Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I hate filling out grad school applications.

So, I have not finished a book lately because I have been tapping away at statements of purpose.

Here is what I am just starting: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

It is gorgeous.

And here is what I will NOT be reading anytime soon, thank you very much:

The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer

Monday, January 22, 2007


Okay. Here is a weekend roundup:

The Painted Veil by a relatively new discovery of mine, W. Somerset Maugham, is the perfect thaw to the January chill. Sure, its erudite tragedy unfurls so subtly its climax catches your heart , but the denouement ( a doctor and his unfaithful wife discovering almost absurd grace in Cholera- ravaged China ) is worth a ride.
Walter Fane has not let go of me since I first read of him. The consummate silent mourner, the affair his beautiful (and much loved wife ) betrays him with, cuts deeper than I would have initially thought.
In a catapulting joint suicide-pact, they fall in love ( Walter once more, Kitty for the first time ), amidst illness and strife. Trust Maugham to paint a love story in its perverse " Love in the Time of..." way.

Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer

A renowned historical novelist for the teen age, Meyer crafts a winsome and believable Stratford-Upon-Avon in the years when it housed a budding poet and the comely older girl he would eventually fall for. Setting the stage for an almost preternatural courtship, Will ( a fiesty performer ) and Agnes ( Anne as he likes to call her ) attend the same grammar school and engage in light conversation.

Virginia Woolf ponders "If Shakespeare had a sister...." and this one does. A sister, a mother, a father a thatched-roof house and an existence in a middle-class family of glovemakers , neighbours to the Hathaways. Narrated by Agnes, the tale takes us to the Black Death, the esteemed visit of Elizabeth I to Robin Dudley's castle, and through the heated attraction of Agnes to a swarthy farmhand.

Not lasting literature, in my opinion, and sprinkled with obvious cliches ( Will compares Agnes to a Summer's day) it is nonetheless a picturesque portrait of early Elizabethan England framing two unlikely lovers and setting the stage for the world's greatest playwright.

Dust by Martha Grimes

It is hard to know how best to whet your insatiable Grimesian appetite. Do you gobble in a quick devour, do you slowly chew unthreading the plot by each, colourful and humorous string?
After finishing a Grimes completely satisfied, cliffhanger or not, I bound about in a euphoria I reserve for very few things. The blast of a Jury/Plant romp hits with jubilant force--- I laugh, sometimes tear, and burst on each page with wide-eyed wonderment. To say nothing of her prose ( carefully calculated strokes of a master brush), her palatable wit, her literary flair (Dust is set partly at Lamb House, oft occupied a century ago by Henry James.... and where he penned Golden Bowl, Wings and Ambassadors) and her characters.

Melrose Plant. Melrose Plant. Melrose Plant:

As says The Stargazey: "Melrose smiled his special smile, the one he was not wholly conscious he had, but it was as fetching as the smile of a very young child. It was, like the work of Matisse, Vuillard, and Van Gogh, the real thing on offer. It invited you in"

Melrose and art intertwined. Synonymous, in my opinion.
The kind of character that makes me want to be an author. Remaining one of the greatest discoveries of my literary life. So real, visceral, engaging, I often look up from a Grimes novel shocked that he is not sitting across from me so clear is his image in my mind's eye.

The Dickensian connection so many reviewers make is well founded. The children, dogs, caricatures, setting--- the melange of police procedural, comedy of manners and tea cosy a near-Victorianesque ( because I dwell on it so much ) frothy treat.

If she wasn't so damned smart, I might write her as my guilty pleasure. Happy thought that she can be candy and still a hybrid of Dickens, Sayers and Doyle all rolled into a comfy ball.

I feel proud that I discovered her, like I keep a sneaky delectable secret from the masses yet unitiated---still wandering to Elizabeth George for fulfilment.

Ha! Grimes did it first. And I am onto something oh deprived Non-Grimes readers!

I know something you don't know! And you are missing one helluva literary feast !

Shattered Eric Walters recently won UNESCO International Award for Literature in the service of tolerance. In this mindblowing YA book profoundly interrupted by the horror of the Rwandan genocide, I find myself an acute believer in Walters and his power of pen.
Ian works at a downtrodden soup kitchen inching hours toward a social science credit. There, he meets Jacques, a poignant former soldier who seems most of mundane humanity as butchered as any horror movie; atrocity forever embedded in his mind after his service in Rwanda.
In a series of harsh truths about society's easy dismissal and judgment of the homeless and the derelict, Walters spins a young man's viewpoint at a 360 angle, forcing the reader to come away as the protagonist has: a little saddened, a little wiser, a little better for the experience.
Coupled with an introduction by Romeo Dallaire, endorsing the text with a stamp of worthy validity, readers follow with a glimpse into the brilliant mind of a writer whose agenda deserves highest praise.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn.

My friend Cathy recommended this as a lowkey fantasy/romance. It's a very sweet thing with a pinch of faerie magic. Coriel spends her summers at court where the roguish red-headed king-to-be captures her heart and the horsemaster Roderick and ever-present Kentley, secure her sense of adventure and fun. Shinn departs from the convention in the guise of the aliora---beautiful, waif-like creatures hunted from their pixie world beyond the castle walls and subjected to slavery within. In a paradoxical twist, the castle itself undergoes an upheaval of demise.
This book put me in mind of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the imaginative and forthright Fanny soon (as Coriel is ) disenchanted by her guardians doings and the mass failings of his eldest son. A girl caught in a wbe of dark deceit, while trying to uphold the sense of release she felt as a child with her cousin Edmund.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Michelle Williams of Dawson's Creek (egad) is playing Charlotte Bronte.

Now, I am not saying she was horrid in Brokeback, but Charlotte Bronte is sacred territory.

She should tread carefully.

Have been watching Elizabeth I w/ Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. Quite the screenplay, I assure you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


There are two things in the world I really love: a.) Aubrey and b.) Maturin. I love them so much that ever since I first stepped onto their quarterdeck and a.) shook Aubrey's hand and b.) threw my arms around Stephen, I have been trying my darndest to find another nautical series that will throw me for the loop they did.

And where have I been and in what strange, exotic waters? Think Frederick Marryatt ( whose name I never spell correctly ), C.S. Forester, Nathaniel Drinkwater, Dewey Lambdin, Alexander Kent and Julian Stockwin ( to name a few ).

And out of the dozens of nautical authors I have read since ( do not ask me to name all of them: I even read through Jonathan Lunn's Killigrew books---a hybrid of mystery and age-of-sail), I have never found my replica. How do you repeat perfection?

Well. Definitely not with Julian Stockwin. Yes, that sounds harsh. But, the irony is, he is the one author of the aforementioned I have followed from the beginning. Now, the seventh book, Command, has recently closed on my nighttable and I am left to ponder the question I always ponder ( atleast through the last seven Stockwins ) Why do I keep reading them? Why do I make sure I order them around publication date and eventually devote a sitting just to them? Someone could easily assert they are bad O'Brian cliches, that even the CHARACTERS are bad O'Brian cliches ( Renzi the philosopher who skulks moodily in a wavy purgatory to compensate for an ancient family sin), that the writing oozes out in such a forced manner that one is put in mind of Jennifer Connelly's sloppy speech in A Beautiful Mind: the film that made me realize people ACHE for Oscar's oft reflected in sentimentalized screenplay.

And the answer I found as I tripped through Kydd's bad dialogue ( I loathe the accented dialect Stockwin tries so hard to give him), the major lack of Renzi, his reappearance, his token " I love Cecilia what to do" scene and the choppy battle sequences was this:

Because I genuinely like Julian Stockwin. I have never met him. I know little about him... save that he served in the navy and donated a scrap of historical wood to a darling little bookshop in Halifax. Yet, I really do like him. I liked him from the moment I first read his author note (Aside: I love author notes. See CC Humphreys for guidance on these as a craft) which was steeped with humility and excitement. He and his wife are thrilled to be writing these books. He is living a dream. He obviously researches impeccably and has first-hand experience to boot.

Further, he started with a generally refreshing take on the world of nautical wonder. Thomas Kydd is pressed into service and learns the ropes and gleefully steps up in the nautical world and a myriad of adventures as he learns to love the sea in the way O'Brian taught the world to.

I see this parallel in Julian Stockwin. After the demise of the master, O'Brian, publishers must have been scrambling over each other to find the next star. Who wouldn't stumble upon Kydd and Renzi? Their friendship, indeed the whole Sharpe-ish climb from the bottom to the top of the mizzen mast seeps with potential.

Aye, but therein lies the problem. I finished book seven and am still flabberghasted by the potential.

This one proved more strongly than others that perhaps this infamous potential may someday be fully realized, but until Stockwin decides exactly what he wants to do and the stories do not seem like a work-out of a revised draft, I will have to close them again and again waiting for next year and admit, as always, that I really really like Julian Stockwin. I just wish I could say the same about his books.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Last night I went to see Miss Potter and believe me, it was well worth the wait.

I am currently up to my nose in a Potter project and will unravel more about her when I finish Linda Lear's scrumptious new biography: Beatrix Potter, a Life in Nature.

Until then, and before I head off to sell books at a J.L. Granatstein (the king of Canadian History ) event, let me leave you with some reviews of Dust; the new Martha Grimes novel.

She is one of the few authors I consistently buy in hardcover. For a soon-to-be peek at the new Grimesean wonder ( hits shelves Tuesday), read this!

The only thing I like better than a new Grimes novel, is a bag full of lollipops. Actually, having them both together is sheer bliss.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Busy reading and reviewing so here is a list of some YA novels of note I have consumed recently.

The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love by Rosemary Rushton: Sense and Sensibility for teens!

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman. Pride and Prejudice for teens. Winsome and witty. Smarter than the Rushton.

A Pickpocket's Tale by Karen Schwabach. Little Londoner is sent on a slave ship from Newgate to New York. Lives with a Jewish family while there. Schwabach paints a dazzling canvas of yesteryear while silmultaneously brushing readers up on Jewish traditions. What did a nineteenth century synagogue look like? Equal amounts of yiddish and flash cant pepper the language.

Snowfall KM Peyton. Stifled Charlotte leaves the promise of a dismal marriage and her aged cleric grandfather to hike in the alps with her brother and his Oxford friends. Love in many forms and adventures nearly unfathomable to most Victorian ladies abounds.

Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan. Ida is an irrepressible homeschooled child who spends her days communicating with the trees in her orchard and maximizing the potential of fun ( one of her many plans ). An engaging narrator, Ida B. relays the tale of her mother's sudden illness and her reinstatement into the public school system, not to mention her further relations with the most inspiring grade four teacher in recent literature ( a reason she is labelled Ms. Washington; she is a cornerstone of morality and nobility and inspiration ). Cancer is not sugarcoated here, nor Ida B's many conflicting emotions. Hannigan has given you a shovel to dig into the furthest recesses and cavernous curves of a young mind, and you will be more than happy to explore.

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie Jaclyn Moriarty: the upper grade librarian's heaven sent for reluctant readers. Funny funny stuff.... and smart.

The Year of Secret Assignments. Also Moriarty. Read this now.

500 Great Books for Teens by Anita Silvey. Brilliant reference that expands on the gap that bridges Young Adults from Adult books. A must for anybody who is interested in this demogrraphic. Silvey was once chief editor at the Horn Book.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

because Norman Warne makes me heart sing....

a teeny bit excited about this

Ewan MacGregor looks like Norman---so that is a good thing.

And I am all for authors falling for their publishers. It just adds a little spark to the romance.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Ever see something and shout :" Hey! I know this guy!?"

This author was my first floor manager at my fantastic yellow bookstore job. He was awesome and smart and articulate and driven and no one deserves the success of publication more.

Pre-order this. From my memory, this author is obsessed with achingly beautiful prose and magical realism. Let us hope, then, that his life is a stip of velcro that has somehow accumulated the absolute sparkle of everything he loves and dedicates his time to..........

ECW writes:

Collecting linguistic oddities, scraps of images, bits of text, and hybridized references, Rick Crilly cuts-up and collages, disassembles and recreates an anatomical mystery where a blank page becomes a meditation on grief, and a crossed out word is a librarian’s scalpel. The Tablecloth Trick whips away the artifice between Fiction and fact (that''s Fiction with a capital F — because Plato loved capital letters, after all) to see what, if anything, is left standing.

Ha! Brilliance. I'm going to stock my indy bookstore with it.