Category Archives: Challenges 2012

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Aspect Fiction, New York, 1998

From my TBR pile.  My second read for R.I.P. VII.  Winner of the Locus Award and the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1999.

Nalo Hopkinson is Jamaican, now living in Canada.  Her novels and stories are filled with Caribbean folklore, history and language.  The title comes from a traditional West Indian ring game song.

This dystopian novel takes place in Toronto.  The city center has collapsed politically and economically, leaving those who can’t afford to leave, mostly people of color, struggling to survive any way they can.    The wealthy population runs to the suburbs and edge cities, areas now protected by barricades and road blocks.

Ti-Jeanne, gifted with visions she does not understand, lives with her new baby and grandmother, Gros-Jeanne.  This is  a  situation she found herself in after running from her lover, Tony, and she is not at all happy with it.  Tony has a bad drug habit and is caught up in the Posse, a mob-like organization run by Rudy, a thug and spiritual practitioner. Rudy is the self-proclaimed boss of the central city, running a gang, terrorizing residents and keeping nasty spirits under his control.

In this dark urban fantasy  Ti-Jeanne finds herself with ancestors she didn’t know she had and powers she does not really want, but it is up to her to face the spirits and protect her family.

I have read newer works by Hopkinson, and now have a better understanding of her style of fantasy based in Caribbean history .  I found some of the patois hard to read, but enjoyed the story.  I am looking forward to reading So Long, Been Dreaming, a collecting of Science Fiction and Fantasy she helped edit in 2004.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, CanadianBookChallenge6, DarkFantasy, Dystopian, R.I.P. VII, SpeculativeFiction

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Ace Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library. Nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award.  This is the first book I’ve read for R.I.P. VII.

I think is I try to summarize this novel I might give something away so I am including a quote from the author’s website:

The year is 1935. Veteran of the Great War and failed academic Frank Nichols ignores a warning not to move into the home he inherits in the small southern town of Whitbrow; a home his wife calls “The Canary House” because of its fresh coat of yellow paint.

But there is another house in the woods beyond the river, an estate that lies in ruins; the once-magnificent Savoyard plantation, where a cruel forebear of Frank’s drove his slaves to murder him. Frank means to find this ruin and write about the horrors that occurred there, but little does he suspect that his presence in town will stir something that should have been left sleeping. Something with a long memory. If the people of Whitbrow have forgotten why they don’t go across the river, they will soon remember.

This is southern gothic with a twist.   Buehlman has written a novel that evokes the years of the Great Depression in a small town in the southern United States, with undercurrents of poverty and racism.  More than that, there is terror.   Hidden away on the other side of the river is memory, and that memory carries horror with it.  This combination of elements creates an interesting analogy, horror and parts of our history as a nation.  I found this a great read for R.I.P.  Give it a try.

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Filed under Books, DarkFantasy, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

Books for R.I.P. VII and A More Diverse Universe

I’m not one for making book lists (other than my 500+ to-be-read list) but I thought it would be fun to make a list  of possible books for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII and include some for A More Diverse Universe along with them:

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora Ed: Sheree R. Thomas

Feed by Mira Grant

Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Of Tales and Enigmas by Minsoo Kang

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

and I’d like to reread The Graveyard Book for the group read.  I also have an interesting looking non-fiction book, Monsters in America by W. Scott Poole.  I know I won’t get to all of these!

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Filed under Books, Events, R.I.P. VII

R.I.P. VII

Thanks to Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings we are about to embark on R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII.  It is a reading/watching event for the adventurous, those willing to dip their toes in chilly waters.  In Carl’s words:

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

There are many ways to participate and a couple of Read-Alongs to intrigue you.  I am going to try for Peril the First and hope to join in with others as they read The Graveyard Book.  Please visit the link above to find out more.

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Filed under Books, Events, R.I.P. VII

The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise

The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise

Biblioasis, Emeryville, Ontario, 2011

From my TBR pile.

I had never heard of Clark Blaise before seeing this book nominated for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller prize.  It turns out Blaise founded the postgraduate Creative Writing Program at Concordia University, served as the Director of the International Writing Program at Iowa from 1990 to 1998, and is the President of the Society for the Study of the Short Story.  He is married to author Bharati Mukherjee and has spent time traveling in India.

The Meagre Tarmac is a novel made of linked stories strung together like an assortment of beads, exploring the places where tradition, culture and change meet.  First and second generation Indo-Americans face intimate struggles of immigration and identity, trying to find home.  What do they cling to and what do they leave behind?

Initially it was difficult for me to accept stories of East Indians written by a white North American, but I believe Blaise’s connections through family and travel bring truth and compassion to his writing.  He is a master story-teller, this is a beautiful collection and I will search out more of his work.

9 Comments

Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge6, GillerPrize, Immigration, India, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick

The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick

Tor, New York, 2007

From my TBR pile.

I first learned of Michael Swanwick through his collection of stories The Dog Said Bow-Wow, and had wanted to read a longer work.  I picked up The Dragons of Babel at one of my favorite used bookstores and decided to read it for the Once Upon A Time VI challenge.  I was swept into the story after the first couple of pages.

This is adult fantasy, dark and mixed with mythic elements,  a strange and wonderful blend of techno-steam punk and magic that takes place just over the border in  post-industrial Fäerie.

A war-dragon crashes outside a small village and drags itself into town.  There the dragon finds himself a “lieutenant”, a boy named Will,  and slowly insinuates himself into his brain.  Will, surrounded by ancient healers and truth-tellers, eventually  leaves the village, crosses a war-ravaged land and comes to the city of Babel and to the magnificent Tower.  There, with the help of hustlers and haints,  he struggles to find his true place.

….He was still staring at the undulating land, feeling small and unimportant and quietly excited.  Fear mingled in him with desire.  With every passing mile, he experienced a growing emptiness, a gathering of tension, a profound desire to be rewritten that was so strong as to almost be a prayer:  Great Babel, mother of cities, take me in, absorb me, dissolve me, transform me.  For just this once, let one plus one equal two.  Make me into someone else.  Make that someone everything I am not.  By the axe and the labrys, amen.
All prayers were dangerous.  Either they were answered or they were not, and there was no telling which outcome would produce the greater regret.  But they were necessary as well, for they suggested a way out of the unendurable present…from pages 96/97.

Swanwick manages to mix fäery tradition with police, gangsters and corrupt politicians.  This strange brew never seems odd or forced.  The tower is filled with bureaucrats,  the streets with whores and thieves.  Babylon is a mix of ancient city and twenty-first century Gotham.  Will encounters Centaurs, Giants and a beautiful elf girl riding a Hippogryph.  This novel is  a great read for those seeking well-written, intellectually dense and rowdy fantasy.  The story takes place in a universe first visited in The Iron Dragon’s Daughter.   I want to read that book and anything else by this fine author.

2 Comments

Filed under DarkFantasy, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VI, Thoughts

The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

Dark Horse Books, Milwaukie, OR, 2011

Borrowed from my local library.

A fantasy in graphic novel form by one of my favorite authors.  I have been a fan of Jane Yolen for many years, ever since I read Sister Light, Sister Dark.  She has written so many books I haven’t been able to keep up.  I stumbled upon The Last Dragon while looking through the graphic/comic shelf at my local library and had to bring it home.

This is a dark and wonderful tale of an herbalist’s daughter, Tansy,  who finds out that dragons did not, in fact, die out two hundred years ago.  One has risen from the earth and is terrorizing her village.  With the help of a reluctant hero, she manages to find and slay this last dragon and save her town.

The artwork by Rebecca Guay is stunning, pen and ink drawings with rich, deep water color.  This book is worth looking at for the art alone but the story, woven with herbal lore and a bit of romance, is lovely.

10 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Once Upon A Time VI

Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster

Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice by Eugie Foster

Norilana Books, Winnetka, CA 2009

From my local library, read for Once Upon A Time VI.

I wish I could remember where I first heard of this collection.  Maybe is was from a blurb on the jacket of  Salt of the Air by Vera Nazarian, also published by Norilana Books.

Eugie Foster has taken themes from Far Eastern folk tales and written a beautiful collection of twelve stories.   An air of delicacy provides a base for tales that are moving, often funny and filled with mystery.    These include stories of demons, an angry ghost, a fox-women and other elements from classic Chinese and Japanese tales.

I am lucky my library had this book in the catalog.  It is lovely.   Foster is a short story author I am unfamiliar with, like N.K. Jemisin, and another reason for me to pay more attention to story publications, both in print and on-line.

6 Comments

Filed under Folk Tales, Once Upon A Time VI

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt

Canongate, New York, 2011

From my local library.  Read as part of Once Upon A Time VI.

Using her own experiences in World War Two as a template, A.S. Byatt retells the Norse myth about the end of the world.

As  bombs begin to rain down on England a “thin child” is evacuated to the countryside. The child tries to make sense of  the world around her, of the difference between the dark, fearful time she experiences  and the peace and love preached in church.  She misses her father, knowing he is flying somewhere over Africa.

The thin child knew, and did not know that she knew, that her elders lives in provisional fear of imminent destruction.  They faced the end of the world they knew.  The English country world did not end, as many others did,  was not overrun nor battered into mud by armies.  But fear was steady, even if no one talked to the thin child about it… From page 4.

Then the child is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods, a book of ancient Norse myths written by Wilhelm Wagner, and she began to understand.  These fascinating, terrifying stories of love, betrayal and revenge help fill in the missing parts of the world.  They seem real and vital, much more real than what adults are telling of the world.

I’ve said it before,  A.S. Byatt is a master story-teller.   She has taken the bitter, violent tales of Thor and Odin, Loki and Balder and given them new life through the eyes of the thin child.  By doing so she renews them for those of us who remember them from childhood or school.  Her language turns dark, dangerous things into creatures of great beauty, even the snake Jörmungandr, a voracious monster who ends up encircling the world, is at times beautiful.  Between sections of myth, the “thin child” begins to find ways to bring the “real” world and the world of the Gods together, and have it make sense.

Byatt connects the myth of the end of the Gods to the horrors of war.  We come to know something of the inner life of a small child living in war-time, of the constant fear that surrounds her, of her questioning.

But the author also connects the myth to the loss and devastation we bring to our world, our home planet.   She tells of the world tree, Yggdrasil, and all the things that live in and on her, even under her.  She even adds the tale of Rándrasil, a huge kelp tree, and the rich sea gardens that lie at her feet.  These passages, filled with a multitude of plants and animals, are an inventory of loss.  The End of the Gods?  Byatt shows us the possible end of so much more.

It is A.S. Byatt’s skill as a writer, her use of language, direct and lyrical at once, that has me in awe.  As I read this small book I wanted to hear the words, to be read to.  Maybe someone has created an audio version.  Regardless, this is a book I will add to my personal library.

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Filed under A.S. Byatt, LiteraryFiction, Mythology, Once Upon A Time VI, Thoughts

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011

From my library hold list.

A debut novel that takes place in Rome in 1978, a time when families of Russian Jews were passing through a gap in the Iron Curtain.  The city was  filled with immigrants waiting for visas to their chosen destination.  For three generations of the Kranansky family what begins as a journey to America ends up, after six months of waiting,  as a journey to Canada.

There is Alex and his brother Karl, Alex’s new wife Polina and Karl’s wife Rosa and their two sons who, along with grandparents Emma and Samuil, have traveled from Latvia to Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Vienna finally arriving in Rome.  Samuil is the one causing the delay.  A former Red Guard, he suffers from many ailments, and Canada is not taking any invalids.  Israel might, but that is not an option for Samuil, or for Karl and Alex.    As the novel unfolds we learn some of the back story for all of these characters but the most enjoyable parts for me was the experiences within and around the migrant community in Rome.

Praised by the New Yorker as one of the best “20 under 40”, Bezmozgis is expert at the portrayal of loss while maintaining a balanced sense of humor.  And we see the hopes and dreams these people carry with them into their new lives.  Somewhat autobiographical, this author truely loves his characters.  Parts of the novel drifted out of focus for me but on the whole I enjoyed it.  I plan on reading the author’s collection, Natasha and Other Stories, sometime in the near future.

7 Comments

Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts