Tuesday, 31 March 2009

bronchitis and comfort reading

Three weeks ago, my husband commented blithely one Sunday that it had been a good winter. So far, no one had really been sick. "Knock on some wood!" I shouted. I don't know what kind of wood he thought he knocked on, but since then:

- a virus has hit three members of the family
- I put my back out picking up a toy bought for one of the sick children
-I started coughing and wheezing on the weekend, and now we welcome: Bronchitis and an asthma 'excerbation' (doctor's term)

to the collection of ills hitting our family since my husband made the memorable statement. I reminded him of it last night, as he went off to the drugstore for the 5th time for medication. "It's all your fault, and you aren't even sick!" I said to him. Wheezy and gaspy, that's me. So I ended up not going to work yesterday - since I could hardly breathe - and went to the doctor's instead. I now have a new inhaler, new antibiotic, and and the Roboxecet for my back so the coughing doesn't put me back into a spasm. My husband was kind enough to buy me my secret reading pleasure, the latest edition of Vogue (which is too heavy for me to carry!) , as he continues to occasionally knock on wood when he thinks about it.

The good news is, that my back is healing enough now that with a cushion, I can kind of get comfortable enough to sit here long enough to post. Hurray! So for all of your lovely thoughts and wishes the past few days, thank you. I'm back at work on Thursday, provided this is the ending of my husband's little hex.

Since I'm not sleeping well and thus slightly brain-fogged (if you've ever had bronchitis, you will know it means endless nights coughing), here are some posts I enjoyed looking at today:

Nymeth's post here is about a very darkly funny cartoon book. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now by Andre Jordan.I put myself into a coughing fit looking at the four illustrations she provides. I must have this book!

Carl has a fabulous post about a gorgeous, one of a kind graphic novel that is a must-buy book, here, which is also all about creativity and the art of inventing one's self. Kabuki, by David Mack. For anyone who loves collage and words and wants to do something, anything, this book is a real treasure.

Mariel has a review about a book, Skellig, here, that I've seen popping up in people's blogs as a must read, which was gotten from *Nick Hornby's* Shakespeare Wrote for Money. Now I have to see if I can find this book. When she wrote: But it is the crumbling run-down garage that Michael discovers Skellig, a strange ailing creature huddled in the dark, living off scraps. Is he a man, an owl? Or something very very different? I was sold.

Staci over at Life in the Thumb,a new to me blog (but i was sold when I saw her blog id picture - Pride and Prejudice photo!) had a review here about graphic novels and manga that has me realizing that a) there is life after Watchmen, and b) maybe I can try manga after all. I've added 17 Comics to my must-buy immediately list - it's been ages since I heard that term 'crater face' and I lived through Duran Duran and Bon Jovi (why does no one do a graphic novel about Led Zeppelin days and say, Simple Minds or Tears For Fears? or REM? I hated Duran Duran and Bon Jovi. I was so uncool then that I was almost....no, I was never cool. Ever. Not even now, with my own book blog.) And, I cannot resist a graphic novel about zombies! So, The Walking Dead went on my list, and also for my son, who is 20 and into anything apopalyptic at the moment. Then her next book is a must for us both also : The Wall, by Peter Sis. I remember what we heard about life behind the wall, well, this is from someone who lived there, then. And for my son, fascinated by anything Soviet (see apopalyptic remark), this is a must. Finally, she reveiws Emma,as a manga, which I've seen also reviewed by Nymeth and I think Rhinoa, so I really must see what is being done with Jane Austen these days.

Stephanie at The Written Word has a review here about a retelling about the fairy godmother and what happened to her in a neat twist. Godmother the Secret Cinderella Story looks sweet and fun and ties in with Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge, if you are still looking for something different to add to your list.

Gosh, look at that. It's all about books I want now!

Emily has a post on comfort books, here that I just love. Her post here on why she can't post for her mystery book club that night is hilarious.

She has inspired me to do my own list of comfort books. My back is starting to ache and I have to go shortly, so I'm just giving the titles today. If you have a list of comfort authors, let me know, or please post about them too and let's see if we all share the same macaroni-and-cheese-I-wanna-be-a-kid-again-and-cuddle-books:

Susan's list of Comfort Books
1. Bridget Jone's Diary - Helen Fielding. Brain candy for when my brain isn't working and I need to laugh out loud many times.
2. Bellwether - Connie Willis. To remind me of mysterious forces, comedy, and that life in the workplace sucks EVERYWHERE.
3. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien. Magical.
4. Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - depends on which I've read, I'll read the other one. These are bi-annual reads for me.
5. mystery series - I realize that I don't reread a lot of books when I need comfort. I want to read a familiar character in a new book. Any of the mystery series I like will do, and I read a lot of mysteries. Currently Stephanie Plum for sheer zaniness and laugh-out-loudness is my go-to PI, but I find reading mysteries restores some peace in my mind and some balance for me.

That's it for me, time's up with my back at the computer!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sunday Salon

The Sunday Salon.com

I was going to write a post today, but the chair by the computer (part of a set from the dining room, we have no actual computer chair) isn't comfortable and now my back is hurting. I hope everyone had fun with Earth hour last night. We turned everything off but one tv and vcr, and with candles burning, my family snuggled together on the sofa and watched a movie. Yes, it's an electrical thing, but with both my youngest son and I not well, it was the best we could do; and we really enjoyed it. My husband and I got questions about energy and what turning off lights does, and why we should do it. I'm a holdover from the 1980's when we had to turn off/down the power, and it's never really left me, those habits. Now they know why I nag them to turn off the lights behind them, etc!

I finished The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint this afternoon. Review will follow later.

My big question is, what book do I take to work tomorrow, that is light? My purse is too heavy still, so the book I choose will have to be light and small.

I hope everyone had a good weekend, and fingers crossed I can come back to regular posting very soon! I miss at least having the option to post!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

the only good thing......

..........about being home with a very bad back, is that I'm getting some reading done. It turns out I have pulled a ligament in my back, which is twisting my spine slightly. So I'm home all this week - not that I can do much other than read! And now that daughter is better (March break over of course), youngest son is now down with the fever virus. Today we napped together on the couch all afternoon. All in all, the house is a disaster since I can't bend or twist or do much, but kids are getting comforted, and I'm getting books read :-D When I can manage it, I will be doing book reviews, but for now, sitting for longer than 20 mins at the computer is very painful, so I'll just be popping in and out for now.

Books read so far: Watchmen, finished. Book of a Thousand Days, finished. Briar Rose, Finished. Blue Girl, started.
Tylenol 3 taken: lots.
Doctor's note to stay home from work: priceless.
Back pain: how did people manage 100 years ago without tylenol etc?

Friday, 20 March 2009

It's here. It's finally, finally, finally here. Once Upon a Time 3 challenge is HERE

Look at that. Isn't that just stunning? And doesn't it just describe what a journey into a fantasy book is like for a reader? Well done, Carl! It's that time again! I'm so happy, I've been waiting it seems since RIP3 ended, for this one to start. That is not to say the other challenges I'm in aren't also exciting, they are, and I'm busy counting down to actually, possibly, completing Book Awards Challenge in time *happy dance*......but Carl's challenges have a little bit something extra, possibly because they are about genres of books that I can't live without: fantasy, and horror. Today he announced the beginning of Once Upon A Time 3. *sighs very happily* Go here
for the link to sign up.

Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge 3
I am going to do:
-Quest the Third: read 5 books in any of the 4 categories, plus reading A Midsummer Night's Dream. Well, you know me. It will be much more than five! And I read A Midsummer Night's Dream last year and enjoyed it very much. I'd like to read it again, this time taking time with the language and play-on-words Shakespeare used.
PLUS I want to do
-Quest the Fourth: Read two non-fiction books, essay collections, etc. that treat any one or more of the four genres covered in this challenge - since I am still half-way through Le Guin's The Language of the Night, this qualifies.....
And, because I don't know how to say no and I'm such a big sucker for anything fantasy, I'm going to do
- the Short Story Weekends also. This would have everything to do with the numerous short story collections I have, both openly on my TBR shelves, plus squirreled away on my other shelves, that need reading.

Now, because I told Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On that yes, I would love to see the list of potential books he might read, I thought I'd better do the same here. Fantasy book lovers, this is my list of potential,' books I have right now' to read for the challenge:

Quest the Third:
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (tbr in June before midsummer)
and any from:
-Changeling - Delia Sherman
-Blood-Bound - Patricia Briggs
-Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale *library book
-The Wood Wife - Terri Windling
-The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
-The Naming - Alison Croggon
- We Never Talk About my Brother - Peter S. Beagle
- Tithe - Holly Black
- Red Moon and Black Mountain - Joy Chant
- The Good Fairies of New York - Martin Millar
- Territory - Emma Bull
- Forests of the Heart - Charles de Lint
- Blue Girl - Charles de Lint
- Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr
- The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
- Briar Rose - Jane Yolen
- Unshapely Things - Mark del Franco
- Lord of Snow and Shadows - Sarah Ash
- The Once and Future King - T. H. White
- Tam Lin - Pamela Dean *Library book
- Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

Quest the 4th
- Language of the Night - Ursula K. LeGuin

Short Story Weekends
some collections I'm considering reading from are:
- The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet - ed Kelly Link
- St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell
- Harrowing the Dragon - Patricia McKillip
- Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City - ed Martin Greenberg *library book

Are you drooling yet? Because looking at the books I have to choose from, is making me love fantasy all over again, and this wonderful challenge.

Before I end my post today, I would like to give a wonderful shout-out to my husband. It's been our March break this week, and it has also been the week from hell. On Monday morning my daughter woke up with a fever, and she has had it ever since. On Tuesday I found out I didn't pass the interview for the job at work I'd applied for. On Tuesday night, picking up a toy, I put my back out worse than the previous week. Wednesday I had a terrible meeting with my managers. Thursday and today, I have been home, unable to do much. My husband stayed home the first three days, and my eldest has come to help out for these last two, since I really can't do much while my back heals. Some books came in at my bookstore, and my husband, my wonderful husband, went and picked them up since I can't get there. I dropped a big hint about a certain new hardcover by Dan Simmons, and


He came home with (first three I'd ordered):
Blood Bound - Patricia Briggs
Iron-kissed - Patricia Briggs (I'm considering putting this one in the challenge too.)
New and Selected Poems, vol 1, - Mary Oliver
Drood - Dan Simmons.

Please don't laugh too hard. Drood is so heavy that I can't lift it while my back is out!! In fact, I'm having problems reading Watchmen for the same reason.

Isn't my husband a wonderful man?

Happy reading everyone, happy Friday, happy OUT3 challenge day, and - Happy Spring!!!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Grey King - Susan Cooper - or, playing with Kerry and Nymeth

One of the great things about the web is how it is able to bring people from various countries together to talk about things they love. In my case, it is of course, books. Today, for your reading pleasure, I am going to present The Grey King Discussion, with myself, Nymeth at Things Mean Alot, and Kerry at Saving My Sanity. We each asked 2 questions about the book, and are presenting the answers on each of our blogs. It was great fun emailing back and forth, and setting up the format, and thinking of things that wouldn't give the plot away. I'd also like to point out that the web truly is world-bridging, since we three cover the world - Nyemth is in Portugal, Kerry in New Zealand, and I am in Canada. Isn't that just a little bit awesome?

The Grey King - Susan Cooper - #4 in The Dark is Rising series

1. Nymeth asked: What did you think of the book's sense of place?

Kerry's Answer:
I am not a visual reader. I don't get an image in my head when I read (or in this case, listen), rather I get I kind of emotional connection to what I'm reading. I found myself feeling very grounded while reading "The Grey King". I've never been to Wales and have no real idea what that is like, but I had a real sense of the farm and the sheep and the mountains. I could almost picture woolly mountain sheep
despite the lack of pictures, I felt well-emmersed in the book.

Nymeth's Answer: It was one of my favourite things about it. Last year I spent a week in Wales, in the same area where the book is set, and reading, The Grey King brought back so many memories. Susan Cooper’s descriptions are very beautiful and vivid, and I think that in addition to that she really captured what North Wales feels like. A feeling of ancientness and also of…confinement, perhaps. I don’t mean this negatively; the place really is stunningly beautiful. But the valleys and the mountains can feel haunting and a little entrapping. As that feeling is a big part of what’s at the heart of this story, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. You can see some very nice pictures of Gwynedd here and here.

My answer
: I agree with both Ana and Kerry - the sense of place was very strong in the book. I like how Kerry put that it made her feel grounded in Wales. I could see the hillside, and the lake, and the sheep. I haven't been to Wales, and yet like you Ana, I felt the sense of isolation that the mountains ringing the valleys gave, the remoteness from the rest of the world, that mountains give. I have lived in a mountain range, in the BC interior, and also on Vancouver Island, and I can say that mountains do give a very definite sense of space. Cooper really makes the scenery, the mountains, the landscape, part of the story. All of the important events take place outside, so it seems the battle of Light and Dark is for the earth itself. I really liked the sense of place in this book.

2. Nymeth asked: Share a favorite moment or scene in this book.

Kerry's answer: Gosh, this turned into a surprisingly hard question. I'm not sure why, but it did. When looking back at the book, I keep finding myself thinking of the lake at the end - the lake in the pleasant place. For all the action and danger that happened there, I find myself with an image in my head of a beautiful, and indeed peacful place and so I'll choose Will's time by the lake as favourite moments, even though I know this is a vague and very indefinite answer.

Nymeth's answer:
I loved the scene where Bran tries to teach Will to pronounce Welsh sounds, particularly the “ll” sound. It made me smile, and it brought back memories of my lovely hostess in Wales explaining some of the very same things to me. Especially the morning my boyfriend and I went to Llangollen. We had to find a bus that would take us there, and that involved asking bus drivers and attempting to pronounce the dreaded “ll” twice in a single world. I can’t say we did too well, but everyone was extremely helpful regardless.

My answer:
"The bracken-brown slope lay still beneath the sunshine, with outcrops of white rock glimmering here and there. A car hummed past on the road below, invisible through trees; he was high above the farm now, looking out over the silver thread of the river to the mountains rising green and grey and brown behind, and at last fading blue into the distance. Further up the valley the mountainside on which he stood was clothed dark green with plantations of spruce trees, and beyond those he could see a great grey-black crag rising, a lone peak, lower than the mountains around it yet dominating all the surrounding land."

3. I asked: Do you think The Grey King deserves the Newbery Medal? Why?

Kerry's Answer:
Here I admit to my ignorance of things American. I knew the Newberry Medal went to children's books, but that was about all, so I had to go and look the details up on Wikipedia. It tells me the award goes to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Being neither American nor aware of what other books were published for children in the USA back in 1976 when it won, makes it rather hard for me to answer this question. However, I think it is an excellent book that not only tells a good story, but introduces its reader to beautiful and haunting writing, difficult moral dilemmas, pain and heartbreak and success. It brings old legends to new life and encourages the reader to find out more about them and draws us in to the age old struggle between the Light and the Dark. For those reasons I think it is a book that deserves to be well known and well read, but I still find it interesting that such a very British book should win a US award (I see - from Wikipedia again - that Cooper married anAmerican, which I guess is what made her eligible). Sorry, I haven't really answered the question, have I?

Nymeth's Answer:
I, too, have to admit my ignorance when it comes to book awards in general. It’s hard for me to come up with an answer that is more elaborate than “yes, because it’s a great book”. Awards like the Newbery are great because they bring books to people’s attention, and that’s always a good thing. But I’m someone who believes that ultimately, they don’t mean much more than that the people responsible for choosing the winner liked the book. I don’t mean this dismissively – the Newbery winners are chosen by librarians, and librarians are generally sensible and well-read and awesome in all sorts of ways. So I care about their opinion, and I want to know what their favourite book of the year is. But still, I don’t think any award should be looked at as the ultimate definition of what quality is, even one as cool as the Newbery. So I’m not sure about deserving, but it’s an intelligent, beautifully written and complex book, and I’m happy it won.

My Answer:
Yes is the quick answer. Yes, The Grey King deserves the Newbery Award. Why? Because it takes myth and legend, and shows that they are rooted in real things, and that above all, faith, and love, show the way. There is such a strong sense of place here, that children can really picture it - the mountains, the lakes, the farms. There are places in this story where the characters could choose to go to the Dark, and by showing this, Cooper makes the characters fallible and real. Children reading this book can see that being good or bad is a choice, a state of mind. But it's not dull or a treatise, it's an adventure story, and it's well-done.

4. I asked: Did the riddles Bran and Will have to answer make you want to go find Welsh myths and folktales? What did you think of the answers?

Kerry's Answer:
This is a reread for me. Although I suspect that on my first reading it did send me out to find out more about the myths and tales. I don't remember. I've certainly been through my Celtic and Arthurian mythology phase before now and accumulated a good collection of books and information on the subject. I'll always be a bit of a sucker for a good incorporation of Arthurian legend in the modern day (which I think Cooper does brilliantly in this series) and I'm sure that
remains part of why I still love it to this day. On this read, I could see the parallels building and enjoyed recognising at least some of the things Cooper was using in the story, but I didn't feel the need to go researching. Been there, done that, loved it.

Nymeth's Answer:
Yes! Yes they did. I think 2009 will be the year when I finally read The Mabinogion. It’s really about time. I felt that there was a lot I missed about the riddles. I mean, I trusted Will and Bran to be doing things right, and my ignorance never actually pulled me out of the story. But I’m sure I’ll appreciate the inner logic of the whole thing a lot more on a second read. Kerry mentioned the incorporation of Arthurian myth, and I have to agree. We can’t say much about this without giving too much away, but it’s done brilliantly.

My Answer:
One of my favorite scenes is the riddle scene. I love how Cafall helps Bran, and I really love the answers. I also like this fantasy tradition, where the hero has to answer a riddle. This is part of Welsh bardic training, where knowledge is passed through riddles. The whole setting of the riddles is fantastic, and the answers made me want to run and read all the myths and legends, and Evangeline Walton's series, and the Mabinogion, The White Goddess which I have started twice now, everything I can find so I can find those answers to the riddles. Part of my heritage is Welsh, and I feel like I've been given a key to it with these riddles.

5. Kerry asked: Cooper fills the books with a lot of description. What effect did this have on your reading, did it enhance it or make it falter? There are also a lot of Welsh words; did they cause you any trouble?

Kerry's Answer:
As I said earlier, I'm not a visual reader, so Cooper's descriptions didn't draw pictures in my head. Instead, it was the power of the words in her descriptions that caught me. She uses metaphor and simile beautifully and they add greatly to the power of the book. I marked a few that particularly struck me as I was reading (and I also noted she used the sky and birds as part of her scene setting a lot).

"Birds whirred away from him; somewhere high above, a skylark was pouring out its rippling, throbbing song."

"The voice crawled like a slug over Will's skin."

"Will could sense the man's anger and malice whirling round his mind like a maddened bird caught in a room without exit."

As for the Welsh, here I think I had a huge advantage listening to the audio rather than reading the print book. All the Welsh words were pronounced correctly (or so I assume) for me and I didn't have to stumble over all those consonants on the page. The Welsh characters were also given Welsh accents which added to the sense of place I had for the book. It was an excellent recording and I really enjoyed listening to it. (And as an interesting aside, it was the only book of
the five in the series that had a different narrator from all the others. I find myself wondering if the original narrator couldn't handle the Welsh and this book was given over to someone else. I shall be interested to continue listening to "Silver on the Tree" with the other narrator as, so far as I recall, parts of that take place in Wales too.)

Nymeth's answer:
I loved her descriptions. I wonder if having been to Wales helped me visualize the landscapes more easily. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have imagined it all quite as vividly if I hadn’t been there, but then again, I haven’t been to Cornwall and she really brought it to life in Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch. I also loved her inclusion of Welsh. It wouldn’t have felt quite as authentic without it, and plus I just love how the language sounds. It could be my imagination, of course, but I actually think that Welsh sounds old. On a side note, the number of Welsh speakers has increased in recent years, which makes me happy and relieved. Anyway, Kerry, I imagine that the audiobook really was an advantage for you. For me, as I’ve had some exposure to the language before, I could mostly hear the words in my mind. I probably didn’t always imagine the sounds correctly, but Bran’s explanations really helped.

My answer
: The description brought Wales to life before my eyes. While I can't speak Welsh, I want to learn it, and I enjoyed seeing it used in the speech and names and places of Wales. It adds to the exotic feel of the setting, and enhances the myth being told. I really enjoyed learning a bit about speaking Welsh, although I think it will be long and a trifle difficult!

6. Kerry asked: John Rowlands speaks of a coldness at the heart of the Light. What do you think about this?

Kerry's answer:
This particularly struck me (which is why I asked the question). We like to think of the good guys as being, well, the good guys. They do the right things for the right reasons and don't hurt anyone or anything. But doing the right thing can be hard and it can be painful - and sometimes the decision has to be made that it will be hard and painful for others, which seems far more arrogant that deciding such a result for one's self. Will is there to fight for humanity's future, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy or kind or merciful. He's there to do what has to be done and there's a possibility he might need to sacrifice some of his own humanity to do it, which doesn't feel like it's the right answer. It's what an Old One is called to do and perhaps not something we mortals could manage. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable, just as John Rowlands words left Will feeling uncomfortable.

Nymeth's Answer:
I’m so glad you asked this question, Kerry. It touches on one of my favourite things about this series, and I probably wouldn’t have remembered to bring it up otherwise. The Dark is Rising Sequence tells the story of an epic battle between the forces of Darkness and the forces of Light. If I were told this and only this about the series, my reaction would probably be “meh”. See, I’m not much of a fan of moral absolutes, and taken out of context, that seems to be what this is about. But the brilliant thing is that Susan Cooper uses this premise to tell a story about shades of grey and complex choices and humankind’s potential for cruelty, kindness, and everything in-between. For me, the coldness at the heart of the Light John Rowlands brings up is self-righteousness, judgement and mercilessness; the demand for perfection without taking into account that humans make mistakes, and that to make a mistake doesn’t automatically makes you a horrible person. That is indeed a dangerous thing. And that’s part of what makes Will such an interesting character. He’s an Old One, yes, but he’s also a young boy. And that makes him humble and kind, which is why he plays such a crucial role.

My answer:
I think it is appropriate - how many times have we read where wizards, or magic users, or others who have access to memory or knowledge beyond their time, who act in ways the characters think is cold, only to find it had the best result? However, I've never thought of it as cold, because there is a difference between the heart of the Light and the Dark, and what happens to the characters shows that difference. I'd probably turn to John Rowlands and ask him how he thought warmth at the heart of the Light would be like!

As you can see, we had great fun thinking of the questions to ask one another. We hope you enjoyed our discussion and answers. We are following with Silver on the Tree when Kerry is ready. I for one am delighted to review a book this way, and it was lovely to see how we thought of sometimes similar, sometimes different, answers. I'd like to say I had fun playing with Nymeth and Kerry, too!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Sunday Salon - 25 Most Influential Writers

The Sunday Salon.com

Ok, let's talk. Which writer most influenced you in your life? Amy at My Friend Amy and Emily at Telecommuter Talk tagged me to do the the 25 Most Influential Writers Meme that she says she first saw on Dorothy's blog over at Of Books and Bicycles , which is where Amy also saw it first. Well, I can't resist this. We've talked about our favourite writers, our favourite childhood authors, current authors we read everything by, but we've never discusses who has influenced us. It is not made clear if it's fiction or non-fiction, so Amy included both, and Emily divided hers between children's writers and authors for adults.

Here are the instructions:

"Name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. [Silly bolded disclaimer. I can't possibly admire an author without being influenced, at least in some way, by him/her, and very few -- although I have to admit, some do spring to mind, like Thomas Pynchon -- authors I admire are missing from the pages of The Big Book of Emily's Favorites.] Then you tag 25 people.”

I've given this some thought between reading this since reading it yesterday. Not writers who I necessarily like, but those who have influenced me. I'm choosing ones who have influenced in my thinking, as well as in my writing, those who have lit the way for me.

1. Rainer Maria Rilke - I read Letters to a Young Poet every couple of years. It reminds me that creativity isn't easy, that it does demand protection from the outside world sometimes. When I have stopped saying no to outside invitations, and have stopped writing, I turn to this to remind me why I need solitude too. And when I doubt that I am a writer, I turn to this also, because I am always most unhappy when I am not writing, and I always end up answering yes (to my deep relief) to his question, " This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple, "I must." then build your life in accordance with this necessity; ".

2. May Sarton - The first time I read Journal of a Solitude, I thought she was talking to me on every single page. Then I read her other memoir, Plant Dreaming Deep, and I knew it was her I was reacting to. It's like a conversation, one of those intimate conversations where I say yes, nod my head, underline almost every single page. She feels like someone I should know, that I would have understood instinctively, if we'd ever met. She tried to live creatively, led by her creativity, deeply responsive to the natural world around her, and it was like seeing myself there - yes, yes, exactly! I say aloud as I read her. So I always return to my journal determined to be honest there, at least, and in my writing.

3. Charles de Lint - the first Canadian urban fantasy writer, and his Newford books always, always make me want to create my own Newford-type books. The fact that he is Canadian is inspirational, and the fact that I love his characters and really hope mine are as realistic as his, and believable, would be a dream come true.

4. Stephen King - Both his horror - especially The Shining, and his non-fiction writing book On Writing, made deep impressions on me that I carry to this day. The Shining, because it showed me how horror could be done, and On Writing, which teaches me daily to dig deeper into my own writing to reveal what lies there.

5. Anne Frank - she has taught me over and over that our life has meaning, and that the human spirit is unquenchable. She also helped me write my first diary, since I copied her style at first, and then recognized I was copying and I felt a bit silly. I've continued to write diaries and journals most of my life. She taught the need to express through writing is a good one.

6. Lucy Maud Montgomery - one of my favorite childhood writers. She taught me that children's lives - little girl's lives - did matter, and that I wasn't alone in wanting to write when I was very young. Her heroines - Emily, Anne, Marigold - were my role models. Her heroines had to deal with death and loneliness and betrayals, and taught me I could get through mine, too. And Anne quoted poetry, which I was just beginning to discover, and got into trouble. She spoke breathlessly, and had best friends, and didn't want to save the world, she just wanted to have a home.

6. Sylvia Plath - didn't she show the way for all of us? Her poetry exploded across women's poetry and letters, so powerful that as a 19 year old I read Ariel and The Bell Jar. I'm not saying I understand everything.....but in some deep intuitive, wordless, feeling level I understood everything. And it made it possible for me to be as honest as I could - no matter how painful or honest - if I could find a way to tell the truth, that was the important thing.

7. Clarissa Pinkola Estes - Women Who Run With the Wolves sits by my shelf. I've read most of the book by now, some parts several times. She writes about all the different ways we can be female and women, using fairytales and myths as our guide to understanding how our lives unfold. To see myself in a fairy tale - that usually my dreams reveal - to see fairy tales analyzed not for literary merit but applied to our lives - to see ones I've actually gone through - was amazing. I find myself sometimes wondering as people tell me their problems now, which fairy tale might apply. Now that's influential!

8. John Donne - How he uses language, and twists meaning, and ends up back in the beginning, unexpectedly, with that wonderful tone of sarcasm/bitterness/anger/bewilderment and love. He makes me aware of words and how they are used.

9. Jane Austen - I could never write like her, with her delicate touch and sly irreverent poking fun at every one, but I now know that writing about love and romance can be stylish and joyful and true.

10. Carolyn Keene - Nancy Drew! The earliest things I ever wrote were mysteries. I devoured Nancy (readers familiar with this blog will remember this is also the first book I ever bought as a birthday present for a friend, which I also deparately wanted to read!) Nancy, George, Bess, and Ned still hover there at the back of my mind, shaping how I write mysteries.

11. Kathryn Kenny - Trixie Belden was the other mystery series that I loved. Trixie and her brothers lived in upstate New York. And they fought, and they shared adventures, and had friends, and they solved mysteries. I think of Trixie and her best friend Honey, and wonder how many of the friendships I create in my writing are based on those two!

12. J.R.R. Tolkien - no list of mine would ever be complete without Tolkien and his fantasy books. Every fantasy I write has traces of his work, whether it has magic, or a quest, or a wizard, or a talking tree (or creepy tree, remember Old Man Willow?), shadows, etc. It doesn't stop me from writing (on my good days, that is), I have to remember that creating is sometimes about taking what someone else has done and making it new again. There has to be something original I can bring to the work, and Tolkien makes me strive harder to make mine come from deeper within me, to capture my own joy/horror/fascination with myths and quests and destiny.

13. Shirley Jackson - The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always LIved in the Castle - I still think about The Lottery - in fact I made a joke about it at work the other day! The awful eeriness in her writing makes me shudder even as I recognize the truth that we are all strangers, and I at least have moments when I wonder if I am sane (many of her characters feel insane or wonder if they are). I think whenever I write a horror story either she or Uncle Stevie are there over my shoulder, watching me write!

14. Ray Bradbury - My introduction to strange writing that was some science fiction some fantasy, some horror, some strangeness, and always tremendously moving. I also own a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, which is one of the writing books I keep close beside me. He is the one who teaches me the power of one word, and how one word can be a whole story if I let it.

15. Liza Cody - the Anna Lee mysteries. Something about this character, single, in England, and the detective agency she works for, feels so real, that a) I'd like to work there, and b) I really want to be Anna's friend. I miss her, Ms Cody has said that in order to keep British TV from ruining the character, she is not writing any more books. And except for the last book where she went to Florida, they were believable mysteries, something that is a rare quality in sleuthing these days, with all the CSI shows and forensic breaththroughs, because in real life, there are still too many unsolved mysteries.

16. Gerald Durrell - My Family and Other Animals. I discovered him as a teenager. Living on a sailboat for two years as teens , meant my sister and I read (devoured) any book that came our way, me more than her. We both read this one. I discovered that other families were odd like mine, and that animals were hilarious. I almost wanted to be a natural scientist because of this book, but I knew I wasn't fascinated enough to live with nature the way he was. He made me aware that animals needed care and our attention to survive in the world.

17.Farley Mowat - He introduced me to humour - The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, The Boat That Wouldn't Float, People of the Deer, Lost on the Barrens. These are as much a part of me that make me uniquely Canadian as anything I've read. Whenever an animal doesn't act like itself we often make jokes that it must have read the book or be related to the Dog Who Wouldn't Be. He made me aware that being Canadian can be funny, and that there were things in life we could write about, everyday things we can make fun of. if I ever write a non-fiction book, I would hope it would have the sense of humour of either Mowat or Durrell somewhere in it.

18. Brenda Ueland - If You Want to Write is another indispensible writing book I read and revisit regularly from an author who I believe only wrote this one book. She says, attention to details makes the character come to life. Basic concepts that I need reminding of, over and over. Her book has 5 bookmarks in it, places to remind me of things I know I need in order to write. For example: "And again I tell you this because I want to show you that the creative impulse is quiet, quiet. It sees it feels, it quietly hears, and now, in the present." (Italics are hers).

19. Agatha Christie - she continues the Nancy Drew - Trixie Belden theme in my mystery part of my life. I have read most of her books through my teen years. She made me aware of the different kinds of mysteries that could be written, different kinds of sleuths to solve them. So many possibilities! And sometimes the crimes were genuinely moving or horrible, and always her gentleness came through.

20. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes. Incomparable, inscrutable, a genius, genuinely puzzling mysteries, derring-do, and always, Dr Watson to give the human involved side - and make it ok that I as reader had no clue sometimes to the answer either! One of my role models when I am writing my mysteries. Not that mine are this smart, but I always wondered how he wrote those mysteries, did he have the solution first or wrote them as he went along?

21. PD James - An Unsuitable Job For a Woman - I loved Cordelia Gray. I even watched the tv series from Britian, even the series where Cordelia gets shockingly pregnant (never in the books though, James said she would never do this to Cordelia). Then I discoverd Adam Dagliesh, and for me, Roy Marsden playing him was perfect as the poem-writing detective. James made detectives clever, intelligent, kind, in a time when they were becoming more violent and American-0riented to being criminal (on the take, etc). I like Dagliesh, and I want to know what happens to him, and the crimes he solves are always so vivid in their violence, and I like the revulsion and outrage that he (and James) feel towards the crimes. How I would like my mystery writing to be!

22. Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Adventurous 4. I read them all. I think every single adventure I write might have some roots here.

New to Me Authors now influencing me:

I had to create this category because I became aware that several authors are changing how I think right now, this moment in time, about work I'm doing. These are authors I've discovered while doing this blog:

23. George Eliot - As most of you know, I finished reading Middlemarch for the first time, in January this year. Not only am I thrilled to have read a classic and enjoyed it (other than Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters), but this one is now one of my standards on how to write characters. They live - Dorothea, Fred, Mary, Tertius, Will. How they relate, the seemingly infinite ways she creates each character - it is breathtaking and wonderful. It is one of the greatest novels in the English language. I have no idea how it is influencing me, just that it is.

24. Neil Gaiman - he writes poetry about fairy tales! They live on in my mind, reoccuring, haunting me. Coraline lives there too - not the movie, but the scary black and white drawings in my version, and the terrible mother and the horrible' neighbors that aren't' in the alternate world. One of our more original authors, I think, and he is making the way possible for me to imagine horror and fantasy in different ways now.

25. Mary Oliver - another poet I have just discovered. Every poem is a relevation of the natural world, and she makes me wonder how I've missed seeing it, even as I nod my head that what she writes is so true, and I end up embracing her view of the world. I haven't dared write poetry yet since discovering her last year, not until I find what I want to say about nature around me, and I already know her style is influencing me in unimaginable ways.

And just because I don't know where to fit this in yet, nor where it will fit for me:
26. Alan Moore - I'm still reading Watchmen, and I know it's a revolutionary book for me. I recognize so much in there, and at the same time I'm astounded at the depth of writing and characterization, the emotions and attitudes. It's like a veil was ripped away, so that our society could see itself in all its many layers, stripped down to the bones. Who knew a comic book could do so much? I have bookmarks already in different sections, which is a sign this book means something to me.

All these writers live inside me, influencing me, guiding me, inspiring me. They have shaped me, inspired me in so many different ways to write myself, held my hand when my life was hard and I could not see the way forward, helped me laugh, and see the world around me with a different, sharper gaze. If anyone ever says reading is boring, then tell them - reading, and words, are powerful ways of shaping the world. Books can save a life.

So, tell me: which 25 authors influenced you in your life?

And I have to add, like Emily, there are some authors I've forgotten to add, and I'll think of tomorrow, and some that I couldn't fit on, even though I really wanted to.

Instead of tagging 25 people, I'd like to tag all of you who consider that authors have influenced you in your life. Let me know, I'll come visit you!

Happy reading this Sunday!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Read Your Own Books Challenge 2009

There I was, thinking this was a year to not join so many challenges, because what I really wanted to do was to plow through these:

Then we were the lucky recipients from my best friend, who was moving into a smaller apartment and her book shelf didn't fit, so we got it (thank you, best friend!). I was able to organize my TBR books into this:
although much neater, the same number of books are still there: 120, give or take. Oops, the bookstore just called. She said 'tell Susan her books came in." That's 3 more...... and they are lined up so nicely, just here beside the computer desk. I can reach right over and see all the titles. The bad news is, of course, the same amount of books + 3 are still waiting to be read!! I thought, alas, I will not be joining very many challenges this year so I can read some of these books.

Then, ah, then. I went to Staci at Life in the Thumb's blog, a new-to-me blogger, and saw this irresistible challenge button (it's pink! one of my favourite colours!) and look! It's about books I already own! Well. That was it. Sign me right up! I can pick the amount I want, and read new ones I buy through the year. *sigh* this is a match made in heaven, at least to help get through the TBR Mountain that is my new bookshelf unit. They are all lovely, lovely wonderful books I want to be reading now! That's why I bought them. The link to the challenge is here. The unmatcheable Miz B is hosting (she did last year's TBR challenge, which I didn't complete but read over half of my wanted-to-read-then list). These are the rules:

RYOB 2009

readown3The rules for this challenge are very simple…

* set a goal for how many of your OWN books you’d like to read in 2009

* read from your own collection between January 1st and December 31st, 2009

And, that’s basically it! You don’t have to create a list beforehand (’cause we all know that our reading preferences change as the year progresses), and you can even read books that come into your possession (that will be yours to keep) during the year!"

I will be reading at least 50 of the books I own this year. So that's my goal, and I will keep a list of books I read that I own, starting from March 1 (which is only fair, since I just saw this challenge).

It's Friday. It's Friday!!!

And thank you to those readers who wrote in to my post yesterday saying that they do read poetry. One lucky writer had her husband and son get to see Mary Oliver live (Debi, I'm looking at you!). Now that would be a very special event. This blog is about the books I love, and I am delighted that even in poetry, there are some of you who share my delight and love for it.

Now I have to steel myself for the second-to-last ever Battlestar Galactica episode tonight. I might as well get the kleenex out. Next week I'm just going to cry through the whole thing. It's hard to say goodbye, even though I will finally find out how the show ends.

Happy reading, my Gentle Readers!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

*Aw, shucks* I'm blushing....and Mary Oliver

Today I received the most beautiful award for being a blogger, and what means most to me about it, is what the award is for - for being friendly, and welcoming, and here, this explanation says it better:
"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award."
Jeane at Dog Ear Diary nominated me, which I am thrilled about. She reviews the most amazing amount of animal books - psychology, adventure, life with, everything you can imagine, as well as reading as widely in everything else as the rest of us. And she is very friendly and funny, and has many fun draws also.

I'm not into blog comparison, because this isn't a sport or competition. We each create a blog we love, about the things we love: books, our families, life. I think each blog I visit has something original and creative about it, because it reflects the person. So I am touched when something about my blog reaches out to another person. It's like in a book, when a connection is made - when I understand perfectly what the author is saying; blogs allow each of us to touch one another and be in one another's lives, even if we never meet in person. I certainly am enriched by all of you that I have met through blogging. My hope is actually that if this award goes around, eventually everyone will get it!

With that in mind, I would like to give this award to some very special blogs who light the way for me:
1. Bybee at Naked Without Books
2. Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere
3. Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings
4. Cath at Read-Warbler
5. Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading
6. JS Peyton at Biblioaddict
7. Geraniumcat at Geraniumcat's Bookshelf
8. Bride at Bride of the Book God

Onto a very special book I am reading: New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, volume Two. Volume One is on order at the bookstore. I mention this because - not waiting for my eventual book review - I am reading a poem or two at night, and I already have two that I have taken
to heart.

From "Everything":
I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.

and from "Work, Sometimes":
As for myself, I swung the door open. And there was
the wordless, singing world. And I ran for my life.

I simply had to share that. Because when I read those words, I feel a ripple of delight in my soul. That is what I do, I run into nature. At this moment in March, when it is sub-zero temperatures and still too much snow to wander into the fields and by the river, I am simply waiting for the snow to go so I can go out into the' wordless, singing world' again. what a lovely, perfect vision of nature.

I have only recently discovered Mary Oliver, this is her second book of poetry I am reading, and if it's possible to fall in love with words on a page, that's what I'm doing.

I haven't given up on Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, on the contrary, I've had to take it down to the living room where i can dip into it when I'm wide awake. Those poems are so passionate, and angry and sad and loving at the same time, that I can't read them just before sleep. I have to be wide awake to take them in and consider them. Mary Oliver I can take with me into sleep, into my dreams where there is singing without words sometimes too.

I know poetry isn't widely read anymore, but I just had to share what I'm discovering, because Mary Oliver's work is of such beauty to me. Poetry doesn't have to be difficult, or obfuscate, or confuse or tongue-tie (though the latter is fun!); poetry for me is about seeing the world as it is, as directly and honestly as possible. At least that is how I have written my own poetry, trying to find the clearest way to say what I mean. Oliver's poetry is about being in love with nature, while seeing with a clear eye the predator-prey relationship. Isn't that a lovely way to be, to live one's life, in love with the world?

May you find a some beauty in your day today. And find a good book to capture you!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley and catch-up

So I have been home for a day now - I put my back out on Monday taking my asthma medication of all things! - and yesterday I stayed home to heal my back, and watched tv. Today is a bit better, but I still don't trust sitting in my chair at work - there are no comfortable seats right now anywhere in the house!! - so I'm home again. The good news I can finally catch up on some overdue book reviews, the bad news is, it's not too comfortable in this chair either.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley - a library book for my challenge! And Nymeth already has the Bad Blogger point awarded for it, since it was her review that brought it to my attention. And please, since she does such a good job describing all the characters, go read her first. I'm going to talk about the storyline, and the art, since it was my first experience of a graphic novel. At least, I think it qualifies as a graphic novel. None of the art is in colour, it is all black-and-white ink drawings. Before you think eeewww, how boring, let me say, it is riveting. The characters are so well drawn, with changes of expression in each box, that the story doesn't need colour. It's hard to describe why Linda Medley can get away with not having colour, whereas Watchmen does need to be colourful. I think it has to do with the kind of story being told. Watchmen is set here and now - 1985, New York City - and it is telling the kind of story that is enhanced by colour and shading, which adds nuances without words. Castle Waiting is a fairy tale, and the ink drawings remind me of what fairy tales were like before Disney came along and colorized them. There is so much action, so much that is said by the characters, that colour would risk distracting from the story. That's how good Castle Waiting is. It doesn't need it.

What's so good about Castle Waiting, you ask? Well, other than the many salient points Nymeth brings up about the various characters, and the setting - mostly the castle in Sleeping Beauty after the prince awakens the princess with the kiss - the prince and princess don't stay there. It uses fairy tales we all know, as its starting point, and it's fun to pick out references to different ones that Medley introduces. But the castle exists, and it's the story of who stays, and who comes to the castle. It's an interesting premise, kind of like the castle at the end of the world. Like Nymeth, I ended up loving Lady Jain, and her odd-looking child, then there's the stork butler, the nuns - the 'sisters' - who help keep the castle going, and especially, Sister Peace. She becomes the star of the book, along with Lady Jain. They are both strong-willed, independent characters, who are attempting to escape their fate their parents have chosen for them. Sister Peace ends up in a circus because she has a beard, and eventually finds a place where she is accepted for herself. To say any more would spoil the delightful funny haven she finds. I can say I completely relate, as do most women who own a pair of tweezers and aren't teenagers anymore. Castle Waiting is mostly about friendship, kindness to strangers, and bonds that are deeper than blood. It's about looking past the oddness of the outward person to the inner beauty, so it's about Beauty and the Beast, too. It's about finding the place you belong, when the place you are born into doesn't fit. Castle Waiting is a collection of the first issues in the series, so I was very happy to read that the second volume of Castle Waiting is due out soon. I plan to read it - I must know what happens to the castle and its inhabitants! Surely Lady Jain's husband will find her eventually.... I really want to know all the other stories not told yet, like the stork butler's.....more about the Castle itself, which is haunted and has a library!! I think Castle Waiting is the castle we all go to in our minds when we want to hide out from life for a while. It's well thought out, funny, amazing artwork, clever, and I highly recommend it. Plus, it's in book form, so if you don't want anyone to know it's really a very long comic book, you can pretend it's a new retelling of Sleeping Beauty. As an introduction to the graphic novel, I can't think of a better one.

Castle Waiting Other Book Reviews:

Library Loot: I missed Monday's Library Loot posting, so here's an update of what I have out from the library over the past week:

-Muletrain to Maggody - Joan Hess - one of my favourite mystery series, starring Arly Hanks, sherriff of a dying town in Arkansas, filled with inbreeding and stupidity. Brother Verber, is a hoot, as is Hizzoner the mayor who keeps threatening to remove Arly from her post.
- Damels in Distress - Joan Hess - her other mystery series starring Claire, the owner of a bookstore, her soon to be husband police lieutenant Peter, and moody teenager daughter Caron. Hometown spun, not gory mysteries, and also funny.
-Adventures in Time and Space with Maxwell Merriwell - Pat Murphy. I just read her first book, The Falling Woman, which won a Fantasy award when it was published quite some time ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it (it takes in Mayan curses on an archealogical dig and is haunting and bittersweet). Besides, who could resist that title?
-Newton's Wake - Ken MacLeod - on Locus's recommended reading list for 2008.
- Little Red riding Hood in the Big Bad City - ed Martin Greenberg - who can resist a fantasy collection retelling fairy tales set in New York City? With authors like Tanya Huff, Alan Dean Foster, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jody Lynn Nye?
-Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale. Finally!!! Only reviewed glowingly so many times by bloggers over the past year! I think I'm the only one who hasn't read this yet!
-The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards.
- The New Space Opera - ed Garner Dozois - thanks, Carl! and Sci Fi Experience!
- Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan - I blame Nymeth and Locus's best books of 2008!
Now to find time to read them all!

My Sci Fi Experience Wrap-up:
Carl's Sci Fi Experience was not a reading challenge, it was a reading opportunity. I sadly did not fill my personal expected quota of science fiction books to read! I did read:
-Horizons by Mary Rosenblum,
- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - review here
and am half-way through Ursula K. Leg Guin's collection of Essays, The Language of the Night, which I've been reviewing on my blog during the experience.
What did I think of this experience? That I used to read a lot more science fiction in my younger years, and I would like to read more now again.

Here is my quick review of Horizons (I told you this was my catch-up post!):

I really enjoyed this book. Mary Rosenblum has been author I've enjoyed since her book Drylands came out 15 years ago.
Horizons is set on a platform above earth; the space around earth has been colonized by the continents below: thus, New York Up is the colony for North America, the world is run by the World Council (kind of like an expanded and much more powerful UN, which Rosenblum says faded away, powerless), there are earthside families and clans, and most of the world population still lives on the planet, but on the different platforms are a growing population of people who have been there for several generations of people now. Part of the plot revolves around what happens to people when they live their entire lives in micro G gravity away in the centre of the platform, - people who don't live in the 80% gravity forcefield that most of the station creates and uses.

As always, I am fascinated by what our writers forsee happening in our future. This novel is set in Earth's near future. Could we have platforms above us in space? why not? Would they be run by the countries making them? Of course. Rosenblum takes it further, by having the earthers not really understanding what those who live on the platforms want : freedom. In the midst of political tension, Ahni comes in, looking for her brother's murderer. She's a Class 9 Empath, which means she can read people's body language and intentions almost as quickly as the person thinks them. She also has a chip implanted in her when she was in her mother's womb, that lets her connect to schematics and download information like a computer. Her brother is a clone of their father. There are no robots, there are ID chips that everyone is supposed to have implanted also. It's a very interesting future, and once I got past the new terminology of the space station, I was intensely involved in the story. The idea of the space station breaking away is not a new science fiction plot, but the future as presented here is, about how Earth could evolve, and what would happen to us if exposed to micro g long enough.

There is also a love story that develops, and family connections, that ground the book into concerns we can relate too. This is something I think science fiction has begun to recognize, and that the best science fiction writers follow: science without people, is not an interesting story. Science with people and emotions, can be fascinating and intelligent.

Horizons is a fun read, and I'm very glad I read it for this reading experience.

I also read two short stories for the mini challenge Carl hosted, and of course I have now gotten a library book out because Carl brought it to our attention!

For anyone looking for new science fiction and fantasy titles or authors to try, or for author interviews, Locus magazine (this is the link to their online site) has been the best information put out monthly in magazine format for over 20 years
now. You can order back issues of your favourite authors - Charles de Lint, Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card..... - and the reviews are excellent. Here is a link to their 2008 Recommended Reading list. And here is an excerpt Locus has online from a recent interview with Ursula k. LeGuin. They link to author interview on other sites, cover what's new and selling in book stores, and generally are one of my touchstones for the field of science fiction and fantasy.

This is the cover of the latest magazine, which just arrived in my mailbox. I am busy circling all the books I want by Christmas!
Titles like:
-A Dance With Dragons
- George RR Martin, expected Oct 09;
-Boneshaker - Cherie Priest, expected Nov 09;
- A Time to Cast Away Stones - Tim Powers, May 2009;
- Muse and Reverie
- Dec 09, and
- Mystery of Grace
- March 2009 - both by Charles de Lint;
- Dragon Keeper - Robin Hobb (Oct 09); and
- Hunting Ground
- Patricia Brigg, Aug 09.

So, that's my catch-up for today. It's pouring rain outside, and I'm going to try sitting on the sofa now. Watchmen calls, as does Polysyllabic Spree (which I'm almost done now).

Happy reading, Gentle Readers!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Happy Friday!!

Reasons to be happy today:

- it's Friday. Fridays are generally good days. The end of the work week, and two full days of being home with my family lie ahead. Possibly sleeping in to 8 am if the little ones let us.

- it got above 0 c today (that's 32F). And not just about, it got to over 40F!!! We were standing at our window at work, waiting for the temperature to rise: "Is it warm yet?" "No, I can see the smoke {from the building across the street} blowing in the wind from the north still." "No, it's freezing rain, hear it hit the windows." We left work, it wasn't quite warm yet, but by the time we got across the river, I felt like singing. It was warm! and the sun was trying to break through. A lovely way to end the day. I even opened the windows a crack once home so the house could air out a little.

- I went book shopping. Aha! you say. I thought you went last week? At least, that's what my husband said. "You know I ordered those two books so I could finish the series with Nymeth and Kerry. Well, they came in." Slightly baffled look on my husband's face as he nods slowly. So off I went......and this is what I came home with:
- The Grey King, book #4 in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series
- Silver on the Tree, #5 " " "
- Tithe - by Holly Black - see below. Someone did a book review, but I can't find it right now, nor remember who. I'm sorry! Because there is a Bad Blogger out there, and you deserve a point! Let me know if it's you!
- The Naming (Canadian title, on Mariel's blog it's The Gift - UK title book one in the Pellinor series) by Australian writer Alison Croggon *Mariel, here, reviewed the 4th book in the series, which got me interested. Someone else also mentioned her to me on their blog - I can't find it now. Please let me know if you reviewed her sometime in this past year!
and, finally, *drumroll*
- We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter Beagle. Yes, they had a copy!!!! So Nymeth gets point, for being the first to bring it to our attention, on last Sunday's Salon. Nymeth is racking up those points, and not just on my blog either......Now, when I saw this book, I paused, and wondered: do I buy it straight from the publisher? I checked my copy, and it's from the same publisher. So then I thought, "if I buy it from my independent bookstore, thus ensuring both the survival of it and that the money is going back to the right publisher/writer, I can help two things out I love very much." My bookseller said they had just got the book in. So I felt very happy, helping out with those first week sales that Nymeth mentions in her book review of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, today's post.

I thought I would also let you know thatthis same bookstore, my favourite independent bookstore in Ottawa, is sold out of Drood by Dan Simmons! Hopefully first week sales for this are good! I might have treated myself to a hardcover, because I know there is no way I can wait for the soft-cover edition to come out. Next time....more are on order. Isnt' that a good thing to hear? "More books are on order."

So that's what my Friday was like. I'm just about to sit down to watch the 3rd to last ever Battlestar Galactica episode.....I'm happy that it's on tv tonight, though very very sad it's about to end.....

I hope wherever you are tonight, Gentle reader, you have a good book to read and reasons to enjoy the weekend ahead!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I'm reading this for Nymeth's mini-challenge for March. I'm just finishing Chapter 3. I am in awe. I had no idea it was going to be this good. And make no mistake - this is really good fantasy, dark stuff, the stuff that is gritty and noir and filled with heroes and men trying to be more than they are, and the humour is as black as it gets and good. If I were to have a conversation with the part of me that wants to be a superhero - and believe me, I have a part to my nature that wishes I could fly and rescue people and save the world - my super alter ego would be like the dark nature of this book. I know it would. I am sarcastic in my real life, and while I come across as someone who laughs a lot, it's because underneath I'm aware of how twisted life can be, and how much pain we end up being a part of by being in this world. That's what this graphic novel is like. It's bittersweet, it's wry, it's funny, it's dark , it's got superheros who are flawed. This book is as much about relationships and people's secrets as it is about saving the world. There are subtexts, that deepen the stories being written about, exploring say, love, or aging, from different points of view. All kinds of stories are being played out across the pages. The illustrations themselves add another whole layer to the story, and frequently the words are set in direct contrast with the illustrations, creating still another level of meaning on each page and often, each square of story. There is a tremendous feeling of world-weary truth you get when you've saved the world and it's not enough because the world will need saving again. It's good, it's dark, and I'm so happy I finally let myself read it!

And if you haven't yet, please go out and try it. It is marvelous writing and storytelling and art all together in one book.

And this is just at then end of chapter 3!!

I also have to say that even though it was written in 1985, there is a timeless quality to it - even the headlines in the papers, written for then, still apply now - possible war in Afghanistan, Russians moving, threat of nuclear war - headlines we still have now. I don't know if that means that the human race hasn't moved forward at all, or if the writers picked up on essential stories that perhaps the world is still wrestling with, something that we now know won't be solved easily - but there it is, front and square in the graphic novel, and no one in charge in the world (ie the US President, the UN) know quite how to handle it. La plus ca change........so this novel is relevant still today, and it gives a haunting feel to the novel. Will we ever figure out the answer?

Simply amazing.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sunday Salon: A post NOTabout fantasy (well, almost....)

The Sunday Salon.com

I thought for a change that I wouldn't talk about science fiction and fantasy! though I went to bed last night thinking sleepily that I did want to say that every genre of books has the capability of being very very good - it's what makes it so good for the reader, that interests me. What does the writer capture in the book that makes it genre-making? It needs looking - going - deep within, to a place where the self meets the figures that that particular self is afraid of, and in bringing it to the light, allows all of us to access that figure. Whether we use myths and legends, fairy tales, or previous classic books in the genre, doesn't matter; what does matter is that the source material reached is meaningful. As one reader pointed out in comments to my last post, books like Gulliver's Travels and Alice in Wonderland could be thought of as classics in science fiction and/or fantasy, though I disagreed as their effect on subsequent fantastical writing isn't genre changing as Lord of the Rings is. What do you think, my Gentle Readers? It is very easy to write trilogies using the quest motif of LoTR, or any other book previously written. Those are copies, though, shadows of the original work, and bring nothing new to life. Darn, I wasn't going to write about fantasy today!! It's such an interesting topic, though, and points that Le Guin raises in The Language of the Night, are worth thinking about.

Book Lust: So, on to non-fantasy for the day: I am waiting for Carl's challenge to begin - it's almost Once Upon a Time 3! And I am stockpiling fantasy for the challenge. (Hmm. There's that word again!) I'm waiting for the final two books in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series to come in, so I can read them with Nymeth and Kerry this month. (oops, that's more fantasy!) In the meantime, while I was at the bookstore, this is what I did buy:
- The Serpent's Tale - Ariana Franklin (book 2 in the Mistress of the Art of Death series) Having just read book one, which might be on my ten best books of 2009 already, I had to get book 2. Right away. Look, it's not a fantasy!
- Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - for Nymeth's mini-challenge, I'm doing a graphic novel, and this is a classic I've been wanting to read for a while now. This also gets Nymeth a Bad Blogger point, since hers was the latest review that prompted to say, I must buy this now and read it! So it's fitting it's for her challenge! ooh, look, it's a fantasy....
- Territory by Emma Bull - Just because I've been reading her since she came out writing in the 1980's and was one of the leaders of the urban fantasy movement. Territory is set in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881, and yes, deals with the shoot-out at OK Corral - and yes, it's a fantasy!
-The Blue Girl - by Charles de Lint - for my Canadian Challenge 2 - yes, I've only read one book so far, but I am going to finish it This is one of his latest books and got rave reviews when it came out, and it's set in Newford, so I can hardly wait. Another fantasy.
- Wicked, Lovely - Melissa Marr - Kailana gave the latest review for this, which prompted me to move the book up from the 'soon' list to get it now! The question is, can I wait for Carl's Challenge to begin? well, that's 4 out of 6 books that are fantasy!!! *note to self: admit fantasy is what I read.
- New and Selected Poems - Mary Oliver. I haven't been able to find editions of her earlier books, and since I read Owls and Other Fantasies last year, she has become one of my favourite poets. This is Volume Two, and now I'm looking for Volume One. The back of the book says "she is recognized as an unparalled poet of the natural world," and I find myself thinking of her poems sometimes when I am out on my walks by the river. I love the natural world and her poetry illuminates some of what I feel when I encounter nature. (hey, not fantasy!)
- Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby. I'm halfway through his The Complete Pollysyllabic Spree, and I find myself laughing on the bus or wherever I am! He writes in a confidential manner like we all suffer from the same book lust (we do), buying books and not telling exactly all that he buys, and never reading it all the same month it's bought! Plus he dislikes pretentious books, and boring bios, and illuminates why he does like something. And, most important, he loves Arsenal too. I wonder what he thinks of Arsenal's current run of 4 straight goalless Premiership matches? We need Fabregas back!!! (hurray! it's even non-fiction!)

So that is two points to Bad Bloggers. Well done! but I don't know what to read today, and for once the housework is done before Sunday, and we have no obligations and a dinner to go to so I don't have to cook. What shall I read today?

While I choose what to read today, I want to send you to Nymeth's post for today, because she writes about a cause dear to all of our hearts: one of fantasy's best writers, Peter S Beagle, needs our help to get a bigger print run for his new book of short stories We Never Talk About My Brother. Now, I don't know about you, but I consider a chance to get a collection of his short stories as a real find, and I consider him to be one of fantasy's treasures, and I would love to pay an author for the privilege of him using his gift......Best of all, this publishing site offers a chance to buy a signed copy, as well as a personalized signed copy, at very reasonable prices (ie $30 and under). Hmm, if I get it soon enough, I can add it to Carl's OUaT3 challenge..... and show the world that fantasy is read.......and for those who don't know, I read Tamsin last year, link here, and I still find it floating in the back of my mind. The ghost, the Wild Hunt, the Judge, the characters - it was beautiful, and if you haven't read it yet, it's a very good ghost story. He is a powerful, amazing, beautiful fantasy writer. He has an ongoing fight he has with the companies over the The Last Unicorn animated DVD from over 20 years ago, and the animated Lord of the Rings, which he wrote the script for, the link here to why buying from Conlan Press both The Last Unicorn DVD ( the 25 th anniversary copy came out in 2007) and the short stories will help Mr Beagle both financially and show him our support directly. I didn't know where to get a copy of The Last Unicorn dvd, which my daughter (as well as me) loved when we rented it from our video store last fall. So thank you to Nymeth for writing about him and bringing him to our attention.

So, for a post not about fantasy, quite a lot has worked it's way in, hasn't it? I might as well give in and say fantasy claims a large part of my attention and interest!

And, for a change, here is one of my favourite, and my husband's favourite, picture from our trip to London at Christmas. I've been meaning to do a post about London and will do shortly. It deserves it's own post, I've just been deciding between doing a historical tour with my photos, and a landmark tour (almost the same thing!) I'd love to do a literary tour, but I didn't get to as many places as I wanted to.

What are you reading today? What's on your mind regarding books?