Friday 28 December 2012

Books for Christmas!! and two challenges

   So here they are, the books I received for Christmas.  I am so excited!  I look forward to the long winter ahead, and lots of good reading.

 They are:
The Chalk Girl - Carol O'Connell
More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby
Blood of the Wicked - Leighton Gage
Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch
Stolen Souls - Stuart Neville
 The London Compendium - Ed Glinert
Standing in Another Man's Grave - Ian Rankin
Broken Harbour - Tana French
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2012 - Paula Guran (ed)
Songs of Earth - Elspeth Cooper
Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis
The Day is Dark - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
White Heat - M.J. McGrath
The Betrayal of Trust - Susan Hill
Little Girl Lost - Brian McGilloway
Charles Dickens: A Life - Claire Tomalin
Shadowplay - Karen Campbell

They were all bought for my Christmas box, over autumn.  Merry Christmas, everyone!  I did receive a gift certificate also for Aamazon, so more books will be coming, which I have to hurry up and order, or I won't be able to use them for the next thing I am about to write:  this is when I officially announce that for the months of January through March, I will not be buying any new books.  Yes, this means I am accepting a new challenge:  I am signing up for C.B. James' TBR Double Dog Dare.
  Two Challenges:               
 As he says on his blog, Ready When You Are, " remember, especially those of you who do not participate in reading challenges, the TBR Double Dare is not a "reading challenge;"   it's a dare. 

We dare you, no we double dog dare you to join in the fun.

The rules are extreme, but you can change them to fit your needs.  The TBR Double Dog Dare is meant to be fun, so rule number one is--have fun. 

The goal of the TBR Double Dog Dare is to reduce the size of your TBR stack, to read those books you've had for years and always meant to get around to reading one day.  January 1, 2013 just might be the day. 

If you agree to the full Double Dog Dare, then you pledge to read only books in your TBR stack as of January 1, 2013 from the start of the new year until April Fool's Day. Your TBR stack is officially defined as the books you have purchased  or have requested from the library as of January 1, 2013.  This includes books that have not arrived in the mail or at the store yet."

So I have time to make that last order to Amazon books!

 And I'm joining Ana's and Iris's January Long Awaited Reads challenge also

.  It's not really a challenge, it's more of a fun sharing of what long awaited reads we've put aside, that we are  going to read  in January (and through the month while we read them).  Mill on the Floss, any Charles Dickens, so many mystery series to catch up in, but I am going to try to make this about books I've had for a long time on my shelves waiting to read.  I'll post the list before January, while I'm doing my round-up of my year's reading. 

What about you, dear reader?  Did you receive some books for Christmas?   Are you feeling time-challenged to read what you have? 

Sunday 23 December 2012

going to the bookstore today......

   Today I found myself at Chapters downtown.  I wasn't shopping, all my shopping is done for my daughter's birthday tomorrow and Christmas.  I was taking some me time before going to a visit with a special little someone (more details will follow when we are allowed to say more). As you know, there is nothing like a bookstore to hang out in. 

Chapters was, as they say in England, heaving.  It was busy.  It was good to see that books are still a most popular book for Christmas.  The line up was, I kid you not, stretching from the cash all the way across the floor to the other side of the store, at the other entrance.  And it was like that for over an hour.  It did my bookish heart so much good to see books being bought as gifts.

Books I Still Want:
 I  checked for Diana Wynne Jones' biography Reflections, but they didn't have any copies in stock.  Nor Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries 2.  Nor White Pine by Mary Oliver.  I did buy one book, Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell, a stocking gift for myself.  And Chapters has a secret: if you go up to the second floor,there is another cash register in the children's section.  Two people in line when I got there.  So I confess to a huge contented smile as I walked past part of the huge line up downstairs. 

I am not able to get much reading done this week.  It is my daughter's birthday tomorrow, she will be 10 years old, and we were planning her party (it was yesterday), and busy wrapping presents every evening. How are you doing, Gentle Reader?  Are you finding any time to read yet during this holiday season?  Is there one book in particular you want to read on Christmas Day?  I have a box of books waiting for me, and I haven't decided what I'm going to start with - I'll wait until Christmas Day, and when I open my box, see what falls into my hand first.  I can hardly wait to open it! 

I hope you each get a book you want to read, this Christmas season!  And many happy memories.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

some good news

    I am still - will for some time, I think - be mourning what happened in Newtown.  One of the things that is helping is all the love and forgiveness coming from the families, in the midst of grief, and focussing on the bright light of each child  and  the special gifts  and talents each child and adult brought into their families and the world.  It's healing, and it's helping.

So I thought I would share two pieces of very good news, personal news that I want to celebrate:
- our foundation is finally fixed.  Not all the foundation yet, it took us a long time to find a contractor we liked and were comfortable with.  So he was only able to get the hole and the garage door fixed, and not the rest of the house foundation, which has to be checked and the cracks filled (not many, but they do have to be fixed.)  That will wait for spring.  For now, it is such a huge relief to have the hole fixed, and the foundation under the hole sealed and waterproofed.  Especially as we have had 48 hours of snow, rain, freezing rain since Sunday, it's been so comforting to know our foundation is in much better shape now.
- my husband and I had separated last year, and I am very happy to say that this fall, we were able to find our way back together again.  So we are a family once more, and it is much better now than it was.  I am very happy and contented, and have learned a lot this past 16 months, about myself, about marriage, about love.

In this next week before Christmas, I want to slow down  and appreciate each moment of life. It is a gift, and loved ones are the most precious of gifts to us. 

Monday 17 December 2012

To not pass in silence

          It's very difficult to sit and write about a book, today.  I want to write about how good it was, and interesting, and how much I am looking forward to reading the next one in the series.  But I find my thoughts turn this weekend to Newtown, Connecticut.   I mourn the loss of so many young lives, and adults, in the shootings on Friday.  I want to talk about it here, for I feel it is a grief we all feel in some way, and I do not want it to pass in silence here.  It is too important.

      They were so beautiful, each of those children, and it is overwhelming that so many were killed.  It's overwhelming that even one was killed this way. It is terrible.

I am so sad for the teachers, and the principal and the psychologist, and the mother, and most of all for the young children.   We are supposed to be caretakers of our children. In some way even the gunman was failed as a child, by the education system, by the health system,  though I do not understand why that failure led him to do what he did.

      We have had to talk about it with our children this weekend, as my son went online at school on Friday afternoon and saw one of the news headlines while using the search index.  They are both affected by it, as they knew that children had been killed, and at school.  We have had to discuss it as honestly as we can, and the most disturbing has been how anxious my son is about how no one could stop the gunman.  He is age 8, just a year older than some of the children who died.  We live far away from Connecticut, and yet this shows how small our world has become, that truly what happens in one place, affects the whole world.

       When I go to put my children on the school bus tomorrow, it will be with the knowledge that  elementary school isn't the safe place it was on Friday morning.   When they have their next lock down practice, it will be with the knowledge of what happened on Friday in the back of their minds now.  For those children  in Newtown who were at that school that day, they will have to find so much courage now, more than they knew they had, to go back.

We have to find some way to make our schools safe again, every where in the world, for our children.

Saturday 8 December 2012

treasured book for Christmas - Virtual Advent Tour


    Welcome to my turn on the Virtual Advent Tour!  Come in, come in.  Today I would like to talk about books for Christmas.

        Do you remember when you were a child, when you knew you were getting a book for Christmas, how excited you were when you opened it? I do.  I never knew what I was going to get under the tree, but I always knew there was going to be a book for me. My family are all good readers, so books were almost always among the presents.

      My earliest book I still have with me, is this one:  The Blue Bird,  adapted by Jan Vladislav, from the original story by Marie d'Aulnoy. I originally posted about this book here,  in a post about some of my favourite books.  What I want to share with you

today as part of my virtual tour, is the inscription:  

Whenever I look at the inscription from my mother, in this most special of books still left from my childhood, I feel such a deep love and gratitude - for her, for Christmas, and for books.  I was 7 years old when I received this book.  It is now damaged, from many years and places lived in, and minus the dust jacket, but it is still one of the most precious gifts - because it was from my mother, and because I love the fairy tale itself.  This is part of what makes Christmas such a wonderful time for me, because we never know what will become a keepsake or a special memory.  It's a chance to give to the ones we love, and out of that, we never know what will become treasured by them.

Even I don't inscribe inside the covers of books any more, as I never know if my children or nieces or nephews will keep the books.  I did before, before computers and e-books and the huge availability of books now.  Sometimes I wonder if I should, or if this time is long gone now.  I think it depends on whether we view books as disposable or not. 

 Another thing about getting books as presents that  I wanted to talk about here is about that moment when you first open the gift paper and see the book beneath.  What fun and excitement!  What book will it be? And then get the chance to sit among the wrapping paper and everything fading as you open the cover and glance at the first page, and suddenly everyone is calling your name because in the midst of the Christmas mayhem of opening presents, you disappeared for a moment into the book. Isn't that one of the best moments of Christmas?  It is, for me.

Then later on, now as an adult (because as a child you can read throughout the day), when everything is done - the wrapping put away, presents tidied up, Christmas meal over, and if you are lucky and at home, you can sit down in your favourite chair, with a glass or cup of your favourite beverage, and open your new book again.  Young or old, this has been one of my most favourite moments and deepest pleasures of every Christmas.  Reading a new book. Holding it in my hands, and the deep pleasure and joy of settling in to read. The lights on the tree, the dark night outside, and everyone else playing with their new things (or safely tucked in for the night).

For me, Christmas and books is inextricably linked.  Is it the same for all of who love books, I wonder?  I think it is.  That moment of picking up the present and knowing it is a book, is etched into my mind.  I always wanted a book under the tree, and if ever there wasn't one, I was always secretly disappointed.  I am hoping that my children will develop into lifelong readers (my eldest has now,), in part because every year I give them books for Christmas, just like my mother gave to me when I was growing up.

So, this is what I wanted to share this year on the Virtual Advent Tour.  In past years, I have written about making ginger cookies with my daughter, the Winter Solstice, and last year, alot of our traditions with our kids. ( I missed 2010 because I'd fallen and received a concussion, and didn't post for most of the month of  December).   I thank Kailana at The Written World and Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader for hosting this very fun tour.  I love seeing what everyone writes for Christmas, each year.

And  it snowed today:
Today, it feels like Christmas:


and if you look very closely, you will see the sparrows under the bird feeder.  The squirrel empties the feeder and the sparrows come and cluster on the ground.  Seeing snow makes me feel like Christmas (at least in December), and it's looking a lot like Christmas today......Happy holidays to all of you, dear book bloggers.  I hope you find yourselves getting lost in a good book over the holidays, too.

***Edited to add:  Oh my, I forgot to add the other two bloggers who are sharing this day in the Advent Tour with me.
Suey at It's All About Books has a fun one about a local singer made good 
Robin at A Fondness for Reading has a lovely one about her students and children at this time of year.

Monday 3 December 2012

Seraphina - a perfect fantasy

   Wow.  Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is one excellent fantasy.  Do you like dragons?  Heroines with a secret?  Music?  Visions, dangerous love, and adventure?  Then Seraphina is the book for you.

                                                   It's a new fantasy, a debut novel by Canadian Rachel Hartman, who lives in Vancouver.  It is one of my favourite books that I've read so far this year.  To say I devoured it today would almost be an understatement.  I inhaled it.  It was like breathing in good fantasy, imbibing a wonderfully imagined world, complete with its own history, some newly created words for that world (which flow in the writing and make perfect sense, always hard to do in a fantasy), and fascinating history between dragons and humans.  It had fun intrigue, and romance (yes, there is a heartbreaking romance or three in this book), and dances, and queens and princesses, and music.  Such music!  The way Hartman writes about music is how musicians and singers must feel when they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  I have a friend who sings, and when I hear him sing, sometimes I get goosebumps because the energy that comes through him is so electric and beautiful that it is almost pure emotion. That is how Seraphina plays music.  It makes this a lovely fantasy about being true to yourself, and how Seraphina finds out how to be, is part of the delight of this book.  Simply, wonderful.

If you have a teenager looking for something new, this would be perfect.  If you are feeling jaded by all the pressure to buy the perfect gift and make Christmas be like on tv, in your house, then take a moment - take a day, and sit yourself down and treat yourself to this perfect fantasy.  Yes, it's almost perfect, an awesome debut. It will take you away to a wonderful world.   And suddenly magic is back - at least for me, I feel renewed again.  It's been a long time since a fantasy did that for me.  Really, a must read for fantasy lovers.  It's also young adult, so you might find it in that section of your bookstore.

  I still have a tiny lump in my voice from the sweet ending.  Just one teeny problem - there's another book at least to come, and I honestly can't wait for it. I really want to know what happens next in Seraphina's world.


It's that time of year again!  The Virtual Advent Tour started yesterday.  I'm on the list for this year, and am planning what I hope will be a fun post for you.  This is the 5th year of the Advent Tour, and we have gone all over the world through past years, thanks to Marg at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Kailana at The Written World, who have hosted it for every year.   It's not too late to sign up.  They have a list of who's appearing when, which is very handy as so many new bloggers have signed up this year.  Already we've seen a tree decorated, and had a Christmas puzzle to do (among other fun posts).  Tis the season, come and visit everyone through the month.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Les Miserables update

   I love this passage from Les Miserables:

    "At daybreak he was in the open countryside; the town of Montreuil-sur-mer was far enough behind him.  He watched the horizon whiten; he watched,without seeing, all the chilling features of a winter dawn passing before his eyes.  Morning has its ghosts just as night does.  He did not see them but, unwittingly, and through almost a kind of physical osmosis, the black silhouettes of trees and hills added something inexpressibly mournful and sinister to the convulsive state of his mind." Ch 5, A Spoke in the Wheels, from Book of Fantine.

That paints such a picture, doesn't it, of Valjean's ride through the countryside as he decides what to do.  The outer state of the world mirroring the inner state of the mind.  The chill of the winter dawn, the black silhouettes - no colour anywhere, and no help for Valjean but to learn what he is made of, and what is in his heart and his mind, alone. 

This is satisfying reading.  There is something to chew over, to mull, there is depth to this writing that is satisfying me in a way that I had forgotten a book can do.  It's not that anything I've read this year has been bad, on the contrary, I've read some excellent books this year that I am also mulling over as they settle into me. 

 Reading Les Miserables is an experience.  It's getting lost in a time and place, in a the complex workings of a man's heart and soul, in all the miseries and kindnesses, love and loss that make up life, and I am loving it.  It's rich material,  where the workings of all the characters' hearts and minds are revealed.   There are so many characters that are all different, and so vividly realized, even in just the line or two some of them are given.   I am so glad I started reading Les Miserables, and so sad that it took me so long to get to it.  It reminds me of some ways of Middlemarch, where the variety and depths of characters minds, hearts and souls are revealed, in the complexity of  small village life, where one character's actions does affect the whole. Les Miserables has that same consideration to it.  We don't live all alone, and every conversation, every act, every thought, has a reaction to it..  It's fascinating and gripping . 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Some seasonal ideas for the booklover in your life

    Becca over at Lost in Books has a fun post up today on shopping for Christmas, book-themed.  It reminded me that this past weekend I spent daydreaming online at some bookish gift sites, after reading  the following post by Ana, at Things Mean Alot, in this post she gives a link to Reading Matters.  Her post took me away to two bookish sites that I just love, and here are a few things I saw that I really liked:

The Literary Gift Company,   
which has things like:

 a fabulous tea towel - it's a lovely poem, to read while making tea (which we drink a lot of here)

a new book journal               

who could resist this magnet?     

I LOVE this cup.          

 The other site is What the Dickens, which now ships out of the UK.  Do you have a Jane Austen fan in your life?    I love both of these gift items.  The one below is a real puzzle featuring Regency Jane Austen.  500 pieces.  I love the quote on the journal, too.  I can see some shopping in January (because I love me, too!) coming up.......

How about a cup of tea......       

poured from this lovely teapot:  

or, do you love the old Penguin book covers?   Old Penguin covers done as postcards.

 This looks so fun!  (Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made of, this made me think of you!)

or for the modern Penguin lover, postcards of modern writers:       

 If nothing else, these are good to dream over, as the snow falls and Christmas draws nearer, and for after,during the long winter evenings.  Have fun shopping for the book lover in your life!    I'm sure there are other book-themed sites around, please drop me a line or post about them.  There is nothing quite like window-shopping online and admiring all the bookish gifts out there now. 

By the way, Reading Matters has the second of three posts up on Christmas ideas, and Nov 22 was on book sets - oh, some are lovely!   I particularly like the look of Dickens at Christmas:

If nothing else, I hope you enjoy looking at bookish gifts as much as I do. 

Thursday 22 November 2012

Les Miserables

      So I was feeling like I was in a slump, not having any idea for weeks now on what to blog about.  And then I went to Chris's  post on Les Miserables, here.  She's at Bookarama.  And suddenly, I knew:  I have been reading Les Miserables slowly ever since buying it last spring.  Very slowly.  Most of the summer went by before I picked it up again.  Then this week I read a few more chapters.  I understand now that one of the things stopping me from blogging is that I was wanting to talk about Les Miserables, and also wanting some more time in reading it first, thinking I should have more read before I do.  No!  I want to talk about it now!  Cause really, I'm excited about this book!

There, I said it.  This humungous novel, at over 1192 pages with pretty small print, is worthy of being called a classic.  From the very first, I have been amazed at the gracefulness of the edition I have.  It's the new Modern Library edition, translated by Julie Rose. 

I am amazed at the depth and perception of Hugo's ability to get into the skin of people, to delineate them so clearly.  The Bishop of Digne who is round and kindly and pure, and his ever so thin sister who stays with him and cares for him all her life, devoted in a kind sisterly way, not the mean way that some people can have when they give up something for someone else.   Valjean himself, made a criminal through poverty - hunger - changed by meeting the Bishop.  And what a change!  One of the grandest moments in literature, I think, the moment when Valjean sees himself as he has become, and chooses another path through the grace of meeting the Bishop.  He tries to go good, and oh does he ever!  It was a striking moment, Valjean's conversion to opening up himself to trying another way, a marvellous insight into his thoughts and perceptions.  This is a meaty novel, rich with characters and story, though Hugo goes off and explores so much at the same time, like he gets sidetracked and wants to cover everything  and  the landscape of life in early 19th century Paris is laid before our eyes in the book.   Yes, the plot does move a little slowly.  I don't mind, mostly I wish the book didn't weigh so much so that I could carry it around with me and read it more quickly.

Little Cosette.  Ah the poor little girl, I am so angry at her mother (and the cad who got her in the family way) and what happens to Cosette, and then have pity for the poverty most people live in, in the early 19th century that leads to what happens to Cosette.  This is a magnificent book.  And I have almost 1,000 pages to go.  I've finally realized that I want to take you  along with me as I read it - I want to post about Les Miserables and my journey through it. 

Have you read Les Miserables?  Can you, like Chris, say that you have read the whole thing?  What did you think?  Let me know.
And of course, the movie is coming out.  I didn't know it was a musical, which I am wondering about  -but I love this poster, and Hugh Jackman - oh yes, I think I am going to see this!  Now, can I read this over the next month?  Not likely.  A good part, though.  So stay tuned.  And I promise every post won't be about it, I do have lots of other books I am reading and want to share!  This is such a treat though, that I think something like  a weekly update, or Drop in on Les Miserables reading would be fun to do.  I'll see.  For now, I am enjoying the richness of characterization and details, though Chris does warn that there are several chapters devoted to sewers coming up. 

Saturday 17 November 2012

Angela Carter, and Alan Garner - fantasy and fairy tale reading for a Saturday night

  I was saving a post for tomorrow on another mystery I read and was enthralled by.  I still plan it, but I just had to share this link with you.  It comes by way of Terri Windling's blog, The Drawing Board, a quick post here about an article on Angela Carter.  She provides the link to The Paris Review, and an astonishing article on Angela Carter and her legacy. It's a wonderful post, by Marina Warner, who is a specialist in writing about fairy tales herself.   Most of the post is about The Bloody Chamber, which I read a few years ago, and to which I also responded to in a deep, subterranean way.  Some of the images and the feel of the stories linger in me, a sign that they (and Carter) have touched a deep place in me.  Imagine if there had been no Angela Carter - what would have happened to fairy tales, which were languishing in the abandoned corner of children's literature?  Scorned as old and after Disney got through with them, sickly sweet? She revolutionized and modernized the fairy tale by re-imagining them, writing in a voice that as Warner says, makes the tales real - using physical location and senses, light, dark, using all the dark and bloody things fairy tales are really about, so something deep in us does sit up and take notice. Fairy tales are alive today, and the article argues that it is mostly because of Angela Carter and The Bloody Chamber. 

Go read the article, and I hope it is as illuminating for you as it was for me.  Then go back to Terri Windling's blog, where she has a very short post about Alan Garner's new book Boneland, and some links to some interesting articles about it and him. 

Fantasy and fairy tale and myth reading for Saturday night.  Enjoy!!

Friday 16 November 2012

Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny is number 6 in the Armand Gamache mystery series.  It is also far and away the best one so far - I still have A Trick of the Light and The Beautiful Mystery to get to, both of which have won much acclaim and awards - A Trick of the Light won the Anthony Award in 2011.  Bury Your Dead won the Nero Award, the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award, all in 2010.  It deserved every one of them, too. It is an outstanding mystery, weaving it's way between historical Quebec City, modern day Three Pines, Samuel de Champlain, the English and French in Quebec City, and redemption.

 Much of the novel occurs in the deepest part of winter in Quebec City, in the deep freeze which descends on the city in February.  The Carnivale d'Hiver - Winter Carnival- plays a background role in the setting. The Winter Carnival is one of the biggest festivals in winter in Canada (and the US), drawing in tourists from all over the world to celebrate winter. In the midst of all this revelry, Armand Gamache gets up at 3:30 am, and wanders in the deep heart of the winter night, unable to rest.  He has come to Quebec City to heal, staying with his former mentor Emile from the Surete de Quebec, who has long been retired. Gamache cannot forgive himself for a mistake in judgement he made, a judgement that had terrible consequences for some of his team.  Much of the story is told in an unfolding chapter switching sequence, with Armand dipping back into painful memories, finding his way to the central image that has so devastated him. It's the way the mind works with something painful, and it is fascinating to watch him make his way back to and through the events.  He is trying to find some way to live with the memories. At the same time, this question of judgement has caused him to look back on the case he solved just previous to the events of this novel, in The Murder Stone, where Olivier from the Three Pines was discovered to be guilty of a terrible crime. He sets his second in command  Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is also recovering in his way from the events that torment the Chief,  to discover if Olivier is innocent, if Gamache's team overlooked some evidence.  This is all because Olivier's partner Gabriel refuses to believe Olivier did it and sends a letter every day to Armand that says only, Why did he move the body?  This kind of faith also moves through this book - faith that people have to sustain them, faith in the face of adversity, faith that something can be found that is good and worth protecting.

This is a book about uncovering the evidence to lead to the truth, and about the dead.  How the dead are venerated, how they are kept alive in our memories, how they can shape a place and a time, and even a province - Samuel de Champlain was the discoverer and founder of Quebec City, helped by the aboriginal peoples in the area (the Huron mainly) to survive the first winters. While Gamache is recovering, a laughable mad man who is determined to find Champlain's body somewhere under the earth in Quebec City, is murdered. In the unlikeliest of places, in a hidden corner of the English community that still survives in Quebec City.  So  in order to find out who killed him and not set of hysteria and chaos in the media, Gamache is asked to lend unofficial assistance as he is there and can speak better English than the officers in the Quebec City police force investigating the crime do. Gamache is able to speak to the tiny English community where the murder took place.  The English in Quebec city are an endangered minority, and the book delves into some of the reasons why, dating back to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, when Montcalm lost to Wolfe. Gamache wonders through the book, how did Montcalm feel, when the English did the impossible, the unexpected, and climbed the cliff walls to surround the much larger French army on the Plains?  When he sent for reinforcements, but they never came? While a small part of the novel, it is this interest in the history around him that makes this mystery stand out. Gamache ponders Wolfe, Montcalm, and how the battle was won and lost, and how the English came to rule Quebec City and Canada, against the odds. He compares the battle Montcalm lost, with the errors in judgement he made himself. How can he bury the dead if he can't forget what happened?  Much of this book is about characters who can't forget what happened, and how they have to learn to let go and bury their dead, or they get stuck and can't move into what is good in life. Powerful thoughts in this mystery.

This setting, in the heart of old Quebec City, where Samuel de Champlain is thought to be buried, where the battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought that decided the course of a country, is unique in major mysteries published. I can't think of another mystery that covers this kind of politics and history and murder, set in Canada.  It makes for fascinating reading - plus a bit of homesickness for me, for I spent three years as a teenager living in Quebec City, graduating from high school (secondary school in Quebec) there.  It is a beautiful city, and reading this book took me back to Winter Carnivals I had attended long ago, and the old walled city, and the Plains of Abraham, that my school bus drove by every day to and from our high school. I went to one of the three English high schools then in Quebec City.

 Bury Your Dead is a very good title for this book.  It's like a book of Gamache thinking over what happened to him, and this grief gives a kind of purity to his thoughts. We get a glimpse of how he thinks, and sees the world, and of what a kind, gentle, thoughtful man he is - and yet finds so difficult to forgive himself his failures.  There are all kinds of acts of faith in this book, from Renaud, the man digging for Champlain's burial place, to the faith of  Reine Marie and Emile in letting Armand have his space and heal at his own pace, to the Literary and Historical Society deep in the heart of the city, the last bastion of English language books and history that still survives, and the faith of the people who keep the library going against all odds. It's also the faith of Gabri in his partner, and the faith that Jean-Guy places in the Chief, that the whole team places in him.  And how Armand finds his way to peace so he can rejoin life again.  It's a  beautiful mystery,

I read this a few weeks ago, and I have not been able to forget it.  It is an outstanding mystery.  It is one of my books of the year, too, I know that already. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The White Devil - book review - ghosts and Byron, an unbeatable mix

The White Devil by Justin Evans has been around for a little over a year.   It was reviewed by S. Krishna (here),  reviewed last year over at The Huffington Post,  and by Daphne at Where There is Joy (here),   and they all think the same way I do about this book:  it's a darn good ghost story.

Andrew Taylor arrives at an English boarding school, Harrow, from America.  It's his last year of school, he's 17, and he was thrown out of several prestigious schools in the US for his attitude, and finally drugs.  He doesn't do them regularly, this is not a ghost story about that.  It does set the scene for a fairly troubled young man, as he attempts to find his bearings in England, where he has never been before.  It features Byron too, in a fairly big way, which makes this a literary ghost story, and I loved this part.  Byron! Poetry!  his early life, especially, as in this story, Byron went to Harrow over 150 years ago. 

One of the fun things about this book is that Evans doesn't wait - the ghost puts in an appearance almost right away. What's also fun is that many of the adults involved don't scoff or dismiss Justin - because they can feel something too.  Creepy, yes? Very.  And also very well done - all the characters are believable, interesting, and while it's set in a boarding school, with all the enclosed environment that breeds, the action moves quickly.  A surprising death comes almost at once, and Andrew sees something over the body.  He is marked though he doesn't know it.  It's a chilling story, very effective, scary, and with a ghost that will make you very very glad you are on this side of the ocean.

I could not put this down, and devoured it as fast as I could. I had to know what happened at the end. I found myself thinking about this book through the day, going over it, feeling sad that something Andrew does, he won't get credit for.  That's how real this story is.  Gripping, too, fast-paced, and funny at times also.  I really enjoyed this.  If you are looking for a final ghost story to read for RIP, I  recommend this one highly. 

This was read for Carl's challenge RIP,   

Some thoughts on ghost stories
It did get me to thinking about ghost stories, and the underlying sense of unease that we have with ghosts.  So many ghost stories end badly for the main character, and it's almost as if a character is marked when he or she sees the ghost.  Their life will never be the same. Think of the governess in Turn of the Screw, driven made by the two children.  Think of Eleanor of The Haunting of Hill House, and how she goes to escape her mean life, and discovers that she can never leave.  Ghosts mark you, almost like how in the Irish folk tale that if you hear the banshee, you are going to die.  Implacable, unchangeable, somehow ghosts and the ghostly touch and change whoever comes into contact with them. Creepy, eerie, scary, chilling, and we come back for more. I think there is a small measure of, thank heaven that's not us.  How about Danny is The Shining?  I so would not EVER want to spend a night alone in the Overlook Hotel, never mind a whole winter!!!! 

How about you, do you love ghost stories?  Have you found any good ghost stories during this RIP challenge?

Sunday 14 October 2012

Random book things for a rainy Sunday

New book!
I just had to post about this:  Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow have a new anthology out, and it's a collection of short stories featuring dystopian fiction!!!   Here is Terri Windling's post.  I am so excited!  The cover is interesting, isn't it?  It's going into my annual Christmas book box as soon as I find it!

 Is it too soon to be thinking about this?
To get in the mood for Christmas, Trish at Hey Lady, Watcha Reading, has a post about a lovely advent calendar she has made for her family this year.  It is so cute and whimsical, and filled with lovely little stuffed things that represent what her family loves. It totally got me in the mood for Christmas, even though I am still waiting for Hallowe'en to come.

Long live bookstores
I love this quote from Becca at Lost in Books: " 5. The Frankfurt Book Fair 2012 is going on now and there are already some buzzwords worth noting.  The best news traveling around so far is this: "bookstores are still the best showroom for publishers, and once they are gone, we won’t get them back."  Amen, Frankfurt.  Amen."  Here is the full post.

more on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012 and some Shakespeare news

Becky at Musings From the Sofa has her post also on the Frankfurt Book Fair, and she has some new books from the publishers coming out this fall and next year, here. Sigh. They ALL look interesting. When she writes, "I’ve been thinking since it launched that Faber’s Shakespeare’s Sonnets app is the best inducement I’ve yet seen to buy an iPad, which just goes to show that I can be tempted by anything involving David Tennant." My heart went thump and I got excited, until I realized it was for an Ipad. Which I don't have, and don't want. Oh though, Shakespeare's Sonnets! Read by David Tennant!!!!!!!! Sir Patrick Stewart too!!!!!! Uh oh......the sonnets brought to life.....Hmm, it also says it is available on iTunes. Possibly I can buy this for my computer?

I'll be back. Off to see if my laptop will let me download iTunes 10. I love me some sonnets today, I hope....... I will let you know in a postscript. A lovely way to spend a rainy Sunday! Happy Sunday reading, everyone.

***Edited to add:
 New Susan Hill!!   I just had to add this.  Bride of the Book God has this new post, and in it she mentions a new Susan Hill novella, The Dolly!  It sounds very very good.  Dark and creepy and possibly scary.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Happy late blogiversary to me! and some mystery reviews

It feels like ages since I posted here.  My life is still a bit crazy, with still sorting out what to do about the foundation and estimates. I am thrilled to say that I have been on a reading binge since my last post, and I have some quick book reviews for you tonight.  Before then, I wanted to give a quick update:  I once again passed my blogiversary!  This is the third year in a row that I missed it, and I'm perplexed.  I spend most of the year waiting for it so I can talk about cake and what blogging means to me and all the wonderful people I have met who love books as much as I do, and then every year something has happened in my life and I am never here on Oct 1!!! 

Here is the link to my very first post, five years ago.  Yes, my blog is 5 years old now!  5 wonderful, exciting, magical, sad, and challenging years for me.  Through it all, my blog has kept company with me.  I have read many more books per year since joining the online community, and I have found so many books I wouldn't have read otherwise, because of you, dear Readers.  Most of all, is you, all of you.  My conversations in my life are peppered with 'my book-twin in Korea', Ana in Portugal, Geranium Cat, Bride, and Cath in England, Debi and Chris and Eva in the US, Carl, Jeanne......Kelly here in Canada with me.....Kay, Wendy, many wonderful conversations about books, and about our lives as we share them, and grow along with one another.  My life, as tumultuous as it has been these past five years (and I'm really hoping it will settle soon), has also been made more joyous because I've met and come to know all of you through the years.  Our sad loss of Dewey, which still haunts all of us who had time to know her before she left this world. Some of you have dropped from blogging alot to just checking in, as your lives have changed.  Certainly my blog has reflected my life, as the last two years I was barely able to maintain it, and yet that love of books,and missing talking with you about books, kept bringing me back.  So it hasn't been an easy 5 years, though I suspect this will be one of those times in my life when I look back a few years from now and think, "Gosh I learned so much!' 

I plan to keep on blogging, as I have tried to write much more often this year, than in the past. It hasn't always been easy, but it is fun, and I always, always love coming to read what you are saying and thinking about books and life.  So, here's to my 5 year anniversary!  Here is a picture of one of my favourite cakes to make, Nigella Lawson's Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake, with a link to her recipe in case you are tempted.  

 MMMMM  I might have to make it soon......even a diabetic deserves a treat now and then!!! Happy 5 years, and thanks so much for sharing it all with me.  I hope you'll come along with me in the coming years, there are more books to read and discover........

All right, to the quick book reviews:

Blood Harvest - S.J. Bolton - fabulous dark mystery thriller.  I couldn't put it down.  A family moves into a house in a small village, and strange things start happening to the children.  A girl's figure is seen in the cemetary that surrounds the house....but is she real or is she a ghost?  Several little girls have died in the past several years, is she one of them?  And why can the boys in the house hear her, but no one else does?  Perfect read for RIP VII.  5/5  ***thanks to Kay at Purple Sage and Scorpions for her review here of S.J. Bolton's other books, which led me to checking to see what my library had.
Driftnet - Lin Anderson - first in a Glasgow mystery series, featuring Rhona MacLeod, a forensic scientist. A young boy is found dead, in a room, a rent boy.  Prostitute.  He looks surprisingly like Rhona MacLeod, who gave a baby up for adoption at his birth, and so who has a personal interest in discovering what happened to the baby she gave up.  Is this where he came to be, on her table, murdered?  A very good first mystery novel in a series that has 7 books now in the series.  I enjoyed it very much.  4.5/5 

The Twilight Time - Karen Campbell.  Another first mystery in a growing series.   It is set in Glasgow again, and is about as gritty and realistic a portrayal of modern policing as I've come across yet.  Anna Cameron is assigned to the Flexi Unit, and the story opens with her first day on the job.  She is leading the unit, and already some of the officers resent her before she even starts.  This is realistic dialogue, tensions, setting, with the Flexi Unit patrolling the worst drug -and- prostitute-addled street in Glasgow.  An elderly man is murdered, and in the investigation Anna is wounded by  someone who is stalking prostitutes and slashing them.  Along the way Jamie's wife Cath (an ex-police officer herself) gets involved, and all through the novel we have the police work, and the private lives, laid out, so we are living through the investigation with these three characters.  Highly recommended.  I've already ordered the second book with Anna, Shadowplay.  I've just discovered that Jamie has his own book, After The Fire, so I have to see if I can find that here. 5/5

Dark Fire- C.J. Sansom  - Second book in the Matthew Shardlake series.  I read this in the summer, when it was as hot out for us as it was in London in this book - a record-breaking drought for us, record-breaking drought and heat for that time in England.  Shared misery!  This was a slow mystery to get into, with Matthew dragged into defending a girl accused of murdering her cousin through the goodness of his heart.  He is mostly concerned with Dark Fire, a legend about a fire that wasn't fire, that could burn water.  Was it real? The Greeks thought so, and someone in London has told the King that they have the secret, but before it is brought before the king, the person is killed, and the workshop broken into.  Thomas Cromwell orders Shardlake to find the Greek Fire, hoping this will restore him to the king's favour.  He is slipping, as the Seymours slip in around the king, dangling Jane Seymour in front of him.  Shardlake can't refuse.  While the search for the Dark Fire was interesting, and the court politics and intrigue fascinating - especially because we know what happened with Jane, and Cromwell - the real heart of this story is whether Elizabeth killed her cousin, and what would cause a girl to do so.  A very dark horrific secret lies at the heart of this mystery, and it's not one that you would think of.  It still gives me the shivers to think of.  This was the highlight of the book, and makes it perfect for RIP VII also. The mystery part is good, though a bit confusing with the two storylines, and not quite as gripping as the first book in the series, Dissolution.  Still, among the best mystery series, and highly recommended. 4.7/5  **Cath at Read-Warbler read this last year, her post is here. (She does an excellent job explaining the plot also)  What's fun is that she thinks Dark Fire is better than the first one!  What do you think, Gentle reader?  Have you read this series?  Do you agree with me (Dissolution slightly better), or Cath?

  I am getting set to read the next one, Sovereign, which is set in my favourite city of York.  I have to add that the historical setting, dialogue, atmosphere, descriptions, are impeccable.  This is historical writing at its best. 

I would recommend all of these mysteries for RIP VII, in case you are looking for something that's not horror to read for Carl's challenge. 

Tuesday 25 September 2012

amazing interview with Phil Rickman

No, not here. Sadly the interview with Phil Rickman is not with me, but wonderfully is over at Kittling's Books, here.  It is a fabulous interview.  He has a great sense of humour.  And yes, there is a new book in the Merrily Watkins series coming out next May: The Turning of the Hay.  Yeesss!!!

 In other news - how life affects reading
There is a hole in the foundation of the house and we have it sandbagged to keep rain from going into the foundation.  We have some contractors coming to look and give estimates.....this happened two weeks ago, and we are still trying to deal with it. It's suspected the recent drought we suffered through here in Eastern Ontario is to blame, not that that will fix it or the crack that is running through the foundation on the other side of the house.   It's meant that I can't concentrate on reading very well.  Because we are going through our divorce, the decision to sell the house or not was still on-going, and now even that has been pushed back, as the house has to be fixed before any other decisions can be made.  It's been a rough year, and this was so unexpected.  I suspect this is why I've been reading so many short stories in the past two weeks.  I am finding it hard to concentrate on reading for any length of time. I also seem to have 8 books on the go again, a sign that I am stressed and not able to settle into anything big. 

Does life affect you like this too?  I hate it when I can't read for very long.  I feel like I am missing a piece of myself when that happens.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Hobbit and Alan Garner - some fantasy musings

The Hobbit 
 I completely missed the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, yesterday.  I found this wonderful article on why The Hobbit has become so popular, over at The Telegraph: The Hobbit, What Has Made It Such an Endearing Success? It's quite a good article, with some food for thought on myths and legends and sources for fantasy.  The Hobbit was my introduction to Tolkien and the world of fantasy, it will always be dear to me for that, never mind that it is such a fun story, so well-told, so rich that I can read it over and over and never grow tired of it.  That makes it a special book, indeed.

Alan Garner
Over at Reuters, there is a lovely article on Alan Garner and why he wrote the newest book, Boneland, in the Colin and Susan series.  I have been reading The Weirdstone of Brisingamen for the last little bit.  It is even more suprisingly good and deep and dark than I remembered from my long-ago reading of it.  I am enjoying his use of setting, place names, and the people.  I can feel how much the sense of location and the feeling of myth around works its way through the book, and Garner talks about this in the article I linked you to.  He makes a valid point that landscape is necessary to people to not be alienated, that a connection to landscape is needed.  This feeling for how the land is, comes through in his books, and I'd forgotten how strong it is. 

Myth and landscape
Both article talk about myth, and how myth is needed for us as a civilization.  We need stories.  We need adventures and heroes, and to venture into the unknown and come back again.

Myth and fantasy, they are intertwined.  Place, the story of place, how the mountain got it's name, why the river flows in that shape, how long the old tree has been growing in the field. Do you look around your landscape and feel some connection to it? do you watch it through the seasons? Do you feel a sense of home when you come down the road to your place, do the hills and grasses and animals seem to welcome you back?

 We often have bears, moose and deer even here in Ottawa, when the animals come wandering in out of the fields and forests, looking for food. Here's  a story from two weeks ago, in the west-end of our city: bears chased from west-end neighborhood.  Is it any wonder that so many of our myths and stories feature talking animals, or shapeshifters, or ancestors who are honoured animals? We have skunks, raccoons, and rabbits as neighbors, even here in the middle of the city.  I have seen snakes, frogs and turtles during my many walks in my neighborhood, thanks to the Mud Lake Preserve two blocks from our house. Does a bog creature live in there? perhaps, the water is deep enough.....

Magic and myth in the world
Fantasy is about taking that first step out there, into the wild, out of the city, into the forest, the river, the nature preserve, the countryside, and into myth, and legend, folk-story, fairy tale, the story of encountering the other.  There is magic and myth in the world, and fantasy is our modern storytelling way into remembering it, and finding it again. It was reimagined for the modern age in The Hobbit.  I for one am always grateful for the wonder and imagination that fantasy brings into my life. 

The Hobbit doesn't use the sense of place in the same way that all of Garner's books use, and it's interesting to study them both and see the variety of fantasy at work in both authors.  Both have a rich use of language as well, Tolkien drawing on Norse myths and sagas for his world and frame of storytelling, Garner drawing on Celtic myths and fairy tales for his.  Tolkien is pure story, Garner is language and mood and landscape.  Different kinds of fantasy, both rich and delightful in each of their ways. 

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here on this Saturday night.  Mostly I am musing about fantasy, things being stirred up in my mind by both articles.  Fantasy is one of my delights in reading, and I wanted to share with you some of what I think fantasy needs to be successful, like The Hobbit is.

What do you think?  Have you read either author? Do you find fantasy stirs your sense of wonder and  imaginings?

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Three short story reviews for RIP - and a link to Niagara Falls and holidays

Before I get started on my short story reviews, I wanted to tell you about an awesome giveaway I just saw over on Court's blog Once Upon a Bookshelf.  She is giving away a new Fringe book!  Yes, a new book about one of my all-time favourite shows has just been published, and she won a copy in a bag of goodies she won at last weekend's FanExpo Canada 2012.  Lucky, lucky her, and us, because she's never seen an episode of if you are like me and love this show, this sounds like an interesting book just published about the themes and elements and plot.  Happy sigh.  I've already entered.....Into the Looking Glass, Exploring the Worlds of Fringe, by Sarah Clarke Stuart.  Hmm, if I don't win, I'll add it to my Christmas wish list.....

Ok, on to three really good, no, awesome horror short stories that I've read over the past week.  Two are  from The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2010 , edited by Paula Guran. 

Monsters - Stewart O'Nan.  This is the story about a young boy, Mark who is playing with a pellet gun that belongs to his friend Derek. They are shooting bottles, and then the game expands in the way that it does when the pellets are harmless, and the bottles don't break.  Something does happen, and this is the story about how everything changes in an instant.  It's heartbreaking, and moving, and it hurts.  That sense of guilt that Mark feels eats away at him, even though no one blames him, and he is not able to forgive himself. That's where monsters come from,inside us.  An amazing story that feels so true, powerful and unsettling - I certainly have felt that guilt, and forgiveness is much harder to do than it sounds, especially towards one's self.  Oh, and no one dies, so don't avoid the story out of fear that it's like that.  It's much more subtle.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black. A vampire story, but not like any you've ever read before.  Vampires are caused by a virus that mutates, an infection that sets in when you are bitten.  If you get a taste of human blood after being bitten, you become a vampire.  If you don't?  Well, read what happens to Matilda, who has been bitten, and is trying to not become a vampire.  Then her friend Dante finds her, and tells her the boy she loves has crossed over into Coldtown - so named, because every city and town has a Cold area barricaded, where all the vampires live - along with Dante's sister.  They are both still human and alive. There is only one reason to go to Coldtown, however.  What Matilda does will chill your heart and make you cry at the same time.  An amazing story, one of the best short stories I've read about vampires.  As Guran says in her end note, you will want to know more about Matilda, and Cold Town, after.   I certainly do.  Fascinating.

The third short story I read is from The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert:

The Upper Berth - F. Marion Crawford.  A haunted berth on a passenger ship, and a narrator who is a no-nonsense kind of man, until he meets the - thing that haunts the berth.  It is a ghost/dead thing that will make your hair stand on end. awful in its wrongness.  It is written in 1886, so Victorian in tone and attitude, for those who like the early ghost stories.  I liked this one, it reminded me that ghosts are all about the unknown, and the uncanny, and that to be touched or in the presence of one, reminds us in our core that it's not the natural way of things.  The Upper Berth is available here, online.

All these stories rate 5/5.  Have you read any of them?  How is your short story reading for RIP?  I'm so excited that I wrote reviews for short stories  for RIP!  They are all so very good, you have to check them out if you can. Go on, I dare you. 

And now for something completely (but not so unrelated) different:
Niagara Falls
Sidenote:  I was just exploring online to see if I could find Monsters online as well for you to read.  Well, I found this instead, a review of Stewart O'Nan's new book, The Odds.  It's set in Niagara Falls.  Now before you wonder what I'm on about, I just went on my summer holidays to Niagara Falls, last month.  I hadn't been there since a child, and I wanted to show my soon-to-be ex husband and children the Falls.  We had a fantastic holiday, one of the best ever.  So to find out that O'Nan's book is set there - and the main couple go there to see if their thirty-year marriage can be rekindled or if it's  over, because the Falls are one of the Honeymoon capitals in North America.  (We didn't go for that reason, and all my romantic prone friends are dismayed that the Falls didn't work magic on us anyway). Well, you know me, my friends, I had time to look for a bookstore, and eventually found the only one in the central area, a second-hand bookstore called One Page, not so far from our hotel. I even got in while it was open, and bought some books.  Well it turns out that Stewart O'Nan likes this store too - see the bottom of the article I've linked you too.  Small world......and now I definitely have to read his novel, with Niagara Falls fresh in my mind.

By the way, I LOVE Niagara Falls.  Not the Clifton Hill attractions, which are like Blackpool in England only smaller (so my ex says), but the Falls themselves are extraordinary and beautiful. As a child I saw them many times, as most of my family is from the nearby London area. It was fun to go back as an adult and realize they are just as awesome and beautiful as ever.  Below are four pictures from our trip. How is this related to the above?

So about the horror RIP link:
Well, my youngest son was determined to see some ghostly or ghastly wax museum.  When I went a as child to Niagara Falls, I clearly remember going through the Chamber of Horrors, which was set in the bottom of Louis Tussaud's Wax museum.  I would start off slowly, and then when the exhibits got too much for me, I would start running until I was dashing through the exhibit.  That was when I was 10. Flash forward to now, 39 years later.  We eventually found two wax museums which each had a tiny horror section.  My reaction to both was the same:  I started off okay, and if it was too dark and the exhibits moved or were too close to us, I began to move faster and faster until I was almost running.  My youngest son is most disappointed in me.  I failed the 'cool mom can go through a horror museum' test. I think I got clammy hands at one point,and we had to take the short cut through one part.  My son kept saying, " They're only statues, mom!  they can't move! They're not real!"  I kept thinking that something was behind me when I wasn't that's my real live RIP moment, brought to you courtesy of Niagara Falls.  That Freddy Kreuger statue was very life-like and much too close in the passageway.....

Sunday 16 September 2012

Moby Dick read!

       I just found this, and thought I would share it, as it is fantastic:  Moby Dick is being read, chapter by chapter, one chapter a day, for free online.  Read by such luminaries as Simon Callow, Tilda Swinton, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Will Self, China Mieville, Benedict Cumberbatch........the list goes on.  It is very exciting, organized by author Philip Hoare, who wrote the book about The whale and Moby Dick, called appropriately The Whale:


 I own this book, and I own Moby Dick, which you will recall I set out earlier this year to read. I haven't got past the first page (mostly because I got distracted by other books) and now I find this a lovely reason to get to it!  I can hardly believe it, all these great actors and writers and also ordinary citizens of Britain - so many people volunteered that they had more readers than chapters.  Isn't that wonderful? Here is the link to the site where one chapter will be read each day - appropriately named .  135 chapters, 135 days.  Here is the link to the fabulous Guardian article that discusses it.

I am most definitely tempted to join in.  I can read a chapter a day.  How about you?  At the very least, to listen to it being read by some wonderful people.  It's very exciting! 

Sunday 9 September 2012

Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel - RIP

          Do you like psychics?  Have you ever been to a psychic fair? or had your palm read, or tarot cards done, or wondered if you have a spirit guide? If you believe the line of most new age spiritual books, everything is happy and light, and all we have to do is believe in love and happiness and it will be that way.  I myself have (and continue to do them every day) read tarot cards, and own some crystals, I've been to psychic fairs, had my palm read, and most importantly, I believe that life is a mix of good and bad things, and what I can control is my reaction to them. I've met some good psychics, and had the wonderful fortune to have as my spiritual teacher someone who could hear spirits on the other side. He never foretold the future, he was much more interested in getting people to heal and be responsible for themselves, which I thoroughly agree with. Still, I love the idea of getting a glimpse of the future, though any time the phone rings or the doorbell and I know who it is, or I have a dream that comes true, I do get  a shiver.  The uncanny is just that, and always will be, for me.
     The heroine of Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel is a psychic - or as she and the other psychics in the book call themselves, 'sensitives'. Alison Hart is the real thing.  The reason why I asked above if you have ever been to a psychic fair or know anything about psychic ability, is because there is alot of hocum and charlatans out there, some of which is discussed in a very amusing way in Beyond Black.  Most of all though, this is a book about Alison, and a journey into what it is really like to be psychic, and how this does not let you lead anything other than a typical life - except that you know things about others, that they don't know or understand.  And the ability to see the future, but because it comes in pieces, even to someone who is as gifted as Alison, there is never knowing all the pieces of the future.  Where would the fun be in that?  Even when we go to see a psychic, we don't really want to know everything that will happen to us. Alison never sees it all, she only gets bits and pieces, so she can't say it all much of the time, though occasionally she can see things through and through, and that is fascinating when that happens. 

Beyond Black is much more than just that.  Alison had a very unusual childhood, none of which gave her her gifts, but which she has had to overcome and escape .  She has had to create herself and her life as soon as she is old enough. Her mother is a piece of work.  There is no other word for Emmeline.  Probably one of the world's worst literary mothers. She horrified me.  All her neglect of Alison has left Alison exposed to the seedy underbelly of life. The worst part of it is, Alison's guide comes from this part of her life.  Because her guide attached to her early in her life, well before Alison had any idea she was sensitive, she had no choice.  Part of Beyond Black, is Alison exploring what she believes, and how her actions - for good or bad - have consequences.  Partly because of her awful early life, she tries to be good, in the hopes she can escape her hideous guide, Morris. And he is possibly the warning that people should be aware of when they dabble with opening themselves up to spirit and asking for guides to come - a very real danger that the guide you get, is not someone who walks a path of light. Who isn't easy to be around, dead or alive.  Isn't that scary?

Alison knows a group of sensitives that she does psychic fairs with, and it's fun to see them relate to one another, and talk behind one another's backs, just like any other group of people who have similar interests.  I know I've made this sound a heavy book when it isn't; there are moments that are really funny, and when her group of sensitives get together for their many shows together, it's hilarious how they backstab each other, and talk about one another. I also enjoyed how often many of them change what they do  in their quest to make money from New Age teachings. Alison is the most gifted of them, and they know it, even if they don't admit it. 

Part of the novel is about her relationship with Colette, who she meets during a psychic fair, and offer her a job to be her manager.  They live together for 10 years (as friends, and they have a funny moment as they sort this out too), at first idyllic, and then it begins to crumble.  The astonishing thing is the problem is Colette.  She is not a nice person, not kind, and it's only by the end of the book that I realized that Alison is trying to do good, to balance all the bad in her childhood - to balance the dark with light.  She is the unlikeliest of heroines, fat, soft-hearted, spoils herself, but as the layers of her life are revealed, it becomes the least of the things she can do for herself.  She is kind to everyone around her, and this becomes the light in the book.

 Colette is a possible sensitive, but she is unable/unwilling to open herself to it.  She is the polar opposite to Alison. Alison is willing to learn about herself, and see how her past has impacted on her, and take steps to fix it. Colette can't see the truth about anything, although she is a very good manager and organizer, what surprised me was how mean she was. She never learns, and it becomes amusing to see how she doesn't see things about herself .  The scenes between Colette and Alison, their relationship and how they talk to one another, are really well-done.  It's at the heart of the book, this relationship, and it's only at the end that I saw how Colette fit the picture of what Alison is trying to free herself from.  I really liked the ending to this book, what happened to them each, and how true it was. 

It is one of the truest accounts of being a psychic I have come across, a very good novel complete with spirits, ghosts, hauntings, spirit guides, and a look at what it means to be be a psychic, how vulnerable you really are.  Everyone wants to know, but who gives a thought to what it's like to always be open to spirits?  To feel them around you, always pressing to talk, no matter where you go?

I really enjoyed how the tarot cards are used and described, too, how Alison cares for them.  There is an amusing scene with Colette trying to read them, and how she can't.

I love how Alison frees herself, finally.  There is real evil here, real darkness, and she finds her way past it.  It's how she does it that gives this book it's heart and soul.  It's quite a journey, and quite a book.  Highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in psychic life, or is experienced in it, and for anyone who wants a good satisfying novel for RIP.  It is sufficiently creepy enough that you will never look at mediums and their guides in the same way again. 

***Edited to add: This was my third book read for RIP VII.  I'm having fun with this challenge this year.