Monday, September 24, 2012

The New Moon's Arms

The New Moon's Arms / Nalo Hopkinson
New York: Warner, c2007.
323 p.

This is a book I've been meaning to read for a while now, and have had a copy on my shelves for a long time.  When Aarti's reading challenge, A More Diverse Universe, came along, I knew the time was right to read this!

Nalo Hopkinson is based in Toronto, where she's lived since she was 16, after growing up in the Caribbean. I enjoyed what Nalo said on the FAQ page of her website about her identity as a writer:

Q: Do you think of yourself as a black writer, or as simply a writer?
A: Both.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a Canadian writer or a Caribbean writer?
A: Both.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a queer writer or just as a writer?
A: Both.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a woman writer, or --
A: Both. All the above, and more. All those identities are very important to me. I don't need to claim just one.

All of these elements are wrapped into this novel. Calamity Lambkin (born Chastity, until changing her name to reflect how she sees her self) is living on the fictional island of Dolorosse. She's been nursing her father through his final illness, after many years of estrangement due to her teenage pregnancy. Now in her mid-50's and going through 'the change', Calamity's life is turning upside down, starting at her father's funeral as the book opens.
She rescues a lost toddler washed up by the sea (where the magic in this story comes from; he is a first suspected then shown to be a mer-boy) -- she is forced to be civil and reconnect with her first love Michael (her daughter's father) plus his lover -- she finds that her long lost prepubescent power of 'finding' things has re-emerged with menopause. Things appear out of thin air when she has an unexpected hot flash and a tingling in her fingers. And not just little things, though it all begins with a long-lost, eventually she's finding entire orchards popping up in her yard overnight. 
Calamity is a complex character. She is prickly, hard to get along with, demanding, and very focused on herself. She is very unhappy with the thought of getting old and is fighting it with everything she's got. She is a sexual being, and she is powerful in her own right. She is a flawed, realistic individual who can be very loving with the rescued toddler, Agway, while spewing homophobic vitriol at Michael and his boyfriend.  You never feel that Calamity is trying to win over the reader; she could care less what you might think of her, she'll follow her own instincts in all cases. It makes for a fascinating reading experience, as Calamity reveals things that she doesn't seem to see as problematic about herself, like her intolerance or her extreme resistance to aging.
There are many subplots and side characters in this novel, which is both its strength and its weakness. I loved some of the side stories, like the snippets at a seal house in the Zooquarium, or the mythological story of a slave ship and its connection to the sea people, and there just wasn't enough of those elements for me. Also, a major mystery and developmental milestone for Calamity was the loss of her mother at age 12 or so -- it seems to be very important and yet that storyline kind of gets left behind in the conclusion of the book. 
Nevertheless, this was an intriguing novel that I really enjoyed. I felt that the rhythms and phrases that Calamity and her neighbours spoke with added to the sense of place. The many  offhand references to politics and ecology and mythology -- and family dynamics! -- gave shading and depth to the main story, that of Calamity's life change. While the presence of Agway and the sea people gave the tale its magical elements, they weren't the sole focus of the book. Instead they were woven in to Calamity's life story. She was a strong protagonist, not necessarily a likeable one, but a powerful anchor for the story. 
It was an appealing introduction to Hopkinson's work, and I'll definitely be picking up another of her novels. 

To see a list of all of the participants, check out this post.

Friday, September 21, 2012

This 'n' That

Some interesting things I've noticed lately:

My Jane Eyre obsession continues: I could wear Jane's declaration around my neck, via Wrap Up With a Good Book!
Wrap Up With A Good Book Scarf: Jane Eyre
 I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is 
now for me to leave you!
Or perhaps I should just wear the scent of Thornfield, thanks to Sarawen Perfume Art:

Image of THORNFIELD Perfume Oil - Jane Eyre inspired
"mysterious, gloomy, and a little dangerous"
Actually, I could also smell rather Sherlockian (I like the idea of Tea with Watson myself...) or even vampirish, to be seasonal.

Also, this blank book/journal is rather fun, empty pages interlaced with bookish quotes:

by my hero Nancy Pearl

And to close off, a quick share of the best spam ever:

 "Do not think that my opinion is formed from the a handful of wild thyme, or a blaze of scarlet geranium before a cottage"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors & Glooms / Laura Amy Schlitz
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, c2012.
384 p.

This was an irresistible read for my first choice for the RIP Challenge! There is just something about marionettes that I find inherently creepy... and this lived up to expectations.

It begins in 1860, with Clara Wintermute, the only surviving child in a doctor's family, all her siblings (including a twin brother) having died of cholera some years before. Her life is constrained by the overcautious care of her parents as a result, and by her mother's insistence on continually including The Others in all family events. In this case, they are included in Clara's birthday, which opens the book.

If this isn't creepy enough, we soon meet Gaspare Grisini, a puppetmaster who Clara has seen perform on the streets and demands to have as entertainment for her party. He brings along his two orphan assistants, ladylike Lizzie Rose and the younger and scruffier urchin Parsefall.

After a debacle of a party, Clara disappears overnight. Grisini is suspected but there is no trace of Clara. The story then moves to focus on the trials of Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, once Grisini disappears from their lodgings. In dire straits, they receive an offer of assistance from Cassandra Sagredo, an "old friend of Grisini's" -- a woman the reader has already been introduced to as a sorceress. They then pack up all their belongings, including puppets and puppet theatre (including one marionette who strangely resembles Clara Wintermute) and head north to Strachan's Ghyll to meet up with Cassandra, and though they don't know it yet, with Grisini.

All these storylines intertwine and come to a quite thrilling conclusion. The writing is excellent, drawing the reader along paths of mystery and suspicion, and the patient reader will see them connected in every detail as the story goes along. It has a Victorian atmosphere, with characters and settings to enthrall and entertain. It even has much of the action happening at Christmas, with snow and ice and presents implicated in the drama.

It is Dickensian and yet "Clarke-ian" -- is that an adjective yet? Very redolent with the aura of Susanna Clarke ;) It is aimed at juvenile readers, and I would recommend it to good readers anywhere from 12 up if they like a shivery story -- though there are one or two scenes that may be a bit beyond children. But I also enjoyed it as an adult reader, finding the story raised up enough ideas and images to engage adults.

This theme of creepy puppets seems to be becoming a theme in my RIP reading, with Joanne Owens' The Puppetmaster a very memorable read in 2009. Can't wait to read another in next year's challenge...any suggestions?

*there was a great review of this one and another similar children's tale in the NYT this weekend!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Comfort Reading

Well, I didn't get very far with my participation in this year's Book Blogger's Appreciation Week! At least not with the writing part. I've been enjoying the many posts by others who've been posting regularly all week. It's nice to see so many passionate readers and bloggers!

But I have been reading. I was in need of some comfortable, familiar reading this week, and happened upon Jane Eyre, reminded by a glimpse of this BBC version that I loved when I first saw it.  It is an old favourite that I've read a few times, and I was in the mood for the fiercely independent Jane. Fortunately, I have a few copies, as the Penguin paperback which I was seeking seems to have gone AWOL. I picked up an old hardcover, one without a dust jacket or any introduction or notes. Just a plain, old fashioned novel with type big enough to read comfortably!

And it has been a comfort to revisit Jane's life, to see her grow from an angry and abused child to a very self-possessed and yet passionate young woman. I do enjoy this novel despite what many of the readers who dislike it say. I think Jane is amazingly self-reliant and upright, with a sure sense of self and an iron will. Yet she is funny, clever and full of spirit as well.

Reading a different edition this time was an odd experience. I seemed to see many passages that I hadn't noticed before, and pick up on details I'd skimmed over previously. A few passages jumped out at me, and since I can't exactly give a review to the classic and well-read novel that is Jane Eyre, I'll simply share some of the excerpts that I noticed particularly this time around. Please feel free to share your opinions of this novel, or your favourite lines, in the comments!

...there is no happiness like being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.

 It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quick Bookly Survey for BBAW

Day 2: a quick survey -- since I missed on the first topic, mutual snooze, you lose! Thanks BBAWers for creating this alternate prompt.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Not usually, beyond a cup of tea... but this summer I've become addicted (yes, that's right -- addicted -- just ask my dh) to sunflower seeds while I read on the porch. I don't know what it is but I must go get my bag of "spits" when I pick up a book and recline on the patio furniture ;)

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Horrified. I can't do it. I keep a set of post-it flags nearby to mark things I want to note down later.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

Bookmarks -- of all kinds. I love thin ribbons, perfume sample cards, and even REAL bookmarks!

Laying the book flat open?


Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Both. My preferences go in waves of one or the other!

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Definitely hard copy. I've tried and tried to listen to audiobooks but it just doesn't work for me.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

I prefer to read until the end of chapters, but a natural break in the story will do in a pinch!

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

Nope, those post-it flags come in handy! Unless I can't figure out a sense of it by context I'll leave it til later.

What are you currently reading?

Some Like it Hot by Gary Paul Nabhan -- an intriguing look at regional food and genetics

Shadow Show: all new stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury

What is the last book you bought?

Let Them Eat Vegan by Dreena Burton.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

Always have more than one on the go. What I pick up depends on my mood.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

Love to read non-fiction in the morning if I can, and fiction anytime else. This summer I've been loving the porch as a reading spot, but otherwise, in my cozy reading chair or tucked up in bed will do as well.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

That depends. Generally I read standalones, but there are a few series I am inordinately fond of (Laurie King's Mary Russell books, anything by Alexander McCall Smith...)

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Not really. It depends on the person I'm talking to. But, for literary fiction I do keep recommending Dianne Warren's Cool Water. It's a Canadian novel that I adore. For more of a genre author, it's always Alexander McCall Smith.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

By when I acquire them. They get put on the shelf in that order and I know where they are -- heaven forbid anyone rearrange a shelf or I'd be at sea.

Monday, September 10, 2012

BBAW 2012

I've decided to join in with Book Bloggers Appreciation Week (BBAW) at the last minute this year! I've been so delinquent with blogging the last few months that I'll jump right back in this way ;)

This is the first day, and today's topic is to"Share with your readers some of the blogs you enjoy reading daily and why".

Since there are sooooo many blogs that I love to read -- many on the sidebar -- I thought I'd narrow it down by highlighting some of my fellow Canadians today. These are blogs that I love for various reasons: the breadth of their reading, their sense of humour, the gorgeous photos they post, and the sharing of new Canadian books!

I'm going to make a simple list so that I can quickly post a few blogs to share with everyone. They are all worth checking out, for all the reasons above :)

Matilda Magtree

Buried in Print

Pickle Me This

Magnificent Octopus

Book Puddle

Book Mine Set (home of the wide-ranging Canadian Book Challenge!)

and of course, I can't neglect my dear husband's literary jottings & musings at Chumley and Pepys on Books!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Drumroll please.........

Announcing, with pride, the arrival of a new website -- Stratford Authors! It's a new bookish site featuring the local writers of Stratford, Ontario, run by author Deborah Cooke and yours truly.

It's actually quite amazing how many writers & illustrators & avid readers there in this area; Deborah and I were talking about how nice it would be if there was more connection between them, and the proverbial light bulb went off! So follow the site if you're interested in the happenings of this small literary world. Weekly interviews, reader's and writer's tips, local events and more..... I'm sure it will evolve as it goes along.

So excited to see where this one goes! And just wanted to share with faithful readers :)

Monday, September 03, 2012


Oh, yes, my ghoulish friends, it is that time of year again! Time to return to the wonderfully spooky RIP (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII), hosted once again by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This is a perennnial favourite: as Carl states,

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
There are two simple goals for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII
1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.

 Autumn is the perfect time to pick up some autumnal reading -- especially when you're a mood reader. I love the dark, spooky feeling of late autumn, and it's true that I turn more to these kinds of reads in the fall. Carl's "challenge" is more of a reading celebration, and as such, there are no lists to made or strict rules to follow. He creates "perils" for various levels of participation, though, and this year I'm going with

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

I know there's no requirement to make any lists but I love to make lists so here is my tentative, possible reading for this Peril:

1. Alchemist & the Angel by Joanne Owen (I read her Puppet Master for a previous RIP and adored it: creepy puppets!)

2. Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz - just what I need! Another YA tale of creepy puppets that crossed my desk serendipitously... the book, not the puppets...

3. Shadow Show: all-new stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury Because I have a copy and I love Ray Bradbury and there are some fabulous contributors to this volume!

4. Something by Ray Bradbury himself. Which one? Not sure yet.

5. Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip - if I can get my hands on a copy I'll be reading this one by one of my favourite fantasy writers

6. Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat -- some intriguing steampunk plus an alternate Arctic....sounds right up my alley

Are you joining the RIP VII? Do you have any recommendations for this year's thrilling reads?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Meditation for Your Life

Meditation for Your Life: creating a plan that suits your style / Robert Butera
Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 336 p.

Here's one book I read while on my holidays: a look at various types of meditation, aimed at demystifying techniques and enabling the reader to find one that matches your own personality and preferences.

It's a basic intro to the idea that there are a variety of ways to meditate, and that some will suit your temperament more than others. He introduces the book by discussing 'myths' and expectations, then moves on to the steps to prepare for meditation: preparing your life for a meditation practice by reducing stressful behaviours, being aware of your thoughts, breathing, relaxation, good nutrition, and sensory mastery (ie: being conscious of the distractions of sound, smell, daydreams, etc.) Each of these areas has its own brief chapter with explanations and definitions, as well as specific examples to aid in each area. Next, he focuses on the 6 major types of meditation -- each of these is also dealt with thoroughly in its own chapter with further information in the resource section at the end of the book.

The 6 major types of meditation that he recognizes are:

1. Breath: awareness of the movement of the breath and thus energy throughout the body

2. Affirmations & Visualizations: just what it sounds like

3. Mantra: repetition of a sacred word or sound, ie: "om", or something from scripture, poetry or prayers

4. Devotion/Prayer/Intentionality: a receptive sort of listening, including contemplative prayer, mysticism and so forth

5. Mindfulness: uses concentration and awareness -- observation of the present moment, without judgement. Derived from Buddhist Insight meditation (vipassana)

6. Contemplative Inquiry: simple focus on one concept -- existential questions, koans etc

The final 60 pages or so delve into how to create and maintain a meditation practice once you've decided what appeals to you, along with many tips and suggestions gleaned from his experience.

I enjoyed the tone of the book; he provides copious amounts of solid information in a practical, down-to-earth way. He is open about the pros and cons of the practices and makes suggestion as to how to choose something which will be most likely to work for you. There is no dogmatic insistence on any particular method, rather, he illuminates and presents many options with the final goal being to encourage the inclusion of some kind of contemplative/meditative practice in your life.

I found it very well organized and encouraging, and a perfect book for someone in the early stages of exploration of this area. I feel like I've learned a lot, and more than that, am enthusiastic about exploring more deeply.  Recommended highly!