Possession Readalong

Get ready! The Possession Readalong begins on January 16th!

Possession Readalong banner

Ready to sink your teeth into mystery, history, romance, and scandal? A.S. Byatt’s Possession won the 1990 Booker Prize and the 1990 Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize and has been included in best-book lists by Time Magazine and the BBC. This complex, passionate novel interweaves the story of a forbidden affair between two Victorian poets with the two modern-day academics who set out to discover the truth of the affair. Challenging social values and ideas of sexuality, class assumptions, and the  institution of academia, Possession will sweep you away into its incredibly well-imagined world.

For twelve weeks, the readalong will delve into the intricacies of this marvelous book. Want to join the fun? Pick your copy up at Random House (in Canada; in the US, and in the UK), Amazon.caAmazon.comIndigo.ca, and fine independent bookstores everywhere.

The Possession Readalong: coming January 16th, 2013!

book review

Cards, fans, and overthrowing a monarchy: a review of The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

Stockholm Octavo

“‘Madam Uzanne, I am of the belief that this geometry can create anything you can imagine. Anything,’ he repeated. ‘In short, you may build an edifice of your choosing, a palace or a prison.’

The Uzanne smiled at him in such a way that the casual observer might think that a passionate love affair was imminent. ‘I plan to make one of each.'”

– The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

An aristocratic, powerful woman known to all as the Uzanne wants Gustav deposed and his brother, Duke Karl, elevated to the throne. The apothicaire Johanna Grey will change her history, her name, and perhaps even her morals to avoid marriage to a violent older man. The seer and card sharp Mrs. Sparrow wishes to change the dire future she has foreseen for the monarchy. And sekretaire Emil Larsson, our wily and self-involved main narrator, just wants a life that provides him with a roof over his head, a game of cards, and the occasional shipment of confiscated goods through his job at the office of customs and excise.

Continue reading “Cards, fans, and overthrowing a monarchy: a review of The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann”

Possession Readalong

Introducing the Possession Readalong

Possession Readalong banner

Love and betrayal. Living history, rife with passion and scandal. Mysteries hidden and unravelled: these form the heart of A.S. Byatt’s complex, achingly lovely, incredibly intelligent Possession. An illicit romance between two Victorian poets, and the affair’s wide-ranging consequences, remains hidden for over a century until, in modern-day England, two scholars who specialize in the works of these poets stumble onto their secret. And that secret threatens to cause just as much of a mess in 1990 as it did in the 1800s.

The eminent Randolph Henry Ash and the obscure Christabel Lamotte should barely have crossed paths, let alone conducted a dizzying affair that shook social mores and ruined lives. And how could it have stayed hidden all these years? Ash expert Roland Michell and Lamotte expert Maud Bailey go on the hunt for clues to better understand the mysterious letters Roland has discovered. But the stakes are upped monumentally when others join the chase, and when Roland’s and Maud’s very reputations could be disgraced.

From séances, theosophy, and faerie lore to the constraints imposed by imperialism, paternalism, and social class, A.S. Byatt creates a mesmerizing mystery and a sweeping love story. Told not just in third-person narrative but also through letters, diaries, and the works of the poets themselves, Byatt shows a chameleon-like ability to embody different voices in different media. This book is also at once a critique of modern academia and of notions of progress in both the Victorian and modern eras; it is an examination of femininity and masculinity and sexuality, of power and oppression, and, of course, it is about possession: of an object, of knowledge, of a lover, of a secret.

Continue reading “Introducing the Possession Readalong”

book review

Borrowing from the emptiness: a review of The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s Book-prize-nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya.

Garden of Evening Mists

“The first stone in my life had been set down years ago, when I had heard of Aritomo’s garden. Everything that had happened since then had brought me to this place in the mountains, this moment in time. Instead of consoling me, this knowledge left me fearful of where my life would lead.

I began to speak.

– The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng

Remembrance and forgetting guide the multilayered narratives of Tan Twan Eng’s luminous, Booker Prize nominated The Garden of Evening Mists. So important are they that they’re personified as statues of twin goddesses within the titular Japanese-style garden that is found high in the mountains of Malaya. Teoh Yun Ling, a senior judge retiring from the Malaysian bench, is caught between different periods of her life, of remembering and forgetting.

Yun Ling has kept the reason for her retirement, and her subsequent return to the Cameron Highlands, secret from all but a few people: she has been diagnosed with aphasia, which means she will slowly lose her memories and her ability to process the meaning of words at all. Terrified but determined, she flees to the tea estate that once belonged to Aritomo Nakamura, a Japanese expatriate fabled for being the disgraced gardener of the Japanese emperor. This is not the first time she has made this journey. When she was 19, she and her sister Yun Hong were captured by the Japanese. The more attractive Yun Hong was pressed into service as a “comfort girl” for the soldiers. Ironically, her only escape came in the form of daydreams about Japanese gardens, an art form she fell in love with when the family visited Japan years earlier.

Continue reading “Borrowing from the emptiness: a review of The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng”

poll, Saturday Sundries

Saturday Sundries: My favourite books of 2012

Monoceros This is how you Lose Her Zoo City

I can’t help but take stock at this time of year. The time between Christmas and New Year’s always feels so liminal, a week in between the year that was and the year that is yet to be. I’m so pleased with how the blog has grown this year, and in particular with the interest and participation in the Cloud Atlas readalong.

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I’d like to thank all of you who have read my ramblings and my opinions, and who have taken the time to comment, as well!

And now, after much pondering, I’ve come up with a list of my favourite-favourite books of everything I read in 2012! If there’s one thing going through this list has taught me, I’m a little bit lax in reviewing books I love. I tend to put them aside, bathing in their glow and planning on writing nice things about them, and then moving on. So, if ever there was a book-related resolution for me, it’s this: write the glowing five-star reviews just as often as I write the more critical reviews!

In chronological reading order, my favourites of 2012 are:

Continue reading “Saturday Sundries: My favourite books of 2012”

book review

Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be solved by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Mr. Penumbra's

 “He paused, then added, ‘Some of them are working very hard indeed.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘My boy!’ he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: ‘They are reading.'”

 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be figured out by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and, much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Clay Jannon is something of a slacker. After losing his first job out of graphic design school due to recession woes, he’s spending a lot of time on the couch, unemployed, ignoring the budding romance between his roommates. He’s waiting for something to happen, an amiable, aimless guy who is meandering through life. As he wanders the streets of San Francisco  he finds an extraordinary bookstore: open 24 hours a day, Mr. Penumbra’s is a store with “regular” books up front and strange tomes shelved way up into the storeys-high rafters. And he’s looking to hire. Clay applies and lands the job as the sole night clerk, mainly because he tells Mr. Penumbra that the books that have most influenced him are the (fictional) Dragon-Song Chronicles. Right answer, evidently. He begins work, and is tasked with the odd assignment of recording as much personal detail as possible about everyone who enters the store—and strangest of all, he is forbidden from reading any of the books. So of course, at the urging of old friends and his new love interest, Kat Potente (who has a giant brain and boundless energy, and works for Google), Clay opens the books and discover that they’re encoded.

Continue reading “Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan”

book review

The haggis did it: a review of Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

Murder doesn’t take a holiday in C.C. Benison’s Father Christmas Mysteries. In Eleven Pipers Piping, the second in his new series, Father Tom Christmas just can’t seem to find the “quiet” part of a quiet country life.
Tom, a widowed vicar, is still settling into Thornford Regis, his home for the past ten months. He’s moved himself and his young daughter Miranda to the tiny village in the wake of his wife’s unsolved murder in order to get them away from violence.

Eleven Pipers Piping

 “Dear Mum,
Something dreadful has happened—much, MUCH worse than my troubles with the Yorkshire pudding.”

 Eleven Pipers Piping, C.C. Benison 

Murder doesn’t take a holiday in C.C. Benison’s Father Christmas Mysteries. In Eleven Pipers Piping, the second in his new series, Father Tom Christmas just can’t seem to find the “quiet” part of a quiet country life.

Tom, a widowed vicar, is still settling into Thornford Regis, his home for the past ten months. He’s moved himself and his young daughter Miranda to the tiny village in the wake of his wife’s unsolved murder in order to get them away from violence. But death seems to find them. In the first installment, Twelve Drummers Drumming, a young woman was found dead and stuffed inside a Japanese taiko drum. This time around, Father Tom has been asked to officiate at the annual Robbie Burns’ Night dinner.

And he’s not terribly pleased about it. While he doesn’t want to alienate any of the influential townsfolk, he also really, really hates haggis and bagpipe music. Still, off he goes, only to be snowed in with half of the titular pipe band, the family who owns the inn, and a mysterious stranger (of course!). But all does not end well for this particular feast, for Will Moir, the hotel’s proprietor and member of the pipe band, turns up in his tower study dead—poisoned, to be specific.

Continue reading “The haggis did it: a review of Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison”