This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I never picked it up. So, preparing for a bus ride to London for a long weekend, I tossed it in my bag and read it while waiting for the bus then finished it on the bus. It is a quick, lovely, languid read.
Friday, November 27, 2009
This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I never picked it up. So, preparing for a bus ride to London for a long weekend, I tossed it in my bag and read it while waiting for the bus then finished it on the bus. It is a quick, lovely, languid read.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
on the occasion of the Kindle being available in Canada:
Books were invented to be read. READ THEM! Open them, smell them, hold them. Run your fingers along their spines. Give them as gifts, covet and cuddle and coddle them. ….
Books: the platform of imagination, theory, critique, thoughts-taking-form ………. All scintillatingly fit into one harmless little square of paper and ink; of smell and light.
BOOKS Are TANGIBLE! Make your reading experience tangible. Hold your book! Run your fingers on perforated pages; feel the glassy, glossy imprint of a sheen sheet between your fingers.
Or, alternatively, buy a piece of technology and download your words onto an unfeeling ipod. Who wants to curl up with a fireplace, a candle, a blanket and ….an ipod?
This holiday season buy your books from bookstores! Read books! … not files….
Save pdfs and the like for work and blogging and, you know, internet things…..
Books are for reading. Read them. Buy them.
You can’t fit an electric file into a stocking. …. ( perchance you can but not much fun, is it)
This Christmas BOYCOTT the Canadian Kindle, walk into your favourite bookstore and buy a real book.
Monday, November 09, 2009
I usually look for expert characterization, deftly-woven plot, some humour, some sparkle, some originality: some historical what-have-you in my historicals; some carefully-planted mayhem in my murder mysteries; the books that make me giggle and clap and gasp at their brilliance ( I have said before, I am an effusive reader). Lynn Austin ignites all of these things.
What makes Lynn Austin special to me ( for special she is ) is the fact that her works hit me on a deeper, spiritual level.
This is not mere infatuated emotionalism: the kind I reserve for the books I love, love, love. Austin validates in an erudite and carefully plotted fashion the role and journey of any woman of faith
Reading a Lynn Austin book for me is empowering: spiritually, emotionally, personally.
When her profundities surge through the page I am not just rattled in my usual “La! Such brilliance fashion”; but rattled, rather, to the core.
If I am having an off-kilter moment, if I am grappling at some truth in relation to Christianity if I am feeling, what with all my passionate opinions and strict independence, like I do not fit the mold of the ideal Christian woman ---Lynn Austin makes it okay.
As aforementioned in previous blog entries, Austin’s greater thesis ( what strings each of her books though splayed through different historical periods together) is the role of women : in the church; in history; as part of God’s master plan.
And Austin allows us to find malleability in these roles. Rather than dictate: This! is the ideal or This! suits a woman to her greater purpose, she extends and stretches and validates whatever a Woman chooses ---as long as---- and here is the deliciously jubilant caveat--- as long as your role aligns with the Master’s.
I can think of no more wonderful and empowered subservience.
In Fire by Night, two very different women stretch the bounds of society’s constriction and find God’s plan in anomalous ways: Phoebe clads herself in male attire and joins the army; prim and society-bred Julia finds greater purpose in working as a nurse.
Romance is involved, yes, but only ordained if it enhances the already well-established independence of the woman.
For example, Julia’s eventual suitor loves the traits ( her outspokenness, her defiance, her scorn of all that is “ societally” approved” ) that her previous and erstwhile suitor Nathaniel disdained.
Both women make up two parts of a whole: both strengths ( decidedly different and yet interconnected) allow each to establish God’s purpose.
This is not feminism, nor equalism so much as God-driven purpose .
A woman, argues the novel, can be any role: be it domestic, a “man’s role”; a servant’s role as long as she is aligned with God.
One such instance has Julia questioning her burgeoning station away from her heritage and upbringing. Having oft-heard her fiancé Nathaniel’s talk of God’s purpose, she rallies with a truthful cry to the extent of a question: Can’t women hear God’s voice and follow His purpose too? In a male dominated society, entrenched in tradition and war, Julia and Phoebe are caught at the turning of the tide. No longer, argues Austin, will women be content to stay underappreciated in the household, not when circumstance has forced them out to the front and to hone the God-given skills they were made for.
I have underlined and highlighted numerous passages in Fire By Night and, though a historical novel, I feel it is surged with the message that I needed as a young and independent struggling to find what God wants: be it through the traditional structure afforded women --- or by blazing a path, not as severe as Phoebe’s place in war but just as important.
Austin sends a much-needed jolt when it is needed most . Her arguments are sound; her message pronounced and strong and the fact that she is a gorgeous writer heightens her validity.
Yes, this is a compulsively readable novel of romance, war, adventure and coming-of-age and self. Yes, it has mystery and wonder and heart-pulsing moments but, to me ,it is so much more: it is Austin’s medium for empowering women: for rallying a cry with the oft-forgotten message that ( to steal from “Though Waters Roar”, her latest book): “God never expects us to be anyone but ourselves.” Phoebe and Julia; dimensional and flawed are walking encapsulations of this: God never asks them to surrender who they are but embraces each flaw, validates them and appraises their purpose--- no matter how far stretched, no matter how improper, no matter how unexpected.
I encourage every one to find a Christian author who speaks to them in this way---- for you’ll soon realize ( as is so wonderful and such a jubilant anomaly in the trade) that they are being directed by a much higher purpose to propel you to what you might need to hear: be it through theology, fiction, letter, prose ….
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
Our friends at WaterBrook ( a company to which I am quite partial) have a great initiative for Christian Book Bloggers called Blogging for Books ! Great incentive! Great alliteration! Sign.Me.Up.
So, they sent me fun fall reads at a perfect time: just before two weeks of extensive travel across my great country where I spent meals and evenings wiling through the best and brightest of Christian chicklit:
Two Melody Carlsons = One Tamara Leigh= FALL.FUN.FUN.FALL.
First, off Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh:
Leaving Carolina is a colourfully spun charmer sure to delight chicklit fans. I must confess, my interest in the book was heightened by a character spotlight featured in Relz Reviews: wherein gardener Axel is compared to Russell Crowe in my favourite film, Master and Commander. One moment of Russell Crowe with a roguish queue a la Lucky Jack in the movie and I was willing to be whisked away.
The wonderfully alliterative Piper Pickwick is a top notch PR person in glamorous LA who shines at ironic out the wrinkly problems of the elite. Having shed pounds, half of her name ( she now goes by Wick) and her accent, Piper is reluctant to return home to unearth some seedy family secrets and come to the rescue of an aging uncle. Established and successful, these legal matters threaten to excavate a past she wants to stay buried.
Piper soon begins to see those around her in a different light, has more than one sparkly moment with the gardener and uncovers who she is and who God wants her to be.
Endearing moments, bittersweet recollections and a subtly blooming romance are sure to entertain.
A bright and breezy read which fans will find followed in Nowhere, Carolina .
What Matters Most: a Melody Carlson for the younger fry:
From The Editor:Sixteen-year-old Maya Stark has a lot to sort through. She could graduate from high school early if she wants to. She’s considering it, especially when popular cheerleader Vanessa Hartman decides to make her life miserable–and Maya’s ex-boyfriend Dominic gets the wrong idea about everything.To complicate matters even more, Maya’s mother will be released from prison soon, and she’ll want Maya to live with her again. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. And when Maya plays her dad’s old acoustic guitar in front of an audience, she discovers talents and opportunities she never expected. Faced with new options, Maya must choose between a “normal” life and a glamorous one. Ultimately, she has to figure out what matters most.
From Rachel: Maya was spunky, spirited and sounded quite a lot like teenagers her age. She struggles with self confidence, acceptance and, yes, boys but ultimately discovers grace and compassion.
Limelight Melody Carlson of a different generation. From Rachel:A Norma Desmond-esque story about wilted fame and beauty and uncovering truth inside. At times heartbreaking ( a once adored star abandoned by a willing throng and reduced to a home for the aged) and uplifting as our sassy heroine with spirit and vigour turns her heart inside out and replaces desperate nostalgia with current contentment.
Says the Editor: Claudette Fioré used to turn heads and break hearts. She relished the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle because she had what it takes: money, youth, fame, and above all, beauty. But age has withered that beauty, and a crooked accountant has taken her wealth, leaving the proud widow penniless and alone.Armed with stubbornness and sarcasm, Claudette returns to her shabby little hometown and her estranged sister. Slowly, she makes friends. She begins to see her old life in a new light. For the first time, Claudette Fioré questions her own values and finds herself wondering if it’s too late to change.
As the holiday season approaches, I am sure these titles will come in handy as stocking stuffers. Cross of a few avid readers on your list and pair them with a great book under the tree!
I would like to sincerely thank WaterBrook/Multnomah for sending review copies of the aforementioned.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Drawing on an extensive and wide-reaching range of writing experience, Strom spins the story of Grace Winslow: a woman trapped between two worlds.
Grace’s lineage is a hybrid of royalty and slavery: her father a noted English sea-captain, her mother an African princess. Notes in the book inform us that this marriage is based on factual events.
From the beginning, Strom’s passion for the subject matter and erudite grasp of the culture, vernacular and atmosphere of Winslow’s time and circumstance flash across the page. Indeed, Strom’s work on the life of John Newton and her companion book for the famed William Wilberforce biopic “Amazing Grace” have allowed her the freedom to play with an established era in a satisfying fictional way.
I enjoyed Grace’s strength , courage and strong set of unwavering ideals in a time and place where black and white were often muddled into unsavoury, and unethical grey areas.
From the point when Grace’s beloved gazelle is murdered to impress a portly guest, Grace’s innocence is lost. In its stead rises a strong woman vehemently opposed to injustice.
This was a fresh and satisfying read with a healthy dose of verisimilitude. I felt quite engaged with all of the characters and enmeshed in the historical canvas painted for us.
I am happy to include an erudite interview Kay Marshall Strom participated in for this blog tour:
1. How did you come up with the storyline of The Call of Zulina?
While in West Africa working on another project, I toured an old slave fortress and was struck dumb by a set of baby manacles bolted to the wall. The characters of Lingongo and Joseph Winslow, Grace's parents, are modeled after real people who ran a slave business in Africa in the 1700s. I "met" them when I was researching Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, a biography of the slaver turned preacher and abolitionists, author of Amazing Grace. The more I thought about them, the more I wondered, "If they'd had a daughter, who would she be? Where would her loyalties lie?"
2. What inspired you to write a book so entrenched with uncomfortable issues?
I used to think that non-fiction was the meat and potatoes of writing and fiction was the chocolate mousse dessert... fun, but not of much value. But I've come to understand that truths can be revealed through fiction just as powerfully as through non-fiction. Sometimes, more so! The fact is, for so long we have tried to look away and pretend that this horrible chapter in history never happened. But it did, and we still feel the effects today. Moreover, the roots of slavery--hunger for power and money, fear and diminishment of people unlike ourselves, and humanity's endless ability to rationalize evil actions--abound today. The time seemed right.
3. How have your travels around the world equipped you for writing such a historical novel?
People ask me where my passion for issues such as modern day slavery come from. To a large degree it is from the things I have seen and heard on my numerous trips to India, African countries, Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia, and other places around the world.
4. Tell us a personal story regarding modern day slavery.
A most pervasive type of slavery is what is known as bonded servitude, where entire poor families are bound into virtual slavery--sometimes for generations--because of a small debt. This is especially common in India. I visited a village in central India where the women had been freed from bondage and set up with a micro loan that allowed them to raise a small herd of dairy cows. They worked so hard and saved every rupee. When they had enough saved, they persuaded a young teacher to come and start a school for their children. Then they used further profits to make low interest loans to others in the area so they could start their own businesses, too--a little bank. I sat in a circle with the five women who made up the "board of directors." Only one could read and write. I asked, "How will the next generation be different because of what you have done?" They said, "No more will be like us. When people look us, they see nothing. But when they look at our children, they see real human beings with value."
From invisible slaves to human beings... all in one generation!
5. Grace, the lead character in The Call of Zulina, forsakes all to escape the slavery of her parents and an arranged marriage.How common is this scenerio today in other countries?
Horrifyingly common. Slavery today takes many forms. According to UNICEF's more conservative count, there are about 12 million people living as slaves today--three times as many as in the days of the African slave trade. As for child arranged marriages, I have talked to girls "enslaved" to husbands in many countries. Examples include a girl in Nepal married at 9 to a middle-aged man, one in India married at 11, a 13-year-old in Egypt married to a man older than her father. I've seen it in Africa, Eastern Europe... so many places!
6. What about in America, are there slavery and trafficking issues here?
Unfortunately, there are. The U.S. State Department estimates between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the Untied States each year, although it concedes that the real number is actually far higher. And it's not just states like New York and California that are affected, either. According to the U.S. Justice Department's head of the new human trafficking unit, there is now at least one case of trafficking in every state.
7. You've had 36 books published, and more written and contracted for future release. How has this one impacted your own life?
Some books report, some tell stories. This book has torn my heart.
8. Briefly tell us about the next two books in this Grace in Africa trilogy.
In Book 2, Grace watches her reconstructed life smashed by slavers and revenge, and she is forcibly taken to London. There she faces a new kind of tyranny and another fight for freedom... and for her husband, who is enslaved in America.
Book 3 is set in the new United States of America, in the heart of the slavery. It is a story of slavery at it's worst and redemption at its best.
What Can Concerned Citizens Do to Raise Awareness?
Find out all you can about Modern Day Slavery: then watch for chances to pass on what you have learned.
Write to your elected officials: Petition them to place a high priority on enforcing anti-slavery laws and to put pressure on countries that tolerate forced labor or human trafficking.
Buy Fair Trade products: Fair trade provides a sustainable model of international trade based on economic justice. To find out more, see http://www.fairtrade.net/ .
Support organizations that are in a position to make a difference. When you find an one that is doing a good job on the front lines, contribute to their cause so they can continue on.
Be willing to step into the gap. If you suspect someone is being held against his or her will, call the Department of Justice hotline: 1-888-428-7581. Or you can call 911.
My thanks to KCW Communications for the opportunity to participate in this worthy tour and discover a fantastic new author.
I cannot wait for book two!
Monday, October 26, 2009
It's a little early, yes, but when Tyndale sent me this copy for review, I was eager to get started. You see, I am quite excited about Christmas: ALL YEAR ROUND! I love the music, the ambience and the glittery feeling you get. Pair my favourite holiday with my favourite period of history and you have a winning combination.
Here, noted Christian novelist and Christy-award winning Catherine Palmer has provided her readership with a glimpse into the lives of very different women who experience Christmas in decidedly different ways. Palmer delves into issues of social class and the restrictions placed upon women victim to a conservative structure, to spin a tale of determined women who find hope, love and often independence at Christmas time.
I most appreciated the first two stories. The first Angel in the Attic spotlights a winning and spunky heroine who is just as comfortable with her rifle as she is planning the annual Christmas tea for the local orphans. When a mysterious stranger shows up, Fara raises her guard but secrets will be revealed and her truest strength will get a chance to shine.
Fara is my kind of woman and certainly an oddity in the usual mix of Christian heroines who subscribe to the "angel of the hearth ideal" ( as befits the Victorian Era, ironically).
The second story is a love story not constricted by social bounds, Star is an endearingly vulnerable newcomer to the taut English Society of a high-brow manor. Promised to marry as a pawn to secure a symbiotic business deal in the best interest of her father and his English counterpart, Star doesn't count on falling in love with her intended's brother.
I read most of the stories during some train travel over the past few weeks and I was utterly delighted!
Consider these stories as the perfect stocking stuffer! Or treat yourself---coupled with a steaming cup of candy cane hot chocolate, you will relish the transport into a simpler time.
Kudos to Palmer for embroidering a perfectly Victorian atmosphere and peppering her snow-globe world with bright, resourceful heroines and dashing suitors at turn in top hats and cowboy boots.
Don't just take my word for it, here is another review
Courtney and I did one of our book swaps at Word on the Street, I was pleased to steal off with this one. I was in the mood for some Romanovs and I always hanker after enchanting stories about the lost Duchess.
Unfortunately, my appetite was not whet. At all.
Now, you all know my favourite thing to do is gush about books. I love finding books that I can talk non-stop about for days. Advertise. Coddle. Adore.
Every once in awhile, a book comes along that frustrates me. This one did.
I wasn’t in the mood for slipshod writing, convoluted perspectives, wooden dialogue and a heroine who was not so much endearingly vulnerable as not-so-bright.
The book just doesn’t work. I applaud Preble for her renaissance of a subject a lot of YA readers would easily jump on a bandwagon for: the Anastasia legend is embedded in intrigue, mysticism and romance and, with that platform, competent and imaginative writers can spin many a lustrous web.
Unfortunately, this web was tangled. Too tangled.
Anne is a lithe ballerina and typical high school girl who is still grieving the loss of her brother while trying to come to terms with a new and eerie presence at school ( the brooding Ethan: trying so hard to be Edward Cullen it made my eye twitch), midterms, ballet class and dreams about a Russian duchess.
That’s right: the lost Duchess is alive and well and infiltrating Anne’s dreams.
Intermixed with this oft confusing and bordering on sheer ridiculous tale we have infusions of Anastasia’s letters. Now this is not at all the author’s fault, but, in ephemera-gone-bad, Anastasia’s “cursive” is nearly illegible in print and I had to squint ( with reading glasses on) to decipher this code.
Far be it for me to stomp on a first novelist. I know, I KNOW how difficult writing intriguing and different YA can be --- especially when infused with history and I applaud Joy Preble ( a high school teacher, at that) for her creativity.
It just doesn’t work. Perhaps if all of the different patterns had been sewn in a different quilt….
The problem is I read a lot ( hundreds ) of YA books a year and I like finding those that fit into my handful of “DROP EVERYTHING AND READ!”
I ended up looking up from the last page while reading on the subway this morning thinking: “I just don’t have time for this.”
In trying to be original and at the same time appealing to the Twilight-audience, Preble has set out to unravel a gorgeous and illustrious facet of history and, ironically, fashioned herself a cliché.
This doesn't mean I won't try Joy Preble out again in the future: she HAS potential.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I also found a fantastic used bookstore here: complete with a Michael Crummey display. Yes, Newfoundland is proud of Mr. Crummey, as well they should be.
Remember when Jess and I talked Horatio Lyle and how much fun that was?
Well everyone's favourite Coloradonian ( is that even a word) and yours truly are going to talk CLASSICS! Look for me in italics and Jess in bold ( for she is boldly beautiful )....
Jess, what is your favourite “Classic” book? ( from any era, just one widely-regarded as “classic”)
I’m going to give you two. I’m a cheater like that.
As a kid, one of my favorite books was Matilda by Roald Dahl. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I read that book. It’s been a while since I re-visited it, but I look forward to my chance to sit down with it again someday soon and experience the magic and delight.
Okay, I’m going to cheat even more and give you three, because I also read The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell about 8 billion times as a girl. What I loved about both of these books was the strong, smart girl protagonists who have to take care of themselves – and do. Matilda is smarter than pretty much everyone everywhere, and manages to defeat the evil adults so that she can live with her beloved teacher, Miss Honey. Also, she’s telekinetic. Which is just awesome. Karana lives on the island all by herself for years, finding food, hiding from hunters. Her story is sad and lonely, but she finds peace and contentment in her life, and isn’t so much rescued as much as she chooses to leave.
I now feel the overwhelming need to re-read both of these.
My “grown-up” favorite classic novel is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I read this for the first time in high school, and it’s the book that truly sparked my love for literature. Because if Rebecca was this awesome, how good must most of the other previously-considered-boring classic novels be? Rebecca is a gothic mystery that’s as close as one can come to a ghost story without actually having any ghosts. The narrator never tells us her first name, and no one ever uses it. She is simply Mrs. de Winter, living always in shadow of the previous Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful, beloved Rebecca. Rebecca haunts the narrator, making her miserable, as she knows she can never measure up. But then she starts to discover the truth about Rebecca, and with it, the truth about herself. It’s creepy and atmospheric, and it’s been far too long since I read it. October’s a good month for gothic, isn’t it?
Like you, I love “autumny” books which make me think of sitting in my cozy living room in orillia, staring out at the street: the tarmac all slick and sparkly under the streetlamps from a chilled fall rain, the leaves rustling and everything shadows. I LOVE THE FALL.
It’s funny that your connection with Rebecca prompted you to seek further classics because that is the story I associate with Les Miserables: the book that propelled my love of literature. I threw down my copy of whatever generic Fear Street book I was reading deciding that I already knew how it was going to end, asked my dad to take me to our Coles store and picked up Les Miserables. I was 13. I loved it! Every moment. It’s a gargantuan book but it is made up of so many different infinitesimal worlds. You can almost go through and just pick a strand of story: a sort of choose-your-own-adventure.
(Brief interruption: Fear Street books! Ha! I think I read three of those and then gave up. Ah, memories. Also, I have never read Les Miserables because I am the saddest excuse for an English major there is.)
I cannot say I ever enjoyed Roald Dahl because I found him rather creepy and depressing. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, though, and I concur: it has strong female protagonists. And, when you think about the state of YA and teen fiction published ‘round O’Dell’s time and the limitations of genre, it is rather remarkable that that book was so daring and unique. There is far more published now for the demographic and I hope that classics like that don’t get squandered by PARANORMAL URBAN FANTASY!
I love Rebecca. I think it has one of the most haunting opening lines I have ever heard. I also really liked the Hitchcock film. Rebecca is so much more than your typical gothic romance. It really speaks to a woman usurped by her husband’s status, who is nothing more than wife, who is victim to narrate a story that is another woman’s and not quite her own. Mrs. DeWinter. The females prey to Max’s charm subsequently are reduced to no more than a name stemming from his identity.
This is why you’re the one with the book blog. You talk about this things so much more eloquently than I. I’m just sitting over here shouting, “Yes! YES!” to everything you’ve said.
That is a very haunting book. Makes me think of Jane Eyre.
Funny, your classic books are 20th Century: two YA books and a mid-20th Century classic whereas mine are Victorian. Because, my developing mind was circumferenced by the 19th Century: there were no classics before or after, or so thought my 15 year old brain. So, classics included Les Miserables, Great Expectations and Villette by Charlotte Bronte. As well as the Sherlock Holmes books. From there, of course, I expanded, starting with the A’s ( for Austen, notably) and moving forward.
Thoroughly Modern Millie. That’s me.
What classic do you loathe?
Wuthering Heights! Urg. I do not understand how Heathcliff and Cathy have become these great romantic characters. They’re awful. I hated them.
Robinson Crusoe and The Last of the Mohicans were both torturously dull. Never again will I read Daniel Defoe or James Fenimore Cooper. Though, I will read Mark Twain making fun of James Fenimore Cooper anytime.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Friday, October 09, 2009
So, here are a couple of bookish things that are filling my brain this beautiful (rainy) Friday morning.
- First off, I am mentioned at the Savvy Reader: TWICE (Score. This is like fame to me so let me have my moment) here and here
- Take this contest where you can create a character to feature in a book. Why do authors do this to themselves? This is certainly not the first time. You can buy a spot for your name or the name of someone you love for a price ( like buying a star), you can create characters ---you can even ( let's all look at Dan Brown with a wiltering eye) purchase an ad spot in a popular best-selling book. As a writer ( and I don't use that term so seriously when in conjunction with my amateurish efforts), I enjoy creating stories and characters that are wholly mine. When I outline and plot and plan and complete the arduous task of spade work ( see LM Montgomery for reference), I know exactly what fits where in my elaborate puzzle. Why then, would I allow the grand order of things to be upset by the inclusion of someone else's thought process? Now, I am sure that our friend Mr. Slade is not going to re-write the entire plot of his subsequent novel; nor will anything earth shattering come about ( lest he is oddly inspired by a contest entry), but for me it feels tainted. Like someone else's thumbprint ( even some random eight year old's) would be in a work of fiction already well-crafted. An oddity in an established fictional world.
(Disclaimer: we all know I love Arthur Slade's books, right? So I am allowed to have this opinion without people going all "tsk, tsk, Rachel. How could you! So mean to nice author.Nice author who connects with reading public. And he's From Saskatchewan, you heartless fiend, for shame! From Saskatchewan!" Ok? As long as we're good).
- And now for the fun part, in the tradition of Pride and Prej and Zombies, I give you Great Expectations and Killer Goats by ME
Great Expectations and Killer Goats
My name is Philip Pirrip but everyone calls me Pip. Here are my parent’s conjoined burial sites. Hi Dad! Hi Mum! ( Also Georgiana, Wife of the Above). I was on the marshes today and it is chilly. I better be getting home to the forge before my sister, the blacksmith’s wife, beats me.
Wait! Ugly, snively man is grabbing me.
“I am a convict,” he snarled, “bring me wittles.”
I shuddered and scurried home.
My brother-in-law, the kind blacksmith, stroked his flaxen curls while sitting with his great leg up to the fire pondering things.
“What larks, Pip ol’ Chap!”
“Joe! I ran into a convict! He told me to come back at midnight and bring him wittles!”
“They’re like vittles, methinks,” said Joe, looking perplexed and child-like. I looked up to him in my heart.
Mrs. Joe came home then on the rampage with a worn cane called tickler brandished in her right hand. She shook it at me and I cowered.
“Where have you been? You useless mangy orphan! Honour those who brought you up by hand.”
Joe and I had our tea and bread and butter in silence. I think he wondered if I was going to go on my wittle mission. I slid the heel of the loaf of bread down my trouser leg and when the house was quiet, I stole into the pantry and replaced the brandy jar with tar water and packed the brandy for the convict.
I stepped into the blustery cold; my breath dotting the sleek, black dark; the wind creaking and moaning against the forge door and over the barren marsh.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Joe!” I exclaimed.
“C’mon, Pip ol’ Chap!” he grabbed the packet with the food and brandy from me and we drudged across the soggy mass.
The convict was filing away at his chains under a leafless tree.
He looked up at us: his eyes listless pools just catching a sliver of moonlight.
“Beware!” he sniffed. “Beware the killer goats!”
Joe and I exchanged a look and I felt Joe’s hand close tightly on my shoulder with unexpected warmth. Joe and I turned away from the convict: heard him grunt and slurp and demolish his food behind us. The wind howled and I neared into Joe. Suddenly, from the great beyond a large shadow appeared in our path. Silhouetted against the darkish grass was the outline of a black body with pointy horns.
“A killer goat!” yelped Joe, throwing his large frame in front of me and steadying me behind him with a calloused hand.
“Just hold on, ol’ chap!”
I shivered in my boots. The goat bleated: a terrifyingly haunted bleat.
“Baaaaaaaaah!” said the goat, like the bellows of the forge just when spark meets flint.
Fortunately, Joe and I escaped. The next night, bringing the poor convict vittles under the vapid tree, Joe and I encountered the killer goat again. This time as its shape rose affront us, Joe grabbed his long poker; still heated from the gulping fires of the forge and stabbed the beast as it towered over me. We hauled the killer goat’s carcass back to town and an eccentric old lady with crazy hair and a stained and yellowing wedding dress named Miss Havisham and her man-eating ward gave us a reward.
It also turned out I had Great Expectations! Money kept pouring in as I was set up as a gentleman in London. I thought for sure it must be Miss Havisham. My roommate Herbert Pocket who called me Handel thought so too!
But we were wrong.
Later I found out it was the convict who was giving me money after moving to Australia and tending sheep and the man-eating ward was just a ruthless witch and so was her guardian.
Joe married my tutor and I lived happily ever after.
(Though I became a bit of a snob.)
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
It is this courtship, between renegade river man Tom and well-bred Bess as reflected in the unpredictable falls that drags the reader in, holds, and won’t let go. For this bittersweet story of love divided by societal restrictions and the Great War, the Falls, the whirlpool and the river become a stand-in for intensity, changing human emotion, beauty and even death.
Thoughtful ephemera (newspaper clippings of Tom’s legendary grandfather Fergus Cole and pictures of Niagara Falls during the first quarter of the 20th Century) add to the welcome historical atmosphere. Buchanan does not “cut and paste” her historical facts snipped from books and transplanted into the tale, rather she threads them seamlessly into Tom and Bess’ story so the reader is transported back to a place and time they inadvertently have nostalgia for. A nostalgia that rendered today’s Niagara Falls, all gaudy and Vegas incarnate, seem like a betrayal to Tom and his ilk.
Poetic prose, a narrative boasting enough reckless danger and love to loan itself to the description “rollicking yarn” and a dialogue born of the day prove this a carefully plotted tale. I wrote a friend mid-way through the first half exclaiming “LM Montgomery would love this book!” –she having been a reader easily transported; who hankered after being swept into waters at times safe and dangerous-- through character, romance, tragedy.
I especially enjoyed the exposition of faith: found and lost through God, through Nature, through Love. Buchanan doesn’t box in one conceptualization of religion rather, and here I note Montgomery again, explores its manifestation in numerous ways, feelings, thoughts.
I closed the book proud to add Buchanan to a rich Canadian tradition, scenes still embedded in my brain, the cavernous falls ringing in my ears.
My thanks to Harper Collins for a book I cannot utter a sentence this week without recommending.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Emma Grant has been forced out of her tenured position as a leading professor/Jane Austen scholar in shame. The icing on the cake, she caught her professor husband in a compromising manner with his TA and they weren’t just reading Northrop Frye.
With no clue what to do, Emma leaves for England and finds romance and intrigue in the guise of a strange old bird (pun intended) Mrs. Parrot and her link to the some three hundred-odd missing Austen letters believed to have been destroyed by Cassandra (Jane’s sister) after the scribe’s death.
I loved this book. In fact, since the brilliantly light Austenland by Shannon Hale, it is the best of the sub-genre.
A literary maze and treasure hunt, I was reconnected with numerous Austen facts I had let slip since my days in University. Moreover, like my recent read (read review here ) the Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, it drew me back to an author I have distanced myself from for awhile.
The romantic leads are, of course, dashing: from the Knightley-Darcy hybrid ( the infinitely patient Adam ) to Barry ( the Wickham esque enigma who shows up at the most inopportune times).
But unlike the formulaic points A--->C chicklit, Emma’s journey and connection with Austen does more for her severing herself with a tainted identity and reclaiming her individuality, sans Jane Austen idealism, than tying a happy knot with a prospective suitor.
A favourite scene had Emma pawning her wedding and engagement rings to buy a beautiful Chanel with which to dazzle her date at a production of Brinsley Sheridan’s the Rivals: during the performance, while wedged between two rather eligible men who have strained her emotional attachment, the play’s subject becomes deliciously ironic and somewhat foreshadowing. Well-played Pattillo!
A brainy, original and fully unique Austen-lit, I loved it: A breath of fresh air.
Previously, my acquaintance with Beth Pattillo had been in the Christian sphere (the equally snarky and peppy adventures of a female minister in Betsy Blessing and her foray into knitlit: The Sweetgum Society). Here, God stands in the background, guiding and present yet not mentioned or over-bearing. Emma’s father ( like Jane’s ) is a minister.
In fact, were a reader to be new to Pattillo and not initiated with her background, the subtle Christian ( erm, rather moral) lacings of the book would possibly remain undetected.
Two major thumbs up.
[Rachel Edit: This Will Ferguson cover is TAKING UP YOUR SCREEN! ]
Friday, October 02, 2009
1) The Setting. The books are set in Victorian London, which for anglophiles and history nerds like us is pretty much the ideal setting. And they’re not just set there – London itself is almost as important a character as Horatio, Tess, and Thomas. The descriptions are gorgeous, and the author’s love for her city comes through every word on the page.
Rachel: I especially love anything set by the Thames which, to Lyle, is the beating heart and life-blood of the city. Webb uses the Thames often as a focal point in her story. Also, there’s lightning. At St. Paul’s. St Paul’s struck by lightning.
I think my favorite thing about Webb’s portrayal of London – which she also does in her Matthew Swift books as Kate Griffin – is that yes, the London love is shining bright, but it’s not shying away from the dirty side of London. The smell of the Thames, the muck in the streets, the sewers, the urchins, the beggars. In fact, the books almost seem to revel in this sordid underbelly, to extoll its virtues as the real London. And I just love that.
2) The Stories. They’re historical fantasy mysteries. A detective and his sidekicks running about Victorian London solving mysteries and fighting monsters – with science! It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a corset at the science fair. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who, minus the time travel. Dickens and Gaiman collide.
It doesn’t really matter that there is hardly anything believable about them. They’re glorious. And Steampunk ( to use a now waay over-used word). They’re equal parts scary and wonderful and gritty and there are things that go bump in the night. Green-eyed things.
3) The Characters. How can you not love Lyle, Tess, and Thomas? Lyle, the brilliant scientist/detective with a strong sense of justice and a vulnerable side. Tess, the incorrigible, somewhat-reformed pickpocket. Thomas, the naïve, awkward young nobleman with a fierce love for science. When you put them together, they’re absolutely irresistible.
And when Lyle meets Faraday, his hero: he totally goes all fan on him and squeals. The characters are why we read this story. Even Feng Darin. Lin ( of course ---the chemistry between Lin and Horatio is to die for) and the horrible Lord Lincoln. The cold-hearted stone-creatures; those who reluctantly create a genocidal steampunk machine….. the hybrid of good n’evil and NO ONE IS WHO THEY SEEM TO BE….. and they all have British accents.
4) The Humor. The dialogue snaps with wit, Tess is hilarious more or less constantly, Thomas’s bumbling stabs at adulthood make you giggle, and Lyle’s frequent forays into confusion, embarassment, and panic make it impossible not to smile. I know one of your favorite scenes, Rachel, is when Lyle gets himself thrown in jail by pretending to be a cattle rustler, involving a marvelous speech about how much he loves cows.
There are few books that make me laugh as hard as these books. I think this is partly because her dialogue, and in turn dialect, leap off the page. You can hear the characters: the bouncy Tess; the prim and reticent Thomas; the skeptical and bemused Lyle in your head. Tess’ cockney dialect is one of the strongest parts of the story. Also, she shifts perspectives and sometimes ….sometimes…. even Tate ( the faithful hound) gets a moment in the spotlight.
5) The Heart. The above might draw you to the series, might guarantee you enjoy yourself immensely while reading them, but what will sink into your warm, gooey center is the heart of these books. And it’s a big heart. The love between these three characters is the source for more touching scenes than I can count: Lyle’s glowing pride at Thomas’s achievements, the depth of Tess’s affection for Lyle surprising even herself, how the only time Lyle gets angry is when someone threatens the children, the post-danger reunion hugs that make my heart melt like ice in Phoenix. These characters would do anything for each other, which just exponentially increases my love for them.
The post-danger reunion hugs ( for hereafter that is what they shall ever be called ) make my knees go to jelly and my fingertips tingle. Can one be unhappy when one is reading a Catherine Webb post-reunion hug? Seriously? Can there be anything wrong in the world. Like all the stuff we like, Jess: Firefly, BSG, Buffy, me and my Master and Commander obsession, it involves decidedly different types of people from all spectrums of life who are thrown together to battle circumstances and end up forging a bit of a connection: with Lyle, Tess and Thomas, that is the most solid thing in each of their lives. If you take one component out of the mix, everything would fall apart: like a key ingredient in Scientific-Lyle’s experiments.
You make a brilliant point about people from all spectrums of life. I hadn’t thought about that, really, but you’re absolutely right.
And that, my dear, is why we love Horatio Lyle. What’d I forget?
The fact that he runs around London with things that explode in his pockets.
And he makes a mean breakfast.
Monday, September 28, 2009
publisher: Windblown Press ( an imprint of Hatchette Book Group)
Let's get the plot out of the way so we can talk about the good stuff:
High-powered executive Steven Kerner is living the dream in southern California. But when his bottled pain ignites in anger one night, his wife kicks him out. Then an eccentric mystery man named Andy Monroe befriends Steven and begins unravelling his tightly wound world. Andy leads Steven through a series of frustrating and revealing encounters to repair his life through genuine friendship and the grace and love of a God who has been waiting for him to accept it. A story to challenge and encourage, BO'S CAFE is a model for all who struggle with unresolved problems and a performance-based life. Those who desire a fuller, more authentic way of living will find this journey of healing a restorative exploration of God's unbridled grace.
Bo's Cafe is marketed as comparable to The Shack ( that little book that swept the industry this past year) and I can see why. In the same, simplistic way, it invites readers to glean deeper questions and meanings through the lens of light, popular fiction.
Bo's Cafe offers a lot to be explored, discovered and pondered and will sit well with your small group or book club. The current "seeker" trend often opens queries about spirituality, religion, the "something more" the modern world hankers for. Bo's Cafe addresses the contemporary qualms of capitalism; recession and empty commercial existence with a white-washing of compassion and grace.
Relationships, friendships and family are three themes explored within the non-threatening context of a regular jaunt. Readers will feel invited in as well as recognize the characters they are meeting and feel at home with the "every man" problems and questions that arise. In fact, the vernacular of the "every man" is probably the strongest suit of this breezy narrative. The authors do not engage with taut, literary writing nor try to boggle themselves down in jargon and description, they run through the story as quickly as Andy's car. Every one will recognize this world. They live in it.
Further proof that Bo's Cafe dwells among the every day folk is the chapter header: "God, what are you doing to me here?!" How many times have you or the members of your family screeched that to the almighty in a moment of confusion? Readers who seek fulfillment through an exploration of relationships and grace in all its gritty realism will leave this cafe fully satisfied.
For Christians: consider using the book as a means to open discussion on faith-based issues in, as aforementioned, a non-threatening way. At the back of the book, the authors speak to outreach and how you can spread the word via facebook and twitter.
How to recommend it: Something in the narrative ( the threads of grace and the theme of restoration especially) reminded me of Mitch Albom and Nicholas Sparks.
The website features podcasts, more about the authors and a great overview of the story
( leaving just enough fodder for the imagination)
But don't just listen to me !
visit the other blogs on the tour:
Saturday, September 26, 2009
WITH OUR CAMERAS (!!)
Okay. So, we all know that Gordon Korman is, like, THE Canadian YA author of yesteryear. When I was in grade school the world revolved around my friends reading: a.) anything by Gordon Korman b.) anything by Martin Godfrey c.) the Sweet Valley High super-volumes ( the ones that were twice the size of the regular ones when Jessica and Elizabeth would have their Fiat stolen by a serial killer and have to flee to Egypt and change their identities).
So, at WOTS ( back when it was still on Queen ), we were, of course, hankering to see the Korman in person.
So were about eight billion kids.
After, standing in a long, long lineup to have a couple of Korman books signed ( one for me, one each for my little cousins), I remember thinking: this is embarrassing. I am the tallest person in this line. Every one else is 4"8 because EVERY ONE ELSE IS A TEN YEAR OLD BOY SHOVING OFF THEIR MOTHER IN AN ATTEMPT TO BE COOL!
HOW TO ESCAPE YA AUTHOR EVENT EMBARRASSMENT FOR BOOK GROUPIES IN THEIR MID-TWENTIES
(by Rachel McMillan)
Option ONE: Pretend you are a Book Reviewer/ Phd candidate ( one of the two or a hybrid of both)
1.) dress in professional attire for the event and carry around a notebook and pen ( or laptop or blackberry) so that everyone: from coordinators to publicists think you are there on some very official business.
2.) keep a stern and straight face even if the author reads something funny. Don't look like you are enjoying it so much as absorbing it for a higher purpose. Continually nod ( even if no one is watching, you never know when their heads might turn) and consult your notebook jotting down scribbles to look like you are writing.
3.) If there is a Q and A question, make sure you ask something that is over the children's heads so that it looks like you are there to dissect the inner-workings of the young adult literary field. Don't be afraid to make up a fake thesis. Wait til a lull in handraising and all the inane kid questions like " Are you more like Bruno or Boots", "Have you ever been on an airship, Mr Oppel?" are over then smile politely and say: "Yes. I have a question for Mr. Landy. I am doing my thesis on the current dystopian trends in Young Adult fiction. First off, can I just say that your novel makes a bold statement on the human condition? Secondly, is Skulduggery an emblem of the depraved morality and ethical lapses in post-9/11 Ireland? Is his a dichotomy between the loquacious offerings of authors such as Roddy Doyle and the stern Irish tradition of James Joyce or Flannery O'Connor?"
If the author's jaw gapes and the publicist narrows their eyes at you in a "WTF?" way then you know you have succeeded.
5.)When you get your book signed make sure you hover near the back of the line-up either furiously texting on your blackberry or writing voraciously in your notebook or reading The Illiad.
Option TWO: It was Jimmy's last wish
Bring a kleenex box and dab at your eyes. Erupt in hiccups and staccatoed moans into your cellphone lamenting: " Wouldn't nephew Jimmy love this? Why did he have to be taken so soon? Right before seeing Tim Wynne-Jones in person. It was his one dying wish. He used to pretend he was Rex Zero. Do you remember? I am here in your honour, Jimmy! [here, you can raise your voice a few decibels] It's all for you!!!! If only you didn't perish in that freak falling coffee mug accident. If only you could have held on a little longer. I'll drink nought but tea in your memory. It's ALL FOR YOU!"
(note: Call Rogers Help Line if having an actual automated voice inspires your fake phone conversation)
Option THREE: THEFT
Steal a kid: either from the foyer outside or your street, thrust a book in their hand and drag them by the ear to the signing with a curt sneer of "You'll enjoy this, dammit! Eoin Colfer is more than a fun and confusing name. You love Artemis Fowl. And Butler. And Holly. YOU FRIKKIN' WANNA BE A LEPRECHAUN. Stop sniffling! Artemis Fowl is an anti-hero. Don't know what that is? Yah, that's because your life has been all Bone by Jeff Smith and Ron and Hermione. HURRY the FRAK UP!"
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I love books! I like spending the majority of my life talking about books. I do so at my job ( I work with books ) with my friends ( who all love books---if they don't, I either find new friends or make them love books) at home, through my other job ( which also involves books).
I am an effusive reader with an extrovert, effervescent personality.....
BOOK PROMO WORD OF MOUTH ENTHUSIASM FOR AUTHORS WHO DESERVE IT!
Right now my favourite author on the planet ( I have not felt this way about any one since LM Montgomery, it is THAT serious) is Lynn Austin.
You can read more about Lynn at my other blog which is all Christian fiction. You see, chickadees, that is what Lynn Austin writes: Christian Fiction.
now, I know you are all squirming in your computer chairs and I don't blame you: Christian fiction can be a scary thing. I, however, seem stuck with it. It is part of my make-up, my heritage, and I spend the better part of my life attempting to find the jewels; the diamonds in the rough.
Lynn Austin is a demm'd good writer: whether you are Christian, atheist, druid, etc., etc.,
Reading her I sometimes feel as if I am staring in a mirror and everything I believe is imposed eloquently back upon me.
if THAT doesn't give the reader in the midst of such experience chills then I don't know what will.
To show my ARDENT AUSTIN LOVE! I am tweeting the heck out of L'Austin until the release date of Though Waters Roar next Tuesday.
So, if you are on twitter and want to see me make a gushin and completely idiotic, slack-jawed, wide-eyed FOOL of myself, c'mon down.
[I even made a hashtag ---erm----well ---Court made the hashtag]
p.s. APPARENTLY the new Austin has ....get this....suffragettes! Triple.Word.Score.
I am a lucky little YA hankerer-afterer. My honours thesis was supervised by one of the foremost voices in Canadian YA reviewing and judging and writing, etc., etc.,
Said Foremost Voice hired me as her house-sitter one summer and for six blissful weeks I a.) picked up review copies from porch b.) brought review copies inside c.) recycled the cardboard in a big blue box on the porch d.) read lots of books ( including ARCs of Twilight and New Moon before I recognized Stephenie Meyers as the Spawn of the Devil). I also read a lot of books she already had in her MASSIVE YA and KIDS LIBRARY OF AWESOME....
....including Polly Horvath. I had to "write up" EOAW for my Kids/YA job and the revisit inspired me to share it with all of you.
Everything on a Waffle winner of the 2009 Jolted Award for silly names; hard-to-explain-giddy-plot and weird recipes (even though it wasn't published in 2009; it was a 2002 Newbery Honour Book)
Primrose Squarp is sure her parents are not dead. She is contradicting the evidence that they both perished at sea when her stalwart mother fled to save her stalwart father when he failed to return home from a fishing trip.
But, to the onlooker, they seem pretty dead so Primrose is an orphan *sigh*. No one in Coal Harbour BC wants to take her on as a responsibility: not even moth-ball smelling Miss Perfidy who gets paid to babysit Primrose by the hour.
Finally, they unearth the closest relative, Uncle Jack, who looks like a big lumberjack ( in my mind) and comes bearing plans to develop Coal Harbour into a major tourist attraction. He takes Primrose in and they have some larks.
Primrose also has larks at the Girl on the Red Swing diner where eccentricly sage Miss Bowzer serves everything ( including lasagna) on a waffle to give that there some CLASS.
Primrose narrates her story liquidly with short interrupted parenthesis boasting (recipe to follow).
Tons of imagery, exceptional proverbs, and zany, creative sentence structure make this a delight of Canadian lit ( even though Horvath is an adopted Canadian).
I really liked this book and recommend it to those who are seeking out Newbery books of yore.
Horvath has a decidedly different voice and it was a breath of fresh air after Nameless Urban Fantasy with Brooding Boy and Super Powered Girl with Alto Voice, Listless Eyes, and Non-Chalant fashion sense.
two Rachel Thumbs Up.
Also, Polly H. wins tons of awards so you should read her other stuff too!