"A plate of apples, an open fire, and a 'jolly goode booke' are a fair substitute for heaven", vowed Barney. -L.M. Montgomery, 'The Blue Castle'
Saturday, November 29, 2008
no bad books?
wrote this blog: all informative and erudite.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Landings and Penderwicks and Benjamin Button..... with some W. O. Mitchell for good measure!
Finally! The GG award-winner for Children’s literature, Globe and Mail’s Washington correspondent writes The Landing: a kuntsleromanesque novel for young adults about Ben Mercer: a would-be violinist trapped in Depression-Era Muskoka.
A region very dear to my heart, Ibbotson carefully crafts and evokes Muskoka as a paradise amidst economic and social turmoil. A bittersweet region that is at once: mesmerizing and beautiful, dangerous and isolating.
The wealthy tourists spilling into the lake country view it as a prime position for lavish and grandiose parties. The residents whose livelihood relies on cushioning the granite and pine-treed spanse of northern Ontario , view it as a way of tireless existence.
Nevertheless, for good and for bad, Ibbotson painted home for me.
Ben Mercer is stuck at the Landing with his crippled and embittered uncle, Henry and his mother: still heavily grieving the passing of Ben’s father.
Ben dreams of leaving Muskoka, scooping up his violin and leaving the life of odd jobs aboard steamers like the Segwun ( which still ports out of Gravenhurst ), and chipping away at cottages for the wealthy and elite.
Ben wants to go to the Conservatory in Toronto and ensure that the steady fingers that move so liquidly ‘cross his violin are not smirched and worn by the hired hand work of his family.
The musical motif of the novel is pursued quite deftly. Especially with the arrival of Ruth Chapman: a Miss Havisham of a widow who smokes long cigarettes, drinks beer every day for lunch and wine for dinner ( a custom unheard of to small community Ben ), introduces hired Ben to martini olives and to stories of New York and glittering parties.
Ben sees in Ruth Chapman what his life as a musician might be. It is this vital relationship that is explored most intimately and that shadows the other relationships in the novel ( such as Ben’s rocky rapport with his equally-trapped uncle).
Unfortunately, a hefty amount of build-up as executed in a novel with eons of potential falls a little flat. Disappointingly so because I was so invested in seeing this full potential realized.
The ending speeds to an awkward and unexpected climax that staves off as quickly as it was built. It reads rather abruptly, as if the author was in a mad dash to tie up loose ends. They are tied, curtly, and with little grace.
I appreciate Ibbotson’s contribution to this year’s YA library especially because his nostalgiac retelling of a gilded age is painted on a Muskokan landscape: a region often eluding Canadian YA literature.
I will hunt Ibbotson down again… if only because he set his stage so intelligently and some of his phrasing was so compelling I returned to sentences more than once.
The end might reverberate harshly, but the journey was cleverly spun.
I give it a B+
Want more books? Fine. I give you The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by National Book Award Winner Jeanne Birdsall.
The Penderwicks make me nostalgiac. Episodic, charming, sweet. Birdsall is a first-class homage to Burnett, Alcott and Montgomery. She proves infectious.
I love the (mis)adventures of Batty, Skye, Jane and Rosalind. I love their little mishaps and the Sabrina Starr stories and their plays and soccer games. I love Batty’s chilling Hallowe’en bumping into the enigmatic Bug Man.
Each sister gets equal attention and Birdsall’s effortless narrative allows you to crawl into the characters’ thought processes and lodge there.
I especially loved clueless Mr. Penderwick: forever quoting Latin and harping on etymology. Prey, here, to visiting Aunt Claire’s blind dates, he becomes the central focus of a “Save Daddy” plot the sisters concoct to steer him from disastrous blind dates.
Not a fast paced book nor is it strewn with adventure. But, children will love it: Especially those who are champions of charming imaginative stories of home, colour and small adventures.
A peppermint-tea kind of book.
Oh. And plenty of space is given to faithful dog, Hound!
The nice people at Harper Collins sent me a hardcover, illustrated, swanky copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I am going to see an advance screening of the film on Sunday and hope that it fleshes out details that Fitzgerald’s sparse writing and the infinitesimal length of the book did not allow.
A surprisingly visceral read, Benjamin Button creeped me out with surreal illogistics. Fitzgerald and I go way back…. But I cannot say I’ve read him in the past five or so years. How odd to be thrust back into the sphere of his terse writing. I had forgotten. As a teenager, I had a major fling with Fitzgerald. I fell hard. … especially for Tender is the Night and the Great Gatsby. But mostly for This Side of Paradise .
Ironically ( and unintentionally), the lavish lake parties in the Landing immediately sparked a correlation to Fitzgerald…. Long before I knew a reading of Benjamin Button was looming.
In fact, Ruth Chapman even mentions Gatsby in one of her random tirades to Ben Mercer.
But Benjamin Button is not the flourish of languid flappers, coy mistruths, long cigarettes , gild and alcohol. No excessive ritz here. Instead, it is a bizarre circus of crude happenstance relating to a man who ages backward.
Erm… not really my thing but that distinctively Fitzgeraldian brand of clipped writing ( Scottie wrote by the sentence, or so we are told ) was missing in my life. Can I mention Fitzgerald ( or any other novelist from the Moveable Feast circle of Hemingway, Fitz, Ezra Pound and James Joyce ) without harping on Morley Callaghan? Umm. No.
So consider this my weekly reminder to go read That Summer in Paris .
Post-Benjamin Button, I picked up my jacketless, well-thumbed hardcover of Jake and the Kid: craving a different kind of short story. And THIS dropped out:
The ( unedited )words of Rachel-a-decade-ago. The ghost of my 16 year old self is here to haunt you:
Friday January 30, 1998
I guess, of all my favourite books I should write something 'bout Jake and the Kid. This is nothing short of a charming book. It adds life and pizzaz to these rainy days when nothing but the best will do. W.O. Mitchell is a literary Genius. Read the first story. If you're not hooked by the end of "You Gotta Teeter" then your imagination craves colourfulness and life. This collection of stories (added to the hard-to-find According to Jake and the Kid) makes me extremely proud that my country, Canada, owns W. O. Mitchell. I'm glad I witnessed the grandeur of the prairies these stories boast. I'm glad the RCMP are our landmark. I'm grateful our men sacrificed their perfect lives to fight overseas and I am fascinated by the history Jake expands when nonchalantly story-telling. Everyone of these phenomenal aspects are blended into the main plot about a boy and his rough-edged mentor. Both characters are masterieces and this book amazing. I always desire to embark on the great adventure through our Western Provinces. The small town of Crocus fascinates me.-- as a writer. How can so many amazing things take place in such a small area? How can such descriptions outweigh other classics? These ideas are fresh. There's only so much of foggy London or steamy Paris one can take.
I like to lay other clicheed books aside and travel to Saskatchewan. It is part of my heritage, part of my history, part of my country, and Jake and the Kid is part of me.
Wasn't I cute? Wow! I think I was blogging long before blogs existed. Also, I think I determined the path of my future long before I went into English Lit and publishing.
Trip down memory lane, you were fun!
Thursday, November 27, 2008
How Did I End Up On The Cover Of This Romance Novel?
By Duncan Larksthrush
December 13, 2006 | Issue 42•50
- Dewey Decimal System Helpless To Categorize New Jim Belushi Book August 14, 2006
- Author Too Much Of A Pussy To Kill Off Characters September 15, 2006
Last week at the supermarket, while shopping for my weekly supply of three dozen eggs and 12 pounds of mutton, I spotted a rack near the checkout lane containing several romance paperbacks. Normally, such trash wouldn't get a second glance from my coal-black eyes, but the sight of one book practically made my chiseled jaw drop. There, on the cover of Dark Passions was yours truly, Duncan Larksthrush, in the flesh.
At first I thought it must have been a coincidence. There must be thousands of men with huge, glistening pectorals and shoulder-length golden hair whose steadfast gaze betrays immeasurable fathoms of passion.
But there can be no doubt it was me. The cover artist must have followed me during a recent visit to my ancestral estate on the tempest-swept promontories of Northern Scotland. Judging from the picture, the sketch was based on the occasion in which I chanced upon Arden, the crofter's nubile young daughter, kneeling upon a rocky outcropping and picking some wildflowers from the weathered stone. Even though I had only just finished tilling seven acres of firm earth, I knew at once my broad, thewy arms could take her. "You rogue! I shall not allow this offense against my honor!" she cried out, her titian hair uncoiling in the Caledonian wind. As I dipped her low, her pounding heart betrayed her pleas for her chastity, and my turgid manhood would be denied no longer.
That bastard must have been hiding with a sketchbook in the bushes.
You can understand my smoldering rage. I certainly don't recall agreeing to have my well-hewn physique splashed across every newsstand and bookrack in town. Admittedly, my schedule has been full lately—I purchased a new leather arm cuff, reclined on an empty beach in my tattered sheepskin boots and full riding gear, waxed and re-oiled my chest—however, posing for the cover painting of Dark Passions definitely was not on my list. But apparently, a rugged, flat-stomached man's privacy means little to author Stephanie Blackmoore when it comes to the pursuit of profit.
I just hope no one I know sees it. The other blacksmiths would never let me live this down.
Nor can I imagine what would possess someone to depict such a scene. I was certainly far from respectably kempt: Having just finished reaping oats with my scythe, my white, blousy tunic was dirty and tattered. It was practically torn from my shoulders, and the striated muscles of my bronzed torso were exposed for anyone to see. And my errant tresses had slipped out of their leathern knot and clove to my cheek with the dewy sweat of a full day's labor. Blazes! Had I known I would be fronting a bestseller, I would have taken a shower and put on my nice red shirt, and maybe a tie.
I never asked for this. The life I chose to lead is one of solitude, whether I'm building log cabins in the foggy Ozarks, or tending to my vineyards in the Tuscan countryside. But those blissful days of rugged independence seem to be over. Will I ever again be able to collapse wounded into the arms of a busty field nurse during my town's annual Civil War reenactment without becoming the poster boy for the next vulgar potboiler?
Can't a brawny, brooding man ride his stallion slowly through the fresh-smelling air of a misty forest at dawn and think ruefully back to his tender childhood that seems to him now to exist in another world entirely—without having to constantly look over his perfectly sculpted shoulders?No, this is no way for a free and unfettered man with a small fortune inherited from a distant noble relative to live. Therefore, I have decided to weigh anchor and set sail with my crew of strapping young seamen aboard my sloop, The Moonlight Arrow, toward destinations exotic and unknown. Once at sea, as the suzerain's daughter I have shanghaied from our last port-of-call clings hungrily to my abdomen, her honeyed breath playing about my breast, I will gaze stoically at the horizon from the prow of my ship, where none of those frauds at Harlequin/Silhouette would ever care to find me.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
the post that was supposed to be about The Landing
So, instead I have decided to write about Charles Finch. I love Charles Finch. He has a nice face. And, most importantly and ever less superficially, the books ARE fantastic, chock full of plaintive verisimilitude and boasting beautiful titles.
Also, to the point of Literary Alter Egos, we can muse on Charles Finch naming his hero Charles Lenox. That should be fun ...'specially because the second installment finds our hero in Oxford: Charles Finch's old stomping ground ( I say "old" with a grain of salt because we are 'bout the same age ). Now, a real review ( because I do like to do things properly and not lackadaisically: hence this blog's sporadic tendencies to wane to and fro ) requires me dipping back into A Beautiful Blue Death and The September Society. Followed by extravagant praise and then a melange of anecdotes on the British detective front---obviously including the darling little mystery store in New York City ( Greenwich Village to be precise ) that editor Otahyoni and I pillaged on our vacation there this past summer ----and obviously a foray into Will Thomas
( because I really do like him and The Black Hand was more than decent!) and maybe a dash of that Rhys Bowen, Her Royal Spyness which was the best of froth and Deanna Raybourn's Silent as the Grave which was also the best of froth ......
and then, being in the frame of murderous mind, I would probably talk about the gorgeous new covers bestowed upon those Nero Wolfe omnibuses.
Then I would talk about Archie Goodwin.
Then I would muse on my favourite fictional characters. Leading to Alatriste, perchance, and then to The Painter of Battles ( on the Perez-Reverte front)
oh cursed stream-of-consciousness--- I would come full circle back to YA fiction and to Horatio Lyle and....
what's the point?
I have none of this planned out.
Oh blog-in-embryo, you doth fail me.
Oh well! Do you all have some titles to write down in your notebooks?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
courtney takes on "Megiddo"
So, I will wait until tomorrow to write my review of John Ibbotson's GG winner "The Landing"
and send you over to Courtney's to read about Megiddo's Shadow.
Because, seriously, who doesn't want to read another glowing review?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I saved a life
First snowfall of the winter.
Toronto somehow forgets there will be snow every year and that we live in Canada so it is always a mind-numbingly dumb production.
Women wearing stiletto-boots and sliding down Yonge Street; no car in its right mind remembering how to signal at King West; streetcars screeching to an icy halt, passengers running amuck out of the offices at Bay with briefcases o'er top their heads like umbrellas and fighting over cabs.
( I had proper footwear and always think it is a little pretty and Christmas-y, what with Dundas Square being lit up like a Christmas tree of luminiscent dazzle).
I stomp around in my less-than-aesthetic but wholly practical boots and come across a young man in toque just outside the Four Seasons Centre at Osgoode Hall, nose stuck in a book.
I will never say a nay to the nose stuck in the book, thing. Howe'er, it was rather silly last night what with the snow throwing people into dervishs of insanity and it was not the ideal circumstance for read read engrossingly read read followed by the rhythmic blowing of snow of off his book page.
He lagged behind me a bit til we neared Sick Kids hospital and the slope to Queen's Park.
I skidded to avoid a near-changing traffic light accosted by stupid, non-signalling, speeding Torontonian drivers, but fair reader failed to note, and stepped out into the mayhem.
I grabbed his arm instinctively and pulled him back.
He looked up. Thanked me.
I just asked him to tell me what book he was so into.
First Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer.
to which, I smiled: " That's a good way to go!"
Thursday, November 13, 2008
dear Exile editions
a.) Morley Callaghan b.) Barry Callaghan ( who founded you )
Do you know why I love you even more? Because you are now publishing Exile classics ! I will list to you what these classics will be:
That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan
The New Yorker Stories by Morley Callaghan
More Joy in Heaven by Morley Callaghan
Such is My Beloved by Morley Callaghan
Luke Baldwin's Vow by Morley Callaghan
the Loved and the Lost by Morley Callaghan
and maybe something by Mavis Gallant.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Reginald Hill interview ( aka he shares my love of Dickens )
NOTE: What he says about Dickens and Christmas cards? ... same here!
Book Brahmin: Reginald Hill
"I was born on the third of April 1936 in Hartlepool, U.K. I cried a bit, then fell asleep, and awoke to find myself completing this questionnaire."
But Reginald Hill must have had a few other waking moments, since he's written umpty-some very popular books, particularly his Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries, the latest of which, The Price of Butcher's Meat, was published this past Tuesday by Harper.
On your nightstand now:Upstairs, Making Money by Terry Pratchett (one of the great comic writers); downstairs, The Aeneid translated by Robert Fagles (who sadly died earlier this year but will not be forgotten. I thought his translation of Homer was a masterwork and he hasn't disappointed with his treatment of Virgil), Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (nothing new here, except of course the Bryson humour and readability that has made him such a favourite on this side of the pond at least).
Favorite book when you were a child:Just William (and all its successors) by Richmal Crompton.
Your top five authors:Dickens, Austen, George Eliot, Terry Pratchett, P.G.Wodehouse.
Book you've faked reading:In my younger days I did a bit of faking with stuff like Finnegans Wake, but once I grew up and began to realize no one really gives a damn what I think about a book (or a play or a movie or a pork pie for that matter), faking seemed pointless. Now if I don't like a book after 50 pages, I hurl it aside with great force, but, unless provoked, I try not to elevate my personal taste into a critical position.
Book you're an evangelist for:In a dimly remembered previous existence when I was a teacher, I recall the shock of discovering that for every student who responded to my enthusiasm for any book, poem or play, there'd be at least two who made it clear they thought it was crap. Maybe a better teacher would have done better, but while I will say boldly that I loved, for instance, Cloud Atlas or The Book Thief or The Lord of the Rings, I will not evangelize. (Though anyone who is indifferent to Dickens is immediately expunged from my Christmas card list.)
Book you've bought for the cover:The first Harry Potter paperback, but only because there was also on offer a version with a dull anonymous cover so that sensitive adults didn't have to reveal they were reading a kids' book on the train! That struck me as really sad, so I bought the original and flourished it for all to marvel at my childishness on the way home. Didn't enjoy it all that much though, but who am I to disagree with x million readers across the whole age range?
Book that changed your life:Tess of the D'Urbervilles, not because it turned me into a crusader for the rights of fallen women or anything like that but because when I first read it, at age 15 or so, for the first time I really got it that these great classics also happened to be marvelous reads, giving me the same kind of pleasure plus maybe a bit more as my contemporary reading.
Favorite line from a book:"It was the best of times: it was the worst of times."Another of those books which made me realize that great thrillers didn't start with Dashiell Hammett. I still get a kick out of that opening.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:None really. The books I love re-reading are those that give me something new every time I return to them. Dickens of course, Austen, Eliot, but I see I'm repeating my list of favourites!
Friday, November 07, 2008
Getting the Girl: Sherman Mack Steals my Heart
This book had me at the Travis McGhee quote preceding the story.
In a nutshell, "Getting the Girl" is the full-disclosure of underdog ninth-grader, Sherman Mack. Achingly awkward, Sherman spends his teenaged years with his Burlesque-dancing mother and few male role models. A product of his environment, Sherman feels particularly attuned to the female psyche. Luckily, he has entered the realm of high school where there are plenty of ladies to dazzle. Well, one in particular: Sherman’s heart thrills to an older and more sophisticated artist, tenth grader Dini.
The drama plays out on the stage of common high school hierarchy: cliques and typified jocks, "Trophy Wives" and even drug dealers. Amidst the usual teenage commotion lurks the Defiler: a student whose branding of young women becomes their social downfall. With a gawdy “D” scrawled across a photo of the Defiled girl, a regular student is exploited in a manner akin to Hester Prynne’s ostracizing “A.”
(Yes, I did just compare Susan Juby to Nathaniel Hawthorne—I told you I liked this book).
Spurned and scorned, the unfortunate Defiled are relegated to life on the boundaries of the school fence or in Alternative schools. When Sherman suspects that Dini is next on the Defiler’s hit list, he musters his courage and his fledgling senses of deduction (read CSI episodes) and sallies forth to save his lady fair.
Armed with a super-hero complex, an awkward friend Rick ( Sherm tells us that he is second-last in team-picking only to Rick), a flair for surveillance ( from obsessive watching of girls ) and a sense of (sometimes misguided ) justice, Sherman is determined to expose the Defiler.
You’ll get lost in this book. First, in the nooks and crevices of Sherman’s brain and then in the writing-- so flawless I felt a full conceptualization of what must go through a ninth grade boy’s mind (Unsettling, indeed).
I completely enjoyed this book --- it had some to-die-for lines and some tender, wistful moments. I know teenagers will see themselves in this book and that is the beauty (and likewise the most important part) of a Susan Juby novel. Teenagers can draw strength and validation from fictional characters that so candidly reflect their own triumphs and fallacies.
What makes "Getting the Girl" as exceptional as its predecessors ( see the "Alice Macleod" series and "Another Kind of Cowboy") is Juby’s candid freshness. She relays, through inner commentary, what we are all thinking in strange, fleeting moments. Juby’s craft is most prominent in her first person male narrative. I came to understand Sherman’s 15-year-old male subconscious. I am not quite sure how she pulled this off (perhaps some of the make-up of pubescent males is transparently obvious) but she executes it with a voice at times awkward, self-effacing and vulnerable.
I could think of no other author who could accomplish this feat with such ease and heart-tugging grace.
So go buy it ….and then buy some for your friends. Teenage boys and girls will love this novel.
p.s. Anyone know if this book has been banned yet? The Juby bannings are always wildly ridiculous, infinitely amusing and wonderful fodder for discussion on her blog.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Jolted: Newton Starker and the Incredible genre-defying YA novel
I will shake my wording up a bit here to exclaim: go buy this book NOW!
I argue that, for sheer range alone, Arthur Slade is Canada's finest YA novelist and if you read "Jolted" sequentially with the excellent "Megiddo's Shadow" you will concede.
I also argue that "Jolted" cannot really be genre classified. But, this only makes its appeal seamless. In one sense, it is a booksellers' nightmare ( in a good way). For if I were still Rachel the Bookseller, and asked by some antsy 12 year old "What kind of book is it?", I would stretch for words and comparison.
Suffice it to say, it has elements of everything: gothic, supernatural, mystery, fantasy, comedy ( an almost unprecedented plethora of ), and history ( Jerry Potts namesake of Newton's stellar Academy of Higher Learning and Survival holds connections to the Riel Rebellion. In a stroke of brilliance, Potts' headmaster is named Dumont. Get it Gabriel Dumont, anyone, anyone.....Duck Lake? Northwest Rebellion? Fine. I'm a nerd).
In a nutshell, "Jolted" is about a 14 year-old boy, the eponymous Newton Starker who is the last surviving memeber of a family cursed by a long and ancient string of lightning-provoked deaths. (Well, technically second-last, next to his spiteful great grandmother Enid who is described as being as "friendly as a pickled wolverine." Newton, incidentally, is described as "handsome in an Edgar Allen Poe kind of way, that meant he was pale and dark" and likewise as "the quiet cutie most likely to turn into an axe murderer" -- just so you get a sense of how classic this writing actually is).
Newton takes what precautions he can considering his inevitably lugubrious fate. He has long known that his end-result will be catastrophic and spent his formative years adorned with a lightning-deflecting tinfoil hat that while protecting him from the cumulonimbus clouds he so fears, also kept him far away from friendship.
Newton's tale unravels in an exotic and magical realm known as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and the prestigious Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival wherein students wear kilts and learn important lessons about how to brandish a knife, survive in the Cyprus Hills and make gopher quiche. Newton makes friends including Jacob ( a burgeoning author whose novel "The Brilliad" is optioned for publication), Violet ( a towering female who kicks the crap out of Newton in a boxing match ) and a pig called Josephine ( whose ancestry includes a porker once belonging to Emperor Bonaparte).
As infinitely clever as the plot itself, are the literary devices that infuse every page. Savvy readers will get shivers. I would love to confiscate a grade 6 or 7 class and read this aloud. Consider verb usage:" Were those cumulonimbus clouds skulking under the half moon?"; alliteration ( 4 bs on one sentence)" the Belfry's Bronze Bell Began to toll"; literal and figurative meanings used simultaneously, such as the word "shock."
Silly and wonderful chapter headings, interruptions by the narrator for backstory, emails, National Globe articles, phone conversations with Environment Canada and even insight into 18th Century journal entries, make this novel fresh and inviting. It is like nothing I have read before.
And it is funny. Really funny. For example, a lame comeback care of Newton prompts the narrator to observe: "These were the second stupidest words ever spoken by a Starker. The stupidest being when Andrew Starker ran towards a summer storm, clutching a lightning rod and shouting 'Give it your best shot, you spawns of the Devil!' They did. He died."
This book is ridiculously, giddily, brightly and wonderfully constructed making for the ultimate fresh and funny read.
Out of the hundreds of YA books I read for my work a year, I find but a handful that really make me want to start a sentence with, "Hi I'm Rachel. Go read *insert fantastic novel here*
If I were still wiling away my post-university hours at the World's Biggest Bookstore, I would be handselling this like mad to anyone who appreciated a great yarn ---regardless of minute details like age-classification and genre.
Newton likes to ready himself for adventure (read: impending doom )with a bold: "Okay Newton, time to take on the world!"
And, you know what?, I really really think he should!
Here's some good stuff for you to look at: Arthur Slade's erudite blog;
And, here you will find some of Arthur Slade's guest blogs at Harper Collins' the Savvy Reader
Finally, my LM Montgomery experiment continues here at Maud and Me