Tuesday 29 April 2008

Still here....

Yikes! I'm not sure how almost a week went by....it's been very busy, and still is. Today's journey is all about patience, not that I showed any when I got home to have my husband try to fix the toilet, only to discover the plumber that was in two years ago was right and our 40 year old toilet is so rusted that the stupid plug in the tank can't be repaired, so now we are looking at buying TWO toilets TOMORROW (might at well pay only one plumbing bill, so get the one in the basement that hasn't worked in three years fixed too)so we can have a functioning one in the house that doesn't require us putting our hand in the tank to flush it. There, now you know how my day is going....still 45 minutes before the day ends....
I've been sick again - last Friday, Sunday I was weeding and tidying in the garden, and hurray!!! all the dead things from last year are gone, and green growing plants are slowly springing forth!! My rose bush survived, as did the perennials I planted last year!!! Yesterday was Toby's birthday, so we had a family party for him last night. Tonight, not only is it emergency toilet stuff BUT the final night to prepare taxes, which, sadly, once again we have not done. Every year I think, this year, I will do them in February....every year, April 29th rolls around and they are waiting to be done!! As I write this, my dear husband is doing his taxes, then mine since I am too cranky over the upcoming soon-to-come plumbers bill after we buy the toilets tomorrow, to want to face taxes too. The good news is Toby has a contract starting next week, for three months, so we will be able to pay the plumber, taxman, etc!!!
I'm still here, it's just been one of those weeks!!

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

What an extraordinary book. It took me a little while to get into, because at first almost all the characters are so unsympathetic, looked at with such a clear, cold eye, all their faults and shortcomings exposed, that it was difficult for me to know what I was expected to feel. Was there no character I could like? I enjoyed the details, the drama of the exodus from Paris, so I kept reading. And soon enough, characters to cheer for emerged- the Michauds, then eventually Lucile, and Jean-Marie, and even Bruno the German soldier.

The descriptions in the book, the settings, the people, overtaken by events, and then settling down again - it does feel like music, and that was her aim. She wanted to write the novel in 5 momements or stages, 200 pages each. Suite Francaise contains the first two parts, although she had notes for the other three and an ending in mind. The novel ends, of course, halfway through the story, and in teh story timeline, at the middle of 1942, which is when Nemirovsky was taken to the camps where she died. By writing the book in real time - that is, using real dates of the Occupation, she sets the novel in real time, and this adds an extra dimension to my (at least) reading experience, because side by side with reading the book I found myself thinking, it reads like the novel is happening as the war happens. And indeed, Nemirvosky wrote this novel very quickly, and it is astounding at how good it is for what is really a first draft with major corrections done by the author. It is a fascinating study of people, of historical events shaping lives and how ordinary people cope. This is a haunting and memorable book, and in the back of any one who reads this book are two things: one, this war between these people at this time really happened, and two, the author was killed at Auschwitz, a direct result of this war. It is one of the most stunning accounts of what life under the Occupation was like, in France, in small ways; because the French had their own society feuds that kept on, despite the German requisitioning of everything. The awfulness and pettiness of people is revealed, but also the human capacity to try to survive, and for even fewer people, to survive with dignity.

In the notes to herself, contained in the journal that this novel was discovered in, she writes: "The most important and most interesting thing here is the following: the historical, revolutionary facts etc must be only lightly touched upon, while daily life, the emotional life and especially the comedy it provides must be described in detail." This was her goal in writing the book what she hoped to achieve.
These are Irene's own words, written in her journal that her daughters carried around with them when their parents were taken away because they were Jewish. The girls went into hiding until the war ended, and only long after was the journal finally looked at and the novel discovered. Denise, the eldest daughter, grabbed it as they ran from the house because it was a momento of her mother, who was always seen writing in it.

There are places and events in the book that are written with such clarity that I think Nemirovsky must have put in events she had witnessed. There is a horrific scene in the beginning, when a train station is bombed by a German plane : "The glass roof shattered and exploded outwards, wounding and killing the people in the square. Panic-stricken, some of the women threw down their babies as if they were cumbersome packages and ran."
I had to stop and re-read that passage. It is horrifying and awful and terrible to imagine. The whole book for me was like that, filled with images that were reporting the war to the readers through the images in the book. There is a veracity to the events and descriptions that made me realize, that Nemirovsky must have witnessed herself these, or heard first-hand accounts. Her desire, though, wasn't to show the horrors of war; she wanted to write about the affects of war upon ordinary people caught up in the events. In chapter 29, she writes in a paragraph that seems to me to be the heart of the novel: "Important events - whether serious, happy or unfortunate - do not change a man's soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves. Such events highlight what is hidden in the shadows; they nudge the spirit towards a place where it can flourish." When I read that passage, I marked it, which I rarely do in a fiction novel, but I knew I wanted to remember it. War, Nemirovsky is saying, doesn't change people. It brings out what was in them all the time. So the characters we meet at the beginning were always mean and grasping, layered with middle-class bourgeois attitudes, or more rarely, gentle and sweet.

As the novel progresses, we do meet more people, farmers, villagers, and the local gentry, and the effects of the German occupation on the village and people.

Nemirovsky doesn't play favourites: the French come across as lazy and whose first duty is to pleasure, which is what costs them the war with Germany. She doesn't go on about how awful life was except through the villagers complaining about food shortages, and in casual comments or observations from the characters, the shootings of people who break the laws, but done more as an aside, not the central part of the book at all. The Germans are given, surprisingly, good and bad characteristics also. I say surprisingly because it must have been the novelist winning out over the real-life precarious position she was in the whole time she was writing the book. The German who lodges with Lucile and her mother-in-law is an awesome character - he is close to noble, a musician who can't write his music because the drums of war have beaten the melodies away. He is well-bred, and polite, and thoughtful, and is close to an ideal hero, but not, because he is on the other side of the war. In contrast, one of his comrade in arms, Bonnet, is a sadist: "During the retreat of the French army, when he was in charge of taking the pathetic herd of prisoners back to Germany, during those terrible days when he was under orders to kill anyone who was flagging, anyone who wasn't walking fast enough, he shot the ones he didn't like the look of without remorse, with pleasure even." Again, this is a passage that I marked when I read it, because it is so clearly drawn that I wondered if Nemirovsky had seen someone doing just that, or heard about it. It almost reads as though she is getting revenge on the German occupation by writing the truth, and disguising it in the novel. This is part of what raises this book so high in my esteem. There is a ring of veracity in this book that is rare in fiction.

There is beauty and love in this novel, as well as hatred and seediness and greed and pity. This is a novel about people caught in a terrible situation. And it is gripping reading, and lovely in places, horrifying in others. I love this book, and it is one I will return to again and again.

This should also be required reading in schools - Grade 11 or 12, I would think. There would be much to discuss and learn from reading this book, and history would come alive, for a while. I don't know why the book is banned ( or someone tried to ban it), again the book list for the challenge is from here in Ontario, but it shouldn't be. This is one of the best fiction novels I've ever read.

Links: Marg

Tuesday 22 April 2008

books and reading cycles

When I think over my lifetime of reading books, I look at what I own now, and what I used to have, in my twenties and thirties. I find that I want to go back and read books that I read when I was 25, and haven't read since. Books like yesterday's post about Ray Bradbury - I know I read Fahrenheit 451 when I was a teenager, and I know I read Something Wicked This Way Comes (thanks for the comment, Chris; see my previous post, it reminded me of this!) in my 20's. But do I still own the books? No. I gave them away, sold them, lent them, over so many moves they were not among the ones I managed to keep with me. So now, many years later, it's time to revisit them. And that is what this post is about: reading cycles, and revisiting books read long ago. Does anyone else do this? Do you find yourself thinking back to the first fantasy or sf books, or romance, or mystery, or classics, that you were reading then? Do you miss them? I do. Did you give them away, or are they still with you? I wish I still had Sylvia Plath's Ariel, and The Bell Jar, which I read in my late teen's. My early Charles de Lint (and I had everything he wrote before I went to England), Stephen King, gone. So many books, that I let go of over the years, mostly due to my moving so often, I think. I would look at my books and think of what I hadn't read yet, and get rid of it if I hadn't (unless I knew I was going to read it shortly).

So how did I let them go? And why? I think I let them go - gave them away, put in boxes and then donated when I made one of my many many moves - because I thought I was done with them. I didn't understand in my 20's and even my 30's, that I would come back to them. If I was once interested in them, I would be again. I mean, I even went back and reread some of my earliest favourite Harlequin romances - they weren't as good the second time around, and that is the difference between being 13 and 28, I think!! It is like the spiral of psychological/spiritual growth - we finish with a problem, only to find we are dealing with it on a deeper level at another time. So I come back to books I read once, to read them on a deeper level, or from a different perspective or with more wisdom (I hope!) that life has given me.

I'm not talking about revisiting my childhood, or longing for the good old days. I want to read the books again, and see if my experience of them is the same, and what I remember, and if it's still good. I think, now, that because we moved so much through all my childhood and teen years, that I got used to leaving things behind, to getting rid of things if I wasn't actually using them, and I thought this applied to books too. I am beginning to think it doesn't. That for me, I do and will want to reread many of my favourites, and revisit authors I read long ago. So part of my desire to "own so many books my house might explode" isn't a material desire -"she who dies with the most books wins" sort of mentality - it's an understanding of myself that there will come a time when I will want to look at a book again, and I want it on my shelf instead of having to go out and buy it - again. Again being the key word....

So what books are essential in my library? I hear you asking...well, Gentle Reader, every book I've ever loved, ever liked. I do, like Bybee, have an Inner Bookworm, but alas mine isn't cool and tough like hers. Mine is literary and has leanings of pretension *sigh* it thinks I would look good in black and spouting poetry everywhere, and I have to keep convincing my inner Bookworm that I am NOT going back for my Master's and if I ever get published, I will NOT appear in all black and throw in the occasional French word just because I can....this is the same bookworm that wants me to read Jean-Paul Sartre and Goethe and yes, Virginia Woolf....so on occasion, pretentious books find their way on my shelves. I can say happily that Sylvia Plath had nothing to do with this inner bookworm; she belongs to the Dark and dangerous book self that I will deal with in another post (let's say that I understand Sylvia a little too well). I have many selves that have read books in the past - yikes, and that sounds a little like I should have the Three Faces of Eve or Sybil on my bookshelves too! - what I mean is, different books satisfy different parts of my soul. What I am learning is, I will return to those books again, sometime.

So, is this something any of you have experienced? Have your libraries changed over the years? did you ever give a book - or books- away and then find you wanted to read it again later? Have you ever thought you should get rid of some books, only to find you came back to them? I'd be curious to know if any other readers have discovered this tendency too. Maybe I'm the only one who has had to learn the hard way NOT TO GET RID OF BOOKS.

There is getting rid of what I don't need, and then there is living with my soul. So, in my world, I am learning I can never have too many books, to feed my soul and nurture my spirit, to turn to again and see what I loved the first time. Books like Anne of Green Gables, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, these are books I have carried with me almost everywhere I went. I can read and reread them, finding delight and sustenance every time I do. What I am learning is, now that I am in a permanent home, now that I am finally settled, I can let my shelves grow and expand, and among the new books I will buy, will be old favourites that I loved once upon a time. So my shelves will start to represent all of me, my history of books I have loved, over my lifetime. And I think that is what I really want. 20 years from now, I will re-read the books I am reading now, or the best of the ones I am reading now!! and any one I love, stays.

Monday 21 April 2008

hidden on the bookshelf.....

Hooray!! I am so happy. I was looking for Harry Dresden book #1 The Storm Front that Rhinoa reviewed on today's post. I know I have a copy and read it last year - I loved it - I wanted to see what cover I had compared to hers - and didn't find it (did I lend it to someone? Alas, I think I did...) but I found, lo and behold, in the pile behind on my fantasy shelf, Fahrenheit 451!!!! The reason I am doing my happy dance is, it's on my Banned Book Challenge List, which I have to finish reading soon, and I couldn't find a copy anywhere in the stores....I honestly did not know I had any Ray Bradbury, which goes to show how often I've moved that front stack of books lately!!! It turns out I have Fahrenheit 451 and A Medicine for Melancholy AND The October Country by him!!!! Oh joy, this is almost as good as - no, it's better than finding them in a bookstore, because I already own them!!! whew. I still am looking for Ulysses. You'd think a book that caused so much controversy when it came out, and is on university reading lists and people either love or hate, would be easier to find. kind of like Lolita by Nabakov, which I have started looking for as I think I want to read it next year. Yes, I'm already planning my books for next year's challenges - not that I know what any of them will be other than the Canadian Book Challenge, set again to start in July, not that I have finished this year's challenge yet!! Yes, I am challenge-addicted. Bring it on!!! Ok, that was the competitive part of me. Now I have to go read them, not just make the lists (as much fun as that is! And it IS fun!)...

I am currently reading Suite Francaise, really enjoying it, moved by the drama of the stories and the characters who for the most part are the most unlikeable and real bunch of people I've come across in a book ever - and it's deeply affecting. I'll write more when I finish it. I had hoped to finish yesterday, but got caught by the spring cleaning bug and actually cleaned out part of the basement yesterday! We set up a play area for the children downstairs. Holly-Anne was so excited by the new space! It really opens the basement up, which is only half-finished - walls done,but no flooring to speak of, just cement. It was dusty and filled with cat hair and horrible spider webs and dried out husks of bugs - sorry, but it was the storage area for a long time, so neglected except for moving boxes in and out for several years - now it's all spic and span and really inviting. Totally off topic, but now you know why Suite Francaise isn't done yet, which was my original plan for yesterday!!! I could say happy children = more reading time for me, but sadly, it means loudly happily playing children instead.

The cat is shedding hair upstairs now, warm weather = clumps of cat hair everywhere. Why can't the good fairy come and do my housework for me so I can read more??? dust bunnies and I are good friends, but cat hair - *sigh* I can't really ignore.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

As promised, here is my review. Let me start with saying, I love Robin Hobb's books. I have read two of her three other fantasy series, The Farseer Trilogy, and The Tawny Man Trilogy, a sequel to the Farseer books. They are among my favourite fantasy books. I had forgotten though, how intense Ms Hobb's writing is, how thorough her world-building is. So, when I opened Shaman's Crossing, the first in her new Soldier Son trilogy, I was half-expecting to be back in the world of Farseer (the other trilogy, the Liveship Traders, is also set there). It was a shock to realize it was a new world, and it took me a little time to adjust. When I did, about a third of the way into the book, I was able to settle in and enjoy it....no, not just enjoy it. With Ms Hobb's books, you enter a complete world. Everything is thought-out, and the writing and characterizations are perfect - there is nothing that strikes a wrong tone in her work. So, by the middle of the book when Nevare, the hero - the 'soldier son' of the title - is sent to the military college that he must attend as the second son of a soldier (the first son gets to inherit the house,property and money, the third son becomes a priest, etc), my attention was fully engaged, and whenever I put the book down, I found I was thinking about it and couldn't wait to get back to it. Even though the school and military life is present, the story is about Nevare and the intrusion of other magic into his life and the settlers of his country, who are pushing further east into the forest and mountains to open a new trade route to the sea. Nevare's people don't do magic, but the Specks, an unknown race who live in the forest, do. This first book sets up his first encounter with the Specks, and what the results are of that encounter. It is an amazingly moving final third of the book, that had me crying at the kitchen table last Sunday afternoon. I find I don't often cry or laugh aloud reading fantasy, that many books are pleasureable reads that don't require anything of us except a few hours. Ms Hobb's books are different because I find I become emotionally involved in the characters and the outcome. I have to know what happens next. I actually get cranky if people - chores - life insists I put the book down!

I've taken this week to think about this book and the world within it, because i wanted to be sure I did justice to it. I can say this fantasy is not for everyone, because not everyone will enjoy intense, original writing. And this is not a judgement call, it's an observation. Some people read strictly for pleasure, and don't want to think or - looking for a phrase here - experience a whole fantasy world. It is an experience to read any of Ms Hobb's books. The Fool, Fitzchivalry, and now Nevarre, are characters who are intimately connected with the survival of their worlds. I find this fascinating and it could be lame in other writer's hands (hero saves the world theme) but that's not the case here. These heroes of the various trilogies affect their world's balance. What they do is necessary for the world's survival, even if the people around them don't know, and have their own problems to sort out. This book, and her other fantasies, are not your average quest fantasy, and that is why I am cautioning my Gentle Readers. I certainly think these books are wonderful and well worth a try! And for those who have read her other work, this is as good as the other trilogies, but don't go in expecting more of the Farseer World. But give Nevare a chance, and Spink, Epiny, Nevare's father and Uncle, the college, the Specks, and so many of the other characters are so well-drawn, that you'll end up wishing you could be there too in their world, joining them on their adventures. I'd love to meet Epiny! She can talk to the spirits!

These are well-written fantasy books. It always gives me a deep pleasure to read them. This is fantasy that nourishes the soul, it's not just an adventure story with magic, and not just about magic either, as many fantasies written today are. Hobbs is a writer who understands that any call to adventure comes from within (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces), and her characters struggle and fight with and against this call, because as is always the case, the journey to the soul can only be done alone, and takes the person away from the world. Her characters have dreams and desires and fight what is inside them as much as any of us in the real world do. This is part of what makes her writing so complex and so satisfying.

By the way, I have a confession to make - I have an awful style of reviewing books. I can't help it. I once gave a radio interview on CBC for Douglas Adam's book "Dirk Gently's Wholistic Detective Agency", many years ago (like in 1986??)....well, you can guess how that went, since it doesn't have a straight-forward plot!! I worked at a bookstore (now out of business) and did the interview into a tape in the back room. It was going to be played on CBC radio one later that evening. Everyone knew, all my friends and family were going to listen. And so was everyone else in Canada, since CBC goes across the country! So, Heather began the interview, and away I went. I thought I described the book very well, clear, put in some humour....well, my best friend called me after she and her husband listened to it, and said they were completely confused as to what the book was about, and they weren't sure at first it was me until they recognized they weren't going to get a plot!!! so, you see, habits die hard, and I still can't give a plot away. I have no idea where it comes from, but I can't do it. I expect on my gravestone they'll be able to put:"and she didn't give the plot away"!! I can tell you what works in the book, and what doesn't (if something doesn't), and I know what the plot is and of course I could put it here - and I could have said it on the radio interview, which I am certain I did, right at the very beginning: 'it's about a guy investigating a murder, but a whole lot more too! this story has.....' and off I went. So, I could put the plots down here on my blog, but I'm not going to. I want you to go read the book yourself. I'll tell you what I like in the book, and if it is worth reading (in my opinion), and if something is wrong for me I'll say that too. But even then, I want you to go read about it yourself. Unless it's dreadful, and then I'd probably only put 'dreadful book, don't bother'. Mostly, I want to dialogue about books - if you agree, or disagree, let's talk and share our experience of the book. That to me is the most we can get out of reading books with other people, because reading is principally, mainly, an intensely personal experience between you and the writer. So I'll ferry you to the book, but you have to make the journey yourself!!

Let me know if you've read it or her other books, and what you thought of them, Gentle Reader. I'm always giving a copy of the first of the Farseer Trilogy, Assassin's Apprentice, to people to read. So far, it's been mixed - so let me know!

Oh, by the way - I love Douglas Adams, and i gave Dirk Gently a rave review - at least I thought I did. Other people came up to me after and asked, "what was the book about again?" I was so sad when Adams died last year unexpectedly. He was a bright light in the SF field, and brought a much-needed sense of humour to his books and SF in general. The answer, my friends, is 42. If you know what that is the answer to, let me know. Today's pop quiz in the SF/fantasy world! *laughs softly*

Gold Card

I've been having problems with blogger the past day or two, so I'm keeping this short tonight. I have been honoured with receiving the Blogging Friends Forever Gold card, and twice! From Rhinoa and Chris. I am delighted and have been happily smiling ever since! So thank you, you two, so much! And may I say, they each have amazing blogging sites. What makes a site amazing? Good books read and blogged about, life blogged about, and the happiness and charm of the writer. Chris always has intelligent and thoughtful reviews of books, interesting things to say, we share tastes in books and authors, He is such a welcoming, funny and charming person. Who else could do a blog about music to life events based on IPOD random selections, and make it funny? and make me wish to have an Ipod, too! Thank you Chris, your comments are something I really enjoy.

Rhinoa also has very similar reading tastes to mine, and the coolest list - 101 things to do in 1001 days, and she spent her 'celebration on getting a fabulous new job' money on books! How cool is that? I've just discovered her, and I love her site. And she has a button I want: 'Reading Challenge addicted and proud of it.' They both leave funny and warm comments, too. So, I send the gold card back to them, :-) and but because I want to share this card with more bloggers, here are my five new people to send this card to:
Patricia at Lady P's Cozy Corner:because I wouldn't be here without her. She was the one who sent me an invite to her new blog, last summer. I had no clue what I was waiting for me. And for those who don't know, she is my younger sister, and she is now reading Jane Austen because of my blog! So, for tackling Jane Austen (finally!), and for showing me the way...thanks, sis. This is for you.
Bybee at Naked Without Books: Bybee was one of the very first bloggers to welcome me by leaving a comment to one of my posts. Our friendship was sealed when I discovered she likes *Nick Hornby* too, and her name is Suzie, a version of mine! Plus, she has the dryest sense of humour and always, always makes me laugh. And great ideas for posts, like favorite books from the past (books that deserved to be discovered now again), and characters that really bug her, and she has a 'tough and cool Inner Bookworm'. Thanks, Bybee, you make my day.
Emily at Telecommuter Talk : She is another blogger who is hilarious. She coined the term 'bookslut' recently, and she's a pastor's wife! So how cool is that? and has told me I am a bookslut too :-) a title I proudly wear. She's clever and self-deprecating and recently tagged me for a meme I have yet to do, so I'm hoping this will save me for a bit!! Thanks for being hilarious, Emily.
Eva at A Striped Armchair is another blogger who quickly adopted me. Then we discovered common books read, and another friendship was cemented. She is intelligent and generous, reads texts and serious non-fiction that would put me to sleep and makes them interesting in her reviews, and she is full of life. Thanks for welcoming me, Eva! Hurry up and get your laptop fixed!
Nymeth at Things Mean Alot is someone I have recently discovered, who I am delighted and awed by her sweet spirit and her wonderful blog. It really is gorgeous, and so is she. She also writes among the very best reviews of books that I've ever seen. She is another kindred spirit when it comes to reading the same kinds of books, and we are about to read a book at the same time a world apart, so we can compare notes :-) Thank you Nymeth, you're another blogger who makes my day, every day.

I could give a whole list of bloggers I like, but they are all listed on my sidebar anyway :-) Special mention goes out to Table Talk for having interesting posts, and thoughtful reviews and ideas,
raidergirl3, for watching much of Jane Austen on Masterpiece theatre with me. These two bloggers were also among the first ones to leave comments, so they were the first bloggers I met. They are very good ambassadors for the book-blogging community.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Books for the whole family....

Well, Toby got the news that he starts a new contract sometime in the next two weeks, so we went out and celebrated. It's a three month contract, but pays the bills..... His birthday is in a little over a week's time, and mine is in May, so we decided to get some presents for today and for our birthdays, early, and tuck them away until our respective cake days. Here is what we bought, from top to bottom:
For Toby: -Ottawa Book of Everything - Arthur Montague
-Frommer's London with Kids
-The Unofficial Guide to London
For Susan (me) - Forest Mage - Robin Hobb
- the Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
- Voice - Arnaldur Indridason
-Forests of the Heart - Charles de Lint
- City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
- Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands - Fred Vargas
- The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet - ed Kelly Link & Gavin
- A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle
For Holly-Anne: - Thomas and the Treasure
For Graham: - First Discovery, Cars and Trucks

Holly-Anne and Graham get their books on Saturday evening, when we are going out for dinner and they are being babysat. It's a bribe!
Toby gets the Ottawa Book of Everything now as his celebration of getting a job gift, and the others on his birthday. Me? I can't decide which one to choose for getting the job now, and which ones for my birthday, since I want to read them all now! However, I am very very good at putting books away and not looking at them until the big day, so I am picking A Wrinkle In Time, which I bought for the Banned Book challenge, so I can read it and not panic when I see that there are still two more books to locate! Plus, this will encourage me to read more quickly so when my birthday arrives, I have a window of time to read some of these for pure pleasure, no challenge list.......although I am enjoying the challenges so very much, it's also a deep pleasure to buy a new book unexpectedly and read it instead. Yes, we are a happy household tonight!
By the way, the eldest didn't get a book, since he is not into reading these days, and got some money for lunch before he went to work, instead. Boring, but he's poor ( he's 19 so earns his own spending money)as he has few hours at work this month, so he was just as happy with the money.

These are the shelves I have to fit the books onto,when they are "unwrapped" in a month's time:

Yes, I am trying to convince my husband it's time for another bookshelf! Most shelves are double-booked, except for the shelf on the left with the largest books, which I am now squeezing my new book purchases onto. On the floor in front, yes, those are stacks of books, because I had to give a bookshelf to the kids for their toys. We haven't replaced it yet.... I think I can foresee another bookshelf coming home soon!! ** AMENDED:I do have three more full-length shelves, but they are also filled - one in the kitchen, with two shelves of cookbooks, and two shelves upstairs with my writing, quilting, astrology, tarot and spirituality books and magazines. They are full too. ***Toby just said I was a bookaholic after reading this post. He forgets he has his own bookshelf (three tier) filled with his football and hockey books and magazines!! I reminded him that a) we all need a passion, and b)as Christopher, the owner of Collected Works where we bought all our books, said after we went back in to buy Toby's books because Toby only admitted after we left the store with my purchases that he'd seen one or two he liked: "it's better than shoes or hats!" Toby then said I'd never called him a footballaholic, and I said I didn't have to! He was already one when I met him. He agreed I had a point, and dropped his head back into the Everything Ottawa book.***

And, these are some special friends who sit on one of my fantasy shelves. I love gargoyles, and have a collection I have started. I also love dragons, so for now, until I have more, they keep each other company and watch over my books.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

second-hand bookshops warning signs:

Second-hand shops. We have at least 10 here in Ottawa. I can't go in them. I spend money. I come out with armloads of books. Husband looks at me and weeps. I plan for another bookshelf. Wonder if he will notice if I pop in for the book I almost bought and now know I don't have....

This was from a comment I wrote on another blogging site, and as I wrote it I realized why I don't know how many used bookstores we have here in Ottawa: I can't go in them. Used books? $1 each! I can always find one to take home!!! It's hard enough not buying when I go into new bookstores (hence, I sometimes stay away for weeks at a time, and we have at least 10 of those also in Ottawa), but used bookstores? No, I know as I enter the door, that I'm coming out with at least one book, if not many more. I know there's a name for this...nope, not bookaholic....nope, not bookaddiction....booklove! Yes, that's it. I'm in love with books! And second-hand bookshops are irresistable for me. I know London England by Charing Cross Road and its many wonderful bookstores! Both new and used. It's the same with any city/town/village I've ever been to. Where are the bookstores? It's the first thing I look for. For my 50th birthday (still a few years away, hurray!), I semi-jokingly said I wanted to celebrate by flying to London and spending the weekend shopping for books on Charing Cross Road. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do, except maybe take a trip up to Whitby (our favourite seaside town in England) for one day that same weekend and spend the day there . And they had a used bookshop or two there, too, if I recall correctly! A fabulous one in the old part of town.....

Does anyone else feel that tingle of excitement when they spot a window full of books?

Other blogs, and spring might actually be arriving...

Thanks to Neil Gaiman - see April 13 entry - for linking on his blog (and bringing to everyone's attention in North America who read his blog!) to this post overseas for a Vote for Your Favourite SF and Fantasy authors of all time, here , you can click and go vote for your favourite too. I'm having problems choosing my favourite five, because I always look at as not just my favourite authors, but ones I feel have contributed to their respective fields in some way. So far I have Tolkien, Frank Herbert, and Ursula K LeGuin (who has done more to make SF/fantasy respectable reading than almost anyone, single-handedly). After that, I am stuck, I have 8 - no, more! - authors to choose from! See if you have any better luck than I do at narrowing it down.

Andi at Andilit has an interesting post from last Wednesday. I've linked you to it. She asks (she got it from Nathalie Goldberg, a writer whom i have almost everything she has done): what don't you remember? Write for 10 minutes about what you don't remember. It's a writing prompt for writers, but I think it's interesting for all of us. Please go to her site and leave your comments there, because she came up with the idea! and I left my answers there too :-) She also has an interesting one for today : Living Responsibly and asks what we are passionate about.

What else? Well, some of you got through my long meme yesterday, I didn't know it would turn out so long!!! thank you for getting through it! I did have fun with it!
And.....the sun is shining, and we reached 12c and almost all the snow is gone!!!! The ice is still on the river and the water is high - streets in small towns along the Ottawa River have flooded, but here in Ottawa so far, only one street has been flooded and the water is receding. Where I live in the west end, we are still waiting for the water to finish rising - we're not in danger, but houses a few blocks away could be if the water rises from melting snow up north. Mostly, though, the sun is shining, daffodils and crocuses are emerging (not in bloom yet), and buds are at last forming on trees and bushes. I'm so happy!!! Spring is coming!! I can start planning what plants to buy for the garden! It does look like I have to cut my rose bush right down to the crown, but it looks like the main part survived the snow. My daughter was saying yesterday she hoped the roses would be red again this year! It's so wonderful to go outside without a hat and gloves, with just a vest and sweater on!!! though, the air still doesn't smell yet....the geese are flying north too, always a good sign that warm temperatures are coming to stay.

has the most beautiful picture of two fairies on his site today. Go see it. Plus assorted other fabulous artists are promoted, some of the artwork is gorgeous. I'll have to start downloading some of the Tor covers. And now I have another new book to get (you have to go to Carl's site and see if you can guess which one it is! amazing cover!!!).....I'm so glad I joined the book blogging world. Some of my cravings for fantasy and horror and book-talking and meeting great, really fun people are getting met! You all deserve congratulations for blogging, because it is work even if terribly fun and addictive. I don't feel so alone in my passion for books, now!

I meant to review Robin Hobb, but I will save that for tomorrow and do a proper post for it. "Shaman's Crossing" deserves it!!

Happy reading, everyone!

Monday 14 April 2008

A meme to pass the time

I know Emily tagged me for the 7 Weird things about me, but first I want to do the other cool one she had on her site: just a general meme, though how she and Becky
have done them is hilarious. For the brain dead (and who isn't on Monday nights?), to pass the time while I listen to music before I read some more. I'm also getting over another sports loss, it's been a very lo-o-o-ong week for me, with Arsenal going through several disappointments, and now my beloved hockey team the Ottawa Senators lost the game they had to win tonight, and face elimination on Wednesday night. Heartbreak. So here forthwith, an Extremely Random Meme:

What is your occupation?
I work for the Passport Office. I work in the Security Bureau, with lost and found passports. I can say all that since it is up on the general directory for government employees. Anything more, though....and here a word about working for the government: I am an individual!! (some of you might recognize that theme from several famous movies and books....can't remember any of them now, all I can hear is the silence as Sydney Crosby scored the goal tonight that won the game for the Penguins) Lots of famous writers worked for the government. Who exactly, I can't remember tonight. Anyway, I like my job very much, which helps to get out of bed in the morning!!

What colour are your socks right now?
Striped dark and medium blue. I hate boring socks, and if I can get away with patterns, I will :-) (sorry Becky with your boring black socks!

What are you listening to right now?
Led Zeppelin, "Good Times, Bad Times." It's on an Itunes mix I have on the computer. I had started out with the Dandy Warhols, as I was trying to not watch a Veronica Mars episode to take my mind off the defeat, and let my husband have the big tv to watch some more hockey. Those of you in the know, know that the Dandy Warhols did the Veronica Mars theme song to her TV show, "We Used to Be Friends". My kids love this song, they have heard enough now! and often request it on the weekends so we can dance to it together.

What is the last thing you ate?
*sigh* chocolate chips since i don't have any real chocolate in the house to drown my sorrows in. Before that, hot cocoa. Nothing is really helping take away this dull ache of being down 3-0 in the series, though!! Uh-oh, the bag of Cheetos (cheesies) has made its way to the chair beside me...

Can you drive stick shift?
I can't even drive! And we don't own a car! even in my dreams I run out of gas when I get to drive a car, so this is pretty sad. next question!

If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
green, deep forest green, my favourite colour.

Last person you spoke to on the phone?
My husband Toby, just before he went to pick the kids up from daycare. Since he's not working, he leaves from home to go get them; he always calls me at work just before he leaves, to see if I have thought of anything we need.

What’s your favourite yoga pose?
Downward dog pose.

How old are you today?
44 years, 10 months and 24 days.

Favourite drinks?
Tea, hot chocolate, and on hot days, pop.

What is your favourite sport to watch?
Soccer (English football) and hockey are tied. And I will watch most of the Olympics because I am competitive and love to see races! though occasionally I feel bad for the losers (see above, tonight..) I used to play sports, although I am the one referred to as 'great spirit, has no actual ability'. I walk instead now.

Have you ever dyed your hair?
Yes!!! Recently someone said my children were beautiful, and were they my grandchildren? I was growing my hair out at the time. I ran to the nearest drugstore and dyed my hair. I'm not a grandma! I just have lots of grey. i blame the eldest child, although lately the other two have been adding copious amounts of grey to my hair. I think I have more than my mother now, and she's 66! It's bad enough I get 'ma'amed' in the stores now, I'm not looking older than I have to! Not yet, anyway.

One, a cat, named Bandit. She's a grey tabby, and belongs to my son and me. Ie, we had her before I met Toby. So now, when we're together in the evenings, Bandit comes to me and totally ignores Toby. She only goes to him when I'm not around. Very annoying when I want to not have anything jumping on me for two minutes (after a day with young children, I just want to be ALONE) and kitty is meowing piteously at my feet and jumping on me in protest. (Like said children, "no" is not in her vocabulary).

Favourite cake?
Chocolate!!! and preferrably without nuts....chocolate cake with chocolate icing - all dark chocolate of course, or chocolate brownies - Nigella Lawson has a recipe for killer brownies that are so fabulous and give you an immediate chocolate high!! and you can't eat just one!! See "Feasts", her recent cookbook, Christmas section.

Last movie you saw?
In the theatres? with two young children? hahahaha....well, actually, I got to see The Other Boleyn girl recently - this will count towards one of two movies I actually see in the theatre this year that doesn't have a child attached to me. All the other movies will be for/with my daughter, of course. I liked the Other Boleyn Girl, but it had the most distracting soundtrack in the middle of the movie that ruined it for me. It was truly awful, the music, it sounded like the track had been stretched and was off-key, so it hurt to listen to. It was interesting to get the movie from the Boleyn point of view, but having watched "the Tudors" on tv this winter (from England), a superb retelling of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, I couldn't help but compare and think the tv series came off better. Although, Scarlett Johansen and Natalie Portman are two of my favourite young actresses, and they played the sisters perfectly. I kept seeing them as Snow White and Rose Red in the fairy tale, and think that would be even better to see!!

Favourite day of the year?
Hallowe'en, easily. I love autumn, and Hallowe'en - so spooky, the door between the worlds is open, the wind in the last of the leaves, it's just the best night of the year, and the saddest too, because after that is winter. My eldest son is born on Hallowe'en, so for our family, it has been celebrated with a party for the past 19 years as well. and the youngest son's birthday is two days later, so now this time of year is packed with gifts and cake and balloons! One son born on the last day of the Celtic year, another son born just into the Celtic new year. Kind of fun, and yes, totally unplanned!

How do you vent anger?
I yell. At sports teams. In the real world, I snap and say angry things to hurt, although as i get older I'm trying to not hurt and just say how I feel. However, I shout at the tv, politicians, and stupid people all the time, so I suppose I vent in a way that is as harmless as can be. I love to debate, but shouting matches? Not unless I'm cornered and have to, then i will, but otherwise, let's try to talk about it. However, I don't like to lose, either, and I will argue a point.....

What was your favourite toy as a child?
My doll Sally, a knit doll stuffed with nylons, that my great-aunt made all her great-nieces and nephews. I still have Sally, although she got stretched when I tried to wash her after several years of having her. And most of her yarn hair fell out, and i believe I tried to give her a haircut one day, so she has a ring of hair left and looks much better with it pulled into a ponytail. I have her in my closet, where the kids can't get to her.

Autumn or spring?
See above. Autumn. I love autumn. Now, I live for spring coming, and the coming light and sun and warmth cheer me to no end and lift my spirits. (supposedly at the end of this week we are supposed to be in double digits again!) But my soul is happiest in autumn, when the leaves are falling, the last of the garden is flowering in dark purples and yellows and reds, it is dark and windy and the end of the year is coming. I love autumn. Hallowe'en is then, and thanksgiving, and birds flying south and honking goodbye, and it is bittersweet and mournful and lovely and haunting, and it seems to me, life in its essence, the last of the year. And I'm happiest then,
the smell of smoke in the air, the smell of the leaves on the ground.....

Hugs or kisses?
Depends. From strangers? Ugh. From people I love? Hugs. Kisses from my one and only :-) and my children, of course!

Cherry or blueberry?
Blueberries for everything, but to eat alone? Cherries fresh from the trees, yum.

Do you want your friends to respond?
Would love them to!

Who is most likely to respond?
Maybe my sister Patricia. Other than that, whoever feels like it.

Who is most likely not to respond?
Most of the book blogging community!!!

Living arrangements?
Own our own house, semi-detached. Two stories, 4 bedrooms, and lots of space and light, and my very first home owned, so I love it. that and the kitchen is made for cooking in :-)

Last time you cried?
Reading "Shaman's Crossing", near the end when it looks like he's lost everything, I cried. So that would be yesterday afternoon as I neared the end of the book.

What is on the floor of your closet?
which closet? Main closet where we pile everything because with a family of five, we don't have enough shelf space for all the hats, mitts, shoes, boots,slippers, coats, jackets, scarves, bags for work and school, sweaters, balls, blankets for the living room? Bedrooms upstairs, of which only one has a working closet, which is shared by three of us? (don't ask, people before us ripped them out and we've replaced one only with a wardrobe instead) I think a huge stuffed teddy is on the floor, and some left-over diapers from when Graham was little (because I don't want to throw them out and don't know who to give them to),all clean of course!! but dusty. Dust bunnies and I are thisclose .... :-)

Who is the friend you’ve had the longest?
Rennell, since we were 12.

Favourite smell?
The smell of the earth. 4 months of the year ( 6 months, this year, our winter has been so long) there is no smell on the wind, it's just cold. Then suddenly, one day, a breeze will come, and it will carry smells on it again - smells of the air, the water, the earth, things growing again, and I will know a moment of heaven because there is scent on the air again. The air will smell again, and the long winter freeze is finally over. so right until the end of November, we will have the smell of the earth that everyone in the south has all year round. It's hard to describe, you have to think of Sweden or the arctic to get an idea. Snow doesn't smell. Even when the first blossoms and flowers come - crocuses are blooming to the south walls now, and daffodils are almost opening! - there is still no smell of the ground itself. Maybe by this weekend, when it warms up to near 20c finally, it will come.
After that, all the usual smells - apple pie, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, roses, lilacs, fresh bread, freshly-cut grass (mmm, love this one), and the sea - oh yes, that undeniable smell of salt and the water and beach - I could breathe that in for years. Oh, and pine trees, and Christmas potpourri cooking on the stove of oranges, cinnamon, cloves :-)

Who or what inspires you?
bravery, persistance, Nature, music, the Goddess, writing books (for my writing), kindness, books and poetry, being true to yourself, following our true purpose

What are you afraid of?
I'd like to copy Becky's answers here! Practically the same: -spiders!! oh yes. I have arachnophobia. Badly. NOt as bad as my friend Harry who can't even talk about spiders. I don't want to be afraid of them, so I've watched the movie Arachophobia IN THE THEATRE on the big screen no less! I deserve a medal! except I'm still scared of them......
-Going barmy in old age - Alzheimers, completely incapacitating stroke and becoming a complete invalid, dying before I get my book(s) written)- yes!
- losing my children. Rita Rudner the comedian once described having children as having a piece of your heart always walking around in the world, and that's what it is. So every siren in the distance, I automatically look to see if I can see my children. I count fingers and toes, and kisses, and am thankful every day for what I have.

Yum!!! I just ate a delicious one recently at Moxy's, a restaurant here in Ottawa. I'm trying to get a date with my husband so I can take him there too to try it out, it was so good.

Favourite car?
See above. I don't drive. So anyone driving me anywhere automatically has a good car!!

Number of keys on your key ring?
2. One for the house, and one for the back shed

How many years at your current job?
almost 7 years, 7 this coming July.

Favourite day of the week?
It has to be Friday, the end of the work week. The whole weekend lies ahead with possibilities - as much as I like my job, I love being at home!! My real life is at home, with my family, where I can write, dream, garden, live what I love to do. work lets me do this.

How many countries have you lived in?
Two. although, if you count living on my sailboat for two years......it was registered to a Canadian port, so technically we were on Canadian ground when we were on the boat. So it would be two, Canada and England.

Dream job
Writing full-time as a novelist. All I've ever really wanted to do, frankly, since I was about 10.
Jobs I've considered: weather girl (don't laugh!! I even took chemistry so I could go into meteorology!), journalist (not nosy enough!), owning my own bookstore (fantasyland, but a girl can dream....), marine biologist - I love whales, and I joined Greenpeace in the 1980's to help save the whales. If I could have done the science - and physics was beyond me, it's just not how my brain thinks - I would most likely have tried to pursue this one seriously.
jobs I've done: bookseller (second favourite job in the whole world. Just doesn't pay enough). Hallmark cards, and various card stores - most of my working life. I hate retail. I hate the whole principal behind it. And I sold mostly frivolous stuff, when I was poor myself at the time. For a long time I thought money was evil (or the cause of evil), so I tried to avoid having any. Well, that didn't work! I was just poor. So I then slowly rechanged my thinking so now I look at it as energy to use. Mostly I use it for books!! (Just kidding. The extra money goes for books!) Daycare worker - did this at home for 4 years. Whew! I admire anyone who does this as a career. Not for me.

There. I think i can get to sleep now, and I didn't eat that many cheesies! Hurray!
And anyone is free to do this meme, consider yourself tagged :-) and let me know if you do it!

Sunday 13 April 2008

Sunday night....

Because it's late and I am too tired, here is a link to a great site to visit: Endicott Studios has for their Sunday poem, a collection of six Little Red Riding Hood poems. In perfect keeping with the OUaT 2 Challenge we are all doing, and National Poetry Month. Three of my favourite poets are represented there - Anne Sexton, Carol Ann Duffy, and Jeanine Hall Gailey, who I discovered at their site. I love Carol Ann's "Little Red-Cap". And I love Little Riding Hood. One of my favourite horror movies is "The Company of Wolves", based on an Angela Carter short story (about Little Red Riding Hood) which I will be reading in her short story collection "The Bloody Chamber" next month. I've never read it before and am very anxious to get to it. She is my May selection for the birthday challenge, so I have to wait....I adore the artwork Terri Windling showcases on this site, and the book reviews and posts on happenings in the fantasy world make this a must-visit blog for me. I hope you enjoy it too, and find inspiration and good books to read, there!

Meanwhile, I have been busy reading. I finished "Shaman's Crossing" by Robin Hobb. I will be writing a review, hopefully tomorrow. (Loved it, folks, ecstatic fantasy fan here). I started "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky this evening, and am having a hard time putting it down. Since I had the same welcome difficulty with Shaman's Crossing, this is delightful!

I have some book reviews to catch up on, and I've been tagged by
Emily to do a meme, and am sorting through various weird things about me to find what i want to make public!!! (How weird am I? stay tuned to find out!) Thanks, Emily! Hers was fun too, so I've linked to her post also so you can go find out how weird and wonderful the book blogging community really is. She's hilarious, which I know I've said before about her.

My husband is currently out of work - between contracts with the government, so it's putting added stress on us here. If I post slightly less in the next while, it's because I'll be reading more, my usual way of dealing with stress. Good for getting through my challenges, though!!!

Happy reading, and remember to read a poem or two for National Poetry month! I figure reading the six on Endicott studios site is an easy way to bring some poetry in!

Oh, and Bloglily gave a beautiful post on libraries yesterday at her fun site Bloglily. I've linked you to it. It's worth reading too. And now it looks like I'll be heading back to the library for a bit, until spouse lands his next contract.....I just hate having to let the books go back to the library! I am so reluctant to take them back out of my house.... I know they're not mine, but I want them to be!!! Then I end up owing late fees (even though we can renew a ridiculous amount of times) because I think i will take them back, but then I am reluctant to go there, or I renew a week after they are due!....but a great resource and a way to try authors and books before buying them. My problem is I like so many books and authors, I want to keep them all! I want my very own library!! there I said it, one weird thing...I want to build my very own Susan's Library..... I think I am a book junkie as well as a book slut!

Saturday 12 April 2008

Horror books to read

My sister at Lady P's Cozy Corner kindly asked "what horror books should I read?" in her comment to my post yesterday, so I thought I'd give some books I've read over the past few years that I recommend, and also list some I am looking to read.
So, herewith, are some more horror and/or ghost stories I recommend:
- "A Winter Haunting" by Dan Simmons - very scary haunting book, except for the ending which is a bit of a letdown and yet still chilling. May make in onto my all-time ghost story list eventually, certainly highly recommended.
- "song of Kali" - " it's been years since I read it. A good horror novel.
- "lost boy lost girl" by Peter Straub - this book still haunts me. It may make onto my all-time horror list. There are scenes in this book that really terrify, and the whole premise is chilling, and based on Henry Holmes, Chicago's serial killer from 1900 (not him, but something he does....can't say more or will give it away)....
- "The Uncanny" by Andrew Klavan - gothic and chilling
- "The Dwelling" by Susie Maloney - a really good haunted house story. Just the ending was a bit weak, yet the story has haunted me for several years now, especially what happens to certain kinds of people who live there. Very creepy.

Some horror novels I really want to read and are on my 'to buy' list:
- "The Woman in White: a Ghost Story" by Susan Hill - I still haven't read this one!!! Now I can't find it....
- "The Terror" by Dan Simmons - his latest horror book, looks superb
- "In the Night Room" - Peter Straub - his sequel to "lost boy lost girl", got even better reviews
- "Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz - the first in what is becoming a series, and it sounds so good!
- "The Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill - so many of you have read and reviewed it, Gently Reader, and now it's won 'best first novel' at the Bram Stokers...I'm very curious about this, and the winner for 2007:
- "The Missing" by Sarah Langan

The rest of Saturday morning beckons, a very rainy day, a good day for book buying I think!! I will go through my books read to see if I can find any other scary stories to recommend, and if you have any, Gentle Reader, please please let me know, I - and I know other readers too! - are always looking out for books we have missed!!! Especially good ghost stories.

*Note: thanks to Raidergirl3, here is a link to last year's reviews of books read at RIP2 challenge - quite a few good horror and ghost stories reviewed here.

Friday 11 April 2008

I've been reading.....a little bit of very good horror!!!

I realized last night that I hadn't posted for most of this week! I made the decision to start reading more in the evenings, so I've been happily reading every night. This seems to mean less blogging......so I am still finding a balance between writing here - I would like to write every other day, at least - and reading. It has been blissful to sit every night and lose myself in a book. I read "Lean, Mean Thirteen" by Janet Evanovich, two wonderful short stories by Neil Gaiman in "Fragile Things", realized I couldn't keep reading "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell since I've got it on my non-fiction challenge list that begins only in May! and I've begun "The Shaman's Crossing" by Robin Hobb, which I was supposed to read for the birthday challenge last month and missed getting to. All these I will review, but I am too tired tonight,too wired after our Ottawa Senators lost their hockey game tonight in a wild game. I was shouting at the tv so much my daughter came over to see if I was okay!

So I know what I want to talk about: Stephanie over at Stephanie's Confessions of a Bookaholic, has a post about the 2007 Bram Stoker Awards. For those who don't know, these are given out every year for the best horror writing of the previous year. This year's winner was for first novel: Joe Hill for A Heart-Shaped Box, and Sarah Langan for The Missing. Go see Stephanie's blog for the complete list and her comments, and the comments of her readers. They're interesting. What I wanted to talk about was, how many of us read horror now? So, I thought I'd do a little meme and see if anyone wants to answer. Feel free to pick it up for your blog, and let me know, or come whisper your comments :-) to me.....

Horror Reading Meme
Do you read horror novels?
Yes. But I am picky. I love spooky, atmospheric, creepy, ghosts and haunted houses and shadows. I dislike slasher books and movies intensely, though Hallowe'en counts as one of my all-time scary movies and I own it.
If we do,who do we read?
Stephen King! Dan Simmons, James Blaylock, anything with ghosts or vampires with it. I read the first 4 of the Lestat Vampire novels by Anne Rice. Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub. Ray Bradbury
What kind of horror?
See above. Ghost stories, particularly.
And if we stopped reading it, why?
Because it got silly in the last decade, with slasher cyberpunk gore books without much plot or characters. I really like atmospheric settings - Ray Bradbury was very good at evoking a mood, as is James Blaylock, and Stephen King.
I have started reading it again, because I have found scary ghost stories again. I read, last year, James Blaylock's Night Relics, which has a haunted house and ghosts, and though the ending wasn't what I expected, it still had plenty of chills. I've picked up Stewart O'Nan's The Night Country, which I have heard alot about and when Carl does his RIP challenge for this year (he has assured me he will!), this book is top of the pile. I'm getting Stephen King's new book for my birthday next month, Duma Key, which many reviewers has said is his best in a long time.
What are your favourite horror books?
It, - Stephen King
The Shining - " - this is the most frightening book I have ever read. I am still unable to read the novel when alone in the house, even though I have read it several times and I'm 44 years old!! the hedge moving at the corner of Jack's eyes, and little Danny and the terrifying things he sees that no one else does, completely terrify me.
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson (and a very scary movie too,) one of the best ghost stories EVER!
Dracula - Bram Stoker still the best vampire novel, dark and gothic and frightening and creepy. The sense of moral dread as well, of not knowing how to protect from evil.
*Some Canadian Ghosts - SHeila Harvey - a collection of Canadian ghost stories. This is the first book I read about ghosts as a child, and the first four stories scared me so much that I got chills and had to put the book down. The 'story' (since these are supposed to be true stories) about Pamela and her haunted house, and the doll no one liked, even now writing this makes the hair on my arms move just writing about! Truly frightening hauntings.

There are short stories I could add, but I won't right now. I'll save it for October..... and it's late, and I have to go find them! but this brings me to Neil Gaiman's "October in the Chair" in "Fragile Things" , which is one of the two stories I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. This is what got me thinking about ghost and horror stories, since his story ends on a truly frightening note. As I read it, I thought, "aha! this is what horror is supposed to be like!" The thing in the closet, the thing upstairs/downstairs/at your front door, what we are all afraid is in a haunted house - this basic, primitive fear is what I want in my horror. Stories that are about the dark. But not serial killers etc, which are another whole kind of monster genre. I want the unseen, that which we know is true when the lights are out.

"October in the Chair" is the prelude to "The Graveyard Book", which as you all know is Neil's latest book, due out next fall. After reading this short story, I am going to be first in line...counting the days and hours...and I am awed in a way I wasn't before, by Neil's writing.
And, since I write ghost stories and horror stories, I have a new lease on this part of my writing life, which had laid dormant for years until recently. I have the answer to "why write horror?". Because we are all afraid of the dark. And we know there is good reason to be. So, we have ghost stories, horror stories, and fairy tales, and sometimes we make it out safely, and sometimes we remain lost in the woods forever.

Goodnight! Happy reading!!

Monday 7 April 2008


It's done! I finished it yesterday. And......it's okay. I can't give it a rave review, because I struggled through the early and middle parts of the book to keep reading. I had two major complaints about the book: the main characters for the most part are so wimpy and until Fenoglio comes along, there is nothing to really cheer for except Dustfinger (more about him in a moment), and second, the bad characters have no redeeming characteristics. They are just bad, not complex or having anything that softens the badness. As we all know, no one is all bad or all good.
This could be the result of a few things: one, the writer (Fenoglio) wrote a fiction book that had cardboard good and bad characters, from which Basta, Capricorn and everyone else bad spring; or Cornelia Funke herself is not such a good character writer herself. I still haven't quite made up my mind about this. I was so annoyed at Capricorn and Basta, and found some of their actions and dialogue painful. They were evil, and here is the strange thing: they acted like badly drawn villains in a book, along with stilted dialogue - either the author (Fenoglio) wrote a turn-of-the-century children's novel that these characters came from, or the author Funke forgot to give her characters different voices, shades of gray in their characterization. All of her characters speak in the same way, and yet most of the baddies can't read. How could Capricorn talk at the same level as one of his minions? Did Fenoglio write him that way, or Funke? Is she more skilled to show Fenoglio as a so-so writer, or....?
Against those flaws, are the writing and setting, the story itself, Dustfinger, and the resolution. I love the story idea, that characters can be read from a book into life. I love the switch Funke plays on this idea too - please, Gentle Reader, I am not going to give many plot points away, because my intention with any book review is to give my opinion, but I'd like you to read the book yourself, so I don't intend to tell you everything about it! - and how she has Fenoglio take responsibility as the author of Inkheart, and how he solves it - is amazing. That was truly remarkable, and lifted the book. I like that one of the baddies is still on the loose, and where they all end up. I like Elinor, and even Mo, and how Meggie decides on finding out what her gifts are.
Especially, I liked Dustfinger. He was a complex character, good and bad, with a motivating factor that drove him to do what he did. He is the best drawn of any in the book. Inkheart is worth reading for him alone. He is the tragic figure that moves the plot along. I was angry at him, wanted to hate him in the beginning, but I found I couldn't. I had sympathy for him, and am of two minds about whether I want him to go back into his world or not!
I did in the end like Meggie - for a long time I wanted her to do something, anything, and finally, finally she does several things - tries to run away, gets a secret message to her Dad (very cute touch, how it is done), and that at the end, she decides what she wants to do. She makes choices of her own. If nothing else, this is a good book to illustrate why characters need to do something, anything, to make the reader care about them.
What I can't figure out, is why this book is banned. Somehow it was challenged in one of our libraries or schools here in Ontario, and this is depressing, because this is a fun read for a child. It is not a great book, but it is a good book, with its flaws at least being starting points for discussions with younger readers! ("what would you do if you were Meggie? Why are you mad at her father?" etc). It is a solidly-told story, and has delightful fantasy elements, as well as darker tones that might frighten very young children, and thrill older readers. I do love the Shadow......I wish it had been around a bit longer, existed longer, because that was truly chilling and original. I love the fantasy elements in this book, the fairies, dwarves, etc, and if the book was challenged for these, then I can only shake my head. If it was for the plight of most of the women slaves/maids in the book, and being a "girlfriend' of a baddie, then again, this is only referred to, and certainly nothing overt is ever seen.
I certainly will keep this book for my daughter to read when she gets older (she's only 5), and even with its flaws, I know I am going to read Inkspell, the sequel - I have to know what comes next!
So if I were to give it a rating, it would be 3/5.
Links: Eva

Saturday 5 April 2008

another giveaway

Here's another giveaway it's not too late to join: oakling is holding one this week, with a chance to win three books. Good luck!

I'm a sucker.......

Thanks to Emily I have been thinking this over, and decided that I cannot resist the poetry challenge. It's over at Kate's Book Blog who, funnily enough, lives here in Ottawa. No, I have not met her. though I'd like to one day!! Anyway, she is hosting a poetry challenge for April, (since April is National Poetry month for Canada and the US. All you have to do is post about poetry once this month! No category, just a poem, or collection. No pressure, just the love of words and poetry. So, haul out T.S. Eliot or something by Tolkien, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare.....

Myself, I just bought Ted Hughes "Birthday Letters", and while I was supposed to wait until August to read it for the Birthday Challenge, I find the book is calling to me, and I am unable to resist. So, I will be reading and reviewing it during this month.

However, to convince you reluctant(or shy to critique) poetry readers that poems can be fun and found anywhere, in the most unlikely spots, I am going to give an excerpt of and critique Neil Gaiman's "Locks," which a kindly Gentle Reader brought to my attention this morning (commenting on my post from yesterday).

We owe it to each other to tell stories,
as people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:

There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw-"

"-cows." You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods
behind the house, last month.

Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but she also saw a house."

"-a great big house," you tell me.
"No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy."

"A great big house."
You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certitude.

A. Yes. A great big house."
And she went in...."

I remember, as I tell it, that the locks of Southey's heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears....
Perhaps they had been golden once,
when she was a child.

And now, we are already up to the porridge,
And it was too-"
And it was too-"
And then it was, we chorus, just right."

The porridge is eaten, the baby's chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,
But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear's gruff boom scares you,
and you delight in it.

(...................(excerpt several verses))

And then Goldilocks jumped out of the window
and she ran-"

Together now: "All the way home."

And then you say, Again. Again. Again."

We owe it to each other to tell stories.

These days my sympathy's with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.




- Neil Gaiman, "Locks", from "Fragile Things"

- Note to my Gentle Readers - I had originally put down the entire poem, but then I started worrying about copyright, and using with permission of the author, so I left out part of the poem - not because it's not good! It's very! and all important - nothing in a poem is wasted (or ought to be). I just have to find out about copyright laws on the internet.

In fairy tale poetry there is a darker thread that runs through it, just like in the fairy tales they are based on. "Locks" is a good example of this - all along Gaiman drops hints of fear - in line 16, "I wish I had such certitude." What is he afraid or uncertain of? And then the line "The bears go upstairs hesitantly, their house now feels desecrated. They realize/what locks are for." (lines 46-48) This isn't a poem just about Goldilocks, which is what I first thought upon reading the title. It's a play on "locks", keeping the unknown out - keeping innocence in. Why? "And if I could," my father wrote to me,/ huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,/ "I would dower you with experience, without experience,"/ and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you./ But we make our own mistakes. We sleep unwisely." (lines 55-60) These lines reveal the poem is about wisdom, and growing up. Notice the little girl is 2, at the beginning of the poem. We know as readers that 2 year olds know nothing, and like this two year old are full of certainty. The same certainty that lets Goldilocks eat someone else's food and sit in their chairs and sleep in their beds, without knowing until too late that she would have to pay. She runs away, in the fairy tale. But the little girl in the poem wants this story told to her again, and again, and again. Note the use of three, which in fairy tales is a charm number, as well as a learning-by-repitition technique. The little girl, the author of the poem when he was young, and ourselves when we were children, all know that Goldilocks is doing something wrong, even though she is lost. We learn to ask permission, through this fairy tale, from Goldilock's point of view. But in this poem, Gaiman turns it on its head - its the bears who are afraid, and he identifies with the bear in the line "These days my sympathy's with Father Bear." (line 71) Why? - "that's what locks are for."(line 48) To keep things out. Why? Experience. Because one day his little bear (the little girl, our own children, us once upon a time) will be touched by the world outside. Someone has broken into their house, used their things, and slept in their beds! From the bears point of view, their house has been invaded. His child's things have been used! Who among us wouldn't get angry naturally? but in this poem, the bears, and the father/teller, are afraid. They know they can't stop their children from growing up.

We tell each other stories to keep each other wise, to warn each other, to teach each other. If you find yourself in the woods, don't just go into a strange house. Don't go into a stranger's house - that's Goldilock's lesson. The bears teach - lock your doors. Someone will steal your children away, but if we tell them enough stories, maybe, just maybe, they can learn without having to experience - but always, even the teller in this poem admits, children have to. Maybe a fairy tale can save a life, so they don't get in that car with the stranger, they don't go into that house, but even with that comes experience. Having to say no is an experience. The world is a big forest, and always, eventually, innocence is lost. So Gaiman treasures his little daughter's "cows", and "big house", and "again, again again," because one day "her mouth will curl at that line" and she will for a time, outgrow fairy tales (or so she thinks) and sleep unwisely instead.

I love the play between father and daughter, how Gaiman has caught the enthusiasm and joy of sharing in books - in stories - between parent and child, of the delight of being safe together while someone else faces the danger. You can never read enough with your kids, you can never tell them enough stories, because one day they won't need you tell them anymore, and they will have to make their own way through the woods with only our stories to guide them.

So, do you have a favourite poem or poet? Let's celebrate our poets who still work with this, the oldest tradition of all. And please, link to Kate's Blog, to join up, and let me know too what poem you are picking, or poet.

Now I'm going to go out for my walk near the woods (no bears there!), and see what birds are here, and enjoy the warm April sunshine. After snow and rain yesterday, it's beautiful here today!

things I have learned......

Things I have learned this week, this month, and this past 6 months of blogging:

- I went to Carl's site tonight and found not one, but two posts on faerie: Neil Gaiman (and the first photo made my heart stop, it is so breathtaking of Neil), and Brian Froud, and the links between them. I just watched Labyrinth (Brian Froud was the designer)last summer, for the first time in 20 years, and I enjoyed it, surprisingly so. and the poster that Carl was giving away, "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brian Froud, is one i am too late to put my name in the draw for (since the draw was yesterday!), but I want that too - the poem is instructions for entering the dark wood of fairytales, and it is beautiful and wondrous and magical, and found in "Fragile Things", Neil's latest short story collection that I am in the process of reading. I had read the poem recently and fell in love with it, and now I know it's a poster....my birthday list is growing! Please check out Carl's two posts, they each are incredible. What I learned - other than the same synchronicity Carl was talking about, at work in my life! - was that there is a whole group of us who love fairy tales and fantasy books, which are my main love. I am not alone!! I know people read fantasy in Ottawa (we've held conventions over the years, and had two specialty bookstores for science fiction, both gone now), but not so many people talk about it, and that is what I have been missing.

- I have discovered that we love books, and talking about them, sharing our thoughts, reactions, joys and disappointments. In amongst the books, we talk about our lives, too, and it's like a glimpse of one another through starlight - here's a star in Minneapolis, there's another in Germany, another in South Korea, several in Canada, oh another in England and still another in Ireland - oh look, France has joined....Australia....many many more the world over - so many in the US- I know this is what the Internet is, but this is wondrous, that we all can connect over our love of books. It's like how long-distance letter writing used to be (and I remember those days!), only this is more immediate, and this has its good sides (we get immediate comments on our ideas and thoughts, and cheered up and find amazing books!) and its bad side (those of us who write books end up blogging more instead of creatively writing!! and spouses come wandering over to see where we disappeared to...). I'm still in my baby steps, and i have to admit that it is a thrill to check my blog every night when I come home from work and see who has dropped by.

- BAFAB week - all the giveaways and contests. I don't care if I won or not. This is my first year blogging, and my very first witnessing to the incredible sharing of books in the book blogging world. What a wonderful idea, and it's amazing and fun to see how generous we are with our books. It's like saying "here, read this!" over and over! I had no idea when I started my blog that this book blogging community even existed, and I am thrilled to be part of it. Next BAFAB, I will be ready!

- that we have lots of thoughts about what we read. I know there has been a growing backlash from 'critics' about book bloggers and our lack of credentials, but I've decided that the book critics are jealous. We write about books because we love them, and we have an instinctual - and good reaction to whether we like them or not, or if they make sense. I studied literature at university, and it killed my ability to write for several years after. Not on purpose, but the critiquing of method, novel set-up, characterization, etc, made me incapable of writing anything because I was instantly analyzing before I had finished putting it down on paper! We need literary critics, and I also now think the book world needs us - we're the ones who love books, and pay our money for them, and we treat what we read with respect - even if we don't like a book, we give a thoughtful approach to why. And it's fun, it's like we have a huge book circle! Oprah, move over, the real book-reading world has far better choices about what to read! Hmmm,
and this is really odd - further signs of synchronicity - over at Neil Gaiman's journal site he has just written several answers to questions in the last week on creative writing classes and writing, and do they help or hurt writing? Oh....and he's gained "a tub' size in jeans, I'm not the only one this long long winter has affected!! Oh hurray!! very shallow of me, but hey, you have to read his description of his closet (see journal entry "snowdrops"....). note to self: must get a copy of "Odd and The Frost Giants" somehow......

- we really like fairy tales.

- it's really fun to sign up for challenges!!

- and even more fun to choose the books for each challenge!

- I got my sister to read Jane Austen for the first time through this blog! (Stand up, Lady P!!)

- Oh - Inkheart is getting better near the end, I'm almost finished!

- and the best of all, you, dear Gentle Readers. Meeting you, finding your blogs, sharing books and ideas and thoughts, I had no idea this was waiting for me. So, as I reflect on my first six months - I can't believe it's been only 6 months! - of blogging, I raise my milk bottle (baby blog can't drink yet...) to you in a toast - thank you - and I really thank all the writers out there, old ones and new, because without them we wouldn't have any books at all. And it's now 25 weeks, 2 days, 22 hours, and 35 minutes until *Neil's* next book, "The Graveyard Book" is out in the US (and hopefully Canada and the UK). :-)

Wednesday 2 April 2008

A quiet Wednesday

Stephanie at So Many Books is giving away a Margaret Atwood poetry book, for anyone who is interested. I have to admit that I have not read any of Atwood's poetry until Stephanie put two on her blog. Now, I'm a fan. The second one, from today's post on her site, really applies to anyone who write :-) or wants to write.
Eva at A Striped Armchair is also doing a book give away, but first you have to do a very fun "match the quote with the book and author" challenge. I entered and I think I did very well - not perfect, there's two books I have no idea about - but most are fun quotes we all should recognize!! and Eva is so kind that for those who don't win the prize (Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller ) they will be entered in another draw to pick a book off her shelf of books looking for a new home :-) sounds good to me! So come and play!!
Another giveaway is at C.B.James at Ready When You Are, C.B. "the Master" by Colm Toibin, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He ended up with two copies and wants to give one away!! I'm entering...must read more prize-nominated books....plus, he's running a vote for the most popular Booker prize winner, so if you don't want the current leader "The Blind Assassin" to win, then please come vote! Since I have read exactly one winner, I'll have to vote for the Life of Pi....if only I read more prize winners!!! Not that I don't like the Life of Pi (and it's Canadian!), but I'm not sure it's the best Booker Prize winner ever...
Verbatim at Verbatim: Wanna Book has an amazing giveaway - she will buy you any book on Amazon you want so long as it is paperback, and you join in the BAFAB week - Buy a Friend a Book Week. So find a book a good home,and let her know, and see what you'd like on Amazon! (I wonder if she knows how many of us have long wishlists??) and do a good deed for a friend (and a book!) at the same time.
Nymeth at Things Mean Alot is giving away 4 books!! Plus a surprise one!! So it's a fun draw, and all you have to do is leave your name. There is a surprise 5th book, which is one I'm pulling to win (I really really want to read this) so you don't have to put your name down for this one - the fifth book, I mean. Please do enter the contest!
Both Literary Feline and Eva have other give-aways for BAFAB week celebrations, they are worth checking out, but I won't list here since going to their sites is also very fun! Both are sites I regularly visit.
So, good luck to us all!!!

I am very happy because finally, the ice and snow covering our sidewalks is GONE so I can at last, after two months of being unable to walk at all, I am finally able to start my long walks again. Tonight after work I walked over the bridge from Hull to Ottawa, in the sunshine, and my heart was overjoyed at the light! It wasn't warm - we set the record for a cold March, unfortunately, and I am beginning to hate the sight of my winter coat - but, it was sunny, and the ice is gone, and it's safe to walk on sidewalks again. I did my three miles, and it was good. :-)

And that's it for this quiet Wednesday. My Senators are on the verge of not making the play-offs (after almost winning the Stanley Cup last year!) and my Arsenal did so-so tonight in a big game (if *Nick* were here we'd be drowning our sorrows and blacklisting the referee AND stupid bloody Liverpool...), so I'm going to make it a strike for three and go try to finish Inkheart so I can stop carrying it everywhere!!!
Happy reading, and I am going to try to find a home for a book or two, or maybe I'll buy a favourite and send it to my sister or mother.....it's buy a friend a book week! My bright idea: I think this should be a holiday so we could have more time to read! To go with World Book Day :-)
Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Odds 'n Ends

We are 16 cm away from setting the all-time snow record for Ottawa!!! That's about 6 inches of snow, for my American readers. 6 inches!!! We had snow yesterday, which thankfully got washed away in the rain later, about an inch of white stuff fell. We're so close now.....just one little storm and all this snow, the piles of snow everywhere still, would be worth it!!

I went book shopping today - a tiny used bookstore near my work had a 'liquidation sale', which turns out they are offering 25% off their sale price to reduce stock only. It's a mostly French bookstore, but since it is close to big government building (my building is one of two others further down the road), there is a selection of English books. I found 4! April shopping begun:
Two Penguin classics -
-Njal's Saga (trans by Magnus Magnusson). I'm collecting these. I am fascinated by the Norse culture, in part because York in England where i lived was settled by the Vikings in 800 AD, after the Romans built a settlement there. York takes its name from Yorvik, the old Viking name for the town. Every year there are re-enactments of various battles in and around York, including a Viking battle. There is also a fascinating Viking museum set up under a street in center York, where a large - one of the largest finds in England - of Viking life was found. York is layers upon layers of cultures, one of many reasons I love it so much. So I'm reading Norse sagas partly to understand Norse culture (and its effect on the British Isles when they came), partly because Tolkien built his Elvish language and wrote his sagas based on the Norse myths, and because I love old adventure stories and history!
-The Mabinogion, the Welsh medieval prose stories. My family ancestry is Welsh (among other countries) and I want to learn more about Welsh culture and history and literature. I also love Celtic names and myths, and this is one of the original Welsh sources for these.
-E. Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle - I honestly believe I have not read a book by this acclaimed children's fantasy writer, and i've decided to change that! Plus, the book comes with illustrations, so my daughter will have pictures to look at while i read it to her.
- Last, but not least - China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. I've wanted this book for so long, but never came across the paperback, and lo! there it was! So it joins my pile of TBR books immediately. I am so excited, this was a real find, and the best thing (other than finding these books) is that none have cracked spines! They are in excellent shape!

*Sigh* now I'm going to read Inkheart and see how quickly I fall asleep. At least Emily agrees with me that this is not the great read everyone makes it out to be, so I'm not the only one. I'm disappointed - I'm halfway through, and I really want to like this book! i will blog about it when I'm done. I will also be doing a follow-up blog to my Men of Jane Austen vote, when the second part of Sense and Sensibility is over next Sunday. So it's not too late to go vote at my blog post Emma
and cast your vote for your favourite lead actor in a Jane Austen production. At last count, Colin Firth (Darcy) was edging Jeremy Northam (Knightly)......

I will also do a quick follow-up blog to my fairy tale, since I had such a great response to my question on what's your favourite fairy tale Thank you so much, everyone, for responding! And it's not too late for those who are still pondering....
But I'm too tired tonight. Happy reading, everyone!