July 28, 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A friend was quizzing me recently for a great book to take with her on vacation. She wanted a big satisfying novel, something she could really sink her teeth into. Something literary, a page turner, maybe something suspensful but not a traditional mystery. Something she and her husband could both enjoy. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is just the book for my friend and anyone else looking for a truly captivating story.

Set in a small country town in England, just post WWII, in an era that saw many of the local gentry unable to keep up their pre-war lifestyle, the story revolves around the estate Hundreds Hall and the Ayres family who are desperately trying to hold onto the family heritage. The story is told by Dr. Faraday, the local physician who becomes more and more involved with the strange goings on in the crumbling house. Who is the little stranger? I've had a number of stimulating discussions with others who have enjoyed the book as much as I have and now can hardly wait to have a nice cup of tea and another good chat with my friend when she comes back from her holiday! - Nina

Read an extract here.

July 15, 2010

The Bride's Farewell

I find stories such Keturah and the Lord of Death the best kind of escapism and was delighted to be transported once again by The Bride's Farewell, a completely enchanting tale of love found, lost and found again by Meg Rosoff. Set in the mid 1800s, in a small English village, I made friends with Pell, a young woman on the eve of her marriage, stealing away under the cover of darkness with only a soft woolen shawl intended as a wedding gift and her beloved horse Jack. At the last moment, Bean, her young brother, won't be left behind and off they go into the great unknown with the confidence that the world down the road is better than the one they are leaving.  The path of life is a twisty one however and Pell has her share of heartaches as well as triumphs. The beauty of the language, the purity of a friendship with a horse and the perseverance of one girl, alone against the world, makes for a gripping tale of determination and the love of family. So satisfying! - Nina

As exhilarating as a ride across the moors, Rosoff’s fourth novel is rich in the emotional landscape of the untamed female heart. The Bride’s Farewell has elements of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and a good number of Flambards books, yet Rosoff’s vivid, pared-down style brings it closer to a kind of western… every sentence is crafted and weighted with beauty, but it’s the intelligence and shaping sensibility with which the story is told that make it something special.
—The Times (London)
Read an extract here.
Enjoy Shelf Elf's review with a video of Meg talking about the book.
The Guardian's video of Meg Rosoff reading The Bride's Farewell

July 11, 2010

Acquainted with the Night

Do you remember the freedom of summer, that last day of school and the endless summer days stretching before you? With each young customer that popped into the store last week I had a little memory burst. As they piled their books on the counter it reminded me of the books I read on those hot sultry evenings lying on the old camp cot on the porch.

Summer was the time I reread my favourites and still do. Tonight after everyone has left the cottage I will sit on the porch surrounded by books, dip into poetry collections, gaze into my art books and flip through books about Scotland.  Then when it is dark and quiet and with only the stars and fireflies lighting the night, I will slide the kayak into the cool water and drift as I gaze at the night sky.

Finally, when the night has wrapped itself around me, I will head to shore, walk along the stepping stones that still hold the sun's heat, and climb into bed with Christopher Dewdney's Acquainted with the Night.

Acquainted with the Night is an hour-by hour journey throught the darkness. Dewdney explores all aspects of the night through science, mythology, poetry, psychology, history and the literature we associate with the night. This is a book to first read from start to finish and then dip into again and again. - Cath

July 3, 2010

On My Bookshelf: Keturah and Lord Death

Seeing Keturah & Lord Death on my bookshelf brings back the memory of a summer evening. I had spotted a stag grazing in the raspberry patch. I moved closer, he stopped and checked my approach. I asked him if he was the Great Stag that Keturah followed into the woods. Ignoring me he went back to to his grazing. I tried a few more steps, but he raised his head with his beautiful antlers and gazed at me. His eyes asked me to follow, then he bounded through the underbrush into the woods. I did follow until the mosquitoes forced me back to the cottage. I consoled myself that night by rereading that wonderful book by Martine Leavitt. Her description of the Great Stag is a wee bit different from mine -
I was picking new peas in our garden, which is bordered by the forest, when the famed hart, the hart that had eluded Lord Temsland and his finest hunters many times, the hart about which I had told many a story, came to nibble on our lettuces. I saw that he was a sixth-year hart at least, and I would have run at the sight of his antlers, spread like a young tree, had I not been entranced by his beauty. He raised his head, and for a long moment he looked upon me as if I had stumble upon him in his own domain, so proud he was, and so royal. At last he slowly turned and walked back into the forest.
I meant only to peek into the trees to see more of him. I thought only to follow the pig path a little way into the forest in hopes that I might have a new story to tell of him at the common fire. I thought I saw him between the trees, and then I did not, and after a good long while I turned about and realized I was lost in the wood. 
[Thanks to Dave Skilling for the photo of one of my borrowed copies of Keturah and Lord Death that landed on Quadra Island]

Read a review from the Bookshelves of Doom
Keturah -- beautiful, sixteen, the village storyteller -- follows a hart into the forest and quickly loses her way. After three days, she is exhausted and starving. She know that death can't be far away.
But when he finally comes for her, she finds that Death is a young man -- melancholy and brooding, lonely and not without compassion. Keturah tells him a story, and they strike a bargain: He will allow her to live one more day. If, in that time, she hasn't found and married her One True Love, she will return to him, finish her story, and become his Queen.
Keturah becomes a Scheherezade of sorts, spinning out her story and escaping Lord Death again and again, But her fellow villagers are aware of her new acquaintance. The relationship terrifies them. Rumors fly.
And a plague is coming.  
Read the rest of the review here.

"A blend of folktale, myth and romance, the book's thought-provoking conclusion is perfect for adolescent pondering."
-- The Toronto Star

"Leavitt's novel is an unusual blend of folktale, myth, and romance, and its unexpected conclusion is thought-provoking. And while the prose is sometimes overly ponderous ('and my heart smote me'), more often it is lucid and arresting."
-- Horn Book