Category Archives: Thoughts

New Year’s Wishes and Favorite Books from 2012

new-years1

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

The last few weeks have kept me from the computer, but not from reading.  I’m finishing several books in preparation for the New Year, the Long Awaited Reads Month and the TBR Double Dog Dare.   I’ll be joining one new challenge in 2013, plan to continue with the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, and hope to read along with several on-going events including the Literature and War Readalong.

As for what I have read in 2012, here are some of my favorites:

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Baker

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Pure by Andrew Miller.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I seem to be developing quite a taste for historical fiction, something that is new to me.  Have you discovered a new to you genre this past year?  A genre that you find yourself drawn back to?

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From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories edited by Michael Ondaatje

inklakeFrom Ink Lake: Canadian Stories

edited by Michael Ondaatji

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 1995

From my book shelves.  I suppose this is a bit of a cheat for the Canadian Book Challenge, as I haven’t read every story yet, but I keep this on my night stand and often pick it up between novels.  It is one I will keep forever.

This collection, which I have had for some time, is how I first became interested in reading Canadian authors.  I had read Ondaatji and Atwood, of course, but I don’t think I realized they came from the North.   This book introduced me to Alice Munro through Miles City, Montana, Alister Macleod through As Birds Bring Forth The Sun  and Carol Shields  through Scenes. There are so many other authors I can’t list them all.  As an introduction to Canadian literature it is worth searching for this one.

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The Poetry Project

poetry projectLu has asked those involved with the Poetry Project to take a moment to reflect back on the project so far.  Except for the times when I have been just to frazzled to remember to read poetry, the project has had me reading more poetry, introduced me to poets that were new to me, and to poetry I might not have been all that comfortable with.  I appreciate the time and energy that Lu and Kelly have put into this, and am glad to have found others who enjoy reading and discussing this varied and amazing use of language.

So here, for Winter,  from one of my favorite poets, is a poem about snow:

Snow
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again, 
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope, 
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine, 
in the sunniest voice he could muster 
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting 
accumulation. A father goes months 
without speaking to his son. 

How there can be a place 
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet.  The father could die!
The son! Before the weather changes.

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Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, On, 2010

From my to-be-read pile.  Long-listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.

I first discovered Jane Urquhart by accident when I picked up “Away” off my library shelves.  I have followed her work ever since.

Sanctuary Line is the story of an Ontario farming family with roots in Ireland.  Liz Crane has returned to the family farm, works measuring the wings of Monarch Butterflies and regularly visits her mother at a place called The Golden Field and finds memories rising every time she picks up an object or looks out a window.

Haunted by the death of her cousin Mandy, Liz finds herself tangled in the stories of her large and varied family.  Drawn to the past, sifting through memories, she slowly discovers a truth that has been hidden for years.

Urquhart is an author whose characters are firmly rooted in the past.   Her novels delve into family histories, family secrets and what brings the past into the present.

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Filed under Books, CanadianBookChallenge6, GillerPrize, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Weinstein Books, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my public library.  Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize.

In Kuala Lampor, Supreme Court judge Yun Ling Teoh has been slowly loosing her mind.  Wary of her malady becoming evident to others, she takes early retirement and returns to a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands, owned by family friends.  36 years before, having been released from a Japanese prison camp, she had spent time there.  Traumatised by her sister’s death in the camp and wishing to design a Japanese style garden as a memorial, she is introduced to Aritomo Nakamura, who was once the gardener to the Japanese Emperor.  She asks him to build a garden for her sister.  He refuses, but says he will take her on as an apprentice.   Yun Ling hates the Japanese, but her desire to design a garden in memory of her sister forces her through that hatred.  She stays, and learns to garden.

It is the tangle of history between the Chinese, Japanese, British and Malaysian people, as well as the relationship that grows between Yun Ling and Aritomo, that forms the base of this complex and beautifully written story.  Woven throughout is the history of the land and its people.  Tamn Twan Eng has written a puzzle box of a novel that, in the end,  forces us to question our ideas about memory.

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Filed under Booker, Books, China, Historical Fiction, Japan, Malaya, Thoughts, War

High Chicago by Howard Schrier

High Chicago by Howard Shrier

Vintage Canada, Toronto, ON 2009

From my mystery book shelf.

Last year I read the first book in this series and enjoyed it, High Chicago is even better.

Investigator Jonah Gelle, along with his friend Jen Raudseppr, has opened an agency called World Repairs.  They are working hard to find cases and make ends meet, so when Jonah’s Mom asks him to help out a friend who has lost her daughter to suicide he accepts the case.  What at first seems like a sadly simple story soon draws them into the fast-paced and highly monied world of development and construction that eventually reaches across the border to the Windy City.

Shrier writes noir with several modern twists.  This series has great characters, odd friendships, humor and focuses on current issues.  Great fun.  I can’t wait for the next one, Boston Cream.  Don’t tell Mr G, but it will be in his pile of birthday gifts next week.

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Filed under Books, Canadian, Mystery, Thoughts, Travel

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Penguin Classic, New York, 2006

From my book shelves.

As an adolescent I watched The Haunting on television several times.  It gave me nightmares.

Welcome to Hill House, a place with a reputation for being “unwelcoming”, if not haunted.  Dr Montague, an academic doing research on the paranormal, has invited Eleanor, a young woman who had some experience with poltergeists as a child, his assistant Theodora and Luke, a young man set to inherit the mansion, to spend some time is this unusual house hoping to find scientific evidence of a haunting.  Unfortunately the house doesn’t seem all that welcoming.  The haunting is not so much generated by spirits as it is generated by the house itself.

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a manic juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. From page 34.

The four of them stood, for the first time, in the wide, dark entrance of Hill House.  Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully, small eddies of air and sound and movement stirred and waited and whispered, and the center of consciousness was somehow the small space where they stood, four separate people, and looked trustingly at one another.  From page 58.

These four stay in the house and wonder at its strangeness.  Doors close by themselves, rooms seem to move about and there are places that are very, very cold.  It doesn’t take long for them to discover what they are searching for  It is the atmosphere in, and around the house and the often strained dynamic between the characters, that heightens the creepiness as we read.  We learn early on just how psychologically and emotionally  fragile Eleanor is.   It is no surprise that Hill House chooses to seeks her out.

     Eleanor felt, as she had the day before, that the conversation was being skillfully guided away from the thought of fear, so very present in her own mind.  Perhaps she was to be allowed to speak occasionally  for all of them so that , quieting her, they quieted themselves and could leave the subject behind them; perhaps, vehicle for every kind of fear, she contained enough for all.  They are like children, she thought crossly,daring each other to go first, ready to turn and call names at whoever comes last; she pushed her plate away from her and sighed. From pages 98/99.

I had never read this book before, am in awe of Jackson’s writing and find it one of the most chilling, psychologically unnerving novels I’ve read in a long time.  It is Jackson’s subtle sense of menace that makes this a scary read, along with her ability to worm the reader in to her characters’  heads.  Absolutely lovely, in it’s way, and perfect for my final R.I.P. VII read.

     Sipping, not warmed, Eleanor thought, We are in the eye of the storm, there is not much more time.  She watched Luke carefully carry a glass of brandy over to the doctor and hold it out, and then, without comprehending, watched the glass slip through Luke’s fingers to the floor as the door was shaken, violently and silently.  Luke pulled the doctor back, and the door was attacked without a sound, seeming almost to be pulled away from its hinges, almost ready to buckle and go down,leaving them exposed.  Backing away, Luke and the doctor waited, tense and helpless.  From page 201.

Thanks to Carl V. and all the participants of RIP VII. The links to other reviews are here.  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril is one of my very favorite reading experiences of the year.

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The Graveyard Book – Week Three

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my book shelves.  Organized by Carl V, Week 3 of our read-along covers chapters 7 and 8 of Neil Gaiman’s Newbury, Carnegie, Hugo and Locus award-winning novel.   It has been a joy reading along with others and seeing their thoughts.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this deeply felt, wonderfully written book.

In Chapter 8 Silas is drawn away from The Graveyard but refuses to tell Bod where he is going or what he is doing.  Bod’s friend, Scarlett, returns from Glasgow and finds herself in a place that seems awfully familiar.  She is befriended by a nice man, Mr Frost, who takes rubbings of gravestones.   With his encouragement she  eventually discovers Bod’s family history, but this discovery has unintended results.

Bod finally learns about his past, about The Man Jack and his organization, and is faced with a difficult decision.  The choice he makes puts Scarlett in extreme danger and she cannot understand it and cannot forgive him for it.  He looses his friend, and is at a loss understanding why.

In Chapter 9 Bod enters young adulthood and begins to change, finding it harder and harder to see his friends and loved ones.  Eventually he must leave The Graveyard and journey into the wider world.

The Graveyard Book is all about growing up, be it in a normal family or a ghostly one.  We make choices, face the consequences and hopefully grow wiser with each of these steps.  If we are lucky we live in a circle of love, amid friends and family who support us, even when we make bad decisions.

Neil Gaiman states in his acknowledgements that he read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over and over as a child and as an adult.  This is a book I love and read-aloud to elementary-aged children.  I can see the resemblance, but Gaiman has created a world of his own, filled with wonderful, caring, sometimes strict beings who surround and support Bod as he grows and finally leaves his home.  Maybe someday we will learn about his adventures in the world of the living.

There is a balance between gentleness and horror in this book.  A balance Neil Gaiman holds brilliantly.

Thanks to Carl V and all the folks who took part in this read-along.

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Filed under Books, Carnegie Award, DarkFantasy, Horror, Hugo Award, Locus Award, Newbury Award, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book – Week 2

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

Organized by Carl V, Week 2 of our read-along covers Chapters 4 thru 6 and includes an Interlude.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this magical book.

One of the best things about The Graveyard Book is that it is made up of many stories, stories of Nobody Owen, growing up, protected and loved by ghosts and other beings that pass between worlds.

We learn a bit more about his guardian Silas, and Bod learns a bit more about the place where he lives. He meets the ghost of a lovely young witch and tries to do something kind for her.  Leaving the Graveyard for the first time since his arrival he runs into trouble.  Maybe the world of the living, outside of the Graveyard fence, is not the best place for a live boy with a kind heart.  But on rare occasions ghosts visit there, and sometimes the living dance with the dead.

     They took hands, the living with the dead, and they began to dance.  Bod saw Mother Slaughter dancing with the man in the turban, while the businessman was dancing with Louisa Bartleby.  Mistress Owens smiled at Bod as she took the hand of the old newspaper seller, and Mr. Owens reached out and took the hand of a small girl as if she had been waiting to dance with him her whole life.  Then Bod stopped looking because someone’s hand closed around his, and the dance began.
Liza Hempstock grinned at him.  “This is fine,” she said, as they began to tread the steps of the dance together.
Then she sand, to the tune of the dance,
“Step and turn, and walk and stay,
  Now we dance the Macabray.”  From page 159.

During the interlude we discover that the Man Jack needs to finish what he started.

Bod learns to fade and to haunt.  And craving knowledge of the world of the living, he goes to school.

Gaiman has a way about him.  A way of mixing life and death and giving grace to both.  Bod’s story is lovely and sad and joyful all at the same time, and oh so gentle, even at it’s most horrific.    I don’t know how this author does it.  It is a mystery, eerie and beautiful.

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Filed under Books, Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

Bantam Books, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my local library.  A book from my RIP VII reading pool.  I am really glad to have discovered this author.

Wow, talk about dysfunctional families.  The Rand’s are a family of thieves and have been thieves for generations.  They are bound by honor, love and closely held secrets.   When Terrier Rand is called home by his brother, Collie, some of those secrets are exposed to the light, with devastating consequences.

Let me explain.  Collie ( yes, the Rand’s are all named after dog breeds) is on death row, about to be executed.  He was charged with the murders of eight people, openly admits his crime, and has never explained what happened on that awful night.  Five years after the murder his family is still in shock.  Terry, having run from home after the murders, abandoning his girlfriend and his family, comes running back at his brother’s request.  He doesn’t even understanding why.  He returns to the house where he grew up, to his Mother and Father, Sister, Grandfather and Uncles, and all the buried feelings held within.

Surprisingly, considering the horrible violence,  I loved this book.  The Rand family is not exactly likable, but I found myself caring about each one of them, even Collie, unrepentant, sitting in prison and waiting to die.  Pirrilli’s writing kept me up at night, his ability to build relationships and grab onto the defining, disturbing aspects of this family, had me in awe at times.  I really appreciate emotional depth in a thriller.  I also appreciate humor, which Pirrilli uses to bring light to the dark.   I suggest you read this one, even if you are not a fan of the genre.

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Filed under Books, Mystery, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts, Thriller