Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Elf, post poutine

Phew! I’m back from my mini-vacation. I had a lovely time in Montréal and in Ottawa. Who says you have to go far to have fun? I did miss my computer though, so it’s good to be home again with hound and cat in my tiny house.

If you haven’t been to Montréal, you must go. You will eat poutine (yes, even in July). You will discover charming little tea shops and cafés. You will feel all Euro and you will not have even paid for a plane ticket. If you are really, really lucky, you might just stumble onto a street festival and be luckier still to see L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres in action. Check it out:

(Part 2: here. Part 3: here).

Ah those kooky Montréalers. How do they come up with this stuff? Pure. Artsy. Awesomeness.

After that (which was so fantastic we could have come home straight away and still had a fabulous vacation), it was on to Ottawa, where I stood underneath this for a while:

spider

She lives just outside the National Gallery of Canada and she is creepy, but kind of sweet. Her name is Maman and her legs remind me of the Other Mother’s hand in Coraline (don’t you think?). I did lots of other things beside stand underneath a giant spider, but I am too tired to tell you about them now. There will be book reviews tomorrow or the next day.

The Elf takes off

I’m heading off on vacation all of next week (I guess it’s possible to go on vacation even when you are have already technically been on vacation for three weeks. Vacation from vacation?) So I’m going away to Montreal to eat pastry and bistro food and poutine (do people eat poutine in July?) and to do all sorts of artsy things. For reading I’ll be bringing:

eyebenhushhush

I had hoped to be super organized and to prepare posts to go up all through next week, but it didn’t happen. A girl gets busy when she’s on holiday. As they say in Montreal, “Tant pis!”

All that’s left is au revoir! See you on August 1st.

Poetry: The Grasshopper

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I love this poem. Unfortunately I can’t seem to figure out how to get silly WordPress to let me fix up the indents properly, so you don’t get the full effect. Still lovely.

The Grasshopper – by Conrad Aiken

Grasshopper
grasshopper
all day long
we hear your scraping
summer song
like
rusty
fiddles
in
the
grass
as through
the meadow
path
we pass
such funny legs
such funny feet
and how we wonder
what you eat
maybe a single blink of dew
sipped from a clover leaf would do
then high in air
once more you spring
to fall in grass again
and sing.

(From Poetry Foundation. They’ve got a list of Sublime Summer Poems that’s well worth exploring).

Photo: by Kellyv on Flickr

Lips Touch

lipstouchFor some reason, when I read Laini Taylor’s amazing fantasy Blackbringer last year, I kept thinking, “I’ll bet she’d be good at writing something romantic.” I’m not talking Harlequin romance here people, I just mean a seriously romantic story. What can I say? I was right, and I’ve got Lips Touch to prove it.

I’m not generally a reader of short stories, so when I saw that Lips Touch: Three Times was a collection of short stories, my initial response was, “Too bad,” plus shoulder shrug. Well good news folks! The three tales in Laini’s book are each long, long enough to be broken down into chapters, in fact. That is to say, they are pretty substantial short stories, which is all good, because man can Laini Taylor write. Each of the stories is about a kiss. In the first, a girl who has always been an outsider finally gets noticed by the smoldering new guy at school. She fantasizes about kissing him, but she has no idea what the consequence of that kiss will be. In the second story, Ana has lived her whole life burdened by a curse. If she speaks, all who hear her will die. She has kept silent for years but now she is in love and she longs to break her silence to tell her suitor her true feelings. The final story introduces us to a girl who discovers the real reason why her mother never lets them stay in one place for long. She comes from a strange and violent other world, where a brutal and beautiful Queen rules over dreadful soulless creatures. The Queen and the girl are fated to meet. Shivery yet?

Laini Taylor has a wonderfully rich descriptive style, which helps you to imagine the characters, the settings and the worlds she creates to perfection. Here is a passage from the first story that reveals the gorgeousness of the prose:

” Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy’s blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn’t possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer’s small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear and indigo veil against a stinging sand, just like the nomads. Kizzy wanted.”

Um… wow. There are authors who don’t succeed in giving readers as much sense of a character in the space of an entire novel, let alone in a single paragraph. That’s just one example. Another treat? I never saw the endings coming. That could be because Laini is loaded with creativity (definitely), and it could also be because you are always fully immersed in the moment of the story (again, definitely). You can’t put down this book without appreciating that Laini Taylor pays serious attention to crafting her work. It’s impressive and wholly satisfying for the reader. Here’s a writer who cares about details.

To make this even better, I think Lips Touch is going to be one gorgeous book. Aside from that cover, which is creepy/sexy/fantastic, each one of the stories is preceded by pages of illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo, Laini’s husband, another superbly talented individual. At her blog, Laini has already cheered about how beautiful the book will be. I can’t wait to see the final printed version.

Lips Touch is coming in October 2009. You will have to buy it. Absolute proof that Twilight is so not the last word on forbidden love.

Lips Touch: Three Times is published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. Note that material quoted is taken from the ARC and may differ from the bound book.

Alyson Noel’s The Immortals Audiobooks Giveaway

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*The winners of the audiobooks have been drawn! Thanks to all those who entered. The winners are: HOLLY and PRIYA! Enjoy your listening ladies!*

Lucky ducks! I have two Alyson Noel audiobooks: Evermore and Blue Moon and I am giving them away. If you are a fan of this New York Times bestselling series then I know you will love listening to the books. Katie Schorr gives a great reading. I will draw 2 winners, one for Evermore and one for Blue Moon. The giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the U.S. only. (Sorry – not enough pennies saved for international shipping costs!) I will announce the 2 winners on August 4th.

Rules:

1. To enter the draw, leave a comment below. (All you have to write is “Please enter me!” Nothing fancy). Make sure if you leave it anonymously that I have a way to contact you via email.

2. For an extra entry, blog or tweet about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments.

3. For a third entry, subscribe to my blog.

Don’t know the books? Here’s the trailer for Evermore:

Think Twilight, minus the sparkly vampire action.

Both audiobooks are published by Macmillian Audio.

Zen Monday: Picture + Poem

Been out of the habit of this the past few weeks. So here we go!

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Recipe for a Fairy Glen

Before you begin,
you’ll need quiet and fading light,
(almost dusk is best)
solitude,
and a whimsical frame of mind.

Sweep away
all traces of melancholy
trapped under small stones.
Scatter trees,
tall, slender-trunked and leafy.
Brush egg-blue sky between
the tallest branches.
Cover the earth with wildflowers.
Weave a path through the grass
for midnight visitors.
Dot with nooks,
hidden spots and strange treasures
in stranger places:
one flame red feather,
a snip of velvet ribbon,
something that glitters.

A whisper of wing beats
will tell you it’s ready,
rustling bluebells
say it’s time to leave the rest
to magic.

Thanks to Tricia for inspiring me with her Recipe Poetry Stretch.

(Copyright K. Millar, 2009. Please do not reprint without permission).

(Photo by Today is a good day on Flickr).

Getting the Girl

girlBeen looking for a mystery starring a grade 9 nerdy guy / wannabe P.I. who is pretty clueless with the ladies, loves cooking class and who is crazy enough to start investigating some of the coolest kids in school? Look no further than Susan Juby’s Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery. This book has a lot going on – a high-stakes mystery, some really funny moments, a sharp critique of high school social hierarchies, even a little cooking, which all combined, makes for a unique and entertaining reading experience.

Sherman Mack just started high school and he definitely falls in the social category of “almost invisible.” Sure, he has a couple of friends, and he isn’t the biggest loser ever, but he is far beneath the notice of the real social players at Harewood Tech: the cool guys and their “Trophy Wives.” Sherman has a thing for Dini Trioli (the tenth-grade goddess who humors his attentions), detective novels (recommended by his friend Vanessa) and cooking class. Sherman might wish his mom was a little older, a little less into burlesque dancing and a little more into cooking and cleaning, but all in all, things could be a lot worse. The only thing that Sherman really worries about is the infamous practice of “defiling” that goes on at Harewood Tech. Every so often, a girl’s picture gets put up on all of the school bathroom mirrors with a D written next to it, and after this happens, she is completely cut out of every social group. That’s after she is publicly shamed and her reputation is dragged through the mud to the point that school life becomes utterly miserable. Sherman is worried because he suspects that Dini might be next in line for defiling. He decides to go undercover to find out who is responsible and to save any more girls from this humiliating and cruel fate. Sherman discovers that detecting, like getting the girl of his dreams, is not as easy as it looks.

Why you’ll like it? Sherman is a riot, without being a caricature. He bumbles around and makes mistakes and seems totally real. All of the other characters, even the ones who appear in only a few scenes, are just as well-drawn, so that you can imagine whole stories about them beyond the book. I especially liked Sherman’s mentor Fred King, who loves cooking and gardening and is surprisingly cool if you can get past the comb over. Mrs. Samuels, Sherman’s cooking teacher, is great too, always offering up wisdom about what it’s like to work in the food industry. I think what appealed to me most in this book is the fact that Susan Juby has produced a book that communicates just how brutal the effects of high school cliques can be, except she has managed to make her book funny. It never feels like one of those serious reads about the trauma and pain of high school, but it will make you think just as much. I’m hoping it’s a series, because I’d like to see what Sherman solves (and cooks) next.

Other review love:

Interactive Reader
Reading Rants
bookshelves of doom

Wow. Check out those 3 reviewers. If they love it, you know it’s something pretty awesome.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

The Storm in the Barn

stormMatt Phelan’s upcoming graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, is really something. It is a thrilling and moving piece of historical fiction set in 1937 Kansas, with beautiful muted illustrations that practically make you taste the dust.

Jack Clark hasn’t had an easy childhood. It hasn’t rained for years and the tension in his small town couldn’t get much worse. At home, his father and mother have shrunk into themselves, barely able to hang onto the dreams they once had, and the farm life they used to know. One of his sisters is sick, with “dust pneumonia,” and the doctor hints that Jack’s increasingly strange and withdrawn behaviors might be “dust dementia.” He gets bullied by a group of local kids and his father never gives him the chance to prove his worth. One night, Jack ventures into the abandoned Talbot barn and what he finds there could change everything, if he’s brave enough to go back and face what’s inside.

It’s pretty clear that Matt Phelan is a tremendously gifted illustrator. The emotion that he can convey with the most understated colors and simple lines is remarkable. There is a sequence with a jackrabbit drive that will make you ache, every bit as gut-wrenching as how it could be portrayed on film. I loved the way the color shifts throughout, mirroring the changing tone of the narrative.

Also, as a complete aside, what is it with being eleven? I’ve read so many books with 11-year old protagonists lately. It ain’t easy to be 11, that’s for sure.

The Storm in the Barn will take your breath away. I cannot wait to read the rest of the graphic novels floating around in Matt’s head. Absolutely stunning.

Now, it won’t feel quite so much like just a sneaky grab if I post the aweomse book trailer at the end of my review. Try and wait until September:

Here are a few other rave reviews:

Reading Rants
The Book Bench
educating alice

The Storm in the Barn is published by Candlewick in September 2009.

Poetry Friday: e.e. cummings

hands

I’ve loved this poem ever since I was a kid. Somehow I think the picture fits.

anyone lived in a pretty how town… – by e. e. cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

(Poem from Poetry Foundation. Photo from Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr)

Just to make you jealous…

fireJust to make you jealous, I finished Fire yesterday and now I will torture you by telling you that it is wonderful. How wonderful? Well, almost directly after finishing it, I found myself pondering how perfect the world would be if Kristin Cashore was able to write books fast enough for me to be always reading one of them. And when I say always, I actually mean always, as in all the time without any breaks. I would be satisfied, in fact, if she just kept on writing stories featuring the characters she has given readers in Graceling and Fire. That would be enough for me. Years upon years of Katsa and Po and Fire and Brigan. Keep it coming Kristin.

For Graceling fans, you might be a tad pouty-faced when you start reading Fire and discover that Katsa and Po are not in this one. That won’t last for long. Fire takes place about 30 years before the story in Graceling, in a kingdom called the Dells. The Dells are a pretty violent, war-torn place, and there are creatures, called Monsters, who inhabit the land, alongside ordinary human folk. Monsters look like many of the regular animals we know, except they have amazingly vibrant-coloured hair or scales or wings. Monsters are able to control humans’ minds, which means humans fear them. Fire, our heroine, is the only human-shaped monster left in the Dells. She is stunningly beautiful and like all Monsters, she has the power to control minds and most people hate her for it. A bit like Katsa, Fire is gutsy and burdened by her identity, and yes, there is another great love story in these pages. The only other plot piece I’ll mention is that there is one character from Graceling who plays a key role in this book. Remember super-freaky King Leck? Well… he’s back, as a boy, and he’s every bit as creepy in kid-version.

Cashore’s amazing strength is her characters. You care so much about them, and they are wonderfully complicated. It’s hard to imagine someone not being completely captivated by both of these books.

Fire is published by Dial Books, and will be released in September 2009.