Friday, March 27, 2009

The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

After my disappointment with The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, which I read just before I started the blog and really disliked, and my frustration with the forebludgeoning in The Sisters Grimm, I was kind of feeling like maybe I just wasn't up for reading fantastical series aimed at kids anymore. I was disappointed about it, too, because there's a lot of wonderful kids' lit out there.

Thus I picked up The Field Guide by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, the first in The Spiderwick Chronicles, with a little bit of trepidation. Funny how it took me about an hour and a half to read it, an hour that whizzed by so fast that I didn't even think I'd blinked. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If there was forebludgeoning, I didn't notice it (which is kind of the point of forebludgeoning, I think, so it's not there). It wasn't predictable, but it wasn't trying not to be, if that makes any sense. It felt incredibly short, but when I think back on it, a fair bit happened.

Mallory, Simon and Jared Grace have moved, after their parents' divorce, to an enormous ramshackle house out of the city with their mother. Mallory is the eldest, with a violent streak that I recognize ('cause I had an elder-sister violent streak, too), and Simon and Jared are twins. Simon adores his pets, and their mother allows him to have them (he even has mice! hooray!), but Jared's become a bit of a problem. He doesn't seem to have an outlet to deal with his frustration -- and he's been in a fight at school that has caused his entire family to look at him differently. They don't trust him, even though they still love him. So when really troublesome things start happening in the house, it's Jared who gets the blame. And it's from Jared's perspective that we view the ensuing events in the book.

Jared makes a great hero, even for adults. He's got that familiar "no one understands, no one listens, no one believes me!" thing happening. I know I identified with that as a kid. As an adult, I completely and fully understand where his mother is coming from, too, and I think that's the huge difference between this book and A Bad Beginning. Adults (or the one adult in the book) aren't portrayed as being stupid, cruel or ignorant. Helen Grace has a lot going on, and she's stressed out, and she's desperately worried about her kids, especially Jared, who seems to be acting out. We can see this in the very small part she plays and I like that. So I don't think she's being willfully ignorant or stupid when she blames Jared for what's happening; it's all very logical to an adult mind.

Mostly, though, Black and DiTerlizzi let the kids get on with things, as kids are liable to do. I love the setting and the premise. The black-and-white ink pictures that accompany the text remind me fondly of an edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I had as a kid. They're simple, delicate, and enchanting, and compliment the text perfectly.

Most of all I love the characters. I'm already growing attached to them. I've ordered The Seeing Stone from the library, and am looking forward to reading it next week.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

shameless blog adoration: Jo Walton at Tor

I have to admit that I have a bit of a blog crush. My blog crush is on Jo Walton over at I tend to read the blog without a lot of reference to who it is I'm reading because I like most everything I read on there -- but about a week ago, I began to notice that every book that was reviewed over at that went on my list was a book reviewed by Walton. I went back over all the books I'd added to my list from reviews and all of them except one (we're talking double digits here) can be attributed to Jo Walton.

And now there's this excellent article about disappointing sequels, and why some sequels are just bad while other sequels ruin the books they follow. Guys, seriously, if isn't already plugged into your daily reads, go ahead and do it. I get something new or interesting out of them every day.

This makes me wonder if I should be mentioning other book blogs too, actually. I have a bunch that I read regularly and the list is growing. They're mostly on the right hand side of this page, but it might be a good exercise for me to try to articulate why I like the blogs I do. I've made up a tag for that exercise, so I almost have to do it now...

The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E. J. Wagner

Partly work-related and partly for fun, I'm on a bit of a mystery kick. We're watching Series Two of the British murder-and-gardening-in-one show, Rosemary and Thyme, and I'd finished Maisie Dobbs, and so I picked up The Science of Sherlock Holmes to give me a bit of nonfiction. I am a big Holmes fan, although not crazy (as sometimes happens with Holmes fans). I thoroughly enjoy Laurie R. King's Mary Russell, too, in spite of myself. And I've always found forensics fascinating.

This is a very quick, very easy read. Wagner goes about things in an organized fashion, looking at one or two aspects of forensics (trace evidence, autopsy, ballistics, etc.) per chapter, and taking us through the history of forensics as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have known it. We meet some of the grandfathers of forensics (legal medicine, or medical jurisprudence, as it was called) and are taken, sometimes at length, through real-life cases where forensic science was first applied and making a difference. Sprinkled liberally throughout are quotes from various Holmes stories that highlight how important science is to criminal investigation. It's not so scientific that only experts could understand it; I think anyone with an interest in science, medicine, crime or Sherlock Holmes would be able to understand the vast bulk of this book.

The references to things Sherlockian are very endearing, although occasionally quotes or stories are reused in multiple chapters which makes me wonder why -- there are lots of stories to choose from. My favourite short, "Silver Blaze," gets a mention a couple of times, which pleased me to no end. Occasionally a point would be a little belaboured, as in how sloppy investigators can be when investigating crimes, or how bad science can lead to terrible judicial mistakes.

I was growing a bit weary of the last chapter, in which Wagner talks about bad science and how "expert" testimony can be disastrous (another favourite point) but then I recalled the massive amounts of damage so-called pathologist Dr. Charles Smith managed to do with bad science and expert testimony here in Canada. His expert testimony imprisoned multiple innocent people for the murders (which have since turned out to be, in some cases, accidental deaths) of children, destroying lives. And the judicial system let him get away with it; this is another point that Wagner makes, although that one only in passing. So maybe it's a point that needs to be made more than once.

It is a little chilling how easily people will believe in the infallibility of science. Science itself is great -- but sometimes the people who practice it are not. Sometimes they make genuine mistakes. Sometimes they are lazy. Sometimes they don't have all the information and spring to conclusions. Sometimes they are deliberately dishonest. Sometimes they're just misguided. To be honest, before I read this book, I still believed that hair and nails grow after death -- a myth, apparently, disproved quite a long time ago. Now, it's not my business to know that sort of thing, but I suspect that if someone had asked me whether or not it was true I might have said yes, thus perpetuating myth when science has proved otherwise.

When more is at stake than some kid going home and saying "guess what I learned today!", as is the case in a criminal investigation and court case, it is so important to get it right. These are people's lives here. Wagner mentions several cases where the wrong people are convicted -- or when the right people are not convicted, and end up taking more lives before they're finally caught. All based on science, or lack thereof.

At any rate, it's a fascinating read, and I recommend it as an introduction to the history of forensic science for the casual reader. This book just really scrapes the surface, but serves as an excellent, interesting, engaging, and fun entry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Maisie Dobbs by Jaqueline Winspear

I have such mixed feelings here, although I've ended the book with a general positive feeling, so that's good. I wanted to like it and I'm glad I eventually, mostly did. Maisie Dobbs came to my attention through Darla, and we seem to have very similar tastes in many bookish things...

Maisie Dobbs begins with us meeting the titular character through the eyes of a London newspaper seller, allowing us to observe her from a distance. She is setting up shop and trying to figure out what she should call herself; is she a private investigator? A psychic? Healer? We see her take on a case involving a woman who is apparently cheating on her husband -- only, of course, things are not as they seem, and Maisie must dig deeper.

The year is 1929, and Maisie is a Cambridge-educated woman who worked as a nurse in France during the Great War. By virtue of her extraordinary intelligence and observational skills, she's worked her way from her working-class roots to a woman who has the confidence and respect of people all over the place, from all walks of life.

I think I'll start with what didn't work for me at first, and then wrap up with what did.

In general, I think the problems I had were some strange language decisions on the part of the author, although my first problem was not of style, but of substance. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for books that include a little bit of the unexplained -- but I was a bit put off by the mystical way in which Maisie works at solving the mystery. And the reason I have trouble with this is that so much is made of Maisie's bookish intelligence, but she doesn't appear to rely on more than a highly trained sense of observation, some vague premonitions, and a knack for copying people's body language that gives her an incredible level of insight into their emotional state. Furthermore, the premonitions give us a bit of heavy foreshadowing (not forebludgeoning, but a little too close for comfort). This was extremely prevalent in the first seven chapters and I was pretty irritated by it. Because -- and this leads right into my second problem -- I didn't think the writing was good enough to convince me of anything.

The original problem for me, before I could put my finger on any of the other things that were annoying me, was the description. I couldn't get into the book because I had no mental pictures of place. But it's not like there were no attempts made; a particularly egregious example reads like someone giving directions through downtown London, as we follow Maisie from her office to a place where she is to observe her target. I have never been to London in the 1920s. Street names and tube station names mean absolutely nothing to me, particularly when listed off and given no attached characteristics whatsoever. I want description to give me a feel for the place. What I got was worse than no description at all. That particular passage made me want to chuck the book at the wall. And I was enough out of the story to think, "Her editor let her get away with this? What were they thinking?"

Another odd choice, but one I can forgive as possibly having a motive, nearly cost me the book. The first seven chapters are "present" -- set in the spring of 1929 -- and then there is an extended flashback to Maisie's childhood and on through the war years. I wasn't at all engaged by Maisie or the mystery for the first five chapters because I was too frustrated with the style, and was just starting to get into the mystery when all of a sudden I was thrown back into the past. I was highly irritated at what I perceived to be a complete momentum-killer.

But it turns out it was a good thing. Because around the middle of chapter eight, I was suddenly hooked. Here was all the background on Maisie I was missing -- here was the character I could like and enjoy. I grew, very quickly, to like Maisie. I grew, very quickly, to understand what made her tick. That flashback interlude gave me everything I'd hoped to find at the beginning of the book, everything I had been searching for in vain. Maisie's unexplained premonitions and intuitions were not treated so heavy-handedly, and I grew used to that, too. I don't know what was behind the decision to make this a flashback and not put it all at the beginning, although I wonder if it was so that we did see Maisie as an observer might see her, as opposed to empathizing with her; or so that we would be looking for clues ourselves in Maisie's past. I don't know, but it came really close to not working because I almost gave up before I got to the good bits.

That said, things really looked up from there. I got into Maisie's story, the descriptions were at least enough for me to insert my own ideas of place and people (mostly gleaned from watching a lot of BBC programming), and I started to get a feel for what was at stake, rather than being told what was at stake and feeling guilty for not really caring. There were still a few odd moments that read like a writer who needs a better editor (how can someone standing in a very nice restaurant "inspect the soles of their feet"? I translated it as "looking down intently" but this is not Pynchon; I shouldn't have to translate because it takes me out of the story again) but overall I was really pleased that I'd continued reading.

Especially because Winspear pulls off a bit of a twist that I did not see coming. Another irritation for me was that I thought I had the mystery figured by the end of chapter seven. But I wasn't totally right, and that was refreshing. And though I didn't feel the full emotional wallop that I get the impression I was supposed to feel at the end, I was emotionally engaged.

I think Maisie's an original character, and I like the historical period in which the series is set. I'd like to see Maisie use her book smarts a bit more and her intuition a bit less, but that might just be the Sherlock Holmes addict in me. Now that I have a better idea of what to expect, and a fuller background on Maisie, I'll certainly pick up Birds of a Feather to see how Maisie and Billy fare next.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Ecology of Enchantment by Des Kennedy

I am afraid that I might go on at length about this book. I suspect it is best enjoyed by people who have gardens of their own, or wish they did, or have had in the past. But I hesitate to say that no one else would enjoy it -- it might be just the book to convince you that you should grow a thing or two after all. I'm already convinced that I should probably try to grow kale, which was not the case before I read this book, for example. It's hard to say no in the face of such enthusiastic praise for a lowly brassica.

Des Kennedy is another one of those famous Canadian gardeners. He and his wife Sandy garden out on the West Coast, which is probably the best place to garden in Canada -- they have longer summers and warmer winters than the rest of us, meaning they can grow a huge variety of plants, and leave their root vegetables in the ground over winter. That said, it's not without its challenges, which Kennedy describes alongside the joys.

The book is structured, as its subtitle advertises, as a year in the life of Kennedy's garden. He has written an essay per week for an entire year, about 10 years ago and published them as a record -- sometimes practical, sometimes advertising favourite plants (as with the kale), sometimes musing on the spiritual aspects of gardening and gardeners. 52 short essays and almost all of them entirely quotable. I'll get to that in a minute.

There are a couple of overall things that I enjoyed about this book, which may or may not conflict with people's reading tastes. I really don't think this book is for everyone despite how much I loved it. For one thing, Kennedy likes words. He likes big or obscure words and he's not afraid to use them. For instance, does anyone know what "inveigle" means? Now I do. It's synonymous with entice; also to gain something by flattery. What I really appreciate here is that I don't often run into words I've not met before. At least not when reading something written in modern English in the past 10 years. But I've always loved that feeling of running across words I don't recognize and having to puzzle it out based on context or etymology. I used to do that all the time as a kid.

Another thing I enjoyed but might not be to everyone's taste is the hyperbole and prose that occasionally veers past purple into indigo. What makes this enjoyable, as opposed to unbearable, is that Kennedy is a very self-aware writer, so you never get the impression that he's doing this innocently. He knows exactly what's going on, and even devotes one chapter to pointing out how flamboyant garden writing often is, at least on the subject of poppies. He just clearly enjoys playing with language as much as he enjoys gardening.

But the best thing about this book, by far, is how humane it is. I am just starting my gardening career, really, and it's mostly trial and error. More error than anything else. An Ecology of Enchantment follows the ups and downs, both the joys and the frustration of a mature garden. These experiences parallel my own limited gardening experience, and rather than being disheartening, it's nice to know that despite heartbreak and discouragement the garden largely keeps on growing. More than any other gardening book I've read, this one seems to invoke a sense of both ongoing, steady continuity and ongoing, sometimes unplanned change. Kennedy's writing is humble, self-deprecating, hilarious, and always optimistic.

As I said before, there are a large number of quotable bits, so I'm only going to give you a smattering.

On the feverishly garden-deprived gardener in winter:
Thus the bleak days of winter can be whiled away in trenchant analysis and stirring plans for action, the bulk of which can be abandoned with the onset of spring before any permanent damage is done.

On daffodils:
I think the most frequently seen big yellow trumpet types work best at a distance where they're free to excite the romantic poet's imagination from half a mile away without yellowing us to death.

On the bewildering, daunting world of roses and their never-ending hybrids:
Anarchy seems the order of the day, with wild-eyed hybridizers running riot in the streets while tactical squads of classifiers bang their shields to try to maintain some semblance of order.

He also has a habit of dropping a description here and there that seems somehow perfect. From the rose chapter:
Rambling Albertine and long-limbed New Dawn reclining against the old woodshed like two beautiful sisters, arms outstretched to touch one another's fingers.

and the introduction:
a hummingbird appears in an irridescent commotion

The book I have was borrowed from my mother, who was borrowing it from my grandmother, who received it from me for Christmas (on the off chance that she would probably like it, since I get my gardening genes from her). I'm going to have to get myself my own copy. This one is a keeper.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey

I read this book relatively quickly and perhaps not as thoroughly as I could have. Not because it was bad, but because I wasn't really in the mood for it, but it's due back at the library shortly and I didn't really feel like I was going to be in the mood for it later, either. But it turns out I have a bit more to say about it than I thought I did.

I didn't take it back without looking at it (as I have been known to do with books that just don't quite meet my requirements of the moment) because I wanted to remember what happened, and see whether or not it lived up to my memory's standards.

Happily, it did. I don't remember it being an absolutely amazing book, and it's not. But it's definitely a good, fast, tense read.

Mercedes Lackey doesn't tend to shy away from ugliness; bad things happen to her characters, and due to her penchant for switching points of view, sometimes we see characters who we have grown attached to get really messy endings. And sometimes pointless endings. And you know what? In this book, it really works. It makes you hate the villains more (and these are villains with nothing to recommend them, no sympathetic points whatsoever) and it makes you feel that something big is at stake.

Children of the Night is the last Diana Tregarde "mystery" that Lackey wrote, and I don't believe she has plans to write any others, for various reasons. I read the story on her website quite a while ago. It's a shame, because Diana is a great character, but as the author Lackey does get to decide when to cut things off and I'm not one of those fans who demands that authors "finish" things to my satisfaction.

This story follows both Diana and Dave, her ex-boyfriend from her college days. Diana is tracking something that is eating souls, usually in a very messy way. She gets involved with a charming and sexy vampire (see, long before Twilight I was into sexy vampires), who is also tracking the soul-eater, and together she and Andre have to find it and stop it. Dave, unfortunately for him, is on the other side of the fence, and it's through his perspective that we start to see what Diana and Andre are up against.

The plot in this story, quite different from The Lark and the Wren, is incredibly solid, not too cramped, and leads up to a grand climax that is totally satisfying. I did put "mystery" in quotes up there, because we know all along what's going on, so it's more of a suspense read than a genuine mystery. Unlike in some suspense books where the narrator is omniscient, I was never frustrated with Diana for not figuring things out sooner. She's a smart, kick-ass heroine, but she's human and though she does her best, she doesn't have a lot to work with, especially at the beginning. My only complaint was that her weakness -- debilitating panic attacks -- was dealt with in far too pat a way, and in such a way as to seem almost offensive to those real people I know who suffer panic attacks because curing it is not that easy. Which is interesting, because Lackey is usually pretty careful about that sort of thing. I'm not sure what she was aiming for with her resolution of that particular character point, other than a way to advance the plot or very quickly grow Diana's character.

I'd recommend it as a fast, suspenseful read without any real lasting impressions (although I did remember it after all these years, so I guess that says something). And you don't have to read any of the other Tregarde books to follow the story or the characters. If you have a queasy stomach or don't like it when bad things happen to good people, steer clear. I think I was in grade 10 or 11 when I first read this, and that was fine for me. I don't think I would have liked it if I was much younger (or it possibly would have given me nightmares for weeks), but that depends on the person, I'm sure.

What this did do for me was make me feel a little relieved, that I can still enjoy Mercedes Lackey's writing on some levels. This is a much better book than The Lark and the Wren overall, and I'm glad that I read it, even if I did skim through parts of it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ranma 1/2 Volume 3 by Rumiko Takahashi

All right, I finished the third volume of Ranma 1/2 last night, and now I am going to have to be patient. The library system I work in doesn't currently have Volume 4, and neither does my local library (despite both of them having other volumes in the series). I just found out this morning that Volumes 4 and 5 have both been ordered for purchase, which is excellent. But. Long wait.

I'm glad I waited for a while after seeing the anime (the first season) to read the manga, because there are characters who are showing up who I recognize, but I can't exactly remember what happens. Which makes the discovery more fun.

I have to say, though, the third volume just doesn't seem quite as good as the last two. It's fun, of course. But there aren't quite as many of the quiet moments I enjoyed in the first two volumes. It's pretty much non-stop beating on Ranma by various characters. Which is... well, I'll admit, it gets a bit tiresome. There's only so many ways you can show someone fighting before they all start to look the same. My hope is that there is at least a little variation in tempo in upcoming volumes, in the same way there was in the first two.

And I know that Ryoga is some people's favourite character, but I really just can't get behind him. He's highly annoying to me, and much cuter when he can't talk. I think because though Ranma's loud and blustery too, Ranma at least is also intelligent but Ryoga is just really not. There was a wee bit too much of Ryoga in this volume and maybe that's part of why I didn't quite enjoy it as much.

Also, I didn't find the translation of the third volume to be as good as in the first two volumes, either. But maybe I was just in a more picky mood. Some of it didn't ring true with the pictures or the characters, and the fact that it seemed to be divorced from the images makes me think it's perhaps a translation issue, not a writing issue.

At any rate, it was still a fun read... I'm looking forward to Volume 4.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

free Charles de Lint e-book!

All right. I'm not reviewing this book because it has been a while since I read it. And I have a copy, so I don't need the free e-book. But, if you haven't read Charles de Lint's Spiritwalk, now is your chance. Tor is offering it free in various e-formats.

Charles de Lint is one of my favourite authors of fantasy ever. My favourite stories are from his fictional city of Newford, but there's also several tales set in Ottawa. And I know Ottawa, which makes his urban fantasies set there even cooler. One of my favourite sets of books are his tales of the Jack of Kinrowan. Others are set at Tamson House, and Spiritwalk is one of these.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden says, of Spiritwalk, that de Lint "skilfully combines a contemporary sensibility, a great sensitivity to the rhythms and patterns of myth and folktale, and a set of simply likeable characters whose lives you find yourself wanting to hang out in."

For me, the draw of de Lint is partially his dark, lovely, painful magic, and partially his characters who are all complex, interesting people whether you like them or not. If you haven't read Spiritwalk, or any de Lint at all, this is a good opportunity to try.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

After finishing Beguilement I was planning to start Des Kennedy's book An Ecology of Enchantment: A Year in the Life of a Garden, which in return for my mother borrowing my Mary Russel books by Laurie R. King, I snagged from her TBR pile. However, Beguilement put me in the mood for more fantasy, and one I was familiar with and loved. I think, a little bit, I was looking for that little extra something that I missed with Beguilement.

There are many wonderful things about Patricia McKillip's writing. I've heard it described as dark, but I can't imagine how; to me, it's full of light and wonder. There's no doubt that it's bittersweet. Nothing in a McKillip novel is ever perfectly, simply wonderful, other than the writing itself. But she strikes a perfect balance between sorrow and joy, and awe and fear.

In The Changeling Sea, we meet Periwinkle, a young woman whose parents have been stolen by the sea. Her father's fishing boat came back without him one day, and her mother has not been the same since: she stares out at the sea all day, every day, managing to care for herself just enough, and not at all for her daughter, because she is looking for the kingdom beneath the sea. So Peri is furious with the sea, and hexes it.

It doesn't sound like much, but this story is so rich that there's so much to enjoy.

I don't often think of McKillip's dialogue as being what attracts me to her writing so strongly, but she certainly writes dialogue extremely well. I've not encountered another writer who can make things that are unsaid as important as the things that are said in the same way McKillip can.

Here's one of my favourite moments from any book I've ever read:

There was a sudden crash. The inn door, with someone clinging to it, had blown open under a vigorous puff of spring wind. Peri looked up to see a stranger lose his balance on her tide. He danced upright a moment, and she noticed finally the blazing thunderheads and the bright blue sky beyond him. Then he tossed his arms and fell, slid down the hall to kick over her bucket before he washed to a halt under her astonished face.

They stared at one another, nose to nose. The stranger lay prone, panting slightly. Peri, wordless, sat back on her knees, her brush, suspended, dripping on the stranger's hair.

The stranger smiled after a moment. He was a small, dark-haired, wiry young man with skin the light polished brown of a hazelnut. His eyes were very odd: a vivid blue-green-gray, like stones glittering different colours under the sun. He turned on his side on the wet floor and cupped his chin in his palm.

"Who are you?"

"Peri." She was so suprised that her voice nearly jumped out of her.

"Periwinkle? Like the flower?" he asked.

"Is there a flower?" His eyes kept making her want to look at the put a color to them. But they eluded definition.

"Oh yes," the stranger said. "A lovely blue flower."

"I thought they were only snails."

"Why," the stranger asked gravely, "would you be named after a snail?"

"Because I didn't know there were flowers," Peri said fuzzily.

Reading this story again, I remember why I loved it the first time, and why I love it more every time I read it. I might get something new out of it each time, too, although I don't think I'd have to, to keep loving it. It's a very short little story, a novella, at only 137 pages. 137 pages packed with imagery and what is, at heart, a story that McKillip is very good at telling -- a story of two worlds that have brushed each other just a little bit, and the consequences of that happening. This is a theme she has worked with multiple times in many novels, some more explicitly than others, and I don't mind a bit.

I love how carefully crafted this book is. I know that the shorter the story is, the tighter it has to be to work well. McKillip manages a story that is so careful, full of detail, and well-done that there is no forebludgeoning, but at the end of the story there is not a single piece out of place, other than the pieces meant to be left out of place. That makes reading it again a treat because now I can look for the little things that I absorbed without understanding the first time, and understand where they fit. Unlike some books where knowing the ending makes the rest of the book somewhat boring to read, the re-reading is just better every time with this one. Which is why, I suspect, this is and remains one of my favourite books. As always, the ending brings with it a pang of sadness, not at the story itself, but that it's over.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Qui Sait? by Daniel Lavoie, sung by Marie-Pierre Arthur

Okay. I am justifying this post on a book blog because I have also been known to post about poetry. To me, this song is poetry. I was listening to Marie-Pierre Arthur's self-titled album on the way to work this morning, mostly in the background because honestly, I only know a little bit of French. But when this song came on my attention was riveted, the same way it was when I was half-listening to CBC's A Propos on the way home from work one evening.

I wish I could find the lyrics translated, because automatic translators bungle the poetry badly, and I can't play the audio file that is Jim Corcoran translating the song, because my computer doesn't have RealAudio. Which is a hugely annoying thing, CBC, by the way. I shouldn't have to download a freaking ram file, which is not as widely used as say, mp3.

But here are the French lyrics. I know just enough French to get the gist. It is a beautiful, melancholy song about love and loss and regret, and Arthur's rendition of it is haunting. She reminds me a little bit of a Francophone Jenn Grant.

Qui sait? (Daniel Lavoie)

Qui sait ? Peut-être, je n'ai pas de tête,
Juste un tout petit trou, par où
Je vois les étoiles de temps à autre.

Qui sait ? Peut-être, je n'ai pas de tête
Mais une toute petite brèche dans un mur,
D'où vient la rumeur des gens.

Qui sait ? Peut-être je n'ai pas de cœur,
Juste un petit moteur sans chaleur
Qui chante sa chanson en mineur.

Qui sait ? Peut-être je n'ai pas de cœur,
Juste un tout petit bruit qui me fait peur la nuit,
Dans le silence, entre les heures.

Si j'avais juste la moitié d'une tête,
J'entendrais tes appels au secours.
Cette moitié me suffirait pour savoir ce qui t'a blessé
Et si j'avais juste la moitié d'un cœur,
Je verrais tes cernes au petit jour. Cette moitié me suffirait
Pour comprendre le mal que je te fais.

Qui sait ? Peut-être que je n'ai pas d'âme,
Juste une toute petite flamme, l'écho d'une étoile,
Morte depuis des millions d'années.

Qui sait ? Peut-être que je n'ai pas d'âme, non, même pas de flamme,
Juste une ombre, un vide, une petite pièce sombre,
Le creux entre deux lames.

Si j'avais juste la moitié d'une âme,
Je pourrais voler bien plus haut.
Je verrais tes yeux éteints, je saurais faire ce qu'il faut.
Si j'avais juste une poussière d'âme, je n'pourrais jamais tout briser
Mais je ne sais pas t'aimer et je te fais pleurer.

Qui sait ? Peut-être je n'ai pas de tête,
Juste un tout petit trou par où
Je vois les étoiles de temps à autre.

Qui sait, peut-être je n'ai pas de cœur,
Juste un tout petit bruit qui me fait peur la nuit,
Dans le silence, entre les heures.

The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold has been on my list of authors that I know I want to try for a long time. So finally, I've had the opportunity to read the first volume of her Sharing Knife trilogy, which I've heard excellent things about. And despite some trepidation because of my expectations, I'm pleased to report that I did indeed thoroughly enjoy this tale.

I love the characters. I particularly like Dag, but Fawn is good too -- she seems very young to me, but she's supposed to because she is very young. She occasionally teeters on the edge, but she's not TSTL. She's just very young and in a very dangerous world. And she's well aware that she's made stupid mistakes; this is a theme that runs through the book from beginning to end. Fawn has grown up as the youngest of a big farm family, and she's not had an easy time of it, either. Her brothers are merciless, and what I thought was particularly interesting is that Bujold shows us an environment that isn't exactly abusive but that is stunting and damaging to young Fawn nonetheless. It's an important statement, subtly made.

Dag is a patroller, a Lakewalker. He and his folk are separate from the farmers, and they wander the world searching for malices (as a noun). Malices are creatures that drain the areas around them of life; they're intelligent and immortal, and they both make and gather slaves to do their dirty work. Dag's aim in life is to take out as many malices as he possibly can, and he's very good at it. All aspects of it. He's got motives that are not fully revealed right away, and his ability to reveal his past to Fawn (and thus to us) is also part of the journey we're on.

The story is more about Dag and Fawn than it is about some all-important quest, but the quest is there. I can't tell you what it is without spoilers, so I'm not going to try. I'm just going to say, as with all good fantasy trilogies, some things are resolved but a lot is left open at the end of this first volume. I'm both anxious to know, and very nervous to know, what happens next. Because I'm pretty sure that some of it is extremely unpleasant for Dag and Fawn and I really don't like it when characters I like suffer. A bigger problem for me in particular is that I jumped into this one without knowing whether or not there's a happy ending. And I still don't know whether or not there's a happy ending to the trilogy because these characters really have to work for every bit of ground they gain. This is a good thing in a book, it just makes me anxious.

The world we're introduced to in this novel is simply fascinating. The magic of the world is detailed and follows sensible rules which we can understand, or we can understand as well as the characters themselves understand it. The other thing that fascinated me was the history of this world, which is revealed to us bit by bit through Lakewalker legends and Dag's experience. It's one of those worlds where there was a much greater civilization in existence before some major cataclysm centuries ago, and the few people left after the civilizations' collapse are stuck cleaning up the mess. There are parallels between the Lakewalkers and the Dunedin of LotR, but that's okay with me. The difference here is that the Lakewalkers don't know what happened, or why, and they don't know where the malices came from or why either. They just know it's their duty to get rid of the malices before the malices destroy everything.

What Bujold has been able to do here, with her world and the clues that she gives us, is let our own imaginations run wild. I'm actually really curious to know the story behind the collapse of the great civilization of sorceror-lords around the lake. I'm curious to know what they did or didn't do. I'm curious to know where the malices came from. I can make it up myself, if I want. Now, I am not sure whether or not any of this comes clearer, if it's part of the mystery that gets solved as we move through the trilogy. Or perhaps she has plans to write more (maybe she already has, I'm not very familiar with her canon). But this world history, the ensuing cultures, and the politics of those cultures, was one of my favourite things about this book. I don't know that it's a terribly original history, out of possible fantasy world histories, but the way it's handled is masterful.

Another interesting thing about this book is the language that both Fawn and Dag use, and the way Bujold uses punctuation in the dialogue. The characters have a definite dialect. The way they speak is just enough different from the way I speak that I don't quite recognize it. This too is extremely well done, in that it's not difficult to follow, but it's noticeably different from what we might expect from heroes and heroines in a fantasy or a romance. It's a little tricky to find a good example of dialogue that doesn't give anything away and still gives you an idea of what I mean, but let's try this one:

Dag was suddenly mortally tired of mistrustful strangers. He missed his patrol, for all their irritations. He almost missed the irritations, in their comfortable familiarity.

"Hey, Little Spark. I was going to wait for the wagon and take you to Grassforge lying flat, but I got to thinking. We might double up and ride out the way we came in the other day, and you wouldn't be jostled around any worse."

Her face lit. "Better, I should think. That lane would rattle your teeth, in a wagon."

"Even taking it slowly and carefully, we could reach town in about three hours' time. If you think it wouldn't overtire you?"

"Leave now, you mean? I'll pack my bedroll. It'll only take a moment!" She twirled about.

There's something simple and deliberate about it, especially about the way Dag talks. Fawn, on the other hand, true to her character, often skips words or jumps ahead of herself when she's speaking. Both of them have a particular lilt to their speech, and it reinforces who they are, and the fact that they are each their own person. And the fact that they're not from around here. It reinforces the world-building, too.

The book is, overall, well-crafted. The exciting parts are exciting, the scary parts are scary, the sad parts are sad, the sexy parts are sexy -- and tender, and realistic. And none of that is as easy as it sounds to put together, but everything is pitch-perfect. There are little twists and tweaks, scenes that go just slightly differently from expected, but don't stand out like a sore thumb.

I'm trying to figure out why I don't see myself reading this book over and over again, because I don't really have anything negative to say about it. I guess I don't think that anything was strikingly innovative; nothing stuck out like a sore thumb, but nothing stuck out as being particularly blindingly great, either. It doesn't inspire the same bittersweet heartache that Patricia McKillip seems to get from me more often than not, for example.

I really liked this book, and I'm going to get the next one as soon as I drop this one off at the library. I think the first thing I'll be reading about is how Dag's captain handles all the various surprises Dag's about to drop, and I don't think any of them are going to go over well. And I imagine it's going to be painful. But I still want to know.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ranma 1/2 Vols. 1 and 2 by Rumiko Takahashi

Reading manga is like eating Lays chips... you can't read just one. So despite my intentions of starting Lois McMaster Bujold's Beguilement, I picked up my two volumes of Ranma 1/2 and went on a Ranma kick. A kick that won't stop at just the two volumes this time, either, as I've got the next two on hold at the library.

Ranma 1/2 is a fairly long manga series (although not as long as, say, Bleach, or Naruto) so one has to be prepared to devote some time. Our protagonists are Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo, both 16 years old. The primary setting is the Tendo dojo in Tokyo, the name of which, translated into English, is "Tendo's Martial Arts: School of Indiscriminate Grappling." Their fathers have arranged that Akane and Ranma shall be married, and carry on the dojo. Neither Ranma nor Akane are particularly happy with this arrangement. Akane especially is furious, having no interest in romantic liaisons with anyone at the moment. She's an accomplished martial artist in her own right, and has managed to beat every single challenger, male and female... until now. Ranma makes fighting her look easy.

But wait, there's more. When the Saotomes show up at the dojo, they are not quite what Akane's father has in mind. Genma Saotome, Ranma's father, is a giant panda; and Ranma is a girl. Due to an unfortunate training accident in China, when the Saotomes are doused with cold water, they change from their regular (human male) forms to giant panda and young woman. When doused with hot water, they return to their regular forms.

And thus we have the scene set for a hugely amusing romantic action comedy. There's lots of indiscriminate grappling (and groping), romantic moments, and cold water coming from the strangest places. There's love triangles. Actually, there's love trapezoids. At least once per plot someone falls in love with one of Ranma's forms. Things get even more complicated when Ranma's rival Ryoga shows up with his own secrets, falls in love with Akane, and generally makes life more difficult for Ranma.

This stuff is crazy, and I love it. It may be set in Tokyo, but this is a Tokyo where a giant panda sweeping the front steps of the chiropractor's office (where Genma picks up a job) doesn't seem to merit too much comment. Martial arts showdowns take place randomly and frequently. In volume two, we are treated to an exhibition of rhythmic gymnastics wrestling, and then of martial skating. This is all quite normal in this world, which makes it funnier to me. Especially because occasionally some character will be like, "What? Really? Does no one else think this is weird?" The amount of property damage regularly done is astounding, but it never seems to be a problem to get it cleaned up for next time it needs to get destroyed.

The dialogue, though occasionally not translated particularly well, is mostly quite well done. One of the best lines from volume two is Ranma's "We can win! If it's got the word 'martial' in it, we can win!" To which Akane replies, "Sure we can. All you have to do now is learn how to skate." And that exchange goes a long way to showing who Ranma and Akane are: Ranma, though he has every reason to be confident, gets into a lot of trouble due to overconfidence. He's trying very hard not to be in love with Akane, but that's not working out so well for him. He's generally a decent person and almost never a complete jerk. When he is a complete jerk, it's because he's being thoughtless, not because he's deliberate.

Akane is a tomboy, and she's very careful with her own private thoughts and feelings, though as the reader we're often privy to them. She's a lot more sensitive than she would like people to believe. She's no-nonsense, intelligent, and also very good at what she does.

The art is easy to follow, and perfectly suited to the tone of the story. There's lots of little jokes in the art, too, and Takahashi is a master at packing a lot of emotion into a single panel. It's not gorgeous, but for this story it doesn't need to be. The only complaint I have is that the reproduction in my Volume 1 (from Viz, the 16th printing done in 2002) is actually really badly done -- it looks poorly photocopied, and is much too dark in places. Which is not cool.

This series is highly recommended for anyone who likes manga, although I should maybe mention that (as with any Takahashi I've seen) there's above-the-waist nudity. It's actually a pretty good introduction to manga, too, as the art's really easy to follow, so if you're not used to reading graphic novels this one will ease you into it. The characters are awesome, it's really funny, and the romance is quite charming. I would not recommend it to someone who's looking to take anything seriously because it won't work for you at all. Will keep you updated as I go along. Hopefully blogging will help me make it to the end this time!

Friday, March 6, 2009

St. DragonGirl Vol. 1 by Natsumi Matsumoto

Man, being sick is good for my book count. Although this was just one volume of a manga series, and those go by quickly.

St. DragonGirl is a new series at our library, and it looked cute so I thought I'd give it a try. The premise is that Momoka is a martial arts whiz, and her childhood friend Ryuga is a Chinese sorcerer with a knack for getting rid of troublesome demons. Ryuga, in an attempt to save their friend Shunran from a nasty snake spirit who wants to marry her, calls on a dragon spirit, but the dragon spirit gets stuck in Momoka by mistake.

Sounds promising, right? I thought so. So I was a little disappointed by the whole thing. My first note in my book is "I don't know. It was light and fluffy."

Which about sums it up. When I go for manga I'm not necessarily looking for deep, life-changing inspiration. I'm usually looking for an entertaining story arc, likeable characters, interesting plots, and if I can get it, exposure to a different type of magical world than I'm usually exposed to in Western fantasies. I like the slightly skewed similarities when reading fantasy from a different culture. I don't need it to be deep but I do need it to be engaging, and the art should be good.

The problem I have with the first volume of this series is that it's too action-packed to be engaging. There's absolutely zero time devoted to character development, aside from learning that Momoka likes pandas, martial arts, and is in love with Ryuga, and she has a bit of a temper. We figure out that Ryuga is in love with her too, and that he's a sorcerer who flings bits of paper around with impunity. There's no world-building whatsoever, which is also a disappointment, because that's something I often love in manga, although it can be a bit rare. Setting is often just a taken-for-granted backdrop. In this particular volume, though, it's even less fleshed out than normal.

So what we end up with is a set of cardboard cutouts, and I've been reading manga long enough to know the basic character types. Ryuga is essentially a decent guy who promises to protect the heroine, who has special powers, always manages to be in the right place at the right time, and teases the heroine mercilessly in an effort to cover up his feelings. Actually, Ryuga is less of a jerk than this type often is, so points for that.

Momoka's every martial arts-loving manga heroine ever, too. Because we just don't see enough of her outside of kicking perverts around to figure out what makes her different.

So far my favourite character is the dragon spirit trapped in Momoka. That can't be good, because he does nothing but float around and save the day. And I was actually rooting for the snake spirit who stole Shunran, which is probably also not what the author had planned. Seriously, I know that Shunran's (life? soul?) was at stake, but I was not invested enough in Shunran, Momoka or Ryuga to care.

The art is fine, but the action is jumpy, jerky, and really hard to follow, particularly in the first chapter. Actually, a lot of the first two chapters just plain didn't make sense. But there was kicking! And magic! And explosions! And dragons! And damsels in distress! It smacks of a manga that desperately wants to be an anime, and I can see it being a fun anime, actually.

You know, I'll probably keep reading it just because of the slight possibility it could get better (the last two chapters were better than the first two). If our library continues to get this series, which it may or may not. Let's just say, if it doesn't, I'm not going to be crushed. It wasn't awful, but I'm not in desperate need to know what happens next.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

I used to have a problem with books. It wouldn't matter what the book was, if I'd started it, I pretty much had to finish it in one sitting. When I ran up against books over 400 pages (Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy for example, or Harry Potter) I was in trouble, because I'd have to sleep at some point in there. At least a couple of hours.

I don't tend to do that as much anymore, because first of all it leaves me with a book hangover, and second of all I just can't practically fit that into my life. I think the most recent book I read in one gulp was... Pride and Prejudice, perhaps? I mean, The Lark and the Wren might count except I didn't really actually read the whole thing, I just half-read the whole thing. And I suppose that Oaxaca Journal was read in one day, although I could put that one down to do things like eat and swim. I would say The Wee Free Men was a bit of a gulper, though. Okay. Maybe I am not as over this reading problem of mine as I thought.

Um. The point is, I rarely read until 1am to finish a book anymore. That, I think, is true. I need my sleep and I'm usually quite good at getting it, even if I am in the middle of a book I don't want to put down.

Not so as I was reading The Light Fantastic, however. Now, part of this was that I didn't have anything urgent to do the following morning, and part of it was that I was feeling wretchedly ill and was perfectly happy to have Rincewind, Twoflower and Cohen the Barbarian to keep me company. I do remember thinking at one point that I could stop, if I wanted to... I just didn't want to.

Basically, we pick up immediately where The Colour of Magic left off, with Rincewind and Twoflower and the Luggage falling away from the Disc. And then they're back, and we're on to a new adventure. This adventure, by the way, has nothing to do with the last adventure, and the two books are held together by the common characters and the circumstances they were in. Certain things that were integral to this plot started to get some time in the last book (I am thinking of the Spell here, particularly) but I don't see any reason that this book couldn't be read stand-alone. It just a much better experience having read The Colour of Magic first.

With sequels, and particularly with this sequel, I'm always nervous that it's not going to live up to my expectations. And given what I'd heard about this book, my expectations were only middling -- I expected it to be a good romp, but perhaps not quite as good as The Colour of Magic even. But something interesting happened with this book for me. I don't know whether it was that I was familiar with the characters, and so more invested, or whether I was just excessively happy to be back on the Discworld, but I really liked this book. I liked it better than The Colour of Magic. It felt like it had more heart, more soul. I was definitely more emotionally engaged. I liked everyone new I met (particularly Cohen, and the trolls). I am extremely fond of the Luggage and I was glad it had its starring moments. I even did get my missing picture box back, if only perfunctorily.

So I think what really worked for me in this book was the character development and interplay, even more than the plot did. Even more than the further exposition of Discworld-variety conventions, politics, geography, culture, etc. And again, the actual writing is inventive and apt. When describing a gnome:
The person they were arguing about sat on his mushroom and watched them with interest. He looked like someone who smelled like someone who lived in a mushroom, and that bothered Twoflower.
I also really liked when sound of the Luggage running over snow was described as someone eating celery very fast. I can't find the exact quote right now, but that sound stuck in my head. It makes me wonder how Pratchett can possibly come up with a description of a sound so perfect that I can hear it. He does that sort of thing regularly, and I am in awe.

There were a few small things that I didn't think were quite as well done. The star-people were creepy, but predictable; Trymon was also creepy, and also predictable, and not particularly subtle. He was terribly banal for a villain, which was the point, but... you know, I think what it was, was that he got a typical fantasy fate, and that particular storyline ended in an entirely too conventional way for me. I guess I was expecting something more irreverent, or ridiculous. This is a very, very minor quibble.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a fitting conclusion to the beginning of the Discworld books. It's a pleasure to be treated to Pratchett's creativity and imagination for the full length of a novel, and at some points I even read slowly, savouring the inventiveness of his use of language and description. It's a rare thing for me to want to read all the descriptive passages in a book, to be honest. But with Pratchett, I don't want to miss a word.

Equal Rites is next! I ordered it ILLO through my library, and they have up and decided to purchase it for me! Well, for the library. But I get to read it first! I win.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Natural History by Liz Primeau

My notes about this book are all over the place, I think because I took them as I was reading. I didn't want to forget anything. I've started doing that with many books I read -- something will occur to me that I want to write about on the blog here, and so I'll write it down. It's good I do, too, because I do forget.

This is a memoir, the life story of a gardener. Liz Primeau is something of a "name" in Canadian gardening, not least as the founding editor of Canadian Gardening magazine, not to mention hosting a tv show and writing several gardening books (today I ordered her Front Yard Gardens: Growing More than Grass from the library.) What I had somehow missed is that she grew up first in Winnipeg, and then in Paisley, Ontario, not far from my summer stomping grounds at Grandma and Grandpa's farm. This added a special dimension for me, because I know the area, and I first fell in love with gardening thanks to Grandma's wonderful perennials and vegetables.

The book is a collection of thoughts on gardening, many intensely personal, and an examination of the role gardening and her own gardens have played in her life, from her father's vegetable garden in Winnipeg to her own mature garden in Mississauga. She also explores garden lore and is particularly interested in garden history, although to be honest I don't think she's at her strongest when discussing these. She's at her best when discussing her own gardens, her gardening philosophy, the people around her, and her gardening influences.

One of my favourite parts in the book was when she was discussing her early disdain for old standards, like spirea and bleeding heart, before she wised up and realized that they're old standards for a reason -- they're relatively easy to care for, don't suffer from many of the problems of new varieties or exotics, and so forth. I thought, at one point, "Oh yes! Me too! But I'm also beyond that," thinking of my peonies and petunias last year. And then I realized that I'm planning to rid the front garden of the spirea and have no fondness for bleeding heart whatsoever (they're both boring!) Hmm.

I fully respect her and and her experience, and agree with her statement that gardening is a therapeutic endeavour. I can see myself in her experience quite often. I agree with her assessment that gardening "trends" are ridiculous, given that it takes at least a couple of years for any garden to start coming into its own. I love her discussions on biodiversity and the efforts she has made to make sure her garden is a healthy ecosystem. I am completely with her on the front yard garden lines: they're a great idea, much better than expanses of monoculture grass.

There are some things that I completely disagree with her about, too. In particular, I adore cats but they have no place outdoors, in my backyard, or in anyone else's back yard. Outdoor cats are viciously destructive to the native fauna (birds, mice, small rodents, insects, whatever) even if you think they're not, even if you think you're watching them closely. Besides, it's not a good environment for the cat either -- there are cars, raccoons, dogs, skunks, nasty humans. I could go on at length about it but that's not really the point of this blog.

But I can respect her opinions even if I disagree. The fact that I didn't throw down the book in disgust during her rhapsody to the neighbourhood cats, and even found it amusing at points, speaks to the fact that overall I really enjoyed the book. I don't think the prose is spectacular; it's very chatty, but that makes it very engaging. It's a pleasant read and a balm for someone like me, stuck in the early March sunshine and desperate to get out the trowel and the seeds.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Organic Home Garden by Patrick Lima

I wanted to write about this book because, in my humble opinion, it is an outstanding gardening book. It remains the guide I go to year after year. It is the one book that I live in fear of my local library weeding from their collection without my knowledge, thus denying me access to it. It's published by Key Porter, and it is "out of stock indefinitely" according to their website. I have a local bookseller who may have ideas, and I need to talk to them before I panic.

For a reference book it's completely readable, and it's a pleasant read to boot. Lima never attempts to suggest that what works for him will work for anyone else. That said, it quickly becomes clear that he absolutely knows what he is talking about, and that following his suggestions is probably a very good idea.

To know why I love this book so much, it maybe makes sense for me to finally come to terms with something: my first, and greatest, gardening love is the vegetable garden. I like perennials, I'm growing appreciative of annuals, I'm always happy to see the bulbs that manage to escape the squirrels. But it is the vegetable garden that I love. It has something to do with the treasure hunt for peas and beans, digging up new potatoes, discovering the squash hidden under the great squash leaves, watching an eggplant go from a beautiful purple flower to a stunning purple fruit. There's something about knowing that I can grow brussels sprouts in my own garden that makes me want to learn to like them.

One of the things I love about Lima's writing, no matter what he's writing about, is that I believe his first gardening love is the vegetable garden, too.

Throughout the book's helpful tips and tricks and guidelines for growing organically and growing well, are stories about past gardens. We hear the story of how Lima and his partner John Scanlon ended up at Larkwhistle, and I am amazed at how brave they were, and how they managed to make it work. We get little tidbits of information on how various vegetables were used and viewed in the past. We hear about their very first garden, on a little rented lot in Toronto. I love especially this bit:

But optimistically we dug and planted. Results were mixed. Tomatoes spread into a wild tangle, half their fruit lost under leaves; zucchinis swelled overnight, apparently blown up by some unseen squash fairy. Marigolds bloomed among the vegetables and morning glories crawled over everything. Unwittingly we spread fungus on the Swiss chard by watering every evening. Not knowing better, we transplanted small pea vines from the shade to the sunnier front yard; the peas, not knowing that they "resent transplanting," attached themselves to strings and began to climb. Cucumbers soon joined them to veil the front porch in green vines hung with fruit.

Can't you picture it? What a fabulous garden that must have been, and how exciting. I like the part about the peas especially, because it reminds me that plants want to grow. They want to grow in spite of their hapless gardeners. I love a forgiving hobby.

This book is fantastic because the information is good, the writing is great, and the whole thing makes organic vegetable gardening seem quite accessible. Not always a walk in the park, but accessible. I also am drawn in by the sheer awe in which Lima clearly holds all living things. It's a "how to" of the best sort, with beautiful photographs, information about soils, troubleshooting, and various groups of vegetables that can be grown reliably in Canada. If you like gardening, or just the idea of gardening, try to get your hands on a copy of this book. And if you do, please tell me where you got it because I want one too.