Friday, June 22, 2007

Once Upon a Time Challenge, completed

I wish I could remember exactly how I found the Stainless Steel Droppings site (BlogHer, maybe?). Carl's work there sucked me in, and before I knew it, I was signing on to read 5 books in less than 3 months. At least, that's all I thought it would entail. To read and review that many books was not the hardest part of the challenge, it was keeping up with all the extra (and very special) activities.

If I am remembering correctly, one of the first contests was to visit and comment on all the other participating blogs. It took me a while, and I found myself adding several to my daily read lists. Then I started reading the posts on the review site, and I started adding books to my wish list. Carl's book prOn posts didn't help, either. Have I mentioned the poppets? I need poppets now. Blue ones.

Thanks, Carl.

ETA: here's a list of questions I've ganked from "carrie_k", which, when I answer them, will should wrap this up with a little more detail...

What was the best book you read for this challenge ?


What book could you have done without?


Did you try out a new author this spring? If so, which one, and will you be reading that author again?


If there were books you didn't finish, tell us why. Did you run out of time? Realize those books weren't worth it? Did you come across a book or two on other participants' lists that you're planning to add to your own to-be-read pile? Which ones?


What did you learn -- about anything -- through this challenge? What was the best part of the Once Upon a Time challenge? Would you be interested in participating in another reading challenge this fall?


Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare

In my hands is a copy of MND, a Signet Classic published in the early 60's. This won't be my first read, nor will it be the first time I've read this story on Midsummer Night. Off I go to snuggle into my comfy chair to finish this before the midnight hour, and post to the review site to mark the time.

finished reading--11:56 pm
review/commentary to follow

Silver Birch, Blood Moon, by eds. Datlow and Windling

This fairy tale collection is the fourth in this series; all stories are modern versions of the tales we grew up with (Disneyfied or not). Many of the authors included within have reached back to lesser-known originals to tell their tale. The editors define this subgenre of fantasy as "tales about mortal men and women in a world invested [or infested, depending on your viewpoint] with magic." They go on to bemoan "the great loss to our mythic, cultural, and literary heritage that we've allowed such tales, passed on for centuries, to be turned into sweet, simplistic pap [or, IMHO, something else that rhymes with it]." Gwen Straus's take on the appeal of ancient tales to modern writers is also quoted (in the introduction): "...each [primary] character is compelled to turn inward. Though each confronts different issues--fear of love, shame, grief, jealousy, lonliness, joy--they have in common a time of solitude. They are enclosed within a private crisis... and are given a choice to change."

All three of the above concepts define the reasons I read (and write about) fiction, and why, when given a choice, I gravitate towards the fastastical and mysterious. Perhaps it is a mental failing on my part, but I seem to need the trigger of stories to work various things out in my head. Yes, I admit to being a freak of nature who retreats to a world of bound and inked paper while many others in the world are content to listen to/watch others yammer about the problem-of-the-week.

[no offense is meant to those who prefer to purge entertain their brain cells with the Big One-Eyed Demon]

It was difficult to choose a small number of favorites, but these are what rose to the top of my list...


--Carabosse (poem by Delia Sherman): Sleeping Beauty is “cursed” with a choice “... a spell that would sort her suitors... for a man that would be her mate, Not her master.” Scandalous.

--Wild Heart (Anne Bishop): Another version of Sleeping Beauty, this time with a different take on what makes a woman whole. “Nothing hobbles a good story as much as the truth.”

Other good stories

--Precious (Nalo Hopkinson): A girl “blessed” with the ability to create jewels and flowers with speech escapes from the inevitable downside. “Sometimes I wonder wheter that old woman wasn’t having a cruel game with both of us.” “I am not your treasure trove, and I will not run anymore, and I shall be nice if and when it pleases me.”

--Sea Hag (Melissa Lee Shaw): Who is the Sea Hag to the mermaids, really?

--Frog Chauffeur (Garry Kilworth): Frog Prince meets the science of genetics.

--Arabian Phoenix (India Edghill): A modern Scheherazade escapes a life under fundamentalism and gets the opportunity to change the future of her country.

--Skin So Green and Fine (Wendy Wheeler): Beauty and the Beast, voudoun version.

--Locks (Neil Gaiman): A poem about a father telling the “Goldilocks” story to/with his daughter.
“...we make our own mistakes...
It is our right. It is our madness and our glory...
We owe it to each other to tell stories.”

The recommended reading list at the back is a very good source for other collections, non-fiction, and fiction inspired by fairy tales, definitely enough to keep the dedicated reader going for a few years [I’ve read 3, and own 10 others].

Next in the series: Black Heart, Ivory Bones

Other Datlow/Windling collaborations:
Salon Fantastique
Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers
The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm
The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest.

Greenmantle, by Charles de Lint

Up until this point, I'd read only one of de Lint's books (Forests of the Heart), even though I've been collecting what titles I can find at used book stores. Now that I've finished, I'm not sure what to do first: kick myself for not reading this (and the rest) sooner, or vow a one-de Lint-per-month-read-until-I'm-out-of-material promise to the Universe (in a sacred circle, natch *wink*). So, the point... not only is the book good, it was good for me.

*takes hit off imaginary cigarette*

I was reading someone else's review (posted on, and they'd mentioned someone else's suggestion that de Lint's stories really don't belong in the fantasy genre because of the urban setting.


I must certainly disagree with this (unfortunately undocumented--by me) assertion. Was that person trying to say that the Fae, the Gods, etc. don't exist everywhere? That "man" is so strong (or so willfully clueless) that they've been corralled into our shrinking open spaces? I posit that this belief is wrong, IMHO.

The protagonists of this story are each (and separately) taking advantage of a "do-over" from the universe. Their projects meld as two subplots collide: Diety/Nature reaches out to the mundanes in order to live, and Greed/False Honor pursues and torments said mundanes in order to add a few notches to their Boom-Stick cases. This conflict reminded me of discussions I've had regarding "power within" versus "power over." Big difference in dynamic, big difference in outcome.

Another thread in the story (that I found to be inspirational)--equally important to the one described above--was that of Ali's developing views of the world in regards to spirituality. While Ali's mother and the neighbor/potential love interest struggle with those who would take their resources (and lives), Ali wrestles with two interpretations of Diety that would have her mind and soul.

Now isn't all this scads more interesting than stories about blowing things up (actually, this story has some of that), racking up debt with new purses and shoes, or vampire hunters? [wait, I like that last one] There's much, much more depth to the story than what I've written here; but it's the sort of tale that speaks so personally to the (listening) reader, I can't do it justice. Suffice to say, I'll be reading many more de Lint books.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett

Our Canon book group decided to tackle a classic in the mystery genre for this month; we went with the "American hardboiled" style this time. I'm hoping we can read and discuss a title of its overseas cousin (the English cozy). This particular story is a fix-up (of several previously-published shorts) that Hammett collected and changed to make a smooth and fast-paced narrative for his novel (it's less than 200 pages, far smaller than most of today's standard paperbacks), published in 1929. I split this read into 3 short sittings (more by necessity than design), and only had a little trouble keeping the characters and their connections straight in my head. [A factor of age? dunno]

Hammett drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton agent for the narrator/character Continental Op and for the setting Person/Poisonville. The author does a good job of portraying the end of an era while including the experiences of both the power brokers and of the more common folk. I also found it interesting to read about Prohibition-era America and its accompanying batch of "criminals" who made their money from dealing alcohol.

This book reminded me of a much older genre--the Greek tragedy--in the sense that nearly everyone winds up dead by the end. Continental Op manipulated people and events to the overall but secondary goal, even though it put him at risk of having to ditch his identity or perhaps die. It certainly begs the question of whether the reader can consider C.O. to be on the side of "good." It seems to me that he's just as corrupt as the people he takes down. My bet is on the possibility that this was Hammett's point exactly. It must have seemed (back then) that the world was truly falling apart, that individuals could only live and act for themselves, and that there was no longer any real good in the world. Hammett captured that mood splendidly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

In Memoriam, Persephone 1994-2007

I suppose I’ve been off-planet long enough; here’s my attempt to make sense of the last few weeks...

My Dearest Beloved Grrl

died in my arms on 5/15, 13 days shy of her 13th birthday. The story of how I found her, and her last hours, aren’t pretty. I’ve told a few people, but I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to see it in “print.”

Deep down, I’d known that she’d been making the transition, but her journey to the Summerlands (where there are no fleas, fireworks, or thunderstorms, yet chaseable bunnies and fresh deer legs are plentiful) still hit me hard. I also know that I could have easily lost her to breast cancer in 2001, so these past 6 years have, technically, been bonus time. I wish they’d been better for her. Let me explain...

When I first took Persephone home, we (the ex-sociopath and I) had no fencing at our rental. At first, our restraint system was chains. We tried an electric fence (with the zap collars), but she broke “through” it more times than my sanity could handle. So, we contrived an overhead run which gave her some room to, well, run. The relationship fell through, and I made my way out here, with herself riding shotgun (I’d made a nest on the floor, but she insisted on watching the road). Our first week here, I boarded her at a vet’s; when I’d found an affordable apartment, the best yard I could offer her was a 12’x6’ patio. At least she was off the tether, and we walked the neighborhood every weekday, and one park or another on the weekends. We saw our first fireflies together on the Town Lake trails.

The next few residences had adequate backyards--one with grass and another dog to play with, another with wild onions in lieu of a lawn, another that was rocky, but on a hill (excellent for surveillance, or so she told me), and the one before our current residence (Browncoat Acres), which had grass and a concrete slab to dig under--in theory, anyway. Hopefully, I have made the point that I was almost never happy with her living arrangements. I wanted her to be unfettered, to have shade and sun and grass at will, and to have space in which to gallop, like she used to do on the beach in her puppyhood. Can’t go back again, indeed.

We moved into this house over the 4th of July weekend in 2003. I remember being adamant that she be out of Austin and away from Nemesis#2. Finally, I’d found her a home where she was free to explore off-leash, switch locations at will, and make her own favorite spots. Within a few years, however, she became incontinent, and we weren’t able to treat it adequately. Her favorite spot was on the front porch, in front of the door ("take a hint, Mom"), so she was eventually confined to a run (cobbled together from cattle panels) in the backyard, which essentially put her back to where we’d started. The difference this time was in my ability to exercise her--I was pregnant with my son. At one point, I was nearly put on bed rest, and soon after that I was big enough to be uncomfortable exerting myself in the summer heat--two of our chickens exist purely because I didn’t set foot in the backyard to collect eggs for the 3 weeks prior to giving birth.

Could I make this story longer? I know I can’t justify or excuse the attentional neglect. I feel horrible for allowing myself to be coerced into banishing her from our home--I wanted her inside more often, I wanted her to be more comfortable in her later years, and I didn’t make it happen. I know (in my head) that I should focus on all the wonderful times we’ve had over the years and quit wasting energy on guilt-tripping.

Persephone had a wonderful smile.
She was beautiful.
She’d throw herself *wham* onto her back for a belly rub.
She’d also stick her butt up in the air to have it spanked--I swear she did not learn that from me.
I could feed her biscuits from my mouth.
She loved children, especially those with special needs.
She was so hurt when DH took her baby rabbit away.
Watching her take off down the beach, ears back, paws churning, made my heart sing.
She hated to swim, but did it for me anyway (what trust! what love!).
She was my best friend for nearly 13 years--that is the longest non-blood-family relationship I’ve had.
She loved to go camping; if it rained, I’d bring her into the tent with me.
She bore our rings at our handfasting.
She tolerated Anthony’s attempts at petting with grace.
She held her own when Boudreaux was in the mood to wrestle.
She behaved well in Circle.
She was the first of our animals to greet Anthony when we brought him home.
She’d howl at fire engine sirens, and at me if I sang “Blue” to her.
Of course she had a middle name: Ann.
She was always, always happy, nay, thrilled to see me.

I miss:
our walks down to the gate to get the mail
sleeping back-to-back with her
her kisses
the wag of her tail
her prance and bounce as I’d come near
her howl, and her “roo-roo-roo”
her sweet face
her deep brown eyes
playing tag, spins and play-bows included
the churn of her leg (sometimes two) as I scratched her belly
her, just her.

As far as the practical aftermath goes, her body is currently in our upright freezer (yes, it is almost impossible for me to go in there ). Neighbors run a business for which they own a backhoe; they will be coming over in the next few weeks to dig her grave (next to Kimmy’s), and I think DH will be building her coffin (if not, I have some phone calls to make). I’m considering a simple funeral, but I’m not sure what form it would take. I can’t find my copy of “I’ll Always Love You,” and it’s bothering me.

So, while I haven’t been dwelling specifically on losing Persephone, I’ve been in a self-absorbed funk. I’ve been reading, but not writing; the writing has got to get underway soon, or I will lose the best parts of my reviews to brainfade.

That said, I owe reviews for:
Greenmantle (for OUAT Challenge)
Good Kids, Bad Habits, and Dangerous Book for Boys (for BlogHer Virtual Book Tour)
Just a Geek (for NonFiction Challenge)
Irene at Large, Happiest Toddler on the Block, and A Life's Work (for Recorded Books)