Sunday, August 26, 2007

#55 - Divisadero

Like so many of these reviews, sometimes it's necessary to start with a confession. There are no limits to my admiration for Michael Ondaatje's work. He's one of my favourite living writers. In the Skin of the Lion remains one of my all-time favourite books, right up there in the top ten at least. One night, when I was still slaving away at the worst job ever, even before I ended up at the evil empire with the boss from hell, I managed to get a free ticket to hear him read at Harbourfront. That night inspired me in ways that few other readings ever have. I came home, haunted by the sound of his voice, and wrote a prose poem called "Bittersweet". When I showed it to a creative writing teacher who actually knew Ondaatje, she sent him a copy, and I've still got the note he sent back—in fact, the thin scrawl telling her it was a 'lovely piece' sits on my desk to this day.

It's hard then to critique Divisadero from any where other than the pedestal of this affection I feel for a man I have clearly never met. The pure skill he has in crafting every single sentence, of creating characters that are broken and blue even before they are born, and of drawing a reader in as purely as one craves the sun, are uncompromising in this novel, even if the book itself might not necessarily be as successful as either The English Patient or In the Skin of a Lion. But how am I judging the success of the book? Much like Kerry, I felt a little bit lost as the tenuous threads of the novel hold two very different, yet equally complex stories together.

The first half of the story deals with how a tragic act of violence breaks up a patched together family in northern California. The two girls, Anna and Claire, sisters in every way except blood, are split apart forever, and Coop, a farm-hand who grew up on the farm since he was four, is chased away from the only home he has ever known. As they splinter, the novel removes itself from their primary narrative, and unfolds into the story of a Lucien Segura, a French writer at the turn of the century, who Anna studies as she lives in his house and sleeps with his neighbour (who he had known when he was just a boy, obviously), and whose tragedies (the loss of a great love, the splintering of family) echo those of her own.

Yet, by the end, I craved more about Coop, Anna, and Claire, somehow knowing that might be the point, that there was no more of this story for me to know. That the author, in firm control at all times, needed to explore tragedy in a different light halfway around the world from where he began, realizing that these are common themes that hold humanity together: loss, love, language. And wondering how it all fits together in ways that might not make entire sense to me right now, might just be the very point that I'm missing.

Regardless, it's a bloody beautiful book with prose that soars and touches you in ways that only he knows how to do, where prose melts with poetry, where longing remains far after the love has passed, and where two entirely different stories, narratives, and characters can fit together in one book as if they had meant to be that way all along.

I've added Michael Ondaatje to my Around the World in 52 Books challenge as the Sri Lanka entry, regardless of the fact that this book is set mainly in California and in France, and he's lived in Canada for over 40 years, that's where he was born, and those are the self-imposed rules of my challenge. Maybe that's wrong of me to organize the challenge in that way but I've started it along those lines and am committed to finishing!

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I love the photo on the cover of this book so much that taking another picture of a book on my bed wouldn't be remotely as interesting as imagining the woman lying there on a bench in an old French kitchen, bread, cheese, tea, pen nearby, creating a world that I am as desperate to know as any I have imagined in my reading life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Californication

So I Faux-voed the first two episodes of Showtime's new "comedy" Californication (wherein the only indication of the supposed genre must be in the fact that it's got the half-hour running time). Partially washed up yet still brilliant, Hank Moody suffers from writer's block and calls himself a one-hit wonder. His celebrated work of literary fiction is turned into some Hollywood dreck starring Tom and Katie (aren't we all tired of that joke?), and this seems to have stopped him in his tracks from putting pen to paper entirely. So, he has sex. Lots of it. With anything that walks and waxes.

And if it wasn't for David Duchovny, the show would be a complete disaster. Yet, he manages to pull it all together, wounding his way through scene after scene totally messing up his life, trying to get his partner back (Natasha McElhone), and being a semi-decent dad to his precocious twelve-year-old daughter. But so much of this show is just plain tired, and I get frustrated when I see full-on scenes cribbed from much better work (anyone who has seen episode two and watched Lovely and Amazing knows of what I speak), and tired cliches (man sleeping with underage girl and then realizing his mistake, yawn) trotted out with more swearing and better shot nudity to be "dangerous."

On the whole, I'm giving it two more episodes to find some kind of heart, because as great as Duchovny remains solid and utterly watchable with the tired material surrounding him (his dry wit and even toastier delivery are truly engaging), there still needs to be an emotional core to the series that's sort of missing right now. Who knows? Maybe I'm the one who is jaded and frustrated and taking it all out on an innocent television show. All I know is that it's no Flight of the Conchords. Now there's comedy. Ummm, Steve.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

#54 - October

When Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan won both the Governor General's Award and the Giller in 2001, I devoured it like the rest of Canada, in one fell swoop sitting on the world's most uncomfortable couch in our old apartment with its fabulous windows and loud College Street traffic. The novel both inspired and saddened me, with its echoes of A Bird in the House, and its epistolary format, which just seemed to work, Clara Callan haunted me for years.

Fast-forward many seasons and I've just had my hip surgery. Zesty's utterly wonderful mum gave me a copy of Adultery. And maybe I shouldn't have read it then because sometimes when you expect an author to write the same book twice, it's more your fault than theirs when you're disappointed. Right?

Regardless, I'm thrilled, thrilled to say that October, Wright's latest novel coming out in a few weeks, has me enthralled all over again. It's a short, tightly written book about James Hillyer, a retired professor (of literature, natch), who learns that his daughter, the headmistress of a prestigious girls' school in England, has aggressive breast cancer—the very same disease that killed her mother around the same age. When Hillyer flies to England to see her, he runs into Gabriel Fontaine, an old friend from childhood.

Hillyer drifts with swift strokes down memory lane as he describes his friendship with Gabriel during the summer he spent with his uncle at a resort town in Quebec: the rivalry he felt towards the boy despite the latter being wheelchair bound because of polio; the love he felt for Odette, a French-Canadian maid and Gabriel's girlfriend; and the coming of age he endures in that moment when he realizes that wealth and privilege will always allow for a certain latitudes that James can never experience. All these themes and events swell together and capture that feeling of childhood, you know when you're free for those two weeks the Americans show up at the cottage and it's not just you, your brother, and your cousins, but a whole gang of kids with adolescent emotions and feelings, adventurous spirits and a crushing reality that it all will come to an end just a mere fourteen days later. That's the essence of this book: that feeling when the vacation comes to an end and things have happened to change your life forever, only James doesn't know it at the time, he doesn't realize it completely until he looks back, which is the simple brilliance of this book.

Wright's narrative style reminded me so much of Hugh MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night, which can never be a bad thing, and he has such a skill for crafting the scenes between Gabriel and James. Their voices drifting easily between the high pitched tones of young adulthood to the more defined, fully grown mature tenor of elderly men, Gabriel and James, whether they like it or accept it or not, have deeply impacted each other's lives.

I know the fall remains the single busiest time when it comes to the more commercial forms of art (novels, films, television). But sometimes, a book comes along that reminds you why we all work so hard, for me, this fall, it might just be October. But ask me again after I've maybe read a few more of the new releases...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Into The Wild

You know, knowing the end of this film brought tears to my eyes just watching the trailer. There's something that sort of catches in your throat when you see it in a three-dimensional way that even Krakauer's book, as fascinating as it is, just didn't manage.

But it makes for an interesting debate: by turning nonfiction into fiction, in a way like this movie, does it diminish the story or heighten it?

I guess I'll have to go and see it to answer the question.

Adventures In Illness Part 81358

So yesterday I went to see the family doctor because I've got this strange rash on both sides of my nose that looks like eczema, and it simply won't go away. That coupled with the lip blisters that lead to cold sores cropping up for the second time in two weeks ensures that I'm looking awesome these days.

Anyway. I think the rash-type thing is a result of the meds, it's the only thing that it can be as I haven't changed anything with respect to my skin care regime, and even tried stopping washing my face for a day to see if that would help (it didn't). Even so, the family doctor wasn't willing to make a diagnosis and even suggested that I go see the Super Fancy Disease Doctor about it. Considering he's, like, the smartest doctor in the world and it's just a rash, I felt that maybe that wasn't quite the right thing to do.

Without having ANY idea what it might be or what might be causing it, they're sending me to a dermatologist, which is fine. Except they don't want to TREAT it in case it goes away or something before I see said dermatologist without them figuring out exactly what it is. Yay for me. It means that however long it takes for them to refer me that I'll have to continue to look like I have the chicken pox.

I tell you, Wegener's is awesome.

Not.

Interview with Janice Kulyk Keefer

The interview that I did with Janice Kulyk Keefer for our Facebook.com group is on the front page of the CBC's website today. The full interview is here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday, Sunday

The weather today is absolutely brilliant, sunny, warm but not overwhelming with a hint of fall in the air. Zesty and I had brunch and then made the decision to head over to the Farmer's Market at Liberty Village. So, before sitting down and getting back to work on my book that's due in a couple of weeks, and spending the day at the computer again, punctuated by a couple of breaks spent fighting with the vacuum and doing some laundry, I had to share this:

So, at the Farmer's Market, I decided I wanted to buy some fruit, and found the perfect stall for me: peaches, pears, plums, you name it, this farmer had it, some of which had just been picked that morning. I'm not lying when I say I got very excited by the rock hard pears he had on offer.

Now, I love rock hard fruit. I know it's not normal, but I like to eat peaches and pears when they're as hard as apples. I'm not kidding when I say I enjoy the crunch. The farmer had already packaged up the pears for me, and even threw in some sugar pears, which he said needed to be eaten when they are green, so right away. Cool. I'm planning on making fruit salad anyway.

So now that we're trying to eat things in season, I was tickled pink to see that he also had locally grown nectarines, which are, to this day, my favourite fruit. He adds those to my bags as well.

While he's putting everything in for me he says, "Some of them [the nectarines] are ready to eat but some might need to sit for a day or two out of the fridge."

"Well, I like to eat them hard," I say, "so these are actually perfect."

Dead silence ensues.

Then he looks at me like I'm absolutely nuts and hands me a semi-squishy nectarine, and says, "Eat it when they feel like this, not like an Indian rubber ball, okay?"

(But the okay is more like he's telling me to do it this way, and that not only is eating hard nectarines wrong, it's just plain stupid.)

And then he proceeds to give me some intimate advice about the freshness of the fruit. "Okay!" I say with a winning smile even though I'm thinking 'oh my god I can't wait to get home and crunch away at these half-ripe nectarines.'

I mean, I see his point, and they do smell wonderful when they are riper, but I can't get away from the crunch. I am addicted to the crunch. So I'm sure I'll be doing a disservice to the farmer when I bite into the nectarines and keep them in the fridge so they stay harder longer, but a girl likes what a girl likes, you know?

Annnnywaaay. The best part is that an entire bag of fruit, we're talking more than a dozen single pieces, came to a whopping $8.00. That's right. Less than the cost of a movie, almost less than a movie rental. And I got a lesson in fruit management too, for free.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Said fruit in a bowl. Keep in mind I had given a bunch to Zesty too, isn't that crazy?

Good grief I love the farmer's market.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Deep Thoughts

Downloading massive amounts of classical music after listening to the CBC might actually put me completely in a computer coma today.

Things I Read Online That Make Me Think Of Jon Stewart...

...After the second presidential election when George Bush won and he mused that for the very first time he realized how truly different his thinking was from the rest of his country.

Ann Patchett protested (link via booktrade).

Seriously.

I Give You A Giant Tomato

Something's up with the soil in our backyard being made radio active by all the household construction waste or something because we're growing GIANT tomatoes.

See? SEE!

That's an old-school rotary phone people, my paternal grandmother's from when she worked at the Ontario courts many, many years ago, and they are almost THE SAME SIZE. I swear to you there is no trickery involved: I simply placed the tomato next to the phone so you could honestly see that it's HUGE.

Oh The Irony Of Being Called Thoughtful...


Thanks to Kailana who kindly gave me a thoughtful blogger award this week, ironic, yes, on a day where I did some serious thinking about good, evil and books from around the world.

Not knowing how this is supposed to work, I'm going to send out my own props to the thoughtful blogs that I read on a regular basis, they are in no particular order: Sam's, Tim's, Melanie's, Kerry's and Munro's.

#53 - Annie John

Finally, a novel from my Around the World in 52 Books challenge that truly captures the setting where the author herself was born. Jamaica Kincaid's utterly lovely Annie John, a bildungsroman to match, I think the masters like Joyce or Richler when it comes to imbibing the story with a strong sense of narrative voice and intention, takes place in Antigua, and tells the semi-autobiographical story of a young girl growing up and coming to terms with a difficult relationship with her mother.

While Kincaid's prose may be straightforward, her intentions are certainly not, as Annie John is a rich, vibrant novel where the protagonist, who grows from being an awkward but brilliant pre-adolescent to young woman setting off into the world on her own for the very first time, refuses to move seamlessly from the arms of her mother into her own generation. It's such a real book, and gave me such a rich reading experience, despite (as with The Accidental) getting through half of it months ago only to pick it up again last weekend. I could smell the salty air of the island, feel the hot sun, imagine her crisp school uniform, picture the richness of the setting, and wanted to taste all the food I had never heard of, all the while thinking that there are common themes with any girl: getting her period (oh, how very different from Margaret), finding true friends, reacting to boys, and enduring a sickness (okay maybe this one applies just to me). But Kincaid's ability to ensure that we find Annie John different, if only from the place she grew up, moves this book from a novel about a foreign place into a book that displays bits of post-colonial brilliance.

Yet, it's the private, personal, behind-closed-doors warring, back-and-forth relationship that Annie has with her mother that truly forms the backbone of this story. As Annie firmly moves beyond her safe embrace, and into that stage where all you do is fight, push back, and fight some more, the whole of her existence is described in opposition to the woman who raises her carefully and lovingly. Metaphorical maybe if you want to think in those cliched terms of countries being women and all that, but it struck me as powerful, as life-affirming, as honest and real. Of course a bildungsroman, technically (and correct me if I'm wrong) tosses out the hero into the social world, forcing his change to come about because he leaves home; but here, if we think about it in the world of these women, the social order of the family most definitely comes from Annie John's mother, and the conflict with her society truly brings about our hero's changes.

Kincaid's writing reminds me of Abeng by Michelle Cliff or the non-Wide Sargasso Sea novels by Jean Rhys in a way; she has the same kind of lilt to her sentences, but Annie John remains her story from beginning to end, influences or no influences. On the whole, I think I rather enjoyed this book, and if I were still in the essay writing mode of university, I think I would have gotten great pleasure out of deconstructing it and putting it all back together in a paper.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I shot this while reading, of course, but you can see the water and the boat, plus a bit of Tina's lovely boyfriend Mimoun lying in the sun with his own book. His was in French. He is from Paris, you know. Totally irrelevant details but they make a wonderful couple. I'm just sayin'.

#52 - The Devil and Miss Prym

As I revamped my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge to better fit with the 1001 Books list, the Paulo Coelho book that came off was The Zahir, which was replaced by his The Devil and Miss Prym simply to kill two goals with one stone. More parable than novel, The Devil and Miss Prym was intended to be the Brazil stop in my reading around the world, but as it's set in a small, mountainous French village named Viscos, it again proves the point that so many of my books are not set in the countries where the author themselves was born, and don't really tell me a whole bunch about life in his or her original setting.

Regardless, it's a short, swift read that focuses on the battle between good and evil. The devil, a fallen businessman who propositions the tiny enclosed town (population 281) into testing not only their faith but their very humanity, walks into Viscos and chooses the local barmaid Chantal (Miss Prym) to be his messenger. At once the entire town becomes aware of the man's plot: to prove that human beings are essentially bad by forcing them to murder a member of their village in exchange for gold.

A philosophical debate charges back and forth through the pros and cons of taking some one's life in exchange for the social and financial security offered by the gold. As the centre of the town's focus (blamed for bringing the terrible decision to them; gossiped about for the choices in her life; and sleepless over the problems her role in the decision creates in her life), Miss Prym moves through various emotions before coming to her own conclusions about the morality offered by this businessman haunted by the devil and his own tragedy.

It's been a while since I'd read anything where philosophy and theology were so cleanly mixed up in fiction. In fact, the last time I remember thinking about "big picture" ideas not over beer or cards, honestly, was in university, when I took quite a few philosophy classes. I'm not going to give away the ending but I would like to add that Coelho's simplistic prose and straightforward storytelling made this slim novel extremely compelling, even if I wasn't one hundred percent convinced of the story's moral and religious underpinnings.

Should it be included on the 1001 Books list? Well, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did The Alchemist, when I read it all those years ago after finishing my undergrad degree (you know that fairy tale time when you rediscover reading for reading's sake, sigh.) and I certainly think that there are far better novels out there (why is Margaret Laurence not on that list, seriously?), but I think I'm richer for having read it, if only to have done some thinking about the great never-ending battle between good and evil in my own infallibly human mind.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The cover of this book is grand, isn't it? Anyway, it's a close up snapped on the sun deck before leaving the cottage to come back to the city in a panic of "is it really over my extra-long weekend?"

Morning Bells, Awkward Spills And Writing What Not

The bells on the church just behind our house just rang out. It's an odd sound to hear in this day and age, and it always makes me think that I'm living somewhere else where church bells still ring for specific reasons. As they went off at 9:39 AM, it's hard to say, but I'm assuming they're just testing out the bells for some sort of celebration or for tomorrow's services.

Anyway, I half-fell off my bike on Thursday morning on the way to work, and it was more of a shock to my system than anything. And, as much as I complain about the idiotic people in cars downtown when you're a biker, this time, this almost-accident was entirely my fault. I was going the wrong way up a one way street when a car came roaring around the corner, not expecting me, who was biking a bit too far away from the curb as well. I live in a quiet (for the most part) neighbourhood and it's rare that any car turns on to that street for the two minutes I'm actually on it before getting to College Street. Regardless, I had to slam on my brakes, and it's a slight downhill so I was going really very fast, and almost toppled over my bike. I slammed my arm on the handle bars and skidded my feet to stop myself from crashing into the back of his car. But what hurt the most was I jammed my poor tragic hip so hard that it brought tears instantly to my eyes. Oh, it hurt.

I limped while peddling the rest of the way to work and then was sore all day and most of the night, and then didn't bike yesterday, which was okay because I had things to do after work. But after so many months of not being in pain, it's still a shocker when my tragic hip wakes up and says, "Whoa, don't do that to me, come on now!"

However, I've certainly noticed how much stronger I am this summer compared to last. I am doing restorative yoga once a week, swimming like a fish all weekend at the cottage, jumping on the trampoline at least once per weekend, and then biking during the week. I still haven't lost a pound, nuts or no nuts, but I can feel myself have more energy, especially with the swimming. Where I could do one lap in the lake (halfway to the little island and back) kicking with the noodle three weekends ago, I'm now doing two or three, and even floatation device free for one of them. I can make it up bigger hills in the city now, and have more confidence in my step now that my legs aren't so wobbly. Small victories, right?

We're not up at the cottage this weekend, much to my chagrin, but it's also probably for the best. I'm a bit behind in my latest abridgment, and do need to get cracking before my September 1st deadline. I've taken the last week of August off to spend up north with that manuscript and my own story, and I'm thinking about which classes to take this fall at U of T, before I can apply for the Humber School for Writers again in the winter.

It's a long life, this writing life. There are days when it seems forever just to write one sentence or get caught up here, on the blog. I finished my first new freelance assignment, which I'll expand upon once I know it's been accepted, approved and another one's coming. While it wasn't hard per se, it was certainly different, and I'm worried that my tone wasn't quite right and that I haven't done a good job—which are always the concerns when you put virtual pen to paper for someone other than yourself.

Oh, wait, it's even worse when it's for yourself: you're utterly convinced that it's sh*t.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

#51 - The Accidental

As much as I enjoyed Absolution, am I ever glad that I put Ali Smith on my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. The Accidental is one of the best books I've read this summer, with its echoes of Mark Haddon and David Mitchell (I still think his Black Swan Green has never gotten the attention it deserves; it's a brilliant book), Smith's novel quickly sucks you in with her switching voices, intuitive point of view and tumbling prose. And while she's officially my Scottish writer, and this book is set in England, it's hard to assess whether or not it's an accurate reflection of the chosen country's literature. I'll probably have to delve into Smith's backlist to find out if she's written a book set in Scotland, but after reading The Accidental I'd be surprised if it wasn't on the 1001 Book people's radar and might be included in an updated version years in the future.

Annnnnywaaay.

The story of the Smart family (daughter, son, stepfather, mother) is told chapter by chapter in each character's voice starting with Astrid (aforementioned daughter), as they spend the summer away from London in a "substandard" vacation house. When a stranger named Amber who has absolutely no connection to anyone in the family, regardless of what everyone in the house thinks, simply walks into their life and starts making changes, she becomes the catalyst that skyrockets the family into a whole other world in terms of their physical and emotional lives.

Each character has a specific, overriding emotional issue: Astrid's being bullied at school; Magnus suffers through a tragedy somewhat of his own making; Michael, the step-father, needs to deal with his, ahem, indiscretions; and Eve, the mother, suffers from a writer's block that bleeds into all aspects of her person. But when Amber bashes into their lives and mashes up their thoughts not only about each other but about the various issues that are pulling them apart and in all different directions. Amber is a hippie, a charlatan, a psychic, a seductress, and her presence finally makes everyone come to terms with the facades that structure even the purest of lives.

On the whole, it took me a long time to get through this book. I picked it up months ago and read 30-odd pages and then put it down. Picked it up again a few weeks later, started from the place I stopped, got confused and gave up. But this weekend at the cottage, after a particularly intense game of multi-language Scrabble, I relaxed before swimming and read the entire book from cover to cover. And I loved it. I really did.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I'm proudly displaying the book on my grandmother's sideboard-thingy that has pictures of her tucked into that totally creepy print of my uncle's. Oh, and I think I have the US version of the book because I ordered it through my old work...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On The Road Turns 50

How could I possibly have missed this? Shelf Awareness pointed me to a NY Times article that celebrates two very different yet bestselling books of 1957: Peyton Place, which I haven't read, and On the Road, which I have read at least half a dozen times. Iconic, culturally for so many reasons, it's important to me, not just as my go-to 'favourite' book, but for what it represents: reading at different stages.

I have my battered stolen school library copy of On the Road that I've carried to university and back, through young adulthood and into my, ahem, golden years. I've got the copy I bought in university when I had to do a shared project with a fellow in my class that I ended up having a giant crush on. I've got the copy I read when I finished school, and together the RRHB and I had 4 or 5 copies of the book when we merged households almost 9 years ago.

It's a book that I don't care to study. A book that I don't care to analyze. It's a book that causes me comfort just knowing that it's on the shelf. It's not something I can explain, this love for Jack Kerouac, but I've avoided reading so many of his books just because I know there are a limited amount, and I always want something new. I realized my mistake when I discovered Henry Miller when I turned 19. I read everything he ever wrote and then some and soon realized that it's like eating all your Hallowe'en candy, too much of a good thing and all that.

When we took our trip to California a few years ago, I read Big Sur, the copy of which we had picked up visiting City Lights in San Francisco. I read Dharma Bums when I felt like I needed it in between university and grad school, when I was still considering getting an advanced degree. And that's kind of what Kerouac is for me, a representation of art at its most meaningful, when it jumps over the line from entertainment to ethos, when it bleeds into ever little bit of your being and when it forces me to change the way I think about all things. Now, I roll down the window while the car speeds along, stereo on, wind knotting my hair, and never stop imagining that perfect trip that never ends.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ripped From The Headlines

We're back from the cottage and I have three books to write reviews for, which I will do the moment I get home from work. However, one of the things I can't stop myself from doing is reading a news headline and thinking, "Hum, I wonder how long until they use that in an episode of Law and Order."

The latest, this crazy case of Canadian sailors being kicked out of the navy for cocaine trafficking. How awesome would that be to see the in the original Law and Order? It's always so dramatic when the NYC cops go up against the military cops.

Sigh.

Oh, and my new favourite show? The Closer. I have to watch it on W Network, which means we're seeing episodes all out of order and not remotely current, but who cares, Kyra Sedgwick rocks. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

#50 - Absolution

Sometimes the heat makes life absolutely unbearable and I find it hard to concentrate, which means it's necessary to pick up a mystery. At first, Caro Ramsay's Absolution presented such a gritty and realistic portrait of Glasgow that I considered making it, instead of The Accidental, my Scotland stop in the Around the World in 52 Books challenge. I have since come to my senses just knowing how much Maylin loved that book makes me want to sit down and finish it this weekend (which I just might do having an extra day to spend up at the cottage on Monday). I've been half-way through Ali Smith's book for about four months now and there's no good reason why I am procrastinating finishing it.

Annnnnywaaaay, I did finish Absolution up this morning before work, having but a few pages to go after putting it down last night when my eyes refused to stay open for a moment longer. The story starts off really strong and introduces the book's main detective, DCI Alan McApline, in a clever way. Smart, rugged, and handsome, he's forced to reckon with his past when a case that's been haunting him for twenty years becomes the focus point of a current investigation. A young woman named Anna, pregnant but hideously scarred from an acid burn, lies in the hospital, and McAlpine, then a young policeman, is assigned to the case. Her killer is never found but her scarred face, known to McAlpine only through pictures, consumes him. As all good investigators do, he gets on with it, has a successful marriage to Helena (who becomes the subject of an unfortunate number of dropped plot threads) and tries to forget all about Anna, which we all know is impossible.

Fast-forward twenty years when McAlpine is transferred back to the unit he left after the double trauma of Anna's death and his brother's untimely drowning in the line of duty. The Crucifixion Killer, known to the cops on McAlpine's crew as 'Christopher Robin' (a quirky profiler's idea of a good code name), starts murdering women, and McAlpine's charged with finding him. The two cases intertwine until they come to a shocking conclusion, which makes this a little anti-Alexander McCall Smith, if I had to compare this book to my favourite mystery series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

While I found the plot somewhat muddled in places, and got a little frustrated with the fact that there are simply too many characters, I did like Ramsay's book overall. It's fast-paced, and way more Cracker than the bland American mysteries I usually watch on television (ahem, Law and Order), which I totally appreciated. While I didn't actually guess whodunnit by the end, I had figured out some of the clever twists Ramsay drops in throughout the narrative. All in all it's a perfectly satisfactory summer mystery for a foggy-headed girl on an August afternoon.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I read half the book here and half the book up north, I took the picture on my desk where you can see the remnants of my tax forms and the corner of my next abridged classic source material peaking in at the corner.

And if you're feeling particularly brave, check out the book's trailer. Ohhh, it gives me creeps just hearing the music in my head.

Booker Longlist Announced

In case anyone's looking for key reads for the fall, PW just posted the Man Booker longlist. The only one I've read is McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which I enjoyed immensely. And even though I haven't read it, I'm pleased to see Michael Redhill's Consolation on there, which is a book that someone, somewhere made the argument that it's the ultimate novel about Toronto, even if I can't remember who said it or where I read it.

Hot Water - Hooray!

They came this morning and fixed the hot water tank, which was apparently never installed properly in the first place, so they need to come back tomorrow and fix the vents. This will cost us $400.00. Isn't home ownership lovely?

However, nothing can dampen my mood today as I'm working from home for the first time in months with wide open windows, gorgeous sunshine outside, and the brilliant smell from the chocolate factory wafting in with each breath.

And in other good news, I got a new freelance gig that I'm pretty excited about but I don't want to jinx it by talking about it too much before I actually hand in my copy. Needless to say, my mother would have been tickled pink, but more on that later.

Oh, and I'm pages away from actually finishing a book. A real book!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Quick Updates On The Fly

Our hot water tank broke this morning so my dream of having a lovely hot shower after four days up north at the cottage spilled out all over the cold, basement floor. This did not start off my day well.

As a result, no bike ride in because I was so late that my RRHB had to drive me to work. I hate driving to work.

I did not manage to finish a single book this weekend although I did watch Zodiac and half of Perfume. Well, that's not exactly true, I read Dramacon, my very first manga, which was super-cute although I felt old just flipping the pages. Oh, and I also felt old because I had to learn how to read the books. Yes, even reading manga is a new experience for me. But the Tokyopop website is just so cool, isn't it?

Now I've got conditioner in my hair, I'm exhausted because I just couldn't sleep, and I wish I was still up at the cottage because the weather was just so luscious this weekend I didn't want to leave.

How are all of you? I feel like the summer is whizzing by so fast that I haven't had a moment to catch my breath.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Girl Who Has Nothing To Say

I've been at a work conference since Sunday, and haven't been home a single night this week to really blog, so here's a quick catch-up:

1. My delicious RRHB downloaded (shhh) the current episodes of Rescue Me that have aired in the States on FX but won't show in Canada until September. I do not feel remotely guilty about this for many reasons, the first of which being the evil company that ruined my life actually airs the show so bully on them. But most importantly, it's an amazing show, one of my favourites, that gets me thinking about all kinds of issues and shocks me at every turn, and I simply could not wait. It's beyond frustrating to try and avoid the spoilers, which is almost impossible if you move in the same virtual circles that I do, and try to be patient for months before the show airs here when he can click two or three buttons and we have the entire season almost at our disposal.

2. Men who walk around in my neighbourhood without shirts to show off their impressive physiques are somewhat like overly made-up ladies who wear white thongs under their white pants: they're simply giving me too much information.

3. People who ride mopeds in the bike lane are annoying. Truly.

4. I'm in the middle of reading a book about email. It was given to us at work to help improve our email correspondence. Apparently, we get too much of it and it annoys some people. Okay, I'll admit it, yes, I mocked the book when I saw it sitting on my little assigned seat. But I'm prepared to eat crow. Because it's actually a really solid little book full of amazing tips and fascinating bits of advice. Oh, and now that they say that "Dear Comrade" has gone completely out of style, I'm on a mission to bring it back. Perhaps I'll start each post with Dear Comrades...today I?

5. Dear Comrades: I certainly wish that I hadn't shown up at the office on Sunday a full four hours before I was supposed to, regardless of how much work I managed to get done before our conference actually began.

6. I've been catching all kinds of sh*t for defending the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Apparently, being the last person on earth never to have seen the truly superior (or so I'm told) BBC version has opened me up for a world of ridicule my esteemed pop-culture brain just isn't used to. What say all of you? How wrong am I to enjoy the latest version? Or do I hardly expect any of you to own to it?