Thursday 27 January 2011

Complete and Utter Book Lust

All about Book Lust: 

Ever since Jane  posted about this over at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing, I've wanted this:
Pride and Prejudice, the Annotated version. 

 I want this so much!!!  Annotated Jane Austen!  One of my favourite books!  I didn't even know she came annotated.  Oh priceless treasure!  It's on the books I'm about to order.  O sweet joy!!  This is complete and utter book lust, my Gentle Readers. Oh my. 
I also have to advise you that Edward Gorey's The Unstrung Harp, which I reviewed here, is available in Amphigorey.

Can you feel the longing?

 I confess, I really want to read this:  The Passage by Justin Cronin.
I hope it lives up to the buzz.  It comes out in paperback right before my birthday, so that's lovely timing!  My only question is,  can I  wait that long?  I can't carry hardcovers so I try to not buy them too often.

I have Margaret at Of Books and Bicycles to blame be thankful for this:  ever since she reviewed The Gentleman's Daughter by Amanda Vickery, I've wanted it.

I finally have tracked it down at, and it's on the books I'm about to order.  I'm so excited!!  Women's life in 18th century England!  It's like reading what the world was like when Jane Austen wrote, when the Bronte sisters were getting ready to write.

Bride of the Book God talked about Leviathan,  which is being released over here as The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare.

A year and a half  now since her post, and  I've been watching for this book all this time! It's coming in soft cover in two weeks, since I somehow missed the release in Hardcover over here (I still can't believe this).  I have loved whales, since I was a child.  Does this book qualify as a need then, instead of a  want? how about Jane Austen then? 

And as soon as I can find a copy, Patricia Brigg's Silver Borne is finally out in paperback.

Mercy Thompson #5. How does she settle into the pack? Does Adam try to cramp her mechanic don't fence me in lifestyle?  Her nose for danger?

And finally, because it's the second half of one book, and because it's Connie Willis:  All Clear.

 This will count for Carl's Sci Fi Challenge, as well as the British Challenge.  And she is one of my favourite writers. It's in hard cover, but I can't wait until next winter some time. I have to find out what happens.

Of course, this is just the temporary I Need to get as Soon as Possible List, not to be confused with I Always Buy The Latest Book By This Author List (which is permanent book lust), or  the Show Me A Good Mystery and You Know I'll Want to Try it List.  Or the Still Missing a Few Titles in this Series List.  Or the Brand New To Me Because Of Bad Bloggers Reading Lists, list........

In other words, you really can't ever have enough books, my Gentle Readers!

Is there a particular book you are anticipating this year, Gentle Reader?

Tuesday 25 January 2011

The Unseen - Alexandra Sokoloff - Very Frightening Haunted House novel

So, you know I am a sucker for horror stories.  I love being scared - in the good way, safely, through a book.  Not in the bad way, which is in real life. I've found that the very best frightening books spill over into my life so that I become unable to read them at night.  I become too nervous, too jumpy.  Now, I like this feeling or I wouldn't read scary novels.  The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff  is one of those novels. It is so good and so frightening that I had to stop reading it last night and wait for the safety of daylight to read it.  So imagine this:  sitting at the kitchen table, cup of tea at hand, children on Wii, sun streaming in the window, and I am still scared.  That's how good and scary this book is.

The premise:
Dr Laurel MacDonald flees from the West coast and ends up in North Carolina at Duke University, desperately searching for a proposal for a book so she can keep her job as associate professor and tenure.  She discovers that the University used to have a psychic research facility on campus, that suddenly shut down in 1965, the year her mother left Durham for the west coast.  Laurel knows she has family back east, but it's only after she buys her house and tells her mother what she's done that her mother reminds her that she has relatives there: her aunt and her uncle.  From the time she discovers that the 700 boxes from the old psychic research faculty have been released a(from where they were hidden in storage), to when she makes the link to her uncle's mysterious mental disability which came from the same psychic research program, I found a real sense of unease growing.  We follow the set-up that leads to her and her associate professor Brendan Cody to Folger House, where an experiment to see if a reported poltergeist experience could be uncovered to be true, first done in 1965 and that led to the mysterious shut down of the department.  They discover the house, and this leads to them deciding to recreate the experiment again using psychological and personality profiles like Myers-Briggs, combining them with tested psychic ability  to see if there is a link between personality profiles, psychic ability and expectation of psychic phenomena (which I think would be an interesting subject to study, by the way).   There is a palpable sense of unease that grows into real terror as Laurel,  Brandon and their two test students enter the supposed haunted house.

There is a little similarity with Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House:  two observers, and two test subjects who test high on evaluation tests for psychic abilities; an experiment at a haunted house, where they stay for a period of time to record what happens.  These are the only similarities, but I did want to point out they were there.  The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favourite and all-time frightening ghost stories, and it is to Ms Sokoloff's credit that the similarities are only in the set-up, not in the execution at all.  The Unseen stands on its own, and is in its own right it's very own ghost story.  And it as unsettling and frightening as The Haunting of Hill House is.

It is terrifying in places, and I am very glad I read most of it during the daylight, and with people around me.  I'm really glad I'm not alone tonight!  That's how scary I found some of this book.   I think it's one of the best horror novels I have read in years.  So if you are looking for something to scare you, if you want that delicious frisson of fear running up your spine and tingling in your scalp, making the hair stand up on your arms just in reading about ghosts, then pick this one up.

5/5 and most highly recommended.

I could only find this in hardcover at my library.  Even now, says the paperback isn't available in Canada at all. I also discovered at her website that she has a new book just being released: The Book of Shadows.  It combines a detective with a witch as a team.  Sounds good!!!  I'll be looking for this one now.

******Edited to add:  I forgot to add that I have been aware of this writer ever since I reviewed Ms Sokoloff's first novel, The Harrowing, here two years ago.  I am thrilled that The Unseen is better than The Harrowing (at least in my opinion it is) - because as frightening as The Harrowing was, I thought it could be more, and The Unseen does that.  This is a horror writer to watch, and I hope that The Book of Shadows is as good as either of these two.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Sunday Salon: Where around the world do you read?

So Memory over at Stella Matutina has a post today about books she's read by authors from different countries. That got me thinking.  How widely do I read?  Is as widely as I hoped?  What do I want to read, and from where?  So today I'd like to take a little trip around my bookshelves and the world, to talk about:


You and I know, Gentle Reader, that there is a whole wide wonderful world of books out there.  Published in almost every language (because some are only spoken languages, they can't be written in words and therefore no books exist in that language), books come from every corner of the lovely planet.  They cover every genre, every possible idea that has flitted across man's mind.  What I'm interested in talking about is fiction, and because I'm me, particularly mystery, and fantasy/science fiction, my two main interests in fiction.

Last year this is where I read from:
Canada (my home country and nationality):  14
USA:  26
Britain: 24
Scandinavia (including Iceland): 7
Russia: 2
New Zealand: 2
Ireland: 2

Well, not nearly as world covering as I would like!  I am thrilled that I have read so many from Canada, which is one of my personal challenges every year any way.  I am delighted that I am expanding my reading to Ireland, to New Zealand, to Russia.  There are so many other countries to try.  I usually have Fred Vargas for France, but I haven't seen her new book yet.  One country in particular I do want to read more from is Australia, which hasn't made it on my list yet for several years now. 

I want to explain here that I do sometimes base my reading on where books come from.  I have a finite amount of time, so I do look for books from other countries, authors who write mysteries that sound interesting.  I like to read good books. I guess I'd say that I don't care where a book comes from, so long as it is good, but that makes it sound like I'm in search of the book, without the flavour that a different perspective and setting gives.  I am interested in the differences in viewpoints, in how we see the world, and what living somewhere else means when we tell stories.  I want to read more fiction set (or from) Central and South America, as well as Africa.  I do have on my to-read shelves books by Deon Meyer (South Africa), Andrea Camilleri (Italy), Alexander McCall Smith (Zimbabwe), Karen Healey (New Zealand), Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany; the last two are library books), Tolstoy (Russia), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Argentina)......As our world grows closer in ability to communicate, I'd like to know what mysteries, what poetry and literature is like in other countries.  I think how we tell stories is one of the best ways into a different culture.  It's like where we stand in the world does affect how we perceive the world, our relationship to it.  So a writer in Canada has a different perspective than a writer from The Netherlands, or China, or New Zealand.  I like that. There is always room to read more from other places, so my question to you is:

Do you,  my Gentle Readers,  read around the world?  Do you have any favourite authors that are from another country?  Who are they?  What do you look for?  Tell me who you recommend - from your country, or who you love from another one. 

Here is my list - because fair is fair, and these are writers that I've come to love and seek out, whose books are imprinted on me and inform me about the world and the times they were written in - it is only a partial list, representative only for the UK and the US, where I read most widely from:

Artur Indridason - Iceland
Fred Vargas - France
Isaac Babel - Russia
Henryk Sienkiewicz - Poland
Henning Mankell - Sweden
Jo Nesbo - Norway
Peter Hoeg - Smilla's Sense of Snow - Denmark
Kerry Greenwood - New Zealand
Ian Rankin - Scotland
Phil Rickman - England
Jane Austen -   "
Charles de Lint - Canada
Robin Hobb - USA
Giles Blunt - Canada

Mary Oliver - US
Nikki Giovanni - "
Evgeny Yevtuschenko - Russia
Wendy Cope - England
Carol Ann Duffy - "

Books I have to take with me wherever I go

I also asked Memory if she had taken any particular books with her when she moved to New Zealand - books that she had to have with her, that she had to know were safe, and were with her to read, while she waits for the rest of her books to arrive.  I asked her because when I moved to England 10 years ago, I sent most of the books I couldn't replace ahead of me by boat (after dispersing much of the rest of  my library), and I kept a few special books with me to bring in my luggage on the airplane.  At that time, they were:
 The 2000 move -  Books I Brought in my Luggage
*If  You Want to Write - Brenda Euland
In the Garden of Iden - Kage Baker
*Bellwether - Connie Willis
*Black and Blue - Ian Rankin
Immortal Poems - Oscar Williams
Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg
*The Encyclopedia of Dreams - Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver
*Smilla's Sense of  Snow - Peter Hoeg
*Persuasion  - Jane Austen
*Pride and Prejudice - "
*Dreams Underfoot - Charles De Lint
Tea With The Black Dragon - R.A. MacAvoy
*The Language of the Night - Ursula K. LeGuin
*The 20th Century North American Ephemeris
Secrets from a Star-Gazer's Notebook - Debbi Kempton Smith
The Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

I know, that was a lot to pack into two suitcases!  In 2000, of course, pre Sept 11, we could have two heavy suitcases.

Now though, I look at that list, and I wonder, would I take the same books with me if  I had to move to another country?  Some I would, and some I wouldn't.  I marked the ones I think I would take with me still, on the plane, with at asterisk *.  The rest on the list would be shipped instead!  I still love them all......The astericks ones are mostly because I know it would be cheaper to bring them with me than to replace them, and these are ones I would replace, absolutely.  This post is so long now that I will save the other books I would bring with me now, for another post. Because of course in the interim, I have new books and authors that I've discovered and love (Jo Nesbo, Phil Rickman, Gile Blunt, Louise Penny, Mary Oliver....the list goes on!) that I would have to take my favourites with me on the plane, to keep them safe with me.

Carl's Sci-Fi Experience

In one of those amazing coincidences that fill our lives, I just finished re-reading In the Garden of Iden by Kadge Baker, this morning.  I read it for Carl's Sci-Fi Challenge, and now realize it also falls in the Historical Challenge since most of it is set in 16th Century England, in 1555 as Mary takes to the throne. I read this also  to honor Kadge, who passed away last year.  She is one of my favourite female SF writers, and I wanted to see if I loved her first book as much as when I first read it.  Well, while I was upstairs looking at my books to see what I had brought with me 10 years ago, I came across some old journals that held, of all things, lists of books I'd read, going back to 1993!! So that's where they are! I said to myself, and then started flipping through, to see if any titles jumped out at me for what I'd bring over.  I found that it in 1998 I read In the Garden of Iden for the very first time, and this is what I wrote:
  "1st novel, very good! Wonderful SF, interesting characters, great history.  Solidly good!"
So I'm going to let that be my review today, because the book is just as good today for me as it was then.  Highly recommended.

The Year of the Ian Rankin re-read
So, this is by no means an exhaustive or even complete list of books that I love from around the world.  I keep wanting to put Alexander Pushkin on, but I haven't read him in years.  This just reminds me that the more I read, the more I find to love, but also that there are old favourites wanting to be reread, and I have decided that this will be the year I revisit my favourite Scottish writer, Ian Rankin, and his detective John Rebus.  I miss reading new Rebus!  I know he's retired (and personally I am glad Rankin left him alive), but I had years and years of reading him, and I miss him under my tree.  There is only one John Rebus, and so this year I am rereading him in order.  I have no set date for starting, and it's very loose - no schedule.  I'm not sure if I will get done reading the 16 books in the series, this year.  If you are interested, drop me a line or let me know in the comments, and we can read the books together and talk about them here whenever we are ready. 
** I have just discovered I am missing the first 4 books in the series, so I have to go buy them and then I can start.

Happy reading wherever you are in the world, Gentle Reader!

Monday 17 January 2011

The Sunday Salon - Dissolution by C.J. Sansom, the Tudor historical mystery that brings 1537 to life

There is one more book from last year that I haven't mentioned yet, but that really made a lasting impression on me.  It's Dissolution by C.J. Sansom.  It is set in Tudor England during the time of Henry the 8th, and as the title suggests, it was during the period of dissolution of the Catholic Churches as Henry set himself up as the head of the Church of England.  All of this is 'dry' history, in that it's done and dusted long ago.  Why this book made such an impression on me is because we are at an abbey - Scarnsea in Sussex -  where a murder of the king's commissioner has occurred, and the chief suspect is related to the king's new wife Jane.  Matthew Shardlake is a trusted lawyer and works for Thomas Cromwell, who is responsible for ensuring the surrender of all the monasteries to the king.  Cromwell assigns him to go sort out the case and clear the kinsman's name. 

Almost the entirety of the novel is set at Scarnsea Abbey.  It's a very good mystery, the characters are well-drawn, and the remote setting at the abbey in the middle of a long winter adds to an element of isolation and fear.  It's 1537, and the surrender of the abbeys and monasteries to the king has begun.  Everything revolves around politics, even there far from the center of London, because  Matthew is also sent as a replacement commissioner for the dead man, to continue to examine any sign that there is heresy (adhering to the old ways) at the church, which would mean surrender of the abbey to the king and dissolution.  It is a fascinating way to explore religion and the meaning of a life dedicated to God, and what the monasteries were really like, how wealthy and how they justified it.  Matthew supports the Reformation, as anyone who survived had to. So he is looking in on the abbey and asking how the monks got so far away from the edicts of Benedict.  It's sounds boring, but it's not, because it's set under the 'wish' that Henry the 8th wanted it solved quickly, so Matthew must solve it, and fast, and because there is death and fear all around the monastery.

What so affected me about this mystery wasn't something I paid attention to at first, because I was busy watching (catching up) on the final series of The Tudors, which ended on CBC in November here.  I was thinking of King Henry one day on the bus, and what an enormous change he created by breaking with the Roman Church in order to divorce Catherine of Aragorn.  So I saw the political reasons and games and all the fascinating power from The Tudor court perspective.  Then I thought of the Abbey in Dissolution, and even though it was fiction, I thought, that's what it would have been like back then.  The monks would suddenly have had their world turned upside down.  Whether or not they were too wealthy, too far from their origins of serving God by being away from the world, what the real result of Henry's decision to leave the Church, was that hundreds and thousands of men and women who served God in their way, could suddenly not do it any more.  The churches were dismantled of all their wealth, taken for Henry himself and the Treasury of the kingdom.  The monks, Dissolution makes clear, were dependent on charity then, either family or a charitable stipend from Henry.  Matthew tries to find out what will happen to the monks at this abbey and discovers there is little he can do.  And so a whole way of life is dispersed, not because God ceased to exist, but because one man wanted to do things his way.  I"m not going to get into a political debate about the wrongs of the Church, the rise of Protestantism, Martin Luther, any of that.  What interests me is that Dissolution was able to bring home in an immediate way to me what happened in the abbeys and churches as they were dissolved.

From a historical perspective of course, many of the greater abbeys still stand whole and complete in England, and some became mansions and great houses, some disappeared as their stones were used in the neighborhood for repairs and building, and some stand as haunted ruins.  The landscape of Britain is littered with empty churches and abbeys, the wind blowing through stone, all that is left of once superb craftsmen.

One of my favourite abbeys is Whitby Abbey.  My husband and I have visited it often on our trips to Whitby, and it is still a presence overlooking the bay and town.  Once, long ago, an old religious house stood here that was the scene of the synod that  decided to bring  Christianity to England, the Synod of Whitby in 664 (destroyed by Vikings later).  The Abbey  is the remains of an 11th century Benedictine Monastery, just like in Dissolution. Already in ruins a little over a 100 years ago, Bram Stoker wandered around it and thought up the vampire story that began a whole new literature: Dracula.

I was privileged to also get to Lindisfarne in Northumberland and walk among the old castle ruins and monastery  at Holy Island, which at high tide is cut off from the mainland.  The monastery was one of Christianity's first monasteries in England, built in 635 Ad. A priory was built in 1070 but 'abandoned' in 1541.  Then a castle was built in 1543 with stones from the priory,  to protect the harbour,  and  was destroyed in the civil war, and eventually the remaining parts of the castle became a home in the early 1900s. It is one of the most remote and fascinating locations in England for me.  I thought what a wonderful place it would be to be close to the land and the sky, to be close to the sacred of the world, and how restful the location was.  There is something about how Dissolution was written, now, that when I think of Lindisfarne, and Whitby Abbey, I add the laments of the monks now as their way of life dissolved right before them.  How frightening and unknowable it all must have been for them. Dissolution makes that change real, in a powerful and sad way. 

It's also a very good mystery, and I like the main character  Matthew Shardlake very much. He is intelligent, and a good judge of character, and not always a nice person although he tries very hard, as a lawyer, to be fair.  This book would have to counted among my notable mysteries for 2010.  I have already Book 2, Dark Fire,  on my shelf to be read. 

Have you read Dissolution?  What did you think of it?  Have you read a mystery, or a novel recently, that made you understand something in our world a little more?

Friday 14 January 2011

My first reviews of the year

I have decided among my personal goals, to review every book I read this year.  So in keeping with the newness of the year and that I've read 4 books only so far, here for review are:

1. The Unstrung Harp - Edward Gorey.  Can I just say, if you are a writer or want to be one, run to your nearest second hand bookstore and start hunting for this book?  It's perfect, and perfectly describes everything we go through as writers, from the way we do anything but put pen to paper, to the way we react when we see our book in the sale bins.  Fabulous and funny.  One of my favourite quotes:

"Mr Earbass belongs to the straying, rather than the sedentary, type of author. He is never to be found at his desk unless actually writing down a sentence.  Before this happens he broods over it indefinitely while picking up and putting down again small, loose objects; walking diagonally across rooms, staring out windows, and so forth."

This also has the benefit of being accompanied by Gorey's wonderful pen and ink drawings.

This was a Library book so I have one completed already on my Library Challenge! Recommended, recommended, recommended!

2. Lifelode - Jo Walton.  I couldn't  figure out why I couldn't find this book anywhere, until I found it at the library and discovered it had been written expressly for Boskone, the Boston Science Fiction convention held every year.  The New England Science Fiction Association are the publishers of this book, a limited hardcover edition of 800, of which Ottawa Public Library holds # 589. All this to say, it might be hard to find, but if you see it, grab it.  For anyone who likes fantasy, this is a fantasy book quite unlike any other, sort of like every other book Jo Walton has written recently.  It's fantasy, set in a medieval invented world, with a different kind of religion and making of the world, and the story is small: an ancestor comes back to her ancestral home and her actions threaten to destroy it.  One of the particular beauties of this story is that it is set in the domestic domain: much of the magic comes from Taveth, who's lifelode (life path) is to keep the house of her lord.  It is a path she has chosen willingly, as any does in the world of this book.  Everyone has the right path that fulfills them, and one of the fun and interestng ways in which this is domestic fantasy, is that hardly anyone is doing what they were meant to do.  They have given up their lifelode to do what is demanded of them by family, by relationships, by circumstances.  The wonder of this fantasy tale is that so many people find a way to step into their right path anyway.

I really enjoyed this fantasy.  The religion, the gods, the setting of the manor house, the way in which the harvest is depicted, the villagers helping the lord out in return for his protection, and most of all, the long look  at the heart of the manor, which is the kitchen and all that goes on there.  Taveth is the main heroine. Part of her magic is that she can see all the past and future of a person by the shadow selves that pop out around someone.  Everyone in this world has a gift, and part of their growing up is learning about it as well as about what they are to do in the world.  It sounds simple, and it's not.  It's magic, and what life is about - happiness, love, choice, where guests are going to sleep, is there enough food, and making sure everyone is cared for.  Even though Teveth can see the future selves, she can't prevent or even act to change the future because she doesn't know what leads to it.

Very fun, and a little bit different, and recommended.

This is part of the Library Challenge, and the Canadian Challenge 4.

3. Hypothermia - Arnaldur Indridason.  Detective Erlendur investigates a suicide that isn't quite normal - just the slightest intuition that something is off.  He also goes back over one more time two old missing person cases, because it's been over 20 years now, and the parents are dying in one case.

Hypothermia is a state that Canadians grow up being cautioned about from the earliest days in childhood: what the danger of extreme cold is, what the signs of freezing are, and when you should come in from the cold.  Hypothermia is the state of slowly growing colder, of the body parts shutting down until you freeze to death.  Hypothermia is also what almost killed Erlendur when he was lost in the blizzard when he was a boy.  It still affects him today, the nearness of death and escaping when his brother didn't, and in this book we see Erlendur talk about what it has done to him, and why he couldn't stay in his marriage.  It is fascinating and sad, and even if you have never experienced cold, you will have suffered loss at some point in your life and so this becomes a story about grief and loss, and how people never really recover from tragedy, though they do find ways to move on.  In the end, I was most surprised to discover that I think Erlendur is a romantic, because he won't, he can't, give up on these cases.  He is not a flowers-and -cards romantic, far from it!  It's in his soul though, the ability to care and keep caring long after all hope is gone. This series, and the writing also, keep getting better and better. If I didn't already have my love Harry Hole, Erlendur would be a close competitor.  I must have a thing for lonely police detectives who stand guard against the darkness of the world. 

4. The Serpent Pool - Martin Edwards.  This is the 4th Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind mystery novel.  I have to admit up front that I found it disappointed me in one area, though overall it is good.  The problem I have with this mystery is that Hannah's partner, Marc Amos, should be questioned when it turns out he has a link to an old case Hannah is investigating.  Hannah decides she doesn't want to question him that night, and then the action takes over.  Not only do I have a problem with Hannah's decision, but I found myself distracted, thinking that Hannah should at least go to her superior and let her know of her conflict-of-interest and have someone else assigned to questioning Marc, if not get herself removed from the case. She doesn't, and I don't like this, because wouldn't normally the first accusation be that she was hiding information about him from the investigation? Impeding it? Otherwise, it is quite an interesting mystery, with gruesome killings and the slow falling apart of Hannah's and Marc's relationship.  Despite the flaw this is still a good mystery and given the high quality of the previous books, I hope it's a one-off.  Recommended, with reservation.

This leads me to the last review for tonight, another mystery I read last year from a favourite author who also had a problem with her mystery, I thought.

5. The Murder Stone - Louise Penny.  Normally I love Armand Gamache and the Quebec woods setting.  The Murder Stone is no different - set in an historic hunting lodge deep in the Quebec woods, Armand and his wife Reine-Marie have gone to celebrate their wedding anniversary, as they do every year.  Only this time a whole other family have also come at the same time, and when one of them turns up dead, and it's plainly not accidental or suicide, the Surete du Quebec must be called in.  So far, so good.  But stop me if I'm wrong, shouldn't Armand and his wife be investigated?  This is a 'locked-room' mystery, where there is a known set of guests, hotel workers etc in the remote countryside.  Even though Armand and his wife have no obvious links to the murdered victim, they should still be investigated and cleared.  However, Armand is put in charge of the investigation!  I really think he wouldn't be allowed to lead it.  He should have been side-lined and worked from the inside (because he is Armand and Chief Inspector, he would never stand idly by, but get involved anyway) to find the killer. So once again, I am left wondering, is it me? do both of these mysteries seem to have a fairly large hole in the investigative process?  Despite this, this was a very good mystery.  I enjoyed the locked room feel, the setting of the hotel in the far woods, the closeness of nature (there is a violent thunderstorm the night of the murder), the mosquitos that torment his second in command Guy Beauvoir, and the writing is excellent.  I really enjoyed this mystery over all, except for the blip.  We find out more about Armand's father and see much more of Reine-Marie than normal, and I quite like her, and them together, also.  Overall, this is still a wonderful mystery series, very well written.  Highly recommended, with one reservation.

This counts for the Canada Challenge 4.

I hope you are enjoying your first books of the year, my Gentle Readers.

Monday 10 January 2011

Some Challenges for 2011

So, the new year and looking ahead and resolutions are upon me.  I find once again the lure of challenges too irresistable to resist.  Here are some challenges I am signing up for this year:

2011 Ireland Reading Challenge - hosted by Carrie at Books and Movies. Being the usual sucker hopeful optimist I am, I am aiming for Kiss The Blarney Stone (6 books).  I have no idea what they will be at this time.  How is that for faith??

British Books Challenge 2011 - hosted by The Bookette, this is an exciting challenge because so many of the books I read are British or about Britain. Seeing as I am incurable as well as hopeful, I'm joining the Royal Family Level - 12 books by British authors in 2011.  I might as well aim high, right?

Historical Fiction 2011 - so many of the books I read are historical, that this should  will be easy.  I hope.
I'm aiming high, Gentle Readers, since a Charles Dickens looms on my TRB pile, plus a host of mysteries from the past and..... so I'm signing on for Undoubtedly Obsessed, 15 books!  Undoubtedly a little bit crazy, more like. 

Carl's Sci-Fi Experience 2011 - this will be the third year I'm joining this reading experience.
I love this challenge because it gets me to read the sci-fi that I do buy the rest of the year and keep meaning to read.  I wish there were time to read all the books I want to.  In fact, I think I make this wish  every day.  Just tonight I was upstairs checking to see which Peter James mysteries I have (none on my TBR shelf apparently, but I do have two elsewhere in the house waiting to be read), and I realized that due to my slump in December, almost all the mysteries I expected to read are still waiting to be read. Sara Paretsky! Margaret Maron! Ruth Rendell! PD James! Jo Nesbo!  Ann Cleeves!  Peter Lovesey!  Brian Freeman!  It's like a who's who of mystery writing on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and all I need is a little a whole lot more time to read.  And really, Carl says this is just an experience.  A science fiction experience.  Plus, it has a cool photo. 

2011 100 + Reading Challenge - because I am going to get to 100 books.
Hosted by the indefatigable J-Kaye, who amazes me by hosting this and reading so much with three school-age children. This is my personal mountain to climb.  I have never gotten to 100 books read in a year, and I failed spectacularly again last year, reaching the very same total I did the year before: 78 books in total read.

2011 Support Your Local Library Challenge - also by J-Kaye.  I have 12 books out from the library currently, with another 14 waiting to be picked up by Friday. It is very dangerous a great way to find new books, reading all your blogs, and now our library has gone 21st century and it is so easy to request books! one click and presto!  Thus, the 26 books found in two weeks.
So I should be able to complete this challenge at the 25 books level.  I might up it to 50 if I go all gung-ho and actually read all these books I've taken out.


Challenges Ongoing:
Canadian Book Challenge 4, which I have read some already (see my sidebar for the link). I  read two more in December that I still have to review!  I succeeded in this one last year, so I'm planning to succeed again.  We do have some wonderful books in Canada, and I love this challenge for getting our books out there to be read, and also for making encouraging and reminding me to make the time for them.  Louise Penny, Vicki Delany, Tanya Huff, Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, LR Wright, we have some wonderful writers here in Canada.

Sunday 9 January 2011

The new Sherlock Holmes

I just have to write about the new BBC series Sherlock.  I recently came across this series, and instantly fell in love with it.  Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as a young Sherlock Holmes, and Martin Freeman is perfect as Dr Watson, updated as a war vet returned from Afghanistan.  This isn't a Victorian setting, it's been updated to the 21st century, complete with computers, internet, jerky camera movements (thankfully not too jerky), as well as clever dialogue, twisted plotting and fabulous supporting cast.  There is a much better review of the tv series over at Mystery Scene blog, a new to me mystery review site.  I can't rate this series highly enough.

It is penned by one of the writers of the New Dr Who, Stephen Moffat, so that should tell you  about the depth of characterization and darkness and emotional vulnerabilities all the characters reveal.  He is the writer of one of my all-time Dr Who episodes, "Blink" from Season 3.  But this is Sherlock Holmes, mystery icon and beloved around the world.  How does he do it?  Well, he revisions Sherlock as a younger man, much younger, just setting out, and still genius and incapable of being comfortable around most people. Arrogant, aware of his brilliance, and terribly attractive at the same time.  Sherlock was always a draw for me, along the same lines as Spock from Star Trek,  - intellectually brillliant and focused, but completely unaware or unwilling to give power to emotions and yet, surprisingly, capable of gentleness every once in a while, shockingly. 

I was thrilled to receive the dvd of the first season for Christmas.  There are only three episodes filmed for the first season, but they pack so much in each episode that they hold up extremely well to rewatching over and over.  Which is good, since the new series isn't close to being ready yet.  Now of course, I might have to go and reread some original Sherlock Holmes just to compare with the show. 
Here is a link to an interview with Benedict just before the tv show aired last summer in the UK.
This is the BBC site for Sherlock Holmes.
And, just because it's fun, here is a link the the Blog of Dr John Watson.  Sadly it too isn't very long, but it's funny.  I think the producers should have "Dr Watson" writing to it while they are producing the new series.  Nothing posted for when it will be out, so the BBC once again do a bang-up job of creating fabulous tv shows then making us wait a year for the next series (season). 

Have fun, and let me know if you've seen this and what you thought.  I've been saving the third episode, The Great Game, but I don't think I can hold out much longer. 

I do have to admit that during A Study in Pink, the series opener, I did guess who the villain was, but I didn't guess why.  In fact, I was shouting out at the tv, "the ------ did it!" over and over, to my husband's great amusement, as Sherlock and Watson couldn't see the danger before them. 

A side note to anyone in and around London: my husband and I had great fun picking out streets we recognized, or that my husband thought he had been near when he worked in London many years ago.  That they shot in and around London gave the show an immediate feel of reality, that Sherlock is placed in this time and place firmly, and it works - he's a sociopath for the modern day, a result of our society separating intelligence from emotion and the dangers inherent therein.

Monday 3 January 2011

The Writing Life and My Book of the Year

One of the ways in which I begin to relax is to cruise around the blog world checking in with whatever moves me.  As I have been away from blogging for the past while, one of the first places I head to is Terri Windling's blog.  Not only does she have art that is inspirational for me, but she takes lovely photos, and somehow her thoughts get me going into my own creativity.  She also lists books she's reading on her sidebar, which every so often I go to see what I need to add to my ongoing, ever-growing list of Books to Watch Out For and Try to Find.  Yesterday I pointed you to the December writer's desk series she had going.  Today, I discovered again through her links Midori Snyder and Delia Sherman's blogs, both of whom are writers that I think are among the best fantasy writers in the world.  Midori is on a writer hiatus write now, but earlier this year she had a link to a most hilarious article on the hurdles writers face in just sitting down to write - 'the voices against our work being of any account' hurdle.  Writers among my Gentle Readers, do you recognize any of these voices?  I did, and now I'm going to print out this article and frame it in my writing room.

I found Delia's blog  through Terri linking to a review about Adrienne Martini's Sweater Quest:  My Year of Knitting Dangerously, which I know some of you have been reading this year.  Well, not only does this book sound interesting - and I can't knit! - but I discovered, even more valuable to me, a post about advice to a young would-be writer, that is perfect, here, on her Nov 27th post..  Down in the comments, Edward Gorey's The Unsung Harp is mentioned, as a perfect gift for writers.  Darn if it isn't out of print, though here is the write-up anyway so we would-be/promising/waiting to be published writers can start haunting online shops and used bookstores in our cities.  I know I will be.  It sounds perfect.  Both the writer advice and the book are classic for us.  And darn if I am not suddenly beginning to feel like I can face reading my first draft of my novel and see what can be saved.  Thank you to these kind, generous writers who take the time to share their thoughts and inspiration with us. 

Honourable Mentions for Book of the Year:

Each of the following were ones that not only seemed to be the best of their genre in the books that I read, but they did something more:  they surpassed their genre and rewrote my general assumptions about what the genre could contain.  I highly recommend all of these books. 

The Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon - I first wrote about this book, here. I still feel myself catching my breath at Lou's decision all these months later.  Breathtaking, brilliant, speculative, heart-breaking.
The Speed of Dark, which is brilliant at capturing the structure that a special mind like someone with autism needs to make sense of the world.  Indeed, reading this book, made me wonder how much all of us who are 'normal', need schedules and rules in order to go about our day, too.  And how much a little flexibility in our acceptance of others' differences could go a long way to make everyone feel comfortable in this world.
The Wrong Kind of Blood - Declan Hughes - I did not write about this book when I first read it in September, as it was a library book and I had a pile I was trying to read before returning.  That's my excuse, but it's a sad one, because from the moment I opened this mystery, I felt a frisson of energy that hasn't left me since.  This is noir, gritty mystery noir at it's best.  Ed Loy returns home to bury his mother, and uncovers secrets from his own past in the process.  It's got a lot of plot and the background of Ed is a bit mysterious, but it all works out in the end.  Mostly though it's Ed's reactions to Dublin then and now, and how crime and payouts and politics are the bedrock of life in the Dublin he knows then and now.  Very well done, and unlike anything I've read for quite some time. I am seeking out the rest of the series now. 

The Court of the Air - Stephen Hunt - This is a complex steampunk fantasy mix that I wasn't sure I liked or understood while I read it, until I got to the final chapters and it all comes together stunningly.  The steam men culture, the chilling court of the air, were all fabulous (in the best fantasy sense of the word) but what made the book have feeling were Molly and Oliver, the two orphans at the heart of this Victorian alternate world setting. Fascinating, a bit overwhelming at times, and once done, it has stayed with me and worked on me and now I find I am desperate to read the next one in the series. I understand steampunk better for having read this novel!  and I really have to know what happens next.

Favourite Authors discovered:  tie.  so I've taken my own idea yesterday and an idea from raidergirl3's book review category for 2010, and decided these two authors deserve once again, a special mention from me:
Jo Nesbo
Martin Edwards
I really can't decide between these two - not because they are similar, not at all! But because since discovering them this year, I have devoured the books in their series.
Jo Nesbo:
You all know about my love affair with Harry Hole, which continues unabated, through despair, alcoholism, devious arch-criminals and Harry's own weaknesses.  I have two sitting to be read for this new year, The Redeemer and The Snowman. Really, it's like Christmas the way it should have been, to have these books next to read!

Martin Edwards
The Lake District series: I enjoy the series of Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett so much. I think what I like best is the growing relationship between them, even as they try to continue their ongoing relationships with their current partners.  It is fascinating to have a historian's perspective added to the mystery genre, not because it hasn't been done before, but because Daniel explores history as it affects people so of course the cold cases that Hannah opens fascinate him.  Hannah is not an easy female character to like, yet I do.  She is interesting and complex and intelligent, and through her persistence and luck we see cases resolved.  At the heart of these mysteries are two things:  the Lake District and relationships.  The Lake District is beautiful, even as Wordsworth wrote about it almost two centuries ago, with nature ever present then and now as part of the scene of crimes, part of the witness to passions that explode.  Relationships are what all crimes stem from, and one of the many interesting things about this series is that none of the crimes are similar or fall into a pattern.  I'm reading The Serpent Pool right now (the last one published) - oh look!  Oh joy!  A new one is going to be published in April:  The Hanging Woods.  *happy sigh* now I can finish The Serpent Pool, knowing another one is around the corner.  Thank you, Martin!

My Book of the Year: Jack the Giant-Killer by Charles de Lint

Imagine my surprise when I came across a reference to 'placing a sprig of rowan in a pocket' in a recent fantasy novel, and my thrill that I knew exactly what the writer was referencing because I finally read Jack The Giant Killer over 20 years after it was published!  Sometimes books become classics in their field, and Jack the Giant Killer is one of those books for me and for urban fantasy.  This won Canada's science fiction award in 1988, deservedly so.  Even now, reading it so many years later, it brought a flash of magic to our dull city.  I really wished, as I did when I first read Moonheart  when it was published, that Ottawa could be a little more like how Charles imagines it in his urban fantasy novels.  I enjoyed Jacky Rowan, and her best friend Kate Crackernuts, and the Unseelie Court are very frightening, as they ought to be.  If a faerie tale could be called 'realistic', this would be one, and I love the melding of the real with the unreal.  Here is the link to my original review. I like Jacky Rowan too, and I really wish Charles would write more stories featuring her and Kate too. It's my book of the year not just because it's witty, and clever, and wise in the ways of the heart, and full of love and wisdom too, but because it's fun, and magical, and full of bravery.   It brought me back to a sense of myself when I was starting out on my own, and discovering the world of fantasy for the first time.  Charles de Lint was my first love in contemporary fantasy writing (* note: not him, I've met him, lovely man and gorgeous wife Mary Ann) - it's his writing that I love.  Jack the Giant Killer showed me what I love best in fantasy writing: fairy tales and magic and growing up all mixed up together in a bag of adventure and friendship and love.

Sunday 2 January 2011

The "Where I've Been" Post

Happy 2011 to you all, Gentle Readers!!!  I hope you had a merry holiday season, and time for reading.

Where have I been, you are wondering.  How could I go the past month without posting, where is my year-end book special, and most of all, what happened to me during the Advent Calendar Tour?

It was a season I could never have predicted, my book-loving friends.  It began with a slip on the ice three days after I wrote my last post.  I fell twice, the second time falling backwards and hitting my head.  I ended up with a very minor concussion, and it has been the stress from the fall, the memory of falling, that has been haunting me from the beginning of the holiday season.  I was well looked after, friends and family took care of me and I was back at work a few days later, but the shock of the fall has reverbrated through my holidays.  It threw me off, and I couldn't seem to settle down into thinking again. I was able to read, thankfully.  And then family came.

This is the second year that family has unexpectedly come to stay and turned our holidays upside down.  This turned into a very traumatic visit for me, family secrets and drama, and we are still recovering.  So merry?  Sometimes, when it was just us.  It was a lovely holiday at times, and through it all I've been very happy that I am still here.  I know how serious my fall could have been.

It does mean that I have thought long and hard about my blog, which hasn't been sadly neglected but definitely suffered from lack of regular posting this past year.  I've wondered if I've run out of things to say about books, or if I need to say them publicly any more.  I've come to the understanding with myself that of course, duh Susan!  I love discussing books, reading your ideas about them, Gentle Readers,  as well as talking about what I love (or don't) about what I'm reading.  Books are my main passion in life.  And this blog is nothing if not my own labour of love about my love of books.  So, I do apologize for missing the Advent Blog Tour.  Happy late holiday wishes to all of you (and I really hope you all had a much better holiday season over all!!) It's still the New Year, so I can squeeze in Happy New Year, blessings and happiness to each of you, my Gentle Readers, for this coming year.  I am especially happy because the coming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Rabbit, and that's what I am.

Books of the year - not yet
I am going to do my book of the year in my next post (which Goddess willing will be tomorrow), mostly because I still haven't chosen my book of the year.  I discovered two wonderful mystery series - Martin Edwards' Lake District series featuring Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett, and Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, which I can't choose among either series for my favourite books because they are all so good.  Maybe I should do mystery series of the year?

Other stand-outs are Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day - I loved this book, and it made me laugh out loud so many times. What a lovely magical whimsical fun book, delightful for the soul and the possibility that today, or any day, could be the day when everything changes.  Persephone Books were reprinting this before the holidays, or I would have been able to give this as my present of the year to several people.  Next year..... 

Book of Lost Tales by John Connolly was not what I expected, a magical fairy tale book that lingers long after it is all over - highly recommended.   

The Darkest Room  by Johan Theorin - a gripping mystery that really could not be put down, filled with echoes from earlier tragedies and people coping as best they can with loss and their own dark family secrets.  Very very good, and one I did give for Christmas.   

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths was another standout book for me. A mystery featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway, it bridges time and space in a haunting poetic mystery about loss and death and children.  Another one given for Christmas (and read already by the recipient!).

One of the first books I read last year, Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, never left me.  It raised questions about immigration and race and crime within the family that set as it was in the midst of children, made this book much larger than its Icelandic setting would suggest.  The best mysteries do this, I find, take the story of a crime or a mystery and cast it into the world so it becomes a comment on today's society, wherever we find ourselves.  This is a writer who gets better and better with each Erlendur mystery.   

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar was so delightful and funny, I laughed out loud so often reading this hilarious account of two runaway Scottish fairies in New York City and the havoc they wreak on everyone and everything.  Also the first book to give a true account of what it is like to have Crohn's Disease (which a friend and a family member suffer from).  I'm beginning to think Martin Millar is one of those undiscovered writers that are like secrets in fantasy or historical communities.  I loved his Lonely Werewolf Girl, and now I thoroughly recommend this book by him. 

To Dream of the Dead by Phil Rickman is another in an ongoing series that I highly recommend.  I love Merrily Watkins, the exorcist  Anglican reverend, her daughter Jane, and the cast of characters in their village Borderlands setting along the edge of Wales.  This is a place of supernatural events, hauntings and old myths and folk tales that have ancient bases in reality, and it's up to Merrily to uncover what is human in origin, and what is other-worldly.  Whether places affect people, or people affect places, is one of those intriguing questions this series deals with in every book.  To Dream of the Dead is about just that, how the dead echo through time and how their legacy of religion can still have meaning, if we let it.  Against this is set the rising of the river running through Ledwardine, the village Merrily lives in, and the fear of nature unleashed. This mystery novel also uncovers some ancient roots of Ledwardine as well as more of the standing stones Jane discovered in earlier books in the series.  This is a mystery series unlike any other out there, about people and place and the senses of mind that we know on some level exists, even if we don't understand why and can't explain it. 

In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany is the first in an ongoing Canadian mystery series that I discovered thanks to a book blogger late last year.  It took me a little while to hunt this book down in my library, and I really enjoyed the setting in the Rockies.  I've lived in Vernon in British Columbia twice, and the feel of living amongst the mountains of BC is perfectly captured in this book.  I kept looking for Trafalgar on the map, even though it doesn't exist it feels like a real place!  Molly Smith is the rookie cop who is promoted to the detective squad temporarily.  I enjoyed the mystery and the Canadian context - a memorial to the America draft resistors to Vietnam War.  Very Canadian!  Very enjoyable and I'm off to find the next in the series, The Valley of the Lost.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy was a terrific fairy tale retelling of Hansel and Gretel, set in Poland during WW2.  This is the second book I've read using the horrors of war - of what people do, did, have done to one another under the guise of war, and retelling them in fairy tale settings to help understand these horrors.  Briar Rose by Jane Yolen was the first one I read, last year.  They both are true fairy tale retellings, scary and sad, filled with hope when all is lost, and the will to survive.  It isn't pretty, but then true fairy tales, the really nasty ones like Hansel and Gretel, tell it like it really is, too.  And we as children know this, as well as all children anywhere and everywhere.  This may be the best way to begin to heal from this war, the first stirrings of healing tissue.  We have to imagine our way through the horror so we can begin to understand, and then to forgive.  The only way we can prevent this from happening is through forgiveness.  It would be very interesting to know if the Germans or Russians are beginning to write any fairy tales too, to try to explain to themselves also what happened.  In the meantime, both of these are worth seeking out, and when you are ready, to take a trip through the forest to meet the darkness that is part of our civilization.

 Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton round out my books that made a deep impression on me this year. Who can forget a dragon society where the dead parents are eaten by their children, and the rules of courtship and marriage?  And what a dragon blush really means?  An original fantasy novel that brings dragons to life, in a wonderful Victorian society setting.  Funny, too.

Reading Goals
So those are some of the books I read this year that have moved me and marked me.  I will do a final round-up of what I read, tomorrow.  I am too depressed that not only did I not get to 100 books read this year, but I didn't get to my 50 mysteries either as my reading in December fell to 3 books. However this just makes me more determined to succeed this year in both these goals!

Fairy Tales
To honour fairy tales and the place I want them to have in my house, I bought Maria Tatar's latest collection, The Annotated Brothers Grimm.
This volume is translated by Tatar, and includes over 150 illustrations from all kinds of editions over the years, and Tatar's annotations on the texts.

I bought this because I, for one, love fairy tales when they come illustrated and especially, when the text is child-friendly.  I mean, we have one edition bought by a friend that is written in Victorian text, so it's wordy and unfamiliar in meaning to my kids.  The idea of fairy tales isn't that they are old, but that they are accessible immediately to that wordless part of the brain that knows these stories already.  With this book I hope to have my children move into the heart of the fairy tale world and be enriched by it, so the next time Rapunzel comes out as a Disney movie, I don't have to rush to find a copy of Rapunzel for my daughter to hear so she knows what Tangled is really about!  This is our nighttime reading, which I had started in the autumn with the two youngest children,  but had to stop when the Victorian retelling got hard on me just in the telling!

Happy 2011 to all you, my Gentle Readers.  I wish for all of you, as well as myself, time to read during this coming year, as well as joy and beauty and creativity all through the year. 

For those who are looking for inspiration, I can think of no better way than to go to Terri Windling's blog, where for the past month she has been posting some beautiful photos of the winter scenes they have in Doret, as well as - my favourite - photos of creative people's desks, from writers, sculptors, and painters.  Some of my favourite writers, like Terri herself, Charles de Lint and Jane Yolen, are there.