Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sunday Salon - today's Bluenose Ghosts excerpt

The Sunday

From Bluenose Ghosts, today's ghostly excerpt:

Forerunners come sometimes as a kindly form of preparation where the shock of sudden death might be too great. An Amherst couple, for instance, lived happily together, and both were in excellent health. There was no reason to suppose any change would come to alter their unruffled lives. The house they lived in was very old and had bolts to fasten the doors. One night Rachel and her husband went to their room and he bolted the door as he always did. They were no sooner settled than she asked him to shut the door. He said, "I did." She said, "It's open," so he got up and closed it a second time. Once more they prepared themselves for sleep when again Rachel pointed out that the door was open. This time after closing it he got back into bed, but crawled in beside her and shivered and shook. She said, "What did you see?" but he refused to tell her. Finding him so greatly upset, and not being able to discover the reason, she appealed to her brother for help. "No," her husband said, "I won't tell you now, but if it ever comes to pass I'll tell you then." The next day Rachel took sick and a few days later she died and it was very sudden and distressing. She was laid out in a white dress and, when her husband saw her like this, he said,

"There, that's what I saw. Yes, I saw her laid out in her grave clothes."

I finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo tonight - yes, I read all day! Lovely, lovely reading day. And we did enjoy Walking With Dinosaurs very much yesterday. I'll review Girl With the Dragon Tattoo tomorrow, it's late now- so for now, I hope you enjoy the ghostly tale from Bluenose Ghosts. It makes me shiver. I can only read the book a little at a time or I get too frightened. I know, it sounds silly, but these are real tales that people told of things they'd experienced - very short, simply told, as Creighton says, folktales and superstitions aren't elaborate - and it makes them all the more vivid for me, anyway, so I get little chills and my heart beats a little faster and I get jumpy......delicious. Happy RIPIV reading!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Lost in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Bluenose Ghosts

I was going to post about Carl's RIPIV challenge, but I am having problems narrowing down my list! I have 3 books at the library waiting to be picked up, and 15 books I pulled off my shelves!!! so tomorrow I will choose a list of what I'd like to read...I have begun reading one book, Bluenose Ghosts by Dr Helen Creighton.

This is a way cooler cover than the one I have. I have the first paperback edition from 1976 with a blue cover, and this edition was just released this year. If I'd seen this version, *sigh* I love the cover, suddenly I am afficted with booklust again even though I own a copy!!!

Helen Creighton was a Canadian folklorist, and collected Maritime (which means the east coast, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland for us) folktales for over 50 years. This is organized into chapter headings such as : Forerunners, Phantom Ships and Sea Mysteries, Ghosts Helpful, Harmful and Headless, Haunted Houses and Poltergeists, and Ghosts as Animals and Lights. These kinds of stories, related by the living, about what they've experienced of the paranormal or unexplained, always give me delicious chills and half-frighten me just reading them. Lovely! One idea for the challenge that I have from this book, is to give a quote from it - hopefully every day through September and October, at the very least every time I post. So here is today's excerpt:

Through the tutelage of the Hartlan men I understood for the first time the meaning of a strange event in my own life that had occurred not too long before.
This had happened just prior to the death of my eldest brother's wife. It had been a long illness, one that was very hard on both the patient and her family. We turned to anything that would distract the children, and one evening three of us sat in the drawing room playing cards. Suddenly we were interrupted by a loud knocking. We all heard it and stopped playing. I made the obvious remark, "There's someone at the door." "There can't be," Kathleen said. "There isn't any door on this side of the house." That was quite true, for the house was built on a hill, and that side, although on the first floor, was high above the ground. Nevertheless to satisfy me Barbara went to the nearest door. "There's no one there," she said in a tone which inferred this was no more than she expected. We were mystified but I forgot about it until the Hartlans took on my education. Then I realized that what we heard were the three death knocks. These are heard in certain houses or by certain people and they come as warning of approaching death. Whether my sister-in-law died on the day following the knocks or a few days later, none of us could recall. Kathleen remembers the incident, but Babara was too young. Certainly at the time we all heard it - three slow deliberate knocks that insisted on our attention.

I think I will copy a tale every time I post, throughout Carl's challenge! See if I can give you chills, dear Gentle Reader.

And, this gives me another book for the Canada 3 Book Challenge!

I am lost in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I am on page 209, after starting the book yesterday morning on the bus. If I hadn't been so tired last night I would have read more, but I sadly fell asleep as soon as the children did! Such is my exciting life with young children. I am amazed at how good the translation is - it reads almost as if it were written in English first. Mikael Blomquist is a quiet intelligent hero, and Lisbeth Salander is an extraordinary character - she literally jumps off the page, alive, exciting, and dangerous. Blomquist has just begun his enquiry into the Vanger family. I love the island he is staying on, and that it's three hours north of Stockholm, so we get to visit some of the Swedish countryside/seaside again. It's also set in the depths of winter, so I will remember this when we reach 0 degrees Fahrenheit, that we aren't the only country that gets that cold! The storytelling is really good - I simply do not want to put this book down. We have heavy rain today, perfect reading whether - unfortunately, I am booked on a date with my daughter: we are going to see Walking With Dinosaurs late this morning, at the Palladium! It's playing for 4 days only, and our youngest child is a little too young - the dinosaurs are very large in this production, and loud, and didn't want to go - but Holly-Anne is so excited she leaps whenever she things about it!

How can you tell when you love books? when everything seems to take you away from reading one!! I love dinosaurs, I know I will thoroughly enjoy this show and day out with my daughter, but I resent that I can't just read my lovely book all day!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Last Rituals - an intriguing new Icelandic mystery series

Cath at Read-Warbler and I got together and decided to review a book that we were reading at the same time. This wouldn't be so surprising except that we live an ocean apart! I love how books cross time and space to join people together.

We both had picked up Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the debut mystery of a series featuring Thora Gudmundsdottir, an attorney and single mother of two. To give you a little background, I'll copy from the back of the book, since I am awful at short storylines (I once failed a test at age 10! that asked me to write something in under 25 words. My teacher taught me the word 'verbosity', saying I suffered from it.)
"At a university in Reykjavik, the body of a young German student is discovered, his eyes cut out and strange symbols carved into his chest. Police waste no time in making an arrest, but the victim's family isn't convinced that the right man is in custody. They ask Thora Gudmunsdottir, an attorney and single mother of two, to investigate. It isn't long before Thora and her associate, Matthew Reich, uncover the deceased student's obsession with Iceland's grisly history of torture, execution, and witch hunts. But there are very contemporary horrors hidden in the long, cold shadow of dark traditions."

What this blurb doesn't say is that this is also a book about family - broken families, families with secrets, families where love isn't so easy to find. It also has more humour than I have encountered in the other Icelandic series I am reading, by Arnaldur Indridason - unexpected jokes the author makes through Thora about how Icelanders see their city, their streets, their driving, a sense of humour borne out of survival. I really liked Thora. The other thing the blurb doesn't say is that Matthew has good knowledge of the victim's family, and we aren't sure until near the end if he is Thora's friend, or monitoring the discoveries on the family's behalf.

I began the book review by asking the first question:
1. What made you pick this book up?

Susan: I read a review of Icelandic mystery writers somewhere (I can't find
out where now, the list I had turned out to be for Swedish crime writers)
and Yrsa Sigurdardottir's Last Rituals was on it. So when I saw Last Rituals
in the book store, I grabbed it. It's her first book, so it must have been a
review that I saw. Basically it's Icelandic, so I was interested!

Cath: I saw mention of it on Danielle's blog - A Work in Progress. I
previously had no idea that there *were* any Icelandic crime writers! Not
that I'd given the matter a great deal of thought because if I had I would
have realised that there had to be. Anyway, when I looked the book up I
decided I that I wanted to read it and found it quite easily in the library.

Me again:
2. Do you read many books that are translated (ie written first in a foreign

Susan: Yes. Well, I should categorize that - I really read mysteries that
are translated. From Iceland - Arnuldur Indridason, from Sweden - Henning
Mankell, Asa Larsson, Ake Edwardson, and new to me Karin Fossum and Steig
Larsson, and from France - Fred Vargas.

Cath: Before Last Rituals, no. Since then, by some odd coincidence, I've
read three! Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel and the first two Inspector
Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri. Oddly enough they're all crime books,
although Grey Souls is slightly more than that. I clearly have an interest
in crime stories set overseas.

Another question from me:
3. What do you enjoy most about foreign language books?

Susan: I love the different view we get of other countries. Even when the
syntax of the English is a little bit strange - a direct translation, not
always idiomatic translation - I am fascinated by what that shows about the
writer and language, and I wish I could read in the original language.
Because Sweden and Canada share long cold dark winters, their gloom is
similar to Canada's bleak view and nature landscape that fills most of our
writing. Pine trees, cold winter nights, below freezing temperatures, broken
by short, searing summers when no one wants to sleep because it's light out.
I really enjoy seeing the world through another's eyes - it is sometimes
disconcerting, true, but I find it refreshing too. I also enjoy seeing how
people are characterized, what is similar about police procedurals,
investigating crime, and how similar people are no matter where they are in
the world. I also learn alot about places this way, not as a travel
guide, but as how the cities and streets are written about.

Cath: That's a difficult question because I'm not sure I've read enough to
judge properly. I *think* it's the glimpses of cultures that are quite
unlike your own. The Inspector Montalbano books, for instance, are set in
Sicily, where, if the books are anything to go by, there is a culture of
corruption and crime which impinges on the lives of everyone who lives
there. Whether this is a serious worry in the lives of normal people, I
don't know. Reading books like these tends to create certain questions in my
mind which I then search for the answers to. So the answer to the question
is probably that foreign language books broaden the mind and make me want
to read many more books from overseas - but not necessarily translated ones or, necessarily, of the crime genre. For me I think it's almost a secondary way of indulging in armchair travel.

Cathy finally got a turn! She asked:
4. Is there something about Iceland that particularly fascinates you?

Susan: I'm not sure. I became fascinated when I lived in England, and it
became a weekend getaway for the English - just a short plane ride away, and
very cheap! All of a sudden, I wanted to see the geysers, the volcanic
earth, and Reykjavik, and I have never lost the desire to go see. I think I
am fascinated by how this culture developed so far away from the rest of the
world, and what it's like that far north and still have a culture, a capital

Cath: Yes but I'm not sure when my interest began. It could have been when I
read Avalon by Anya Seton... *many* years ago. The heroine (I can't even
remember her name) is captured by Vikings and taken to Iceland and I found
myself fascinated by the landscape and the history. I'd love to go there to
see the bleak volcanic landscapes for myself - geologically speaking I think
it's the youngest country in the world and that's an amazing concept to take
in, the fact that it's still growing and changing. One of these days I
*will* go.

Cath's next question was:
5. Have you read any other Icelandic authors?

Susan: Yes. Arnuldur Indridason is one of my favourite mystery writers! I
love Erlendur's sense of justice no matter how long it has taken, his
struggles as a father and divorced husband, and the cases he gets are
interesting. There is room for a lot of darkness in the human heart, and
pathos and tragedy. Against this are the police, some of whom are funny,
some bitter or mean, set against Erlendur and is determination to pursue a
case until answers are found.
I was so happy when I saw there was another Icelandic author writing
mysteries! So I was always going to read Last Rituals.

Cath: The simple answer to this is 'no'. To my shame I've always been completely unaware of Icelandic authors. But I do now have one other on my tbr mountain - Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indridason, which I'm really looking forward to reading.

Cath's third question was:

6. As a working mother, did you find Thora's problems with mixing her
home-life and work true to life?

Susan: Yes! and it really added to the character, that she was juggling
both, and that her kids were moody and didn't always want to go with their
father. Very true to life.

Cath: Judging by my daughter's problems as a single mother it did seem to me
to be quite true to life. I liked that aspect of it too, as crime writers
usually focus on male policemen, it seems to me, and it was refreshing to
have a glimpse of life from a female perspective. It made me think about
reading other crime novels where the main 'investigator' is female. Ones
that spring to mind are the Kate Martinelli series by Laurie R. King and
P.D. James's Cordelia Gray books - but there must surely be a lot more?

I then asked two extra questions:

7. Did you enjoy the mystery? What was a strength and a weakness?

Susan: Yes, I enjoyed the mystery very much. I didn't guess who the killer
was until near the end, and then I couldn't figure out how it was done.
One streggth were the characters - they were all well-drawn, from Thora, to
her associate Matthew Reich, to the various suspects - I had no difficulties
telling anyone apart, or remembering who was who. I enjoyed the various
viewpoints as well, which added to the mystery, without revealing too much.
One weakness was the discovery of some key evidence - wouldn't the person
involved who hid it, have tried to retrieve it? It would have been more
interesting if the house had been broken into and the area searched, then to
have it accidentally discovered. That wasn't quite believable. All this time
and the person never noticed it.....

Yes I did enjoy the mystery. Like Susan. I was close to the end before it dawned on me who the killer was. One strength of the book, for me, was how well the author concealed that. I thought that was very nicely done.
No real weaknesses jumped out at me, but of the book in general I could say that at times the translation was slightly simplistic. But that's real nit-picking and not something terrible; possibly it's symptomatic of many translations as I noticed it in the Andrea Camilleri books too. But in neither case was it enough to put me off.

And my final question:

Bonus question: Would you recommend the book to be read?

Susan: Yes! 4.7/5!!!

Cath: Yes, I most certainly would! It's a skillful crime story with an unusual setting and well worth anyone's time and trouble.

Cath asked her two final questions:

Bonus Question 1: Did you find the rather macabre
background to this story - the manner of the student's death and so on - at all off putting?

Cath: I suppose I should have done, after all he fell out of the cupboard onto a tutor with his eyes gouged out and some weird markings on him and from then on there were some startling revelations about his interest in witchcraft and odd sexual practises. But the truth is I didn't find it off putting at all. I suppose I like reading books that deal with off the wall subjects and, it has to be said, that Yrsa Sigudardottir deals with these matters in a way that doesn't go into *really* gory detail. She states what happens in quite a matter of fact way and that's fine by me. If the details had been dealt with in the manner of say, a real horror story, then my reaction would doubtless have been different as I don't deal with blood and gore at all well.

Susan: Like Cath, I should have - some the sexual practices and how witchcraft was portrayed was gruesome, but the author deals with it matter-of-factly - this is what the victim was interested in - and like Cath says, the gory parts are NOT dwelled on. This is a crime novel with some horror aspects, which I found made it more intriguing. I do wish though that some good witchcraft would be portrayed for once. I get tired of it always being portrayed as leading to a bad end, when for the most part, the religion is about living in the world in a responsible way. Other than that, I found the macabre aspects very well done.

Bonus question 2: Are you planning to read book 2 in the Thora Gudmundsdottir 'My Soul to Take'?

Cath: Yes, I am. I'm keen to see what the author will come up with next in the way of a crime plot but also to see how her relationship with Matthew matures and how a certain occurrence within her family pans out. Hopefully it'll be a nice long series.

Susan: Oh yes! Please let it be out soon, because it looked very interesting - involves a haunted hotel......definitely an area of interest for me (hauntings, ghosts). Plus, as Cath said, there is that family angle that is very interesting too. I did enjoy her children, and the ex, and the partnership with the other lawyer, very much. Definitely a series to keep reading.
This was fun to do with Cath! I really enjoy sharing reading experiences with a blogging friend, and then sharing with you how we found the book. I enjoy reading other bloggers when they do the same thing. I love seeing what people liked in a book, what they possibly didn't, and also the give-and-take as they/we make up the combined review style. I hope you enjoyed this too, and possibly brought a good mystery to your attention!

RIP IV news:
Now, onto some very good news: Carl has announced that we should check out his blog tomorrow!!! YES, THAT MEANS RIP4!!!!

I just checked for the link, and IT"S UP NOW! Link Here, it's here, it's here, RIPIV is here!!!
Oh yes, it's time for ghost stories and monsters and things that make my blood run cold! Hurray!!!!

And I was just on-line to my library last night, requesting some books for the challenge. See you at the challenge site! As Deslily keeps saying, let's hope Mr Linky works this time.....

***Added after initial posting: funny, isn't it? Because of Cath, I now have a new book to get: Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel sounds so interesting. And I just saw on that the new book - the sequel to Last Rituals - by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, My Soul to Take, is out in hardcover. I love it when there are lovely, lovely new books to look forward to reading!!!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Sunday Salon - Maisie Dobbs, an extraordinary mystery

The Sunday

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear is the first in a series of now 5 books featuring Maisie Dobbs. In Book one, she opens her detective agency in 1929, 11 years after the Great War has ended. But the Great War is still very much alive in the minds and hearts and bodies of everyone who was at the Front, and this book - and I suspect the series - is about that effect. Maisie herself served as a nurse on the front, and most of the characters - the victims, the soldiers, the doctors, the killer - also served on the front. The War shaped everything after, a cataclysmic event that Winspear writes about evocatively, and yet, this is not a book about the war at all. It's a mystery, about why a survivor of the war, after he goes to a retreat for soldiers wounded in the War, is found dead, supposedly by his own hand. And yet, it isn't even the sister who asks for help, but the husband of the sister who is grieving and who spends part of her day at her brother's cemetary, unable to let go.

This mystery is about grief, and about change, but it's also about so much more. Maisie herself is an utterly fascinating character - strong, determined, focussed, and very very intelligent. She works her way up from being the lowest maid in a Lord's house, to going to Cambridge, and becoming a nurse, before opening her own detective agency. Her detective teacher is a marvel also, Maurice Blanche, who teaches Maisie so many things, among the most important, to sit still even when it's uncomortable, when asking a question, because asking the question is the important thing:
" I never want to learn that you 'don't know', Maisie, I want to know what you think the answer to the question is. The more it troubles you, the more it has to teach you. In time, Maisie, you will find that the larger questions in life share such behavior."

Isn't that a fascinating way to see the development of an investigator? Ask questions. Ask more questions. He also teaches that the answer comes in many ways. We are never told how he has come by all his knowledge, but I see traces of Far East teachings as well as Jung, in what he tells Maisie.

The mystery is part of the book, and then Maisie's life as she developed as a person and into an investigator is also part of the book. There is a reason, but to give it would be to spoil the revelation of Maisie's character and how the Great War affected her.

If you want to try any mystery series this year, try this one. I'm already looking for the second one in the series. It's on my Christmas list for people I love this year. In other words, this is one of my top 10, I think, for this year. It's not often a book has me crying at two separate times, on the bus! This is a very moving book, a well-recreated look at how World War 1 shaped the years after it, and a very tragic mystery as well. We might do well to remember this, when we come to look back on this decade, and the war currently being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has, and will surely continue, to scar the world and wound so many lives. And in spite of the wounds that war leaves behind, and the psychological probings by Maisie, this book also has love and warmth at its heart, really loving relationships between Maisie and her father, Maisie and her mentor Maurice, Maisie and Billie Dodds, one of the thousands of soldiers whose lives she saved on the front, Maisie and Lady Rowan. It is also tender; Maisie doesn't hound her subjects, those she is asking questions of; her caring for the well-being of those she is ever so gently questioning - and how she gets the answers from them, is illuminating. There is no one like Maisie in the annals of detective fiction.

She's like a little bit of Hercule Poirot (although Maurice is more like him), a little bit Sherlock Holmes in her deductive reasoning and powers of observation, but to her, it'a normal way of being in the world. And lest you think she is all brain, she also falls in love.....

5/5 - except for the cover, which has to be one of the worst for a detective series, EVER. I honestly thought this was some Edwardian fiction (and thus utterly boring) so I only picked up it up because of Bride of the Book God, who is raving about the series, her posts books 4 and 5 here, and because someone else reviewed one of her books. I can't remember who - this is why I started my 'blogging books to get' journal! - so if you have reviewed Maisie Dobbs or any of the series, please let me know and I'll add your link. Someone out there beside Bride knows of this awesome series.......

Two extra things:
If I believed in hitting myself, I would be sporting a huge lump on my forehead right about now. I thought I had until midnight tonight to send my 5 posts for the next round of Blogger Appreciation Week Awards.....No, I discovered this morning when I opened my email, all ready to send my 5 posts today, that my deadline was last Friday at midnight. Yep, a great big lump right my name sadly won't be going ahead (if the committee had chosen me), and for anyone who was going to vote for me, my humblest apologies. Obviously I should read more carefully rather than getting so excited I don't look at the date again! I will be casting my vote for other blogs, though!

And Bride has a post here, from today, that is continuing our deepening discussion about whether it's ok to use live people in fiction and probably/potentially/possibly fictionalize them too, without it being clear if they are fictionalized. I really do think it's okay to use people who lived, if they remain bound within who they were when they lived; that their interior life isn't made up of untrue things. I know, it sounds boring! It's not. As the schism deepens between those who believe it's fine to use real people and change their character somewhat in fiction, and those who don't believe this is fine, I think we are approaching something that is important in fiction, that's at the heart of why we read: telling a story, and what's permissable to use, and what needs to be created by the author. Let us know!!

Also, Bride has laid down the gauntlet by reviewing a book in the same post today - Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandreth - that uses real people as the main characters, and even though I'm against fictionalizing real people in a big way, the book sounds interesting! Darn it! Isn't life just full of quandries? Stay tuned to whether I give in and try reading the book, to whether more readers (that would be you, Gentle Reader!) weigh in on this interesting question, and to whether anyone else has read the same book and if they can say if Oscar Wilde and the other 'true' characters are true to life or not.

I leave you this fine Sunday with a final quote from Maisie Dobbs:
Maisie sat back on the bench and started to compose her questions. She would not struggle to answer the questions but would let them do their work.
"Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions." Maurice's voice once again echoed in her mind. "As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing."

As I was writing that quote down, I began to apply it to our own debate, and so I'm taking it to heart. There is no right or wrong answer in using real people, but I do think there has to be respect and a clear line about saying - yes, he's fictionalized, no, he never acted that way, or I've tried to make it true to him as possible. I know that fiction is a marvellous way to come to understand ourselves and this wondrous universe we live in. I just wonder if it's some paucity of imagination, that we turn to real people more and more to write as fiction characters.

And - I have long been an admirer of Bride and her fabulously named blog, and normally we have very similar tastes, so I think this comes down to what can one live with in fiction? Interesting, isn't it?

Happy Sunday reading, everyone!

Other bloggers posts:
Bride of the Book God - Book 4
Bride of the Book God - Book Five
Word Lily: Maisie Dobbs
Word Lily: Birds of a Feather (Book 2)
Word Lily: Pardonable Lies (Book 3)

Friday, 21 August 2009

A New Ian Rankin mystery!

I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so excited: Ian Rankin has a new book coming out next month! Guardian preview here, "Rankin Reveals Details of New Detective", and it's a new detective since John Rebus is now retired (sob). His name is Malcolm Fox, and I can hardly wait!!!. Joy!!!

Also from The Guardian, here is a list from Marjorie Blackman of 10 of the best graphic novels. For anyone looking for some of the best graphic novels - the classics in the genre - this might be a place to begin. Which would mean myself, also, since I'm so new at reading the genre!

And here, because the Guardian seems to have some good sections for this Saturday, is a review of the very first Patricia McKillip book, the one the won the very first World Fantasy Award: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. I read this book over 20 years ago and gave it to the only person I knew then who read fantasy, I loved it so much! It's one that's due for a reread soon, too. This is a fabulous review of a fantasy classic that I think everyone should read.

And, one of my favourite Canadian fantasy writers, Guy Gavriel Kay, has a wonderful piece on what using real-life figures in fiction might actually mean, and how fantasy is better at imagining the truth of another's life, in "Are Novelists Entitled to use Real-Life Characters?" That's the question I've been thinking over lately, wondering why I'm not drawn to the same mystery series that Bride at Bride of the Book God has been reading, Nicola Upson's new series starring Josephine Tey using her real name, Elizabeth Mackintosh. Her post is here. Kay asks, what right do we have to put words and thoughts in real-life figures' mouths and minds, when we don't know what they were thinking or feeling? I wonder, why use someone who was once alive, who doesn't really have anything to do with the story? It seems to me a failure of imagination, of cheating - it's one thing to write a biography, and make educated guesses, based on events in the person's life, their own words and possible letters etc. It is quite another to take a real person, and make them into fiction, without using them to create a new figure, which is what fiction is about. Writers take bits and pieces of the people they meet, the phrases they use, mannerisms, and put the bits together to make a new whole. To take a real person, and give them fictional thoughts and dreams - I find that disturbing. Yes, I agree with what Kay says in his article!

What about you, dear reader? Are you drawn to books that feature real people in fictional settings? Do you think this is an honest way to tell a story? And yes, that means I am criticizing Joyce Carol Oates' book Blonde, without ever having read it. And it does bother me that I am even forced to make this kind of choice in my reading.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy biographies and history! I think I am concerned about the invasion of the person. Unless a writer specifically aims his arrow at a person by making them into a badly-disguised character, which we all know has happened! - I think that people are entitled to their privacy. I really enjoyed Josephine Tey's most famous work, The Daughter of Time, but I'm not sure I like her as the star of a mystery series she isn't writing herself. It's the continued line of blurring of reality that James Frey laid wide open with his biography that turned out to be a little bit untrue. Somehow, Kay says, we are left with almost no privacy at all. I would add, we don't know what is true any more, not really, not if we are putting words and ideas in people who were alive once, ideas they never would have had. And to be honest, this is the reason why I haven't picked up Laurie King's reworking of Sherlock Holmes with Mary Russell. I read most of Sherlock Holmes while a teenager, and I must have imbibed a sense that Sherlock Holmes was wary around women, and didn't think of them as equals. I have tried to imagine Sherlock Holmes sparring with a woman, and while I can see the appeal - he is so darned intelligent, and wouldn't we love to be the woman who is intelligent enough for him? - I don't see him as ever in domestic bliss. I can't read the Mary Russell series (even though I really like anything else Laurie King has written!) because she has changed a literary figure into something he's not. She may have made it better, but that wasn't how Doyle originally wrote him, and so he had something different in mind. I can't help asking, why didn't Ms King make a character similar to Sherlock, invent a male character that was better than Sherlock?

So what right do writers have to change other works, and what right do they have to use real people in fictionalize works where their words and actions are not real?

Let me know if you have any thoughts, or if you care - I'm curious, and very interested to see if I am the only one (well, other than Mr Kay!) who does think it's important. (Sorry here to Bride, who really likes what Upson has done to the real-life people Josephine Tey and her friend Archie Penrose in the series!!!) See? It's not an easy topic, and no one will agree completely, but I'd really like to know if it's important to you or not, dear Gentle Reader.

I hope you have a happy Friday with a good book!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Nomination

Well, I'm surprised. Actually, I don't think that quite covers the joy and wonder and excitement when I checked my email and saw that I have been nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Award! Because, it comes from you, my dear Gentle Readers. Someone out there nominated me in the category of Best Speculative Fiction Blog (ie Fantasy/Horror/Sci-fi/Spec-Fic). I have to confess here that for the first time, I participated in the nomination process this year and nominated someone else for the same award! as well as for most of the other categories.....It was fun, and I was delighted to be able to show my appreciation for the hard work so many of you put into blogging and making your posts enjoyable to read. My only problem was, I wanted to nominated ALL OF YOU, each and every blog on my blogroll, and of course there aren't enough categories for that! So whoever you are, dear Reader, thank you!!

And for Amy at My Friend Amy, the main host of Book Blogger Appreciation Week - a big thank you for her hard work last year during the first Appreciation Awards, and even more this year, because I think it's gotten bigger and more popular.

I was going to do a book review of Persuasion, but I'm too excited. I'll do the review later.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Sunday Salon - some short mystery reviews and it's HOT here

The Sunday

We have finally been having our summer. After breaking the all-time record for rain in a month in July, last week it finally warmed up. We have been in the upper 20's since last weekend, and currently are hitting 30 celsius every day. This would be all right, if our house didn't heat up at the same time. Inside the house, by sunset, is 31c. So what do we do? We sit in front of fans, and watch tv or read. Luckily, the English Premiership - soccer over here, footie over in England - started yesterday, and both my husband's club (Chelsea) and mine (fabulous wonderful Arsenal) were on, and we both won! So the morning was spent happily cheering for goals.

Today, I have picked Persuasion to spend the day with. It is already too hot to think of doing anything else. I'm not complaining! If we don't get a few hot days in the summer, then I barely make it through our long cold winters. So this has warmed me up. It did get me to thinking, though. Do you read different books when it is very hot outside, from when it is colder? Is there a reason, do you think, that we have a selection of books named "Beach reads"? We don't have any called 'snow reads' or 'blizzard books'. So, do you read certain kinds of books at different times of the year, to comfort you, or nourish you?

I used to read fantasy during the winter months, and mysteries the rest of the year, with classics and anything else read randomly. Now, I'm not so sure. It seems to be more balanced out, reading both fantasy and mystery year round, although I think I still read more mysteries as a whole during the warmer time of the year. Maybe fantasy is my great escape from winter! By February I am longing for signs of green, and fantasy worlds as a whole are happier than mysteries.

Mystery Reviews
In honour of it being summer and so darned hot today - here are some mystery reviews - I've been sadly lacking in writing them up this summer!

Friend of the Devil - Peter Robinson. The latest Inspector Alan Banks mystery in paperback. I really enjoy this series, but for some reason, I kept getting the various suspects mixed up. Lately Robinson has been having multiple crimes in his books, mixing several years old ones with recent ones. It makes for dense layers and it's not something I think is completely successful in his books. I had the same problem with his previous mystery, Piece of My Heart. I had to keep flipping to sort out which decade the mystery/characters! While they end up being closely connected in the end, in Friend of the Devil I found I kept getting confused about who the victims were and why, and the perpetrators. It didn't help that the first victim had an assumed name, that there were two serial killers, and that the third crime (the recent one) wasn't connected, except in pursuit of that killer, it flushed out the killer of one of the other crimes. I normally like complex mysteries, in fact I prefer them, but this one left me flipping back and forth to sort out names and characters. Just a warning to perhaps not read this book while there is a heat wave on! Otherwise, this was very good, with Alan and Annie Cabot, who normally have a partnership, this time separated into different districts, so we get a wider range of police superintendents etc and a bigger canvas for Robinson to show how masterful he is at doing characters - he really is. Alan and Annie have private lives, and I enjoy this aspect of the mystery series too. I didn't like Annie's behaviour in this book, so I hope it shows in the next book or two that she comes to a bigger realization of what is wrong with her and why she is so defensive. There is character development and life progressions, which is a definite strength in this series, as well as excellent dialogue and among the best writing in mystery series today. The scene changes are seamless, and the crimes are horrific, and the characters are all note-perfect. This is really good writing, a very high-quality mystery series. I think the problem with the killers was they were kept vague for so long, and there were assumed identities, so unless you read the book in straight sittings, it will get confused. I also realize that I want a mystery that doesn't necessarily involve a serial killer - something that makes us look into the human heart, instead. 4/5 - possibly 4.5 if you read it in unbroken settings.

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson. The first Jackson Brodie mystery. I picked this up in the UK, having heard it being referred to on book lists and by bloggers. I wasn't steered wrong! A child's disappearance 34 years ago, a girl murdered in a lawyer's office by an unknown assailant 10 years ago, and a woman who murders her husband 22 years ago, who has finished her sentence and is picking up the pieces of her life: these are the three cases that Jackson Brodie, ex-police officer turned private investigator, is hired to solve by those left behind. This is a mystery that is about life and loss, secrets, and has moments where it is hilariously funny, heartbreaking in turns, and all the way through holds a sense of anxiety - will Olivia be found? Why does Caroline want to find her younger sister (the answer will chill you completely)? and who killed Laura? they are all solved, and in the course of the book, Brodie loses and gets his daughter back, learns French, has his house blown up, car brake fluid drained, and makes friend with a real eccentric old lady with millions of cats. This is a mystery that looks at grief, and how people pick up their lives after tragedy - or don't, and how love is always arriving unexpected, unlooked-for, and wondrous. 5/5

The Butcher of Smithfield - Susanna Gregory. I hang my head in shame, I read this in January and I hadn't reviewed it yet! This is the first Thomas Chaloner Adventure in Restoration London - yes, between this and Samuel Pepys, I am seeing London before and after the Great Fire, and having just walked some of the streets of East London at Christmas, these books bring London as it was back to life for me. In other words, I am always slightly homesick for London!
Thomas Chaloner is a spy for the Earl of Clarendon, it is 1663, and he has just returned from Portugal, so we see the changes in London as he does, with a foreigner's eyes. Someone is poisoning people with cucumbers, and Chaloner is asked to investigate the death of one of the victims, while going against the wishes of his employer to investigate the death of his dear friend Maylord, a musician, who also died from one of the cucumbers. Meanwhile the Butcher of Smithfield is controlling much of that area with his thieves/bodyguards called Hectors, and Chaloner's friend Leybourn falls in love with a woman is who is obviously after his money, there are spies within the government and without, broadsheets put out by rival presses that seek to establish who is the most trustworthy in terms of news put out, music that makes no sense, and all in all, a grand romp through Restoration London. I very much enjoyed this series and promptly picked up the second book in the series. Chaloner himself is quite attractive! and he has to walk a tightrope of pleasing the Earl, discovering who is stealing or leaking the news from the government sanctioned official broadsheet press, who the killer with cucumbers is and why, and try not to starve in the meantime - his employer refuses to pay him until he solves the murder of Newburne (the other victim of the cucumbers), who worked for L'Estrange, the official goverment censor of the news. It sounds complex, but it's not - it's fun, witty, and fast-paced, and most of all Chaloner is intelligent and caring, so he feels real grief at the loss of his friend, worry for his other friend in the clutches of Mary, and figures out the various villains as we the reader do. All in all, an excellent mystery, well-plotted, and featuring London in all its hectic glory. 5/5

Turnstone (1st book); The Take (2nd book) - Graham Hurley, DI Joe Faraday series. I had been meaning to read some of this series since the author was written up in The Guardian over a year ago. I finally ordered a copy of book one, Turnstone, and read it as soon as I got it. I am really thrilled with this series. It is every bit as good as the article said. Set in Portsmouth, an city in England I have never been to, it features Joe Faraday, a detective Inspector snowed under by paper and superiors ever conscious of their public image. He is a detective who still retains his humanity, and when Emma Maloney comes to the police center to report her dad missing, he is the only one who takes her seriously. He has an arch-enemy within the police force, Detective Paul Winter, who is his polar opposite; it's refreshing to read about conflict within the police force, instead of it being just the detective versus the criminal. There is a fine line between police and criminals, and sometimes that line is crossed, and we see Paul come close to that line and not only betray Joe, but cause the death of one of Joe's young perpetrators he has hopes of saving. Whether Joe has too much hope and Paul is right, you the reader gets to choose; but from the beginning, Joe errs on the side of human goodness. In the end, Emma is right, her dad is missing, but what happens - how the case is solved - is thrilling in a quiet, dogged, persistent way. I really enjoyed book one. It also features a sail boat race that has a terrible outcome, that as we discover more about what happened on the boat, becomes more terrible. Joe balances the horrors of criminal investigation through his son, who is deaf, and bird-watching, thus the name of the book: Turnstone is the name of the sand bird outside his home near Portsmouth's beach. Joe is a thoughtful detective, and I promptly bought book 2 and read it right after.
The Take - Not quite as good as Turnstone, I think because it doesn't have the thoughtful quality quite so paramount. That being said, it is still very good; the crime committed is one all women everywhere would instinctively understand, a gynecologist is accused of intercourse with his patients, and has disappeared. What he actually did, revealed near the end, is horrifying - deeply invasive of a woman's privacy, and I have to say that even though he was only in a characer in a book, I was glad at what happened to the gynecologist! That's how good the writing and characterization is in this series. It may be that this book isn't quite so melancholic as the first one. We also see the true nature of Paul Winter when faced with the loss of someone dear to him. And again, at every turn, he tries to thwart Joe Faraday, who he can't forgive for thwarting his own plans for promotion. Definitely a must-read, and a series for mystery fans. I need to find Book 3 soon!
Turnstone: 5/5. The Take: 4.5/5

Last but not least, the mystery many of you have been waiting for me to review:

In the Woods
, by Tana French. Firstly, this is excellent writing and characterization. It is superb. From the prologue, to the opening paragraphs of Chapter one, which I remembered all through the book :"I crave truth. And I lie." to the final revelation of who did it (in the crime investigated) and how horrifyingly evil and manipulative he/she is, this book is almost unputdownable.

It is agonising to read this book, because the central character can't remember what happened twenty years ago in the woods, when his two friends disappeared and he was found shaking near a tree. He was never able to tell what happened. Years later, he has slightly changed his name, and is now a detective, and the book opens with him being assigned to investigate a murder close to the very site where he was discovered as a child. He had not been back since the events as a child, his family had moved away, so no one recognizes him, and he is seeing the area again through adult eyes for the first time. What I found most disturbing was that he doesn't tell his supervisor right away who he is, and when he is found out, what happens. This made me pull away from the story for a bit, until it is resolved, thankfully!

There is a current trend it seems in mysteries to conduct investigations into old serial killer crimes or child disappearances, with current investigations that eventually link up. I can't decide if this is a good trend or not. I do wonder if we - the white world, from whom many of these types of crime books are coming - are working through the enormous loss of all the missing children and teens that has been prevalent in our culture for the past 30 years. Do you remember the milk cartons and posters with the pictures of missing children on them? I do. I think this is one way we are trying to come to terms with, to understand why, and what happened. I think I am interested in how crimes affect those left behind. In the Woods shows this in many ways. Rob Ryan's family, the families of the original two children, the current victim's family: some of the many the ways that the disappearances and murder affects the ones left behind, are shown. It was particularly affecting about the two missing children, and how time is different for the parents. As in Case Histories, sometimes the ones left behind can move on, sometimes they can't, but always, they are altered.

I am of two minds about the main character - I know I ended up not trusting him at all, even though I see how whatever happened that day long ago has affected him (something even he can't see yet). I still think one possibility is he might have killed his friends, and yet I don't want him to have, such is the skill of French in showing Ryan's character and perhaps-faulty memory. This is a very good mystery, deserving of all the acclaim it has received. I really liked Cassie, the detective Ryan is paired with, and am happy to see she is the main character in the next book out by French, The Likeness. I don't have it yet, but I will be getting it shortly!

All in all, another excellent mystery. 4.7/5

Have you read any of these books? Please let me know, and I'll link to them.

Rambling end-notes:
I'm off to read Persuasion now. It's too hot to do housework, hurray!! I do also admit, in this slightly rambling Sunday Salon (it is really hot now, almost 40 c with the humidity), that I am beginning to look ahead to RIP 3 (or is it 4?) which should start soon. I already have some books lined up: I was thinking of Duma Key by Stephen King, and Drood by Dan Simmons. Have you started planning for Carl's challenge? Are you in the mood for some ghost stories soon, too?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Holidays - staycation! and Coraline the movie

So....if you've noticed, I've been able to blog much more frequently this week. I'm home on a week's holiday with the kids. This is good for relaxing, playing in the sun, taking day trips, and very very very bad for getting anything read. I like that somehow staying home because we are getting windows replaced makes me trendy: "I'm staycationing this year, you know. Staying around Ottawa," and it's cool. I can't remember when that was cool, ever! I'm not the only one: Charlotte at Charlotte's Web is also staying home, her staycationpost is here, and has a post here on her staycation reads. She's got books set aside for her holidays! Why didn't I think of that? How did I not plan to read anything? Maybe because I knew what would happen: I would spend my day doing things with the kids, evening would roll around, and I'd be dozing as soon as they fell asleep.

I am cheered that I feel like reading in the mornings, and after carrying The Shorter Pepys (the edited journals of Samuel Pepys) around on my shelves for almost 20 years, it's time to read it! So every morning before the kids are truly awake, I've been able to read a little. A' little' is the key word here. Here is a link to what the book is about, since it's been re-released with a new title. I've gotten to March of 1660. It is very interesting reading - I like how he talks about where he goes every day, what they eat, the people he meets with. He moved in fairly high circles - he meets the king on occasion, but mostly deals with his Lord (**Added later: Edward Mountagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich) who is his patron (** also added later: Pepys first works as his secretary in 1655) - and seems to be worried about money alot. Not so much has changed over almost 400 years! He also comments on the weather, like a true Brit. If I finish this book - which comes in over 1,000 pages (and these are his EDITED journals!) - by Christmas, I will be very very happy. I wish I'd joined the Chunkster Challenge now!

I'm trying to get through Peter Robinson's Friend of the Devil, but haven't got very far - I'm not sure why, maybe it's not the book for now. I don't really have anything 'to read' for the rest of this week, like Charlotte did. Maybe I should have my own personal read-a-thon day! I'd like that! I'm not sure my children will, or my husband, he will think I'm running from chores and looking after the kids, and he'd be right!

Staycation events so far
So far, we have gone to the library on Monday (only time for books for the kids, not a book time for Mommy!), played at a local outdoor pool and saw a reptile show there on Tuesday - no spiders, hurray! and I like reptiles, so the turtles and snakes were awesome! On Wednesday, yesterday, we had one of the children's friends over for some water play with the water guns and the sprinkler, after which we recovered by renting Coraline and binging on junk food for a movie afternoon. Today we went to the National Museum of Science and Technology, followed by a shopping trip to Toys R Us for flutterboards for both kids for the local pool, and a special toy each (Nascar cars for Graham, Littlest Pet Shop for Holly-Anne), followed by everyone falling asleep either on the bus ride home, or at home (that was me dozing on the sofa!) We have our first heat wave of the summer this week, which is lovely except we are getting hotter and hotter as the week goes on! Tomorrow the kids have voted for swimming at the local outdoor pool with their new flutterboards. I am secretly hoping I can bring a book with me......I can hear you all laughing at me! I know, I have no real hope of getting anything read there, but I live in hope that I can grab some time to read this holiday!!!

Coraline the movie
Coraline was fabulous. I am so surprised at how much I loved the movie. I really thought, because of the commercials both last fall and even before the movie started, that it would be too bright and lose the dark quality that I love so much about the book. I am so relieved and delighted to say that the movie is as good as the book. Yes, I actually wrote that! It might be the first time in history that I think a movie based on a book is as good as the book. It's safe to say we'll be adding this movie to our collection shortly. Everything about it, from the music, to the set design, to Coraline herself, and the cat and those lovely Scottie dogs, and the weird strange neighbors, the good parents and the bad parents - just lovely and perfect. They don't take away from my reading of the book and my private vision of it, which is so rare for me to experience. So I really send a thank you to all the producers and artists of the movie, for staying so true to the spirit as well as the telling of the story.

So if anyone out there has hesitated like I did - please, go rent it and see for yourself. It really is very very good. Thank you bloggers, for persisting in telling me I could see it! I also have a very good friend who kept telling me I should, too.

Bad Bloggers journal
I don't have a picture of it yet, but I thought I would share with you how reading blogs has changed my book-buying habits: I have had to use a special journal that is now 7 1/2 pages filled with titles, authors, and the blogger I got the book from. I started it around April, after I realized I just couldn't keep track of all the books I wanted to read that I'd found on blogs. So thank you, my book blogging friends. You have brought so many new books and authors to my attention, and I know my reading has expanded unexpectedly since I began blogging. Soon to come: more bad blogger points, now that I am keeping track of you all! Someone somewhere is going to win a prize from me at the end of the year, for posting about books that made me want to read them.

The house is hot and sticky and we are all cooling off as best we can. I think I'm going to try to sneak some reading in while everyone is occuppied. Happy reading, everyone!! Happy summer!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Fantasy -New Yorker article, 7 essential adult books

Thanks to Tanabata at In the Spring It is the Dawn, I came across a link on her sidebar to the New Yorker, which has a lovely little article on some good adult fantasy books to read, especially for those who are new to fantasy, or who have read all the good young adult series and want to graduate to adult fantasy (and yes, it does exist!). The New Yorker post is here. I read the article, thinking, "Oh, I've read them all." Well, surprise on me, there were two listed that I have seen everywhere, that I never got around to reading: Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind, and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Luckily, due to a rave review by a blogger recently (Nymeth, I think) I had just picked up Wizard's First Rule. So onto my TBR shelf it goes. Just because I have been reading fantasy ever since I was 15 or 16, doesn't mean I have read everything good yet! Sometimes I'm really glad I love books; it's hard to be jaded when there is always something new to read, or some forgotten treasure I've overlooked. And I have read most of the others on the list; the Steven Erickson I haven't, but I have read many good things about it. I think I am awed/a little overwhelmed at it having 10 books in the series, so I've been hesitant to start it. I agree with all the choices by the way, although the Scions of Shannara does raise my eyebrows - I did read the original Shannara series, and never got to the Scions series, thinking it was as cliche ridden as the Stones of Shannara were - very enjoyable, but very derivative of Tolkien, even I knew that at 18! I will have to give Scions of Shannara a try too, one day. Maybe reading keeps me a little humble too - I haven't read everything, and there is so many thousands of good books still to read!

By the way, Tanabata also discusses this week's Monday Musings, which is an interesting question: do you buy books because of the publishing house? In other words, do you look at publishing catalogues to buy books, and does the name on the spine of the book mean anything to you, or do you buy whatever edition of the book you come across? Please let her know; I left my comment there, but I thought it was a very interesting question, especially as a former bookstore clerk who used to deal with publishers, and so I know many books, titles and authors by who has published them.

Neil wins the Hugo!

As most you, my Gentle Readers, know, I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan. He just won the Hugo for The Graveyard Book. He won! The Guardian book site has this lovely post about Neil's win, here, entitled "The Myth-Making Genius of Neil" . Here is the actual Guardian article on the win, "Neil Gaiman wins Hugo", here. Link to Neil's own post on his blog about the win, here.

I need to find some Sandman to try! Everyone raves about it, including the writer of the myth-making genius of Neil article. I might be the very last person on the planet to find a Sandman to try!! My children have seen Coraline the movie, my daughter loving it and my youngest son talking about the mother with the button eyes: "there was a mother with BUTTON EYES" and then insisting he never saw the movie. A very good friend watched it alone and had to keep stopping it and doing something else for a bit, before coming back to the movie. I still haven't seen it. I think the book is one of the scariest, one of the most deliciously frightening books with the bravest heroine ever. I'm not sure why, but The Graveyard Book wasn't as scary to me (except the beginning part, which is truly frightening in any book) as Coraline was. It was more melancholic, and really lingers in mind still, a year after reading it. The Dance Macabre, the living in the cemetary, the various ghosts he met, and Silas his guardian - they are all memorable, and The Graveyard Book is like no other. I'm awed that it won the Hugo, and very very happy it did. Congratulations to Mr Gaiman. My children thank him too.

Here is the link to the Hugo site and all the award winners this year: here.

Also found on the Guardian Book site, a lovely quiz about summer holidays in children's books, here. I scored 9 out of 11. It pays to read Enid Blyton! She is not in the same league as Gaiman, but still; my love of mysteries I can attibute in part to the Adventurous Four, Famous Five and Secret Seven.....

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Winter Sea - another Canadian book finished! and Canadian Book Meme

"Romantic Beach Read by Canadian Author" I think sums up The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. I did think it had nice touches: the main character, Carolyn McClelland, is a writer, who goes to a distant Scottish town to visit her agent, and ends up in the very small village of Cruden, where she spends the winter writing what becomes the memories of her ancestor who once lived there during the Jacobite uprising of 1708. The history is well-done, and the story flips back and forth gently between the present time with Carrie and her writing, and the main story, which is the story she is writing of Sophia Paterson and John Moray. I have only been to Edinburgh, and very much one day would like to visit the rest of Scotland. So I read this book partly for the wintry Scottish atmosphere by the sea (the book IS titled The Winter Sea!) and partly because it was by a Canadian author, and because it is the book for my friend's bookclub meeting tonight, to which I am invited to attend.

To be fair, I read The Winter Sea in under 24 hours, and it is a light read - perfect for the beach, engaging, two love stories, fun characters - I like John Moray! and Graham Keith, and his uncle, and the older Jimmie Keith, plus Carrie and Sophia, and the Countess....there is political intrigue, but as Carrie is only a witness to the events leading up to the Jacobite uprising and its aftermath - it wasn't successful, as King James wasn't returned to the Scottish throne then - it surrounds and cushions the love story. I still and always will think Sophia's choice at the end of the book was the wrong one, but then I am speaking as a mother. I won't say here, so as to not spoil the plot. I do not often read romances because I read my fill when I was a teenager, but once in a while I am in the mood to read one, and this one was perfect for this very hot day. It is a very well-written book, fast-paced, and the characters are intelligent, and the setting beautiful, and the dialogue is good. So for anyone looking for a sweet beach read, this is a very good book to spend your time with.

And that's my second book read for the Canadian Challenge 3!!!

In honour of the Canadian Challenge, John at The Book Mine Set, the host of the Canadian Challenge, posted here on Aug 1 for all challengers to do. I found this via Kailana at The Written World, here. It is a challenge about Canadian books! So, to prove that I have not been an all bad-Canadian reader and have read some Canadian books, I accept the challenge (sound of gauntlet being thrown down):

Your Favourites:

1. Favourite Canadian author?
Yikes. So many: Kathy Reichs, Thomas King, Charles de Lint, Tanya Huff, Louise Penny, Guy Gavriel Kay, Giles Blunt, L.M. Montgomery, Kelley Armstrong.....

2. Favourite Canadian novel?
tie: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

3. Favourite Canadian nonfiction? Fear of Frying - James Barber (cookbook); Some Canadian Ghosts - Sheila Hervey (first read when I was 10, and scared me so much that I got goosebumps! Still has that effect on me); Never Cry Wolf - Farley Mowat; The Whale Watcher's Handbook - Erich Hoyt; A History of Reading - Alberto Manguel

4. Favourite Canadian picture book? ? None come to mind, I'm sad to say.

5. Favourite Canadian YA or juvenile chapter book?
Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

6. Favourite Canadian science fiction or fantasy book?
1)Moonheart; 2) Dreams Underfoot, by Charles de Lint; the Fionavar Tapestry (3 books) by Guy Gavriel Kay; Summon the Keeper - Tanya Huff

7. Favourite Canadian romantic fiction?
The Emerald Necklace - Victoria Sheringham

8. Favourite Canadian mystery?
Uh-oh - so many to chose from.....I can't go with one book, it has to be a series. It would have to be Giles Blunt's John Cardinal series. The first one, Forty Words for Sorrow, is one I gave to everyone the year I read it. There are 4 now in the series, and my mother and I are waiting breathlessly for the next one to come out.

9. Favourite Canadian graphic novel?
Do we write them?

10. Favourite Canadian book blog?
Kailana, Raidergirl3, BookZombie, John himself (see link above).

11. Favourite Canadian fictional character?
Anne Shirley (childhood), Detective John Cardinal, RCMP Staff Sargeant Karl Ahlberg, any main character by Charles de Lint EXCEPT Imogene (but I still like her!), Emily Starr

12. Favourite movie based on a Canadian novel or story?
The English Patient (based on Michael Oondatje's book of the same name)

13. Favourite Canadian short story?
I'm going to cheat here. I don't have one favourite story, but my favourite short story collection is Dreams Underfoot, by Charles de Lint. I fell in love with Newford, and with so many characters and themes that he went on to write about; they all have their germination here. This is his first short-story collection based in Newford. There is an incredible array of stories here, from sad, to fantastical, to horror. This just builds and builds until Newford rises from the pages.

14. Favourite Canadian poet?
I hadn't read any since my university courses until lately when I picked up Don McKay's book, so it isn't fair to answer this yet. I know a local poet, Rob Mclellan, whose work I like.

15. Favourite Canadian poem?
The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service. Link here to an online copy of it.

16. Favourite Canadian play?
Dry Lips Outa Move to Kapuskasing - Thomson Highway (I saw a Canadian Native production of this play in the mid-90's, starring Graham Greene, one of our most famous native actors. Very very funny and heartbreaking, too, as is anything by Thomson Highway)

17. Favourite novel by an established Canadian author?
The Diviners by Margaret Laurence (a book I reread every decade. The heroine is a writer, and it's a lovely book about growing up in Canada and finding one's voice); Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery (because Anne is my heroine!); The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood;

18. Favourite novel by an up-and-coming Canadian author?
I just don't know any; I am making an attempt to read newer Canadian fiction now.

19. Favourite Canadian book award?
Giller Prize

20. Favourite Canadian publisher? It was McLelland and Stewart!

21. Favourite Canadian humorous book? tie - The Boat Who Wouldn't Float - Farley Mowat, and How to Be Canadian - Will and Ian Ferguson

22. Favourite Canadian newspaper? The Ottawa Citizen

23. Favourite Canadian magazine or journal? Canadian Living

24. Favourite Canadian dystopian novel? I haven't read any. I don't like this kind of fiction!

25. Favourite Canadian epistolary novel?
Annes' House of Dreams - L.M. Montgomery

So that's it. Not bad, I just have a lot of Canadian books to catch up on reading!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sunday Salon: Julie & Julia - wonderful movie

The Sunday

One wonderful movie
I did go see 'Julie and Julia' yesterday. I loved it. We went to the theater and I was the youngest person there!! There was a whole crowd of white-haired ladies. It was wonderful to see that if the movie producers will make an intelligent movie (without guns, car chases and gratuitous sex) people will come. And this is an intelligent, funny movie. It's based on Julie Powell's book of the same title, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, (retitled My Year of Cooking Dangerously on the paperback version. I think I need to read this now too!!) which came from a blog she started in 2002, which was about her year of following the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. From beginning to end, this was a beautiful movie. My mother - who watched Julia Child on tv in the 1970's, so is familiar with her voice and mannerisms, said that Meryl Streep does a marvellous, perfect job recreating Julia Child in the movie. The wonderful actor Stanley Tucci plays her husband, Paul. Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, and she is also wonderful as the young woman who decides she needs a goal in her life, because she is nearing thirty and hasn't finished anything, since her first novel was unpublished.

I really loved this movie. It was also about writing, and getting published, and most of all, each part was about a person who was finding and doing what she loved. Julia Child always loved to eat, so she decided to go to Cordon Bleu while in Paris, to learn how to cook. Julie Powell loved to cook, and decided to challenge herself by following her favourite chef and master French cooking. The dialogue was really good -it was people talking to eachother, it was about marriages and love and cooking, and how life interferes - Paul was a diplomat, and kept getting posted to far-flung cities as Julia tried to finish her book. It took her 8 years to do Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and that wasn't the original title; her agent at Little, Brown came up with it. The acting - very very good. Dialogue - excellent. Sometimes things were hinted at, or left unsaid, which is how we do talk in real life. And best of all - there was so much humour, so much delightful wit and joy in this movie. Oh, and the real star was the the cooking. The food. The love of cooking, of preparing food that is delicious to eat.

And, as I expected, I came out of the movie wanting to buy a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. " It's time I learned," I said to my mother. She said she would leave me her copy.....

So today, I am thinking over the things I love to do, and I'm really glad I challenged myself to read 100 books this year. It may not sound like a lot of work or books read, but it is a challenge, and it is involving some lifestyle changes - less tv, less doing things that I don't want to do, in order for me to make more time to read.

Do you have something that you like to do, Gentle Reader, that you would like to do more of, or challenge yourself in some way?

Other reviews: Bibliohistoria

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A teeny tiny obsession with books, or, how I cope with life's stresses

I'm the first to admit that I like books. I'd expand that to LOVE books ( I can hear my family laughing hysterically in the background). There's no problem with that, at least between you and me, my dear Gentle Reader. However, this is turning into the year of Stress for me, and as I am beginning to understand in myself, when I am stressed, I turn to books. I visited Ottawa's best independent crime bookstore, Prime Crime, today, with my mother who is in town for a quick visit this weekend, and I thought I would buy a few books. This is what I actually came home with:

The Price of Darkness ((book 8 in Joe Faraday series) - Graham Hurley
The White Lioness - Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander series)
Lean Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum series) * Ranger! Morelli! Laughs a minute!!
Deadly Web - Barbara Nadel *is it good that this is my free book because I filled up the first whole row in my new card at the bookstore? I think it is, but my husband didn't look very cheery when I mentioned it, as in, "I bought (mumble mumble) books today and ONE WAS FREE!!"
Damage Control - J.A. Jance (Joanna Brady mystery)
This Night's Foul Work - Fred Vargas
A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch *Bride of the Book God! this is because of you!
Deadlight - Graham Hurley (book 4 Joe Faraday series)
Death's Half Acre - Margaret Maron (Judge Deborah Knott series)
Lie Down With the Devil - Linda Barnes (the VERY LAST Carlotta Carlyle mystery!!! Both my mother and I bought a copy of this one.)
Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear *somewhere out there is a blogger who reviewed Maisie Dobbs recently - Gentle Reader at Shelf LIfe? Molly at Molly's Book Nook? - and brought this to my attention. And it does look good.
The Grave Tattoo - Val McDermid
and the only non-mystery book :
The Daily Writer - Fred White (366 meditations for a writing life)

That's 13 books! And I put some back. And I ordered one, Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, the first in a series, and I asked about The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards, which they don't have listed so is possibly out of print. And while I am very very happy with my purchases, I know it's not over.

Tomorrow my mother and I are going to try and see the new movie Julie and Julia, which features among many other fun things, one of which is Meryl Streep being Julia Child,
a cookbook : Julia Child's first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don't have it. And I completely, utterly expect that when I walk out of the theater tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to want to buy it. you think I have a teeny obsession with books? I myself prefer to think I am just completely in love with them, and they make a wonderful shelter when life throws its challenges.

Happy reading!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Canada 3 Challenge - first book done!!

I am a
I took the 43 Things Personality Quiz and found out I'm a
Spiritual Romantic Tree Hugger

Fun! Not many people are like me, only .14%! Well, of those who took this quiz, anyway. I also made my list up, 43 Things To Do in My Life, it's on my sidebar now. Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings has had something similar up on her blog for quite some time now, and I'm in awe of everything she has accomplished, as well as what is on her list. As I do things,I will cross them off, though some are ongoing, for every year. Like read 100 books a year!

As to that, well, I've made it to 50! Hurray! I'm still behind, but after reading 12 books in July - this is an all-time high for me, I think! - it's not looking quite so bad now.

Canada 3 Challenge

It's about time I posted about the Canada 3 Challenge! Hosted by John at The Book Mine blog, this is the third year of this challenge which celebrates everything good about Canadian writing. This year I am taking a different attempt to get to 13 books - 13 because we have 13 provinces and territories that make up Canada - I am reading a wide variety of authors and kinds of writing that interest me. Thus, I already have poetry - Slip/Strike, by Don McKay, from Newfoundland; a play - The Rez Sisters, by Thomson Highway, and for the first time Aboriginal writers are represented - not because I haven't read any, but because I had wrote much of what had been in print already, and now there's new books come to my attention: Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and the aforesaid The Rez Sisters. The Rez Sisters is a reread for me, and I found it both hilarious and tragic the first time I read it, long ago in univerity. I have listed the books on my sidebar, and have left blank spaces for books to come to my attention this year. I might read some Lucy Maud Montgomery, or some Robert Munch with my kids, and catch up on Tanya Huff's fantasy series, as well as some books by Charles de Lint that I didn't get to last year.

Despite the fact I have not succeeded yet at this challenge, every year I am determined to, and this year is no different!

And to that end, I am very proud to say, I have already read one book!!! I am so delighted.

Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, by Anna Brownell Jameson

This is not my cover, as I found a used edition that is out of print now. It is the journal of a woman who came to Canada in Dec 1836 to Sept 1837, to join her husband the Attorney General of Upper Canada. Their marriage was not a happy one, and this was one of her attempts to make the marriage look good. When she went back to England, it was with a settlement from him; they never divorced, but their marriage was over. While she rarely refers to him - at least in this abridged version - there is an air of painful loneliness relieved by the friendly people she met on her travels. The journal wasn't written to him, and it is full of matter-of-fact observations of everything she saw around her. It is now an invaluable record of early pioneer life in Ontario, and a glimpse of what the largest cities first looked like.

For those of us in Canada, there are those who are from Toronto, and those who are not. I'm one who is not, and I really loathe it. I've been several times, and it's one of the most unremarkable cities in the world. I was so happy when I read the very first paragraph of Winter Studies:

"Toronto - such is now the sonorous name of this our sublime capital - was, thirty years ago, a wilderness, the haunt of the bear and deer, with a little ugly, inefficient fort, which, however, could not be more ugly or inefficient than the present one. Ten years ago Toronto was a village, with one brick house and four or five hundred inhabitants; five years ago it became a city, containing about five thousand inhabitants, and then bore the name of Little York; now it is Toronto, with an increasing trade, and a population of ten thousand people.
What Toronto may be in summer, I cannot tell; they say it is a pretty place. At present its appearance to me, a stranger, is most strangely mean and melancholy. A little ill-built town on low land, at the bottom of a frozen bay, with one very ugly church, without tower or steeple; some government offices, built of staring red brick, in the most tasteless, vulgar style imaginable; three feet of snow all around, and the gray, sullen, wintry lake, and the dark gloom of the pine forest bounding the prospect; such seems Toronto to me now. I did not expect much; but for this I was not prepared."

Two months later she writes:
"There is no society in Toronto", is what I hear repeated all around me - even by those who compose the only society we have. "But," you will say, "What could be expected in a remote town, which forty years ago was an uninhabited swamp, and twenty years ago only began to exist?" I really did not know what I expected, but I will tell you what i did not expect. i did not expect to find here in this new capital of a new country, with the boundless forest within half a mile of us on almost every side - concentrated as it were the worst evils of oour old and most artificial social system, with none of its agrements, and none of its advantages. Toronto is like a fourth- or fifth-rate provincial town with the pretentions of a capital city."

The bold last sentence is mine. Because, that pretty well describes Toronto ever since. Even after the capital of Canada was moved later to Ottawa - chosen by Queen Victoria when she was blindfolded and picked out the capital with a pin, or so one legend goes - the more real version is that Kingston was too close to the US, and so was Montreal, both of whom were more logical choices due to their water proximity, but we had just fought two separate battles with the US, (1812, and the Rebellion of 1837) so Ottawa, which was far enough away that it couldn't be attacked within a day's march or so after landing on Canadian soil - was picked. I do wonder what she would have made of Ottawa, but she never came back to Canada. And despite becoming the provincial capital of Ontario, Toronto still acts like it is the central body of Canada, the most important city, through which all news and views of Canada should come. There is Toronto, and then there is the rest of Canada. Of course, in every province, there is that feeling! But Toronto is proud of the TV and movie industry centrally located there, the stock market located there, the big Bay Street Firms, and still imagines itself the center of Canada. So the rest of Canada hates it.

There, a quick lesson in Canada! Back to the book:

Anna spends a long cold winter in Toronto. The first part of the book is entitled Winter Studies because from Dec to April it is, of course, winter in Canada, and she could not really travel far. She takes one trip to Niagara Falls, but other than that she is house- and city-bound until spring finally, at last, arrives. As soon as the first steam-boat arrives from St Catharines and the south side of Lake Ontario, she is off exploring more of Upper Canada, and this is where the books becomes an absolute wonder and joy to read. From darkest coldest depths of winter, Canada changes to hot, humid summer days with frequent storms. Anna is tormented by mosquitoes and black flies as she journeys down to London, to Windsor, Detroit, and then up to Fort Michillimack, Sault Ste Marie, Manitoulin Island, and back down again to Toronto. She did this in four amazing months of traveling, mostly by canoe. This was an extraordinary voyage. She is witness to meetings between Indian agents and different Aboriginal tribes, and records the speeches, what the different kinds of people wore - she noted that Cree were different from the Huron, and from the Chippewa. She made friends easily wherever she went, and she is interested in everything she saw, and tried to record it as accurately as she could.

This is an interesting record of Upper Canada in 1837, as it was still being settled. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys history, who is curious about the early days of Canada, who likes reading journals, or enjoys travel books. It is filled with Canadian beauty - our forests, our rivers and lakes, our lovely islands in the Great Lakes that are synonymous with images of Canada, especially as painted by The Group of Seven, the most famous artists to come out of Canada.

And for those of us who love books, I was heartened to read that in the depths of her only winter in Canada, Anna Brownell Jameson turned to books to get her through the darkest and coldest days.

It's a holiday Monday here in Ottawa, and it is rarely, a sunny day! So I'm off to my garden before I do some more reading: Book #52: In the Woods, by Tana French. Over half-way to 100 books now!!

I leave you with one of my favourite passages from Winter Studies and Summer Ramblings:

"We breakfasted this morning on a little island of exceeding beauty, rising precipitately from the water. On front we had the open lake, lying blue, and bright, and serene, under the morning sky, and the eastern extremity of Manitoolin Island; and the islands all around as far as we could see. The feeling of remoteness, of the profound solitude, added to the sentiment of beauty......Our island abounded with beautiful shrubs, flowers, green mosses, and scarlet lichen.....
This day we had a most delightful run among hundreds of islands; sometimes darting through narrow rocky channels, so narrow that I could not see the water on either side of the canoe; and then emerging, we glided through vast fields of white water-lilies; it was perpetual variety, perpetual beauty, perpetual delight and enchantment, from hour to hour."