Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seeing hexigons for the holidays. . .

I've found my new craft project for the holidays and it's this knit and fabric afghan pictured on the cover of Erika Knight's Classic Knits at Home. I should preface this by saying I'm not a very good knitter; a simple scarf is the most complicated thing I've ever attempted. But I do like to quilt (which just takes forever) and I was immediately intrigued by the look and multiple textures of this cozy throw. It may not be clear in the photograph, but it's actually constructed with hexigons that alternate between six different knitted patterns and ones cut out of men's wear fabrics. Now knitting patterns usually terrify me - yes, I can do a basic knit or purl, but counting stitches or rows, increasing, decreasing, trying to keep track of where I am in the pattern - it's all very stressful. However, I had a bit of wool left over from a previous project and so I thought I'd try one of the simpler hexigons. And lo and behold, it actually worked out. I've now tried three of the six patterns and I am hooked. The secret for me is to write out the pattern of every single row on a cue card and then cross it off when I've completed it. I'm doing mine in different colours - using light gray, a darker charcoaly gray-purple, creamy white and then a pale yellow. I'll go shopping for some fabric with browner tones than the bluey-gray used up above once I've knitted up all the hexigons. Other projects in this book include floor pillows, a rug, a yoga mat and planter covers, and honestly, if I can follow the instructions, anyone can. Here's some of what I've done so far.

Happy holidays to all. Keep warm. Keep reading.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For book lovers. . .

I blogged awhile ago about two biographies that were trying to get at their subjects (Oscar Wilde and Adolf Hitler) through a perusal of their libraries. Now Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers (if you haven't yet read Hotel Room or The Accidental, well, you know what you can ask Santa for. . .), gives us a personal glimpse into her's. The Book Lover is a new anthology of writing that has been an major influence either on her writing or her life, and it's packed with terrific stuff from well-known writers like Atwood or Plath, to some surprising inclusions such as Billie Holliday. This is a fun idea and a great collection to browse through and be inspired by. A great gift for your bookish friends who already seem to have read everything.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Librarian's Picks Part Eight. . .

In the last of our series, we're happy to welcome back a former Dewey Diva and founding member of our little group, Maureen Johnson, now manager of the Westdale Branch of Hamilton Public Library. Thanks to everyone who contributed - these lists have been a lot of fun to read and have certainly inspired some gift ideas and added several books to my must read list. Here are Maureen's favourite reads of 2008:

While in Edinburgh this spring, I wandered into Waterstone's and lingered over the Local Authors section. I must have been in a fairly dark mood as I chose two books that examine the power of evil. The Cone Gatherers: A Haunting Story of Violence and Love by Robin Jenkins is set during the Second World War and is based on Jenkins' own experience as a conscientious objector working in the forests of Argyll. Two brothers, Calum and Nell, are cone gatherers, moving through the large estates of Scotland gathering seeds to preserve and maintain the forests. Their simple life together provides stark contrast to the life at the estate house. The brothers' light and warmth is threatened by the madness and obsession of Duror, the gameskeeper. This is an obsessive read where the outcome is foreshadowed and inevitable but the reader cannot look away. Jenkins (1912-2005) also wrote The Changeling, Happy for the Child and Guests of War.

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson tells the story of a Presbyterian minister with no faith in God. The story is presented as a manuscript, mused over by a publisher and fact-checked by an investigator. Gideon has very little issue with his lapsed faith until he tumbles into a ravine called the Black Jaws. Believed dead, he resurfaces three days later with an alarming tale. He has spent the last three days in the company of the devil. Shunned by church, town and friends, Gideon must deal with his disturbing new reality.

And while in London at yet another Waterstones, I finally picked up Barbara Pym: Excellent Women and Jane and Prudence. High comedy is set amongst the churchyards, jumble sales and rose madder of 1950's Britain. Pym plumbs the domestic with a penetrating eye. Her characters make the reader squirm with self-recognition. This is delicious fiction. If you like EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia series or Cold Comfort Farm, read Pym.

And then read Mary Wesley. (Insert Maylin's excited endorsement - yes, yes, yes!) Wesley came to writing later in life, writing her first book at the age of seventy. Her style has been described as arsenic without the old lace. Filled with irony, compassion, honesty and sexuality, The Camomile Lawn has an unvarnished vitality that fairly leaps off the page. Wesley follows the lives of 3 families through the Second World War, setting up, and, in turn, satisfying and spoiling reader's expectations. Wesley's own, rather unconventional life, no doubt provided fodder. Which is why I am so looking forward to reading Wild Mary by Patrick Marnham. Wesley cooperated with her biographer asking that nothing be published before her death. Her son, Tony Eady, upon reading his mother's story, didn't speak to anyone for a week. Bravo Mary. (Wild Mary is a Diva Pick - thanks Maylin, I'm finally catching up with those lists!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008: A Librarian's Picks Part Seven. . .

Today's list comes from Heather Brydon, a librarian at a public library in Beaconsfield, Quebec which is just outside of Montreal. I spent my early childhood in Beaconsfield and Heather works at the very branch where I got my first library card. Here are her favourite reads of 2008:

1. Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I put this on any and every list; I read it when I'm having a bad day and it always makes everything better.

2. Run by Ann Patchett. I had read Bel Canto years agao and loved it, so snapped this one up as soon as it came out. I could not put it down; it's amazing that an author can write a whole book that covers a mere 24 hours!
3. When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson. I have devoured all of her other books about Jackson Brodie and this was no exception. I love the way her stories are interwoven threads and keep you guessing even after you finish the book.

4 - Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. A beautiful, touching but not cheesy, Christmas story, and a a wonderful gift for older children or anyone with children. It's now been translated into French, and they did a great job.

5 - Scaredy Squirrel At the Beach by Melanie Watt. He is the funniest, most obsessive-compulsive character currently in children's books! And just as funny in French.

6 - Careless in Red by Elizabeth George. More of the fantatstic Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, that always leaves you wanting even more.

7 - Dingo by Chrles DeLint. A great YA read. He's one of my favourite authors and does as good a job writing for younger audiences that with the rest of his more adult titles.

8 - The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I never read non-fiction. I fall asleep over it, but this kept me turning pages furiously. Informative without being overly didactic and a real-opener about China and its history.

9 - Sailing to Sarantium (Part I of the Sarantine Mosaic) by Guy Gavriel Kay. Magical and belivable and heart-wrenching and utterly fantastic.

10 - The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo. The thing I liked the most about this book were the last few pages...

Best Movie, Best Book?. . .

The Golden Globe nominations were announced today and what is interesting about the Best Movie category is that all five films are based on literature (as opposed to an original screenplay).
You can read the full list of nominiations here. (The nominees for Best Actress are particularly terrific - go Kate Winslet!). Here are the contenders for Best Movie (and links to the books they were based on)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Frost/Nixon based on the play by Peter Morgan
The Reader based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink
Revolutionary Road based on the novel by Richard Yates
Slumdog Millionaire based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup (you'll see the book also under the title Slumdog Millionaire).

I'm sure you know someone who will love this book, honestly. . .

Rosalyn and I had a good laugh about this book when it was still only a catalogue page, but I really love this book - Beautiful Sheep, by Kathryn Dun with photography by Paul Farnham. Granted, it's not for everyone, but I go on a lot of walking holidays and on them I see a lot of sheep, and now I will be able to distinguish between a Bluefaced Leicester and a Greyface Dartmoor and tell the difference between a Kerry Hill, a Hill Radnor and a Rough Fell. I also happen to believe that sheep have the most expressive faces and maybe rumours of their apparent stupidity are grossly exaggerated. Read Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann if you don't believe me. To me, sheep always seem to be laid back and smiling at you; they are the zen creatures of the animal kingdom. In Beautiful Sheep, an example of each breed is carefully groomed for their close-up and photographed against a professional backdrop. Opposite their glam photo is some useful information about their uses, the geographical location where they are found and some key features. It's heartening to know, for example that the British Bleu du Maine lambs, "have a strong desire to live". Sadly, they also have "good carcass qualities". Oh, I do love lamb so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Librarians' Picks, Part Six. . .

Today we have a fun list focusing on kids titles, courtesy of the vampire loving Sharpe family in Chatham. Tania is a librarian in the Chatham-Kent Public Library system and her husband Stan is a high school librarian in Southwestern Ontario. Recommendations also come from 13 year old Simon and ten year old Stewart. Here are their favourite reads of 2008:

All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall
13 year old Josh has to spend time with his father, he’s not particularly happy about it and becomes less so when he is greeted at the airport by his father, dressed as an Elvis impersonator. A terrific novel for young teen and tween boys.

The Book Thief by Marc Zusak
Stan recommends this title because it is set in Nazi Germany, there are several storylines and because it gives teenagers perspective on the war from the German side.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
A historical fiction story set in Poland during the Second World War. An unusual twist to this story as it is told from the perspective of a child who doesn’t understand what is happening in the world around him. Highly recommend by both Stan and Simon.

The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman
A recommendation from Simon. According to him there is lots of action and interesting details about gangs and crime.

Marked by P.C. Cast
For those who have finished the Twilight series and are searching for another vampire storyline. This is a little edgier and perhaps a tad more realistic than the Stephanie Myers series. Recommended for older teens looking for more paranormal stories.

Sir Fartsalot Hunts a Booger by Kevin Bolger
Stewart highly recommends this story. It has lots of humour with very funny characters. The cover is very neat with a three D effect. Recommended for parents who have children who are less than enthusiastic readers.

The Summoning: Book 1 Darkest Powers Series by Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong is a Southern Ontario writer who has just branched into young adult books. If you enjoy stories with paranormal storylines this is highly recommended.

Sweet Far Thing: Book 3 by Libba Bray
This is the concluding book in the series. Here we learn what will become of Gemma Doyle her friends and the Order.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
Do I really need to say anything other than I love Vampire and paranormal stories. A very romantic story with exciting twists and turns.

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen
As a self professed scrabble addict I couldn’t resist the storyline! Ambrose is an odd duck who is home schooled by his mother Irene. In the evenings, with the help of the landlord's son, he travels to a weekly Scrabble Club. It is at this club that Ambrose is accepted for who and what he is.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Librarian's Picks Part Five. . .

Today's Top Ten List comes from Marcia Aronson, the Manager of Adult & Readers' Advisory Services at the Ottawa Public Library. Marcia works with a lot of book clubs and is always putting together great recommended reading lists. You can find some great book club resources at the library's website here including staff picks specifically for book clubs.

Marcia Aronson's Favourite Reads of 2008:

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
City of Thieves by David Benioff
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Last night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows
Breath by Tim Winton
Lottery by Patricia Wood

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fables Coming to A Small Screen Near You!

It was announced today in the Hollywood Reporter that ABC is bringing one of my favourite graphic novel series to the small screen- Fables, created by Bill Willingham and published by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint.

The series features characters from common fairy tales who are living in exile in a high-rise building in New York City, having fled their homelands in the face of an invasion by the mysterious Adversary. It should make for an interesting TV show (if done right), as these aren't the traditional tales and characters that you grew up with. In the first book Deputy Mayor Snow White teams up with Fabletown's security chief Bigby Wolf (a reformed Big Bad Wolf), who is investigating the apparent murder of Snow's sister, party-girl Rose Red. Is the killer Red's current boyfriend Jack (of beanstalk fame) or her ex, the notorious wife-killer Bluebeard? Through the investigation you get to meet Snow's ex, Prince Charming, who is broke and auctioning off his crown to the highest bidder, King Cole who is the mayor, Beauty and her Prince who are in trouble with the law and many more character's you'll recognize. Told with humour these books are a lot of fun. They are suitable for older teens as there are adult situations, language and violence.

I can't wait to see the pilot for the show!

Favourite Reads of 2008 - The Librarian's Pick Part Four. . .

Back to Calgary we go. Today's list comes from Sarah Jones, the Customer Services Manager at the Central Branch of Calgary Public Library.

My top ten reads for 2008:

Exit Music by Ian Rankin
I don’t know what I’m going to do without Rebus, but I did enjoy this final installment in the series. When I end up in Scotland – my first stop will be at the Oxford Bar to honour this character who feels like a slightly flawed old friend.

Still Life by Louise Penny
A cozy mystery set in a small town that I didn’t want to leave – so I immediately put the other two books on hold.

Contrary Infatuations by Dymphny Dronyk
One of the annual Quartet launch by Frontenac House, a book of poetry that evokes the plains of Alberta where farmers and oil companies face off over land.

The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
A wonderful collection of 40 vignettes of people who are changed by the freezing of the Thames over the centuries.

The Outlander by Gil Adamson
Set in the early 1900’s, a young woman flees through the mountains and the forest, and ends up in the town of Frank, right before the slide. Great!

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The queen becomes obsessed with reading and doesn’t want to do anything else. My favourite part is when she tours Canada and her books get lost, only to become a display in the library in Calgary! Very funny.

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
The zaniness of this road trip really resonated with me, and I loved Thebes, the precocious young girl who is trying to keep it all together.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
I love anything set in Scotland, particularly if it includes a bit of history. I couldn’t
put this book down.

Turtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
Set in the Okanagan during the summer when forest fires threatened, I loved the way the fire moved the story along and almost became another character in the novel.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrow
I love letters, and the people in these make the story – they seem like your next door neighbours, both wonderful and slightly nutty.

I’m the Customer Service Manager of the 4th Floor of the Central Library at Calgary Public Library. The 4th Floor holds Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Graphic Novels, History, Literature, Travel, Local History, and Genealogy – so I’ve got the best of the library (in my humble opinion…) I’m a passionate reader and my favourite place to read is in my big leather chair, with my cat on my lap and a glass of wine beside me. Here’s hoping you can spend time this holiday season doing the same - Sarah Jones.

Nobel Lecture available online. . .

J.M.G. Le Clézio gave his Nobel Lecture over the weekend and you can read it in full here (thanks to the Literary Saloon for the link). It's well worth printing out, reading it in full, and passing it on to hungry readers everywhere. Le Clézio extols the virtues and the absolute need for reading, and calls upon readers - and publishers in particular - to keep global culture alive by publishing literature in translation and making it as accessible and as affordable to as many people as they can. Of course libraries play an enormous role in this.

Le Clézio's work is slowly being made available in English. This week, Simon and Schuster will be re-issuing his 1964 novel The Interrogration.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Best Translated Fiction of 2008. . .

The long-list for the Best Translated Book of 2008 has just been announced. The judges are not only looking for the best translation but also the best translated book, so this is a great recommended reading list if you are looking to branch out and tackle some international literature. Make it your new year's resolution! The full list of nominees is here and it's a terrific one. I'm thrilled to see Victor Serge's Unforgiving Years and Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl on the list as both were Dewey favourites of mine this year. A shortlist of 10 titles will be announced on January 27th and the winner on February 19th.

Posy Simmonds drew a winner. . .

Hooray! Posy Simmonds has won France's prestigous Le Grand Prix 2009 for her graphic novel Tamara Drewe. You can read about in French here. The graphic novel or bande dessinée has always been huge in France so this is a terrific honour - she was picked as the winner out of 3,500 entries. The book is a loose retelling of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd with lots of fun literary jokes thrown in. Suitable for young adults as well, although there is some sex. You can read my review here.

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Library Wholesaler's Picks Part Two. . .

Today's lists come from Ron Stadnik, the adult Collection Development Specialist at Library Bound Inc. An avid reader, he was unable to narrow the choice down to just 10 (believe me, we all understand, Ron) and so here is his list of top 10 fiction reads and top 10 non-fiction reads of 2008.

Ron Stadnik's Picks:
These are all books that I raved and ranted and pleaded with others to read, books that in some way shook or tore the fabric of time itself for me, transporting me through time and space to other places past and present. All of the non-fiction books transcend their subject matter, which is to say that you needn't climb mountains, listen to country music, be a runner, surf or have an interest in the Dominican Republic or read "spiritual" books to enjoy them.

Fiction Picks:

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
The Other by David Guterson
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The English Major by Jim Harrison
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Life at these Speeds by Jeremy Jackson
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
Swan Peak by James Lee Burke
Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson
(Young Adult)
King of Lies by John Hart

Non-fiction Picks:

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Into Thick Air by Jim Malusa
Dead Man in Paradise by J.B. MacKinnon
Fatal Tide by David Leach
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Warrior Girls by Michael Sokolove
Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death and Country Music by Dana Jennings

Reluctant Genius by Charlotte Gray
On a Wave: a Surfer Boyhood by Thad Ziolkowski

High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an age of Greed by Michael Kodas

"The book guy" at Library Bound for 15 years, Ron Stadnik does Bestseller List selections, manages print ARPs, and can often be found harassing Dewey Divas for Advance Reading Copies.