Monday, November 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009: Complete!

I did it! I have to be totally honest, folks, I had no illusions at all. November has been a pretty busy month and I knew it would be going in. And this story has been more challenging to write, too, which wasn't the intention, but I'm glad I went with it. I'm glad I stuck with it, and I have fishy to thank for that -- when I said, quite seriously that I was thinking about quitting, he came up big with the "quitting is not an option!" bit. And I also have to thank my brother for giving me encouragement and helping me see that the story, as is, is not as terrible as I thought it was. In fact, it might even be salvageable. I didn't even have to pay him to say it.

Much thanks must also go to those who stuck it out with me via email and Twitter, especially @kashicat and @Melwyk who cheered me on and encouraged me, and Mandy who was really patient with my slacking on our secret project, all of which made me feel like I was absolutely not alone throughout the month. It meant a lot :)

And now: a glass of delicious wine, and ... yes, more writing. 50 000 is finished, but the story itself is definitely not. I've got some momentum, so why quit now?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

There were a couple catalysts for me reading this book. Nymeth reviewed another Mahy supernatural, The Haunting, not long ago (one I haven't read yet, but is on the list now) and someone else tweeted that they had to stop reading The Changeover because it was creeping them out too much. Normally, I wouldn't consider "it's creeping me out!" to be a recommendation -- I would quietly go find something with puppies and rainbows to read -- but this book was one of my favourites when I was much younger, and I've been itching to pick it up again. I wanted to see if a) it was as good as I remembered, and b) if it really was that creepy to me. It's been -- oh gosh, fifteen years? since I last read this book. Tastes change. But Nymeth's favourable feeling on The Haunting convinced me that Mahy's writing may be worth a second look.

One person's creepiness, by the way, is another person's perfectly enjoyable suspense. I am not a person who can handle certain types of creepiness, but I think The Changeover suits me perfectly. I can certainly see where it might be considered creepy though.

Laura Chant is a fourteen year old girl, growing up in the suburbs of what I believe must be Wellington, New Zealand. She lives with her mother Kate and her three-year-old brother Jacko, and they're a relatively happy little family, though not problem-free. Laura's father left them for another woman just after Jacko was born, and there's not a lot of money to go around. But overall things are good. Except that when the story opens, Laura gets a warning (wonderfully and atmospherically described), and shortly after that, Jacko falls severely ill. Laura knows what's wrong with him but not how to fix it, so she seeks out help from an older boy at school, who happens to be a witch.

Okay, much more than that and I start to spoil things. It's a very complex little story despite it's relatively short length and seemingly straightforward plot. It's largely about growing up, letting go, love, and sex. To be honest, I was a little startled at how complex this story was; there was a lot about it that I didn't remember. And it's not just the plot or the characters that are complex -- the language has a lot of depth, too. There's a strange linguistic rhythm to this story, and Mahy consistenly uses very odd but very apt turns of phrase to describe things. I think it's brilliant, myself, but again this might be a rather individual thing. Take this, for example:

"We won't be living in this place all our lives," Sally had once said scornfully, but Laura liked the Gardendale subdivision for she had just spent a wonderfully happy year there and was trying to lead the sort of life that would encourage a replay with interesting variations.

I would never have thought of writing something that way, but I know exactly what Mahy is getting at. Underneath, the bare bones of this story is about Laura learning how to let go of the replay and embrace the interesting variations. And the variations get very interesting indeed. That witch, for example, is Sorenson "Sorry" Carlisle and he's a ... well. I'm having a hard time describing him. I think as a tween and young teen I found him tremendously attractive as the wounded romantic lead. Now that I'm older, there are parts of what he does that struck me as almost crossing the creepy line, especially at the beginning, when he manages to be menacing, confusing, seemingly heartless, and very horny. Luckily, Laura is no doormat, and she can absolutely handle herself, and Sorry, when necessary. Also luckily, Sorry's not cast in stone, and as Laura gets to know him better, so do we. And he changes, too, like Laura changes throughout, developing a maturity and a better understanding of himself and others that makes him quite endearing.

The dynamics between the characters struck me as being very real, especially the family dynamics between Laura and Kate and Jacko. Further, the confusion and excitement of first love and first lust is really well-played between Laura and Sorry. Laura is a really fabulous character. She's not perfect, but she's smart and practical and very honest with herself, and she's also unique; her voice is clear and I remember feeling, when I was a kid, that I absolutely knew her. I remember wanting to be confident and strong like she was.

I have to say, too, this book has aged really well. I mean, there are a few mentions of Space Invaders down at the local arcade (which filled me with a pleasant nostalgia, rather than causing me to roll my eyes like some dated references might), but other than that this could be set anytime.

I'm really glad I read this again. There are a lot of other little things I loved about it, but I've gone on enough already. I am now in a position of having to find a copy I can purchase myself, because as far as I can tell, this book is out of print, possibly because it sadly suffers from some of the absolute worst covers I have ever seen (the one I've got is the best, and the front's pretty good -- at least Laura looks like I imagined her -- but the back is just... wrong). Seriously, if anyone knows where I can buy a copy, terrible cover or not, let me know. I have access to brown craft paper and crayons for covering purposes.

I'd recommend The Changeover to absolutely anyone, but especially to young women who found themselves loving sparklepires. Sorry's not exactly chivalrous at first, but he's got that bad-boy vibe and Laura could take out a wishy-washy limp sock from Forks anyday. Just be warned: The Changeover requires someone who wants to read excellent, if somewhat dense, writing and characterization. If anyone else has read this, I'd love to hear what you think.

I believe I shall let Jacko have the last word on re-reading:

He always wanted to take a book he already had at home because he thought it would be the same book he liked but made different in some wonderful way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ranma 1/2 Volumes 18 and 19 by Rumiko Takahashi

Took a break from thinking about novels today to read some light, funny comics relating to pandas, martial arts, and cheerleading. Yes, that's right: more Ranma 1/2!

So, I noticed something of import. Or, I think it's of import, anyway. I'm not sure how long this has been going on, but it appears that our characters are aware of their position in the manga. I mean, literally. They keep looking at other characters' dream sequences or memories in the panels above or beside them, and commenting. It's rarely the mains (although Ranma does have a great "whose comic is this anyways?!" moment) but the secondary characters seem to notice what's happening in other panels even if it isn't explicitly commented on by the person having the dream, and then riff on it. I really, really enjoy that.

Now, as for what's been happening in the Tendo Dojo and surrounds since we last checked: Volume 18 involves an extended Ryoga vs. Ranma sequence, where Ryoga harnesses the power of depression and ennui to defeat Ranma. And then there is the return of the Ghost Cat, which means Shampoo gets a kiss, and Ranma encounters a terrifying weapon: catnip. Then there's a little throwaway and a Kuno and Kodachi battle over Ranma that involves lots of photos of breasts. Strangely, I found neither the Ryoga storyline nor the Shampoo storyline to be as irritating as I normally do. Therefore, I think this volume is quite good.

Not as good as volume 19, though. Here we get back into the excellent amusing dialogue, particularly in the first story, where Genma (Ranma's dad) realizes that he is no longer strong enough to defeat his own son. This is a quality sequence. I particularly liked the writing in this one:

Kasumi: Mr. Saotome must be in shock.

Nabiki: Yeah. He doesn't realize he's lost the power of internal dialogue...


Also, this volume includes one of my favourite Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts special stances: the Stance of Submission, "Carp on a Cutting Board." Picture lying stretched out on your side on the ground, making a fish face. Yes, that's it. These special stances never seem to get used more than once, but they're worth it for the short time they appear.

There's another oh-no-Akane-cooks story, which had some prime giggle-out-loud moments, and then an extended Martial Arts Cheerleading storyline, which doesn't finish with this volume. It's cliffhanger time! Right after a shocking reveal! Which wasn't shocking at all, I saw it coming a mile away! But it was more fun to pretend it was shocking.

Skipping off to ILLO the next two.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

FreeVerse: Ogden Nash

Inspired by Cara's funny limericks of last week, I went out out this week to deliberately find one of my favourite poets: the marvellous Ogden Nash. He makes up words with impunity to rhyme with what he wishes, and occasionally even manages to inject a little bit of education. I have always enjoyed his animal-based poetry specifically, and the first poem I could recite was a Nash (helped a lot that it was short):


The Panther
The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.


I am pretty sure that I drove my parents nuts with that one, the last two lines of which would set me off into shrieks of high-pitched little girl laughter.

A few more Ogden Nash gems collected from two websites:


The Lama

The one-l lama,
He's a priest.
The two-l llama,
He's a beast.
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-l lllama.


The Ant

The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?


The Dog

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I say the dog is full of love.
I've also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.


The Cow

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other milk.


FreeVerse is hosted every Wednesday by Cara of Ooh... Books! Head on over there for other poems or to add yourself to a celebration of poetry in all its forms.

Monday, November 16, 2009

One Lovely Blog

I have discovered that I seem to be able to write like a crazy woman, or read like a crazy woman, but doing both is just too much crazy even for me. This month is definitely going to be a bit thin on the book count.

Instead, because I love to share the blogs that I thoroughly enjoy, and this blog award gives me a chance to do just that, I'm very pleased that both Cara at Ooh... Books! and Tara at 25 Hour Books have passed the One Lovely Blog award on to me. Thank you both so much!

I am going to keep it to 10 Canadian blogs in the interests of some sort of patriotic solidarity. This is not because I don't love you international bloggers, but... to be honest, I have to find some way to keep the list manageable (since I seem to have to write something about everything - it's NaNoWriMo, it's getting into my blood and it's terribly hard on my desire to be concise), so today my method is patriotism. This isn't an exhaustive list of Canadian bloggers (as if), it's just the ones I visit regularly. I feel like I might be disclaiming too much here, I just get really anxious when I feel like I might have left someone out and I know I have.

Let's get alphabetical:

Bird Canada is not a book blog, but Pat writes eloquently with fascinating information on Canadian birds, and is also the author of a number of books on Canadian wildlife, including Canadian Feathers: A Loon-atics Guide to Anting, Mimicry and Dump-Nesting which I have yet to read, but fully intend to.

Bookishgal is @kashicat 's book-related blog, where she reviews but also comments on many things book-related. I also thoroughly enjoy Phyl's Confessions of a Cultural Idiot blog, where she talks about Canadian culture, some of it not so very far from me.

books i done read is @raychraych 's blog - and absolutely hilarious. Reliably great taste, disseminated in caterpillars.

edge of seventeen is a blog by Mandy. Mandy reads a *lot* and to my delight, edge of seventeen has taken off like a house on fire since her relatively recent entrance on the book blogging scene. She and I have a secret plan to use our combined bookseller and librarian powers to take over the world. Stay tuned.

Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
, discovered through @CanadianAuthors tweets of reviews. I seem to pick up a lot of recommendations from this blog; in quietly Canadian style, Geranium Cat has slipped into my must-read category.

Nose in a Book - again, an @CanadianAuthors discovery. My ears (eyes?) tend to perk up when I notice that someone is reviewing a book I've loved, and Lahni reviewed both Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel and I had to check it out.

Once Upon a Bookshelf - Another tweeting blogger, this is @moonsoar 's blog. I really like Court's reviews and her musings on other bookish and bloggish (and not) things as well. Very happy to see a post by her in the reader.

The Indextrious Reader - @Melwyk also seems to enjoy my hockey-related tweets, which kind of blows my mind :P Not to mention she's an Ontarian librarian, an excellent sort of people. She keeps expanding my reading horizons, in very best librarian form.

The Written World is Kailana's blog, one of the very first blogs I started following. She's an active commenter, tweeter (@bookishnerd) and general cheerleader for the book bloggers of the world, plus very hard on my TBR list.

wiresandwires - I know I've mentioned @gmacqueen 's cultural review blog here before, but I have to do it again. He's Canadian, plus I've known him IRL since before either of us knew the word "cultural." Really eloquent and thoughtful posts about books, movies, and occasionally other stuff.

As always with this sort of thing, if I've listed you and you would like to proclaim yourself One Lovely Blog, please do! If you would rather not, that's okay too. I thank you all for being such awesome bloggers, keeping me in reading material both on my feed reader and on my TBR list.

Perhaps back to normal with reading material soon? I make no promises. The novelling is squeezing my word-related brain cells out my ears. Will try!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

FreeVerse: Charge of the Light Brigade (Tennyson)

Today's FreeVerse falls on Remembrance Day here in Canada. I thought of posting In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, given that he grew up not so far from me, but then "Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do & die" floated through my head. I want to post Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, because very few poems for me bring home that feeling of terror, waste and incredible, brutal, individual bravery as this one -- and his charge at the end, not to forget but to honour, is perfect for today. Perhaps strangely, or perhaps not, this was one of the poems that my mother used to read to us when we were kids. I think she has it memorized. It was my introduction to Tennyson, and remains my favourite poem of his.

FreeVerse is hosted by Cara over at Ooh... Books! so head over their to find out more, or to join!

This poem, complete with punctuation, was found on the website of the University of Virginia, where they have digitized an original hand-written manuscript.


Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league half a league
Half a league onward
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward the Light Brigade
Charge for the guns' he said
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

'Forward the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot & shell,
Boldly they rode & well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd;
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot & shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Ice

After taking almost a week off reading, I'm back, and hoping to balance the novel writing with the novel reading. I have here a copy of Sarah Beth Durst's Ice, which is terribly exciting for me. My favourite fairytale of all time, thanks largely to Mercer Meyer, is East of the Sun, West of the Moon. This book is set in present-day Alaska, and I'm really interested to see how the elements of the fairytale are incorporated into the story. For one thing, it doesn't sound like the North Wind is quite as benevolent as he might be.

Now, today's teaser isn't going to be entirely random. For me, mood is an incredibly important thing for reading. If I'm not in the mood, it can really put me off a book. On the other hand, if it's a really good book, it can put me in the right mood for reading it. Today I'm teasing the lines that put me in the mood to read Ice. Because so far, this book is awesome.

From Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, p7:

What breed of idiot went out on the ice without a face mask? You'd never catch her making that kind of newbie mistake. No, she thought, I specialize in the more spectacular mistakes, such as misplacing a full-grown polar bear.

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading. It works as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!
  • Include the title and author.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

I went out to lunch and ended up home with a brutal stomachache. Like, writhing around on the bed, sweating and whimpering. Constant low level pain I can deal with but the big stuff turns me into a lame wuss.

So, what did I do to distract myself from the pain? I read, of course. I read a lot. I read an entire book. It wasn't hard to do, because Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians is an excellent book to distract from pain without being something I had to concentrate hard on. Really, thanking the powers that be that I'd thought to bring home this book this weekend. It was perfect.

One of my librarian colleagues recommended this book to us during a children's programmer's meeting. She has good taste, and it definitely seemed like something I would find fun. A world controlled by evil Librarians? The library as the centre of evildoing in their nefarious plot to make the world a sane, organized and boring place? Yes! This is my kind of dystopia. Just let me practice my evil laugh.

Alcatraz Smedry is thirteen years old when he receives his inheritance from his absent parents: a bag of sand. That same day, he sets his foster parents' kitchen on fire. The next day, that bag of sand is stolen, an insane man shows up claiming to be his grandfather, and someone tries to shoot him in the burned kitchen. It turns out that sand was pretty important in the fight against the evil Librarians -- and Alcatraz must infiltrate the library with a band of very random characters (one is always late, one totes uzis in a duffle bag, another speaks gibberish when necessary and sometimes when not, and a third is a very unconventional sort of knight) to get the sand back.

I did really enjoy this book. It's quite diverting. It's a very fast read, too. The style of narration, however, may put some people off. Alcatraz tells us this story, and he talks directly to the reader, spending a lot of time trying to convince the reader that he's not a very good person at all, and also that this is a true story -- the true story, in fact, and the only one worth reading. He also breaks in a lot with wry comments on being an author, narrative structure, and explicit exposition. Given my aversion to forebludgeoning, I should have hated this book. And to be honest, I can't quite explain why I didn't. I usually find self-conscious narrators, especially self-effacing ones, irritating and very contrived (see: how much I hated Snicket's The Bad Beginning, although there were lots of other reasons for that too). I really liked Alcatraz, and though the chatty and "I'm not good, believe me, and you know that things are just going to go bad" narration occasionally made me roll my eyes, and seemed a bit too much, it never turned me off. Part of this may have been that I was desperate for something to concentrate on, but I think it is in large part due to some trick Sanderson (or should I say Smedry?) has up his authorly sleeve. I wasn't in much of a mood to analyse further.

Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed, as befits a book about librarians and libraries, were the sly little references to other books. Some of these references will go over the target audience's head (not too many 10-13 year old boys have read To Kill A Mockingbird, I suspect, but maybe I am wrong) but some of them will not be lost. There is one totally awesome Harry Potter smackdown at the end that made me laugh out loud, particularly because there were some unavoidable parallels to be made between the two heroes. If you didn't like Harry, though, you might still be up for Alcatraz. He manages to be sarcastic, full of himself, and yet strangely endearing all at once.

The third book in this series has just recently come out, and I'll be pushing this series a little harder at the desk (despite what Alcatraz suggests I might do instead, as a librarian -- take that, Smedry!) Particularly for boys in the above age group, but I'll recommend it for the right kinds of adults, too, and you likely know who you are. Sanderson is clearly multi-talented, being the chosen author to finish off Robert Jordan's mammoth Wheel of Time series, and also the author of the fantasy Mistborn series, which is also on my list to try. You can be sure I'm going to move that one up the queue a bit.

Now if you'll excuse me, I should go and make some plans for world domination.

EDIT: Another dastardly librarian reviewed this book on her blog the very same day I did! Coincidence? I think not.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

FreeVerse: Happiness (Milne)

I'm going to be away from computers and internet all day on Wednesday, is my suspicion, so I am testing Blogger's scheduled publishing capabilities. I do hope this won't sprain them -- it's simply a day in advance. In case you have forgotten, Wednesday is FreeVerse day over at Ooh... Books! and I have been thoroughly enjoying participating. I'm not about to let something paltry like having no internet stop me. We'll talk about novels, and writing one in November, and whether or not something like that might stop me, when we come to that bridge.

I have had a certain poem in my head for years. It pops up every once in a while to sing-song in my ear, and I knew I would have to post it sooner or later. Sooner, most likely. I had a copy of A. A. Milne's When We Were Very Young when I was very young indeed, and even before I could read something about Ernest H. Shepard's simple black-and-white ink illustrations drew me in. I think I can trace my secret love of cloche hats to Shepard's very fashionable mothers.

There are many, many wonderful poems in this book, some of which I have memorized and some of which I had apparently forgotten. But today, I give you the poem that will not leave me alone, particularly when I am walking anywhere at speed and especially if it happens to be raining.


From When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne, published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, originally in 1925 -- I have a 1999 reprint here:


Happiness

John had
Great Big
Waterproof
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Hat;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Mackintosh--
And that
(Said John)
Is
That.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett


It takes more than a bit of magic and someone being blown to smoke in front of him to put a wizard off his food.


As suggested on Nymeth's blog last week, Discworld books are notoriously hard to summarize. My last attempt was not particularly useful (fishy's question was "yes, but what is the book about?" when I asked him to read over the review, as I was feeling that I was missing something) but I hope that I might have better luck with Sourcery. That's because this book does have a fairly straightforward plot, relatively speaking. Relative to some other Discworld novels, anyways.

An eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son -- a wizard squared -- is bound to be a sourceror. And that is what Coin son of Ipslore is. It does not bode well for the wizards of the Discworld, or anyone else for that matter, that Ipslore really hated his brother wizards for exiling him. Because sourcery is the most powerful magic on the Discworld, a wizard's eighth son with a grudge is probably going to be a very bad thing. And it is! But enter Rincewind (reluctantly) and the lovesick Luggage and a very clever Librarian, and the world just might be saved.

How's that? It goes without saying that there's a lot more happening than all that, but I think that sets up the events in Sourcery pretty nicely.

I didn't love this book. I didn't hate it, and I certainly read through it quickly enough. It just felt a little more scattered and flat than I've come to expect of the Discworld (ha ha, flat, get it? sigh). It meandered at points, and I occasionally found myself skipping paragraphs to get back to the action. And while I enjoyed many of the characters, there were a few who seemed either predictable or forgettable. Not to mention Coin. None of his fault, he was squarely in Very Creepy Child territory. Considering that the night before I started Sourcery I had nightmares involving Very Creepy Children and then met Coin the following day, the effect was heightened. But even then, Coin felt very hollow. I think he was supposed to be hollow, and we weren't supposed to feel emotionally close to him, which is good, because he was a Very Creepy Child. It did make some of the ending a little hard to buy.

But what did I love? The Librarian. The books. I don't want to give too much away, but the Librarian was almost my favourite character, intelligent, quick thinking, and surprisingly sympathetic for an orangutan. I don't know any orangutans, but that's one I'd like to know. The books themselves inspire a surprising amount of sympathy -- but then, they are magic books.

Also, I love Rincewind. I don't know if I'm in the minority on this; when people talk about Discworld characters they love, Rincewind doesn't seem to be on the lists. But I'm extremely fond of him, and fonder each time I meet him. He's just so... cowardly. And defeated. But he's a wizard, and damn what anyone else has to say about it, and I do admire that. I enjoy his knack for staying alive despite the odds, his uneasy relationship with DEATH, his dedication to his hat, and his absolute desperate need to be home. I like his tendency to shriek at the slightest thing because I can hear it in my head, and is part of what makes him such a vivid character to me. I even like his weak and ultimately failed attempts at pompousity. I feel so warmly towards his character, and I don't get any more Rincewind for several books.

But I will be strong -- because the next book is Wyrd Sisters! Hello Granny Weatherwax, nice to see you again.

And I will leave you with this thought:

"I meant," said Isplore, bitterly, "What is there in this world that makes living worth while?"

Death thought about it.

CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.