Spooky September Challenge: Favourite Spooky Creature

Another day, another spooky writing prompt from the Spooky September Challenge!

I have a hard time choosing a favourite spooky creature. I love critters of all kinds. If you really want to creep me out (and thus make me actively avoid a book/movie/whatever) — use insects. I think they hold a very valuable place in our ecosystem and perform a necessary role, but….no. No insects for me.

To get spooky, though….I have three Big Favourites:

James Stewart and HarveyThe Pooka
I grew up reading fairy stories, and when I came across the movie “Harvey“, I fell in love with the idea of the Pooka. According to the movie, “‘P O O K A – Pooka – from old Celtic mythology – a fairy spirit in animal form – always very large. The pooka appears here and there – now and then – to this one and that one – a benign but mischievous creature – very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?’ How are you, Mr. Wilson? Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?”
The púca is a celtic trickster fairy, and are said to be found near standing stones, in rural and marine regions. Harvey, as idealized by the movie, seems like the perfect companion for James Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd.

 

mariana-fruit-batI like small bats and I cannot lie
The house I grew up in had bees in the walls and bats in the attic. Literally, bats in the attic. My father apparently had a huge cleanup on his hands when they decided to sell the place. Bat poop everywhere.
I recall how they would swoop over us in the evenings when we’d play basketball in the driveway. I also recall how the males in our group would run away, yelling about bats potentially getting caught in their hair.
Amazingly enough, the girls in the yard, even with their big, ratted 80’s hair, were much more trusting in the bat’s ability to avoid us.
To this day, an old Victorian home isn’t complete without the possibility of bats to keep the insect population down. Just sayin’.

 

Loch Ness MonsterLake Monsters
I  grew up on tales of Loch Ness, so Lake Monsters are one of my top favourite critters. I also happened to grow up in the Land of Ogopogo, Champ, Memphre, and Mussie. Wikipedia has a rather large list of reported lake monsters, a surprising number of which are Canadian. I grew up down the line from Muskrat Lake, so Mussie is the monster closest to my heart. On weekends, when we’d travel from Arnprior to Pembroke to see relatives, we’d often pass Muskrat Lake. I spent a large amount of time staring out my window, trying to catch glimpses of Mussie.

Anyone else have a favourite spooky critter or two?

Spooky September Challenge: Campfire stories? Nah!

Spooky September Challenge

Today’s Spooky September Challenge was supposed to be my favourite campfire story, but anyone who knows me well enough is aware that I don’t camp.  I haven’t been camping for about fifteen years now, and that last time was supposed to teach me about all the awesome things I’ve missed out on, not being a camper. It was cold and rained almost the entire trip. Seriously. We had to go back into town to get a tarp because nobody brought one. Not my best weekend – only salvaged by good company.

So, instead, I bring you an update on the things I do when other people are telling stories around a bonfire. I knit. In fact, my scariest campfire story goes something like this: “And then…when she was about five inches short while binding off the incredibly complex shawl that she’d been knitting out of hand-spun yarn for three months…the ball ran out…” Gasp! Horror!

Yes. It happens. And those of us who knit all feel the pain.

Noro 2-row Scarf

Because my neck will be warm when the shivers go down everyone else’s spines.

I finished a Noro 2-row scarf for myself!  Yes, this one is for me and me alone. No sharesies. I’ve made at least 3 others, and they have gone to my brother-in-law, my Husbeast, and our friend C. This one is mine. It has lots and lots of pink in it.

Noro 2-row Scarf

I’m also knitting a pair of socks. You can (currently) disregard anything in the right-hand sidebar from Ravelry that says I’m knitting anything BUT these socks, because they’re really all I’m knitting on right now. I don’t have the brain power at this time to work on anything more difficult or patterned. I couldn’t tell you what yarn this is as I’ve lost the ball band (likely something akin to Trekking), but I’m enjoying the way it’s striping.  These are going to be toe-up with a Fleegle Heel.

fleeglesocks

And since there aren’t any favourite campfire stories going around, how about some urban legends instead?  I thought you might like them :)

Spooky September Challenge: My Favourite Horror Writer

Spooky September Challenge

Day Two of Parajunkee’s Spooky September Challenge!

It probably says something that first two “adult” books that I actually fully remember reading were Lovers and Gamblers by Jackie Collins and ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Both provoked almost equally horrified results from the folks who caught me reading them.

For the record, my grandmother caught me reading the Jackie Collins book…so she had words with my mother about my reading habits. Mum caught me reading ‘Salem’s Lot, which caused her to have words with my grandfather about the books he was sneaking me. If nothing else, it made for interesting holidays. To this day, I often feel the need to “sneak off” to read a book.  Weird.

Stephen KingIf there has been one author whose work has constantly been in my home, it has to be Stephen King. After ‘Salem’s Lot, I found my Mum’s copies of Cujo, CarrieThe Dead Zone, and Firestarter — cleverly hidden in a bookshelf beside a book about the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings.

My parents actually bought The Eyes of the Dragon for me for either my birthday or Christmas. I remember being impressed because it was the first King novel that they bought specifically for me (it was fantasy, “not horror”).

I read The Talisman in French because it was available in our high school library for those of us who were working on becoming bilingual. The Shining and IT scared the bejeebers out of me, and my Mum and I compared notes regarding book vs. mini-series when it came to The Stand.

There are, of course, so many others. I never cared for Misery, and never read Gerald’s Game, but I enjoyed The Green Mile, so I guess that makes up for that.

When the Husbeast and I moved in together, we found that there were a lot of duplicates — mostly Stephen King books (a few Anne Rice books, but mostly King). This is not a bad thing, as both sets of books are in varying states of distress (my copy of The Stand is so battered that the cover is threatening to secede from the greater portion of the book). He was wild for the then-unfinished Dark Tower series; I was a plain old paranormal adventure kind of girl. Between paperbacks and hardcovers, there are easily two full shelves of King’s books in our house. Usually two books deep, by the way.

Oh, every so often either of us would come home with a John Saul or Dean Koontz book…but we always return to King. We were concerned when we heard about his accident. The Husbeast was extra-concerned because there was that slim chance that the Dark Tower series would go unfinished. He needn’t have worried — Mr. King never lets us down.

As a funny ending to this small tribute, the parents who caught flak for letting me read horror books as a child have become my enablers. The past two Christmases have netted Doctor Sleep and Revival — both in hardcover. I guess that some tastes just never change or go out of style!

(I also hear that the next generation of Kings are also producing books that are right up my alley…looking forward to getting my hands on Joe Hill’s books next!)

Spooky September Challenge: Ten Spookiest Books

Spooky September Challenge

Parajunkee’s View has issued a six-day Spooky September Challenge. I figured I’d participate, as there’s nothing I like better than the run-up to Hallowe’en. Seriously, folks, you have no idea how much I love Samhain. I love October 31st so much that I book time off from work to coincide with the day (usually a full week). I love Hallowe’en so much that my significant other is boggled by my enthusiasm for handing out candy at the door.

When we lived in the Ottawa Valley, I loved watching the trees turn colours and feeling the leaves crunching under my feet. I loved the crisp scent in the air. For me, it’s a magic. It is the one time of year that I honestly feel homesick for somewhere else. September is just the lead-in to that feeling.

So the topic for today is Top Ten Spooky Books. I went on a safari to remind myself of all the “spooky” books in my home, and try to distill down to the ones that hit me the hardest. To give full disclosure, my home is stuffed with books. We love books so much that we haven’t had the heart to donate all the “duplicate” books that occurred when we moved in together. Even the ones with the same covers.

There are likely spookier books in our home that I haven’t read yet. I grew up at a time when librarians didn’t recommend Lovecraft to precocious 10-year-old girls, and I’m squeamish enough that hardcore horror movies aren’t in the cards. If it weren’t for a father who loves science fiction movies and a grandfather who used to slip me Stephen King novels when nobody else was looking, I think my list would likely be the best of “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb”.

Here are some of the more memorable favourites from our collection:

Audrey Rose audrey_rose
by Frank De Felitta, 1975

“Suppose a stranger told you your daughter was his daughter in another life? Suppose you began to believe him? Suppose it was true?”
My paternal grandfather believed in literacy. As a result, there were all kinds of books squirrelled away wherever there was space. I think I found this one hidden away under a lamp in my Dad’s old bedroom.  Years later, I picked it up at a used bookstore. Once you get past the fact that a very young Brooke Shields modelled for the cover (!), you quickly get engrossed in the story of a family torn apart by a stranger’s belief that his little girl has been reincarnated into their daughter. What’s worse is that it seems to be true. The copy I have includes pictures from the movie, so it’s really easy to get into a 70’s kind of mood, complete with dated wardrobe. I definitely recommend giving it a read!

 

Darkly Dreaming Dexterdexter
by Jeff Lindsay, 2004

“He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people”
The Husbeast and I discovered the book around the same time we discovered the TV show. They were both good. You somehow believe that Dexter truly believes that he is harnessing his dark needs to do good work. The book gives even more insight into the character than the TV show does, to the point where you really start to notice when the series diverges from the books. That said, this first adventure is amazing. The hunt for the Tamiami slasher really does come alive on the page. It’s no wonder the series lasted as long as it did.
There is an excellent article on Wikipedia detailing the differences between the novel and the series.

 

The Amityville Horroramityville
by Jay Anson, 1977

“On December 18, 1975, a young family of five moved into their new home, complete with finished basement, swimming pool, and boathouse. Twenty-eight days later, they fled in terror, leaving most of their belongings behind.”
How could you not be chilled by this book? Yes, the movie is famous, but because of my difficulty with visual horror, the book has always been my go-to. It’s a classic ghost story, complete with manifestations, possessions, and ghost hunters. The one unfortunate part of the story is that whether or not you believe that the Amityville home was haunted (many don’t), there was a horrific murder on the site. Once you get past the realities and allow yourself to sink into the story, however, there are lots of good scares to be found. This book makes a wonderful gateway to discovering all the ghostly tales of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren.

 

The StandThe_Stand_Uncut
by Stephen King, 1978 / 1990 (uncut)

“Because something was coming. He could feel it, almost taste it on the night air. He could taste it, a sooty hot taste that came from everywhere, as if God was planning a cook-out and all of civilization was going to be the barbecue. Already the charcoal was hot, white and flaky outside, as red as demons’ eyes inside. A huge thing, a great thing.”
I first tried to read The Stand somewhere in the mid-80’s, before the uncut edition came on the market. I just couldn’t get into it. I’d get only so far, and the story would just…slip away from me. A couple of my male classmates (who found it a bit odd that A Girl was reading horror) remarked that they’d had the same problem. Once the book was re-released in the uncut form, it made a lot more sense. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was added into the book, but apparently it was significant.
The Stand starts off as a novel about a large-scale flu/plague epidemic. We meet a diverse group of characters in their everyday lives and get to know the good and the bad, warts and all. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that there is more than everyday survival at stake. People aren’t just finding a convenient place to hole up for the winter and learn how to build fires, slaughter their own livestock and knit socks — they’re choosing sides in a greater struggle between good and evil.
I always seem to find myself reading this book when I have a cold of some sort or another. If combatting the common cold while reading a book about a plague doesn’t scare you, maybe the fact that influenza still outbreaks yearly will. It has caused at least three pandemics in the last hundred years, too. Remember, there’s still no sure-fire cure for the flu.

 

The Bone CollectorThe_bone_collector
by Jeffery Deaver, 1997

“With police detective Amelia Sachs by his side, Rhyme must follow a labyrinth of clues that reaches back to a dark chapter in New York City’s past — and reach further into the darkness of the mind of a madman who won’t stop until he has stripped life down to the bone”
I saw the movie first. I admit it. It looked like a good movie, and I have no regrets. The cast is wonderful. There are certain roles that don’t care what colour an actor is as long as they can act, and Lincoln Rhyme is one of them (Rhyme is white in the book, but played nicely by Denzel Washington). To this day, I see Queen Latifah’s “Thema” in my head instead of the novel’s “Thom”, and I really don’t mind. I read a Lincoln Rhyme book, it’s a diversity party in my brain.
That said, Deaver expertly weaves the story of a disabled former forensics specialist who only wants to end his torment. When a talented young  cop finds and preserves a crime scene just before her transfer off the beat, he finds himself intrigued enough to solve that one last case — with her as his surrogate on the scene.
Deaver is a master of the mid-novel twist, and if you like surprises, you’ll enjoy this book. You could compare it to a modern day Sherlock and Watson, but I like to think that the characters survive quite nicely on their own merit!

 

WatchmenWatchmen-1986-Original
by Alan Moore (story), Dave Gibbons (artist), and John Higgins (colourist), 1986/87

“None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”
Wait, what….a comic book? And one with superheroes? Not Weird Tales or something? Yep. You may not think that Watchmen fits in the categories of “thriller” or “horror”, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t elements.
I grew up in the 80’s, when the cold war was on the wane. That doesn’t mean that the times weren’t still coloured by the Cold War. These days, people are scared of terrorist actions within large cities. I grew up with a strange foreboding that a large foreign country would accidentally land nuclear warheads on Canadian soil enroute to the US. Terrorism was something that mostly happened in the UK, and if anyone knows how to deal with terrorism on their native soil, it’s the British.
Moore is British, but his story is set in an alternate version of the US. Nixon was never impeached. Instead, his term has been indefinitely extended. Superheroes exist, though only one of them can really be considered superhuman. The threat of nuclear war is ever-present.
You can get all of this from the movie, which was really quite well done. The actors are almost spot-on in their resemblance to the comic, and the sets are very similarly picture-perfect. What you don’t get are the extras (and the real ending, which wouldn’t have suited the movie as well as one would have hoped).
You don’t get the Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book within the comic in which a shipwreck survivor becomes the one thing he fears — curiously paralleling the greater story. You don’t get the byplay between the reader of The Black Freighter and the news stand owner who doesn’t like the friendly loiterer. You don’t get the greater story of why scientific and artistic lumiaries around the globe are disappearing, part of Rorschach and Night Owl II’s investigation after the death of The Comedian.
You want chills, thrills, and a damn good story?  Hit up your local bookstore (or comic shop) and pick up the graphic novel. The Husbeast has lost at least three of them to various friends over the years (and if you want more of Moore’s dark tales, pick up From Hell and V for Vendetta (not the movie) while you’re at it).

 

Interview with the Vampireinterview_with_the_vampire_
by Anne Rice, 1976

“You see that old woman? That will never happen to you. You will never grow old, and you will never die.
And it means something else too, doesn’t it? I shall never ever grow up.”
Bram Stoker gave us Dracula, but it was Anne Rice who made vampires truly sexy. By the time I found this gem in the Arnprior Public Library, my parents (and the Librarian) had given up hope of keeping me away from the “adult” section. Besides, it had history! Romance! Brooding Heroes! Bisexual Vampires!
interview-vampire-1977-back-coverThe thing with Rice’s vampires is that whether they are brooding or bon-vivants, they are still savagely lethal. They are terrific in every sense of the word. Louis is the vampire who, like a vegetarian at a Rodizio,  doesn’t want to live off humans. Lestat is the self-aware creature of the night. Together they create Claudia, who becomes a grown woman trapped in the body of a little girl. Through them we get to see a world shrouded in mystery and power, just out of our touch. Like his guest, we want to join Louis and his brethren rather than learn from his tale of darkness.
(I’m including both the front and back covers for this book because that portrait on the back always caught my sense of whimsy. Seriously, how gorgeous is that??)

 

It / The ShiningIt
by Stephen King, 1986 / 1977

“‘Everything down here floats,’ that chuckling, rotten voice whispered, and suddenly there was a ripping noise and a flaring sheet of agony, and George Denbrough knew no more.”
“Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused him of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown deathwish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family.”
I’m giving these two a tie, because they’re both equally chilling.
When I was a kid, I liked to read ghost stories and books about things that went bump in the night. Often they were library books, but sometimes a relative would gift one to me. I had one book that was particularly terrifying at a young age — and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called. I do know that until I came up with some coping mechanisms, it gave me some horrible nightmares, mainly because I would insist on reading right before bed.
My coping mechanism was to substitute the kind of monster I was reading about with the word “it”. If I wasn’t actually absorbing the word “ghost” or “werewolf” or “troll”, things were easier to deal with.
And then Mr. King came out with a creepy, horrifying thriller about a monster known as “IT”. Worse, it involved kids just a few years younger than me!
Oh yeah. Nightmare time.
And yes, I was in high school by the time I read the book. Doesn’t make it any less creepy.

As for The Shining…shiningI think I purloined my mother’s copy. At least, I think it was Mum’s. Every so often a Stephen King book would appear in our house, and I never bothered to question where it came from. You see, if you question where a book comes from, there’s always the risk someone will take it away from you (and you don’t want that). My parents weren’t the worst culprits for this…they were just happy to have literate children. My grandmothers, however, had very clear ideas as to what a young lady should and should not read. I can’t remember what I thought of it at the time other than liking it. At the time I first read it, I was taking home up to twenty books from the library per visit, and generally returning them before the two week lending period was up. Motorists on John Street North became used to the sight of a pre-teen girl walking down the street from the library with her nose in a book (a talent that I still possess).
I re-read the book last year after being gifted Doctor Sleep. I decided that I wanted to read them back-to-back. It was a good decision. The story of a family slowly eroding to pieces as isolation and a malevolent environment slowly chip away at them was haunting.
I feel that the movie and the book are two separate entities. I have my reasons.

 

Neverwhereneverwhere
by Neil Gaiman, 1996

“Richard did not believe in angels, he never had. He was damned if he was going to start now. Still, it was much easier not to believe in something when it was not actually looking directly at you and saying your name.”
I was pretty sure that Neil Gaiman was a Fantasy guy until I read Neverwhere. Don’t get me wrong, Neverwhere is fantasy, but it’s also a good old-fashioned scary book. We have a clueless hero who is even an outcast in his regular life (even though he might not realize it), a damsel in distress who is determined to save herself, a vast supporting cast of London’s supernatural underground, and two of the most chilling villains I’ve ever read. Croup and Vandemar are as much a team as Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello, but their humour is of the funny-peculiar sort rather than funny-haha…and stopping to laugh could be the death of you.

 

House of Leaveshouseofleaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski

“However, The haven-Slocum Theory also points out that this course is not without risk. An even greater number of people dwelling on The Navidson Record have shown an increase in obsessiveness, insomnia, and incoherence: “Most of those who chose to abandon their interest soon recovered. A few, however, required counseling and in some instances medication and hospitalization. Three cases resulted in suicide.”
This is my number-one spooky book. Numero uno. Some call it an academic satire (more footnotes than Pratchett), some a love story…I call it horror.
This book has screwed with my sense of dimension and comfort level in dark places. I don’t think that my co-worker L has ever seen me that jumpy. Ever. I had trouble going down into the basement in my own house, and it’s a well-lit, fully-finished basement.
Johnny Truant’s best friend lets him know that an apartment has opened up in his building. When Truant takes possession, he finds the previous occupant’s personal effects are still there…and he finds the old man’s study of a documentary called “The Navidson Record”. There are references to a video in which a house spontaneously starts changing dimension on the inside while remaining the same size/shape on the outside. The weird thing is that despite the incredible amount of scholarly work on the documentary, the actual film doesn’t seem to exist.
The story happens on multiple levels — The story of Johnny Truant and his family, the story of the previous tennant, Zampanò, and the story of the Navidson family featured in the documentary.  There are literal twists and turns, and codes hidden throughout the text. You can jump from one end of the book to the other, then go back to where you left off. There is also apparently a soundtrack inspired by the book that was written by the author’s sister (Poe).
Ever get the feeling that something is following you up the stairs? Nipping at your heels? Threatening to trip you? Yeah. I had that feeling a lot. To the point where I took a break from the book to get my equilibrium back. I probaby should have just soldiered on through, but I’m a wuss.
If you haven’t read this book and you like mysteries, puzzles, and feeling off-balance? Buy this book. If you have a choice, get the full-colour version with all the annotations, appendices, etc. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!

Book Review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children Book Cover My Real Children
Jo Walton
Science Fiction
Tor Books
May 20 2014
320
Prix Aurora Award Package

It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know-what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don't seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War-those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history; each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton's My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan's lives...and of how every life means the entire world.

 

My Real Children is the first book out of the five Prix Aurora Awards nominations for Best Novel. I finished the book in one day of reading. I did not purchase the book; it was included in the voter’s package for the Auroras.

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
Alternate Universes — Jo Walton shows us the two lives of the same woman after she makes a major decision in her life.

Is there a Message?:
It sure felt like it to me. I’m a little confused as to what it was, though. I don’t want to give away the book, but it felt like one decision punishes the main character personally while the world they live in thrives, and the other decision gives personal happiness at the expense of the main character’s world going to hell in a handbasket.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
Although the book was working with Alternate Realities, it really felt more like Women’s Fiction or Literary Fiction to me. It was a good read, don’t get me wrong, but not something I would generally reach for.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Only halfway? I’ll get into that later.

Was the book easy to get into?:
Actually, yes. It was very engaging, right from the start. A huge part of that is the storytelling. The other, much much smaller part was the file format. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, ePUB reads very, very nicely on my Kobo.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
Nope. If the book is part of a series, I’m not aware of it.

Was the world believeable?:
Not in my eyes, but again, I’ll get into that below.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes, to a certain extent. It felt like there were characters that had been given a lot of development, and a few characters that were almost caricatured.  Again, I’ll get into that…below.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
Welcome to “below”.
Problems, I have many.

 I have a hard time believing that the choice of whether or not you “marry the guy” would lead to the sweeping world changes seen in each reality in the book. Neither reality is set in our current timeline (there are references to J.F.K. in the book that support this). The world changes would suppose that *everyone* is making alternate decisions along the way, not just the main character. If I could believe that, I could believe that my decision to take piano lessons directly affected the fall of the Berlin Wall. I guess my faith in Chaos Theory just isn’t that strong.

 A character who is so closeted that he lives his life in misery to the point where he closes himself off to almost every single person in his life. He even goes the extra mile to be excessively verbally and mentally abusive. While I’m sure that these folks exist, the world he lives in is increasingly more and more liberal. I find it hard to believe that he couldn’t come to terms with himself and his liberal family in order to attain some glimmer of personal happiness. It’s like the character just exists to be an asshole and a burden on the main character.

 Some secondary characters feel like placeholders so you know what era it is. The kid who knows computers, the guy who dies from AIDS…just felt a little too stereotypical and shoehorned in for my tastes.

 Everyone turns against you when you’re old.  The children that we’ve seen Patricia raise throughout both timelines seem like a bunch of greedy little gits by the end of the book. And when Patricia is shown to have a medical problem, they get offended and treat it like a moral issue that Granny really can’t remember that X Event occurred. I’ve seen some skeevy family politics in my time, but I couldn’t point to a single redeeming member of either family by the end of the book.

♦  No real resolution at the end of the book. We get to see the two timelines, but the resolution is…vague. Or maybe I’m just not insightful enough to intuit it.

What did you like about the book?:
Practically seamless world building. It helped that there was a lot of exposition every time you jumped between realities, but the world building was cumulative.

I also liked that the author was able to tell two complete life stories in approximately 320 pages. That’s pretty impressive. You get to know both versions of Patricia fairly well, and explore the world from her eyes in two very different ways.

Last thoughts?:
I got to the end and the only thing that crossed my mind was “Huh. I guess that’s that.”

I was vaguely unsatisfied because the story was…well…kind of a memoir. It was a book of quiet reflection on the lives of two identities who were the same person (if you can follow that). There were peaks and valleys, yes, but nothing that I could discern as a solid story structure. It would be different if Patricia had woken up one day in her nursing home and a (singular) friendly person from both pasts was there to help her on her journey to Her One True Self. We could have the standard hero’s journey of hijinks and misadventure, coupled with the fact that our heroine is in her 90’s and has a memory like a sieve.  Instead, Patricia gets old and reflects on the two pasts that she has solid memories of living before the end of her days. Huh.
Maybe it’s just me, and maybe this is why I don’t generally read women’s fiction. :-/

I’m not saying I didn’t like the book. Just that it was far too easy to pick up the next one and start reading. I definitely recommend it, but I don’t think it’s my Aurora pick.

Book Review format for the Auroras

It had to happen sooner or later.

I figure that I should start posting my thoughts about the books I’m reading for the Auroras, mainly so that I don’t forget what I’m voting on. I’ve tried to actually create a form for myself, so that I can try to be fairly even-handed in the way I treat the books. I’ve tried to think of the things that I’m taking away from the books, positive and negative.

So far I haven’t read anything truly bad. Not that I expected that I would need to. Some of the content, however, raises questions for me, and the method I’m using to break it down seems to help.

Here are the questions  I’m asking myself for my “reviews”. You can consider it a kind of “fill in the blanks” for the blog.

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
I guess some would call this a hook? Personally, I look at it as a theme running through the book that rather stands out.  For instance:
Harry Potter: You’re a Wizard, Harry.
The Hobbit: Dwarves. Lots and lots of ’em.
Star Wars: Space ships and lightsabers!
You get the picture.

Is there a Message?:
Terry Pratchett was a master at this. By the time I was halfway through the Discworld series, I’d started noticing that he was weaving subtle commentary on dearly held beliefs into his humorous fantasies. Often the results were breathtaking. As I said, he was a master. Some people do not have this talent and it feels like you’re being bludgeoned with The Stick of Annoyance until you want to hurl the book across the room (or track down the author and physically hurl them across the room. Take your pick. I’m going with the easy option).

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
Because sometimes Fantasy & Science Fiction are just that.  And then sometimes they’re not. The lines get really blurry, for instance, on the spectrum spanning Magic Realism, Contemporary Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance.  And then there are other subgenres like the ‘Punk variations, where you have a kind of urban fantasy with science fiction technology (Cyberpunk), or steam powered gadgetry (Steampunk), etc.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Yes or no and why. Because sometimes things just seem contrived. Sometimes things just get bloody trendy. I could be talking about vampires, but between you, me and the wall over there, vampires are never going out of style. Ann Rice would stage a rebellion. I’m talking about how one year it’s elves, elves, elves and the next it’s dragons, dragons, dragons, and if that wasn’t bad enough, how about we just write dystopian novels for the rest of the decade?

Soylent green is people, by the way.

Was the book easy to get into?:
See, here’s an easy answer.  Did I procrastinate on finishing the book? Did I have trouble understanding what they were talking about (mumblemumblehardsciencefictionmumble)?

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
Is it part of a series? Is it part of a shared universe of standalones? Should you have read something else beforehand in order to understand what the hell is going on?

Was the world believable?:
Brandon Sanderson says that there are rules for magic. I believe him because he makes a good case for it (it’s a kind of push/pull of the universe. Think of Harry Potter needing a wand, or Harry Dresden requiring a focus object). It makes magic more believable. So if you’re telling me that digging into the ground to plant a tree nets you toaster pastry instead of dirt, you better have a darned good reason for it, because I probably won’t believe you.

Were the characters believable?:
You say your character is perfect? No flaws? I don’t believe you. Because I have a ton of ’em, and so does my husbeast, and my brother, and my cat. My cat is very flawed.

cropped-11325379_997049756993911_1006549106_n.jpg

So flawed she thinks I won’t actually tickle either her tummy or toes.

 

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
Plotholes I can drive a bus through? People not reacting like people? Outstandingly cheesy stereotypes that are taken very seriously and not actually meant to be cheesy? I’ll probably point them out here.

What did you like about the book?:
I’m sure I’ll think of something to put in here. I love books. I’m enthused by books. I love to read. I think that giving me books is what got my parents through those difficult “tween” years (before they were actually called such). I’m sure I can find something good to say about practically anything.
Except maybe those last 2 Matrix movies that I heard a rumour someone made. There can be only one.

Last thoughts?:
And here I try to come to terms with all the bullroar that I’ve posed in the previous questions. Nothing like a summary to make you say “Um…yeah. So that’s what I thought about this thing. Your mileage may vary.”

 

At very least, I hope that what I have to say about the upcoming books is interesting. I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers.

…and if the format is well-received I may just keep it.

(I’ll know it is if I don’t get hateful comments or people camping on my front lawn. Which would be difficult because the neighbours will fight you for the parking space. Just so’s you’re aware)

Reading for the Aurora Awards

I haven’t disappeared! Particularly after the promises of my last post.

I’ve been on vacation the past 2 weeks. You’d think that would mean I had time to do things like write. Unfortunately, no.

I spent my time putting together IKEA, cleaning house, and hiding from the big, hot sun. When it wasn’t raining. I’ve had a lot of headaches this past couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to Instagram pictures where possible.

I did, however, sneak in a little time to read two of the contenders for this year’s Aurora Award for Best Novel. I’m working my way through the nominees so that I can make an informed choice. I’ll post my full opinions when I can figure out a format that adequately explains my reasoning in a positive manner. While saying negative things about $10 bottles of wine is fun, it’s not so nice when it’s a book that you got for free because you’re judging it. Unlike the cheap plonk, the book was someone’s labour of love.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

 

I really can’t say too much about the books yet. I’m still trying to parse them. My Real Children, for instance, seemed really close to the Women’s Fiction genre with Science Fiction elements. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good book, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff

The Future Falls, on the other hand, was Urban Fantasy. Not long after beginning it, I realized it was the third book in a series (that I haven’t read). There was a ton of world-building even though it’s set in Calgary (my current home town!), and took quite a while for the actual plot to get going. Most of the first third of the book was backstory on the characters, their family, and their particular dynamic within the world.

Both books took less than 24 hours for me to read. That is to say, I devoted one day each to reading and not getting distracted by the internet or what the husbeast was watching on TV. As a comparison, My Real Children seemed to go fairly quickly. The Future Falls, while it was closer to my preferred genre, was a bit of a slog. I put it down at one point and felt disappointed that I was only 58% through the book. I’m blaming it on the file type.

Duck and cover! Incoming Rant! (sorta)

If I don’t have a hard copy of a book, I will generally use my Kobo. It’s nothing fancy – the Kobo Touch has been out for years now, and as I haven’t managed to drop it in the bath tub yet, I don’t need a new one. I’m sure it would be nice to have more of a tablet-style e-reader with glossy colour pictures, but the e-paper on the Kobo is wonderfully readable. If it’s dark, you get a book light.

This has caused issues in the past where my book light died for some reason other than battery failure, and telling the staff at Chapters/Indigo that their selection of replacements was piss-poor sparse garnered the response of “just buy a new Kobo with onboard lighting.” I think I understand my parents better now because every time I countered with the fact that my OLD Kobo is still perfectly fine, thank you very much, I just got a blank stare in return.  Just puts me that much closer to yelling at the neighbourhood kids to get off my damn lawn.

At any rate, I chose the Kobo because it handles a large amount of file types, particularly EPUB. I love EPUB. It has no bells and whistles and it’s generally DRM-free. I can read it on my Kobo. I can read it on my computer. I can read it on my phone. I can take it with me wherever. The Kobo will also handle PDF files, but since the screen is about the size of a paperback novel, you have to jump through some hoops to actually read anything. To give the guys at the Aurora Awards their due, they mention that you can use a program to convert the files. Unfortunately, the way that the PDFs are formatted, it affects the way the text flows in the EPUB.

My Real Children was in EPUB format when I got it, and is wonderfully readable. The Future Falls was in PDF, and was horrendous to try reading in EPUB. Part of the slog I mentioned earlier was due to zooming, resizing and repositioning the PDF version every time I turned a page (because it was the more readable version). The Kobo Touch isn’t a high-powered device, and it takes a while to do this. Woe betide I skipped a page somewhere and had to go back after doing all the adjusting.

The Husbeast was impressed I could read the PDF at all as the text was really tiny when I’d zoom to fit a full page of text on the screen. I now know for certain that I need to get my eyes checked as I had to take off my glasses to read comfortably. Hooray myopia?

A Play of Shadow Echopraxia The Peripheral

I have two more books in PDF format that I have to read through: A Play of Shadow by Julie E Czerneda and The Peripheral by William Gibson. Thankfully, Peter Watts included the EPUB for Echopraxia.  I’m going to have to see if I can tweak my conversion program to get rid of the junk text in the EPUBs because I’m really looking forward to the Gibson book and I really want it to be a comfortable read.

Also, because “Best Novel” isn’t the only category that involves novels. There’s a full slate of Young Adult SFF books that I’m going to have to go through. I just figured I’d start with the books that likely have the higher word count.

Blindsight

I’m currently working my way through Blindsight by Peter Watts, as Echopraxia is a followup.  I’ve had Blindsight in the house for years, but have never gotten around to reading it. Shame me if you must, this is definitely a shame-worthy offense as we’ve actually met Peter (through a mutual friend). I’m only 13% into it, but that will change quickly. Having to go back to work is the only thing holding me back from another 1-day marathon read.

If you’re Canadian and think that you can bust a move reading a whole bunch of really good SFF books (and short stories, and…) by October 17th, feel free to join me! Membership is open to all Canadians and landed immigrants. Sorry, but I can’t share the books with you. Membership has its privileges 😉

Oh…and if anyone from the Aurora Awards ever sees this…may I recommend EPUB versions of the reading material next year? They tend to convert really well to the other file-types that people prefer, better than PDF.  Please?  Please with upgrades to appearance and sweetness? 😀

 

Edited 20-Aug-15: Apparently when I’m in a rush to post, I get my English and French words mixed up. So the Aurora Prize (Prix Aurora) has been edited to Aurora Award. #CanadianProblems

Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s amazing how looking at other blogs can remind you that you have one of your own that you’re sadly neglecting. It’s hard-truth time — I actually considered closing the door on inkyblack/stringchronicity and just creating a bog standard blogspot/wordpress site. The problem with that is the same I’m having here — What to put in it?

I had thought that I was getting better at generating content until I took a look at my post history. A handful of imports from Instagram had taken over the main content. There were a couple of posts about books that I’ve read recently. Not much else.

I didn’t even like the colours on the blog. Grey, beige and blue what? That’s not me. I needed to make some changes. At very least, time for a redesign!

Small-scale snapshot of redesigned website

That looks better.

I took out the big pictures from Instagram. Instead, I have the last 7 pictures showing under the menu bar. I’d like to work my way up to at least one Instagram photo per day (that explains the magic number 7, right?). Eventually I’m thinking of also incorporating my Flickr galleries somewhere. Baby steps.

That leaves the question of content. If I’m not just importing my instagram photos, I should probably be writing. I never know what I should or should not include on the blog. When I started out, years and years ago, it was all ego. Me, me, me and blah blah blah. Eventually I got to blogging my knitting. I quickly realized that I don’t knit fast enough to churn out the amount of sheer stuff it takes to be an interesting knit-blogger. At one point I tried to compartmentalize my interests into a daily post (ie FO Friday or Friday Five, Movie Monday, Saturday Yarn, Sunday Sock Class, yadda yadda). That lasted maybe two weeks. You may have figured out that I’ve gone through this particular form of angst before.

So this is what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to try posting a couple of times a week (at least). The subject of those posts could be:

  • Life Stuff: Because I do things. Sometimes well. Sometimes very very poorly.
  • Crafty Stuff: Because I knit and spin. Other crafty things less frequently because the knitting monster has completely overtaken my will to cross-stitch.
  • Music Stuff: Because I play the piano and will eventually learn to play the guitar. I also sing. Usually to whatever I recognize on the stereo. I have no concern for your eardrums!
  • Book Stuff: Because I read. I’m trying to read more.
  • Writing Stuff: Because other than a rather long hiatus where I channelled most of my dubious writing ability into attempting to blog, I have been writing fiction since I could hold a pencil. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. What a twist! I will post more on that as a separate blog post (yay, content!)
  • Writing Prompts: Both fiction and non-fiction. Because sometimes I need someone else to say “Hey! Sit down and write something, Doofus! Here’s something to get you started.”

I guess that means I’ll be writing about pretty much anything. Here’s hoping that this reboot is the kick in the butt that I need to justify my yearly domain name renewal and badgering of My Awesome Webhost!

Uprooted

There are very few books that I’ve read on a recommendation, mostly because taste in literature is extremely subjective. The person who loves Literary Fiction or Women’s Fiction or cookbooks may not understand my love of fantasy, horror and the occasional romantic thriller. Sure, I’ll look up a variety of reviews online before purchasing a book that I’m not sure I’ll actually read, but otherwise, I try to use my own judgement.

I try not to be too much of a snob about the books I read. I’m getting better at it, but I still have my moments. For instance, I just can’t bring myself to read Twilight. I’m more an Interview with the Vampire kind of girl.

I couldn’t even get halfway through 50 Shades. Seriously. They may ask for my girl-card back.

uprooted

That said, when my sister-in-law recommended I check out Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, I nodded and dutifully purchased it from kobo.com. I had come across the title while checking out the fantasy section on Goodreads, and the first part of the blurb stuck with me.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon.

It’s a new take on The Princess and the Dragon! Half of me did a little dance of joy, the other half was looking at it with suspicion, somewhat like the kid in The Princess Bride: “Is it a kissing book?

Not that there’s anything wrong with kissing books. But I’m looking for a good fantasy with magic and adventure, not paranormal erotica. Not that I think my sister-in-law would recommend that to me, but she can be tricksy when she thinks I’m not paying attention.

I needn’t have worried. I promptly ignored the fact that I’d planned on reading Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and a comedic fantasy about paranormal janitors. I dove into Uprooted, and it was what went with me whenever I had a moment to read.

I grew up reading books written mostly in the third person, and that’s what I’m most comfortable reading. Uprooted is written in first-person, which I find somewhat jarring. I don’t need to know every thought going through the protagonist’s head, which some authors tend to do. I have the same problem with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series whenever a new book comes out. Even so, I quickly relaxed into the story, which says a lot about Novik’s ability to pull the reader into the world.  Lots of action, lots of intrigue, and lots of world-building that was very reminiscent of European folk-tales. The story was like reading a well-written translation of a Grimm Fairy Tale with plenty of magic and adventure.

There’s even a love story. I was happy that it didn’t overwhelm, but instead complemented the rest of the story. My only gripe was that in building a Beauty and the Beast-type plot, the Dragon was a little too beastly. To be blunt, if I’d been the heroine, he would have been chucked out the first convenient window in the tower at the earliest opportunity. Happily, for the sake of the plot, our Main Character doesn’t take my advice into consideration, and soldiers on. By the end of the novel, it’s pretty clear that she’s no shrinking violet and is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, thank-you-very-much. Very satisfying.

Definitely a novel I would recommend to others looking for a couple of days of escapist fun. I may even track down the adventure series that she’s written, as I hear that my nephew is a fan.

Back to reading Bradbury!

The reading list

I keep meaning to update with what I’ve been up to but my mind has been jumbled all over the place. I’ve been taking a bit of a break from knitting, and trying to get in a little spinning each week. The biggest difference is that I’ve been doing more reading and writing.

Yes, writing. Just not on the blog. Ouch.

I mentioned previously that I’m trying to do more fiction-reading. I’ve been fairly successful at that. Here’s the most recent picture of the stack o’books:

The stack sits on a side-table in our living room and just seems to be growing as I find new books to add. The Husbeast has not been helping the matter, as he keeps adding more books that he thinks I should be reading (Trainspotting, Raw Shark Texts and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are prime examples). What the stack doesn’t show is the sheer amount of books loaded on Kobo hiding as an unassuming black book up near the top of that pile.

Since my last post on Ready Player One, I’ve finished the following books (with notes):

The Marrow of the World by Ruth Nichols
— I vaguely remembered this book from elementary school, and somehow managed to track down a paperback copy on Amazon. Good middle-grade book set both in Canada and in a parallel fantasy world. Definitely exceeded my nostalgia-tinted expectations.

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
— Finally finished this, and quickly realized that I definitely need to re-read it. Taking time off in the middle of reading made a huge difference in impact. Better to keep reading it and deal with the fear and paranoia the book was giving me than to stop and lose the suspense.

The Dresden Files: Skin Game by Jim Butcher
— Enjoyable escapist lark. Nominated for a Hugo. Not sure how I feel about that. It’s a good book and a fun read, but I didn’t find it terribly world-changing. I enjoy the Harry Dresden series and would recommend it to anyone because it entertains and does it well.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris
— I think I maybe saw half of the first season of the TV show before I gave up on it as “not my cup of tea”. I couldn’t get past parallels to a World of Darkness LARP run amok with too many sex scenes and far-fetched plotlines. It definitely works much better as a book for me. I totally enjoyed the first novel and look forward to picking up more in the series.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
— Finished this after a year of procrastinating. As good as The Shining? Maybe not. Entertaining, escapist thriller that I’ll likely read again.

Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King by Stephen King, Tim Underwood, and Chuck Miller
— Interviews with King from 1973 to 1989. Someone on Goodreads criticized this as being repetitive. I can see that, though I prefer to think of it as an exploration of the retelling of stories. Every so often something new crops up to illuminate a point or clarify a fact. Not sure it’s reading that everyone would enjoy, though.

Neuromancer by William Gibson
— Awesome heist story set in a highly imaginative future. A bit dated due to the way that technology has evolved since the book was written, but the story holds up either way. Having been influenced by my Dad’s love of Science Fiction, this is a satisfying read.

Monster by A. Lee Martinez
— A quick read that took maybe a day to get through. I liked the humour and premise, but ultimately thought something was missing. Left me with a vague feeling of “Ok, now what?” I have a couple more books by the same author, so we’ll see if maybe I’m just overthinking things a bit.

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
— Another quick read, but this one was much more satisfying. I gather it was meant as a middle-grade horror novella, if such things exist. A fun adventure in a wonderfully imagined and realized world. Definitely recommend to anyone who likes fantasy, horror, or a mixture of the two.

That gets me caught up to the present. I have a couple of new purchases on the Kobo that I’m thinking might be the next couple of reads. In the meantime, I’ll try not to take as long between blog updates!