Monday, August 27, 2012

Fall on Your Knees

So here's the thing about Fall on Your Knees. I first read it when I was 17 and doing an independent study of Canadian literature. Again, while moving it made my list of books I want to re-read even though I really should be reading the 30 odd books sitting beside my bed that I haven't read yet. So obviously, I re-read Fall on Your Knees. I wondered if I would still love it as much the second time around and the answer was yes. Yes I do. MacDonald's novel is intense and admittedly a little overwhelming in the telling of the lives of the Piper family in the early 20th century.  It begins with trouble when James elopes with 13 year old Materia - trouble both to her family's horror, and to himself as he realizes the reality of her youth, and Lebanese heritage.  James consoles himself with their firstborn Kathleen - beautiful and with the voice of an angel - a love that consumes him to the point on incest. To cope James enlists in WWI and fathers two more surviving children Mercedes and Frances. Kathleen goes to NYC to become a famous singer, but ends up returning ruined, pregnant and no longer singing.

This is a long novel, but the characters keep the readers going - you can't decide if each is sympatheticor not, and they hover between forgiveness and unforgivable in what they do and how they cope. There are bizarre turns, and reality isn't always clear but the mysticism is a significant part of what makes the story appealing. It's a story of survival in impossible circumstances. Oprah recommended or not, do yourself a favour and grab a copy - it's well worth a read.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spider Robinson

I briefly touched on my love of Spider Robinson in my ancient post about Super Secret Guilty Reading Pleasures. Spider Robinson was just one of those authors - along with David Eddings he arguably shaped why exactly I love reading for fun. I picked up Callahan's Crosstime Salon for 100% the opposite reason most people do - I got a kick out of the cover. I've heard time and time again that people hate the cover of this compilation book. Well, it made me laugh and for better or for worse, I grabbed it.  So here's the long and the short of Spider Robinson's writing: The puns are so bad you can't help laughing out loud, and the characters are so delightfully human (mostly, but you know) that you really really wish Callahan's existed because it's somewhere you really do want to hang out it. The books aren't just about a bar and the people who drink there, they're about what happens to the regulars at a bar.

I don't think I've ever read a science fiction series that has so little to do with science fiction. These are stories I've carried around with me since I was 16, and are ones I'll carry around with me for the rest of my life. Both the Callahan's series, and the Lady Sally's series (hand to God, just go get it. It takes place in a brothel and it has Nikola Tesla as a main character.) and the post-Callahan's series are ones that will just put a smile on your face. One thing you'll hear time and time again from people who read these series is that they'll spend the rest of their lives looking for a place like Callahan's - and really, we should only be so lucky.

So here's the real thing about this book. This book is basically why I'm a librarian. “Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don't ever piss one off. ” is a part of the book that's stuck with me since I was 16. I can't help but feel nostalgic whenever I pick up one of his books. They're some of the most human books out there, even if not all the characters are entirely (or at all human).  I'm not going to say this book will change your life like it at the very least impacted mine. But you'll finish it with a smile on your face, and the desire to go build yourself a community. I think we're missing a lot of community right now.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

No Great Mischief

I admittedly love Alistair MacLeod. Island is one of my favourite books of stories, and generally I hate short stories. I think I first read No Great Mischief in 2002 and while I was most recently moving I decided it was on my list of books that I should re-read. I think what I love most about it as a book is that MacLeod is first and foremost a storyteller - he repeats images and phrases throughout the book to give a sense of rhythm and to give the reader an anchor to the story as a whole. I always think of it as like the chorus of a song, it reminds the reader that the story is part of a bigger whole.

The story MacLeod is telling is the story of the clan of "Calum the Red" a Scottish clan who came to Nova Scotia about 200 years ago. It's clear the characters come from an oral tradition, one where history is kept alive through storytelling, stories that are added to and repeated as events occur. The family ties are admittedly a bit baffling - there are three Alexander MacDonalds and the clan itself is so inbred that even the dogs are inbred - redheads with dark eyes (how very Scottish, I know).  The main story takes place in modern times as the narrator tells about being raised by his grandparents after his parents death. The thing is, personally I think that the behaviours and connections of the clan as told through repeated histories and songs can seem more real then current events. You feel for the characters - from Alexander's relative success to Calum's destitution on the streets of Toronto you can't help but feel the wild comedy and heartbreaking tragedy of the family.

This is by no means an 'easy' read, and I do understand why some people have no patience for it. That being said, it's a book I personally love, and one that I absolutely would recommend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

OZ

As a follow-up to my last review on Mary Poppins, the OZ series is another series that had a huge impact on my love of reading growing up. The thing is (and this is a little embarrassing) (also, embarrassing that it's embarrassing) I didn't actually read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz until a few years ago. I saw the movie when I was a kid (who didn't?) and my mom read a few books of the series to me when I was a kid.  At the same bookstore (which by the by sadly closed down and is no longer) and as a post-Mary Poppins recovery, I picked up The Marvelous Land of Oz. So here's the deal. There were 14 books about Oz, and Dorothy is not a central character in all of them. Ozma of Oz doesn't even mostly take place in Oz - same goes for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz is on the way to Oz... and so on.  Baum builds an entire world - where Dorothy is a Princess of Oz, Santa shows up with Billina the Yellow Hen and the Gnome King tries to take over.   It's a fabulous series - do yourself a favour and pick it up - It's good for almost any age.

I have read the entire series, over several years. It's surprisingly (or I guess not) hard to find every book in the series. I think there are over 50 books in the series when all is said and done. Finding the original 14 can be hard enough, but trying to hit every book in the series can be a challenge I admittedly haven't been able to complete. But you should try.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mary Poppins

I've always been a reader. I really was one of those kids who would read under the blankets, with a flashlight, and my Mom tells me how she would pretend not to notice because she couldn't handle stopping me from reading.  I grew up reading the "classics" - Pocahontas, Bambi, Robin Hood, Little House, Mary Poppins and the Wizard of Oz. We moved to Toronto when I was in grade 6, and just up the street from us was an amazing kids book store. I was admittedly a bit lonely and intimidated and Mom knew I needed a distraction, so, off to the bookstore we went. This sounds a little cliched, but I didn't know where to start. The woman there asked me I had read Mary Poppins. With the scorn only an 12 year old can give I her of course I did. She then asked me if I had read the entire series. I have no clue it was a series, and over the next few weeks I picked up the entire series.

The Mary Poppins series wasn't life changing, but it is a series that stuck with me, right up there with the OZ, Little House and The Immortals - all of which I read at about the same time. I loved Mary Poppins because it made magic real. My favourite of the series is Mary Poppins Opens the Door - the book that first taught me that cats can look upon kings. The thing is, as a review this one is going to be slightly lackluster because the thing is, I can't help but to wax slightly poetic about this series.  The book series is not the film version - I can't emphasize that enough. There are obvious similarities but in the books Mary is vain and crabby and a bit of a mystic. There's no way to say it other than bizarre things happen when she is around but the real thing that comes out in the series is that Mary has a heart of gold and depths that the movie can in no way come near touching.

Having read the series as a pre-teen, and then again as an adult what rings true is that the whole series is about the magic of childhood.  It's just plain fun to read - as Mary herself says “Don't you know that everybody's got a Fairyland of their own?”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea

I recieved this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it when I first got it. The overly self aware narrator kind of sounds like my internal voice when I let my internal voice get away from me but moving right along. The first book of a new series that is about the Templeton Twins and is sort of a graphic novel but not really, a mystery with buzzles and admittedly pretty fabulous questions for review at the end of every chapter that poke fun at the directed reading/tests that are pretty common place for the targeted age group.   Holmes' illustrations are fabulous - drawings, sketches, diagrams, flow charts make a fabulous addition to the book. It was reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events to me - the author explains words and turns of phrases to the reader which makes it a very accessible book.

This book is in the details to me. The blue hue to it gives it a blue-printy feeling which I loved. I'm about 98% certain that the target age will be all over this book - the humour is accessible and clever, the characters are endearing and make you want to get to know them (I kind of love the over the top personalities) (especially the narrator) and it's got enough mystery and adventure to be a pretty solid read for whoever reads it. Including a parent, if they so chose, or are reading it on their own. It's a fun read.

All the above being said, I gave my copy to an 11 & a 12 year old. Clearly I'll bow to their superior opinions regarding it when I hear what they said.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gunmetal Magic

It's no secret I love Urban Fantasy as a genre. I'll pick up anything they write because really, they're pretty fantastic entertainment. That being said, Ilona Andrews (aka Ilona and Gordon Andrews) are at the top of my list of favourite authors. Both their Kate Daniels and the Edge series are really really fun reads - fun enough that my Mom likes them both, and she strongly dislikes Urban Fantasy as a rule. I was a little iffy on Gunmetal Magic admittedly. Set in the Kate Daniels world, it's main character is Andrea Nash, something that I was... unsure of. I don't want to imply that I can't handle change and it's scary and bad and oh god why is there a new character pov but you know. That.

That being said, the book was fabulous. Fun, clever, made me laugh pretty consistently throughout and had an impressive bit of character building for a one off novel. It didn't read like an "outside" canon book, it fit really well into the series and actually even gave a great break from the Kate/Curran focus.  Solid addition to the series, and go pick it up. More to the point, pick up the whole series. I should probably be getting paid for this.