Sunday, December 30, 2007

Well, you can tell I've been home for the holidays and that I got a whack of new books to read, because I've managed to polish off two more in the last couple of days. Of course, they're not what you'd call difficult reads, as they are techincially 'children's' books, but whatever, I'm enjoying them.

So 29 and 30 of the year are The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. Yup, since the movie has come out, I've been curious about these puppies, and my wonderful husband, knowing this, got me the three books for Christmas.

Of course, part of my curiosity also comes from the fact that a couple of Catholic school boards in Canada have banned these books from their school libraries as basically not being something that upholds the values of the Church, or some such nonsense, so yeah, you bet I wanted to read them at this point. I think their dislike of the books also comes from the fact that Pullman is a self-avowed atheist, and isn't really shy about proclaiming himself as such.

Well, I guess, reading these books as an adult, I can kinda see why Catholic school boards MIGHT have a problem with these books, but I still think book banning at all is a lousy, lousy thing. One of the main characters, Lord Asriel, certaintly looks like he's launching a campaign to kill God, and the Church (or Magestirium) is pretty much the big bad guy in this.

But the funny thing is, I find these books very spirtual overall, but of course, its not a Catholic Church approved spirituallity, it is more... Native American or shamanistic-type spirtituality. Everyone on Pullman's version of Earth has what is called a daemon. This daemon is the physical expression of a person's soul, and it always takes the form of an animal. The daemon's animal form is fluid when a person is a child; the daemon able to take on many animal forms, but once the person reaches adolescence, the daemon settles on one animal form, and that form is refelctive of the person themselves. So basically, the daemon is their totem animal.

The main character of the book is a young girl, Lyra, and her daemon Pantalaimon. Lyra has been raised by Scholars at Oxford University, and, like a lot of fanatsy novel heroines, has grown up half wild and free-spirited. She's saucy and brave and streetwise, not ladylike in the least, a hell of a liar and a tactician, but not particularly polite. She's a handful, and while she annoys those raising her, you also know they wouldn't have her any other way.

Lyra's world starts to change one night when her Uncle Asriel (and just from his name, obviously a derivative of the demon Azreal, I could see where his part in the story was going) arrives at the College with some very startling information; information that nearly gets him poisoned for his troubles. It's only because Lyra eavesdrops on the whole thing and is able to warn him from drinking poisioned brandy that he is saved. This night she hears for the first time of the magical properties of Dust, and hears about the ideas of other worlds you can see through the Aurora Borealis in the North.

Also she finds out about the Gobblers, a scary group of individuals who are snatching children from the streets all over England, for some nefarious purpose that can only be speculated on. In charge of these Gobblers are the beautiful, mysterious, and unmistakably evil, Mrs. Coulter.

Eventually, Lyra heads North to rescue Lord Asriel and all the children snatched by the Gobblers. She travels with a motely crue of gyptians (gypsys), a Texan aeronaut, and a sentient polarbear who has been exiled by his own people. They reach the Gobblers experimental station in the North and find out the they're attempting (and succeeding) in physically separating the taken children from their daemons. By this point, as we've met so many daemons and because Pantalaimon himself is such a major character, Pullman does an excellent job in making us understand just how abhorrent this practice is to the people of this world. The separated children stumble around like they're half dead, and in fact, most die right from the offset of shock. It's a terrible, terrible thing, and it seems that the Church is behind this. Is this Pullman's position on the Church that it is attempting to sepearate its worshippers souls for its own benefits and not really care about their spirituality? Ah, who knows. I can't say I really thought deeply about the whole thing throughout, I just enjoyed it for the story it is.

So while in the North, Lyra finds that she can use the aliethometer (the 'golden compass', a truth telling machine), rescues the children, meets witches, restores the rightful polar bear king to his throne, rescues Lord Asriel, and eventually, finds her way into another world after Lord Asriel creates a rift between the worlds.

Pullman starts the second book The Subtle Knife in our own world, where we meet twelve year old William, who is despereately trying to hide his mother so he can go on the run. William's mother sounds a little schizophrenic, although after a while, well, are you crazy if they really ARE out to get you? It seems William's father was an explorer of some renknown who disappeared twelve years ago on an expedition to the Arctic, and a lot of different people are very interested in what he may have discovered. William, while trying to get away from some men, inadvertantly kills one of them, and he knows that he has to get far, far away. Well, where better than another world? He crawls through a door he finds (quite by chance, but of course we know that nothing happens by chance in all of this) and ends up on world pretty much completely inhabited by children because the adults have all been affected by Spectres, creatures which seem to feed on adult souls and leave them indifferent and infectual in the world. Rather put in me in the mind of Rowlings' Dementors actually.

Anyway, while in this world, William of course meets Lyra and all sorts of hijinks ensue. She finds out that she is supposed to help Will find his father, but she doesn't do this very well, and ends up briefly loosing the aliethometer when its stolen in our world by a man actually from Lyra's world. Lyra doesn't deal as well with our world as it is much nosier, and busier, the terminoligy for things quite different. Lyra's earth puts one in mind of early 20th century Earth; just before WWI when there is techonology, but it hasn't advanced to what we have today. There's still something... quaint about Lyra's world, that quaintness ours lost long ago.

Some of the bouncing back and forth between worlds (and everyone gets in on it really) gets a bit confusing, but its somewhat made easier when Will becomes the bearer of the subtle knife, a knife that can literally cut anything, electrons, atoms, doorways into other worlds, etc. Its a hotly contested item, but can really only be used properly by the bearer. It also carries the name Aesirhaettir, which means god killer, and so Lord Asriel wants it for his campaign against God, or the Authority, as they begin to refer to him here.

The Subtle Knife is definitely more... upfront about its anti-organized religion sentiments, as it has Lord Asriel (off panel the entire book) gathering a vast army so he can re-wage war against the Authority, and win this time. Basically, in Lyra's world, the right side won (ie not the rebels) and so the Magesterium have been stifling human advancement since the beginning of time, and Lord Asriel wants to do things 'right' this time. Of course though, the 'right' side won in Will's world as well, and they (us) haven't been tecnologically stunted. Although, as we have no visible daemons, we may be spiritually stunted somehow... dunno.

Anyway, overall, I'm really enjoying these books. The overall feel of Lyra's world is a very interesting one, its got that nice famliarity with enough differences for it to still feel "other", and the characters are interesting and diverse. Mrs. Coulter is a hell of a bad guy, in some ways even more scary than Voldemort or Sauron, and hey, any world that has sentient polar bears, I'm all for that.

I find it sad these books are banned in certain schools. I don't think there's a need for that.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wow, what do you know, I managed to sneak one last book in this year. Number 28 is Touch Wood: Confessions of an Accidental Porn Director by Anonymous.

Now, we should probably just get it out of the way right now that I don't have a problem with porn. In fact, I rather enjoy it in small doses. I look at porn as a nice little appetizer before the main course, if you get my drift.

ANYWAY, G found this book while we were out shopping for Christmas gifts, and thought it looked amusing, so we picked it up. The book details one British man's foray into the world of adult entertainment. He knows that there is money to be made in porn, so darnit, why shouldn't he be able to get a share of that money?

He sets about starting up his company, Touch Wood, secures loans, the help of friends, etc. But of course, the course of true smut never does run smoothly.

The book is pretty hilarious. It details all the things that could possibly go wrong while filming a porn film and do. From two stars who don't want to fuck one another because they've done so many time that they feel like 'brother and sister', to diva pornstars, to getting busted by various people who 'know what you're up to'.

Basically, this whole book is a Danny Wallace/Dave Gorman 'stupid boy-project' taken to the Nth degree. (Oh, and to take the 'stupid boy-project' analogy a little further, the unnamed narrator even has a disapproving, Norweigian girlfriend. It really made me want to know if Ana and Hanne ever met and just how they'd be able to bond over their dislike of 'stupid boy-projects'.)

Of course, for the most part, what this book does is take all the 'romance' (hah!) out of porn and boil it down to its most clinical aspects. This is porn deconstructed all right. Its still amusing, but there really is nothing sexy about it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In what is likely to be the last book I read this year, we come to number 27, Yes Man by Danny Wallace.

It was probably late 2005 when G introduced me to Danny Wallace and his cohort Dave Gorman as they embarked on a world-wide journey to meet 52 other people named Dave Gorman. I thoroughly enjoyed Are You Dave Gorman, and so when G offered me other books written by one or the other, I read 'em. But funny enough, neither of Dave or Danny's solo efforts wowed me as much as AYDG did.

Until Yes Man.

Danny Wallace, after having a conversation on a bus with a mysteriously wise man, takes up the man's challenge to 'say yes more'. At this point in Danny's life, his long time girlfriend has broken up with him (she'd had enough of all the 'stupid boy-projects' in his life) and he just wasn't going out at all. He was saying no to everything.

So, for a good chunk of a year, Danny decides to say yes to everything. He says yes to buying a car, he says yes to journeying to Amsterdam to help out the son of an imprisoned sultan (yes, it is an internet scam), he says yes to going out with friends, he says yes to flyers and freaks he meets on the street, he says yes to a new job, he says yes to everything.

And mostly, everything turns out well. Indeed, Danny seems much happier with everything. Oh he goes through some ups and downs and at times he desperately, desperately wishes he could say 'no' (one of the biggest ones being when he runs into his ex-girlfriend and her new beau on a date, and when the guy asks Danny, out of sheer politeness, if he'd like to join them, Danny of course says yes), but overall, it sounds like saying yes more definitely turns out to be the positive experience he hoped it would be.

Of course, it also does leave him in some debt, but due to his new job at the BBC, he seems to be able to handle it again.

Its interesting to read this and think about your own life and all the things you say 'no' to. No to going out to friends, no to travelling to places you've always wanted to go, no to various opportunities etc. We say 'no' a lot because, as Danny discusses, it is easier than 'yes' most of the time. No can be a lot safer than yes. I'd like to be able to say yes more, but sometimes, I also think I say yes enough. But Danny did also prove that no is necessary.

Necessary, but oftentimes overused. It is something we should all think about using more judiciously, and not just out of habit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'm going to count another graphic novel as book number 26, mainly because its by Alan Moore and its a dense little piece of work. So yes, number 26 is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

As I said, its a dense thing, full of large blocks of text interspersed throughout the main story. To me, this book felt like Planetary meets Fables filtered through the weirdness of Alan Moore's brain. Of course, he has already introduced us to his world of the League in two previous tomes, but this one attempts to give us more of the world's 'history' I guess, which is why it seems to me to be rather like Planetary. Especially since it seems like its the world's 'hidden' history.

Which I admit, is where I got a little lost.

We pick up the story in 1953, following a still young Wilhelmina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quartermaine, setting up a secret agent named Jimmy Bond. Mina gets Bond to take her to an abandoned intelligence base, where she beats him up (and deservedly so) and is able to find the Black Dossier, a dossier on the various members over the years of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the hidden workings of the world. Mina and Allan it seems broke away from the government intelligence service, for reasons we're never really fully given.

But I was never really able to figure out if the workings were hidden? Is the actual nature of the world something that's hidden from the average folk or is the fact that Faeries were common until 1617 and that vampires do exist, etc. etc. common knowledge? I never really felt it was decided one way or another.

Anyway, the text pieces througthout the book are supposed to be sections of the Black Dossier itself. They are very well done pastiches for the most part, where Moore apes the writings of Shakespeare (not perfectly of course, but not too badly either), HP Lovecraft, Virginia Woolf, John Cleland and Jack Kerouac amongst others. Some of the characters who are also members of the League through the years are pretty obscure, and it really is only by the dint of my English Lit degree that I know who Orlando and Fanny Hill are. Not to make myself sound like a snob or anything, but that sort of thing is going to be right over a lot of reader's heads. Heck, there were some characters I had no idea who they were either. Some of the pastiches make for difficult reading, especially the one written like a 50s beat poem. If you don't know the parlance of the time, its increadibly hard to understand and even I gave up after a bit.

There's also a LOT of sex in this book. Which doesn't bother me, but makes me think Alan Moore's becoming a dirty old man. Which is also fine I guess. The ending though, felt to me kinda Fables-esque, but in reverse. While Willingham's collection of public-domain literary characters have been exiled from their home dimensions and now live amongst us on Earth (unbeknownst to us), Moore's collection of public domain literary characters are leaving their home dimension of Earth and going to live in another dimension, unbeknonst to us.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly I got out of this book. There didn't seem to be much of an actual plot like there were in the previous volumes. There was some action inbetween readings of the dossier, but I just was never sure what anyone was really trying to achieve in this. Yes, Mina and Allan wanted the Dossier because they were in it and they were afriad that the government had figured out that all these beings were leaving the world for this alternate dimension? But I never really understood why the govenment had this dossier in the first place, nor, why once it was stolen, they needed it back again so badly since the thing wasn't in a very secure location in the first place.

Basically, to me, the Black Dossier just felt like Alan Moore playing in his sandbox, but not being entirely sure what he was building.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Number 25 is Making History by Stephen Fry. This is one of G's books that I noticed sitting on the shelf, and I noticed it mainly because G and I were watching Stephen Fry's 'game show', QI, which was a lot of fun, interesting, but also kind of silly. I had no idea who Stephen Fry was previous to watching QI, although I did recognize his name, and afterwards discovered that it was because he was the narrator of the children's show, Pokoyo, which is a terribly sweet little show. I also found out Fry is a good friend of Hugh Laurie's, who is someone I know from watching a couple of season's of House.

So anyway... Making History. I'm not entirely sure why I picked it up, other than because I did enjoy the sense of humour Fry displayed on QI, as you see, Making HIstory is about timetravel, and timetravel is generally a genre I stay far away from. I'm not fond of timetravel tales, in either books, comics, movies or role playing games. Strange thing though, is while I don't really like timetravel stories, I'm quite fond of alternate timeline stories. I LOVE the Elseworlds comics from DC, where they take the known timeline and tweak it just so, and tell a story spun out from the differences in the new timeline. I find that stuff fascinating.

So, while I don't like time travel, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the timetravel stuff was relatively low key and not headache inducing, the story was really more about the alternate timeline that is created.

Michael Young, a young PHD candidate at Cambridge University, England, answers for us, the age old question (well, age old since the late 1930s), what would happen if HItler was never born? Young, whose PHD thesis is all about Hitler's early childhood, runs into a scientist, Leo Zimmerman, whose father was an SS officer at Auschwitz. Consumed by guilt over his father's actions in the second World War, Zimmerman (whose name is actually Axel Braun), invents a machine that lets him 'look' into the past. So he and Michael hatch a plot to introduce a pill into the drinking water of Hitler's hometown that will render his father sterile. The plan works perfectly, but unfortunately, the world doesn't become what Michael (and Leo) invisioned.

"Nature abhors a vaccuum" is the old rule, and in the case of Germany after WWI, this would seem to be true. Another man, one Rudolf Golder, steps into the spot Hitler historically filled and still manages to perpetrate the Holocaust on the Jews of Europe, as well as starting WWII. How is this worse than HItler, well, Golder does what Hitler couldn't manage; he wins WWII. All of Europe, Russia and Great Britian fall before the German war machine. Jews are completely eradicated from Europe, the only Jewish population remaining in the world is that which escaped to the USA and Canada during the War. Germany becomes the other world Super Power and eventually enters the Cold War with the US.

The world Michael finds himself in, where he's an American now, his parents having fled England in the 60s, is not necessarily a better one; fewer Jews, a conquored Europe, a USA where homophobia and racism are tolerated and accepted. There was no black rights movement in the 60s, and the US seems to be stuck in the rather puritanical 50s, never to move to equal rights for African Americans, women or gays. Being a homosexual is tantamount to being an enemy of the state.

So of course, Michael, when he realizes what he has done, immediately sets out to make the world 'right' again, by ensuring that Hitler is born.

Its a very... Marxist idea that if something is meant to be, you can remove one certainty, but another will always take its place. You remove Hitler from history, but there is someone to take his place. But, its also a rather interesting book that way, as most of the 'what would the world be like if there was no Hitler' always seems to take for granted that the world would be a better place, which , as this book demonstrates, may not neccessarily be the case.

Michael Young is a likeable character, if a little flighty, but he means well. He is very endearing this way, and his internal monologues are very funny. The ending of the book, as Michael embarks on his plan to set the world right again, is very well done, with tension actually mounting nicely. Its not that you doubt he'll change things again, but you wonder if he'll be able to change them to what had been, or has he irrevociably broken the timestream?

I think though, that what drew me in, happened a few pages into the book, when Fry basically made fun of my university degree:

You could only write successfully about books and poems and plays if you didn't care, really care about them. Hysterical school boy wank, for sure, an attitude compunded of nothing but egotism, vanity and cowardice. But how deeply felt. I went through all my schooldays convinced of this, that literary studies were no more than a series of autopsies performed by heartless technicians. Worse than autopsies: biopsies. Vivisection.

I had to laugh out loud at this paragraph, because while I could see his point, I also know that I (and most English majors I know), were drawn to literary studies precicesly because we loved literature. We wanted to wrap ourselves in it, immerse ourselves in it, find out how it worked, what made it tick. We wanted to examine it becuase we had a deep love for it. I know that the best papers I wrote in school were on books or poems or plays that I was most passionately interested in. If I attempted to write a paper on a work I didn't really care about, well, it generally showed. You couldn't be dispassionate about literature while studying it so intimately.

So screw you Stephen Fry :)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Numero 23 and 24 have now been completed. Yeah, I'm so not reading 50 books this year... ah well.

Numero 23 is a collection of Cthulhu Tales by the master himself, H.P. Lovecraft. Before I read this collection, lent to me by my friend Troy, who is a HUGE Cthulhu fan, my entire exposure to the Cthulhu mythos was a couple of mentions of things in Stephen King short stories, a Batman Elseworld's mini-series, and quite a few rousing games of Arkham Horror. Heck, it wasn't until we first played Arkham Horror a couple of years ago that I found out that this is the inspiration for the Arkham Asylum that is a permanent fixture in Batman comics.

So, being the English major that I am, when faced with something that I like that has 'source material', I try to read the source material. Plus, I generally like short stories.

Upon reading these, I can see why they stuck with people. They're not striving for out and out 'horror', nor are they going for the gross out, which, especially in this day and age I find terribly refreshing. No, the overwhelming sense and tone I got from Lovecraft was a serious sense of dread. Lovecraft was really big on the whole idea that he cannot possible explain just how terrifing or horrible something is; he'd rather leave it to your imagination, and I think that's great. What I can conjure up in my little ol' brain is going to be more frightening to me than pretty much anything he (or anyone else) can come up with because I am going to frame it in the context of something that definitely scares me. If I'm not told exactly what it is, there's no sense of disappointment, I can never be let down by the reveal.

Of course, Lovecraft does have a distinctive style, and this does become repetative upon a lot of reading; he really does like the twist in the last line sort of reveal, and that's fine, but after awhile, you start to see the twist coming. Kind of like watching to many M Knight Shayalaman movies in a row I imagine.

But his characters are a wonderful combination of the absurd and the absolutely normal, juxtaposed beside one another as two worlds that shouldn't meet invariably do. He does a very, very good job at imposing his monsterous creations on a very normal countryside and making everything seem bizarre and uncomfortable.

My favourites? "The Rats in the Walls", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Dunwitch Horror" and the "Music of Erich Zann".

Number 24 was a... difficult book. Not only for the subject matter, but also for the fact that it would often make me so angry that I would have to put it down for a while. Not angry at the book mind you, but angry at the world it talks about. Number 24 is Naomi Klein's the Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This book follows the adherents to Milton Friedman's so called Chicago School style of economics, the utlimate in free-market capitalism, through the 30 years of its initial birth at the University of Chicago. She tells us how it was implemented in violence and chaos in countries such as Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, Russia, Iraq, Sri Lanka and in the USA. She tells of harmful economic policies shoved through on nations where the populace is currently 'in shock', whether through a change in government, war, or a natural disaster, the market is thrown open to foreign investors who come in and reap billions of dollars, while the bulk of the population finds itself worse off economically than they were before. Its a frightening, maddening look at globalization and big business and all the dirty things the CIA have done. It makes you think the IMF and the World Bank are nothing more than robber barons, set up to supposedly help countries facing a financial crisis, but setting such hard rules for the countries that they must follow Chicago-style rules to qualify for aid, and once again, no one is seemingly helped except huge multinational corporations. Honestly, reading this book made me want to move away to some remote place in Canada where I wouldn't have to rely on government (much) or deal with any big business. But that's not realistic and I accept that. Klein has scrupulously backed up her argument (there are pages and pages of notes stating exactly what her sources are) and she's going to need them, as her book has already come under fire from such right-wing publications here in Canada as the National Post, and I imagine she's also unpopular in other places too. But there seems to just be too many similarities in what all these countries have faced who have been forced to go to a free-market economy to completely discount her theory. A good disaster is good for business, that's all there is to it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Well , that's really sad. My last completed book was nearly two months ago now. Sheesh... I really have got to stop reading multiple books at once. Nothing gets read quickly then.

Number 22 is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. (hereafter abreviated as FWtBT)

One of the benefits of an English degree earned at a Canadian university is that you don't have to read a lot of American literature. Of course, you have to read a lot of stuff written by dead British guys and insufferable Canadians, but that's not really a surprise.

So, because I only had to take one half credit in American Lit, my exposure to Papa Hemingway has been rather limited. Limited to one short story actually, The Snows of Kilimonjaro. It wasn't until well out of university that, upon a friend's recommendation, I delved into a Hemingway novel, The Sun Also Rises. Which, I did enjoy, as there was a weirdly autobiographical element to it that I won't get into, but suffice to say it's there.

I'd been meaning to pick up FWtBT for sometime, having enjoyed my first dip into the Hemingway pool enough to go back again, and came close to picking up a cheap copy of it at a discounted/used book store. How fortunate I didn't, as I discovered a copy down in the basement amongst my brother's books.

I really liked it. It's an... odd book to get the feel of because its mainly written from the pov of Robert Jordan (the main character and not the fantasy author of the same name), who is an American ex-pat acting as a guerilla fighter for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. So basically, none of the dialogue is actually in English, and Hemingway captures the slight disconnect between the American and his Spanish comrades. Jordan speaks Spanish, but its not his native tongue of course, so now and then, he and his comrades don't understand one another. And the speech is actually simplistic sometimes as they try to get their points across to one another (this is especially noticable when Jordan goes to meet one of the rebel leaders El Sordo. El Sordo, not realizing (or perhaps caring) that Jordan can speak Spanish very well, speaks to him almost as one would a child, in a strange, simplisitc patois).

I also like how all the characters swear a lot (especially the Spanish ones), yet Hemingway only inserts "obsenity" in place of the actual swear word. One of the more common curses was "I obsenity in the milk of thy..." whatever they were describing. I found it became a fun game to mentally puzzle in which curse word was most appropriate in the sentence. I'm not sure if this was a stylistic choice of Hemingway's or simply because, when he was writing, you just didn't write down the swear words. Either way, I actually found it fun.

But overall, FWtBT is not a fun book. It is a graphic, brutally honest depiction of war. It tells of close comradeship, betrayal, competence, incompetence, love, hatred, attrocity, everything that goes on in a war. Even the tactical writing is extremely well done, from El Sordo's last stand to the blowing of the bridge, the reason that Robert Jordan meets up with the guerilla band in the first place. And the description of what Pablo did to the Facists in his village was just... hard to read. But it was an excellent, scary and probably disturbingly realistic portrayal of mob rule and brutality.

The ending's not exactly a happy one either. I don't know why I really expected there to be one, and I guess, its open ended enough that you could shoehorn one in there if that's what you really need to do... but that wouldn't work for me. I think Robert Jordan took a few of the enemy down with him at end, but I don't think he survived either. And I think he was very accepting of that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Number 21 this year is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Its a 'classic' novel, written in 1938. I've heard about it for years and years and thought about reading it. I know that Hitchcock made a movie from the novel, but I've never seen it either.

The novel, told in first person, is from the pov of the nameless narrator, the second Mrs. De Winter. She's a young girl, barely out of university, travelling as a paid companion to an older, British woman in Monte Carlo, when she catches the fancy of the mysterious, and much older, Maxim De Winter. De Winter, it turns out, is in Monte Carlo to get over the events of the past year, where he lost his beautiful, accomplished wife Rebecca, in a sailing accident.

When the narrator's companion catches a bad case of influenza, she and De Winter hit it off, so much so that he ends up marrying her rather than have her go off to New York with her employer. The sudden marriage takes everyone by surprise, and in fact, the most people seem to be able to say is that she is so very 'unlike Rebecca'.

The couple return to De Winter's majestic, Cornwall estate, Manderly, and it is there that the narrator is beseiged with the memory and presence of the late Mrs. De Winter. The servants constantly tell her that 'that was not how Mrs. De Winter did it'. She only hears about how beautiful and wonderful Rebecca was. And most of all, the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was extremely devoted to Rebecca, and seems to go to great length to keep her memory alive, including setting the narrator up for a very great faux pas on the night of the newlywed's first fancy ball.

The narrator's despair at Manderly grows greater and greater as the gulf between she and her husband grows greater and greater. The more she hears of Rebecca, the more she is convinced that De Winter is still in love with his late wife, that Rebecca will always be between them.

And Rebecca is between the narrator and her husband, but not in the way the reader thinks.

The truth comes out one terrible night, allowing the narrator to finally put Rebecca's ghost behind her, but, De Winter's actions regarding the late Rebecca threaten to tear their world apart anyway, and De Winter can only say that Rebecca has indeed won, even after her death.

The book is gorgeously written, the Cornwall country-side written with loving detail. The characters are interesting, from the sinsiter Mrs. Danvers, to the naive narrator, to stoic De Winter, to the enigmatic Rebecca.

Its very much shaped like a mystery, or a throwback to the old, gothic romances, and in fact, had Rebecca turned up as an honest to goodness ghost, I would not have felt that out of place. But this is more a mystery than anything, as the narrator tries to piece together the life of her predecessor, only to find out, like everyone else, had Rebecca completely wrong.

It's an interesting thing, reading a book told by a character who has no first name. Its an intimate narrative point of veiw from someone we're not even on a first name basis with. I had thought this might make me think the narrator was unreliable, but I don't think that was the case, rather, she was simply mislead, just as everyone else was. Our journey to know the truth is pretty much the same as the narrator's.

There is intreque and blackmail and murder and everything that makes a good mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would like to check out the Hitchcock movie now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

We're out of the teens and onto number 20 now!

Number 20 is The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. It's a translation of an extremely popular Russian novel. In fact, the movie that went on to be made from this became the top grossing movie in Russian history.

G saw this movie some time ago (I guess when it came out over here a few years back) and so, finding out that my mother was a big horror/vampire/werewolf officionado, decided to give this book to her for Christmas. Mom enjoyed it (although, typical of my mother, she had a hard time remembering the foreign names), so G decided to pick it up (and its sequel, The Day Watch)and read it as well.

So of course, having been raised on horror/vampire/werewolf literature myself, I also decided to give it a go.

Lukyanenko has built himself an interesting world. Its set in modern day Moscow, but, unbeknownst to most, the world is also populated by the supernatural 'Others', the vampires, werewolves, magicians, sorceresses etc. of the old tales. For the most part, these Others exist pretty much alongside hjmanity, but some Others, the Dark ones, will use their powers for their own gain, and kill humans for food or sport, or sometimes both. However, there are also Light Others, who use their powers for the greater good, or to heal or whatever. At some point, a Treaty was struck between the two groups of Others, and the Night Watch, consisting of Light Others who police the Dark ones, and the Day Watch, consisting of Dark Others to police the Light ones, were born.

The world itself is well crafted and has good internal consistency. Powers are never totally, clearly defined, but they are all 'graded', and the two Watches give all the mystical stuff a nicely done bearucratic feel. It makes sense that magic and powers and monsters would have to be governed in the modern day.

The book itself is told mainly through the POV of one Anton Gorodetsky, a smart, earnest Night Watchman with a decent amount of power, but not a heck of alot. At the start of the first story, he's just been promoted to field duty and is still finding his way about. The first story deals with him mainly meeting two other characters, Egor, a young Other who has not yet made his choice between the Light and Dark, and Svetlana, a woman who will become a rare, Great Sorceress, and whom also falls in love in Anton.

Anton's an interesting character, but I did find him to get a little too 'emo' sometimes, especially in the final story, where it all becomes clear what Svetlana was being groomed so quickly for by the boss of the Night Watch. Anton struggles throughout the final story with his feelings for Svetlana and the entire struggle between Light and Dark, which is undoubtedly a normal thing, but it just got tiring after awhile. Don't get me wrong though, he's nowhere near as whiney as Lestat gets...

I think it was the second story that was my favourite, where Anton has to track down and capture a Maverick Other; an Other that neither the Night Watch or the Day Watch had previously found, who is running around killing Dark Others. To make matters more interesting, the Day Watch is subtely framing Anton for the murders as well. It was a nice mystery/cat and mouse story.

I enjoyed the book overall and will continue on with the Day Watch.

Oh, and because I watch a lot of hockey, the Russian names didn't really throw me for a loop like they did my mom :)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

And here we are at number 19 of the year, the greatly anticipated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So here we are at the end of the Harry Potter epic, and I cannot say I was surprised by anything really, but I also cannot say I was disappointed by anything either. It was grand, and answered everything, had lots of action and plenty of people died. Which, is something I always find needs to happen at the end of something big and epic. That was one of my main complaints at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; not enough people died. So yeah, it was a nice ending, Voldemort is defeated without question this time, Harry gets to live happily ever after, which I admit, I discovered that was important to me, we discovered Snape truly was on the side of the angels, Dumbledore chose his death, one of a pair of my two favourite characters didn't survive, and of course, Ron and Hermonie end up together.

Its funny, at the end, there is an epilogue that takes place many years later and gives us the "And Harry lived happily ever after part", but as usual, I"m left wondering what everyone else has been doing. The new baby who was orphaned, what happens to him? How does one character go on when pretty much his other half is gone? Stuff like that. It reminds me of how I felt at the end of the Fionavar Tapestry, when I really, really NEEDED to know what happened to some characters. And i know though, that without the epilogue, I probably wouldn't have needed to know so badly, I would've just accepted that everyone lived happily, as best they could.

It was a good ending. Not a great ending, but a good ending to an enjoyable series of books overall.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Number 17 of the year is Fluke by Christopher Moore. I love Christopher Moore, I've read quite a few things by him and Lamb has become one of my favourite books.

Fluke is about whales. Its about a whale researcher, Nate Quinn, and his motely crew of fellow researchers. Life with the humpbacked whales in Hawaii has been going on without real incident for years now, but Nate is no closer to learning why they sing than he was when he started, and he's starting to feel discouraged. Then, one day, he notices a whale exhibiting some distinctly un-whale-like characteristics, specifically the words "Bite Me" written on his tail.

Moore's books are always odd, humourous and a little... not disturbing, but definitely always thought provoking. They're also lovely little fantasies set in the real world, and Fluke is no different. Nate ends up 'kidnapped' by the whale, discovering that there are actually whale 'ships', ships designed to look and behave exactly like real whales. Who are they designed by? Something called Gooville, which has the ability to write its genes into anything, including the whale ships, and their pilots, the genetically unique, humaniod whale-like whaley-boys.

This book is a bizarre romp, and its hard to really describe what this book is about, as it gets almost science-fictiony, which I think is a bit of a departure for Moore, its usually magic he incorrporates into his books. But the characters are a lot of fun, and his research and respect for the whales comes through swimmingly.

I liked it a lot, but not as much as Lamb.

I'm... hesitant to claim number 18 of the year, but well, it is a book and I did read it... Yeah, its a cheesy little romance-type novel, but I finished Fluke and my re-read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the cottage, and so I was searching for something to read, and all I could find was Late for the Wedding, by Amanda Quick. Guess its not too bad, cheesy romance novels really do lend themselves nicely to being read while sitting near the water. So yes, this was... ok. It was basically a Regency-era romance where the two main characters are running a 'private inquiries' business, basically meaning they're P.Is. I have a weakeness for 80s private investigator shows (LOVE Magnum P.I and Simon and Simon and Remington Steele), so I did find this one kinda a hoot. Won't go into the plot, there's no point, but the characters weren't too annoying, and there was a good amount of action in it, so it was a fun read at least.

But now I'm onto Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Number 16 was a pretty quick read , but for the most part, I find collections of short stories are generally quick reads. So number 16 is a collection of short stories, The Love of a Good Woman, by Alice Munro. I like Munro's writting style, its blunt and poetic at the same time. I liked all the stories in this collection, all told from the pov of a woman, sometimes first person, sometimes third, sometimes in the form of a letter, with a common thread of adultery weaving through them. Which of course means that sometimes the stories end quite badly. I also found a lot of the stories ended quite abruptly, which I found jarring at the time, but upon reflection, realize that might just be the point, so many relationships end abruptly and that's what these stories are about alot of the time, endings.

Munro is so good at capturing unhappiness, unhappiness in a relationship, knowing that there must be soemthing better out there. Sometimes her protagonistis find it, sometimes they don't. There are few 'happy ever after' endings in her writing. Its not that things are bitter or bad or horrible or happy, the endings are just... realistic it seems. And I really appreciate that about her writing.

Wow, I think this is the shortest review in this blog yet. Not to short-shift Munro at all, but I think I just feel her stories more than I can really rationally write about them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I'm throwing rocks tonight! (basically just meaning I've been reading things quickly again...)

Number 15 is Fall of Knight by Peter David. Fall of Knight is the third in David's Arthurian cycle, and like the others, its enjoyable, is a nice continuation of the myths, and yet feels rather heavy-handed in some places.

I know, from reading various things in comic book circles, that Peter David is a very liberal (with a small 'l' since he's American) person, and this often shows up in his writing. He's had some, overall, goodnatured 'spats' with fellow comic writer (and uber-conservative) Chuck Dixon, and I always found myself more in line with Peter David's views.

So, while Knight Life was mainly just David's view of politics, One Knight Only became more political, and was obviously his reaction to 9-11 and the current administration's reaction to it and terrorism in general. And now, with Fall of Knight, David is tackling the issue of faith.

I like Peter David's Arthur. He is strong-willed, charismatic, charming, smart and yet, often times bull-headed, a little arrogant and pretty used to getting his own way (after all, he was King). I think the personality suits him perfectly, and of course, there are the nice touches such as the simulataneous world-weariness and yet also the niavety he has about the modern world.

Arthur, since awakening from his thousand year slumber, has been mayor of New York City, then President of the United States. Fall of Knight opens with him and Gwen in retirement, on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific, where he's basically bored out of his skull. The problem is, they cannot go back, because no one is to know that Gwen has recovered from her coma (induced by a terrorist/assassin's bullet to her head) and is in fact fully healed, due to the Holy Grail (as was done in One Knight Only). Gwen is the recipient of a miracle no one would believe in.

But of course, Gwen's recovery is discovered, and Arthur (with Gwen and Percival, the Grail Knight's support) Arthur goes public with who he is and that the Holy Grail is in his possession. Well, as you can imagine, the shit hits the fan. People want to be cured. The Catholic Church wants the Grail. The US Government wants the Grail. And of course, the main badguy, a near-immortal necromancer/alchemist calling himself Paracelsus, also wants the Grail. Of course, the church and the state wish to study the Grail, afirm its divinity, that sort of thing, but Paracelsus wants it because he wishes to use it to wipe humanity from the Earth. And he's pretty close to being able to do so, considering he also has the Spear of Destiny in his posession.

But overall, the theme of faith is what drives this book. Arthur, his faith in a higher power pretty much shattered by his Grail Quest (for he finds out the Grail is much, much older than Christ) and so he shares this with people who find themselves likewise disaffected from modern, organized religion. Of course though, some people see Arthur himself as a new messiah-like figure, and turn to 'worshipping' him. This makes the Church rather upset and they denounce him thoroughly. A lot of Arthur's message can be seen as 'think for yourself' (a message anyone versed in Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" will be familiar with), but after awhile, it does seem that even Arthur is believing his own hype as a saviour of humanity.

Arthur, in his efforts to help as many people as he can, launches on a scheme to bottle water that has been poured into the Grail, then diluted, and sell it to as many people around the world as he can. The product, called Grail Ale, sells out immediately and performs all sorts of miraculous cures. Arthur is happy with this, however, lots have misgivings, including the loyal Percival.

Of course, it all goes to shit, the person who came up with the plan to bottle Grail Ale is actually Paracelsus, who, knowing that magic always has a balance (i.e., the more good that is done with the Grail means the more 'bad' energy is also being built up. So you know, Karma) is waiting for the Grail to basically be 'full' of goodness, so he can use its power and that of the Spear to purge humanity off the earth. And of course, its up to Arthur to stop him.

He does, of course, but Percival is lost in the battle, as is Excalibur. Its interesting that, when the chips are down and Arthur doesn't have his remaining Knight and Merlin is trapped (Nimue again of course), he is moved to prayer. I'm not sure if I liked this part, it seemed too pat for someone who was not only questioning faith, but also the divinity of Christ, would then turn back down that path, but perhaps it was David saying that when all else is lost or gone, it is natural for people to hope that there is something/someone out there who will lend a guiding hand, or rainstorm in this case.

I guess overall, I did find it interesting because alot of what Peter David was questioning wasn't exactly faith, but faith in how religion is presented to us in a modern age. He brings up the old standbys - how much blood has been spilt in the name of one who's message was predominately peaceful, how could God so completely turn his back on his creation and let so much evil flourish, if Christ did return today, would he be accepted or simply shut up in an institution somewhere as one of the nameless mentally ill? All excellent questions really. He doesn't really go so far as to portray the Church in a negative light, but they aren't exactly positive either, which is probably the best way to look at them.

Overall, I liked this trilogy. David crafted a likeable bunch of characters and his knowlege of they legends are extensive and his reworkings of them never feel wrong. In fact, one of my favourite scenes in this book was Arthur telling Gwen that, in reality, when she was ordered to burn at the stake for her treason against Arthur (over the affair with Lancelot), there was no intention on Arthur's part of having Gwen rescued by Lancelot. In David's version, Lancelot was under siege in his own home, unable to leave, and so Gwen wasn't rescued, she burned, and Arthur, consumed with vengence for his betrayal, was perfectly fine with this. Arthur tells Gwen that her rescue was tacked on later, by the various writers, to make things more 'romantic', but it was not true. This was a great retelling of that particular moment in the legends, for it reminds one that Arthur came from a brutal time, and perhaps wasn't as 'accepting' of the affair as many of the retellings say, that in fact, he was pissed off, and had more than enough power to make Gwen and Lance pay heavily for it. It was a powerful moment in the book.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Its nice to see I'm picking up some speed again, 'cause here it is, two finished books in a week. Perhaps I should re-think my whole, reading multiple books at once modus operandi, because sometimes it feels like I never get one thing read...

But anyway, here we are at number 14 of the year, Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources, by David Mamet.

Now, I don't like books that make me feel stupid. Fortunately, not many do. Sure, I struggled with Beowulf written in Old English at first, but after awhile, the understanding grew and I understood it. In fact, there were very few books that made me feel stupid during my four years of English Literature that made me feel stupid, until 4th year and 20th Century and Modern Literature hit.

I'm not a big... postmodern junkie. Not by any means. I really, really dislike modern poetry, and having to read authors like Beckett, Pinter, Plath, etc. kinda made me feel like I just didn't 'get' it. And I don't like that feeling. I guess I am a bit of a snob when it comes to books; by dint of a degree in English Literature, I AM well read, but I'm not increadibly well read when it comes to modern literature.

So, this brings us to Wilson by David Mamet. It made me feel stupid. It definitely made me feel like I didn't 'get' it. But I think that this was the entire point.

Wilson is a feat of social archeology, the supposed reconstruction of what early 20th century life was like only through the garbled leavings of a corrupted Internet. Needless to say, trying to recreate life, or literature or anything for that matter using only the Internet to go by is going to leave you with a not very realistic look at our life.

Wilson is an interesting but frustrating read because, while there are moments of literary and word play brilliance, it is, ultimately an exercise in having no context. Even as someone living during the time that the information is supposed to come from doesn't help, what has been cobbled together is equally as baffling for us as it is for them. Who is the Toll Hound? I still have no idea... I've at least heard of Woodrow Wilson, but how his wife's diaries fit into all of this, I'm still not sure.

Reading Wilson is an exercise in liteary futility, which is exactly what I would imagine it to be if someone, hundreds of years from now, tried to put our society and culture together after some apolcalypse wiped nearly everything out, except a few snippets of the internet.

Yeah, I hate feeling stupid.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mordred, you bastard.

Numeral 13 is Mordred: Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg.

I love Arthurian legends, as I may have mentioned before. I read a lot about them. It is a rich legend full of interesting characters that you really can do just about anything with. So, I never usually mind when new things are tacked onto characters or small twists or turns are taken with things, so long as the story still stays true to the overall legend, so long as the internal consistency of the legends are intact.

But now and then, a change is made or something is added to a character that I just don't quite agree with, or it just doesn't ring true with me. And that's what's happened in this book.

Mordred: Bastard Son is supposedly the first part in a trilogy, where Mordred is telling about his life, so basically, this is the Arthurian Legends told from Mordred's POV. Which isn't novel, its been done before, and that's fine. Mordred, in the tales, has been everything from misunderstood to outright evil. I don't really have a preference, he is what he is, and ultimately, that is the villian of the piece.

Clegg has obviously read his Mists of Avalon, for that's very much what Mordred: Bastard Son feels like. This book deals with Mordred's upbringing in Broceliande, under the tutaledge of his mother, Morgan Le Fey, Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, and of course, Merlin. Mordred lives in a fantasy-like setting, surrounded by people of the old Celtic tribes, hidden away from a vengeful and fearful father, where he learns all manner of magic. There's really nothing wrong with the character of Mordred, he seems to be an earnest lad, he wants to learn, he wants his family (mainly his mother) to be happy, and he's unsure about the awesome, distant father he has, especially since his father so wronged his mother (we're lead to believe that rather than Arthur being the victim here, it was he who forced himself on his half-sister Morgan, and then tried to have her killed when he found out she was pregnant). No, but the main divergence in Mordred's character in this book is that Clegg has made him gay.

Now, homosexual/homoerotic undertones (or overt-tones) are not new in Arthurian legends either. Its been noted in various places, such as Mists of Avalon, and heck, even in Monty Python's The Holy Grail, that the deep love Arthur and Lancelot feel for one another is not a strictly platonic thing. Mists of Avalon goes one further in actually having Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere engage in a threesome, and after awhile, you get the idea that Gwen felt rather left out. And that never bothered me, in fact, I thought it kinda made sense, in some of the tales, I sometimes got the idea that Lancelot had that all consuming love for Guinevere because that was the closest he could get to displaying his love for Arthur in a physical way; that Guinevere was an extension of her husband. But this is the first time (that I can remember) where I've seen Mordred portrayed as gay, and I think I don't like it because it feels like its too much.

Mordred's role in just about every tale is to be the villain, yes, but also to be that of the Other. Due to the circumstances of his birth, he is always considered tainted, the child of incest can never be fully accepted by society because he is the product of an extremely large societal taboo. Now I'm not saying this is correct because really, the blame shouldn't fall on him for something he could do nothing about, but that's the way it is in the tales. Mordred is forever on the outside looking in, and in those tales where he desperately wants to be accepted but never will, those are the ones that are most poignant. But making him gay, placing another societal 'taboo' on him, is nearly overkill. The deck is already stacked against Mordred, does it really need to be more so? I don't think so. Oh sure, I guess it adds another angle of angst to the character, but I just think its an unnecessary one.

I don't disagree with the choice to have Mordred's first lover be Lancelot. As I said, Lance has often been portrayed as having homosexual tendencies, and Lance has a long history of having ties to the Lady of the Lake and the Otherworld in which Mordred is raised in this novel, so its not far-fetched that their paths would cross. Of course though, in making Lance be rather more homosexual than just having homosexual leanings or perhaps being bi-sexual, I do wonder how Clegg will reconcile the more famous triangle that Lance is part of, because it seems to me, that by having Lance sleep with Arthur's gay son (who could be Arthur's sexual proxy in Lancelot's mind?), it makes one wonder just why Lance would switch teams and fall for Guinevere (although sometimes Arthurian authors make Gwen so horrible I'm often left questioning why Lance or Arthur fall for her, regardless of their sexual orientation). Of course, Clegg could just use some old standbys, magic spell, potion, etc, or he could just ignore it completely (ugh), but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

By the end of the novel, we've reached the end of Mordred's 'childhood'; he's well versed in magic and the martial arts, and he's just rescued the princess Guinevere from a plot devised by his mad aunt Morgause (who is currently the villain of the piece) and will now return the princess to her betrothed, King Arthur, therefore paving the way for the first meeting between the estranged father and son.

I am interested in reading on, but sometimes, this book focuses too much on the magic (an extended conversation with some practioners of magic of the goddess Hecate went on for what felt like ever), and I feel like I'm starting to have to skip the magic-babble like I would skip the techno-babble in a Tom Clancy novel, or the whaling-babble in Moby Dick or the marching-song babble in Fellowship of the Rings. Sure, stuff like that adds flavour, but after too much of it, I'm pretty freaking full.

It would seem to me that Clegg is obviously setting up Mordred as a more sympathetic character who has reasons other than just being evil to bring down his father's shining kingdom, so once again, its feeling very Mists of Avalonesque. But right now, Mordred is really the only well-drawn character and this lack of any interesting tertiary characters hurts a bit. By the end, this Lancelot was starting to feel a little more well-rounded, which is good, because well, a large part of my enjoyment of any Arthurian related book is how well Lancelot is portrayed. After all, he is my favourite.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hmmm, I'm not sure if I should count Alice In Sunderland, by Brian Talbot, as number 12 for the year. But, I think I will. The only reason I'm hesitant about counting it is because its a graphic novel, and, in case you haven't noticed, I haven't been counting the comic books I read here. No, comic books, if I kept track of all of those I read in a year, would need an entire blog all on their own. But, Alice In Sunderland is one of those comics that isn't really a comic book, no its truly a 'graphic novel'.

It took Brian Talbot three years to do all the pictures and illustrations for this gargantuan novel. Its really breathtaking. I'm sure it also took him three years to do all the research as well. It is a tour of British history, but mainly viewed through the narrow scope of how it relates to Lewis Carroll and the creation of Alice in Wonderland.

See, Lewis Carroll grew up in Northern England, in the town of Sunderland (and yes, the name of the town sounds rather like Wonderland could very well be a play upon it), and it is Talbot's thesis that Carroll did not come up with and write all of Alice during his time at Oxford, but rather Alice was a summary of many different parts, many of them coming from Sunderland. Carroll's family are the main perpetrators of keeping all the Oxford connections (or myths) alive, but Talbot thinks that what the family has put forth is not fully the truth, and in fact, does some disservice to the man Carroll really was.

Alice in Sunderland is part biography and part history. Not only do we delve into Carroll's life, but also the life of the England he knew and the England before him. We go right from the Roman conquest and Bede and the Lindisfarne Tapestry and William the Conquorer and Robin Hood and so many other twists and turns in British history that I felt like I was back in my Old English class of second year, which was, by dint of being a history of the English language, also a history of the English people.

Its probably because I had a familiarity with much of the background history and because I have a fair knowledge of Lewis Carroll that I found this book so fascinating,

I would've liked it immensely even without all the pretty pictures :)

And make no mistake, the pictures are pretty. Talbot uses many medium, pencil and ink, collage, photos, etc. It makes for a striking page each and every time. And it makes for a very striking narrative. Talbot has a couple of narrators, both of whom seem to be the artist himself, in different incarnations. There's also an 'audience', who is very adept at asking questions when we need them ask.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, but well, I am a big book nerd, and this is right up my alley.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

And we're on to number 11, The Curse of the Narrows, by Laura M. Mac Donald.

This book is about the Halifax explosion of 1917, when two ships, the Mont Blanc and the Imo, collided in Halifax harbour. The didn't collide all that hard, but the problem was that the Mont Blanc was carrying tons of high explosives, all destined for the war effort over in Europe. The Imo hit the Mont Blanc and about half an hour later, the Mont Blanc exploded, devestating much of Halifax in the process. The Mont Blanc became the largest man-made 'bomb' the world had yet seen, and the explosion killed nearly 2000 Haligonians and caused 24 million dollars of damage (in 1917 dollars).

Y'know, while reading this book, I was struck by the fact that, in many ways, I'm pretty ignorant of my own country's history. Oh sure, I know the broad details, the War of 1812, Confederation, the FLQ Crisis, the building of the railroads, the Plains of Abraham, the Winnipeg Strikes, Louis Riel, blah, blah, but there's a lot I don't know too. It really did strike me that, through the dint of my degree in English Literature, I know British history a hell of a lot better than I know my own. And that made me kinda sad.

The only knowledge I had of the Halifax explosion prior to picking up this book was one of those Canada Heritage Moments on the CBC (other Canadians will know what I mean), where they talk about a telegraph operator who manages to telegraph a train and stop it from arriving at Halifax harbour, as he knew the ship was going to explode. The train was stopped, but the telegraph operater died in the explosion. And that was all I knew.

But the Curse of the Narrows goes into frightening, clear detail. I had no idea that Halifax had been so devestated. There wasn't a building in the city left undamaged when the explosion was done. People were blown from their feet to land miles away from where they were. 2000 died and nearly 5000 were injured. Some were blinded, some lost limbs, whole families were wiped out, many children were orphaned. It was a horrendous catastrophy.

Mac Donald attempts to recreate the circumstances leading up to the crash, and she basically comes down on the side that it was the Imo that was in error. But unfortunatey, error compounded on error and the ships collided anyway. The Mont Blanc's crew, tried to warn others, but there was no time, they abandoned the ship, which, with unfortunate accuracy, drifted over to a pier where she stayed, practically in the 'centre' of town, until she blew. Mac Donald follows certain families and people as they try to understand what just happened and make their way home through the devestation, searching for loved ones.

But its the relief effort that she also captures very well, and despite the cataclysm, there is much hope as the rest of Canada and Massechusettes especially, responds to help Halifax and send doctors, clothes, food, temporary shelters, money etc., for a city that has lost very nearly everything.

She also talks about the inquiry the Canadian government had about the explosion, which was really more about assigning blame for the catastrophy, more than in finding out what really happened. The inquiry found that it was the Mont Blanc, the ship carrying the explosives, that was to blame, but this doesn't really seem to be the case, but no one cared, they just wanted to have someone to take their frustrations out on.

But the most poinant thing of all that I got out of this book is the realization that the role Boston played in helping Halifax is still recognized today: Every year, the huge, Christmas Tree that is lit there is shipped down from Halifax. They sent the first tree in 1918 as a thank you for the desperately needed relief they received from Boston. I think its beautiful that the thank you is still recognized and remembered every year.

This was a very, very interesting book and I'm so glad I read it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Numeral X of the year is Give Our Regards to the Atom Smashers: Writers on Comics. Its written by various writers (none of whom I'd actually heard of, now that I think about it), and edited by Sean Howe. I picked it up from G after he'd finished with it (as it is his book) because I was looking for something a little lighter than my current 'heavy' read.

Its bascially exactly what it says it is, various writers writting about their thoughts, feelings on comic books. There's a lot of reminiscing and sharing what comic books mean to them, or meant to them while growing up. Often, they were forbidden by a parent, and so because they were taboo, they became even more sought after.

I found it interesting that the majority of those writing were tried-and-true Marvel zombies as kids, reading nothing but Marvel stories and completely disdaining DC. This was during the seventies, when comics had hit a rather... rough period. I.E., they were pretty bland. Of course, though, as the writers look back in hindsight, they realize that a lot of the Marvel stuff they were reading and loving were actually reprints of Marvel stuff from the sixties, when Marvel was at its zenith of putting out really good, energetic, interesting stories and art. That wasn't happening in the seventies.

I'm not saying DC was doing anything better in the seventies, the renaissance for DC wouldn't really happen again till the 80s with Frank Miller and Alan Moore, but still, as someone who is pretty much a DC-phile, I get a kick out of reading ex-Marvel Zombies admitting that the stuff back then wasn't really that good.

There were quite a few essays on stuff that I've never read, like TinTin, Little Nemo, some various Indie things that I'll probably never read because I find the vast majority of Indie stuff boring, repeatitive and way too emotionally overblown. I like my superheroes, I freely admit that. I never apologize for liking superheroes or superhero comics, and so it is always nice to read about others who are similarily unapologetic for their comic-book reading habits.

I guess I took this book as a big affirmation as to my love of comic books :)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Number nine is Serpent's Garden by Judith Merkle Riley. Yes, polished off another by her, as G's friend lent me another, and I don't like keeping books from people for long. So this one did some line jumping in front of the 'heavier' book I'm also currently reading.

Merkle Riley obviously has a bit of a 'pattern' in her books. Her main characters are modern women but in historical settings. Like Genevieve from Oracle Glass, Susanna Dollett has been well educated for a woman of Renaissance England. In fact, she's so well educated (by her father) that she can actually earn a living from her trade, she's a master painter. But of course, because she's a woman, she'll never be recognized as such. She's married off to a rather horrible man who really only wanted to know her father's secrets, and so agrees to marry her. Susanna wants to be a good wife, but her husband is a philanderer who is eventually murdered in his mistress' bed by her husband. Susanna's life of course gets better then, albeit rather strange.

Merkle Riley also seems to have a fondness for quirky demons, as another one shows up here as well. The plot seems more mudled in this book, as she throws in a lot of Priory of Scion/Templar/Holy Blood, Holy Grail conspiracy stuff in here that doesn't really seem to be a good... fit? The court intregue that Susanna becomes embroiled in through her painting talents seems to be enough; she ends up being in the service of the powerful Cardinal Wolsey and having to accompany the Princess Mary (Henry VIII's younger sister) to France for her marriage to the King of France, and all of this seems plenty. The plot to put the Meroviginian's back on the French throne seemed tacked on and rather... well, given the DaVinci Code crappola, tired. (and yes, I know this book came out well before the DaVinci Code, but I guess I'm just a little tired of all these consipiracy theories).

Overall, it is a nice book, a quick read, and Susanna is a nice character, but no, I didn't think this was as good as Oracle Glass.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Numeral VIII of the year is The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley. Its a book recommended to me by one of G's friends who also has a prediliction to historical 'fantasy', so I take her recommendation seriously.

This was a lovely book set in the time of the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. Now, I know quite a bit about the French Revolution and the last of the days of Louis XVII and Marie Antoinette and whatnot, but before that, not much. Really, my knowledge of earlier France was through the Three Muskateers and whatnot, so not exactly in depth, but a rough idea.

The main character of the Oracle Glass is one Genevieve Pasquier, a girl from a decent family that's fallen on hard times. Her mother is a society-climber who cannot seem to get very far, and continuously rails against her lack of position. Genevieve's father is a failed financier who now buries himself in his philosophy books and doesn't have much time for any of his family save for Genevieve, and so he passes on his love of the great Greek philosophers to his daughter. Genevieve grows up very eductated in some things, not so much in others. But it does give her a shrewd mind and a very different way of looking at French society.

After her mother poisions both her husband and her mother-in-law, Genevieve escapes her family (basically by having her own death faked) and begins a new life as a fortune teller, under the tutaledge of the most famous and powerful witch in Paris at the time, La Voisin. Genevieve is recreated as the century-old Marquise de Morville, who is adept at reading futures in vases of clear water. It is interesting that Riley actually does seem to give Genevieve actual talent at being psychic, as that's the really only 'supernatural' element of the book. Otherwise, all the other fortune telling talents are exposed for what they are; card tricks, hoaxes and some fairly advanced psychoanalysis. Its really quite fascinating especially as I never knew that fortune telling was in such vogue during the Louis XIV's time.

Also quite fascinating is the web of underground politics amongst the witches. They are also suppliers of love potions, of posions, and abortions. They subtely influence the court, especially when they give predicitons on who the King may or may not take as his latest mistress. I love books with court intregue, and this one has it in spades.

We follow Genevieve through a few years of her life, as she deals with first her training, then her rise in the court, her battle of wits with her overbearing and powerful patroness, and her trials and tribulations with love and the law.

Its a very well done book, the historical details are lovely and the characters all very well drawn with Genevieve being strong enough, yet quirky enough as well to be believable.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Number seven of this year... heh, that's kinda apropos actually, given that the main character has this problem with the number seven, i.e. bad things always happen to her when sevens are around.

Anyway, number seven is Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. This is not a book I would ever, ever seek out for myself. My aunt threw it at me and I thought it would be rude not to read it. (I can afford to be polite because I read fast). Why would I not read this? Mainly because it is a *shudder* Oprah Bookclub recommended read. Generally, I swore that I would stay faaaaarrrr away from anything Oprah recommends because I'm a snob. I admit that. Oh sure, I do read best sellers, don't get me wrong, but Oprah always seems to recommend scholcky sort of reads that just don't interest me in the least. Although she did also recommend East of Eden by John Steinbeck and that's a good book... well, everybody's right now and then I suppose.

So, Where the Heart Is... its a quick read, which is nice, full of nice, quirky, Southern characters. The main character is one Novalee Nation (whom I believe is played by Natalie Portman in the movie based upon this book). She's 17, 7 months pregnant, and is dumped by her loser boyfriend at a Wal-Mart with only $7.77 to her name. Upon discovering her abandonment, she ends up living in the Wal-Mart until she gives birth to her little girl, whom she names Americus Nation. Yes, that definitely made me roll my eyes. Anyway, Novalee's plight touches many of the people in the small, Oklahoma town she has been left in, and she is given a home with one of said, quirky characters (charmingly-uber-christian Sister Husband) and a job with Wal-Mart (probably the only place you'll ever see Wal-Mart portrayed somewhat benignly). Novalee struggles somewhat, but she works hard and makes something of herself and yes, this is a rather uplifting story that things can work out for you if you actually do TRY, so its got a nice message that way. And its not actually treacly sweet; characters do die and are preyed upon in some really bad ways, but everything does work out for the best, so there are happy endings all around.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for happy endings. I especially love a good happy ending after a character has been put through hell and back, but in a weird way, I never felt like that happened to Novalee, despite all her setbacks. Maybe because I felt she had an almost Pollyanna outlook on life, and that makes it hard to see that she's struggling.

Yup, nothing great, nothing bad, just there. No more Oprah for me.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Number six of 2007 was Anasasi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I bought this one way back last fall and, for some reason, have only now gotten around to reading it. I'm not sure why the delay; yes I did have some other books in line before it, but I also did some line-jumping with this one and just kept shuttling back. It's not that I don't like Gaiman; Sandman good, Stardust good, Good Omens great, American Gods really good, etc, I just couldn't seem to get into the idea of reading this one.

I think partly it had to do with the fact that I don't know anything about Anasasi or African mythology or anything like that. I have some pretty good knowledge of a lot of different mythologies (mainly Greek/Roman, Celtic, Norse, Arthurian), but anything not really 'western' and I'm at a loss. So, for some reason, I thought not knowing anything about Anasasi (other than he is represented as a big spider sometimes) would hinder my enjoyment of the book.

I was wrong. I didn't need to know a damn thing about Anasasi. I really shouldn't have worried, basically Gaiman takes these gods (as he did with some of the Norse guys in American Gods) and uses them for his own stories. Oh he stays true to the gods' particular brand of story, and so it all flows well.

This one is another nice, domestic tale of a god's family (and really, aren't most mythologies all about the domestic lives of the various gods?) and its as dysfunctional as most pantheon families is as well. The book deals with the death of Anasasi, and how it affects his son, Fat Charlie. How this affects Fat charlie the most is that he finds out about a brother he never knew he had, a brother named Spider. Seems that Spider is Fat Charlie's brother in only the loosest sense, turns out he was actually 'split' from Charlie magically, when Charlie was just a boy. But Spider seems to be everything that Fat Charlie wishes he was; cool, suave, carefree and killer with the ladies. But with such things, Spider also brings some chaos, and its not long before Fat Charlie's life is turned upside down, which is usually what happens when you're dealing with a trickster god and his offspring.

Like the tales and webs that Anasasi spun, there are many threads in this story, but they all weave together nicely until just about every main character ends up for the story's climax on a small, Caribbean resort island. Believe it or not, it actually took me a few minutes to realize that it was all coming together like that, Gaiman did a really good job of not making it obvious until really, the third character stated their intentions of going there.

There's some humour and violence as usual, but also as usual, Gaiman wraps up everything quite nicely.

Anasasi's Boys was a quick, fun little read and I really shouldn't have put it off for so long.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Book number five of the year is The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did. I mean, it wasn't great, but it was interesting enough to keep me going and the prose was fluid and descriptive and also not too bad.

I received this book for Christmas from G's sister. Its not normally something I'd pick up by anymeans (meaning its not fantasy or historical fiction or historical non-fiction or even horror, which is the bulk of what I read), rather its good 'ol best sellers list stuff.

The book is about a doctor, David Henry, who, in the 1960s, finds himself delivering his own set of twins on a snowy night, unable to get his wife to the hospital in time. Everything is fine with the first baby, a healthy little boy, but the second baby, a little girl, is born with an obvious case of Down's Syndrome. Henry, having grown up with an invalid sister who died young, makes the decision not to 'burden' his wife with this child and so tells his nurse to take the baby away to a home where she will be cared for. He later tells his wife (who has been unconscious for the later part of the birth) that the baby girl died.

The twist here is though that the nurse, Caroline, does take the baby (called Phoebe) to the home, but sees immediately that it is a horrible place, and so makes the decision to take Phoebe and raise her as her own. She does indeed tell Henry that she has done this, but she doesn't tell him where she moves to, as she doesn't want to give up the child.

What ensues is a very interesting look at the dynamics of the two families who are formed by the doctor's fateful decision. The doctor's wife Norah, never comes to terms with the depression she continuously feels after her baby's 'death', and the doctor forever holds himself apart from his family, protecting the terrible secret he created. The family slowly disintigrates over the years, drifting apart, never talking, no one but the doctor knowing what the real problem is, so never being able to fix it.

The second family, the nurse's, turns out much more happy really. She does live with some fear that she will lose her 'daughter', and she fights very hard for Phoebe's rights, ensuring that she gets a fair education etc. She also has the happier of the two marriages by far. Because of this, I couldn't help but feel that obviously, Caroline made the 'right' decision in not abaonding Phoebe, and so, while there are some hardships, she does have the happier emotional life.

Of course, its also very interesting seeing the way Down's Syndrome was percieved in the 60s. While it may seem increadible to us that David Henry would just immediately sentence his child to an institution, back then, this was what most doctors would recomment. Caroline's story of struggling to win the basic rights for her daughter to even go to school is very fascinating, and its strange to think that this wasn't always such an automatic thing.

So yeah, quick read, but a good one, I think this really only took me three days to read.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Number 4 of the year is Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Guy Kay is my favourite author. He wrote my very favourite books ever (in fact, I'm re-reading the Fionavar Tapestry again right now), and during university, I wrote a paper on them (which, if you go to Kay's site, you can read it there.) I realized it had been awhile since I'd visited the site, so last Monday I decided to pop on over and see what Kay was up to.

Imagine my surprise to discover he had a new book out. Ok, surprise probably isn't the right word... shock is more like it. I couldn't believe I'd missed it! I couldn't believe I'd missed him doing his usual book launch reading at Hart House! I have all his books and each and every one of them are signed. This is the first one that hasn't been and I feel... let down. Let down by myself more than anything really. But, I'll keep track now and hope that he does another reading again at some point. After all, he does live in Toronto.

So anyway, yes, Ysabel. I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Mainly because two characters from Fionavar show up in this, and I was just tickled to see them. Oh, the book has its own merits of course, and its actually quite the departure for Kay as well. Its his first book set wholly in the 'mundane' world. Rather than having characters from our world cross over into a fantasy world, or rather than having the story take place entirely in a fantasy world... Ysabel takes place completely in Provence, France. And in another departure, the protagonist of the book is only fifteen years old, which makes for an interesting perspective. I'm not entirely sure Kay writes a youngster perfectly, but he does well enough.

The plot is mainly a cat-and-mouse game that has been going on for thousands of years, and its a game with deadly consequences that the protagonist, Ned, finds himself wrapped up in. Kay likes the themes of people with hidden potential caught up in stories that they don't mean to find themselves in and rising to the occasion, and he writes them very well. I also thought that despite the title of the book, Ysabel herself is not really... in it much. She is discussed and sought after and the raison d'etre for the entire book, but we don't really see her much as a character, which meant I felt myself rather distanced from her, but I think that was the point. Ysabel is from a time so long ago and alien to us that its hard to understand what is happening with her and her two, eternal suitors, Cadell and Phelan. We see the story pretty much entirely through Ned's eyes, and while sometimes this is good, sometimes its frustrating because I would've liked to know a little more about WHY everything was happening. A little more explanation would've been nice.

But other than that, I didn't have any complaints. I burned through it in a week, and the exclamation of joy I made when I realized who indeed Aunt Kim was, made this book all worth it for me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Whoohoo! Finished book number three of the year!

And what was my third book? Bitten by Kelly Armstrong. Originally, I had G pick this up as a possible Christmas gift for my mother. I had mistakenly thought it was about vampires, but it ended up being about werewolves. No biggie though, my mom is equally fond of both. However, it ended up that G found the book he originally wanted to give my mom (which was about vampires), so I ended up keeping Bitten.

I'd heard of this book awhile ago. Kelly Armstrong is from Toronto and took the same Romance Writing course I took, from the same instructor. As she has gone on to be published, of course Brian (the course instructor) trotted out her name to prove that some of his alumni do go on to get published. Which actually, was nice to know.

So, having the book in my posession, I decided to give it a shot.

It's not great.

I's not bad either; the fact that some of it is set in Toronto is always amusing, since not a lot is actually set in Toronto. It's told in a first person narrative, through the eyes of the 'only female werewolf in the world', Elena. Elena has a cliche ridden angsty background that drove me up the wall (orphaned tragically at a young age, brought up in foster homes and abused repeatedly. I don't doubt this happens, but really, it would be so much more refreshing if this sort of thing didn't happen all the time in order to make a character more... edgy) and she dithers more about decisions than Hamlet does, which also makes her rather annoying.

Armstrong does create her own werewolf mythology, and she maintains her internal consistency well, but I find her writing style falls victim to her often repeating herself, or hitting you over the head with her central motifs of how angry Elena is with everything, but how she has to accept it etc. The secondary characters aren't all that interesting, in fact, I also found them pretty cliche; the attractive, intelligent, dangerous, lone wolf ex-boyfriend; the patient, intelligent, talented Alpha male pack leader, etc. I found that I didn't really bond with any of these characters much at all.

As I said, it wasn't a horrible read, I mean, I did finish the book, but I know there are more in this series about Elena, and I doubt I'll be rushing out to pick 'em up.

And now after three fairly 'fluffy' books, I'm feeling the need to read something a little more... weighty I think.

Oh, and I'm half way through a re-read of Guy Kay's The Summer Tree.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Yay! First post of 2006! And I've already read two books!

Ok, so one was pretty damn short, but still, two books! Two weeks into January!

I'm not going to keep this pace up...

So, what have I read? Well, I read Inheritance by Devin Grayson, and Five Hole Stories by Dave Bidini. What are they about? Well two of my very favourite things, superheroes and hockey, respectively, and even better, there's sex in 'em!

lol. Yes, I'm juvenille.

Devin Grayson normally writes comic books. She normally writes comic books that I don't read because I don't like her writing. She took over the writing chores on one of my very favourite characters, Nightwing, and I had to drop the book, I was so unhappy with her writing on it. Now, I understand that she probably feels kinda like how I do about Nightwing... i.e. she's got a bit of a fetish about him. So while I can totally get on board with that, I still think her writing style stinks, its way too soap operaie. Why did I want to read Inheritance then? Because, way back when, Rich Johnston of Lying in the Gutters fame, posted a couple of passages from this book and they were DELICIOUSLY awful and I decided right then and there I had to read it. Plot doesn't really matter, it has to do with a (made up) foreign dignitary's son nearly being assasinated in Gotham, so Batman, Nightwing, Green Arrow, Arsenal, Aquaman and Tempest team up to find out whodunit. So, with all these heroes and their side kicks running around, you see where the title came from. The thing I took most from this book? Devin must think Green Arrow has bisexual tendencies as she has him comment on how good looking Nightwing is NUMEROUS times, and she is terribly concerned with both Nightwing and Arsenal's sex lives. Unfortunately, she doesn't go into quite salacious enough detail to really make this book worthwhile. As far as superhero porn goes, it wasn't that good.

I'm a big fan of Dave Bidini's. No, not his band, The Rheostatics, but his writing. Another of his books, Tropic of Hockey, ranks up their amongst my favourite books. So, when I heard he'd published a book of erotic hockey stories, well, lets just say I was thrilled and rushed out to buy it as soon as I could. Five Hole Stories is not very long, there's only about five short stories in it, but they're well written if not very... titilating. A few of the stories were even tinged with a bit of sadness; there's nothing graphic about them, and the most controversial one of them got was about a goalie who feels unrequited love for his team star player, a very thinly disguised Wayne Gretzky. I mean, I enjoyed the book, I guess I was just expecting something more... erotic.

Hmm, these reads seem to have left me rather frustrated. lol

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In the words of Daniel Cook; "Here we are!"

That's right, 2007. So... what did I read in 2006? What was the final count?

Well, 22 new books were read, 20 were re-read, plus one re-read of an epic poem, for a grand total of 43 books read this year...

Wow that seems low. Of course, I chalk this up to numerous things, mainly just having less time to read and my dear G passing on his bad habit of watching television on DVD :)

Of course, this also doesn't keep track of all the comic books I read. With at least 3 or 4 a week, that's a lot of comic books over the year.

I have quite a pile on my bedside table right now, latest Dave Bidini offering; something that could end up being deliciously smutty from Devin Grayson; Gaiman's Anasasi Boys still; and a book on the Cohen brothers, are all things on my reading list for the new year.

Let's start the count again!