Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inevitable Promo Post for "Empire of Ruins"

Thanks to our friends at Harper Collins Canada, I got my hands on a copy of Empire of Ruins! Everyone knows I love promoting Arthur Slade on le blog because it is fun to do and he makes me laugh… AND (and probably MOST importantly) he is from Saskatchewan: province-extraordinaire.

Just an FYI that this is officially published on March 1, 2011( according to Amazon) and yes! … you should be pre-ordering it NOW (should: meaning FIVE MINUTES AGO ALREADY!)

Here! I’ll help you.

You can order it here

Or here

And then you can read about it here

And…LOOK! someone blogged about it keenly in December here

As far as I gather there is...
-Mr. Socrates
-steampunky stuff
-steam and punk
-Victorian-style adventure
-lots of consonance and pitch-perfect descriptives ( it’s an Arthur Slade novel)

Canadian Authors ROCK! I support them and so should you!

Indubitably, I’ll have more to say about this later….

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

The Healer’s Apprentice is what I hope to be the beginning of an intriguing and unique spin on Christian Teen Romance by Zondervan.

Plenty of magic and classic fairytale elements pepper this tangy take on the Sleeping Beauty story.

Rose is a healer’s apprentice who leaves her lower class family and house full of brothers and sisters to work with the town healer. By day she and her friend Hildy dream about dukes and castles; by night dark shadows of the men who prove prospective suitors for Rose huddle in the background.

After tending to Lord Hamlin’s injured leg, Rose finds herself connected to the most prominent family in the village. The family loves Rose’s stories, the dashing Lord Rupert teaches Rose how to ride and the handsome and good-hearted Wilhelm eventually captures Rose’s heart.

But, theirs is a forbidden love. Wilhelm has been betrothed to an unseen and captive fiancée for years now and as soon as she is released from the sorcery that binds her, he will secure his happy ending.

Mistaken identities and dark spirits pervade the novel and make it a welcome change to the usual Christian teen fare. While Dickerson reimagines these evil forces as blatant spiritual warfare ( something that need not have been spelled out; rather more effectively implied), the story reads deliciously like an age-old fireside tale.

I found the romantic development between Wilhelm and Rose quite believable and it made me pine to see how their plot would untangle and happily-ever-after would reign supreme.

A secondary romantic plot between Rose’s friend Hildy and Gunther ( a charming, be-freckled lad) was another welcome addition.

There is a decidedly Christian element: mostly in the character’s thoughts and prayers, but with the exception of the spiritual warfare slant aforementioned, it is not over-powering: making this a suitable read for non-Christian readers.

I hope to see more of the like from Zondervan teen.

It was so refreshingly different from a lot of the nonsense Christian publishers pass off for YAs and Teens nowadays. Harsh, but true.

visit Melanie's website

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Secret Garden

The Edinburgh Festival’s production of The Secret Garden ( playing at the Royal Alexandra here in Toronto) is a faithful and imaginative interpretation of the Tony Award 1991 musical.

Much darker than anticipated in a story with a child protagonist and genuinely scooping up some of Burnett’s gloomy and hallowed themes, the Secret Garden plays very well on stage.

Opening in Colonial India, young and stubborn Mary Lennox is the only survivor of a rampaging cholera epidemic that claims the lives of both of her parents and her beloved Ayah, her Indian nurse. From there, a British soldier believes she has an uncle in Yorkshire and this is where Mary’s story begins.

The Secret Garden is well-known to most, Mary (as contrary as the nursery rhyme) moves to Misselthwaite Manor and encounters a cheerful maid Martha, her brother (whose preternatural connection with Animals and the natural world allows him to commune with robins and bunnies), her sickly cousin Colin ( stowed away in his room under his uncle’s belief that he is not long for the world and destined to become a hunchback like his father), her doctor uncle ( who has sinister motives of his own pertaining to the estate left to his brother, and her Uncle Archibald who is still grief-ridden over the premature death of his glorious wife Lily.

The Secret Garden refers to a walled oasis that Archibald had shut up after the death of his wife. When a robin shows Mary the key and the door long-hidden by ivy, Mary finds that all is “wick”: meaning even that thought dead still has a spark of life.

This theme becomes more and more prevalent as Colin becomes well, Mary becomes the spirited girl she was meant to be and leaves the shackles of dour contrariness behind her and Archibald finds his life outside of the mourning process.

The play strays in many ways from the text. Firstly, Mary’s Uncle Neville never factored into the original story and here he is fleshed out as a manical villain who, too, was once in love with Lily ( in the book, her full name is Lillias; probably shortened here for the audience). Neville’s sinister plans and his backstory with Lily are never fleshed out and audience unfamiliar with the material may be left puzzled.

The play also fleshes out Archibald’s story. Featuring a greek chorus of ghosts from the cholera epidemic and Archibald’s past, including Lily and her sister Rose ( Mary’s mother), several scenes play out moments of their budding relationship. This also acts as a convoluted device, if a well-meaning perspective on a love found and lost.

The production itself was rather moving: lights painted the ghost characters in a harrowing grey while the garden under its raptured sprout gleamed silver and light. Misselthwaite Manor was constructed of moving partitions, old portraits and four-postered beds, gloomy, stilted libraries and dark, lanterned halls, these were turned at will on a revolving stage ( think Les Miserables), and often pieces were moved by the ghost members of the cast keeping the image of a haunted house on a wuthering hill at the mind’s forefront.

As mentioned, the production was very dark; but there are enough signs of life to determine its happy ending. There is rebirth for all much like the coming of the awakened spring ( thanks to Mary’s persistence and Dickon’s magic touch).

The score was backed by a competent orchestra and though some of the cast was pitchy or just downright overblown ( I wasn’t overly impressed with the actor playing Archibald) , the two child leads playing Mary and Colin as well as Dickon and Marta were fabulous.

Lily also had a sweet, entrancing voice for her very lyrical soprano portions.

Often called one of the best scores in modern musical, the songs blend English folk, melodious pop and traditional theatre to give a thoughtful, classical feel to an enduring story.

I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Defense of Food: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants

The subtitle of Michael Pollan’s entertaining treatise on how obsession with nutrition has culminated in food-like products is : Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. Pollan turns investigative journalism into a high-entertainment art form. He knowingly winks at the reader as he guides them through the atrocities of health-based obsession from the 19th Century onward.

I especially enjoyed learning of different fad diets and what was constituted as bad ( protein was AWFUL at the turn of the 20th Century and famous eaters like Roosevelt and Morgan reached the heights of insanity to cleanse it from their diet) to margarine ( that minx of a chameleon substance that can shift and shape its nutritional value whenever the health moderators call it out in anger) to nutrients: what are they, how did we find them, should we dissect them, how our ancestors did without them. Pollan makes an interesting case arguing that the more society obsesses over health food, the more obese we become.

The Western Diet: that awful North American misrepresentation of food as health and substance is painted in a garish light: especially when prompted by scientific bases and cover-ups. Pollan doesn’t preach: instead he asks us to read, be informed and contemplate. Do we really feel that the labels high-cholesterol; low cholesterol; saturated fats; low-fat; high protein are shaping us for a health and fervent future? Pollan asserts that stripping decades of confusion will lead us back to food in its purist form: away from the food-like substances that have catapulted on our society and saturated our store shelves. Pollan’s mantra takes us to the heart of the matter in an informed and excessively readable way. Years of being imparted with scientific evidence proving this is good, this is bad, this gives cancer, this cures it have muddled our relationship with a prime human experience.

Pollan lays it all on the table and asks us to call it out. Are fad diets and government concocted pyramids really the most efficient way to question the obesity problem in North America? What can we learn about the nutrients we have obsessed over and how can we better tackle weighty ( no pun intended ) issues like protein and carbohydrates? What actually IS good for you? I think Pollan’s mantra is to strip confusion and over-muddled terminology ( you should see the breakdown of nutrients in a plant such as thyme) and bring us back to basics.

I especially enjoyed when he took us into the science of food and into studies that discussed how every human body is not just a food processing machine and how every variant of food can materialize itself in different ways. Those interested in food and nutrition will enjoy this book. Those who just want a bloody entertaining read by an intelligent and snide observer of human fallacy will also have fun!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Courtney and Rachel Talk Books: Faro's Daughter

Courtney AND rachel take on Georgette Heyer ( and Kato!)

The Story

Faro’s Daughter tells the story of Deborah, a woman who works in a gamboling house, and Max Ravenscar who is a gentleman trying to save his young cousin from a most inconvenient marriage to aforementioned woman. Of course, as Deborah really has no intention of marrying Ravenscar’s young cousin, this book is filled with many misconceptions and angry words as Deborah and Ravenscar try to get the other to leave Ravenscar’s cousin alone.

And as per any Heyer novel, we can expect these many misconceptions to somehow turn into love and a happily-ever-after ending.

Rachel: I really didn’t like Faro’s Daughter as well as I liked the other Heyer novels. This is a bit disappointing, because up to and surrounding Christmas, I read a string of awesome, adorable Heyer after another. I really think this had something to do with the characters. I did not fall for Max Ravenscar in the same way as I did a Miles Cavanaugh or a Jasper Damerel. Knowing that Heyer as such delightful potential for sparkling, witty heroes and heroines, I felt a little cheated when I failed to really click with either the main or peripheral characters. I rather enjoyed Lucius, Deborah’s erstwhile confidante, but no potential was completely realized on this front.

Courtney: I would completely agree with you about this – not nearly as enjoyable as Heyer’s other novels that I’ve read, and it’s all due to the characters. There was so much potential – misunderstanding! an unlikely female heroine! romance between all the wrong people! But it didn’t go as far as it could have because the characters didn’t bring it there. Whereas you enjoyed Lucius, I have to say that I didn’t even like him – or any of the other secondary characters. I thought they all felt very one-dimensional. And this saddens me.

Rachel: In the best Heyer novels, the relationship between the heroine and hero develops in a sparklingly languid way. Like Elizabeth and Darcy, you follow them through their trail of mishaps to the rainbow at the end of the tunnel and the final “a ha!” moment. Here, Ravenscar and Deborah hated each other (surfacely) so intensely that any development was shoved to the wayside. Thus, in the final moments, they seem almost thrown together and you cannot retrace your thoughts to the beginning of their more amorous acquaintance. Yes, a sparring couple is one of the delights of Heyer—- but this moved beyond playful sparring and bordered on downright mean. They both went out of their way to comment on the others inadequacies in a harsh and cruel way.

Courtney: Downright mean doesn’t even begin to cover it! He insulted her at every possible chance, she went out of her way to provoke his anger, and then if that wasn’t bad enough she kidnapped him! And while love often grows from hate in books, we don’t see their feels really changing and then all of a sudden when she agrees to marry him, it just feels so out of character for both of them… almost like the characters got away from Heyer and this was her reining them in for the big finish.

One of the things that really frustrated me about this book was the double standard that was presented of what women and men are allowed to do. Men are allowed to frequent gaming halls, but for a woman to run a gaming hall out of her house was one of the biggest taboos that could be done. I know it’s my feminist side coming out there, but it made me quite angry when reading about it.

Rachel: I don’t think, particularly, this “problem” was one of Heyer’s writing and plot; rather a double-standard permeating the time period ( alongside a host of others not as starkly explored in this book.

Courtney: One of the highlights of her other books are the whole cast of characters and this one was lacking, especially in the side-kick point. I have a tendency to love sidekicks more than main characters in most media that I thoroughly enjoy. They can provide insights into the character, or provide comic relief, and are often the vehicle used to get us inside the main characters’ heads and understand what they are feeling and thinking.

Rachel: Yes. Friday’s Child has ruined me for Heyer novels without strong sidekicks. Sometimes what is most prominently revealed about the development of the hero and heroine’s relationship is said in these colourful moments with wondrous side-kick aplomb. In fact, the sidekick is SO essential to a great story and so important, one is automatically drawn to thinking about other sidekicks. Say, sidekicks one has seen is recent movies. Say, sidekicks that have nothing to do with regency romance; rather are renaissance men who can make coffee and fight martial arts while listening to Beethoven. Sidekicks who are the personification of a human swiss army knife…sidekicks like KATO!!!!

Courtney: Kato is adorable! And can kick Britt’s butt but is still so loyal to him that he only does it when Britt needs a SERIOUS butt-kicking. Other than that, he will drop everything to make sure Britt doesn’t get his butt-kicked by anyone else!

Rachel: Wait. Maybe we should let people know that we have switched to the Green Hornet: a movie Court and I saw a few weeks back. A movie that was so splendidly ridiculous I doubt it really had any screenwriting: just a lot of running around and laughing.

What I REALLY liked about the Britt-Kato relationship was the balance ( or imbalance) of power. It takes Britt a long time to reconcile himself to the fact that Kato really is his superior in many ways. When Kato tells Britt he is stubborn it is an understatement. Britt finally learns that in order to stay safe ( metaphorically and literally), he has to move into the front seat of the Black Beauty and let equilibrium ensue.

I also LOVE little details about Kato: the fact that he makes coffee, sketches Bruce Lee; draws a happy face on a card accompanying a gift to Britt; is saved from Britt’s pool by an inflatable lobster…

And what I liked MOST about this partnership is how different it is to other partnerships. So often ( and can I shamelessly use the BBC Sherlock as an example, please? Okay. I will) as in the BBC Sherlock, the “team” of hero and sidekick are mentally in synch: they just need to glare at each other and they are mentally attuned to what the other is planning.

Britt and Kato ( in their development as the Green Hornet and Kato ) have no synchronicity at all.

I love how we jumped from Georgette Heyer to this, by the way. What a subtle transition.

Courtney: I think you’ve covered everything that is important about the Britt-Kato bromance, and I don’t know that there’s anything else that needs to be said about it, really. Except that it was really awesome that there wasn’t REALLY any romance in the movie. I mean, they were both in love with the same chick, but she wasn’t interested in either of them. And so the focus was completely on the Britt-Kato dynamics without getting sidetracked and distracted. Not enough stories do this!

The Bottom Line

Hum. The most boring of Heyer’s books that I’ve read so far. So boring that we tangented quite easily.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

the Mummy Case: An Amelia Peabody Mystery by Elizabeth Peters

I am so madly in love with this addictive, crack-like series right now. It is perfect. It is absolutely perfect. It works on three different levels: is surfacely adventuresome and fun(though splendidly clever and exceedingly well written), invokes a brilliant parody of the adventure sagas of the day and sets itself in the way of its own irony. On one hand Amelia rails against sentimentality and melodrama and, on the other, she leaps into it headfirst: in her illustrious narrative and the convoluted mystery-murder-plots that thread through the series. All of my hyperbolic skills (see previous accolades) surface when I think about how much I WANT TO GO TO EGYPT! WANT TO MARRY RADCLIFFE EMERSON! WANT TO MAKE ME UNDERLINE EVERY CLEVER LINE IN THE BOOK ( which, basically, makes me want to underline the whole book: so I gave up on this fruitless endeavor)

Following Crocodile in the Sandbank, and the ridiculously wonderful The Pharoah’s Curse, The Mummy Case finds Amelia Peabody Emerson, parasol-wielding, detective-extraordinaire, and ( according to her fine self) sure to have her name enshrined next to her esteemed husband for centuries, and her delightful robust and growly Egyptologist, Radcliffe Emerson back doing what they do best: another Season in Egypt. ‘Cept they didn’t get the pyramids they wanted, their servant John is doing a less-than-stellar job at guarding young (and frustratingly precocious)Ramses ( the Emerson’s insanely smart and ten-steps-ahead-of-you! young son) and there is little privacy for their favourite pastime… ( next to excavation *ahem* ) so Emerson’s shirts are surprisingly well-buttoned and an annoying Coptic religious group ( not to mention the near footsteps of a Master Criminal ) preys on their nerves. Throw in a German baroness’ missing mummy case( heck! Even a missing mummy) and Amelia is at the ready: parasol steady and fire-wit aplomb.

God, I LOVE HER! Romantically, this series is top-notch. It is so refreshing to observe fervor and passion in a couple who have been married near a decade. They are as in love and smitten with each other as the first time they met. In fact, their whirlwind courtship never ceases. A marriage of equals ( for Amelia would settle for nothing less): "Marriage, in my view”, she writes, “ should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries." I love her. Love him. Love Ramses. Love their shoddy pyramid ( they didn’t get Dahshoor; but they will next time!!) Loved the criminal and Amelia’s waterproof matches. The whole thing is a rollercoaster of ridiculous fun! READ THIS NOW! Just drop everything and read it now.

(I was half hour late for a party ‘cause I couldn’t stop reading)