today! I was better after a nap so that is when I found the other challenges....Chunkster Challenge (and blogger won't let me put its cool marker on), and Man Booker Prize. I always think I should read more literature/award winners than I do, the problem is most of them are boring. I hate saying this after doing an English Lit degree! but I prefer fantasy and mystery because there is a challenge to them, something additional to just writing about people. I'm not sure.....I loved The Raj Quartet by Paul Jewel Scott (? my brain is fuzzy with this cold.....) and read them all and watched the tv series in the 1980's. I have read Jane Eyre, all the Jane Austen books (see prev blogs), Bridget Jones Diary (ok hardly a 'classic lit', but I love it!), the Anne of Green Gables books, over and over. But the principal books I have read from a very early age were genres - mystery, science fiction and fantasy, or historical. I really don't go for modern fiction, and I don't know why - it's not that I feel guilty! I don't. I know good books are being written in 'regular', and so joining these blogs is my attempt to widen my reading somewhat, to challenge myself to read other books/categories that I do think at the time 'Oh, I'd like to try that'. The TBR list that goes on and on.......I'm proud of what I read, and even with reading mostly mystery and fantasy I still don't read all the books I want to, even in those categories!! There really isn't enough time for all the books I want to read!!
One of the bloggers I visited today talked about how her mother ( at Stephanie's Books?) made a joke out of her reading mostly fiction. She asked herself why she read fiction more than biography or nonfiction, and I liked her answer - I have to paraphrase because now i can't find the site, of course: she learns more from reading fiction that shows through characters all kinds of reactions and ideas, rather than biography/nonfiction which is limited to its subject. I thought that was a very insightful comment, which is why I'm carrying it over here. (If only I could remember where I read it!!!) You can explore in fiction a wider range of ideas, reactions, emotions, questions, than you can in nonfiction. Of course the best biographies by their nature describe the world, and of course the best nonfiction helps us understand and relate better to the world. However, fiction allows us to creatively explore the options we have for understanding the world, and possible outcomes. Something to think about, and let me know, Gentle Reader, what you prefer to read (if you like), and why. Maybe this could be a possible Thursday Book Meme one day? - yes I know I still have to do it, but the kids are running wild and I have no patience, so I will be back later! So anyway, I've now added some more 'mainstream' fiction to my reading this year......Chunkster Challenge is filled with books from other challenges anyway; it's the Man Booker Prize Challenge that will be the real challenge for me. All are books I've wanted to read, been curious about, over the years. H-m-m-m-m, now to see how many challenges I can fulfill this year!

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Short Story Monday - Fragile Things

I only had time to read a bit of Fragile Things tonight - short story "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" and his fairy-tale poem "Instructions".
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is a neat twist on the 'girls are from another planet' idea, a line that one of the characters Vic actually uses in the story, pun intended by the author! It makes me wish Gaiman had written more of this story - it is like a mix of 'Day of the Triffids' and a Dr Who episode. And it has poetry and music from the '80's in it! It is a coming-of-age - slightly - story, and again, like the ones read last week, haunting. I'm not sure I would want to go to that party myself - but I like the idea that the girls carry the universe in their eyes. You will have to read it to find out more, Gentle Reader. (wicked grin)
"Instructions" is the kind of poem I would write if I were trying to write down how to survive a fairy tale. Worth reading, printing out, carrying with you in case you encounter any fairy tale creatures or settings in your daily travels.
I am definitely enjoying the stories and Neil Gaiman's writing in Fragile Things. Some, like "The Problem of Susan", keep returning to me at odd times, pieces of it swimming up in the surface of my mind this past week. I'll keep you posted on how I do with the two from this week. I think I will read "Instructions" again before bed, and see if it brings me any interesting dreams.
Happy Short Story reading!

Sunday 13 January 2008

Persuasion - PBS Masterpiece version

Even though I watched this only a few weeks ago on TVO, which is a publicly-owned tv station here in the province of Ontario, once I saw that the PBS station we can get on cable from the US was showing the entire Jane Austen works, well, I had to sign up for the mini-challenge and begin watching, starting tonight! I am going to watch all the films for this challenge, and read at least two of her novels, in order to complete my version of the Jane Austen Challenge, mostly because I am so familiar with her work already. (see prev blog)
Persuasion is one of my favourite books of all time, as is just about any movie version. I own the version with Anne Root and Ciaran Hinds, and will probably put this version from England's ITV channel (just made last year) on my Christmas wish list. It doesn't matter which version I watch, because it is the story that is so key, and most versions can't tamper with Jane Austen because her stories are about love. The ITV version moves some things around - there is no mention of the Wentworth brother who is a curate, that at one point Anne thinks means Captain Wentworth is married. The whole description of 'card playing' which is so key in the Anne Root version and in the book is also missing. But on the whole, the ITV adaption is faithful in tone and setting to the book, and the slow transformation of Anne as she moves from spinsterhood to a woman in love, and how her hope grows and lights her up as his love is revealed, is as powerful as ever. I love the story so much, that I don't think there are many versions that I can't watch!
Rupert Penry-Jones is another gorgeous man to add the Austen collection. And he does an admirable job of portraying Captain Wentworth as a man who was jilted once, due mostly to society frowning on a young man with no connections or money, and I came to like Sally Hawkin's portrayal of Anne during this second time of viewing this version.
I was thinking about why Jane Austen has such enduring novels and movies, and why I can read and watch her over and over, and never tire of them. This is unusual for me, for I dislike repeating things once I have done them, and I hate tv repeats of shows if I have seen them! Unless they are particularly good, which is not often, and I have a handful of tv series I collect - Buffy, X-Files, Dr Who (new version), Battlestar Galactica (new version), the Star Trek movies (someday I will get the original tv series, but right now $300 is too much).....all the Jane Austen movies but Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park. I haven't found the one version of Northanger Abbey on dvd yet that I have seen, so I am looking forward to this new ITV version of Northanger Abbey and hoping I can find it for Xmas this year. I own the Gwyneth Paltrow- Jeremy Northam version of Emma, Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility, and the two versions on Pride and Prejudice - Keira Knightley's new movie version (a satisfactory 2 1/2 hour version) and of course, the one and only 6 hour Colin Firth -Jennifer Ehle version. Unfortunately we only have it on VHS and since our video player was stolen two years ago we have only bought a DVD player and not replaced all the movies yet on DVD, so it has been over two years since I last saw the full version and I am so looking forward to seeing it on PBS!!!!
I don't watch the movies only; I have read all the books (except Mansfield Park, and now I am wondering why!) at least once. Persuasion and P&P I have read several times; at least once every two years. They both, to me, are perfect books - each one explores different kinds of love and marriages that people settle for, and the people - characters - are delightful and awful and real. We have all known people like tonight's Anne's sister Mary, who refuses to acknowledge half of her husband's family because they are lower on the social scale than they are, and yet her own father barely recognizes them - but then he is the worst social snob (and character) of all, and as played by Anthony Head tonight, very unpleasant to be around, very shallow and cruel.

There are real plights depicted in Austen's books, too; in every novel there is the unmarried older woman and her worry about what will happen to her because she couldn't work in those days - today, in the words of Miranda in Sex and the City, single people end up with cats who eat them when the single people die alone in their apartments! (Which, until I unexpectedly met my second husband almost 8 years ago, I was on my way to becoming....) Widows, ill people, the bereaved, the unmarried, the unhappily married.....they all have a place too in exploring all the places people can end up in if they don't marry wisely (and I think, have some fate on their side). People marry for money, to not be alone, for protection, and these are all reasons (whether good or bad......) that still, people marry today. Her works are a study of emotions and are endlessly appealing because the main characters end up happy, with the love and choice of their life - their soulmates. We see the roles women play, the dances and society and rules of behaviour that still aren't so far from today's generation, even if today women and men have relationships and sex long before marriage, the same pain of loss and joy of love found is present today as well as yesterday. Because we all need love, and all yearn for companionship that meets our deepest needs, Austen's works speak to us and show us how people find their way. No matter how often I read her novels, they have layers of richness and meaning that I delight in. She is so accurate in her descriptions of characters that I am amazed at her perceptiveness and her wit - and what she values most of all are qualities most of us value - truthfulness, honesty, kindness, a sense of humour, a willingness to work, - who wouldn't want to be any of Jane Austen's heroine's friends?? - and loyalty - these are all qualities we all strive to have in our own natures now today.
Anyway, I didn't mean to lecture on Jane Austen, these are just some of the thoughts I have had over the years of reading her novels and watching the movies based on them. I hope you, Gentle Reader, were able to watch the first of the PBS Jane Austen movies tonight or this week sometime, and if you care to, drop me a line and tell me why you like Jane Austen so much. I'd love to hear from you!
and thanks to Becky once again over at who started this challenge. Next week, Northanger Abbey!

Saturday 12 January 2008

By the Time You Read This - Giles Blunt

This was a solid, well-written, gripping mystery. From the opening chapter, the story had me in thrall. It was difficult in places to read because it deals with depression (which my family struggles with) and suicide, but this meant I could relate on a personal level with what the story was about. The main character, John Cardinal, a detective with the fictional town of Algonquin Bay, ON police force, has a bipolar wife Catharine who it appears finally takes her life at the beginning of this book. I can't say anymore without revealing crucial elements of the plot, regarding how he handles her death, but I can say the descriptions of grief were realistic, and the writing about depression, as it has been written about for Catharine throughout this series, is outstanding. This is such a good story. All the characters are interesting and the secondary story of Cardinal's co-worker Lise Delorme working on a difficult child molestation case is equally gripping and provides the impetus for the book.
I have been been giving Forty Words For Sorrow, the first book in the series, to different people to read. Now I can recommend this book as equally as good as the first!

So that is three books read in my Canadian Book Challenge, and the first one from the 'new releases' 888 challenge. Since all my favourite new books by authors are in that section, I can see how that will be the first section completed!

Friday 11 January 2008

See below....favourite author Jane Austen (for Book Meme Thursday)

How could I have forgotten about Jane Austen??? I can't remember how I discovered her, whether I read Pride and Prejudice first, or saw the Colin Firth version on tv, or if it was Persuasion, whether it was school reading or I picked it up for fun...I really can't remember.....but she is one of my all-time favourite authors and I have read all her books except Mansfield Park at least once, some many times.....the only reason I haven't joined the Jane Austen mini-challenge is that I haven't made myself, since I watch Persuasion and P&P and read the books every other year or so.

See the new little icon to the side? The one that says I am a kinda dorky nerd Queen? I love this! I couldn't resist...and even though I am computer-challenged at the best of times (so I don't qualify for dorky since I can barely get my computer to run), I thought i might still qualify as a nerd because of my love of sci-fi....and I was right! Cool, I get to be a queen, even if it is a Nerd Queen! That's ok, because while I don't own a light sabre (my ex-husband and eldest son do however....) I can quote from the original Star Treks!!! And we all know that reading is so nerdy it is cool (according to my own blog last month.....)! I think I am the only person who actually read the Star Trek Log books that came out, books one through 12,short stories based on the original Star Trek episodes. (I was desperate for anything new about Star Trek then, it was the mid 1970's so nothing new had come out for years.....) Yep, that's me!

Oh, and I forgot about Little Women by Louisa May Alcott......I don't know how many times I read this book growing up. I think I got this for a present......Jo was my heroine, she writes stories!!

Yikes, basically I love books! Ok, not all of them, but so many.......

Thursday 10 January 2008

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

  1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
  2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?

1. I don't know who gave me Anne of Green Gables as a child, I think my mother gave me some of her old Anne books and I started reading them. The very first series of books I remember finding, was Nancy Drew; I gave one of the early books in the series as a birthday present to my best friend Teresa when I was 7, except I got caught reading it before I gave it to her! My mother had to explain that we don't read books when giving them as gifts.....thus began my long affair of buying a book for someone else and another copy for me! I share books with my friends and family, of course, but these aren't gifts, just lent out. I went on to read all the Nancy Drew books that were then in print. I even went as Nancy Drew to this year's hallowe'en party, theme was 'dress as your favourite character from a book'. Alot of my favourite authors have come through recommendations from others: Ian Rankin (my boss at Books Canada, which is now closed); Janet Evanovich (my mother); Jan Burke (my mother or friend Laurie...) but most, I've found on my own - Charles de Lint, Phil Rickman, Jasper Fforde, Patricia McKillip, Stephen King, Giles Blunt, Liza Cody, Carol O'Connell, Connie Willis, that I end up sharing with others. Oh yes - my mother gave me The Hobbit when I was 10 and though it took me a few more years to read, and a family friend reading "The Fellowship of the Ring" during one visit.....I was hooked on fantasy from then on.

2.Most are love at first sight. I usually know from the first book I read if I am going to read any more of an author. I can't remember not liking an author and then going back and finding I did like them. If I don't like the author/book too bad! There are too many books being written that I will like, to give authors I don't like, chance after chance!
I've either found them in a bookstore, or seen them reviewed, or my friends will recommend it.......since I try to have people in my life who read, one of my pleasures is talking about books and finding new authors, so I have many different sources. Book reviews are a great source of new authors to read, also. And of course, this year i have discovered book blogs, which are also excellent sources of books and authors! LIke, who knew Susan Hill was writing a detective series that is getting really good reviews? If you go to Geraniumcat's blog, you i'm looking to find the series to read! (Chapters had the third one a few days ago, but I want the first one....)

So, happy
Thursday! Happy Reading! How did you find your favourite authors and books?

Monday 7 January 2008

Short Story Monday - from Fragile Things, and Mrs Dalloway

Short Story Monday,first. I suddenly remembered at 11:20 pm tonight that I had signed up for short Story Monday.....and it is Monday! so I went to my bookshelf to my books set aside for reading this year, and picked at random Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. I picked a story at random, after flipping through his introduction and realizing that I want to read a short story each Monday that grabs my attention. I saw "The Problem of Susan" and seeing it was about Susan from Narnia, and that Neil had been as bothered by her being left out as I had been upon reading the stories, I decided to see what he had to say about it.
"The Problem of Susan" is written from the perspective of Susan as an old lady, a professor of - what else, but children's literature. It is a bittersweet short story, bittersweet because Susan ends up as I always thought she would - unmarried, alone, and cold in her nature, which she must have been to turn her back on Narnia. It is a gruesome story too, discussing the train accident, and especially the lion and the witch - I have to confess I am shocked at the blatant sexuality in the second character Greta's dream, which doesn't fit the tone of the Narnia series (which I have read several times and loved as a child), and yet.......and yet, that is the reason that Susan doesn't go with them to Narnia in that last dreadful train ride, because she has grown up to lipstick and boys. In the ways of opposites, the lion and the witch are opposites that attract.....I won't say any more because I'd rather you read it, Gentle Reader! It is the darkside of fairy tales, it is death and the body the way CS Lewis couldn't write about it, and it fits what became of now if I dream about lions or myself older tonight, I'll know this story did affect me! *for those Gentle Readers who don't know, my name is Susan, so of course I was most insulted when I read Narnia and she, of all the siblings, doesn't return to Narnia. I thought that was most unfair, and i expect I have spent much of my life trying not to be that Susan in the books! Though after reading this story, I can't decide if perhaps she didn't get the better part of the deal after all....or maybe Aslan has been waiting for her all along (as the ending suggests). As always, Neil Gaiman's writing surprises and disturbs, in equal measure.

Now, onto Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. I had read her a long time ago in university, To the Lighthouse, which I remember liking, but not enough to read the rest of her work. And, as usual, I am doing things backwards - I have read Michael Cunningham's "The Hours", his award-winning novel based on Mrs Dalloway, and seen the movie The Hours, without ever reading Mrs Dalloway! I didn't like The Hours, I thought it was highly over-rated (as I find many National Book Award winners to be), and the movie was so-so.
So how was Mrs Dalloway? well, Gentle Reader, it was unexpected- unexpectedly interesting in places, and unexpectedly boring in others. I had to force myself to read the whole book, which was an enormous disappointment for me. It is a cold book, about people that I find difficult to care one iota about - spoiled people who are shallow and selfish. I wanted to like the book, and some of the descriptions of how sounds or light or the sun move through London, are brilliant, as is the continuing use of the sea and water. Even though the novel is set in London, there are reoccurring descriptions of the sea, and of water, but knowing as we do that Virginia Woolf took her own life by walking into the water and drowning, the use of the water images I find takes on a subtler resonance. We are not just seeing her writing, we are seeing into recurring themes in Virginia's mind. At the heart of the book are two things: the descriptions of madness for Septimus Warren Smith - which, except for his doctor and a chance observation in the park, have no relation to the characters of the book - his eventual suicide, and the party that Clarissa Dalloway, central figure of the book, is giving. The book occurs over one day, and is made up of the movement of people and accidental/chance connections that occur over that one day. Each of the characters is allowed their own time in the book in a kind of stream-of-consciousness monologue that allows us to see the other characters and the setting of London through different eyes and perspectives. It is very cleverly done, and captures the setting of Piccadilly/bloomsbury in London very effectively. I enjoyed this part of the book and the technique very much. I did not enjoy the characters at all, who none of them except for Sally, had many redeeming qualities about them. None of the characters really liked eachother, except for Rezia who is fighting to save her husband from his madness, and Sally, who has a big heart and while honest about everyone, is easily the most friendly and likeable character in the book. We only get to meet her at the end, almost by chance as she is not invited to the party but drops in.
There are interesting ideas in this book, about marriage, love, friendship, society, connections, vanity, roles people play, about youth and middle age. I'm glad I read it. I think, it is an important book in the development of women's writing, of the novel - and especially the 20th century novel - and of showing what London was like for the middle class in London in the early part of this century. I am not so sure the madness part belongs, or if it does, if the author is showing the fracturing of the self when thrown up into the extremes of life and death, in this case, the First World War. The shallowness of the rest of the book - because it really is shallow, the throwing of a party just because Clarissa feels she wants to - the emptiness and vacuousness even she allows in her rare moments to feel, opposite the struggle of Septimus to hold together some rationality and having it all swept away in madness because he can't feel the death of his comrade Evans in the War. The strongest parts of the book are when the characters allow themselves to feel, but most of the book is about their thinking - and this makes the book an interesting view of our split in the 2oth century, of human nature itself - the rules we impose on ourselves because we think we should behave in a certain way (often for others approval, in this book), and the truth of what we actually feel, which in this novel is most often the unpleasant feelings - despair, alienation, anger, hatred.
All in all, I'm glad I read it, but I am still not sure I like Virginia Woolf's writing. I admire her, and agree whole-heartedly with her views in "A Room of One's Own", but her characters are not people I would enjoy knowing. Which does show her skill as a writer!

Thursday 3 January 2008

Meme - Booking Through Thursdays

It's still Thursday, for once I am on time with this! and since it is the new year, I thought this meme was particularly relevant (thanks to Raidergirl3 at for this one):

Booking Through Thursday


Last week we talked about the books you liked best from 2007. So this week, what with it being a new year, and all, we’re looking forward….
What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’re planning to read in 2008 that you’re looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’re waiting to appear in paperback?

New books I am looking forward to reading (received as gifts for the holidays):
- Exit Music by Ian Rankin
- Widdershins by Charles de Lint
-Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde
-The Remains of an Altar - Phil Rickman
-Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman
- By the Time You Read This - Giles Blount
- 1599 A Year in the LIfe of William Shakespeare - James Shapiro
- Farthing - Jo Walton
Except for the James Shapiro biography, the rest are authors that I read every year, and look for their new releases in paperback under the tree! These are some of my favourite authors, and I hope to find some of these will be books to treasure in years to come.
What new books am I looking forward to most this year? the latest in paperback by Janet Evanovich, Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven, and Emma Bull's Territory - all published in the fall of 2007 but I have not been able to pick up yet. I really want to read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke before it comes out in the movies!
I don't really know what is coming out this year, since I rarely buy in hardcover unless it's very special . I think I am most looking forward to reading the books in my challenges, since I have chosen them, and they are mostly books from my shelves. Reading the above books will mean the new year has arrived!

Sun and Shadows

It pays to be least in reading time! since I have been struck with a mysterious stomach ailment - not the flu, but a virus of some kind - I've been sleeping and reading for the past two days. Mostly sleeping, yesterday. Today, I finished Sun and Shadow by Ake Edwardson, a Swedish mystery writer. Erik Winter is the Detective Chief Inspector, and Sun and Shadow is the first book in the series to be translated into English.
It was slow-moving in the beginning, but by the end it was a solid mystery story, with believable characters and events. It is set in Gothenburg at the turn of the millenium, in winter. It brought back memories of my own millenium experiences, which were in England with my newly-married spouse, and I heard the boat horns that ring all over England at midnight, along with the fireworks, for the first and only time, at the New Year. Reading about the millenium celebrations in another country was odd at first, it seemed to date the mystery, and then in the middle of the book it didn't matter. There are two sets of double murders, and by the time of the second one (which occurs on the night of the new Millenium) the mystery and the story of how Erik Winter and his team of detectives solves the murders, is all-consuming. I could almost see the Goddess of Light parading down the street in Gothenburg, see the police out in force to maintain calm, and then the panic and shock when the double-murders are discovered late in the night. Because it is winter now here in Ottawa and winter in the book, I could relate to the minimal amounts of daylight they had in the book! and the cold..... This is a police procedural at its best; we are taken into the heart of the police investigation. I did find it odd that there was not much press urgency, no panic by the populace, no real urgency from Winter's boss, in the book. It is as if Ake Edwardson was concentrating on writing from the police perspective, from Erik Winter's perspective, and not concerned about the outer world. There is very little description of Gothenburg except for the high apartment buildings that become the centre of the clues to the killer. While the gothic culture is supposed to be what is investigated, we never get to meet any real goths nor their way of life, which I think limits the book. If I compare this novel to Henning Mankell's novels (the more well-known Swedish mystery writer), there is a difference in tone and scope - Mankell explores politics, the environment, society, current events that lift the books into an exploration of people and society, which I think the best mystery novels do. Edwardson explores detective work and how it is affected by the personal lives of the detectives - to some extent, as we see Winter's life most thoroughly. It is like a cottage mystery, because the author uses other parts of society but does not use characters to comment on that way of life, so the book is not lifted into commenting on the state of the world. That is something that I think the very best mystery writers do - Ian Rankin, PD James, Raymond Chandler, Mankell; I am not going to name them all, nor all my favourites! - these are just examples of mystery writers whose work reaches beyond the limits of genre - I think! - and become books exploring human nature and the world. I have often thought that the very best of mysteries teach us about good and evil, show us the world where both exist and the long, lonely struggle of each individual to choose. Mysteries show what happens when some choose evil over good, and those that fight to right it. Sun and Shadow is a solid mystery, and a good introduction to Swedish mystery writing, along with Henning Mankell and Asa Larsson.
A very good way to begin the new year of reading, though not so good for finishing the holidays this way - ill!