Friday, July 30, 2010

Not That Kind of Girl Blog Tour

For a practicing Evangelical Christian ( who posts regularly about Christian fiction) , I was very interested to read about a woman who had discovered life outside of the confines of her Evangelical upbringing.

I enjoyed reading Carlene Bauer's well-written memoir, Not That Kind of Girl which provided an expose on the difficulties of balancing a truth ingrained since childhood with a palpable discovery of a new world as an artist, writer and New Yorker.

Where does one draw the line between what one believes intrinsically and what has been emblazened on one as a sort of second-hand tradition as a product of environment?-- such is Bauer's thesis in what is a gripping and irreverent memoir.

I didn't find this at all an attack on Christianity, fundamentalism or Evangelical life: rather an observation laced with personal anecdotes. Bauer's experience is certainly not universal and while those who are not connected or familiar with the church will indeed be strangers to a lot of the lingo she uses, the themes of insecurity, developing as a person and writer and deciding what, if anything, constructs faith are universal.

A true kuntslerroman, familiarity with literature ( especially of the Beatnik and College Survey course ilk ) are certainly helpful in piecing together the patchwork of Bauer's experience.

Descending from Plath and her contemporaries, Bauer is very interested in capturing moments: fleeting or prolonged in a melange of words carefully formatted to reflect the avant garde poetry she enjoys.

While this at times seems forced, especially in a memoir, and bogs down the otherwise readable prose, her inner artistry and penchant for craft are apparent.

What resonated most with me (a Christian who longs for intelligence, fierce drive and a reclaiming of a religion which preaches thoughtful engagement rather than stark hatred and resentment) was Bauer's empty feeling as a burgeoning critic, reader and thinker: " there was nothing in evangelical Christianity", she writes" suggesting intelligence should be used as a weapon for God, I was sure that when people talked about using our gifts to glorify Him, it meant that Godwas going to put me to work writing devotional guides for teenage girls" (p.60). Bauer is thoughtful, angry, introspective and often right.

The saddest part of the book for me was not her personal fall from Christianity so much so that her voice had left the faith bereft: for a religion which could use a healthy dollop of intelligence and clever, snappy writing, I was sad that we (Christians) had "lost" her.

An engaging, satisfying and very different read about a spiritual journey with more than one road bump.

Bauer respects religion and often tells laugh- aloud stories of its persistence in her life: whether she is trying to run fast away or diving head first in something new.

A refreshing read.

Bauer is quite a prolific writer and you can read an interview with her here

Please visit the TLC tour homepage to learn of other blogs hosting this cutting edge book.

Please purchase a copy of Not That Kind of Girl here!

I would like to thank TLC tours for the copy of this book.
Next up on the schedule:

Monday, August 2nd: A Certain Bent Appeal
Wednesday, August 4th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I WENT TO AUSTRIA: the post with some bookish undertones and some PICS!

I am currently waiting at Pearson airport for my friend's ultra-late flight to arrive. She had a stop-over in Chicago and seeing as it's thunderstorming there and thunderstorming here in Toronto, our paths will not cross for another---- wait for it-----2.5 hours.
Luckily, I have an Isabel Dalhousie with me and this exceptional new work laptop --- oh so light and compatible and fast and remarkable---- to help pass the time.

Also, kudos to Pearson Airport's free wireless internet.

So whilst I am stuck here.... I thought I might as well talk to all of you..... about musicals and books and musicals and WAIT! shameless Austria photos:

Salzburg ( home of Maria Von Trapp and Von Trapps singing and singing hills and Uncle Max and raindrops on roses and schnitzel with noodles)

Above, near where I am standing, is the gazebo that Leisl and Rolf-the-telegraph-deliverer-Hitler-youth retreated to to dance in the rain.

Exhibit B: me standing high, high atop the scaling cliffs winding to an ancient monastery, the rooftops and spires of the gorgeously Baroque city below.....

I had wanted to go to Austria since I was a little girl. In fact, my love of Austria stems from a book that I read EVERY FRAKKIN' CHRISTMAS

Since I was 11 years old, Vienna has stayed firmly in my mind as a dream place to visit. Since so few people have an almost life-long dream ( and fewer still have that dream come true), I was very blessed to go and have such a fabulous time.
I love to travel and travel as often as I can --- for work and for play---- but I always saved Austria until the time was right and I could do it in the way I wanted to.
So, I started with five glorious days in Vienna--- then a few days in Graz---- then off to Salzburg for three days ( and a slight detour to the Bavarian Mountains to see Hitler's Eagle's Nest) --- then off on a train to Innsbruck for three days ( Innsbruck was amazing) and, finally, to Zurich and Meirengen, Switzerland ( see post below ) because I am a Sherlock Holmes fanatic.
But, back to Vienna Prelude: Have you ever wanted to visit a city, town or country because of a book?
I know that traipsing around England, especially, was satisfying for someone who had spent her formative years knee-deep in Dickens. Equally so was the experience of drinking melange in the Hotel Sacher underneath the portrait of Emperor Franz Josef ---- the self-same place the hero in VP sits midway through a point in a book I almost know by heart.....
Here's a bit of what I wrote about VP on a blog I used to keep back in April 2005 when I was still in University:
Ever since I was a small kid, I have been absolutely captivated by "Vienna Prelude. I still love this book. I always will. It is historical and musical and fascinating. Elisa Lindheim ( our fair-haired protagonist ) is the daughter of a Jewish Entrepreuner but lives in Vienna under the name Linder so she is able to escape the laws forbidding Jews to play music during the lead up to the Reich.

She is a violinist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and spends most of her days on trains across beautiful Europe or at the Musikverein in downtown Vienna chatting up some of the hotties from the bass section. Although she looks Aryan, Germany knows the name Lindheim, and once she is seen with her father at a train station even her pseudonym cannot protect her. Her father is taken off the train and held for questioning and Elisa finds her only chance of rescuing him lies in the capable hands of a brash young American reporter who is often referred to as looking like Jimmy Stewart. Elisa and reporter John Murphy have an on-again mostly off-again romance and Elisa becomes an agent in a plan to smuggle jewish children out of Vienna with fake passports. It is nostalgia for me. I read it every Christmas. I also sell out of it quite a lot at the store. It is very romantic and it continues to make me laugh. Rudy Dorbranksky the witty and cavalier concert master who swings his violin bow around like a sword remains one of my favourite literary characters.And Elisa goes off in a taxi at one point and John screams after her while kneeling on the wet cobblestones and it makes you think of Dvorak somehow. ( everything alludes to music in this book).Vienna Prelude is the first "grown-up" book I fell in love with and, thanks to its author, I want to go to Vienna so badly my eyelids hurt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I just got back from Vienna, Gordon, I hear ya!

A very amusing interview with famed Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent on his decision to take part in the new adaptation of Pillars of the Earth ( which we are all watching for Matthew MacFadyen and Rufus Sewell while completely disregarding the fact that it was written by Ken Follett)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intrepid young canadian on literary pilgrimage abroad follows in Famous Detective's doomed Footsteps

I recently returned from a fabulous vacation where I traipsed around Austria for two glorious weeks. I am sure there is a lot more to come on this. I tacked on Switzerland to the end of my trip for one sole reason: Meiringen was within my grasp. All Sherlockians are familiar with the Reichenbach Falls and our famous friend’s near-destruction at the hands of the disastrous Moriarty. Literary Pilgrimages, it would seem, are alive and well in my world and I re-capped the adventure and the rather sketchy funicular for my friends. Read on Sherlockian:

Intrepid young Canadian follows in the footsteps of the doomed literary detective during an ill-fated funicular ride

Tonight is my final night in Europe.

My last clean shirt had been saved for today's momentous occasion to the Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen. The Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen, the setting for Sherlock Holmes' demise at the hands of Prof. Moriarty in "The Final Problem." Next to Baker Street ( where I have been *natch*) this is the most important landmark for a Sherlockian.I left my swanky Zurich hotel this morning very early to catch the first train out. Meiringen is a little village about two hours north of Zurich and the earlier I got there, the earlier I could ensure I got back.... I didn't want to get stuck out there forever....

The train trip was beautiful and well worth the price of the train ticket alone.... even deplete of the destination. It was through the picturesque Interlaken district and our train wove around the Alps and through tunnels and over lakes the bright aqua colour one remembers from Banff. You will laugh at my pictures.

They have certainly capitalized on the Sherlock Holmes ( read: 65 year old British male retirees who wear cargo shorts with socks up to the knee and bucket hats with straps while snapping shots with disposable cameras) tourist population.There is an Arthur Conan Doyle Platz, a Holmestrasse ( or street), a statue of Holmes, a Sherlock Holmes hotel, a Sherlock Alpen nightclub and various pictures and reminiscences and signs of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.Without Sherlock Holmes, I suspect everyone would skip poor little Meiringen.I might. I had lunch there and it SUCKED. I ordered the traditional swiss lunch: which was beer and a plate which tried to win the title of "how many colours of stewed cabbage can we fit on a platter?"

Some Sherlockians in London have paid a hefty sum for a lot of the work there but the small museum and funicular rides up the Reichenbach Falls are run by a little old Swiss lady and her husband. I loved supporting them. The museum itself has nothing really to show for it, other than a magnificent set of original Strand magazines imported from London and a recreation of the famous Baker Street drawing room.I went in with about 12 British retirees... all about 40 years older than I. I didn't care. I love Holmes.We looked around and I spoke "canon" ( that is to say, any and all things Sherlock ) with some of the men who were flabberghasted by my knowledge.What was best, is they were a bus group from the Sussex Downs ---- where I stayed when I studied in England. Knowing the region, I said: "Where in the Sussex Downs?"To which they answered: " Hastings. Have you heard of it?"Hello?! Christopher Foyle, anyone?

After, I trekked the half hour hike along the trail to reach the funicular which would speed me up the mountain for a view of the Reichenbach Falls and the great, crested stone ridge.Unfortunately, and considering how well I have struggled to conquer my fear of heights this trip (mounting a sketchy bus up that steep, foggy ridgeway to Hitler's Kehl's Stein; how I have climbed 360 steep stone stairs [ without railing, mind you ]to the Glockenspiel in Graz; how I have climbed up 280 stairs to the highest point of Innsbruck: a Cathedral-like Dome which has little to steady you from heading into the baroque rooftops of the great city; how I climbed the abbey walls in Salzburg and saw the benedictine monks atop a hill which not only looks the city over but dates back to I climbed up to the Alpenzoo...)Here, of all places, my fear overtook me.A few notes on the rather sketchy Reichenbach "funicular":Funicular, I believe, is synonymous with a rickety old, open wooden cart a la Road Runner when Wile E Coyote is on his tail and the bridge is truncated. The open and exposed cart, or so I saw from my vantage point safely at the bottom, chugs along a very sketchy track ( the men were working on the track with hammer and nail once one funicular got back in preparation for the next) up, up, up to the top of the falls.There are no rails: just open wooden cart and tracks up the rock.Something else of note: there is an aptly placed hospital at the foot of the mountain, I assume to give solace to those who have plummeted to their death and, like Stephen Boyd in" Ben-Hur", rasping incoherently until Judah shows up, are languishing on the point of extinction.

My stomach turned and I looked up, up, up and saw the spray of the falls and looked down at the plaque noting Sherlock's apparent demise at the hands of Moriarty over said falls and thought: NO WONDER HE DIED ....( We will now give you cynics a moment to insert frustratingly:" HE NEVER LIVED"... which we will ignore).

So, I trudged back to Meiringen happy with pictures and more happy that I didn't die in a freak-literary-pilgrimage- accident ( can you imagine the Globe and Mail Headline: Intrepid young canadian on literary pilgrimage abroad follows in Famous Detective's doomed Footsteps"?) on the very last day of my holiday.

See you all soon

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Dream Thief by Catherine Webb

Readers of this blog are aware of my total passion for any and all things written by young British prodigy, Catherine Webb. I adore Catherine Webb's unique style and am so lucky to have invested in her career early on. Watching a young author develop from a young author into a literary force is a great privilege for a keen reader. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my rambling rants ACHING for a new Lyle book, will have read the interviews with Catherine Webb I have stumbled upon over the years and will have heard me squeal over and over again just how much she has revolutionized the reading experience for me. Whenever I lose my faith in literature ( for young adults or otherwise ), I remember that there are writers like her who are willing to take a risk, write passionately and gleefully and completely about what they love.

The Horatio Lyle books are about so much more than just character and plot: it’s the evolution of her writing, I appreciate, her London, the way her phrases string together, the outrageous similes, the poetry, the incessant italics, the dialogue, the stirring emotional resonance, the clips and snippets of 19th Century prose wedded with modern fantasy’s sensibility, the delicious interruptions by the narrative voice, the literal twinkle in her eye when she races to describe a scene. The fact that , while reading, you sense you are having as much fun as Webb did writing. A preternatural author-reader kinship.

The books have sparkle. They are dynamite. They are the apotheosis of clever writing within the umbrella of story arc.

The Dream Thief by Catherine Webb
is the fourth offering in this incredulously inventive, wonderful, gripping, unique and imaginative series and it may, just may, have secured Webb an upgrade in the Rachel-Hierarchy-of-Author-Appreciation from favourite YA novelist to favourite contemporary novelist-- regardless of genre. Strong words indeed.

...For no other writer on the planet elicits such a euphoric, magical and sometimes physical response from me.

I ABSOLUTELY QUAKE in anticipation for these books. Unfortunately, their release dates are more often than not more than sketchy and oft-postponed. My copy was secured from due to the fact that this Lyle won’t see Canada until the Fall. Iwas in Austria on holiday when the order dispatched and I remember looking up from the public internet terminal at my hotel in Vienna and beaming at the nearest person ( whose bewildered stare could not PHASE my excitement).

My best friend Jess ( who you may remember from previous entries ) also secured a copy of The Dream Thief from the UK asked me to help her describe what makes the Horatio Lyle series so fabulous for her blog.

I summed up the way they make me feel. The EXPERIENCE of reading a Catherine Webb book supersedes mundane details like plot or review. What does the book DO to you?

For real readers, books are far more than pages between hardbound covers. REAL readers feel their senses employed.

Wrote I:

“After reading Horatio Lyle, I don’t want to read anything else for weeks. Everything tastes flat after her prose. It is really hard to pull myself from that world, so I end up starting her book at the beginning again.

Very few authors have that power over me. There is a snap there. A spark. Her books have a taste to them. I can taste and smell and see them and they whiz by in colour.

Her dialogue sticks with me forever after, and my heart literally swells. These books make me tingle! Some books are fun and amusing but don’t really elicit a physical reaction. Horatio Lyle makes me jump and giggle and clap and sigh and catch my breath and read and re-read and re-read sentences over and over again.

I want to hang on every one of her words. I forget to eat. I like to stay up late and revisit, step into her world and just revel in the corners of my imagination reserved for her fabulous workings. I like to click along with her wordy paragraphs and fall into her spell.

She often talks directly to the reader: she’ll invite you on the journey and whisper to you, with a little twinkle in her author’s eye to follow her and you see her alleyways and her London and meet her characters and smell the magnesium and drift into Lyle’s crazy laboratory and dance over stones with Lin.

These books do things to me.

I think it’s the closest I have ever been to being love-sick.”

Catherine Webb also writes adult urban fantasy under the pseudonym Kate Griffin. Visit Kate Griffin's stupendously well-written blog: here. It is one of my missions in life to ensure that all passionate readers of historical YA fiction... or just brilliant fiction.... find themselves as besotted with Lyle as I have been for four glorious years. If urban fantasy is more your cup of Earl Grey, Matthew Swift is going to tickle your fancy.

The Bridegrooms

I really enjoyed Stealing Home by Allison Pittman so I was excited when The Bridegrooms became available. I recently returned from vacation in Austria and before planning on a trip to a largely German-speaking land, I wanted to make sure I took enough English language books to keep me occupied on long train trips and in my hotels at night after exhausting days of sightseeing. Was I EVER right in bringing The Bridegrooms.

I love Americana!: the glorious and idyllic turn-of-the-century years of ice cream shoppes and peanuts, popcorn and baseball. Pittman inserts a healthy whipped-creamed dollop of nostalgia but also a sense of longing and wistfulness for an innocent time out of reach. Vada and her four sisters are startlingly different in personality and thus warrant startlingly different beaux. Not unlike Little Women, the sisters are believably rendered on page and their triumphs and travails were heartwarming! The book spans little more than a week in the life of four girls abandoned by their mother at a young age. The mystery of their mother’s disappearance and the spiriting in to town of The Bridegrooms: a raucous and rowdy baseball team are at the core of this fun and fast read. While so many authors would have planted romance blossoming from the heroine encountering an out-of-towner, Pittman chooses instead to study our concept of romance and our romantic ideals. How much romance can be found in the whirlwind of a traveling sportsman, how much romance exists in the steadfast and stalwart, if somewhat consistent, suitor from your hometown? Garrison, Vada’s patient and virtuous fiancĂ© is absolutely one of the most winning ( if quiet and steady) heroes in Christian fiction this year. This was equally as compelling as Stealing Home. Pittman OWNS this era and I am so glad she stepped up to the plate and hit it into the Christian historical field.