Sunday 31 March 2013

Diana Wynne Jones - Charmed Life and Archer's Goon

          I am coming in under the wire, just, for Diana Wynne Jones reading month.  During this month I read two of her children's fantasy novels:  Charmed Life, and Archer's Goon.

Charmed Life is the story of Gwendolen Chant and her younger brother Eric, known as Cat.  Gwendolen is a strong witch.  Cat has none.  Their parents are dead and they are living with the kind strangers in their home village,  and come across some letter from Chrestomanci Chant to their father, while looking for something to pay for magic lessons for Gwendolen.  Chrestomanci is a famous powerful wizard, it turns out.  And a relative of theirs.  Chrestomaci is contacted by Gwendolen and her creepy wizard friends, and the next thing, Gwendolen and Cat are taken to Chrestomanci's home to live.  They are both given magic lessons (as well as ordinary school lessons), and while Gwendolen is convinced she is going to be a powerful sorceress one day, Cat is showing no signs of magic at all.   He does however, seem to have a charmed life, which through the story is slowly revealed to be much more than anyone thought.  Alternate universes, other selves, all play a part in this fun, and funny, story about how Cat learns who he is.

Charmed Life was a re-read for me, and it has been many years since I read it first.  My 24 year old son was around 10 when I read it, before I gave it to him to read then.  I was trying to interest him in reading something.  He was obsessed with dinosaurs and Star Wars then.  It was difficult to find a children's fantasy book for his age, from 8-12, at that time.  And it had to be fantasy, he wasn't going to read anything else.  To my surprise, he liked it, and he read the others in the Chrestomanci series.  He went on to read more in the fantasy world, and I credit Charmed Life for being the door that opened reading for him.  He had a reading disability, which all of my children have also, in varying degrees.  As the other two grow older, they too will have Charmed Life put into their hands.

Diana Wynne Jones is that kind of writer, some one who makes her characters real, and the family situations are always funny and very realistic, and the magic is of the kind that everyone wishes they had,when they are young.  A perfect book for every child, I think.
Archer's Goon is set in the real world also - I think this is part of the real charm of Jones's novels.  Her children's books (other than the Dale Quartet) are set in the modern world, and magic exists without extra explanation.  It simply is.  Archer's Goon is set in England, though it is hard to know if it is a real town.  It opens with a large man appearing at the Sykes household, demanding payment of words written by Howard's father.  The words were payment to a man named Archer, and the Goon was there to get the payment as it had gone missing. Why is Mr Sykes writing payment?  For what?  Who is Archer?  Who is the Goon?  Howard's world is about to be turned upside down as he discovers that nothing in this world is as it appears, especially people.  Time is important in this novel, the past and the future, as Howard discovers that  Archer is part of  a group who control the town, and want to rule the world. This was the first time I read Archer's Goon, and I really enjoyed it.  Howard's family made me laugh, and the situations they find themselves in as they try to find who is in control - and how Mr Syke's words are the key - is fun and unconventional.  This was nominated for the Best Novel 1985 World Fantasy Award, and rightly so.  It is a fantasy full of wonderful inventiveness, and never loses track of the meaning of family, and love.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

Diana Wynne Jones month:

I am glad that I finally was able to participate in Diana Wynne Jones month, held by Kristen at We Be Reading for the second year. All month Kristen has posted about Diana, her books, and has had several guest posts from bloggers about their favourite Diana Wynne Jones books, or memories.  Here is a link to several of the books Kristen read in March.  This is an excellent resource for finding more about Diana Wynne Jones, and the wonderful legacy she has left us all.  Thanks to Kristen for hosting this challenge again.

I have read some books by Diana Wynne Jones:  Howl's Moving Castle and Witch Week are  among my favourites;   Fire and Hemlock is very good, as is Time of  the Ghost.  I have Hexwood, and Pinhoe's Egg, The Merlin Conspiracy, and Enchanted Glass on my shelf, to read.  One I want to get is The Dark Lord of Derkholm, reviewed here by Gavin at Page 247.

The breadth and width of Wynne Jones writing is breathtaking.  She wrote mostly fantasy, and changed children's literature forever.  If you haven't read her, then she is perfect for the Once Upon a Time Challenge currently taking place over at Stainless Steel Droppings.  If you have read her, then you will know that fantasy lost a wonderful writer when she died two years ago. She is sadly missed.  There are many wonderful writers now in children's fantasy, as well as young adult, and many of them owe a debt to the trail blazed by Diana Wynne Jones.

This is not to say she is or was the only good writer in children's fantasy books back in the 1970's and 80's.  Susan Cooper was writing the Dark is Rising series, Alan Garner had written his Weirdstone series, Ursula K. LeGuin had written the Earthsea  trilogy, there was the Pern series  by Anne McCaffrey, and Madeleine L'Engle had Wind in the Door.  After that, there was little.  So the fantasy world for children has really changed since then.  All of these writers laid the way for the current richness of children's fantasy literature that we are currently enjoying.  But there is something in each of these for me that makes each of them each stand out for me, a tone in their writing that always makes it original, fresh, and a work that I can return to again and again.  I think Diana Wynne Jones will be among these in children's books for me.

 Whether you want to read something new in fantasy, or reread something delightful, charming and very often moving, pick up one of her books, and get ready for a treat.

Monday 25 March 2013

Once Upon a Time VII

It's finally here!  This the 7th year of Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings' annual spring challenge. Once Upon a Time.....the chance to read all the fairy tales, myths, fantasy books, and folk tales that we collect, to read 'one day'.  One day is here.  I love how he describes it: 
"Over the voice of wind and cold I can still here that voice telling us that it is indeed time to once more “come away”.
It is that voice that beckons us to Middle-earth and Newford, that calls out from the gap in the village of Wall and from the world of London Below. It is the voice that packs so much promise into four little words…
“Once upon a time…”
Perhaps you too have heard that voice whispering on the spring wind, or perhaps Old Man Winter continues to drown out the sound; either way that time has come: Once Upon a Time is here!"


I am doing my usual, signing up for everything! I can't resist.  Just pulling books from my shelves, books I've wanted and/or been saving for this challenge, I have too many to read in the next 3 months.  Part of the fun is selecting books, and then seeing what I do get read.  I am doing Quest the Third, which is to
   "Fulfill the requirements for The Journey or Quest the First or Quest the Second AND top it off with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream OR a viewing of one of the many theatrical versions of the play. Love the story, love the films, love the idea of that magical night of the year and so this is my chance to promote the enjoyment of this farcical love story."
       I am planning to complete the Quest the Second, which is: 
     "Read at least one book from each of the four categories. In this quest you will be reading 4 books total: one fantasy, one folklore, one fairy tale, and one mythology. This proves to be one of the more difficult quests each year merely because of the need to classify each read and determine which books fit into which category. I am not a stickler, fear not, but I am endlessly fascinated watching how folks work to find books for each category."

Here are some of the books I think I might read over the next four months:

Fairy Tales
- Some Kind of Fairy Tale - Graham Joyce
- Beauty - Robin McKinley
 - The Uncertain Places - LIsa Goldstein
 - Of Blood and Honey - Stina Leicht
 - Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland - WB Yeats

- First Rider's Call - Kristen Britain
 - A Midsummer Tempest - Poul Anderson
 - Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb
 - The Bards of Bone Plain - Patricia McKillip
- The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien

- The Kingdom of Gods - N.K. Jemison
- A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
 - Hide Me Among the Graves - Tim Powers

Folk Tales 
 - Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland - W.B. Yeats
 - Songs of the Earth - Elspeth Cooper
- The Lore of Scotland - Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill (**added as soon as I wandered over the  folk and fairy tale shelf to see what I forgot.  I bought this last year, this looks like a fascinating compendium of Scottish lore and legends.)

Carl also has a Short story section to the challenge, where he encourages us to seek out short stories: "This quest involves the reading of one or more short stories that fit within at least one of the four genres during the course of any weekend, or weekends, during the challenge."

Short stories:
 - something from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (this would be a re-read for me, but I feel her collection calling to me, and until I can get my hands on her fairy tale book, this will be just as good)
 - something from Wizards ed by Martin Greenberg
 - Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint
 - some ghost stories from various anthologies
- something from the Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow fairy tale anthologies (I always think I will read the whole anthology and get distracted, so it's easier to read a short story or two or three....)

And finally, there is fantasy on film and tv:


"Stories are not just limited to the printed page. Many entertaining, moving, profound or simply fun stories are told in the realm of television and film. To participate in this quest simply let us know about the films and/or television shows that you feel fit into the definitions of fantasy, fairy tales, folklore or mythology that you are enjoying during the challenge."

- The Hobbit ***watched last night, for Earth Hour (and beyond).  Reviewed already here.  Love this movie as much the second time around.  The dragon is still impressive even on my tiny tv screen.  My daughter is so anxious to see more of the dragon!!  We all enjoyed it, even the 8 year old who has difficulty sitting through longer movies.  I think this will become a regular movie viewing for my family.
- I am planning to see a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, during these three months.
 - we have various Narnia movies, Golden Compass, Penelope, Enchanted, possibly some Grimm or Once Upon a Time, The Company of Wolves.........many more too.
 - I also have Game of Thrones from season 1 to finish, then S2 to catch up on.

Just remember:  This is only a partial "these look interesting today" list.  I'm hoping to add a few more, and leave this open for new books to find their way in. I am really excited that this is here.  I really wish I could find a copy of Boneland by Alan Garner over here.  That would fit in beautifully with this challenge.

Short Story Special event:
A special treat: Neil Gaiman has a short story published on the Guardian site this weekend. "Down To a Sunless Sea". Click on the link to go to it.  It's a wonderful sad and creepy short story.  The perfect way to begin Once Upon a Time!

Friday 22 March 2013

World Poetry Day - three favourite poems

I have Stefanie at So Many Books to thank for this.  I had no idea today was World Poetry Day, and I'm a poet!  She has a lovely post on a poet she loves, today.  I decided to write about three different poets and how I found them, and a poem from each that was one of the first by them that I loved, to celebrate World Poetry Day.

First, about poetry:
 The poet Stefanie likes,  Muriel Rukeyser, writes that people are afraid of poetry because they are afraid to feel.  I think that's true, and that's also why we instinctively reach for it in our most deepest emotional moments.  Poetry is about this moment in time, and the very best poetry takes all that goes into this moment - whatever it's about - and if it's got something true because the poet has reached deep and  touched with all he or she feels and isn't afraid to write it - then it transcends that moment, and becomes something more, something that links time and experience. It becomes timeless, always waiting for us in our moment to find it again in the poem.  This is how we relate to one another, that bridging.  Poetry is a way for us to meet one another.

Poem number one: love poem extraordinaire: 
Once upon a time, couples read poetry to each other and fell in love over the experience. Sometimes now, if we are lucky, a movie will come along and use poetry to show us that it still lives, and we are touched and off we go to find out more.  This is exactly how I found ee cummings, from a Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters:  One of the sister's husbands reads a poem to another sister (I think, it's been decades since I saw this) he wants to be his mistress:  I hated the cad, but loved the poem:

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

That last line always makes me shiver, it's so beautiful and describes how love can go into the tiniest places that we think are closed in us, but the look of our love will open.

Mostly though, poetry is a gift, that waits for the reader to stumble across it. At least, that's been my experience. A chance mention here, a friend there, an article in the paper, a quote in a many ways to find our way to a poet.

Poem Number Two: my current poet adoration:
Last year I wrote about an interview Maria Shriver did for Oprah's magazine in 2011.  I only found the interview last year.  Here is Maria Shriver's interview with Mary Oliver.  This interview is changing my life.  For a reason I am not certain of yet, when I was young, I never asked myself, what do I want to do that would make me happy?  I think possibly I never dared to take that risk, though over time I have come to see that I will always write poetry, so now I am doing what I should have done so long ago, making room in my life to write regularly.  Mary Oliver did ask herself that question, and she knew early on writing poetry was what she was happiest doing.  She set out to make a life around writing poetry.  This is having a profound influence on me, the idea that we can do - that I can do - what makes me happy.  Here is one of the early posts on my blog, just when I was discovering Mary Oliver for the first time.  And here is another post from 2009, again on Mary Oliver, quoting some of my favourite lines.  And one more from 2010, about goldfinches (another poem I love), because apparently I've been writing every year about poetry on here, without quite realizing how much I have been!

Here is a poem from that very first collection I read and blogged about, that made me jump and recognize myself and how I am trying to live.  The poem is Yes! No! in her collection Owls and Other Fantasies:
                                                                   Yes! No!
How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.
The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.
The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.
How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out
Yes! No! The
swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

~ Mary Oliver ~

This is how I walk, when I am out for my walks, listening to the wind, and the bird songs and calls, watching the flowers, the sky, the trees, listening and absorbing and just being in the moment.  To find a poet who writes about this way of being in the world is revelation for me.  I am learning how to be in this world, still, and how to write about being here.  That's what a poet does.

Poems don't always have to be serious:
One last poem, from a poet who I adore, and who makes me laugh.  I discovered her when I lived in England in 2000. Wendy Cope is a light verse poet - ugh I hate this category name.  It deserves more respect.  Her poetry collection Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis was referred to somewhere (I think in an article), and since I have a bit of an addiction to chocolate, the title caught my eye.  I had to find that book and see what it was about!  Well, I opened it up in the bookstore, and found myself laughing out loud!  The very first poem in the collection, Engineer's Corner, is so snarky and sarcastic, that it is worth the price of the book alone:
                 Engineers’ Corner
Why isn’t there an Engineers’ Corner in Westminster Abbey? In
Britain we’ve always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint
. . . How many schoolchildren dream of becoming great engineers?
Advertisement placed in The Times by the Engineering Council
We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints –
That’s why so many poets end up rich,
While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?
Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
Has got it made. It’s always been the way,
For everybody knows that we need poems
And everybody reads them every day.
Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering –
You’re sure to need another job as well;
You’ll have to plan your projects in the evenings
Instead of going out. It must be hell.
While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimlers,
You’ll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
With no hope of a statue in the Abbey,
With no hope, even, of a modest bust.
No wonder small boys dream of writing couplets
And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train.
There’s far too much encouragement for poets –
That’s why this country’s going down the drain.
– Wendy Cope
Isn't that a lovely, funny poem? And so ironic.  I love it.

Do you have a favourite poem, or poet, and how did you find them?                      

Friday 15 March 2013

Where I give in to new books, for St Patrick's Day

    So, this was it.  The day I officially said, "I've had enough of the Double Dog Dare Challenge! There are some new books I need to buy!"  Look below for what tempted me:


It felt darn good to buy new books again.  And let myself start  reading one right away.  I know I bought the other ones for my surgery, but I ended up only reading one of them.  So I was going on the
'I read all my own books but one, that I bought after Dec 31' idea, for the challenge.  This is my  official surrender.  I love shiny new books! I am a proud bookaholic.  I love my new books!!

The Peter Lovesey was the first time I saw it in paperback, today, so I grabbed it.  The Agency series looks fabulous, A Spy in the House is book one.  I mean, a spy agency filled with top secret female investigators, set in Victorian England? I'm not sure why I haven't paid attention to it before.  I know it's been mentioned here and there on blogs. I can't remember who was writing about it this past week, that made me put it in stars in my 'to get' journal I carry with me.  And A Monster Calls - I've been waiting for AGES for it to come out in softcover, and finally, it's here.  *happy dance*!

St Patrick's Day Reading
I also have just realized there are only 3 days left until St Patrick's Day.  Part of the reason I gave in to the books above, was because Lesa at Lesa's Book Critiques had this wonderful post on Irish books to read.  Her  review in the same post of Buried in A Bog made me want the. book. right. now.  This is what prompted me to run to the bookstore on my way home from work, tonight.  Buried in A Bog is the book I've started reading right away. It's been ages since I read a cosy mystery, and I am really enjoying it. Set in a tiny village in Cork, it's a lot of fun so far. Below, are the rest of the books I pulled from my shelves for reading for St Patrick's Day, and to celebrate being part Irish myself.

I'm sorry the photo is sideways.  It won't load onto the post properly.  Grr.  I know I won't get them all read by Sunday.  But I get to choose, and that's part of the fun.

What are you reading for St Patrick's Day?

Tuesday 12 March 2013

The Water Rat of Wanchai - Canadian mystery series

          The Water Rat of Wanchai  by Ian Hamilton is the first book in the Ava Lee series. It's a new to me Canadian author and mystery series.  And it's good.                                                

Ava Lee is a 2nd generation Chinese woman, who lives in Toronto and works as a forensic accountant.  She isn't just an accountant, however. She specializes in finding money that is stolen, and in retrieving it.  Most of her cases come through her uncle, an honorary title for any older man that is a friend in her family (and culturally an honorific title). Uncle is a mainland born Chinese who swam across the Chinese Sea when a young man, with a few others from his village. Those that made it, developed close ties, and help each other when they can in the ensuing years.  Now, far in the future, the nephew of one of the men who swam with Uncle, is in trouble.  The family fortune - 5 million dollars - has been stolen by the owners of a  food packing  business that they were doing business with.  Uncle calls Ava, and she talks with the sister of David Tam, the head of the household who was responsible for the family business, in Toronto, over dim sum, before deciding if she will take the case.

This isn't your average money is missing let's find it case, though that is what it is at its bare bones.  This a solidly-developed idea.  Ava Lee is an interesting character, a woman who is skilled at the secret art of bak mei.  It is normally reserved for highly skilled martial arts males, but Ava has shown so much talent and technical skill - advancing so fast in her ordinary classes - that she is offered to meet the Grandmaster in Toronto, who teaches this, one on one.  All this, and she is 5 foot three and weighs slightly over 100 pounds.   Ava can take care of herself, and as this mystery develops, she will have to, several times over.

The Tam family works from Hong Kong, so Ava travels to Hong Kong, Thailand, Seattle, Texas, Guyana, and West Virgin Islands in the course of this mystery. She is a character who is resourceful, clever, ingenious, and always at her back is the mysterious and frightening figure of uncle.  Mysterious because Ava herself doesn't know much about him, and frightening because he is a scary man.  Slight of figure, old, he has the triads at his disposal if he needs them.  Before Ava came along, he was using 'muscle', threats, and violence to get the thieves to return the money in past cases.  Even Ava has not dared to ask if they were triad links, or just favours owed to Uncle.  Ava was first hired to work to determine if the money was stolen.  Eventually, Ava developed a way of asking when she realized that she didn't like the violence, and that most of the perpetrators would eventually hand it back if given a choice - and there was no way out.  So she and Uncle work well together, though she is very careful in every dealing and talk with him.  Much if this is in flashback, which is short and does not detract from the story at all. It creates mystery and danger right from the start.  Uncle and Ava decide together if they are going to take a case, though Uncle does let his ties to the men from the village push him in this case to taking it.

The mystery itself is good - the money has been stolen, and it's fun watching Ava piece together what happened to it.  Who took it?  Where is it now?  How did they hide it?

It's a fascinating mystery.  Bangkok comes to life, as does Guyana in all it's terrible danger and poverty.  Watching Ava track the money, and eventually the two partners who stole it, and how dangerous the situation she finds herself in - and gets herself out of - is breathtaking. Ava is also gay, so if you are looking for a book for LGBTQ challenge, this is a good one to include.  It's not a big part of the book, though it is part of her character.  Watching how men respond to her, and how she has to decide to reveal who she is - or not - is fun.  She is very attractive and fit, and she finds it strange that so many white men are attracted to her. This gives another unusual perspective to this series.

This is a really good debut mystery. So good in fact, that I can't settle down to read anything else because I have to know what happens next to her.  There are 5 books now in the series, and I will be heading to the bookstore tomorrow to get number 2, The Disciple of Las Vegas. Highly recommended.

****edited to add:  I can't include this in the Double Dog Dare challenge, as I bought this just before my operation.  So far it's the only thing I've read that I bought since Jan 1!  Definitely worth breaking the double dare challenge for.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Joss Whedon does Shakespeare!!! Awesome!

    I have Chris at Chrisbookarama to thank for this link, I've linked you to her original post. Joss Whedon has remade Much Ado About Nothing!!!!!   Nathan Filion stars!  Alexis Denisof!!! Amy Acker! Reed Diamond!   Here is the official theatre trailer link, over at Huffington Post. If I were tech savvy I could post the trailer here, but sadly my skills don't extend that far.  It looks amazing. Whedon and Shakespeare!  OMG!  And it's in Shakespeare's language!!!  I'm so excited I could jump up and down if I weren't being careful from my operation!!!

Awesome. Completely awesome.

 My sister has taken my kids for the whole day and night, so my husband and I have an unexpected date night, which is as rare as maybe once a year.  I'm not sure what we are doing yet.   Definitely Indian curry at a restaurant for dinner,  which we had at our first dinner out after we reconciled, last November, thanks to my eldest son.  That was our first meal out alone together in a couple of years. We are almost talking blue moon whether we go out to a movie too, or rent a whole bunch of movies we haven't seen yet (Argo tops this list for me), and stay in and enjoy having an entire evening to ourselves, I'm not sure yet.  I do know that Whedon/Shakespeare on top of having a whole 24 hours alone with my sweetie, is like pure happiness.  It could only be made better if I ran into a publisher who wants to see the short story I've been working on!

Enjoy your Saturday.  We even have a rare day where it's sunny, brilliant sunshine all day, so I'm heading out to enjoy the sunshine, too. I hope wherever you are, you are having a lovely Saturday too, Gentle Reader.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Reading while I recovered

      I am almost all healed, and am heading back to work on Monday.  I'll see how I do riding the buses - I take six buses every day, so I'm curious/anxious/worried about how my stitches will feel by Thursday or Friday.  I am sad my two weeks off are over, but very happy with how successful it was:
  I had a superb two weeks of reading after I got out of the hospital.  I read 6 books in total! A quick summary of each follows:

Blood on the Tongue - Stephen Booth - Number 3  in the DS Ben Cooper/DI Diane Fry series, set in the Peak dales in the UK.  Very atmospheric, the murder is entwined with a crashed plane that went down WW2 in the Peaks, and a granddaughter's search for what happened to her grandfather after the crash.  I really like this series.  A feel for the location, the townspeople, and especially the weather and the landscape, looms over all the action in this series.  4.5/5

Wide Open - Deborah Coates - I saw this title first over at Lesa's Book Critiques in the round up of her favourites from last year.  I had to get this book as soon as I saw her review, and fortunately the library had in their system so I could request it before the Double dare started!  This is a debut mystery, and is it ever good.  Sergeant Hallie Michaels is on duty in the Middle East - Afghanistan, and is granted 10 days personal leave to come home for her sister's funeral.  Dell's ghost is waiting for her at the airport.  Is her death suicide and everyone thinks, or murder?  Hallie investigates, along the way discovering that she is drawing the ghosts of other dead people to her as well.  Very well done, set in the American state of South Dakota, in the wide open spaces of horse and farming country, as well as Hallie learning what wide open means for her. I loved this mystery.  She is practical, no-nonsense, and has to deal with the ghosts and it's done so well, that the story is believable, despite the slight hitch of the magic that might be involved - not for Hallie, she has one. There is no witch here,  non of the usual lightness or sweetness about it. People die, and the novel is gritty and bittersweet.  Highly recommended.  4.7/5

The Annotated Persuasion - ed Robert Morrison - linked to my last post, which is the review. 5/5

The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas - read for Women of Genre Challenge, link here.  and Carl's Science Fiction Experience.  This is my second book read for this challenge. I have heard about this novel for years and years, and during my recovery, felt like reading a horror novel.  Luckily I've had this for about a year, and I happily read it last week.  It is as good as anything you will read about vampires.  One note: the book is set up as a series of short stories, 5 in total, linked together by the vampire in question, Dr Edward Weyland. This novel was published in 1980, before the vampire craze was started by Anne Rice (or about the same time as).  I'm a huge fan of Lestat etc by Rice.  It's lush and vivid and creepy and a bit scary, just like the swamps of Louisiana are.  The Vampire Tapestry is different.  It's set in New England, New York City, and Arizona.  How Dr Weyland is discovered to be a vampire, how he exists as a vampire, and what the people do to him who discover his secret, makes for a gripping, tense read.  How does he survive?  What is it like to look human, but not be one, and to have to live off of them?  You will never look at vampires again after reading this novel.  He's like an anti-hero hero.  I want him to live, even though I am horrified because he is a vampire.  The Unicorn Tapestry, which is the middle story, won the Nebula award for novellas.  It  will leave an impression on you, as the novel does, long after finishing it. It's smart, clever, and in comparison with Lestat - Lestat is still grand, and passionate, but Weyland is believable, and that makes him much more frightening a figure to my mind. You will never forget that we are prey, after reading this book.  Excellent vampire reading.  4.8/5

Gift From the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh  I love this novel.  I have read it at least twice before in my life, and lost every copy I had. I recently picked up the hardcover (recently being sometime in the past two years or so), and in the midst of all my fiction reading, I suddenly wanted to read this.  It spoke to me as someone who is about to turn 50, and as someone who is examining her life and deciding what I want to do for the next 40 odd years (everything willing.....) left.  How do I want to live?  What do I want to do?  The funny thing I found reading Gift From the Sea, is how much I have learned about love, and marriage, and life, in the intervening 15 years or so since I last read this.  I understood what Anne was talking about, when she talks about the shell for first love/early marriage,  the double-sunrise shell, where everything is about the two people in love, staring at one another.  Soon enough it changes, to the oyster shell, which is all the changes that the couple go through as they live and work and build a life together, as they have children and make a life that is them, looking outward from the same space.  Then, is the empty nest shell, the argonauta, where if successful, the woman - the couple - can leave behind all the work they have done, and start over again for themselves.  They can't go back to the double-sunrise, that is for first love.  The argonauta is left to each to shape for themselves, as they give themselves space to discover new things.  Isn't that a lovely series of shells to describe life with?

She begins with the Moon shell, talking about the woman in particular, because life is about the self first, before love and marriage can come.  In this section, she describes why she needs to get away from her five children and her husband, for a week break at a cottage all by herself: she is suffering from  Zerrissenheit - a German word meaning "torn-to-pieces-hood".  I suddenly knew exactly what this word means, sitting in my kitchen reading this book, because this is how I felt and have been feeling for some time in my life.  It's not that I don't love my live, I do!  I love my family, I am so happy to be back with my husband, I love my home and my garden and my cats and my books and my friends.  What I don't like is my job.  There, I'm saying it out loud. I don't like the work that I do, I'm bored, and I've been trying for some time to change my job without success. I don't fit the work that my job has changed into over the last 6 years, and it has taken a deep toll on my health. I've never been sick or hospitalized like I have been these past 7 years, and I don't like it.  So I am searching for a way to change my job, or looking into the possibility of taking early retirement, and if that is possible.  The two weeks here in my house recovering from the surgery, I took the opportunity to be as still as possible.   I feel much less torn to pieces hood now - of course, we'll see how long that survives, once I return to work on Monday! It is very hard to do work at the maximum output all the time, with no quiet time or respite allowed on the job.

 Gift From the Sea allowed me to look at my time at home and pretend I was away from it all, that I was at a cottage somewhere, alone during the day.  I had silence each day - no music, no tv, no radio - I needed to rest, and to heal.  This book is a lovely reminder of how easy it is to get pulled from the center, and how it is our work to return to the center, so we can hold our lives together and not be pulled apart.  It is also important that we learn how to find that quiet center in our day, each day, even for 1 or 15 minutes.  This is a wonderful book, and highly recommended. 5/5
Leviathan Wakes - James S. A Corey - Read for Carl's Sci-Fi Experience.   I discovered this book through Locus Magazine, which had the annual best books of 2012 waiting for me the day I had my surgery, Feb 14.  How awesome to come home to this issue!  Last weekend I was finally ready to look through it, and I circled so many books to get, as well as happy to see I already own some (not read yet, waiting for Once Upon a Time to start): Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers, Some Kind of  Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, and then others are on the list like Brides of Roll Rock Island by Margo Lanagan, Wide Open by Deborah Coates (because of the ghosts and the hint of magic),  Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch (Book 3,must read the second one before this, on my shelf), Boneland by Alan Garner (we can't get it here in Canada!),  And Blue Skies From Pain by Stina Leicht (Book 2, I have book one to read on my shelf!), etc, just to give you a hint of how awesome this year's recommended list is.  The list is comprehensive, covering young adult, and short stories and novellas also.  Here is the link to their site and the list, which you can get online as well.

 Leviathan Wakes is the first in a series; the second book, Caliban's War, is the one published last year, that made it onto the recommended reading list.  Leviathan's Wake was on the 2011 reading list, somehow I missed reading that it had a creepy Lovecraftian like monster thing too.  Sold!  I rushed out to Chapters (luckily close to the one event I went to while out, my sister's birthday party) and grabbed a copy, and started reading it the next day.  It was so much fun.  It's a huge book, at 561 pages, chock full of adventures in space.  Man has gone to Mars, and colonized it, and the planets in and around the asteroid belt between the inner and outer planets. Ceres is colonized at the outer edge, as are several asteroids with science stations on them.  The story covers two main characters:  Detective Miller, hired to look into a missing girl whose parents want her to return to the fold; Jim Holden who is XO of a ice miner going to the asteroid belt for ice and bringing back the ice for water supplies to different planets.  He is called to investigate an sos signal. while on a return journey, and what he discovers puts him at the heart of a deadly race that has the survival of the known galaxy at stake.  How their paths intersect and how they try to prevent an all-out war, is fun.  The creeping Lovecraftian monster? Awesome and creepy and it will give you visionary nightmares after.  Satisfying fun space romp, with good characters, tight plotting, and and ending that is a proper ending to these characters, but not to the galaxy. Great fun!  4.7/5

The Burning - Jane Casey  The first in the DC Maeve Kerrigan series.  My husband had brought this back from England two years ago, and it took me this long to read it.  Bad me!  this was a very good mystery.  I did guess who dunnit before the character did, but this was not a flaw for me in this book - the challenge was seeing if I guessed right, and my reasoning was sound, which it was. That made it very satisfying to read!  The mystery itself is well done:  4 women's bodies have been found murdered and burned in different parks, over a series of weeks, in London.  The police are at a standstill.  No clues.  Then a fifth woman's body is found, also murdered and burned, in a park.  Maeve is not sure it is the same murderer, as there are some minute differences,and she is pulled from the big investigation to prove or disprove if it is the serial killer's work.

This books sounds gruesome, however not a lot of time is spent with the bodies.  Most of it is with the investigations, with following Maeve as she pursues the one case, especially after it is revealed a different killer is at work.  Now they have two killers to find.....  It is well written, and I enjoyed it very much.  It isn't a perfect debut, the killer does something uncharacteristic at the end, yet it doesn't detract from the book.  4.5/5, and recommended.

Whew!  Apparently I did have a lot to say!


And this brings me to the 2013 Science Fiction Experience Wrap-up

I read 7 books in total for the science fiction experience.  I enjoyed all of them so very much.  Thank you Carl for hosting it! I am really enjoying increasing the books I am reading each year in this area.  Here is the list:

One Second After - William Forschten
Cat's Eye - Andre Norton
Mars - Ben Bova
Timescape - Gregory Benford
Wide Open - Deborah Coates (this also counts as a mystery read, for me!
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas
Leviathan Wakes - James SA Corey

Even more amazing, is that I have reviewed them all except for Mars, which is coming shortly. 

 My only problem now is that reading 6 books in two weeks, has left me not able to settle down to anything for a couple of days now.  I'm even happier to report that other than Leviathan Wakes, I am still in the Double Dog Dare Challenge.  I'm feeling very proud of myself that I have kept to reading books I owned on my shelf since Jan 1.  One month to go!