Sunday, 18 April 2010

Book pain for a book lover

Among the many woes that can befall a book lover, one of the worst, in my experience, is losing a book.

This happened to me recently - two weeks ago, at Easter. I had just received my book order, which contained 7 books ordered with the gift certificate from my mother for Christmas. I had spent many hours combing through Amazon and my book list (from you, my dear Readers!) to narrow down the list to something affordable (the original book order I wanted more than doubled the gift certificate!!). On the Monday April 5, the books were delivered - and yes, I'll tell you what they were:

-The Cypher Garden by Martin Edwards

- The Last Detective - Peter Lovesey

- The Crossing Places -Elly Griffiths

- Finch - Jeff Vandermeer

- The Hotel Under the Sand - Kage Baker

- Rosemary and Rue - Seanan McGuire

- Soulless - Gail Carriger

I was amazed that Canada Post had even delivered books on a holiday Monday! but there it was, and I opened up my very late Christmas books and held my books lovingly, looking at each one of them, taking the evening to decide which one needed to be read first.

Martin Edwards' The Cypher Garden won that place.

I had to know what happened next to Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind - she the cold case DCI, he the historian retired to the lovely Lake District with his new girlfriend. So the next day, I took our youngest to the dentist for his very first visit. I'm blaming the news that this child, who is 5 years old, has 8 cavities, for what happened next. On the way home, still reeling from exactly how much this was going to cost and how on earth we were going to get him to go through 8 cavities being filled, I put the book on the seat next to me. And got up, and got off the bus, and as it drove away, I knew what I had done.

"My book! I left it on the bus!" I think I said a few unprintable words, then realized someone's five year old ears were pricked up, and had to try to calm down. "It's just a book," I mumbled all the way down the hill. "It's ok. I can buy a new one." But it wasn't, was it, my Gentle Readers? Bound up in this book was the love that my mother had sent the gift certificate with, and the hours spent singling it out as one I needed to get asap, and the love of this new mystery series that I have to read all the books of now (thanks to Geraniumcat and Book pusher who blogged about Martin Edwards recently). I had read the first chapter, and I had taken the day off work because of the dentist visit, and after I dropped Graham off at daycare, I had the rest of the day set aside for reading The Cypher Garden. It felt like a loss, and it still does.

I am of course going to buy another copy, as soon as I can. Unfortunately Chapters the Canadian book superstore here isn't carrying any Edwards - I drop in every few days just in case there is a miracle - and the local mystery store just closed, who was carrying him. That leaves a special order, except I haven't been to Collected Works since January as it's a special trip and I haven't gone out much this year. So I've taken to staring at my husband, who still has his Christmas book certificate to use, and saying : "Are you ready yet? have you done your order?' so that I can add my book along and not pay extra shipping costs.

Yes, we did call the bus company lost and found, but no one turned in the book. I console myself with thinking that maybe someone picked it up and is happily discovering the joys of mysteries, and especially Daniel and Hannah and the Cypher Garden mystery.

It still hurts a little, though.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Alice in Wonderland movie review - Go See It!!

Alice in Wonderland is more than I thought it would be. I'd heard many things about it, mixed reviews, mostly talking about it's lack of soul, and how there wasn't much that was good about the movie except what was taken directly from the books. So when my daughter asked what happened to Alice after she chases the rabbit, I thought, why not? And indeed, I was delighted by Alice in Wonderland.

Before you ask, yes, I have read the classic. And before you ask again, I hate the cartoon version of it. I have refused to watch it more than once because I hate my childhood books being turned into animation. I consider them little better than Disney, and I am not a big fan of Disney. So I really wasn't looking forward to this version. I should have remembered it was by Tim Burton, and I should have remembered that he likes the scarily dark fantasy.

I really liked this version. I liked Alice, I liked all the characters, and Johnny Dep's The Mad Hatter had me convinced he had a soul, by the end of the movie. Not only that, when the movie ended, I wanted more. I wanted to see Alice heading off on her next adventure she had chosen. I thought it was an ending that, if Lewis Carroll could have imagined back when he wrote Alice, he might have chosen something like it for his Alice also. Most of all, when the movie ended, I was smiling. I had the biggest smile on my face. I was enchanted.

So why all the naysayers? I don't really know. I think they had already envisioned how Tim was going to do the movie, how the characters were going to be transported from the book, and most of all, all the Alice book fans thought the book itself was going to be recreated. I think Tim took the best parts and left off the boring bits - and the original book did have me confused and wondering what was going on sometimes, and I was greatly annoyed by the preachiness of the characters in the books. Alice is pretty wimpy too, in the book. The best parts - all the fearsomeness of the Red Queen is there - I did miss the crying baby with the face of a pig, though - the caterpillar, the amazing Cheshire cat (I want one like it! Please!!), the rabbits, the costumes, the set design, The Mad Hatter, and most of all, Alice. By the end of the movie I really liked her character. I loved this movie. I think it's a modern retelling of Alice. Even more important, the critic we went with, my 7 year old, also had a smile on her face at the end of it. And just now, I checked again, and she says, 'I LOVED it!" Her favourite bits? when Alice **********SPOILER ALERT***********

takes the head off the jabberwocky, she loves that part. The Mad Hatter - "he loves hats!", "the rabbit was worried about time." And of course, the Cheshire cat: "he can disappear!"

************************end of spoiler alert*****************************

So, if you can bear to let the classic book be retold for our modern age, then go. Go see "Alice". If you can't, then stick with the cartoon. By the way, I did not see it in 3-D. I have progressive lenses, and 3-D doesn't work with my glasses. Plus, I hate the idea of 3-D. I think it's stupid, so I won't go see them. Thankfully, the theatres - and movie makers - are offering these movies in both 3-D and normal viewing. Thank you!!!

Me? I'm going to reread the books again, and read them to my daughter, too. So when the movie comes out on video, we'll be ready - first in line to buy a copy. For the first time, I'd kind of like to go to Wonderland, which the books had me too scared/bored/glad I never went to. Alice In Wonderland the movie makes me think I might like it there after all.

The best lines?

"Am I mad?"
"Completely. It's not so bad. All the best people are, you know."

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Fantasy Book Reviews for Once Upon a Time 4

One of the joys of challenges is reading books that I'd otherwise keep putting aside for a rainy day. Well, we have Carl's Once Upon a Time IV challenge on, and here are reviews of some books I've put aside for 20 years and finally read this year! and some newer books as well:

The Face in the Frost
- John Bellairs

First published in 1969, The Face in the Frost deserves to be much more widely known than it is. John Bellairs published a few other novels for children, and so he has suffered the plight that many children's authors suffer from, never mind authors of children's fantasy. The Face in the Frost tells the story of Prospero, and Roger Bacon, who are wizards of some reknown, and good friends. The names of the wizards will tell any reader that Bellairs wrote a humours fantasy, filled with gentle wit and sarcasm at the world. Roger Bacon of course spends most of his time in England, while Prospero lives in the world of North and South Kingdoms, somewhere near an imaginary border with England. This vein of mixing pure fantasy and delight with real trials and horror continues through the book. It is delightful, funny, imaginative, with an evil magician villain who is, as always, a cautionary tale on being consumed by power. Even more, there are illustrations peppered through the book, pen and ink drawings that reminded me how much a good illustration can add to the text without giving anything away, and without changing my own inner impressions of the story.

I loved The Face in the Frost. Here is a sample of how precise his writing is:
Meanwhile, the strange early winter drew thin rags and fingers of gray snow over the dirty, fast-decaying leaves that clotted the suddenly dry beds of strams; on the empty plain Prospero and Roger had just passed through, the snow moved in eerie swirls, falling into spirals and long lines too regular to be natural. People were terrified of the open spaces at night; in their homes they sat with blankets over their windows so that they would not see the mask of frost. Windows broke in the night, and the wind that blew through them had a voice.

Roger and Prospero have to find a way to defeat the evil magician who is seeking Prospero, who holds the one thing that can prevent the magician from taking over the known kingdoms, only Prospero doesn't know what it is or where it can be found. So begins their quest. This is pure delight and wonder, and I would reccommend this to everyone to read. 5/5

God Stalk and Dark of the Moon - PC Hodgell (collected in one edition, The God Stalker Chronicles, recently re-released in paperback)

These are another pair of books that were written over 20 years ago. I owned one and then the other but never at the same time, and I could never get them read in order, so eventually put it aside as a series to read later. For years and years I haunted used book stores, looking for them. So when I saw in February that it had been re-released - they both had been published by a publishing company now out of business - I grabbed the book. Both novels! together! One edition! No way was I letting go of the Chronicles, and as soon as I got home, I began reading it. After 20 years, I couldn't wait for the OUAT challenge!

How were they? Were the two books worth it? Yes! Yes! These are excellent fantasy books, complete with a new religion, a new universe, and a heroine who is so fiesty and spirited and determined, that she changes the lives and course of history around her. This is a fascinating work of fantasy, with religion, politics, history, and the right to self-determination key elements in the story. Our heroine, Jaime, is a Kencyr, one of the people chosen to stand against the Perimal Darkling, an ancient evil from the darkness that has destroyed many worlds and many universes, the Kencyr the last stand on each world against the Darkling. God Stalk opens with Jaime fleeing her foe, and landing in a city where the Kencyr have not been seen for many years, and where the gods of all the races vy for attention and belief.

In true heroic fashion, Jaime wins some friends around her, protects the down-trodden, defeats all manner of corruption and villains, and discovers who she is, for she has no memory from before she awakens in flight on the plain. God Stalk begins the story, and Dark of the Moon continues her journey as she leaves Tai-tastagon to go to find her long-lost twin brother Torisen. Who they are, and the role their namesakes played in their religion 3,000 years ago, and what Jamie has to do now to become fully herself and not live under the shadow of the ancient Jamethiel Dream-Weaver, is what the second book is about. There is also a war amassing on the planet - not against the Perimal Darkling, although we discover they are there, voices in the darkness of men's souls.

I really enjoyed these two books, and I was very happy to discover there are three more in the series, although they have been out of print also and have not yet been re-released. Seeker's Bane, and Bound in Blood. I thought Dark of the Moon ended rather abruptly - I can't say how, but I really really wanted more of the story, so I will be looking for the next two books in the series. I really enjoy Jaime, she is a marvellous heroine, stubborn, funny, intelligent, persistent, who has lived through an enormous betrayal and come into her own as her own person. I really want to know more about her twin brother Torisen. Does he survive the plots against him as leader of the Kencyr, now that he has the belongings Jaime was bringing back to him? Will he trust her, and what changes will she bring to her own people now?

I found the religious aspects fascinating, alot of thought went into creating a world where such a variety of religions could exist, and what it would mean about the civilization that could let so many exist at once. Do gods need people, in order to survive? is one of the questions Jaime strives to answer for herself. Loyalty plays a big role in these books, honour, and the ways these can be betrayed. Very, very good fantasy books, and highly reccommended. 4.7/5

Drink Down the Moon - Charles de Lint (reissued under the newer edition Jack of Kinrowan, bringing together Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon) *read for the Canadian Challenge also

I read the first book, Jack the Giant Killer, and reviewed it at the beginning of this challenge. These were both published in the 1980's, and ones I just didn't get around to reading until now. I think I cheated myself out of two good books long ago!

Drink Down the Moon is the second Jacky Rowan fantasy faerie tale adventure, picking up a year after Jacky wins the role of gruagah for her Laird of Kinrowan and his Court, which covers much of the territory in Ottawa and surrounding area. Gruagah means she watches the ley lines of the magic running through the area, to make sure the faerie are well and strong. Jacky is new at her job, and unbeknownst to everyone, someone is coming who is destroying the fiaina sidhe, which in Charles de Lint's fantasy world here, are the faeries who do not belong to the Seelie or Unseelie Courts - organized faeries who owe allegiance and live under their lord, or Unseelie Courts, those faeries who destroy mankind at every chance. The Faina sidhe have a moon dance called a rade, they do that gathers strength and power from the new moon, along their own moon paths that their Pook can see when music is played. If a human fiddler plays, then it is the best music and magic for the fiaina sidhe of all. Only the Pook has just been killed, her half-sister has lived more in the human world than the faery one, and the only human fiddler they knew about has just passed away from old age. How Jemi learns to accept who she is, how Johnny Faw who inherits his grandfather's fiddling ability and love of music helps Jemi, and the one who surprisingly leads the eventual rade as the Unseelie Court gathers for the last battle, makes for a fabulous journey to Ottawa and faerie.

Once again Charles has woven another story blending music, fairy myths, and a city setting, to make his own brand of fairy tales distinct, moving, fun, delightful, and scary. I always forget how dark he makes the Unseelie Court - rightly so, for they are the nightmares of the faerie world, after all, the bogeymen, trolls, and fae folk who would as soon eat us as soon as we seen them, and sometimes before we see them. Beware the night shadows, because sometimes there are somethings alive out there in the darkness, in the rustlings and whispers.....and the true heroes are those who face those fears and discover their strengths in doing so, like Johnny and his friend Henk, like Jacky and Kate, like Jemi.

I have long enjoyed Charles' work and consider him underappreciated in Canada, and these two books by him have only reaffirmed my view. Canadian fantasy writers in general are ignored in Canada except when a specialty interview is run in the newspapers; they are never mentioned along with Atwood, or Munro, who appeal to a broader audience. This is the struggle for fantasy, of course, and up here even someone as prolific and well-known in the fantasy fields as Charles de Lint, still has most people wondering who he is. And that's a shame, because Charles is one of the best in his field. As a Canadian writer, we should be celebrating his work and achievements alongside our better known fiction writers. He has created a body of work that is unmatched for how it blends music, folk and fairy tales, into our contemporary world. He also creates some of the best female heroines in fiction. I really enjoyed reading about Jacky Rowan and Kate Hazel, and I want to know more about Jacky as a gruagagh. It's a scary world, and Jacky and Kate are people I want to hang out with, especially on that third floor in the grugagh's Tower that holds all those special books..... 5/5 for both books.

Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs.

Sigh. I love this series. Every time I think Briggs can't come up with something different and as thrilling as her previous books in this series, I am surprised. Bone Crossed is the 4th in the Mercy Thompson series, and it is just as good, if not better, as the previous ones. In this one, Mercy has to face Marsilia, Queen of the local vampires seethe, for killing a member of the seethe. The vampires deface her garage door with crossed bones, marking her as no longer under the vampire's protection. She is wanted for a crime against the vampires. However, Mercy is now under the local werewolves' protection because of her relationship with it's alpha, Adam. So her friends are the apparent target. Except, as Mercy is drawn into investigating a haunted house in Spokane, she discovers she is the target for another reason altogether - her special skill as a shape shifter. How Mercy discovers who her friends really are, and what they will do for her, as she fights for her life at the end, makes for another thrilling, exciting, hard-to-put down supernatural book in the series. Caution: read this when you have 8 or so hours to yourself, it really is a book you won't want to put down for anything but to get some food ready - I read while I eat, so that's all the time I wanted to take away from this novel. It was really hard at work to have it in my bag, waiting for my work to end so I could get back to it. I would say I read past my lunchtime alloted time, except one of my bosses might accidentally find out......

I love how the werewolves are shown and how the pack works. I like how she and Adam form a bond, and what happens to her after. I like how she learns about herself finally enough to understand that it is her fear that she has to overcome. I completely understand her fear - and I'm not going to tell what it is, because it is integral to how Mercy operates in her life - I suffer from the same fear myself. I'd like to think that if I were a shapeshifter coyote I could be as cool as Mercy, but I doubt it. She is one of a kind, and I love her. I can hardly wait for the next adventure - it's out in hardcover now, called Silver Borne, and if I can't wait, my birthday is approaching.....I do wish they would do something about the awful covers, since Mercy is anything but the buxom babe featured on the covers, but thankfully we buy the books for what's inside. At least it's the same woman they are featuring, so those of us collecting these can have that satisfaction that the covers are part of a series. 5/5

Finally, the last books so far read for Carl's Challenge, I finished last night:
Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton. *Also read for Canadian Challenge

This won the 2004 World Fantasy Award. It's a stand-alone book, not part of her current alternate England series (Farthing, Ha'Penny, and Half a Crown). Tooth and Claw is a Victorian novel of manners, featuring.......dragons. It is very, very good. The novel centers around the four children of the dragon Bon, who is dying as the novel opens. There are the two sons, Penn, who is a parson, and Avan, who is a clerk in the Planning Office for the Beautification of Illrieth, the dragon city. The two daughters are unmarried, Selendra, and Haner, and the problem of what to do with them, as they are landed dragon gentry and so unprepared to work for a living, and are dispersed to two relatives, one a married sister, makes for a fun book involving a court case, the dangers to dragons of laying eggs, what happens when a male dragon gets too close to an unmarried female, and a fearsome potential mother-in-law who is a ........dragon. Those of you who are married will get the pun! This was such an enjoyable fantasy to read. I love how the dragon houses are described, how they still sleep on their treasure, how they eat their dead, and how despite their civiliation - and how they became 'civilized' is told as a back story, in myth and religious overtones, that makes this believable. This is a dragon book of manners. It is also about religious freedom, and the rights of servants whose plight one of the sisters, Haner, takes up. Tooth and Claw has a very satisfying dragon-like conclusion in a dragon court, complete with tooth and claw. This is a well-thought out book about how dragons might have some kind of organization to their society, if they were so inclined.

For anyone who enjoys Anthony Trollope especially, and Victorian novels, this book will be a delight to read. For anyone who loves dragons, this book can't be missed. For anyone who wants to catch up on their World Fantasy Award winners, this book is deserving of the award. It is original, charming, and I really enjoyed all the dragon characters.

I would give this novel a 5/5 but I kept thinking about Smaug, who for me is the original, and best of dragons. In my imagination, he thought this was amusing, but missed something essential: a riddle or two. So 4.7/5.

I hope you are enjoying your Easter weekend, we are having fabulous summer-like temperatures, and it's making it difficult for me to do anything but read! Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except we have Easter dinner at our house tonight.......happy reading, and Happy Easter, my Gentle Readers!