Monday, 28 December 2009

I think I was a very good girl this year......

.........what do you think?

Book titles are:
Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
Little, Big - John Crowley (fantasy classic, how have I not read it yet? thanks to Nymeth who reminded me again that this should be read)
Arctic Chill - Arnaldur Indridason (I'm so happy)
Anathem - Neal Stephenson (look! It's one volume! And supposed to be very very good science fiction. Hmm. Could be good for a challenge I'm about to join again, see below).
The Red Breast - Jo Nesbo (new to me mystery writer, recommended by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise )
Tin Roof Blow Down - James Lee Burke (this was going to be a birthday present, last year!!! lol Mom finally found it on her shelves where she'd put it, and now at last I can read it.)
Book of Lost Things - John Connolly (everyone has liked it on the blogs! And it looks very good)
Blue Shoes and Happiness - Alexander McCall Smith
Morality For Beautiful Girls - " "
The Pure in Heart - Susan Hill (2nd in Simon Serailler series, just discovered by me, thanks to Bride of the Book God and Geraniumcat, I believe, who reading books in the series at the same time early this year. My review of first book still to many things this year.....)
Bone By Bone - Carol O'Connell ( one of my favourite mystery authors, this one is getting excellent reviews)
Doors Open - Ian Rankin (Ann at Table Talk read this and enjoyed it, which convinced me to read a non-John Rebus mystery!!!)
Prepared for Rage - Dana Stabenow (a stand-alone book, not one of the Kate Sugak series which I love. My mother says these are quite good and this is the second one she's given me for Christmas. It does look good!)

I am already 3/4 of the way through The Tin Roof Blowdown, and happily contemplating which one is next. I hope you received books you wanted to read, my Gentle Readers. I hope you've had time to read!!!

Movies: Star Trek, Dr Who Season 3, Pride and Prejudice on dvd ( *Colin Firth*), and Smallville Season 3 (shared with my daughter, from the eldest son) - all favourites, all lovely!

Odds and thoughts:

Dr Who:
Don't you like how the Dr Who covers and removable covers are different? So depending what mood you're in, I can have Martha or the Master with the Doctor on the cover.

42 Challenge completed and signed up for again:
I've already watched Dr Who Season 3 "Blink" (the episode with the killer angels, my favourite) twice. Just as good as ever. *sighs happily* And with this, I finish the 42 Challenge by Becky. I'm so happy! I did it!!! and I am going to take this opportunity to SIGN UP FOR THE 42 Challenge for next year!!! Hurray! It's at the same link. *another happy sigh* This was a fun challenge, which I enjoyed and had fun adding to whenever something unexpected - like discovering Fringe in October - came along. I have the new version of Alice PVR'd, and can borrow Tin Man, the remake of the Wizard Of Oz, which is worth at least 4 already on next year's list. Plus, the Dr Who finale ***David Tennant is no more on the show! sob!*** on Jan 2 falls nicely into the new 2010 42 Sci-Fi Things Challenge. *deep sigh of pleasure* Thanks Becky, for doing this one again!

10 Best Crime Novels compilation at Mysteries in Paradise
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has a open question going: what is your list of the 10 best crime novels you read in 2009? Please let her know what your ten are; she combines all our thoughts and comes up with a blogger compilation list of the best crime novels of the year!!! I have to do mine; I'm just waiting to finish The Tin Roof Blowdown to add it to mine - it's that good.

All right, must go feed the hungry hordes, and I'm waiting on one of my sisters who is coming for a lovely visit for a few days. I hope the holidays are continuing fun for all of you, and as ever - I hope you are finding time to read!!

****Edited to add: Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise also had a note on her post today that Martin Edward's first mystery, The Coffin Trail, is being re-released!!!!! I'm so happy! I've been trying to get this for a year now, and my local indie mystery store said it was not available - not quite out of print, but next to it. Now it's coming, according to this link to the author's own blog. I'm so happy, this is like a late Christmas present!!! I have been holding off on the series until I could get the first one, so now I will go ahead and buy the other two (the last one is out in Hardcover, I believe, or will be over here shortly)*******

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Secret Santa Thank You and reading time


My Secret Santa parcel arrived on Dec 23rd, just when I was wondering if something had happened. I was so excited! Above you can see what my dear Secret Santa sent me:
- The Faerie Queen's Deception: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater (I haven't heard of this author and the book looks very interesting), and:
- my heart is so happy! FINALLY: a copy of Looking For Alaska by John Green, which I've been looking for, for a year now!!!! I am so thrilled!
- Two big lollipops (my kids are delighted!) and
- last but not least, a pair of beautiful red bead earrings shaped like a glowing drop, with silver leaf filigree around the top. Perfect!
I couldn't fit the card into the photo, but there is one, with her name and address. So thank you so very much, Vanessa of Today's Adventure.

This is a new blog for me also, and I'm bookmarking it. I love the photos of her angels, though I think my darlings are a little cuter!!! lol
I am so happy I received books for Christmas. Thank you, Vanessa! Best of all, it did arrive before Christmas, so Vanessa, Canada Post worked again!!!

Thank you, Secret Santa. Thank you also to the organizers of this exchange. I had so much fun picking out what my giftee was going to get - and she is another new to me blogger; and I had just as much fun receiving my mystery parcel.

So, I'm full of turkey still, and we are in the middle of another ice storm. We have candles ready, and enough food to feed a (small) army, so I'm going to go do what I need to do to rest (finally) over these holidays: read. I'll post later about how good Santa was to me this year. Right now I'm taking my first chance to just sit with the books I received, hold them, flip through them, and pick which one to read first. The most precious gift of all to me is time to read. So that's what I wish for all of you this ice-rain falling day after Christmas.

Happy holiday reading, Gentle Readers!!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Day 21 - Virtual Advent Tour - Happy Solstice Day!

The Winter Solstice - Light and Dark

It's my turn to post during this lovely virtual advent tour, and I was going to do a post about the meaning of the winter solstice, and some of it's history, but I see that Mariel at Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops already posted about it today! She did a fantastic job, and I've linked you to her post. She has beautiful winter scenes with sun light and sunset posted. But do not fear, I had two or three ideas I was tossing around up until I saw her post, so, I'm moving on to the theme that I love most about the winter Solstice - the darkest day of the year, and the coming of the light.

I know that from a very early age I was aware of nature - of the trees expecially, and the mountains and the sea also, when we lived in British Columbia. We were raised as Catholics, although quite early in my life my mother stopped going (she married a man with a different faith) and so I became free to explore other religions as I became older. I wasn't consciously doing this; I joined a Christian bible study group when I was twelve, with my best friend, and for a year I studied the bible with them. Even at that young age (as I know now it is) it didn't satisfy any questions I had, and I knew that while the Bible held answers for other people, it didn't hold many for me. I no longer celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas, yet I still celebrate this time of year. I don't know when I first heard about the changing of the seasons, and the shortest days and longest days of the year. It has taken me many years to understand what I celebrate exactly - and it's the simple astronomical fact that today is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. I celebrate the coming back of the light.

So this is our tree this year:
I tried to get a photo of the tree lit up in the dark, but this was the best we could get from our camera last night. What I love best are the lights on the tree. We have our favourite decorations on of course, ones that have to be on the tree every year. Sometimes the garland is on, sometimes it isn't. This year we have two colours of garland!

What remains the same is the tree. For us here in Canada, of course, we have pine tree forests all over the country. So it's like bringing in a bit of the forest to celebrate nature at this time of year. And the evergreen is the tree that stays green in the northern hemispheres, year round. Our tree lit up is, for me, a symbol that day will come again, that the light will come back, the sun will return a little bit longer every day, and life will continue. It's a little symbol of eternity brought into our house. And it's some light against the long dark night. I love lights on our Christmas tree! I love looking at the outside decorations at night all along our streets, and going to my friends' houses to see how they have decorated and especially, when they turn the lights on. There is just something about light at this time of year that I really respond to.

(By the way, I do admit that this is a small tree, bought by my English husband who thought it was a wonderful size. I said maybe in England it is, but over here this is small and piddly. After everyone exclaimed over it's size two years ago, he has now promised me a larger tree for next year. He admits that perhaps the star on top could be a little closer to the ceiling. It currently sits two feet below it!!)

Today, being the winter solstice, I will be thinking about light, and how we need it to live, how the planet needs it to support all life. What a wonder it is that we have the sun, and that we have the changing of the seasons, so that we see life unfold before our eyes every day. For me, this is the end of the year, the last day of the old year's light. Tomorrow will dawn a new day, and a new year, for the sun will come back just a little bit more tomorrow. So this is the last day of this year in terms of the sun's light. Once I realized that, I understood that this is what I celebrate instinctively. When we open all our presents on Christmas Day, I see it as celebrating the new year. By then, we know the sun is coming back to us. This time of year is a big long festival of lights and presents to welcome the sun, and the new year. I like the idea that giving gifts - and receiving them - encourages abundance all through the year!

I also know that for you, My Gentle Readers who are in the Southern Hemisphere, that this is the day with the longest sun's light, for you! Isn't this part of the mystery and magic that is the universe all around us? Part of the fun and wonder of this advent tour is seeing how this time of year is celebrated in all its myriad ways around the world, in our lives and in our homes. May you feel the magic and wonder of this time in your lives. Happy Holidays! Happy Solstice Day to you!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Christmas Rush and Dr Who is on in 10 minutes!!!

Well, I didn't expect it, to get so caught up in getting ready for Christmas that I haven't been on here in over a week! I feel so terrible, I have the advent tour to go catch up on. And, in 25 minutes, the premiere of Dr Who The Waters of Mars - which looks seriously scary and creepy and we are all so excited in the house that the kids are asking every few minutes how much longer to go.........

I have very good news to report from the doctor, the health scare I had has turned out to be just that. I think I am still exhaling from this very long period of tests and wondering what lay next. I am so relieved, of course, and I also have begun to do some thinking about what I do in my life, and what I would like to be doing. My life is close to what I've always wanted, except that I have little time for writing, and I haven't seen the way to where I can fit it in. I just know I have to! I thank all of you who have been thinking of me and hoping all would turn out all right, because your support did, and does, mean a lot. This may be cyberspace, but each of us writing is real, and you have all touched me with your concern and love. Thank you!!

We have been busy doing Christmas things, and so, in lieu of words, here is how we spent last Sunday: Dr Who is on! So no commentary, just enjoy the pictures, and hope you are celebrating Christmas preparations too.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wednesday - after the storm

Well, it's Wednesday, and the storm has just finished dumping about 8 inches over the day. It looks like winter out there! Lovely snow on the ground, making everything white and clean. There is something wonderful about the first snowfall of the year. It's quiet when the snow falls, like the world is hushed, and then the next day the sun glints off the snow and everything is bright. Winter in Canada has begun! The kids had a snow day, which means no school - no buses were running for them. They were so happy, but because it was stormy much of the day, tomorrow our yard will be filled with footprints and attempted snowmen and snowballs.

It can't be two weeks until Christmas! I am so not ready!!!!

Virtual Advent Tour Dec 9

Alexis at The Amazing Adulthood of Alexis has a fun post about the movies she watches every year with her sisters. I agree with two of her choices, which are ones we watch every year at our house. I love A Christmas story, Ralphie and his crazy wonderful family and the BB gun, and Love Actually is a movie my husband and I watch every year at this time. How about you? Any favourite Christmas movies you and your family watch at this time of year? Drop in and let Alexis know, she'd like to know what family movie traditions you have. I enjoyed this post. I'm hoping to find time to watch some over the holidays!

Cindy at Nocturnal Wonderings has a very fun post about how they changed the gift buying habits to get a fun reaction at present opening time. It's something I am thinking of more and more these days; what do we buy when we have enough? Well, other than books, I never have enough of them! Some days I want to just get silly things, or support the World Wildlife Fund in someone's name.....something that doesn't have to be important and 'the gift'. I think Cindy and her family have got it right - it's about the surprise, after all, and what better way to feel like a child again, for a morning?

Lesley at A Life in Books has a post about two of her favourite recipes for this time of year. Once again, I find myself wanting to rush to the stove to try them!! Yummy sausage balls, and Newfoundland Snowballs from our own Newfoundland. I can see the sausage balls becoming a family favourite too here. Yum! I'm getting hungry.

Kim at Page After Page was due to have a post today also. It doesn't appear to be up yet. I'll check tomorrow. Meanwhile, she has lovely pictures of her new granddaughter up, for anyone who needs a quick baby fix!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Before the storm......

I so like the Guardian book site. It is one of my regular reads. Today I discovered that they have a book advent calendar! Go here and see what literary delights they have behind each day, until Christmas. Now that's a calendar that makes my book-lover's heart all happy.

Virtual Advent Tour

Dec 7:

Amanda at The Zen Leaf has the most amazing video featuring Death and Baby Death singing "Silent Night" and a discussion that is perfectly, wonderfully hilarious. It really has to be viewed. It sounds so un-Christmas and still it works! Delightful, and for anyone who wants the absurd. Don't miss it!!!

Kiirsten from A Book A Week (another blogger from Canada! How have I missed these bloggers?) has cookies, socks, treasured family bake-off and a new book to celebrate her Christmas with us. I want a pair of those lovely socks, they are beautiful. And then there are the cookies. I started drooling at reading what they made. It sounds like they had a wonderful day baking - from age 8 to 80! - and I'm really delighted that she shared her family day with us.

Tami, of Dave and Tami at Just One More Thing, has shared her Christmas cookie memories also. They too, have a generational gathering to make cookies that has lasted for 5 generations. I like how she says each time the children have grown up, someone inherits the cookie cutters to use for the next round of children, and now they have some very old cookie cutters. I have copied out the sugar recipe to try myself.

It seems to me that part of the pleasure of reading these posts is getting a glimpse of how the differences in traditions make the fact that we have the same traditions that much stronger. We all make cakes or cookies or Christmas puddings or turkey, it's only in how we do it that makes it a bit different. And part of our Christmas experience that we cherish, is doing things together with our families. My friend, who only has limited family left, has started baking this week, and we her friends are the lucky recipients of her baking. I've already invited her for Christmas dinner, but she has said she's tried before and she always feels like a stranger because she doesn't know the family traditions each household has, and I know she's right. So one of the things I am doing this year is making sure she feels loved and appreciated all through the holidays. And eating all her wonderful generous baked Christmas treats!

Kristen at BookNAround has an absolutely delightful tale of how her father used to chase the elves out of the house Christmas morning before they could steal the stockings and the presents.
That is pure magic! What a lovely way to start Christmas morning, and keep children from getting up too early and peeking!

Dec 8: Now to today's virtual tour:

Darren at Bart's Bookshelf has the most absolutely hilarious rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas read by Frank Kelly. It really is a delight. And what would really happen if your true love did give you all those things......I have to admit I like the subversive, and this is right up there with yesterday's Death and Death's Baby singing O Holy Night. I love the variety in this advent tour, the cherished memories, and the slightly bizarre!!

Bluestocking at The Bluestocking Guide has a lovely post on The Dickens Festival she attended last weekend. She makes me want to go to one! We have nothing like that here in Ottawa. She describes how the main street is shut down for the night, and everything is decorated and dressed Victorian. She has pictures also, so if you need a touch of Victoriana to put you in the mood for this year, her album is perfect. I really enjoyed this post, and it reminded me again that I really must read A Christmas Carol, as well as watch the movies. I have to read a Charles Dickens book this year!

Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm has a delightful post on her husband's fabulous collection of Christmas ties, some from his students as gifts, some inherited. This is quite a collection and I find myself a tad envious and wondering if I can convince my husband that it's cool to wear a Christmas tie. So far he has categorically denied wanting or being able to sport any Christmas clothing at all. The English schoolboy who wore a uniform can be very stubbom when it comes to standing out in the crowd as an adult!!! So I love Nan's husband's collection. I think the ties are beautiful, and how lucky he is to be able to wear a different one every day through the Christmas season!

Last but not most definitely never least, on today's tour, is
Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading, and her post is a brain-teaser! She wants to know if you can guess the songs from the first letters of the title put together - so Deck the Halls becomes DTH. Are you up for it? Need a brain-twister to wake you up? Challenge yourself and see if you can guess all 21 songs without peeking!!! I like this idea. Original indeed, and lots of fun.

What a wide variety of wonderful Christmas posts we have gotten over the first 8 days of this tour! I hope you are enjoying it, and are feeling the seasonal spirit grow now. I am amazed and surprised at how much variety there is, and really enjoying the tour. Happy holidays indeed!

Before the storm......
We have finally had a wee bit of snow, and are expecting our first snow storm tomorrow, so it will feel a LOT like Christmas on Friday!

Monday, 7 December 2009

the 50 Books of the Decade - Guardian list

The Guardian has a post up about the 50 books that best defined this decade. What were you reading over the last 10 years? Do you agree with their assessment of the books that defined our world before and after Sept 11? Do you have a favourite book you read over this past decade that isn't on this list?

It is a wide variety of books that they cover, from Harry Potter to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, to Zadie Smith and Fingersmith. Please let me know. I am thinking this list over, because I don't agree with everything on it, but it's interesting and certainly lists many of the books that have turned up on our blogs over the past 2 years that I have been on here. I have read several, which I am thrilled and pleased about!

WhileI'm on topic, do you have a book that defines this decade for you? Or an author perhaps? Do you have your own list of books that defined these last 10 years? I'd be interested in what you have to say. I will be doing a post later next week on favourite books read this year. But I don't know that I have a favourite author of this decade. It's an interesting idea, that an author can catch the flavour of a decade, though I wonder if we are too close to the noughties to see which book has the greatest impact.

Litlove at the Reading Room has already begun the end of the year review for books, by posting her list of the Best Books of 2009, for her. Have you done your list? Please let me know, I'll add it to this post. So I suppose I'd better get my list ready for this year. And I'll think about the decade as well. It is that time of year, it's December!

Advent Virtual Tour - I apologize, but I got on late tonight to the computer and I'm falling asleep while I write this post. I will have to catch-up tomorrow, and I'm really disappointed that I can't do more tonight.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows -
For the first time in a very long time, I stayed up late last night to finish this book. I didn't mean to; I went to bed fairly late, and thought I would read just a few pages and I expected to fall right asleep. An hour later, I realized I only had 20 pages left, so I might as well finish the book. 2:30 in the morning I closed the covers with a big sigh, laughing while I wiped away tears.

How is it the very best books make us fall in love with characters? How can we feel we know Elizabeth just through other people's stories about her? But I do. And Dawsey; I liked him from the very start, and even though he doesn't say much, it's not in his nature, everything he says was good and true and how can you not fall in love with a character like that? And this is all done through letters. How powerful our perceptions are of other people. How powerful one story is, and when you put a collection together - all these characters talking about the occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War, the different experiences create a more complete picture of what life was like in general under the Germans. This is quite a clever book. I really enjoyed it, and the very best part is of course, that the main character Juliet Ashton is a writer. It is one of her childhood books ending up on the Island that leads to the story beginning. It wouldn't happen today, of course, no one would look up a previous owner of a book in today's world. But back then in 1946, when you could come across the book of a relatively famous writer (Juliet is an English newspaper humorous writer, so still approachable) you would reach out and say, "I found your book today, and I love this author too." Isn't falling in love over a book or an author, what we all secretly dream of in our little bookish hearts? Even though my husband doesn't read very much, he does read the occasional sports book - I've made sure to buy many over the years!! - and he can live with all my books.

Writing about books here gives me a place and a space to write about reading. I would be writing about what I read even if it were in my journal, if no internet existed! It's what I used to do, back in the day when we didn't have the computer! (Yes, everyone under the age of 20, once upon a time there was NO COMPUTER, NO INTERNET.) So I think if Guernesy Literary were set in today's world, it would have to be set over the internet - someone from the book blog community finally meeting and......

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. It is delightful, funny, romantic, and courageous. It is heartbreaking too, and filled with love. I've already given a copy to my mother for her birthday (today is her birthday, Happy Birthday Mom!). If you are stuck with what book to give someone who enjoys reading and wants something that is fairly light but not fluffy, this is the book for you. It really is good. I think it will become one that I read every other year or so. After all, it isn't every book that can get me to stay up late into the night, reading! ***I don't stay up late reading as much as I used to because I never get enough sleep as it is, not because I wouldn't rather be reading 24 hours a day.....

****I also confess to deeply desiring to see the sea again, and my husband admitted that he would like to find an island and spend the holidays with just us on it, so if you are feeling the world pressing in, this book is also a good get-away in lieu of being on a relatively sparsely populated island for Christmas. I also really want to go to Guernsey now!

Advent Virtual Tour Update

I've missed two days here, so please bear with me as I catch up. I do get to every tour post to read, but I don't always get time to blog here!

Dec 3
Ana at Things Mean Alot has a wonderful post on Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. I love the cover illustration she has on her post. This is one of those books that everyone including me keeps meaning to read, but hasn't yet. Ana gives some her thoughtful insights on what makes this work a treasure, and asks you for some of your memories of Christmas. No matter how much or in what ways we celebrate this season, everyone has something to say about it! So please give her your thoughts or memories, too.

Chris at Book-a-rama has a fabulous post on having homemade gifts for Christmas. There are so many ideas here!!! Even I, a mostly unhandy crafter at best (and other than small quilting projects and one needlepoint design on a bag, that's IT folks, I suck at making things!!), am tempted to see if I can try my hand at one or two of these ideas. I'm going to bookmark this post so that next year I can start much earlier. After all, I think even I could make a fabric weight for a book so my cookbooks stop closing on me!!! Chris also has some thoughts on what makes Christmas special for her, thoughts that I agree with. Do you?

Karen at SassyMonkey Reads has a post on Christmases past and present, and how much difference there is between having no one to celebrate Christmas with, and someone to spend Christmas with. I could relate to some of her past memories, since I have spent Christmases alone when I was first on my own, as well as very often filled with family and friends. I much prefer having both family time and time alone - for reading, of course! - over the holidays. What do you like? Can you relate to Karen's post? It's moving, in an unexpected way.

Lastly for Dec 3, Mrs Q at Book Addict posted about her Christmas plans. She is rejuvenated by mass at Christmas, and provides a few lovely Christmas quotes. I enjoyed this post and seeing the picture of one of the churches where she will be attending mass. I see there is no snow there!

There seems to be a theme this year so far in the blogs, of enjoying the pleasures of each other's company and not rushing to spend in a frenzy. This is something I have slowly come to appreciate over the years. I love to give, as I've said before, and all of our posts are reminding me that Christmas is a time of receiving too, and not just gifts, but the pleasure of spending time together.

Dec 4

Maree at Just Add Books couldn't think of what to write about, so she wrote a lovely small piece on a small and quiet Christmas. She reminds me that you don't have to have a long post for this tour. Just say hi, post a picture, put up Christmas music, whatever moves you. This is one reason why I like this tour, because I get to see how Christmas (or whatever you do celebrate) is for you, this year. It is a way for us to reach out and create a space for all of us to create some kind of virtual Christmas together! I like it - I can't give you the cookies I bake, or sing carols with you, or watch the snow fall, but I can post about it and we can share each other's experiences. And like reading, it does become part of us.

Aarti at Booklust hasposted beautiful pictures of lanterns in the sky that they saw on their family trip to Thailand last year. They don't celebrate any holidays at this time of year, so her family goes travelling. I think this is a very cool way of enjoying this time of year! They aren't her photos, but they capture the beauty and magic of that moment she experienced. What a lovely tradition the Thais have of introducing the new year!

Lisa at Books, Lists, Life, wrote about how she starts getting ready for Christmas after their Thanksgiving, and how she is looking for new traditions to introduce to her young and growing family. She also wants to know if you prefer homemade gifts to store bought gifts. And to be honest!! I will: I prefer both! Something someone has made I cherish because they cared about me enough to make it, and something someone has bought with me in mind I also appreciate because of the effort they made. I like gifts! The giving and receiving. I get as much pleasure from buying as I do to receiving. Mostly, I love sharing our thoughts, and company. Here on my blog, and every day in my life. And I think most of my Christmas memories are made from when people shared of themselves in time spent together. Although Aarti did make the hilarious point that quite often we can't spend too long in our loved extended family's presence!!!

Robin at A Fondness for Reading has posted a lovely post featuring some art from her schoolchildren and a poem they have memorized. The art - mandalas - is beautiful. It's the theme of light in this time of darkness. Isn't that a lovely way of recognizing how important the sun, and light, is to our world? I love the mandalas the class has made. The poem is for all of us, no matter where we come from or what we celebrate. Thank you, Robin!

I still have to go to today's virtual tour; that will be later tonight, as we have company coming this afternoon, and fun auction to go to for my friend at work who belongs to a choral choir. It's their annual fundraiser and she hooked me when she mentioned the used-book table! Plus she's my friend! So I will post later tonight about today's tour - and whatever books I pick up!

Have a happy Saturday preparing for the holidays (because we all are by now!) in whatever way you choose to celebrate. And if we have to stay up late to get some reading in, well, I consider that a present we give to ourselves!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"reading keeps me from going gaga"

Mostly odds and ends, as I keep meaning to do so much - including many posts! - , and now the Christmas season is upon me! How did it get to be December already?

I saw this post on the Guardian book site a few weeks ago, and I think it encapsulates just why I read fantasy: "Getting Hooked on George RR Martin". For those of you who have wondered why read a fantasy novel, or what it can offer, this is a good place to understand the lure fantasy has for us. Let me know what you think! And yes, I have read three of the books in the series by George RR Martin that he mentions, I have the fourth on my shelf waiting to be read. I do highly recommend this series, though I warn it is a big story he is telling. And hard to put down. Fantasy, when it's well-written, offers a sense of magic and wonder that only poetry (in my opinion) comes close to equalling.

I have just begun The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I am loving it. If you haven't read it yet, and want something to take you into the holidays with the love of books and delightful characters, this is the book for you. My favorite line so far? "So far my only thought is that reading keeps you from going gaga." I love this line. This is my life! Reading keeps me sane. I can relate!!!! I also love that the heroine discovers the man she is about to marry has boxed up all her books without telling her. What does she do? what is her reaction? Let's just say that I completely agreed with what she did!!

Just because I love the Advent Tour so much:

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise began the advent tour yesterday with a marvelous list of her favourite mysteries she read this year, and favourite mysteries over the last two years. This is an excellent list to begin looking for mysteries for that special crime-reading someone on your Christmas list. I've read several of the books she's mentioned, and have added several authors who are new to me. So if you are looking for new crime books to read (or buy as gifts), this is a very good place to start.

At Dolce Bellezza, it's all about the chocolate orange and keeping memories of what we love alive. Isn't this a lovely way to usher in the holiday season? We usually get the chocolate oranges every year, and I am delighted that she did such a lovely post on why they mean so much to her.

Brenda at Joyful Holidays has a lovely post about the Advent Calendar, how it began and a cookie recipe, a traditional German Christmas cookie. Yum.

Capricious Reader has a post about some of her favourite Christmas songs, in case you are in need of finding the mood for Christmas. She has linked them to Youtube videos, a lovely way to hear the music she loves. I know that with no snow here in Ottawa, and unseasonably warm temperatures, it's hard to think that Christmas will be here in 3 weeks!!!

Once Upon a Bookcase writes about her Christmas dinner and how they spend time as a family at Christmas eve. Yum, I'm hungry now. All that lovely Christmas food.

Bookend Crossing has an Irish poem about the bones of Santa Claus, an "Irish St Nicholas", that I have never come across! Very Irish and delightful.

And lastly on the two days of the virtual tour so far, Linus's Blanket has a wonderful rendition of O Holy Night. This is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and always makes me want to cry when I hear it.

And that's just over two days. 23 wonderful more days to read what you love about the season!

So even though I am not an organizer of the Advent tour, if you haven't joined yet, there is still time - really. I discovered last night that I hadn't been assigned a day yet! So I sent Marg and Kailana and email and am now happily added to Dec 21. If you want to join, there is always room for you.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sunday Salon: What I am Grateful For: Books

The Sunday

The What I am Grateful For: Books Meme. The meme is from Charlotte at Charlotte's Web, who got it from litlove. I love this little meme, short and all about books and reading!! Please feel free to do it yourself and let us know.

What reasons do you have to be grateful for books?
Books keep me sane! Books inform me, guide me, allow me to understand so many other existences that otherwise I would not have the possibility to glimpse. Most of all, books are filled with uncounted, unlimited treasure that is available any time I open them. I can go anywhere the human imagination can go, through a book. Books also inspire me. There is so much to be grateful for, in the existence of books. I have always been delighted and thrilled and felt it was the most wonderful thing, to love books so much.

Is there any author for whose existence you are especially grateful?
Gee, there is no easy answer to this! It would have to be the writers who have helped me through rough times in my life - that would principally be Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Frank, when I was growing up. As an adult, the poet Mary Oliver, whom I discovered last year, has become my inspiration and my joy. Her poems reach into me and move me in indescribable joy, and outwardly reveal the natural world as I know it to be.

I also give thanks to every writer, for making the creative effort to write their books. Even if I don't like a book, I appreciate the attempt to write one. This doesn't apply to those who write formula books to make money; that easy work doesn't take something of the soul that real creative effort does.

What positive impact does reading have on your day?
It gives me breathing space, a private time that is my own. It is hard to describe how reading calms me down, how my brain can be running around like an animal out of control, until I begin reading and only when I come out of my reading time, do I realize I am refreshed and able to think better. In some ways, reading is like meditation for me, it has much of the same physical results on me: all of me is centered on the reading, and I am not here, I am there, in the book. Reading is my guidepost to being centered in my life; if I can read, everything is fine. If I can't, then something is wrong.

I also can't really imagine going very long without picking up a book. If my life is really busy and a couple of days pass without reading something, I get a little anxious feeling. I suppose if I were to be diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, it would be this. I can't go long without reading! So it has an extremely powerful positive impact on my day!!

Reading is like going for daily walks, and eating properly, and getting enough sleep - it's part of my routine for health!

What good things has reading taught you?
Oh where to begin? Almost everything I know I have learned from books. I wish they would do a poster of that one!!

Is there any particular book that’s special to you?
Depends what category....I have favourite books in spirituality, mystery, science fiction, YA, horror, fantasy, poetry, astrology, biography......A special book, one that I treasure? Not any that stand out, mostly because I really like all the books that I own. I don't have any special editions of books except the hardcover of The Hobbit with the artwork by Tolkien. Some day I might look for older editions, or special editions of books I love, but so far I haven't had the money to spend; I'm not a book collector (of rare editions), I'm a book lover.

What are you most happy to have read recently?
Surprisingly, graphic novels. Every one I've read so far, I've been delighted in. I've gone looking for Alison Bechdel - I had her Home out from the library, but couldn't finish it, and I really enjoyed what I did read. Plus the Buffy graphic novels I read really impressed me (and made me miss Buffy on tv all over again). I haven't done a review of any yet, as I plan to do a post on all of them as part of my year-end review of books this month. And it all started with Castle Waiting, earlier this year. Who knew? Those, and the classics I've read this year - Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Persuasion - I'm always happy when I include some classics in my reading in a year.

So, have you done this meme? Let me know, and I'll link to you.

Advent Virtual Tour round-up

Dec 5

Michelle at GalleySmith wrote about her childhood with advent calendars. My mother just made one each for Holly-Anne and Graham, and they rush out of bed every morning to see what toy or treat thay have for the day!! I really like them, and will try to post a picture shortly of what they each look like. Michelle's post has brought a lot of memories for other bloggers who also grew up with advent calendars. I didn't, so this is a new tradition for us!

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews posted a lovely list of Christmas-themed books for children. I don't recall any of these titles from when I was a child!! Did you have a book you liked reading for Christmas when you were growing up? Please let Becky know, she will be glad to add another title to her list. There is a wide mix of titles here, and I think I will be picking up a few for my children this year. Thanks, Becky! For some reason I keep forgetting about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. And I know my children would enjoy it!

***This reminds me that Nymeth has a question on her blog today: Do you have any books you read at Christmas time? Any books for the solstice, anything that is a mix of family and slightly scary and magical too? She is looking for something similar to The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which she thinks perfectly captures this time of year for her. Please let her know if you know of any books like The Dark is Rising, and me too!

Back to the tour:

Kerry at Saving My Sanity has given a very moving post about her family traditions at Christmas. The first part of her post is hilarious, as she describes the long trip from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. I didn't know that New Zealand celebrates their Christmas in the summer!!! I should know this, I just never made the connection before. She used to have a full English meal in the heat of summer!! The emotional part is because they almost lost a family member earlier this year, and while her relative is in recovery, she is grateful that she is here still with them. This is a lovely post about what this time year is all about.

Mentoring Moments for Christian Women has post about Christmas cookie trees! They provide the recipe (a basic sugar cookie recipe) and it's very easy. So easy that I can myself trying my hand at it. Of course, my gingerbread houses fall down all the time (one year I declared it a national disaster zone as each house fell and could not be rebuilt!!), so there's no telling how my anti-crafting nature will strike the trees. The pictures on the blog look lovely, true tree creations.

Dec 6 - today!!

Melissa at Booknut has given her Top 10 Reasons She Loves Christmas. Except for the shopping and for the Nutcracker (I've never seen it live), I can relate to everything she writes about. This is a wonderful post to remind me of why I love this time of year!

Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of also wrote about books, as Becky did yesterday. His post is about the Christmas-themed books he'd chose for different booklovers on his list.
He has a wide range of books on offer, many of which I haven't read. *hangs head in shame* why haven't I read A Christmas Carol yet? I love the different movies! I'm very happy to see the tour including so many posts about books to read through or for the holidays. Ana, Becky, Chris, three of the most popular book bloggers have given us many Christmas themed books to read about over the holidays. I think I will be buying a few to start a little Christmas collection of our own! Thanks, Chris, and Becky and Ana once again.....

Stephanie at Stephanie's Confessions of a Bookaholic has written about her children growing up and that there is only one left who believes in Santa Claus. I can still remember when my eldest son declared he didn't believe any more. He was about nine, and I think a little piece of my heart broke. Even though I'm pagan, and he is raised in both traditions (Christian and pagan). Go figure, the human heart has it's own reasons. Maybe it's the belief in something a little magical, and it is a loss when our children realize Santa is imaginary. I might be pagan, but a part of me still firmly believes there is a Santa. Thankfully I have two years left with our two before I have to go through what Stephanie is going through this year. At the same time, Stephanie writes about her thoughts in the past wishing she didn't have to be up at 2 am stuffing stockings on Christmas Eve and could be in bed at a decent hour. I laughed! At last, after 20 years of wrapping gifts at the same hour, I find out I'm not the only one!!! Thank you, Stephanie!! I don't have the heart to tell her that children, until they have left home, expect the stockings to be magically filled anyway on Christmas morning, no putting them out early already stuffed....

Lilly at Reading Extravaganza has written about how Christmas was celebrated in Poland when she was a child. It's a fascinating piece on how different it is, especially in the solemnity leading up to Dec 25th. I didn't know Dec 6th was celebrated in Poland; I know it is in other European countries, as the day St Nicholas visits and leaves presents - under the pillow or in shoes by the bed are some ways. I know a little bit, but not much, because my grandfather was Polish. Sadly he didn't pass on any of the language to my mother, nor many of the customs from Poland, so reading this post meant a lot personally to me. Then imagine my surprise when she mentions there are pagan elements in Polish Catholicism, which is my heritage!

I hope you have enjoyed the tour so far, I certainly have. I am definitely getting into the Christmas/solstice spirit now. Our tree is decorated, the gingerbread houses are about to go up, and our Christmas dishes are down to use throughout the season. I'm participating in the Secret Santa exchange this year, so off I go to finish wrapping the parcel up. I do love this time of year, it is exciting as the year draws to an end.

May you have some reading time today!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Jane Eyre - forgotten classic re-read and loved again

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a book I first read long ago in my teens. I have seen many television productions of the book as well, but forgot over the ensuing years how much a television production necessarily leaves out of a book. So I thought I knew Jane very well, when I picked the book up two weeks ago. Immediately, on the opening page, I remembered why I love Jane so much: "A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room. I slipped in there. It contained a book-case: I soon possessed myself of a volume..." That, and the fact she has talked back to her aunt who's husband has taken in the orphaned child. I like Jane; in many ways, she is how I saw myself growing up - not parentless! - but plain, dark, stubborn, prone to tears and always, always reading. I also have a temper which makes it hard for me to be silent when it would save me a lot of problems. So, from the first page of Jane Eyre, I felt like I was rediscovering someone I had forgotten. When I closed the book last night, it was knowing that I will be back again soon. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I think that Jane is a complete heroine, a well-rounded character, as are most of the characters in the novel. Because Jane is so forthright and honest and gives her opinion fearlessly, she is able to be as direct about everything she sees in her world, to us the reader. 19th century England comes alive in a very personal way in this book. Every time Jane walks on the moors, or watches the rain fall, or looks at the sunsets, it is brought alive through her eyes. There are no balls, only one long house party, and plenty of remote country houses and walks in nature. If I had my way, I'd live Jane's life - well, not the bad and poor parts, but certainly I want to live in a remote country house and walk in nature every day!

I really felt this time reading Jane Eyre how much Charlotte Bronte loved the moors and the countryside of West Yorkshire. I've been to Haworth Parsonage, on a cool spring day in May 2001. My husband took a picture of the moor opposite Haworth Parsonage that had a slight mist upon the top, which is a typical Yorkshire moor with fields marked with hedges and stone walls, dotted with farmhouse, the occasional barn, and plenty of sheep. No people, just countryside with the mist on the top. It's one of our favourite scenes and we have it framed on the wall. We didn't have time to walk along the moor that the parsonage is directly placed on; we had to time our bus and trains back to York. As I walked along the cobbled road, the steep one road that led through central Haworth, it was just like being back in 1820's England when Charlotte and her sisters and brother walked along the same stones. It's all grey there, the stones used in the buildings and houses, as it is in much of Yorkshire all over. A grim grey I often thought in the winter, unrelenting, forcing the eye inside to warm, to light, to shelter. Charlotte Bronte makes use of light all through the novel, when she first arrives at Lowood School it's at night, and the same with Thornwood Hall. She is always arriving at night, and coming into the light. When she is starving and close to dying outside Whitfield Cross, she sees a light: "The light was yet there; shining dim, but constant, through the rain I tried to walk again; I dragged my exhausted limbs slowly towards it.....This light was my forlorn hope: I must gain it." The light is of course, Moor House, where she finds her first true home and belonging. This determination to live no matter what, is what makes Jane such a strong heroine for me.

Jane is a modern heroine; it struck me on reading Jane Eyre that one reason I enjoy her so much is that she is willful. She has such a hard time submitting to anyone or anything. What does make her submit is love and gentleness. From Helen Burns, her first and very best friend in the Lowood School she is sent to, to the first teacher she loved best, Miss Temple, to Diana and Mary, St John's sisters whom she loves dearly, Jane finds people to emulate, to show her kindness exists, who are thoughtful when she is judgmental. One of the wonders of this book is that people are mixed. Helen would be insufferable if she didn't also suffer with such dignity her final illness with faith. Throughout Jane Eyre the idea of faith is one that I now can see is a result partly of Charlotte Bronte's upbringing. Her father was parson. She attended a girl's school for daughters of poor parsons that was the basis for Lowood school in the novel. She worked as a governess before her death. The religious tone through the book in previous readings did bother me; but now, with enough time and distance from my own religious strivings and spiritual yearnings, I can read and enjoy the many biblical references Charlotte uses in the novel. I am glad I read the Norton Critical edition, which greatly aided me in understanding when and where in the Bible was being referred to, and why. Of course Jane Eyre can be read simply for pleasure; I just found that knowing when there was a reference and why Charlotte put it in there, helped enrich my understanding of the novel better. I also found I appreciated her struggles with faith more now that I have been through my own. Religion is meant to be used to guide us through life; at least, that is how Jane Eyre is written, also. Completely not preachy, at all! But Jane is so spirited, and throughout all is the ideals of religion held up to the world around her: who is truly Christian? who sacrifices out of love willingly? Who loveth the man and not the riches? Who understands charity, and forgiveness? All these ideals are held up to the society Jane (and Charlotte the writer) found themselves in, and I really admire how Charlotte uses both terrible acts and good deeds to flesh out her characters and the action. I enjoyed the use of religion in this book because it is an integral part of the novel: Jane wouldn't be Jane if she didn't have Helen Burn's selfless love as an example, if she didn't have God to turn to when she was angry, or humbled by loss, or understanding that she can't love Rochester more than God. For once I can say the use of religion enriches a novel and opens up a view on what role religion played 1830's northern England.

I do admit to dreading the part where she flees Rochester after he reveals the existence of his previous wife. Not because of the drama, but because I dreaded her meeting St. John, who I remembered as a religious freak from the last time I read the novel. Gentle Reader, time has changed me, time and life, because reading how she is with Rochester, the natural affinity between them, and then reading later how St John tries to force her to his will, to bend her, I was horrified. It was abhorrent to me, and I am so glad she said no to him. I wish this little section would be read to any engaged woman, so that she could see if she were guilty of doing this, because I know that in our desire for love, sometimes it is easy for women to do even in today's modern world, in order to please everyone around them:
"As for me, I daily wished more to please him; but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation."
What is incredible, and wonderful, about Jane Eyre, and the Bronte women, is their spirit. They were independent, willful, spirited, and their heroines reflect that. They chafe under the idea that women were meant to be the helpmates of men only, and not to have their own ideas and dreams and desires. I understand now, that when Jane says no to St. John, it's not just because she already knows love because of Edward; it's because she knows she can't be herself with him, that he does not love and accept her for herself. And what a modern idea that is.

And what about Mr Rochester? the redoubtable, scandalous, towering figure of a man, Edward Rochester? Their romance is a delight, the way they talk to each other is funny and very realistic, and he is as infuriating and romantic as I always thought he was. I much prefer him to Heathcliff, although I always want to soothe Heathcliff and make him feel loved, Rochester is someone I think I could like as a person. Isn't that an amazing character for Charlotte Bronte to create in 1848? Edward is Jane's true partner, in every way, but she can only see this after St John tries to convince her she should have a life of duty and pursue a higher calling of serving God. That religious fervor must have been something Charlotte encountered in her life, because St John is an incredible figure - the pure Grecian beauty of his face, the hardness of his soul, the determination to get his own way with Jane, and his absolute cold fury when she does not bend to him. Although Jane understands him in the end, I do not. I think he is a fearsome man! and he makes Edward Rochester look like a pussycat in comparison. At least Edward is flesh and bone and loves; St John loves only God, and sees only God, and all else fails in comparison.

This is such a powerful novel, and one that I appreciate more deeply each time I read it. It's incredible to me that Charlotte wrote this when she was age 30. There is nothing quite like it in English Literature.

Here is a link to the Bronte's museum in Haworth:
Haworth Parsonage
trips to West Yorkshire - in case you are dreaming of visiting and walking along the moors too, this is a good site to start planning (or in my case, just dreaming.....)
Haworth Village some good photos of the interior of the parsonage, as well as lovely wallpapers of the surrounding countryside including Top Withens, the moor closest to the parsonage.

Two quick notes:
Best Books of the Decade
Over at the Guardian they are reviewing the best of the 00's; there is a link to the best book of each year of this decade. What is your choice? Did you have a favourite book that year? Do you agree with the editor, and those writing in? I may do a post on this soon, but for now, it's giving me something to think about. What books stand out for me this decade? And where did this decade go??

Advent Tour
The other is what is fast becoming one of my favourite blog events of the year: the annual virtual advent tour. There is still time to join! I've just joined, myself. I'm busy thinking of what I would like to do this year. I had so much fun last year, both doing the cookies, and then visiting everyone's blog up until our trip to England. Because we had no computer available for the holidays, I couldn't keep up with the tour, and I am so looking forward to visiting everyone all through the advent tour this year!! So please, don't be shy: even if you post a picture of what December looks like in your home town, or the nearest bookstore (since we are about books, here! lol), or share a favourite memory or tradition, I can say for myself, that I really enjoy discovering what all of you, our Gentle Readers, enjoy about this festive season.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Scaredy Squirrel - Sunday Salon

The Sunday

Scaredy Squirrel
is a big hit among Canadian children. I know. Two of them live in my house, and reading time has become a big frenzy of who gets to read the book first. Why? you may ask. Why does everyone like Scaredy Squirrel? Who is Scaredy Squirrel?

This is Scaredy Squirrel. Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of a lot of things. Part of the fun of this book for children is that Scaredy Squirrel likes to list what he's afraid of. And he has a kit, a preparedness kit in the event that the unfortunate happens, and he has to leave his tree. See, Scaredy Squirrel is so scared that he has never left his tree.

And then the unfortunate happens. Scaredy Squirrel leaves his tree!! What happens? N-uh uh, I'm not telling. You'll have to get the book and read it for yourself. Then, if you know any children, read it to them. And see if you ever get the book back from them, or can ever read it by yourself again. I guarantee every child under the age of 95 will love this book.

There are two extra bonuses to this book:
1) it's Canadian, thus you would be one book further along in the Canadian book Challenge; and
2) there are three more books already in the series:
Scaredy Squirrel makes a Friend
Scaredy Squirrel Goes to the Beach (this one I have to read!)
Scaredy Squirrel At Night.

Luckily for our family, we had two recent birthdays, the eldest son (now 21!) and the youngest son, now age 5. At his birthday party he received Scaredy Squirrel at Night:

Much to my son's delight - ok, for all of us! , Scaredy Squirrel at Night is just as good as Scaredy Squirrel. Now is there anyone out there who has never lay awake one night, watching shadows on the wall, heart pounding? Anyone? Well, then Scaredy Squirrel is for all of us. Scaredy Squirrel in this book is so afraid of the dark that he is afraid to go to sleep. So how does he stay awake all night? what happens when he does? what happens when he eventually falls asleep? Kids everywhere will love this book. Mine love this one as much. Because Scaredy Squirrel has a bad dream action plan in case he does fall asleep and in case he has a bad dream. And then one night he gets to put the action plan into effect.......

I like Scaredy Squirrel. I can relate to him.

One of the many very very good things about this series is that the almost 7-year old and the now-5 year old both love these books. Best of all, the five year old, who almost never picks a book up on his own, has been seen reading Scaredy Squirrel at Night on his own, in the middle of the day.

Well, both children are now circling around me while I write this, asking what I'm saying, why am I writing about Scaredy Squirrel? I can see some reading time coming up again. Because they both want to read the books, we've had to work out a system where one child goes first one day to read one book out loud, and the next day the other child gets the chance. And don't ask why they can't take turns with the books on the same day, it's all about being first these days. Sometimes they have to read in separate rooms because they don't want to hear the other child reading it out loud! 'I can do it better than you!" No one ever said people in my family weren't competitive.....

My book-lover's heart is secretly overjoyed that they are fighting over who gets to read Scaredy Squirrel first. They are fighting over reading!!!

Happy Sunday reading everyone!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Dreams Underfoot - how to fall in love with fantasy

Dreams Underfoot was the first major collection of Charles de Lint's short stories, published in 1993, most of which were previously published in short story collections. For me, this was the collection that launched de Lint into public fame as a Canadian writer of urban fantasy. I'm 3/4 of the way through the book, and I'm finding I am delighted all over again with Charles' writing.

I first read this collection in 1993 or 94, when it first came out, and I thought it the best collection of short stories by anyone I had come across. There are no bad stories in this book. Some are stronger, some are better worked out, some have such fabulous stories that I really want them to continue, a few - very few - don't touch me or disappoint because they are different - yes, even a second time around reading, I still get disappointed when I want a story to go one way and it goes another! The wonder of this collection is that it mostly amazes with a gentle touch of wonder. These are real fantasy stories, every one. They are like the gossamer feel of dreams, tiny enchantments, glimpses of a world of wonder and magic that still exist around us. I want to go to Newford. I want to live there!

There are 19 stories in all, and I am on 14, 'The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep.' I like this story just for the title alone! It feels like a song when I say it. I thought that this morning while I was reading it on the bus on the way to work. These short stories are like pieces of music put to the page.

If you are looking for something a little magical and a little dangerous and a whole lot enchanting to take you from Hallowe'en into the Christmas season, this is a book I can reccommend to do just that.

The stories are interconnected, but they can be read and enjoyed separately also. Combined together, they make a lovely interweaving of myth and city legends, glimpses of fairies and magic, wonder, magic and fear - because Faerie is dangerous, and the myths that walk the streets of Newford always change whomever they touch. This is one of the finest collections of fantasy, and I am so enjoying this collection all over again.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sunday Salon : Talking About Books

The Sunday

I've missed talking about books. I've missed you, my dear Book bloggers. It's good to be back.

Yesterday I was writing about Flashforward, a book I wasn't quite done reading yet. I finished it this morning, and I have a few things to add about it, and science fiction writing in general.

Firstly, I need to say that there is some very, very good writing in science fiction. There always has been. If you're interested in the best science fiction has to offer, than start with the Hugo (this year's winner was Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book) and the Nebula (this year's winner was Ursula K LeGuin for Powers) awards reading lists. From there, check the Locus (link is on the sidebar) best novels of the year. I think I felt a little guilty last night when I couldn't come up with more writers who are excellent right away! Gosh, there are so many - Lois McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Hand, Paul Park, Naomi Novik, Mary Gentle, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Orson Scott Card. There are classics that I think should more widely read just for the ideas and the future examined, as well as characters and plot. Urusula K. LeGuin, Larry Niven, Neal Stephenson. So many. So when I say Flashforward is an average read, I feel guilty on two fronts; one, Robert J Sawyer is Canadian and I desperately want most of our books to be really good! and two, I feel like I'm perpetuating the stereotype that science fiction is about tomorrow and science ideas first, and good writing second. It's not. The best science fiction transcends the genre and becomes a very good book about people in the future. And how cool is that, to be able to imagine what we could be and to, tomorrow?
Flashforward - Canadian Book Challenge 3 review
So, with that said, my final review of Flashforward is that it is a decent read. It ends better than I thought it would. There still isn't enough characterization to satisfy me, but then I read Middlemarch at the beginning of this year and so far many books I've read this year haven't come close to it yet. Which sometimes I think is unfair, but again, if the best book I read this year was written two centuries ago, doesn't that say something amazing about how literature survives past its immediate time? I don't think Flashforward will - although the idea it presents is so interesting - but some of the very best SF, oh yes, we'll be reading into the next 100 years. So, if you are watching the tv show and it's going too slowly for you, read this book - the tv series is different enough that I think you can do the two at the same time. If you are interested in Canadian science fiction and need a book for the Canadian Challenge, this is a fun one to read for it. And if you want to know what life could be like in 2023, as well as 2008, this is also enjoyable. And the characters are fun, but I can't take them seriously. Some of their motivations aren't explained, and how they react could be more explored, but he took a philosophical bent and that was interesting to think about too. I understand the Schrodinger's Cat physics theory better after reading this book! This book is about the science, but it is enjoyable to read also. 3/5

Talking about best books of the year, Bart at Bart's Book Reviews has a very good post up about choosing your favourite books of the year, since we are approaching that time of year again. He is interested in how readers go about choosing their favourite books. Please let him know, he wants to hear from anyone who goes through this process! How do you choose your favourite book read? I will be doing a post about this later, so all I'll say for now is, yes, there are certain criteria a book has to meet in order to make my list of best books of the year.

I have one last thing before I finish this post. This is for you, my lovely Bad Bloggers. I have a journal now that I keep my list of books I want to read because of YOUR REVIEWS. When I was compiling my list of books I want for Christmas, that was merely what I'd seen in one bookstore this week. I had an idea last night, and went into my bad blogger journal. Here are some books I'm adding to my Books I Want For Christmas List that I began yesterday, that are due entirely to YOUR REVIEWS (bad bloggers are highlighted)


- Book of Lost Things - John Connolly (Robin, A Fondness for Reading)
- Voodoo Season - Jewell Parker Rhodes (Chris, Stuff as Dreams are Made Of and Eva, A Striped Armchair- reviewed closely together, both equally guilty!)
- Monkey Beach - Eden Robinson (Stephanie, Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-Holic)
- Company of Liars - Karen Maitland (Margaret, Books Please)
- The True Story of Hansel and Gretel - Louise Murphy (Wendy, Musings of a Bookish Kitty)
- Looking For Alaska - John Green (Tanabata, In the Spring It is the Dawn)
- Leviathan or the Whale - Philip Hoare (Bride, Bride of the Book God)
- The Way the Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald (Ann, Table Talk)
- Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer (Book Pusher, The Genteel Arsenal)
- Rosemary and Rue - Seanan McGuire (Joanne, Book Zombie)
- An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iain Pears (Ann, Table Talk)
- Mortal Love - Elizabeth Hand (Nymeth, Things Mean Alot)
- The Night Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko (Memory, Stella Matutina)

*Eva at A Striped Armchair is also responsible for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie review she did recently, which also brought to my attention that Alan Bradley is Canadian. So she gets another point even though I mentioned it yesterday.....

The best of all? Many of these books are books that you loved and posted about. Some you mentioned to me in comments, or in separate emails. All are books I made a note of, and then looking through my journal, thought, "yes! yes, I'm ready to read this now." So thank you, lovely bad creative book bloggers. That's 13 books easily added to my Christmas list. This does NOT include the books from the library I've been getting out and reading because of your blogs, although alas, I'm not doing very well at posting about the books I've read because of you this year.

******Oh! Added just now: just found this one on Genteel Arsenal and MUST find this book asap:
The Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd.

Yes, I'm back. Happy Sunday reading, every one!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Where I've Been

So. Where have I been?

Mostly, I've spent the last month waiting for test results to see if I have cancer. I've gotten a mostly clean report back, except for one thing that we still don't quite know is going on. I thought I was handling the waiting well - this has been going on since the middle of summer - but I found I couldn't engage in the world while I waited these past three weeks. I didn't know this beforehand, or I would have left a little message! I only realized I was withdrawing last weekend, when I realized I had missed shopping for our youngest's birthday last Monday because I didn't want to leave the house.

I have been able to read, and am half-way through Jane Eyre, and took a break to read Flashforward by Robert Sawyer, which the new tv series is based on. I missed the beginning (3 episodes) of the tv show so I decided to read the book instead! It's good SF - I love the premise, but as is the case with usual SF, the characterization peters out about half-way through, and it becomes explanation, telling the story instead of showing us. In writer's circles, we are always being told "show the reader, don't tell." Science fiction, when they are trying to fit the characters and story around the science idea, always reminds me of this lesson (and how not to tell a story!). A good example of writing for characters and science is anything by Connie Willis, the new Doctor Who on TV, Neal Stephenson (and I just looked at Anathem by him and added it to my Christmas wish list!), Kim Stanley Robinson, Ray Bradbury - character driven science fiction. Among the best? Dune by Frank Herbert. At least for me it is, I'm sure many of you have science fiction authors you love. So Flashforward is enjoyable, but don't go into it expecting great storytelling. It's still worth reading, just for how the flash-forward is explained, and the philosophical discussions around a fixed fate vs free will: is our future already fixed? Or is it fluid? If we see what's ahead, does it have to be that way?

So, as I begin to recover from my first scare (and hopefully many years before any more!), I find I can to talk again. It wasn't just you, my dear Gentle Reader, I stopped talking to really everyone but my immediate family, without knowing I was doing it. I used to do this as a child, and apparently some coping mechanisms never go away!

I hope you all have had a really good Hallowe'en in the meantime, and have watched the leaves falling as the year darkens. The good thing about this time of year, as many of you said in your comments to my post about autumn, is that it means we can spend more time reading happily in our homes. I certainly will be. After getting the good news on Wednesday, I can start thinking about Christmas happily, and the first thing I did was -

go to a bookstore.

Even my husband noticed that I hadn't bought any books for almost two months, which is most unlike me. So I'm going to make up for it now! :

My Christmas Wish List (to be added to until Christmas Eve, and possibly after if I don't get everything I want!!)

Canadian Living Slow Cooker Collection (I love my slow cooker!)

Slow Cooker: Best Cookbook Ever - Diane Phillips

Diabetic Cookbook - Bridget Jones (for me, still getting used to this too!)
Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley (this looks really good, finally out in softcover)

Anathem - Neal Stephenson (one of the best books of last year, finally out in softcover, and it looks really good)

Champlain's Dream - David Hackett Fischer (since I didn't get it last year, and I still want to read it!)

All The Colours of Darkness
- Peter Robinson (latest in Insp Banks series)

Arctic Chill - Arnaldur Indridason (the latest in the series)

Doors Open
- Ian Rankin (stand alone mystery)

The Complaints - " " (new series with Malcolm Fox, I think is the main detective's name. Looks very dark and quite good).

The Private Patient - PD James

Tarot Wisdom - Rachel Pollack

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom - " " (both are classic books in tarot reading)
Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories - Connie Willis (sadly the hardcover no longer available, still waiting for a soft cover version. Come on, Subterranean Press!!!)
oooh, her new one is just listed for next Feb '10:
Blackout - Connie Willis

I've only just begun looking, so more will be added! and I don't expect to get everything! It's just lovely to have lots to choose from. Is there anything on your Christmas lists yet, dear Gentle Reader?

I also have to apologize for not finishing the RIP1V challenge the way I'd planned, nor the ghost stories. In fact, I couldn't read any more horror or ghost stories; Jane Eyre was the closest I could come, and I put it down last week when it's her wedding day and she's about to find out about the wife. This is my least favourite part of the book and I hate her journey to the moors and the religious nut she finds (sorry but I loathe him!) so as my test results were given on Wednesday, I put it down until I'm ready to deal with Rochester's betrayal. I had forgotten what a masterful creation he is, such a complex character - he so loves Jane, but he's never quite fully honest with her, and I know he's trapped, but I still think lying to her was reprehensible. Do you have any thoughts about this, dear Reader? Let me know......

Do you want me to keep posting some of the ghost stories from Bluenose Ghosts? Or is it too close to Christmas now? I do intend to finish it now, so if anyone wants to hear a few more ghost stories, let me know (yes, Cath at Read-warbler, I'm looking at you.....)

Mmm. The pictures on the cookbooks have made me hungry.

And then, this book lover admits, it's time for my nightly viewing of an episode of Fringe. Yes, I've watched the entire first season (now on DVD) once, and am working my way through a second time. I love this series!! I won't confess to how often I watch each weekly episode of Season 2 as it airs this season, let's just say, this is one of those very rare tv shows that I can watch two or three times (in some cases many more!) and still feel there are things I'm missing.

Happy reading and Fringe-watching, everyone!