Arcadia by Lauren Groff

1401340873.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Hyperion, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while. I must admit I was a bit nervous about reading it.  The time and place could part of my personal story and, having found Groff’s The Monster of Templeton a bit unbalanced, I wasn’t sure how she would portray this slice of American history.  I needn’t have worried.

Arcadia is Ridley Sorrel Stone’s story.  Known as Bit, born in a van traveling with a caravan of trucks, buses and VWs searching for paradise, this child grows up in a commune known as Arcadia.  Acreage filled with fields and forest and a run-down mansion in upstate New York, lead by musician/guru Handy and overflowing with mid-wives, farmers, bakers and those lost to mind-bending drugs, Arcadia grows and changes along with Bit and his parents, Hannah and Abe.

When Bit closes his eyes, he can see what Abe can see,how Arcadia spreads below him: the garden where the other children push corn, bean seeds into the rows,the Pond. The fresh plowed corduroy fields, workers like burdocks stuck to them.  Amos the Amish’s red barn, tiny in the distance.  The roll of the forest tucked up under the hills.  And whatever is beyond: cities of glass, of steel.  from page 80.

This could have been over the top, but Groff handles it gently, in a kind and balanced way.  Her writing is vivid, both in depicting Arcadia, the falling-down and rebuilt mansion, and in telling the stories of the people who live there .  In reality, not all people living on communes were dysfunctional, some where completely committed to building a new way of living and being.  As Bit grows up and ventures into the “real” world he takes the lessons learned from his parents, his “extended” family and Arcadia with him.

I enjoyed Arcadia, it will be on my Best of 2013 list, and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Groff.  In skimming some comments about this novel on GoodReads, I saw several references to “dirty hippies”.  Can I say that I find this term highly offensive?  Want to talk about it?

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Filed under America, Books, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

The 7th Canadian Book Challenge

Brought to us by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set, this is a challenge to read books by Canadian authors or about our neighbors to the north.  I am hoping this will get me back into writing about books I love.  Information about the challenge and how to join in can be found here.

7thCanadian

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What I’ve been reading…

I know, it has been a while.  Work, life and a broken laptop.  What else can I say.   I did manage to get through the TBR Double Dog Dare and read 24 books, not quite as many as I had hoped.  Once again, James has inspired me to continue plowing through the piles of unread books I have sitting on shelves and stacked in corners.

I am getting ready for another camping trip with the children and another season of hanging out at the beach, introducing folks to the rich diversity of animals that live in Puget Sound.  I’m not sure what the summer will bring.

As for what I have been reading:

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonAlif_

Grove Press, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my public library.

A surprising combination of middle-eastern fantasy and cyberpunk.  The story takes place in an unnamed country whose government is turning into an ultra-high level security state.  Internet activists are finding ways to expose corruption and abuse.  The backlash is all too familiar. Alif, a talented hacker, find himself running from state security and dealing with creatures he cannot believe exist.

Filled with djinn, demons and a land only accessible by magic,  layered with high-tech and folklore, this was a fun read.

The Antagonist by Lynn Coadycoady

Knopf, New York, 2013

Borrowed from my library.

I’ve read Lynn Coady before and was impressed.  When this novel was short-listed for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller prize and I learned it was being published in the US, I put it on my hold list at the library.

The Antagonist is “quirky” and only an author with Coady’s skill and daring can pull this kind of thing off.  When Gordon Rankin, known as Rank, picks up a novel written by Adam, an old college friend and discovers it seems to be a thinly veiled fiction about his life he grows irate.  In a series of emails, he rants at Adam and, through those rants,  slowly unburies his own memories and untwists his own story.  Again, as in her collection of short stories, Coady creates a rough, crude and intimidating character that I couldn’t help liking.  I love how this women writes.  The Antagonist will be in my top ten books of 2013.

I’ve also just finished Home by Toni Morrison and Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran.  That one has me anxiously awaiting the second book in this mystery series, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, due out in June.

Enough for now.  What have you read lately that really grabbed you?

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Filed under Bookish, Books, Short Reviews, Thoughts

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

beesAt the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012

From my TBR pile.  Kij Johnson has won the Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Nebula awards.  This is an odd and moving collection by one of my favorite authors and goes onto my Best of 2013 list.

It is unusual to come across a collection of stories that is  emotionally deep and, at the same time, chilling and even horrific.  I have loved Johnson’s writing since I read The Fox Woman years ago and ordered this book as soon as I heard about it.  Not keeping up with fantasy publications,  none of these were familiar to me.  I find them difficult to describe.  Most feature animals, there are aliens and most feature humans in all their strange and convoluted glory.

All moments are this moment.  Past and future jumble together: Jingu cannot say which is which.  And because everything — sorrow and anger and love and grief — is equally immediate, she finds herself strangely distanced from her own life.  It is as though she listens to a storyteller recite a tale she has heard too many times, the tale of the empress Jingu.  From The Empress Jingu Fishes, page 109.

Built with elements of folk and fairy tales, mythology and science fiction, the stories bend and twist out of those forms and enter what I consider the realm of slipstream.  Some are are made of memory and there are often stories within stories.   Johnson travels to unfamiliar places, even for fantasy.   I find myself wanting to follow her, as long as I am sure I know the way back.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, StoryCollection

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

derkholmDark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Greenwillow Books, New York, 2001

From my TBR pile. Read for Diana Wynne Jones month and Once Upon A Time VII.

The story takes place in a world of high fantasy, where griffins and young magicians are siblings, pigs fly and the mysterious Mr. Chesney runs Pilgrim Party tour groups from what appears to be our world.  Chesney insists on all the familiar scenes, wizards, demons and horrible battles, which include the deaths of some “expendable” tourists. The tours continually wreak havoc throughout the land and destroy many inhabitants livelihoods.  These people are tired of being exploited, but are helpless to fight back until the dragons show up.  No suprise there.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is a parody, filled with family squabbles, depressed and drunken wizards and adolescents yearling to spread their wings, both figuratively and literally.  It is a joy to read.  It won the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 1999.  There is a second book in this series, Year of the Griffin, which I hope to read sometime in April.

What a master.  I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones by Ana a couple of years ago, and felt robbed at not having found her sooner.  She was a British author who somehow never received the media push granted to J.K. Rowling.  I have since tried to convince every Harry Potter fan I know to read her books.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, British, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, Young Adult

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

grossmanThe Magician King by Lev Grossman

Viking Press, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  My first book for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge.

I read The Magicians last year and found it just okay.  Early reviews mentioned “Harry Potter for adults”.  The novel is about a New York City teenager, Quinton Coldwater, who while thinking he is  applying for university is  surprised with an invitation to attend Brakesbills College, a kind of ivy league Hogwarts.  Quinton, along with other “Physical” students,  spends years in class, learning spell casting, and enjoying first loves, sex, drugs and drinking.  Eventually several of the students enter the land of Fillory, an “imaginary” place from a series of  beloved children’s book very much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  Maybe it was the referential use of this classic series that made me a bit squeamish.

I found the second book  much more satisfying.  It centers on two of the characters from the first book, Quinton and Julia, and brings historic depth and clarity to their behavior and their choices.  There is better storytelling, more fantasy, with strong roots in folklore and mythology.  I think Grossman worked hard to bring his characters to life and strengthen the magic.   I am hoping that there will be more books to come because  I’d like to know what happens to these young people.

The goddess was warm, even humorous, and loving, but she had a second aspect, terrible in its bleakness: a mourning aspect that she assumed in winter, when she descended into the underworld, away from the light.  There were different versions of the story.  In some she grew angry at all mankind and hid herself underground half the year out of rage.  In some she lost one of her dryad-daughters and retired to Hades in grief.  In others the goddess was fooled by some Loki-type trickster-god and bound to spend half the year hiding her warmth and fruitfulness in the underworld, against her will.  But in each version her dual nature was clear.  She was the goddess of darkness as well as light.   A Black Madonna:  the blackness of death, but also the blackness of good soil, dark with decay, which gives rise to life.  From page 325.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, LiteraryFiction, Once Upon A Time VII

Chinua Achebe 1930-2013

Chinua Achebe. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

Chinua Achebe. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

When I returned to college to complete my BA, my first creative writing professor handed us a list of required reading. Things Fall Apart was at the top of that list.  Achebe was my introduction to World Literature and I have been thankful ever since…

A piece from the Guardian: Nigeria in mourning for Chinua Achebe

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Filed under Authors, Chinua Achebe, Death, Nigeria, World Literature