Monday 28 September 2009

Monday Mystery Spotlight - Louise Penny

As promised in my post last week, I've decided to start a series of reviews featuring Canadian mystery authors. Even to dedicated Canadian mystery fans, there seems to be a whole field of our own authors that are sadly neglected, except in the occasional write-up in a local newspaper. I also had quite a few comments from last week's post that many of you, my dear Gentle Readers, are interested in reading Canadian mysteries. So I am thrilled and delighted.

My first author is Louise Penny. She is fairly new to the Canadian mystery scene; her first book was published in 2004. Since then she has put out a book a year, to ever-increasing acclaim and mystery award nominations. Her official site is here, Louise Penny. On here you will find her books listed, and the awards for each of them. I'm going to list them all here anyway, since I want to make this part of the regular features that I do. Her site is very friendly and welcoming, and she is giving a free draw away for her latest book, A Brutal Telling. Here is a link on CBC Canada to Louise talking about her books, here.

I saw A Brutal Telling this past Saturday at Collected Works (one of Ottawa's best indie bookstores), and it looks very good. A Brutal Telling is the fifth in the series, however, I don't have the fourth - or I didn't until Saturday. I looked with big eyes at my husband as I held The Murder Stone in my hands, the 4th one, just out in mass market size. Because I'd had a particularly difficult Friday at work, my husband said, "Go on, you know you want it," after I murmured about her being a Canadian author. The tricks I use to get books in the door sometimes!!! So I can't give a review on The Murder Stone yet, but I will give a brief synopsis on the last two books - including a very brief (one line! but the best ever for ) synopsis for The Brutal Telling.

I will advise here that if at all possible, no spoilers will be given away. I hate knowing what happens in a mystery before I've had a chance to read it! So I'll do my best to do the same for you.

I also have a confession to make: I didn't hear about Louise Penny until I read the review in the paper about her, and if I recall the article, it was featuring The Cruellest Month, and gave the titles for the previous two books. I also chose Still LIfe over another mystery because it had a big red sticker on it proclaiming it was a Winner for the CWA for Crime Fiction, and I thought, ok, it can't be that bad then. See how hard our Canadian mystery writers have to work to get read?

The series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, which is the provincial police force. This means he is assigned to major crime outside the main cities - he covers the rural and village territory, where only a local police force exists in the larger towns, which don't investigate serious crime. When a violent crime occurs, the Surete are called in to investigate. He has a team of detectives under him, featuring Jean Guy Beauvoir, who has been his second in command for more than a decade; and starring a new recruit to the team, Yvette Nichol, and an officer from the local police force, Robert Lemieux. Enough about the team. The real star of the books is Three Pines and the people who live in it.

Three Pines is a fictionalized village in the province of Quebec, in the Eastern Townships. The Eastern Townships do exist, east of Montreal, south-east of Quebec City, just north of the border with the US. If you find the village of Sutton on a map, that is where Louise Penny lives, in the Eastern Townships. Here is a link to a description of the area. So for anyone afraid that there wouldn't much familiar - ie mostly French words or names, the Eastern Townships were settled by the Irish, Scots, English as well as the French and other nationalities. Most of the principal characters are either English, or bilingual. This is a mystery written for anglophiles, set in Quebec. which, seeing as that is endangered now (many, many Anglophiles left Quebec in the 1980's and 1990's; I was one of them), makes this a heritage series! What you will find is local Quebec flavour, from the descriptions of the woods, to the seasons, to the different festivities celebrated in each of the books.

One of the charms of the mysteries is that we see the characters, the village, the police, and the crime, through both the villagers eyes, and the police team's. There are many different points of view offered in each book, which gives a complete view of life in Three Pines, as well as allowing Penny to show the effects of the murders on different villagers and members of the investigation team.

One of the other elements is that Gamache has earned some enemies in the Surete, and the first three books is discovering that one of the team, if not more, are planted there, to watch and record his moves, and eventually to find a weakness to bring him down. This adds to the claustrophobic feeling as Gamache is unable to trust anyone outside the village in the police force, or depend on support, as well as having to suspect everyone in the village while investigating the crimes.

Still Life - The first book in the series. Nominated and runner-up for CWA Debut Dagger, 2004. Winner of the New Blood Dagger in Britain, Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel.

On Thanksgiving Sunday, the village awakes to find the body of one of the long-time residents in the woods. Who killed her? And most of all,why? Introduces the permanent residents of the village who we also see the mystery through, particularly Clara, an unconfident artist. She was one of the closest to Jane Neal, the victim, and her death has hit her hard.
Here is
my original review.

Dead Cold
- Book 2.
Set in winter, through the Christmas holidays. This is a good mystery to read during winter time, if only so you can experience just how cold our winters can get! And the suddenness of snowstorms. Curling is one of Canada's winter hobby sports, and in this second mystery,it is highlighted. A spectator at the annual Boxing Day curling match is electrocuted, but despite the crowd, there are no clues and no witnesses. This was a thoroughly good mystery to read, with a mystery that was a real who-dunnit and why. So many people wanted the victim dead. At the heart of the village all the regular villagers are there, and we are getting to know them better, particularly the marriage of Peter and Clara, and how these two artists struggle to support each other's work. I find this theme of creativity very interesting to watch, and fully pull for Clara to gain some confidence in her work. I also really enjoy seeing how the village celebrates Christmas. There is a real sense of community with this book, and this series, that I think sets it apart and is part of its charm.
Dead Cold and The Cruellest Month were reviewed by me at the same time, link here. By the way, the Christmas window at Ogilvie's in Montreal does exist.

The Cruellest Month - Book 3. Winner of the Agatha Award for Best Novel. Nominated for the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards in the US. (notice the absence of any Canadian awards for this book?)

The ghosts from the first book are still not settled. The old Hadley house, the house that is key in book one, the house belonging to the victim from book two, is still empty in Book Three, and everyone is beginning to think it is haunted. They are right; they are all haunted by the events of the past two years, so they decide to hold a seance. But something goes wrong during the seance, and someone dies.

I have to say the scene of the seance is a little chilling. And the village does try to heal from all the deaths it has experienced. Gamache too, also has a time of reckoning; the person behind the whispers, the betrayer, is finally revealed. I will say that I suspected who it was before the Inspector did, though I think this was the author's intention; she wanted to show that even the best of the best (and Gamache is generally taken as the best Chief Inspector the Surete has)has a blind spot, which is echoed by the murder investigation itself. What is the cost of love? And the fear of loneliness? When love comes into your life, in whatever guise, would you protect it no matter what?

This book is set in April, at Easter time. There is featured one of the most delightful Easter Egg hunts ever put into a book. I so want to move to Three Pines and raise my children there!! I'd run Myra's bookstore!!

The Murder Stone Book 4. Named one of Booklists Top 10 Mysteries of the Year.
Set in a hunting lodge not at Three Pines, the Gamaches - Armand and his wife Reine-Marie - have taken their annual summer holiday in late June. Another, very wealthy family, The Finneys, have taken up most of the rooms at the lodge, and when one of them is discovered dead, the Inspector is the logical choice to investigate.....that's all I know since I haven't read it yet! I read about 10 pages, just to get a feel, and now I want to read it all, but I have two other things on the go I promised myself I'd finish first. And Three Pines does show up, though how they connect, I am most curious to discover!

The Brutal Telling- Book 5. A Barnes and Noble Main selection for this fall, in the US. Also an ABA (made up of independent booksellers) choice also for this fall. (But other than being on the CBC book club list, will anyone in the Canadian Literary scene pay attention?)

I know nothing. But any blurb that includes " a trail of clues and treasures from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it" has me hooked right away. I really want this one for Christmas! That I do know.

To end this, this is a wonderful interview in Canada's national book newspaper, The Quill and Quire, with Louise, here.

And no, Three Pines does not exist. I would go live there though, in a minute, despite all the murders!!! It sounds like a wonderful village, and I think that is why it is highly recommended as a traditional closed-setting mystery in the Agatha Christie tradition. I love the different characters, the artists, the poet, the gay couple running the restaurant/hotel and bistro - some of the food described in the mysteries sounds so delicious that I get hungry reading the books!! The shared traditions of the village, the close-knit spirit of the community. And the setting of course, the forest all around. This is an excellent series for getting to know some of rural Quebec - and rural Canada, and how we co-exist with the forest and natural wilderness.

Next week: Giles Blunt

Sunday 27 September 2009

Sunday Salon - reading Neil Gaiman to my daughter

Tonight I read The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman to my 6 year old daughter. At the end of the book, she asked me, "Mommy, are there really wolves in the walls?"

Thank you, Mr Gaiman, for this beautiful funny book. Thank you for writing down your dreams and imaginings, and teaching my daughter to wonder if indeed, wolves can live in the walls of a house.

Happy reading, Gentle Readers!

Friday 25 September 2009

The love of Jane Austen

Eva at A Striped Armchair had a post yesterday about the annotated version of Pride and Prejudice. For just the social commentary, I want this book. In writing my comment to her, I realized that I really want to do a post about Jane Austen.

Jane Austen is the incomparable wonderful exquisite first real female novelist of the English language. I'm not counting gothics here, nor male writers. When I look back in the history of the development of the English novel written by women, she stands foremost, head and shoulders above anyone else. Why does she cast such a beacon? Why are her books still read and loved almost 200 years later?

Eva in her post says that she started reading Jane Austen when she was 11. Eleven! I didn't discover Jane until much later in life. In fact, I can't remember how or when I first read Jane Austen. Just that suddenly, like much that I love, she was there one day, and a permanent fixture in my life. By the time I was 26 she was firmly fixed as one of my favourite writers. The father of my eldest son's best friend (we were all in university at the time, I had gone back to school after having my son, to get my BA in English Literature, and my son's friend's parents were studying at the same university, and our sons were in the same daycare) asked me who my favourite author was. I hate this question. I don't have a favourite author; I have many authors that I really enjoy, and a few that I can't part with, that go with me everywhere. So I said, "Jane Austen." Well, he was stunned, because he and his wife were avant-guarde artists! And here I was saying I liked a stuffy 19th century author most of all! but it's never really changed. And the late 1980's and early 1990's were all about breaking with tradition in the arts and exploring new ways of writing the novel. So I was out of step with the times, but then, I always have been.

My first love with Jane's books has to be with Persuasion. I have no idea when or where I picked it up, just that the first time I read it, was a revelation for me. Not only could I read Jane Austen and understand it without ten million footnotes - anyone who has tried to Clarissa (often thought of as the first epistolary novel in English) or Tristam Shandy will know what I mean - but I laughed. I was delighted, I was moved, I loved Anne and loathed her pretentious family and delighted in Jane's clever put downs of them - which is something you or I might do about pretentious people today. I have always loved Captain Wentworth, who remained faithful in spite of trying to forget her - although my real hero has always been Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. And I've never really forgiven Lady Russell for not seeing through Anne's cousin, even though it was Jane's way of showing that in the end, Anne did learn how not to be persuaded against her better judgement. Persuasion has always been a powerful and gentle novel about the only power a woman had back then, which was who to choose to marry, and how she married - whether for money, or for love.

I might have sought out Pride and Prejudice because of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle tv production from the 1980's; I think I did. I was desperate to know if the book had any more of Darcy and Elizabeth, and to my joy, I discovered that P&P was as full of the witty comments and sparklng wit as Persuasion. It was as even better than the TV show! there was more of Darcy and Elizabeth, and more of Jane's observations of life in early 1800's England. Elizabeth Bennett is my favourite Austen heroine. I would dearly love to meet her and she is someone who I could easily see being my best friend. One of the things I like best about this book is that they reflect and learn on their mistakes.

For me, one of the highlights of Persuasion and P&P are the letters that Wentworth and Darcy send to Anne and Elizabeth. It is the first time that we see the men - these principal male characters - from inside their minds and hearts - and while Wentworth's letter is about a man succumbing to love a second time, Darcy's letter is about a man reaching out to defend himself to a woman he loves. This is the moment when I believe that he does, really love Elizabeth, and the rest of the novel is Elizabeth realizing that she was too proud, too, and didn't realize until too late what a perfect match they were.Darcy's letter shows that he is just, reasonable, kind, loving, honourable, and honest - all the qualities Elizabeth, and we readers, are looking for in the ones we hope to marry. In one masterful swoop, suddenly Elizabeth is no longer the slighted one (he refused to dance with her, sniffing no one in the room could tempt him but her sister Mary, and she was already taken by his friend), but the slightee - she never recognized that he was falling in love with her, although we as readers do, starting with as soon as the first social event is over and Mary and Bingley start spending other dances and social events in eachother's company, Darcy and Elizabeth see eachother, but do not mix yet: "But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. ......He began to wish to know more of her." And to know Lizzie is enough to love her, as we readers all do. Except that she doesn't realize she is proud, until her treatment of Darcy shows to herself and us that she is, in her way, as proud as he is. And the way that she comes to know him and love him is the same way that he has come to know her and love her - after initial rejection. Oh yes, there is much to love in this novel. Darcy and Elizabeth are to me the perfect couple in English literature - smart, funny, honest, loyal, and they are also flawed - pride being their worst failing, and if I'm honest, it's probably mine as well. P&P is one of the great novels in English literature of all time. Even though it is a novel about love, and manners, the story it tells is timeless. You can change the setting and scenery, but the story is one that everyone tells about how and when they fell in love, too. "Well, first he did this, and I got mad and did this, but then I realized..."No love story ever went smoothly, there are always obstacles to overcome, and P&P is perhaps one of the cleverest love stories ever written. It is also full of social commentary, that explores different views on love that we still try to sort through today. I think this is why it is timeless, and about as perfect a novel on love as can be written.

Wentworth's letter to Anne in Persuasion has the equal effect of revealing his emotions finally to her, and to us the reader. Once again, although we have his exploits as a naval officer and his treatment of his friends - he retains his friends no matter their actual social standing and relative poverty or wealth - it is not until he reaches out to Anne that we see how much he still loves her. Again, we see the themes of love and pride; he doesn't seek her out when he comes to shore, even though he has gained wealth and standing, which were the reasons Lady Russell persuaded Anne to not marry him 8 years ago. His pride was hurt, and he was too angry with her. How human is that? And Anne, who still loves him, is too proud to go to him or let him know that she still loves him. She is too guilty at having rejected him, having understood long ago that she would not have let herself be persuaded against him, if she had known herself and love, when she was young.

So it is not until she opens up to Captain Harville, Wentworth's friend, and they end up discussing who can love best - this such a typical Jane move, to have a woman and a man discuss love in a corner of a crowded room, and only person overhears - Wentworth. And what does he do? Pens her one of the most passionate love letters in English literature, and under the pretense of forgetting his umbrella, comes back into the room and shows her where he has hidden the letter on the writing table for her. *sigh* Now that is romantic! And stylish, and funny, in the setting Jane sets it in!

These are some of the reasons why I love Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are two of my favourite novels. Like Eva, I have read them many times now, and seen the tv productions many times. I read them every couple of years. The characters are part of me, Anne and Elizabeth, Darcy and Wentworth, Jane and Bingley.... Whenever we have these questions on our blogs about which literary character would we like to meet/be friends with/have dinner with, Elizabeth Bennett is always at the top of my list.

I could write about Jane's other books, but for me, they show the growth of Jane Austen the writer, and are not as equal in terms of development of character, social commentary, and observations on life, although these qualities are all there to some extent.

Northanger Abbey explores the effect of bad reading on a girl - although Henry Tilney is surely the sweetest male hero ever! and very adorable! ; Mansfield Park has the worst of all the Austen heroines, and I can't read the book - I hate the idea of the story, and the tv version I saw recently was so boring that I read another book and had it on in the background, because I don't like how passive the heroine is.

In Emma, Emma herself annoys me; she is the most cruel of all the Austen heroines, and I have to admit to some satisfaction when she is humiliated by Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill when their elopement is revealed, although Mr Knightley is another marvellous Jane Austen hero. She too is proud, and yet, when she meddles, it is with the best of intentions (even though it smacks of pretension also), and her humiliation and realization that she isn't a matchmaker at all, makes her finally suitable for Mr Knightley.

Sense and Sensibility is full of moral tone - the most serious of the Austen books, and sadly lacking in humour, at least to my view. So while I admire Marianne and Elinor, I don't like them - Marianne humiliates herself too openly, and Elinor suffers too humbly, though I understand her better! - and I always thought Colonel Brandon deserved to be loved for himself, not settled for which Marianne does (I always doubted if she truly loved him). Elinor's only love interest Edward lies to her by not confessing he was engaged to someone else - even secretly - when they first meet and spend time together. And he wants to be a parson! Even though he confesses to her, and she spends the novel pining for him, it's because her choices are limited. Austen is not kind enough to throw Elinor any other options - but then Sense and Sensibility is the most realistic of all the Austen novels, because it shows the very real plight of most women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, dependent as they were on the kindness of relatives in the family if the male figure -husband/father - died. Elinor and Edward do truly love each other, and Edward does suffer for his folly of the secret engagement, so he earns the right to be with Elinor, but I always thought that Elinor and Colonel Brandon were the two most eminently suited for each other. So the meeting of minds and characters is not the same in Sense and Sensibility as are in the two other novels Austen wrote, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

Well, you now know how passionate I am about Jane Austen! One of the ironies for me is that I didn't get to do a course on Jane Austen in university. A whole English degree, 4 years of study, and no course on her....but what I do want to learn more about is the society Austen wrote in, the history of that time, and how that influenced her novels. So I want the annotated version of Pride and Prejudice. Yes, another book recommendation! And it would allow me to expand the number of books I have on Jane Austen, which are not very much considering how much I love her writing!

Eva's post has also made me consider the value of owning more than one copy of a book I love. Her post is wonderful for the memories that each copy that she owns of Pride and Prejudice evokes in her. Eva has shown the covers of the four versions of Pride and Prejudice that she owns. I have to confess that I only own one version of Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Emma. It's the Penguin Classics editions. I love Penguin. They are well-bound, the glue hardly ever gives on the paperbacks unless you force the spine back - and even then sometimes the spine doesn't crack! not that I've done this very often, precious books! and they just feel so good in my hand. The smoothness of the cover, the classic portraits or pictures often chosen to grace the cover. Unfortunately for Persuasion I have the Bantam Classic edition, which although it too shows a painted portrait, doesn't feel the same, the printing and page colour are different, and it just feels different in the hand. I will say that their bindings are good also. It's just that I grew up, here in Canada, with the Penguin Classics as the paperbacks that were the best quality and had the best introductions on the books (if we wanted to read it, which I being obsessive-compulsive and wanting to learn, and also read everything from cover to cover, I naturally did!). The Bantam edition has no introduction.

Kailana at The Written World yesterday had a very thoughtful post on book covers and series, here. This is what got me thinking about collections of books, and she raises a very good question: when you are collecting an author, or a series, do you want the editions/covers to all match? Does it bother you if the covers change halfway through the series? For me, when I consider my Penguin editions of Jane Austen's novel all lovingly lined up on the shelf, and then the one sad stand-alone Bantam edition, I confess that it bothers me. It shouldn't, and I decide again to start looking for a Penguin edition of Persuasion.

Very smart readers will notice there is no copy of Mansfield Park. I don't own one yet. I am looking for, of course, the Penguin Classic edition. I will read it one day!
Here is today's Bluenose Ghosts excerpt:

However, all stories of the Teaser are not dismissed that easily. We must go back now to the twenty-sixth of June, 1813, when a privateer, the Young Teazer, was trapped by British warships in Mahone Bay on our southwestern shore. She would have been captured if a young officer had not set her afire rather than swing at the yardarm. I have talked to people whose parents witnessed the event when they saw a huge explosion as she went up in a blaze of fire. Windows were broken at Blandford, so strong was the blast. From that time, and never before, her apparition has been reported. The old people would tell about having her sail to within a couple of yards of their boat and filling them with fear because they were sure they would be run down. In one case a fisherman told how she stood directly in his way and he could hear the ropes creak in the blocks. From Boutilier's Point it was reported that the ropes were all on fire. It was seen then coming to East Chester from Quaker Island at two o'clock in the morning. Again some St. Margaret's Bay men were in a boat near Clam Island when they to get out of the Teazer's way, and they said they could see the crew in the rigging. I have never heard of any calamity following the appearance of this burning ship, but it often seems to have had a frightening effect.

and another, because I have not been able to post this week as much as I'd planned to.

Similarly a Seabright man was on a vessel off the Gaspe coast when another vessel showed up ahead. Telling of it later the captain said, "I was going to speak it because it was so close and I could see the lights and the sails. Something told me to wait till morning and I did. It stayed in sight of us all night and, just before daybreak, one of the crew said, 'Where's the vessel?' It wasn't there. We learned later that we weren't the only ones who had seen it, for it had often been reported there. It was a good thing we didn't speak of it, for that would have been the end of us. You see, if we had spoken it, not realizing she was a ghost ship, that would have been our doom." That, as a Lunenburg fisherman once expressed it, was a fairy of the time - the belief.

Jane Austen Challenge update
I am going to consider this my first review for the Jane Austen Challenge, for Persuasion. I have read two other books for the challenge, which now that I have done this post, will be coming shortly!

Sunday 20 September 2009

Canadian Mysteries today - Louise Penny up for an award!!

This was supposed to be my Sunday Salon post, but I got sidetracked by sunny weather and took my daughter to the beach to look for things along the water's edge. I found some interesting rocks, and she collected lots of mussel shells. So I find myself today playing catch-up.
What I wanted to write about is the Canadian mystery scene. It was actually a new blog I just found, Crime Watch, that triggered this. I was fascinated to discover that he had posted about Canadian mystery writing! Here is the link to his post, and here is the link to the newspaper article by William Deverell in the National Post that he quotes from. William Deverell is a Canadian mystery writer, and a lawyer, and I thought his article expressed well the dilemma we have in Canada regarding mysteries: they are ignored by our judges and book committees and except for writing programs at universities, ignored by them also. Mysteries aren't worthy of literate discussion in Canada.

I find this sad. I realize this is the state with all countries and their 'literature' vs mystery books being written. The US and England do a great job of promoting the best in crime writing though - the Edgars, the Agathas, the Crime Daggers. Sometimes I base my mystery reading on the award winners! And on the whole, this is excellence in mystery writing. The article and post got me thinking: what do we have in Canada? And why do we wait for others to recognize what writing is good here? And why is it so hard to break out of the genre world into the book world in general?

I don't have all the answers, of course! I'm a reader, a writer, and a former bookseller. I know something of how publishers promote books, I know a lot about people who read mysteries. However, I do not understand why our media pays so little attention to our own crime writers. Very occasionally is a piece done on the more popular writers, like Louise Penny - I found her because there was story on her in one of our newspapers. This was after of course she had won the Anthony and Crime Dagger for the first in the series, Still Life.

So what do we have in Canada? The Arthur Ellis Award. Haven't heard of it? I'm not surprised It's never promoted in the papers, or in the media. There is no spotlight for crime writing excellence in Canada. However, as soon as we are recognized outside our borders, then suddenly there is a newspaper article, or a tiny piece (maybe) on CBC, our national radio/tv broadcaster (but this is not likely), on the author. Here is a link to the Arthur Ellis Awards, from the Crime Writers of Canada site.

And here is something: I went to Louise Penny's website to get a list of her books for you, and she is nominated for another award!!! The Cruellest Month has been nominated for The Anthony Award and the Macavity Awards! Dead Cold (out as A Fatal Grace in the US) won the Agatha award last year, and this year The Cruellest Month won it. But do we celebrate this in Canada? Is it announced in the media? No. I had to go to her site to find this out!!

We write very good mysteries. We write some excellent fantasy and science fiction. But our authors don't get respected or acknowledged within Canada, by the media or by the Canadian Literature establishment.

Here is the link to the Agatha Awards, which are given for the best mystery written in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Fans of Maisie Dobbs will be glad to know Jacqueline Winspear won for Birds of a Feather in 2004. So it is quite an honour for Louise Penny to win for two books in this category, in two years.

So I've decided that as well as reading and talking about mysteries from other countries, I'm going to talk about Canadian mysteries. I thought I would spotlight some of my favourite Canadian mystery writers. I do have to caution you here: I too, had fallen victim to the view that Canada doesn't have good mystery writers. I was wrong. It's taken me a while, but I can finally say (and very happily and proudly): We have a really strong field of mystery writers, some of whom are among my favourite authors now. Every week I will post on a Canadian mystery writer. In honour of Louise Penny's nominations, I'm going to be spotlighting her next week.

One last thing: mystery is in the air. Nymeth over at Things Mean Alot has a post yesterday inquiring about what a good mystery would be to start with. If you have a favourite mystery that meets some of what she is looking for (atmosphere, not too graphic, good characters and not every questioned answered) please go and leave her a comment with your suggestion.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Picking the wrong you get anxious?

Yesterday morning I was running around getting ready for work. I had finished Skellig the night before, and I still didn't know what I felt like reading. I picked one book up, then another, then another. Time ticked away, I had to go catch the bus. Finally I picked A Restless Evil by Ann Granger. No sooner had I gotten on the next bus (I missed the one I was trying to catch, of course), then I looked at the book and thought, "No. No, I don't want to read this one! I want to read Fred Vargas's This Night's Foul Work. Why did I put it down?" All day long I was waiting to get home so that I could put A Restless Evil aside and have This Night's Foul Work with me. I gazed out the window on the bus ride home, rather than read any of A Restless Evil. Once in the door, the first thing I did was take A Restless Evil out of my work bag, and put it back on the TBR shelf, and pick up This Night's Foul Work and heave a great big sigh of relief.

Have you ever had this anxiety, that you've picked the wrong book to read, and had to wait to get to the right one? Do you feel uncomfortable too until you have the right book in your hands?

And I swear, I had no idea why I wanted to read This Night's Foul Work; I was looking at The October Country, The Heart-Shaped Box, Spirits That Walk in the Shadow, all for Carl's challenge. I even picked up Unshapely Things, a fairy/druid mystery by Mark del Franco.But I wanted This Night's Foul Work. This morning when I finally began to read it - on the bus, I might add, I discovered that the opening chapter has a -

ghost story. That's right! The main character, Commissaire Adamsberg, has bought a house in or near Paris (it doesn't say yet where it is); his neighbor comes to talk and over morning coffee, tells him the house is haunted by an evil female ghost. She's the ghost of a nun who murdered 7 women in 'the century before the century before this', and all the women who have lived in the house since have died because the ghost affects them particularly.

Sometimes, my deeper self knows what I need before I do.

Here is a ghost story for today's Bluenose Excerpt:

As late as the turn of the century a man from Schwartz Settlement was passing Red Bank when he saw a boat coming towards him with eight men rowing and one in the bow and one in the stern. They had big hats on with turned-up brims, and they followed closely along beside him. When they came to shore they went ahead of him and moored their boat and then stood in front of him but never spoke. He said they were large men and looked like pirates, so it was thought they had buried treasure there. He rushed past them, for he knew they were not human, and he would never go that way again.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Susan's Top 10 Reasons to Read Skellig

So many people have written so many wonderful reviews of Skellig by David Almond, that I don't want to repeat what they have written. Rather, I've linked to as many as I can find at the bottom of this post, and starred the two that made me finally get this book. I've decided instead to list my 10 reasons to read this book, because it's a book that I think is one everyone, young and old, can love.

1. It features a doctor nick-named Dr Death by Michael, the main character, who is afraid of his white skin and ice cold eyes.
2. Owls. Owls feature in this book. Owls both giving life and taking it. Owls flying by moonlight. A boy and girl learning to say "whoo" with their hands. Didn't you try this when you were young? I did. It's their secret signal to do nighttime exploring. How cool is that?
3. The baby. The baby who is ill. The baby around whom all the book revolves, the hope, the faith, the love, the sorrow, the fear. She pierces the heart, and so does this book. (wipes tears away again)
4. A character is homeschooled and at age 10 knows all about William Blake! So homeschooling suddenly looks cool! and William Blake's visions when he was a child play a role in this book. (big hint here....)
5. You can read this book in a day. And it will stay with you for a very long time after.
6. Poetry from said Blake is quoted. By children.
7. Skellig himself - mystery creature, part human, part owl maybe, angel certainly. It's never really solved, and that is part of the charm of this lovely book.
8. Is Chinese take-away the nectar of the gods? Read this book and find out!
9. Ossification, calcification, pneumatization, in the same book - for children - as prayers and a discussion of Darwinism through children's eyes: " monkey girl" and "ape-boy".
10. Answer this question: what are shoulder blades really for? See book for answer.

bonus reason #1: Michael hears his sister's heart beat with his when he listens hard enough. Everything he draws and thinks of is about his baby sister. His love for her makes this book emotionally compelling a way that everyone from age 6 to 100 will immediately understand and relate too. He is the best older brother ever.

bonus reason # 2: No one will ever look at shoulder blades in the same way again.

Blogger's Amazing Reviews of this book, here:
****1. Mariel (Where Troubles Melt Like Raindrops) - This is the review that brought the book to my attention. Fabulous, wonderful review.
****2. Nymeth (things mean alot) - the review that made me get the book. I dare you to read these two reviews and not want to get the book. Immediately.
Both those bloggers have more reviewers listed on their posts.
Elizabeth (As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves)
Becky ( Becky's Book reviews) - someone who wasn't as keen on it!
Bookpusher (The Genteel Arsenal) - another blogger who just read it and loved it

I know there must be more reviews out there! Please let me know, and I'll gladly link them.

Meantime, here is today's Bluenose Ghosts excerpt:

It must be about eighty years ago that a strange sight was witnessed in Halifax Harbour by two residents of that city. Mrs King told me that when she was a young girl she was in a boat with a number of other people returning from a picnic. Fog was rolling in and there was a light breeze. Suddenly she saw a boat with square sails set which passed close beside their boat and they could see a crew at work as it passed them. Mrs Turnbull, sitting beside her, turned to heer and said, "Did you see that?"
"Yes," she said, "but I thought it must be a mistake. " On talking this extraordinary experience over, they concluded this must be one of the boats of d'Anville's ill-fated expedition. It had suffered death and destruction, and the pay-ship was supposed to have been sunk in Bedford Basin. Others had told of seeing it in the vicinity of Navy Island.

Monday 14 September 2009

A book that broke my heart and patched it up again....

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie's first full-length novel, published in 2007. I read it as part of Dewey's Challenge, though I would have read it anyway just because it looks interesting. I was not prepared for how good it really is. I didn't expect to cry and laugh, often at the very same time, most of the way through it. Going to his site here I discovered that since it's publication, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been winning awards: 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2008 Washington Book Award, The New York Times Notable Children's Books of 2007, are a few.

But I don't like this book because it is an award winner. I like it because it is an honest, true portrayal of being Indian and growing up on the rez in a white world. And how do I, Mrs White Canada, know about Indian life? Because I've met many Indians, some are friends of mine, I've been to rezes and powwows and met elders and medicine men, and mostly because my best friend, and my brother (who is adopted, a long story), are Indian. But you don't have to have met any Native Americans to recognize the genius of this novel, you don't have to know about the poverty and isolation and no hope on reserves, to appreciate Arnold "Junior" Spirit and how he attempts to get off the rez. You just have to cheer him on, and laugh at his silly and wise adolescent humour as he faces heartbreak and loss and love and friends. This just happens to be a book about a Native American Indian boy. It's mostly about a boy who wants to dare to make a better life for himself.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about Arnold "Junior" Spirit and the year he decides to change his life by going to a different high school off the Spokane reservation where he lives. The Diary is told in the first person, and as Arnie is a cartoonist, the novel is sprinkled with hilarious dry wit as Arnie makes fun of himself, his classmates, friends, family, and the world. Arnie is the class loser, the kid with geeky glasses and big feet who can't win a fight, but who still keeps picking them. It's that refusal to give up that makes this book such a joyful and tragic read.

Sherman Alexie doesn't hold anything back, either. Life on the reservation is told in all its sadness, and all its Indian humour. White people are made fun of often (and we do deserve most of it in the book), but so are Indians, so is the world, his schoolmates, so is love, and in the midst of all his teen angst, Junior also has to deal with devastating loss. Alcohol is a big feature of this novel, because it plays such a principle role in so many Native American people's lives. Every day today, it still does. So I love this book because every character could be a stereotype, and they aren't. The alcoholics aren't just drinkers; Junior's Dad goes to the casino, drinks the money away, but he also shows up at every basketball game and event Junior is in, which is more than Junior realizes the white kids can say. Junior lives in excruciating poverty, but there is no bitterness or rage at the Federal Government system; he's not angry, he just wants to escape. And Junior deals with it honestly, openly, in this diary of his first year at Reardon High School, the white school off the reserve in town:

Overnight, I became a good player.

I suppose it had something to do with confidence. I mean, I'd always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole - I wasn't expected to be good, so I wasn't. But in Reardon, my coach and other players wanted me to be good. They needed me to be good. They expected me to be good. And so I became good.
I wanted to live up to expectations.
I guess that's what it comes down to.
The power of expectations.......

Coach was thinking I would be an all-state player in a few years. He was thinking maybe I'd play some small-college ball.
It was crazy.
How often does a reservation Indian kid hear that?
How often do you hear the words "Indian" and "college" in the same sentence? Especially in my family. Especially in my tribe.

That is why I think this book is true. How often do we ever hear Indian and college in the same sentence? I know that up here in Canada, we have poor reserves where almost no one gets off, and richer ones where some of the kids go to university or college - which is always off-reserve in the cities. How often do you hear the words "drunk' and "Indian" together? All the time. Junior talks about it though: his Dad is a drunk, his Dad's best friend dies over a last drink in a bottle in a parking lot of a grocery store. This book is real, and it's honest. It could be a depressing novel, but it's not. It's funny. Heart-breakingly funny. And sad. I cried all the way through it. And I laughed. It's about this crazy mixed up world we all have to find our way in, no matter our race or colour. Arnie and his glasses are me when I was 10. I wish my brother had had this book growing up. I wish I had had this book growing up. I wish my parents who had adopted an Indian child had had it. I wish our entire Department of Indian Affairs employees would be forced to read it, starting with the Minister of Indian Affairs. Then I wish our Prime Minister would read it, so he would stop ignoring Indians and reserves, and start fixing some of the problems.

Mostly, I just want you, Gentle Reader, to get to know Junior, because when he says this near the end of his first year at Reardon High, I knew what he meant, and I wanted to sing along too:

"What are you laughing at?" Mrs Jeremy asked me.
"I used to think the world was broken down by tribes," I said. "By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not."
I walked out of the classroom and felt like dancing and singing.
It all gave me hope. It gave me a little bit of joy.
And I kept trying to find the little pieces of joy in my life. That's the only way I managed to make it through all that death and change."

Isn't that how we all make our way through life? Finding the joy in the midst of death and change. Certainly that's been my year this year so far. So I love Arnie. He's a hero to cheer for.

That last quote also reminded me of Dewey. It's been almost a year now since she passed away. I'm glad this was a book she loved and recommended. To you, Dewey.

Also, because Dewey loved a ghost story as much as all of us do, here is today's Bluenose Ghosts excerpt: I am pleased to have a very heartwarming event to relate [about angels]. Many years ago several little children were lost in the woods near Sambro and they had to sleep out all night in the dark. Their parents and friends were nearly frantic as they thought of the terrors that would beset them. The shore is very rocky here and the waves pounding in the darkness would frighten much older and stouter hearts. Imagine the astonishment of the searchers then when they found the children looking perfectly happy and untroubled. Afraid? They looked surprised at such a question. Why would they be afraid? They were all right, they said, because an angel had sat up with them all night.

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday 13 September 2009

Sunday Salon - Stephen King is back!!!

The Sunday

Sometimes, very occasionally, a book is worth the buzz around it. Even more rarer, a book is better than the reviews. I am so thrilled to say that Duma Key deserves more rave reviews than it got. It's a return to vintage Stephen King, MINUS the extra gore-fest that he admitted in his first writing nonfiction look at horror book, Danse Macabre, that he would do if he got stuck when writing. He would go for the gross-out rather than holding back. In Duma Key, he has learned how to hold back, and for the first time since The Shining, I found myself scared, and hearing noises in the dark that weren't really there, and scared of my open windows at the back balcony - I had to close them both in order to get rid of the feeling someone was there, looking in, so I could finish the book. That's how effectively creepy Duma Key is. And I am so delighted to be able to say it. Uncle Stevie is back.

Duma Key is about a wealthy construction owner who survives a terrible accident at one of his worksites, and what happens to him afterward. A lot of people aren't aware that when there is a head injury, sometimes the personality changes, and anger and other emotions are much more uncontrollable for the victim. King writes about this in his character, and it is one of the strengths of this novel that the anger doesn't take over; this is not a novel about rage, it's a novel about finding strength to recover no matter the odds. And Edgar Freemantle loses a lot in this story, but he doesn't lose his sense of humour, and Stephen King the author doesn't lose the plot.

So now you are asking me, "So Susan, what about the horror? Is there any good horror in this story?" Oh my, yes, there is. To aid in his recovery, Edgar's doctor recommends a change of scenery, and Edgar goes, as many people do, to someplace warm: Florida. Except he's not in the centre of Florida with all the snowbirds (as we call our Canadians who head down south for the winter, and there are a lot of us, thus the term!), he's down on the edge of Florida in the Gulf, on a tiny island which is called a key. And this is not a good island to live on. It is owned by one family, the Eastbournes, that Edgar finds during the novel have a tragic history. But he only discovers this slowly, because Edgar discoveres that he can draw, and not only can he draw, he is almost possessed to do so.

This part of the book where Edgar lets the paintings come through him, the focus and the opening of himself to it, feels so authentic - this is what an artist does, this is what any creative person does, this is how Stephen himself recovered from his terrible car accident when he was hit by the truck driven by a man who had bent over to dig some food - a steak I believe -for his dog. The truck smashed into Stephen, as we all know, and he almost died. Some of that recovery process is used to excellent service in Duma Key. One of the best things is that Edgar doesn't question opening himself to his art; he does not know what he is painting or why, the pictures just come to him, so he paints them. When he discovers that the figure he is painting is someone he loves, both he and us the reader share in that awful moment of clarity that something dreadful might happen, might be happening, and can it be stopped?

There are genuinely terrifying moments in this book, of which one scene has direct links to a scene in The Shining, but I don't want to say any more. I do know that if I was alone in a house and woke up to find footprints that aren't mine leading to my bedroom door, I would be out of that house so fast there would be a puff of air behind me. Edgar doesn't leave, but I never felt the same about the Big Pink, as he calls the house he stays in, again. I felt dread throughout the rest of the novel that he was staying there still. It was like the horror was drawing nearer to him, only he couldn't quite grasp it, but we the reader can.

At the end of the book, when he could have so easily gone for the gross-out, King doesn't. And so I can genuinely say the ending is as effective as any he's done. This book is almost as good as The Shining. It has the same slow build of wrongness, the same slow build that terror is coming but we (and the characters) don't know where from, and of good people caught in a spiral that they can't get away from. When the evil is revealed, it's not a cop-out as say some of Stephen's middle books have had; the characters here have a choice of action, have a choice to fix it, and they try. They are heroes. This is like The Stand mixed with The Shining. Without the grand scale of The Stand, and without the absolute terror of Danny alone with his gift in that terrible hotel. For me, The Shining is one of the scariest novels of all time. Duma Key is not as scary as that, but it comes a very good second in Stephen King's books for me. It does not have as many scary moments as The Shining, but it shares some of the same themes: isolation, a gift one can't control, an old evil that needs to be contained, and good friends that help the hero. One of the main differences is that this is an adult novel, with the characters of varying ages, with adult themes of love, and loss, and death. Like Bag of Bones (the last Stephen King novel I read), the characters are thoughtful, and look backwards and forwards to try to explain what happens, but they do not have all the answers.

I like this restrained ghost-story telling. And don't get me wrong; there is plenty of death, and gruesomeness in Duma Key, but it fits into the story. And the ending is good, very satisfying. Indeed, when I closed the book late last night, I wanted more of Edgar Freemantle. I wanted to know what his life was like, the adventures he had, what he thought about things. I genuinely like him. And that is some achievement in any book, never mind a horror book.

This is a good horror novel, and one I can happily recommend as a scary read. 4.5 /5, because I would have liked more spookiness...

This is my first book read for Carl's RIP IV. I hope the others are as good. I'm just sad it took me a year after buying Duma Key to read it!

Today's Bluenose Excerpt:
"A dwelling known as Shelburne House was erected at the time of the Loyalists but it was torn down many years ago. The sound of the front door opening and of an officer's sword clanking as he ascended the stairs was heard at times, but only by certain people.
"One time a lady who had never been in the town before was a supper guest at Shelburne House and, during the evening, she heard this same mysterious interruption. When her husband called for her later she asked if the house was supposed to be haunted. He asked her whatever made her think such a thing? 'What did you hear?' he said.
" ' I heard the front door open and it was followed by the clank of a sword on the stairway, ' she said.
" ' I can't say you imagined it,' her husband said, 'for it's been heard before.' Nobody knows the reason for it, or whether this was a restless ghost or a scene re-enacted from the past. "

And as a treat, since I have missed a few days posting, here is another ghost story:

When Annapolis Royal was taken over by the English in 1710 a number of the people who came also brought slaves with them. Some of their descendants are there to this day....I visited one of the older women one day with the following result.
"When I was first married I lived in a house on the left hand side of the Granville road above the railway tracks. One day I was in my kitchen when I looked up and saw a man standing in the doorway with a chain around one leg and a dog sniffing at his heels, and I could hear the sound of the dog sniffing. That seemed so strange to me. I wasn't frightened, but I must have moved because suddenly they disappeared and I have never seen them since. He must have been trying to lift the wooden latch to come in. I didn't like to say anything about it to anybody until one day the rector's wife came to call. I thought she would laugh at me but I wanted to tell her and I did. But she didn't laugh. She knew the history of the houses in Annapolis and she said that years ago that house had belonged to a general and that he was known to have had a slave who was chained by the leg."

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Blue, and Bluenose Ghosts

I try not to mention my work here on my blog because this is where I consider my real life is. There are times, though, when work interferes with my life, and the last six months have been very difficult for me. I've tried to keep my blog up, but I haven't been able to get to all of your blogs as much as I have in the past, and I just wanted to say - I haven't forgotten you. I am attempting to get to all of you more often, but sadly it's not anywhere as often as I'd like it to be yet. I don't know when things will get better and I think after last week, I've lost hope that work will improve any time soon. So I am feeling blue, and in keeping with that mood, here are two ghost stories from Bluenose Ghosts. The last one made me cry , so be forewarned:

today's Bluenose Exerpt:

Mrs Hirtle came honestly by her ability to see things. Her mother had the same faculty for she had been lying in bed one night when she felt a cold hand come down and pass over her face. She sat up in bed greatly startled to see her aunt standing over her. The aunt said, "Fare thee well." Mrs Hirtle's mother was not frightened enough by the occurrence to call the family but, in the morning when she came downstairs, she announced that her aunt was dead. Word came later that this was so.
At Annapolis Royal a woman of English descent was given a visual warning. She had an eleven-month-old baby, to all appearances in perfect health. "One night I was awakened from my sleep and saw a little white coffin in front of the bed. I woke my husband and said, 'I'm afraid something's going to happen to my baby.' He laughed at me, supposing I'd been dreaming. The next day for no known reason my baby died in my arms."

I have been reading Duma Key for much of the long weekend, and am not finished yet - it's 600 pages long- but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Uncle Stevie has returned to form! Very creepy - in fact, it could be creepier, but I think he was trying out something new with this book. More thoughts when I'm done.

Star Trek was fabulous this weekend. I'll write more on that tomorrow too. Mostly this was a quick post to say hi and thinking of you all and wishing there were an extra 4 hours a day just for blogging and reading!! Then I could get to you all, and read some more!

Thanks for listening.

Saturday 5 September 2009

All things Star Trek and a little bit of Star Wars

I'm so sorry I missed the Bluenose Ghosts yesterday and Thursday. This week was the first week back to school, and our kids were haywire on Thursday, and needed lots of attention to calm down. I ended up going to bed early, even though I looked longingly at the computer, I knew I was too tired to try to type.

Last night I watched a cool very funny movie I'd rented last weekend, so it had to be seen before it was due back, called Fanboys, about a group of friends who take a road trip to George Lucas' ranch to try to get a glimpse of the Phantom Menace - 6 months before it was released - because one of the young men is dying and won't make it to the movie premiere. Fanboys was released last year (it opened in Canada early this year). It is filled with Star Wars love, memoriabilia (I so want the huge poster one of the characters has on his wall!), and the war with Trekkers, which is hilarious. I'd have to admit to being a gal on the Trekker side, except I don't have a uniform or even a phaser gun! Fanboys was very funny, and I highly recommend it as a silly, fun, delightful movie homage to all things Star Wars.

Star Trek Weekend on Space Channel
I'm a Star Trek girl: At 1:50 this afternoon, I will be plunking myself down to watch on Canada's Space Channel on tv, one of my favourite movies of all time, The Wrath of Khan, followed by The Search For Spock, and The Voyage Home. The first 6 movies in the Star Trek cannon air today, the rest tomorrow. The link to Space Channel website is here. I only saw the ads last night while we were catching a very new episode of Smallville, so I had to hastily rearrange my plans for the weekend. Ok, I guess I qualify as a fangirl of Star Trek! Sheesh, I saw the movie twice this summer, and I can name the episodes/plot within seconds of seeing the opening scenes of any Star Trek episode. I own all the movies in VHS, but we still don't have a VHS player (stolen when our house was robbed a few years ago)- only a DVD player - so I haven't been able to see Wrath of Khan for at least two years, and lately I've been really wanting to see it again. So I am in heaven (Star Trek heaven, anyway!). Bring out the popcorn! At least I can eat that, as a diabetic!!

My daughter is very happy that she is old enough to watch Star Trek with me, as we'd been discussing that earlier seasons of Smallville is more suitable for her than the later seasons. All of the Star Trek tv series is good for kids, so she is planning on watching some of the episodes with me on Monday, which is when Space Channel is airing the top 10 episodes of the tv show as chosen by the viewers. I am so looking forward to showing her The Trouble with Tribbles!!

more TV: World Cup (soccer) qualifying.....
On top of all this Star Trek heaven, it's the World Cup qualifiers this weekend; we are fortunate to be getting Portugal vs Denmark on tv this afternoon, as well as Scotland vs Macedonia. We don't have to cheer for England since they aren't playing this weekend (ok they are playing a friendly, as my husband just pointed out reading over my shoulder; a friendly is a game that doesn't count for anything but practice!), so it's Scotland for us today, and we're debating on who to cheer for in the Denmark/Portugal match. As my husband just half-laughed, half cried, there is also a very good tennis match on this afternoon - now he's confessing he doesn't know who is playing, just that it's going to be good - so I think basically we are going to be using every tv in the house......

so how is your Labour Day weekend shaping up?

Today's Bluenose Ghosts Excerpts:
Time for some ghost stories - and oh, speaking of ghosts, I have just begun Duma Key, and so far I am enjoying it. It's a different start from King's other novels, and I can see how his accident shaped this book, but it also adds a real hint of desperation to the main character, whose life has changed so drastically from one moment to the next after a dreadful accident. In between Star Trek movies and running to see football (soccer to us in North America) moments, I will be reading my second horror book for Carl's challenge! Here is today's Bluenose Ghosts excerpt:

The ability to see ahead is not the prerogative of older people only. Peter Morrison was only twelve when he saw a coffin-shaped light pass him low to the ground and turn in at the cemetary just before a fatality at a mine, and the same thing happened to Mrs Allen Morrison and a friend when they were young girls. A boy at Point Edward heard digging in a graveyard when the ground was frozen too hard to be dug, and in all these cases a death followed within the week.

Because I missed Thursday and Friday, here is a long and very creepy true-life ghost story to make up for the days I missed:

Next we have a story from Marion was told by Mr Alex Morrison, son of the blacksmith who plays such an important part in it.

"A strange thing happened just before Sandy Munro fell over the bridge and got drowned. At that time Neil McPherson was just a lad and he was walking over the Marion Bridge one night with his mother. He stopped for a moment and said, 'Come here mother and look at the little boy lying on the bottom of the river.' His mother couldn't see anything and told him to come along home. It was just after this that Sandy was drowned, but that wasn't all that happened.
"About that time they were seeing a light on a boat up the river at Grand Mira. The owner wanted to sell the boat but nobody would buy it, being suspicious that something must be wrong with it on account of the light. My father wanted it, light or not, so he bought it.
"They always thought foul play had caused Sandy's death. The night before he died the irons in the smith were making a great racket. You could hear them in the forge and they seemed to be jumping around. Sandy and the blacksmith were friends and the boy often did errands for him. Just before he died the blacksmith had asked him to take an axe across the bridge for him. He was doing this when he must have met two boys who were known to be bad and whose mother was said to be a witch. Someone saw the boys having a tussle on the bride and, a while later, the body was discovered lying in the water as Neil McPherson had described him to his mother.
"They called on the blacksmith then to get the boy. The grappling irons he used to take him from the water were the ones that had jumped in the forge the night before, and the boat that he took to go out on the river was teh one that had shown the strange lights and that nobody would buy but my father. After the body was recovered Sandy's mother had a dream. She thought the boy came to her and pointed to the blacksmith's axe as it stood in its place at the forge, and said, 'That's the axe that killed me.' And when Sandy's body was laid out on the bridge of the boat my father had bought, there were alot of people from the village who came to look at him. One was the boy who was supposed to have murdered him. You know it's an old belief if a murderer passes by or touches the person he has murdered, that blood will issue from the wound, and that is exactly what happened. The wound that killed Sandy was in his temple and, as the suspected murderer walked past him, blood flowed from the wound and stopped as soon as he went by. The thing was hushed up and the boys and their mother moved away, but that's the way it all happened."

Enjoy your Labour Day weekend! Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a translated mystery by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. It is the first of a trilogy, featuring Mikael Blomquist and Lisbeth Salander. He is a journalist, she is a dysfunctional amoral young woman whose only skills lie in investigating people, since socializing comes so difficult for her. They do not know each other at the beginning of the book, although she has investigated him through her work.

The mystery involves the Vander family, a Swedish industrial family who have made their fortune over the 20th century in various ventures. One of the younger Vangers went missing 40 years ago, and Blomquist is hired by her grandfather to find out if she is dead, because every year since her disappearance, the same kind of gift she used to give her grandfather, arrives for his birthday and he thinks the killer is taunting him. He wants to know if she is dead, and how.

This is a gritty Swedish mystery. It is also a love story, and about all kinds of love, and about relationships of all kinds. The best mysteries I find always involve the human heart. This book has heart, and plenty. It is also different because part of the story involves Mikael's public humiliation when he is found guilty of slander in an article he wrote on a mafia-like financier, and how he comes to believe in himself again and redeem himself. Lisbeth is his key. They make a very unusual detective team, their skills balancing one another's; they are good for one another.

It is unputdownable, literally. I read through lunch, through several Smallville episodes (we are working our way through Season one again as the kids search for something to watch in the evenings), through dinners, any time I could get last weekend was spent with this book. In fact, I read it through much of Sunday afternoon, finishing it blissfully on the sofa, enjoying the luxury of reading while the kids were awake.

I can't say enough about the characters, because they seemed so real, so life-like, that I always had the sense the conversation continued off the page, that the characters had a life away from the page, and we just got to see part of it. I really enjoyed getting to know all the various characters, and the Vanger family are numerous and exquisitely drawn, as are Mikael's colleagues and other secondary characters. As Mikael earns Lisbeth's trust, we come to know her better too. This is the story of how Mikael finds redemption and Lisbeth learns to trust. And it's about how the truth is never quite what we think it is. Unusually too this is a mystery about ethics, and I enjoyed this angle very much also.

The translation is so good that the book reads like it had been written in English! Only occasionally does something with a foreign understanding of our language slip in.

The mystery? This is part of what made the book so thrilling to read; it was so hard to put the book down. The mystery is dark, and very very bad. There are several layers of darkness in this book. Very good, very creepy, funny in places, and a lovely sense of some of Sweden outside of Stockholm.

I really enjoyed this book. I had think it is deserving of all the acclaim it has received. Highly recommended; just make sure you have some free time before you pick it up! 5/5

Other reviews:
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Literate Housewife Review
S. Krishna's Books

Today's ghost story from Bluenose Ghosts:
Mrs McGillivray of Marion Bridge, told of another strange ocurrence.
"One evening many years ago Uncle Neil was visiting us and I went to the windo to draw the blinds. I stood there for a moment looking out at the night, when I saw a light moving up by the apple trees. I said, "I think you're having a visitor. It must be someone carrying a lantern.' He said, "I must go." (Cape Bretoners are always considerate of visitors and would not dream of being away when a call was made.) I said, "No, don't go. I'm making the tea." (That too is a Cape Breton custom; they always make tea for their guests.) But he felt he should return home.
The next time we met he looked at me strangely and said, "Was that a trick you played on me the other night when you saw a light going up to my place?" I said, "No, I wouldn't do such a thing when you were out ceilidhing (visiting). Mother and I were so glad to have you ." When he arrived home that night he found no visitor there, nor had any of the neighbours called. That was October. December his daughter died. It was probably a forerunner of her casket, for it had looked like a light carried by a person on a wagon."

Tuesday 1 September 2009

RIP IV - Ghost and horror stories challenge is here!!

Carl's RIP IV is here. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw his post here, and then I started piling books up. Up, up, and up. I ended up with over 20 books I wanted to read for this challenge! Now, I know that last year I read more than required, and I know this year I will, but even I think 20 is a huge pile. So I've been whittling away at the pile until it's more manageable.

I am choosing Peril the First, which is 4 books:

Here is my list of what I'm considering for the challenge:

1.Bluenose Ghosts - Helen Creighton (to be read
throughout the challenge) - this is the one I'm posting daily
quotes from. Sort of a blog gather around the campfire and
let's tell real-life ghost stories, as a few of you have commented on the first two excerpts I've given.

2.The October Country - Ray Bradbury (I've long
wanted to read this; The Small Assassin is one of the
classic short horror stories everyone refers to.)

3.Duma Key - Stephen King (finally! Uncle Steve,
please don't disappoint me with this one)

4.Tricks - Ed McBain (takes place over Hallowe'en!!)

5.The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield (everyone
raves about this gothic featuring a writer. Fingers crossed!!)

6.Spirits That Walk the Shadows - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
(a YA by her I hadn't heard about, a Mythopoeic finalist,
about an emotional vampire encouraging one of the
teen characters to be depressed)

7. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane
Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (can hardly wait!)

And, a special mention:


Thanks to your excellent review here,
I requested from my library and picked up yesterday:

8.Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley;

thanks to your post here, I requested and am also holding now:

9.The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston.
This one looks creepy. True-life serial killers in Italy.

That's only 9 books! Don't worry, I have several waiting in the wings, Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest, Haunted House Stories ed by Peter Haining, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.......This is my "B" list, by back-up list......

October Country also counts for Short Story Peril, which for once I would like to participate in on Sundays! I keep signing up for them, and then Sunday whizzes by and once again no short stories get read.

I just love the art for this year, and I really appreciate the artist, Jennifer Gordon, for allowing Carl to modify one of her prints for the banners. It is so ghostly and eerie and sad, perfect for RIP. Thank you, Carl, for hosting this again! It's not too late to sign up, and indeed, I am number 216 after I sign up tonight.

Today's Ghost Excerpt
So, with that all done, here is today's ghostly excerpt from Bluenose Ghosts: (Note, we are now on the chapter dealing with Foresight; before, we were on the chapter dealing with forerunners, which are sounds.)

The forerunner, as you have read, usually deals with sounds. Foresight, on the other hand, is visual. On the island of Cape Breton it is known as double vision or double sight and people who have the gift are said to be double-sighted. It occurs here mostly among those of Scottish descent although there are isolated instances among other groups. On my field work for the National Museum of Canada in 1956 I visited many descendants of settlers who came originally from the highlands and islands of Scotland, and was amazed to find this strange faculty possessed by so many people. Perhaps the word gift as applied here is inappropriate, for a gift is a pleasurable attribute. This is not, for the vision is usually that of a funeral. Stories, of which there are a surprisingly large number, go like this. I quote from the words of Mr Hughie Wilson of Glace Bay.
"There was a woman in Mira who could see a funeral ahead of time, even sometimes before the person had been taken sick, and she would know whose funeral it was. When it happened she would be walking along the road and would be pushed to one side by the crowd following the hearse. The experience would exhaust her because not only could she feel the passing procession but also she could tell who were the people in it."

And to make up for missing yesterday, here is a bonus story:
A story of another boat comes from Broad Cove in Inverness County. It was a good boat as far as the owners could see, and they had built it themselves. Soon after it was finished, however, people began seeing lights on it and there was no accounting for them. Since no physical explanation could be found, the lights were taken as a warning and, one of the older men said, it must never be used again or it would drown its passengers. Consequently it was hauled up on the shore and left to rot until it was of no further use.
At this time a young man named McNeil was building another boat and he looked at this derelict lying idle. He thought he might as well remove the steering irons and use them in his boat. The older people, he thought, were pretty superstitious. Why listen to all their foolish talk? So he took the equipment and he and his brother set out for Prince Edward Island. They were sailing close to shore with everything well under control when a squall came up so suddenly and so unexpectedly that it capsized their boat and they were drowned. Was this mere coincidence? We shall never know.

Happy reading, my Gentle Readers!!