Saturday, 24 October 2009

I'm cheerleading!! Dewey's 24 Hour marathon is on!

I won't be posting until much later today - I've signed on to be a cheerleader for Dewey's 24-Hour Reading Marathon, and in between I have lots of baking to do for a Hallowe'en party we're going to tonight. So I will be cheerleading as much as I can. I signed up for 4 hours, but I know me, I can't resist encouraging people to read, and seeing how they are doing. I'll be cheering for many more hours!! You're wondering why I didn't sign up to be a reader too? Well, there is that party, plus my children are too young to let me catch up on my sleep tomorrow, which I would need to do because I would make myself stay up for the entire 24 hours to read. I know me!! So to avoid unpleasant Sundays, I have to stay away from that part until they are a little older. But inside me I am reading along with everyone! So if my cheerleading helps you to read, then it's just as good.

It's not too late to sign up for either, depending where in the world you are. I've given the link in case you like to decide at the last minute, like I did!

Thank you to the organizers, the other cheerleaders, the mini-challengers, the prize donators, and mostly to you, Gentle Reader, for loving books, and for particpating. That was what Dewey was about, our book community.

Have a fabulous 24 hours of reading, everyone!!

****Edited to add: I'm on the Transcendentalist cheerleading team! Cool name. I'll try to get to everyone, but you have to post first, too! Good luck, participants!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Are translated mysteries really better than English ones, and forgotten treasures

From The Guardian internet site, here is a link to an article about the Nordic authors who won the mystery awards at Bouchercon this past weekend. The reason I am linking you is not just because of who won, but because of what the translator of one of the books says:

"The awareness of Scandinavian crime fiction has certainly been building, with Henning Mankell and others softening readers up for Stieg," he said. "Then he came along and was so much better than all the others."

Larsson's British publisher Christopher MacLehose at Quercus agreed. "The crime writers in translation are for perfectly obvious statistical reasons better than English ones, because they are all chosen by serious publishers in their countries of origin and filtered down and down before they get translated into English," he said. "We're translating a tiny proportion so we should be getting the best of the best."

Now, I don't know about you, but this raised my hackles. Excuse me, but just because a mystery has been translated, does not make it a higher quality of writing than a mystery written in English!! And I do not think that Stieg Larsson is so much better than all the other Scandinavian writers! No, no, I think he is a much worse writer than most; he has a fast journalistic style that makes for entertaining reading, and he does write well; but his plot did have holes, his story did have problems. I would take Arnaldur Indridason over him any day, and Henning Mankell. They are far and away better Scandinavian mystery writers than Stieg Larsson. So, Gentle Reader, let me know what you think: do you agree with the speakers in the article? Or with me? I am, by the way, delighted that both won, and delighted that they were good mysteries (at least in my humble opinion!) and that even better, I've read them before they won the awards! As for English writers, Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, Ariana Franklin, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, to name a few, are all better mystery writers than Stieg Larsson, in English. I will say that Larsson tells a good story, and it's gripping and his characters are good. But better than Gorky Park? Mallory's Oracle? No.

The other article from The Guardian is one about forgotten classics, link here. I'm curious to know if you have any forgotten classics that you think people should read, Gentle Reader. The Guardian wants to know, too! It's also about forgotten favourites of time gone past. I think I've read the book the author mentions, Mary Stewart's Touch Not The Cat. Eons ago. Now I want to read it again, just because it was mentioned in the article! It's fun to see what people treasured once, that they have forgotten about and rediscover. Has that happened to you? Do you find yourself discovering an old favourite, or wish that more people would read an older book that you really love? I like this article too because it says that even with all the new books being published every year, one of the joys of books is that we can turn to books from yesterday, last year, 100 years ago, and read them again. A forgotten classic can always be discovered again. And there is nothing like treasuring a book, at least for this bookaholic! So what do you treasure that you think has been forgotten? For tonight, I choose Woman in Black by Susan Hill, and On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. Just in time for Hallowe'en!!

The Woman in Black I reviewed here last year.

On Stranger Tides I read first 20 years ago. I loved it then. It's one of Tim Power's first books, not as early as The Anubis Gates, but with the same sense of energy and fun. It has pirates, zombies, true love, voodoo, The Fountain of Youth, the's so much fun to read, very enjoyable, and a solid mix of fantasy and horror with doses of humour. It's a forgotten classic that I think is well worth discovering.

Time for tonight's ghost story from Bluenose Ghosts:

Occasionally a single ghost turns up on a ship. This story from Glen Haven is one of my favourites. I would like to think it really happened, and perhaps it did. Ben Smeltzer was a West Dover man and one of the crew of a vessel fishing off Georges in winter. It was snowing and there were no fish, and they were getting all iced up and the captain had decided to take the ship to Boston. At this time Mr Smeltzer went down below and, when he went into the cabin, there was a strange man sitting at the chart table writing on a slate - a large, healthy looking sea-faring man.

For readers who are not accustomed to the sea and its ways, I might mention that it would be impossible in the limited space of a sailing vessel for a person to stow away for any length of time, if at all, and this vessel had been at sea for some weeks.

"Who can this be?" Mr Smeltzer thought. "What does it mean?" He had heard of strange events at sea, and he scratched his head as he went up the companionway to talk it over with his captain.

"There's a strange man below," he said. "Never seen him before."

"You're crazy," said the captain. Then observing that Mr Smeltzer was serious about it he decided to humour him and added in a voice that had in it more than a hint of sarcasm, "What did you say to him?"

"I didn't say anything," Mr Smeltzer declared. "He can't be human."

"Well," said the captain, who began to have misgivings himself, "you come down with me and show me your man." So down they went and there was no one there. However the captain was a thorough man and Mr Smeltzer had stated specifically that the stranger had been sitting at the chart table writing on a slate. He therefore strode over to the table and picked up the slate. The top side was clean, just as he had left it. Without really thinking what he was doing he turned the slate over and there he was amazed to see a message. It read: "Change your course to nor'nor'west and steer so many hours and you'll come to a vessel turned on its side and the crew hanging on it."

He put the slate down and snorted.

"Tricks. Sailors must always be at their tricks," but Mr Smeltzer insisted it was not a trick and he grew even more serious as he too read the message. More to satisfy him than anything, the captain called his crew down one by one and had each one write something on the slate. No script resembled the mysterious handwriting. By this time the crew all knew the story and they were as one in concluding that they should follow the slate's directions. Against his own wishes and judgement the captain changed his course. And sure enough, they had not gone far on their way when they came upon an upturned vessel. Men were still clinging to the hull, and they were in time to save them. They supposed then that the stranger who had appeared in the cabin had been one of the first to succumb and that he had taken this means of saving his fellow seamen.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

still here - Saturday catchup and another ghost story

I still have my cold. I apologize, because I was all set to do the post on Giles Blunt earlier this week, but I discovered that I had enough energy to get to work, walk my two miles, come home and that would be it. Make dinner for everyone, and then flake out on the sofa. Last night I did get online again finally, and I was reading up on my new and great obsession, Fringe. (did you see Thursday's episode? with that dream Peter had at the end? )

I can say that I have managed to do some reading this week! I'm almost done Karin Fossum's Don't Look Back, another Scandinavian mystery, a Norwegian writer. It's my first book by her. I am very much enjoying it. She has a scene in the book where the grief-stricken father makes his way to a crematorium, something he has never thought about before. We learn about the cremation process while Eddie tries to decide how to bury the victim. It's tasteful and thoughtful, a normal continuation of grieving, but usually we only see the funeral process, not deciding which to go with, in a mystery novel. I like this author's style, and so far not much has been given away; I still have no clue as to who did it, nor why. I like the main detective, Inspector Sejer, also. He lives alone since his wife died, with a huge dog. A very kind, gentle Inspector who is also intelligent. I'll have more when I'm done the book.

I also bought a little Hallowe'en display so I'm hoping to get pictures up this weekend. I'm starting to feel better! and so very happy it's the weekend, so I can get better (really I mean watch some more Fringe.....)

Bluenose Ghosts Excerpt
Because we are down to two weeks - TWO WEEKS - until Hallowe'en, and I haven't been able to blog much, I promise to finish Bluenose Ghosts with you over the next two weeks. For a treat, here is a longer ghost story about a boat, that ends with a song that is apparently known on the east coast in both the US and Canada:

One of the best known stories of haunted ships is that of the sailing vessel , the Charles Haskell. Its strange story made such an impression at the time that a song was made up about it and to this day it is in many ports all over the maritime provinces and the New England states. Two men from Lockeport, Nova Scotia, and one from Lunenburg, were in her crew; the rest were Gloucester men. This is her story according to an account from the Boston Globe of that time and shown to me in a scrap book at Annapolis Royal where the vessel was well known later on.

The Charles Haskell, a fine new vessel, sailed out of Boston and was one of three hundred anchored on Georges on March 7, 1866. A hurricane and a blinding storm set in. Vessels were huddled together and were torn from their anchorage. During the hurricane all hands were on deck. At one o'clock at night one of the other ships, a schooner, got adrift and out of control. She was like a runaway and was being hurled by the storm directly towards the Haskell. In order to save herself, the Haskell's ropes were cut, but she was then so storm-driven that she was completely at the mercy of the wind. Another craft lay in her path and she ran through it like a cheese, standing the shock herself without losing a rope yarn. Thus the Charles Haskell unwittingly transferred to the Andrew Jackson of Salem what would have been her fate.

In time the Charles Haskell returned to the same fishing grounds. Then a strange thing happened and all the crew testified that it was true, for when they sailed over the place where they had rammed the Andrew Jackson, the crew of that schooner came up over the sides in their oilskins and manned the Haskell. After that the Haskell became known as the Ghost Vessel, and the owners were unable to obtain a crew. She was finally purchased by Captain David Hayden of Port Wade, Nova Scotia, for whom she sailed out of Digby, transporting wood along our coast. As far as I can gather, she never went to Georges again, and therefore had only the one visitation. I have talked to men who had heard the story personally from the crew, and I too heard it confirmed from one who saw it happen, Captain Zinck of Lunenberg. The song however is perhaps the best source of information. This was my introduction to the story, and it is still the way that fishermen prefer to tell it. I first heard it in 1928 from the lips of Mr Gordon Young. He sang sitting on a log on the Devil's Island beach with his friends around him nodding sympathetic approval as the theme unfolded. The evening light was growing dim and men and women moved about quietly in the late twilight, intent upon the words they knew so well. His voice was soft and musical, and his only accompaniment came from the waves lapping gently against the shore and the small fishing boats rocking at their moorings. Here are three of the verses:

Last night as we were sailing, we were off shore a ways,
I never will forget it in all my mortal days,
It was in the grand dog watches I felt a thrilling dread
Come over me as if I heard one calling from the dead.

Right over our rail there clambered all silent one by one
A dozen dripping sailors, just wait till I am done,
Their faces were pale and sea wan, shone through the ghostly night,
Each fellow took his station as if he had a right.

They moved about before us til land was most in sight,
Or rather I should say so, the lighthouse shone its light,
And then those ghostly sailors moved to the rail again
And vanished in an instant before the sons of men.

Very cool story! I think the song is appropriately creepy for this time of year. I can also imagine the terror as the men watched as the ghosts clambered over the gunwales, dripping seaweed and water, silent and pale, and how the living men stood aside while the ghost men took their places.

I haven't been in the mood for much other than mysteries, although I'd like to read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Settlefield for my last RIP4 challenge book.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Does any body miss the X-Files? A love letter to Fringe

I have been laid low by a cold this past week, so I apologize. I couldn't post my Canadian mystery writer feature on Monday because Blogger was down. Then I became sick. And how did I pass my time? Did I watch re-runs of one of my favourite past tv shows? No.

Instead, my 20 year old, who is very persistent, after asking me a few times if I wanted to see an episode of Fringe over the past month or so, woke me up Thursday afternoon from a nap, and asked me if I wanted to watch Fringe. He is persistent. I should know by now what will happen, since he did the same thing with Lost, and then Heroes. Maybe I should just give in and watch new science fiction/supernatural shows on tv. I think with Fringe, I did try it once, but 10 minutes in I still hadn't met any characters and had no idea what was going on, so even though I was interested, I turned away. I'm not perfect! So, Thursday afternoon I watched the pilot. Then the next episode. Then the next. Then it was time to get the kids from daycare, and I arranged craftily for them to play on the computer and X-box so that I could get another episode or two in while dinner cooked. (They aren't allowed to see Fringe, far too dark and scary for young children). I was hooked.

And then it began. I watched another two episodes that night. Went to work the next day, still sick (we were short staffed for our Thanksgiving holiday, I'm such a trouper! but will not get recognized for my efforts!), left early, ran to the dvd store on the way home and bought the entire first season of Fringe, just out (thank heavens, because I don't think I could get the entire season on the internet), and have watched all the episodes through the weekend. Then I went on the internet to watch the first four episodes of this season, yesterday. I watched the one that aired last Thursday, last night. That's 24 episodes of tv in 72 hours, more or less. I didn't know I could do it!

So why do I say it's like the X-files? It is, a little, but not too much, which is good, because I hate copycat tv series (thus I love Star Trek original, but Next Generation always had similar story lines to the original series and I'd end up yelling at the tv and story writers). Nope, Fringe is better.

What was that? I, an original X-Files fan, think Fringe is better? Oh yes.

I don't want to do an X-files comparison because it's not fair to either; they are both very good tv shows, and excellent in some outstanding episodes. They both feature an FBI agent (X-Files of course has 2), who investigates unusual phenomena involving people's disappearances/murder. And there is a story line arch, a mythology in each series. But that's where the similarity ends. Oh, and both series have Monster of the Week episodes, MotW hereafter. Which are very creepy/scary.

It's been a very long time since I sat on my couch, gazing at the tv breathlessly, or jumping and saying "Oh!" out loud, which quite a few of the episodes of Fringe had me doing. So did X-Files.

What Fringe has that X-files doesn't (because you still want to know why I think it's better, right?) is a stronger and larger cast to relate to, with very funny dialogue, and stories that while creepy or push the bounds of science, are usually the result of genetic and bio-chemical experiments. No alien science, in other words. It's a clever series. Best of all, no space ships! I have to admit the alien part of X-files really bothered (I hated it!) me sometimes. But that's not to say Fringe doesn't have its own otherworldliness. Walter has experimented on the fringe of science for his working life, which gives the show both a science background, as well as a fun look at what experimenting with say, teleportation devices, could really mean. It's a clever series. And it's witty, and it's smart, but it's also about trust, and loss, and finding a way back to having a place in the world again.

The very best part of Fringe are the various relationships. This is not a show just about the paranormal and freaky events and biochemical warfare. This is a show about people who are brought together - they are all strangers to each other when they are first introduced - Peter has not seen his father for 17 years, so while they had a childhood together, they have no idea how to relate to each other as adults. As well they have to deal with MotW, some of which are really frightening. There are also normal people being experimented on, which is right on for today's fears/hopes for the science and drug companies, for my money. That is a horrific topic right there. We're about the release the H1N1 vaccine without it being tested on live people yet! Side-effects, anyone?

The main characters are Walter Bishop, a hilarious mad scientist father, Peter Bishop, his sarcastic, cynical living on the edge son, and Olivia Dunham, a heroine who is beautiful, gutsy, smart, strong, the FBI Special Agent who has gathered this tiny team together to investigate unusual deaths. They are overseen by Colonel Boyle, who is cryptic and tells things only as the need arises.

Walter and Peter's relationship in particular has become central to the story, and it is so good to see an estranged father and son learn how to talk to one another again. There is also Walter and Olivia, and what he did to her and how she is dealing with that. And Peter and Olivia, who are realizing they care about eachother - but not yet a couple, more two people who are strangers who are learning to work together, who are learning they have feelings for eachother. It's fascinating to watch. Because sometimes it's not in the dialogue, it's in the acting. And isn't that a lovely thing to be able to say about a tv show, that the acting in many episodes is excellent?

The best news is, it's still on air!! We have it here on Thursday nights at 9 pm.

So if Supernatural is too scary, dark (and has stupid storylines, like the one with hell) for you, give Fringe a try.
If you miss the X-files, definitely give Fringe a try.
If you like science - and Fringe is heavy on the science part, although perhaps not always accurate - and science fiction, Fringe is worth looking at.
And if you just want something new to see, go on. Try it.

My husband, who has lost me to the dvd machine this weekend, pointed yesterday, "You didn't read any books this weekend!" I laughed and said," no, no I haven't. I was too sick to read. Fringe was just what I needed to get over my cold." We then chatted on whether Fringe was my favourite tv show. I said not yet; but it's in my top shelf of favourite tv shows. It's kind of like books. I can't name just one favourite book or author. I can't name just one tv show, either.

If you look at the posters to the right, each character has a phrase that is closely linked to the role they play. I love this!

For the curious, here are two links to Fringe:
Fringe Television (fan site, lots of clips)
Official Fox site (lots of info, episodes to watch, chatter about the show, episodes, great banner...)

Susan' reasons to watch Fringe:

1. I like the intersection of the unusual, the bizarre, with the normal. Olivia and Peter are normal, or so we think. Walter is bizarre from the beginning. And then the series evolves to accepting the strangeness uncovered in each of the characters. There is a huge revelation about one of the characters, that we the audience and one other character knows. When will it happen? What will the fallout be? What does it change?

2.Really creepy effects. The jaw that falls off the pilot in the pilot episode, the bus passengers trapped in amber, the dreamscapes Olivia visits, the nightmare creature, the transformation, the diseases....since I like the dark, the macabre, offset by humour, this show is really good at this.

3. This show has a melancholy to it, partly due to the autumn colouring of the sets, partly due to the story line arc that has the past casting a huge shadow over the present. It's fascinating to see the characters grapple with the past and how this propels the plot forward, and also propels character development. I love this!

4. You know me and plot - there had better be some, and a story-line arc over many episodes is my favourite way to tell a long story. Fringe has this, in spades.

5. Since you all know what a huge Star Trek fan I am, and that Spock was my first tv crush, would it surprise you to know that the episode that aired last Thursday finally had Leonard Nimoy as William Bell? He may be getting older, but he can still act, *sigh* He gives Olivia a creepy scary look that had me shaking, and then he's all smiles and solicitous as he prepares her for what's to come next. Can we trust him? I have no idea, after this episode!! 5th spot goes to the very unusual guest spots and secondary characters. That, and the fact that not everything nor everyone is who they seem.

6. The actors themselves:

a) Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham. She is Australian, beatiful, does a fantastic Boston accent, and is completely believable whether heart-broken, angry, or fiercely independent. A curious and open character, fearless almost to the point of reckless. A huge capacity to love, which has been hidden as she recovers from the death of her partner who was her lover. As she recovers, I'm hoping she will start to recognize she can love again. Being a hopeless romantic, I hope it will be Peter! Because they are so good together. She also has some crucial revelations in the first season that show that she is the reason the Fringe division exists.

b) Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop. Sarcastic, witty, world-weary in the beginning, and then reveals slowly, in words and action, how his father hurt him, and how he really needs his father. When was the last time that happened in television? Sinister past, knows shady characters, brilliant, which he has frittered away as he tries to escape his father's legacy, until the opening episode. His growth as a character is remarkable, and I applaud both the actor and the writers. He becomes a man, during the first season. It's all done in a quiet, understated manner by the actor. He shows he cares about Olivia even though I don't think he knows how much, yet. Under that cynicism, tender-hearted. A ''frustrated romantic'', he admitted in one episode. Also puts himself in danger, mostly backing up Olivia, who doesn't have a regular partner assigned to her.

c)Attention Lord of the Rings fans: John Noble, who played Denethor so wonderfully in Return of the King, plays Walter Bishop in Fringe! As season one progressed and Walter comes out of the brain funk he was in from being in a mental asylum for 17 years, Noble begins to show Walter coming to terms with what he's done. Heart-breaking in moments, and wild laughter as he rambles on in his side-tangents (often heard: "Walter! Focus!") or talks about food while looking at gruesome bodies on the autopsy table. A brilliant scientist with very questionable practices, considered insane and yet, the time in the mental institution has left him with a child-like enthusasiam and openness. The experiments he did before he was institutionalized, with his then partner William Bell, were at the cutting edge of science back then, working secretly with the government on experiments that have effects on the present day. Possibly seeking redemption for his past actions.

It sure is good to be able to say, sometimes, tv is worth watching.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sunday salon - Fabulous Fall is finally here, in pictures.....

The Sunday

In autumn, here in Canada, we are treated to a glorious array of colours as autumn descends on us.

There is something about the smell of the leaves and the ground, the final harvest, the early frost and fogs and much cooler evenings, that I have always loved.Yesterday I went for a walk.

It was a sunny afternoon, and I'd noticed in the past week that some leaves are starting to change colour.

I love autumn.

It is my favourite time of year.

Whenever I do go on my picture-taking walks, it is now, in the fall. Autumn is slow this year, and only the rare tree is fully changed colours. Sometimes in past years this or next weekend has been the weekend to go out and tour the valleys and hills for the glorious colours. I was most surprised to learn when I lived in England that they have autumn too - we never talk about what autumn is like in other countries, only pay attention to what is in ours. Julia at Piece of My Mind (in Nova Scotia) has also done a picture post about autumn in her area, the link is here.

These are what I saw yesterday. I especially like dark branches against the sky.

There is something about the brilliant colours, like a final array of glory before the leaves die, only to come again in the spring. It's like everything is saying, "now, one more time."

I love the rainy days, the sound of the leaves beneath my feet, the bare branches, the last flowers in the garden.

Melancholy, and dark beauty. Smell of smoke from chimneys in the air. Pumpkins and turkey (for us Thanksgiving is next weekend, right in the middle of autumn), apples and squash,

last roses and mums and daisies.

And what do I do when it's cold and rainy out? Why, I read. I can finally curl up on afternoons with a book, and not feel guilty that I'm missing sunshine outside. Now, as the night draws closer, I drink cocoa and start hiding out in my home, preparing for our long winters ahead. Come, see what my almost-finished library looks like:
I am still missing one more shelf at least (you can't see the books still piled on the floor), but at least A-S is on the shelves! I plan on adding a comfortable reading chair and getting a better reading lamp, and then my reading corner/library will be all set. This is not my TBR shelves, by the way. At the top of my shelves, you can see my bear collection. They think they need a shelf to themselves, but as they can see, there is no room yet.....

So what do you do when it's cold and rainy? What do you love about autumn? Do you take many fall pictures? Are there any traditions you associate with this time of year that you enjoy?

Before I forget, here is today's Bluenose Excerpt. Autumn has definitely put me in the mood for ghost stories!

Dr Robinson of Annapolis Royal used to hear the story of the Grey Lady and, if my memory serves me faithfully, it was from his family that I learned of his meeting with her. It happened one night when he was driving home from a call. He came to an elbow in the road where there was a small bridge that crossed a brook, and there were alder thickets that grew close to the side of the road. As he drew near the bridge his horse stopped. The doctor urged it on but it snorted and jumped and stamped. He got out of his old-fashioned gig with its big spider wheels and went to the horse's head. There he saw the Grey Lady standing in front of the horse and trying to stop him. As he approached, she disappeared from sight. The horse was so agitated that he took it by the bridle and led it along. When they got to the bridge, he discovered that it had been washed out by a spring freshet and, if he had not been stopped in this extraordinary way, he would probably have had a bad accident. He recalled then that other people had told of seeing her on this bridge, and that her appearance was usually a warning of one kind or another. This was a foggy night when he would not have been able to see the gap until it was too late.

Happy reading, everyone!