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 landscape.....in 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 Fringe....so 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 looking......so 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 mobydickbigread.com .  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.

Monday 3 September 2012

RIP VII - the scary fun begins!!

   Oh, it's my favourite time of the year!  Autumn, glorious leaves and colours, the tinge of sadness and decay in the air as the growing year ends, the smell of wood fires, the last of the fall flowers......Thanksgiving Turkey and pumpkin pie.....and the best of all, Hallowe'en. I can't think of a better way to slip into autumn and the ending of the year than by participating in Carl's RIP 7 challenge.  Readers Imbibing Peril. As Carl explains it on his site (go here to sign up):

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

There are two simple goals for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII
1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.

  R.I.P. VII officially runs from September 1st through October 31st. But lets go ahead and break the rules. Lets start today!!!

I'm glad he wrote the above, because I did!  I have already read two short stories and two books for this challenge!

Before anyone says how, I confess I am still on my holidays  - which end today, with Labour Day Monday.  Tomorrow I am back at work.  Summer is over, and although the calendar year says there are still two weeks left before the equinox and the seasonal change, I know in my heart that autumn is here.  So I celebrated by reading as soon as Carl put his post up, Wildwood Road by Christopher Golden, Find Me by Carol O'Connell, and two short stories from The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories.            
I am doing Peril the First, which is reading 4 books in any of the categories above.  I will also be participating in Peril the Short Story, and Peril the Screen. 

So, for the first time ever, I'm starting with two book reviews: 
 Wildwood Road - Christopher Golden
   - a ghost story.  It has some very creepy moments, some chills, and is very sad, too.  Here is the Amazon book description:
 Michael and Jillian Dansky seemed to have it all–a happy marriage, two successful careers, a bright future. But late one October evening, all that changed. Driving home from a Halloween masquerade, Michael momentarily nods off behind the wheel–and wakes to find nothing is the same.

Standing by his car is the little girl he came within a breath of running down. She leads Michael to her “home,” an empty house haunted by whispers, and sends him away with a haunting whisper of her own: “
come find me.” But in the weeks to follow, it’s clear that someone–or some thing–doesn’t want Michael to find her: ominous figures in grey coats with misshapen faces are following him everywhere. And then Jillian wakes one morning replaced by a cold, cruel, vindictive woman Michael hardly recognizes as his wife. Michael must now search not only for the lost girl, but for a way to find the Jillian he's always loved, and to do so he must return to where the nightmare began. Down an isolated lane where he’ll find them, or die trying.

It was very well written, and contains an idea about ghosts and essences that I found intriguing.  A very good ghost story. 4/5

Find Me - Carol O'Connell.  A Kathy Mallory mystery, and one of the best.  At it's heart, a serial killer has been working old Route 66, killing children and burying their bodies over a large span of time, along the roadside.  Due to the nature of city and state police forces, no one is alerted for many years that these cases are related.  Not until Mallory starts to ride down the old route 66 because she has discovered that her father drove this very route when he was young.  He was before now almost a mystery to her, and when she obtains a series of letters that he wrote, she decides to follow his route to try to learn more about him.  As she starts out, a grisly discovery is made: a body of a man is discovered at the start of route 66 in Chicago, only he has one hand chopped off, and the bones of a small child's hand point up the road, the same route Mallory is taking.  The killer wants his victims found, so that he will be known for how many he killed.  Along the way, there is a caravan of parents who are being guided by a online psychiatrist, all of whom are parents of missing or dead children.  And the killer starts to pick off parents, one by one.....
This was a fabulous, gritty mystery, filled with police force/state/FBI politics, Kathy discovering more about her father, and Riker and Charles Butler, her partner and her friend respectively, chasing her as they think she is falling apart.  How the New York police intervene and figure what is going on is nothing short of brilliant.  How Kathy discovers that all is not lost for her, is a grand moment in this series, for up until now, she has been alone except for her foster parents, who gave her a home, loyalty and love when she needed it most as a child.  This is one of my favourite mystery series, not the least of which no one is perfect - all the characters are slowly being changed by their proximity to Mallory, who is brilliant if amoral as a detective.  The hardest part is the number of children who have been killed, and how the killer finds them, and the way the FBI have treated the parents in this novel - or rather, one officer in particular.   A gripping mystery, one of the best. 5/5

I will review the short stories another time, this post is long already!

 Now to the best part:
my pool of books (and this is by no means final, if I find something  catching my eye):

Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel (currently reading)
Underground - Kat Richardson (book 3 in the series)
Deadline - Mira Grant  (book 2 in the trilogy)
The Silent Land - Graham Joyce
Raising Stony Mayhall - Daryl Gregory
I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
Hell Train - Christopher Fowler
Wolf - Gillian Cross
Graveminder - Melissa Marr
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy Mckee Charnas
Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies - Victoria Dunn (local Ottawa author)
The Hypnotist - Lars Kepler
Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - Alan Garner *thanks to Geranium Cat over at Geranium Cat's Musings for putting this on her list!
The Moon of Gomrath - Alan Garner **and the final sequel Boneland if it comes out here
Stephen King: either The Shining, or 11//22/63
The Hallowe'en Tree - Ray Bradbury

and assorted short stories in various collections:
Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories  - ed Michael Cox and R.A Gilbert
Hallowe'en  - ed Paula Guran
The Best Horror of the Year, Vol 1 - ed Ellen Datlow
The Dark - ed Ellen Datlow
The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2010 - ed Paula Guran
Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead - ed Stephen Jones
Ghosts by Gaslight - ed Jack Dann and Nick Gevers

 Yaaaay!  I love this challenge reading experience.  I wonder if I can fit some poetry in there too?

Now to come see your lists and see what you are reading, my dear blogging friends.