June 30, 2008

Trip Notes (III and final)

Coming home from vacation is nicer when you come home to this (click to embiggen):

Here's the breakdown:


  • Letters to Karen, by Charlie W. Shedd

  • Letters to Philip, by Charlie W. Shedd

  • Priceless Weddings for under $5000, by Kathleen Kennedy

Sent from Phenix & Phenix:

  • Runaway, by Steve Simpson

  • Castaway Kid, by R. B. Mitchell

  • Genuine Men, by Nancy Bruno

  • The Last Plague, by Glen E. Page

  • It Starts with You!, by Julia J. Austin

Sent from Bloomsbury Press:

  • The Power Makers, by Maury Klein

Bought from Thrift Store:

  • London, by Edward Rutherfurd

  • My Antonia, by Willa Cather

  • The Best American Mystery Stories 2000, ed. by Donald E. Westlake

From my Grandmother:

  • The Living Planet, by David Attenborough

  • Great Canadian Short Stories, ed. by Alec Lucas (not pictured)

That's fourteen lovely new books to (re/)read. Woohoo!

June 29, 2008

I'm a Loser

I really am! I lose things all the time.

For example, a few months ago I went to my friend N's birthday dinner party. I managed to fit everything I needed -- present, card, novel, metropass, emergency chapstick, etc -- into my smallest purse and off I went. Some hours later, home I came.

The next day, I couldn't find my metropass anywhere. This is a pretty critical thing; buying a monthly pass saves me something like $80/mo. during the school year (somewhat less in the summer, but still a significant amount). No pass means buying tokens, which means no unlimited rides, having to grab transfers all over the place, and no hop-on hop-off privileges. Plus the added expense of buying the things.

I knew that I had to have had it with me when I got home, because I had got home in the first place. But where could it be? I searched through my room, I completely emptied my purse -- nothing. I had just plain lost it.

Cut to, oh, I dunno, maybe a week and a half or two weeks later. Not long had passed, but it was long enough that the month had changed and I had spent the end of the last one buying tokens. P and I were going to spend the day at an amusement park and so I grabbed my purse again and filled it with many the same sorts of things -- (new) metropass, emergency novel, &c -- and off we went.

On the way, I had cause to pull out my pocket-edition copy of Pride and Prejudice, my perpetual subway companion and default emergency novel. Tucked neatly between the pages? My last month's metropass. Apparently when I frantically emtied my purse ... three times ... I had neglected to look in the things contained in the purse.


At least I've learned that particular lesson: books are sneaky and will eat your belongings.

Now to find my debit card ...

June 28, 2008

Review: Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs

A few weeks ago I received Fatal Voyage in the mail, having sent away for it as part of a promotion by some cereal company. (I can't remember which cereal company it was, and so I suppose that it didn't work). I had filled out the form online and then promptly forgotten about the whole thing, and so the book essentially arrived out of the blue. I love it when that happens.

I picked this particular book from those that were on offer only because I knew that this series is the one that inspired the Bones TV show. And I really, really enjoy Bones.

I'll say this first: I really, really enjoyed Fatal Voyage as well. Here's the back cover:
A commercial airliner disaster has brought Tempe Brennan to the North Carolina mountains as a member of the investigative agency DMORT. As bomb theories abound, Tempe soon discovers a jarring piece of evidence that raises dangerous questions -- and gets her thrown from the DMORT team. Relentless in her pursuit of its significance, Tempe uncovers a shocking, multilayered tale of deceit and depravity as she probes her way into frightening territory -- where someone wants her stopped in her tracks.

Mystery! Savagery! Graphic forensic details! Kidnapping! Corruption! Murder! Cannibalism! Dog-sitting! Just my cup of tea, in fact. There's nothing like a good murder for some light reading.

I thought that the story was very well-wrought and the characterization strong (although I must say that it definitely ought to have been, since this is something like number ten in the series). But the most interesting part -- apart from the plot -- was looking for the similarities and differences between the book and Bones as-seen-on-TV.

This version of Temperance Brennan is blond and in her forties, and has an ex-husband, a university-aged daughter, and a cat. There's no Booth or Zack or Angela or Hodgins... or anyone from the TV series, really, except for Tempe herself. There are lots of little differences like that.

But! There are things the same too, and they are the more important things. Although the Tempe of the books is older than TVTempe, her internal characteristics are the same. She's the same smart, gutsy lady and works the same way in both versions. I liked that -- although I know that it's really the show following the book well, it felt like the opposite based on the order in which I encountered the two different versions.

If you enjoy watching Bones, you will probably enjoy reading Kathy Reichs's series as well. And if you've read the series but have never watched the show, likewise. They're fun.

June 26, 2008

Trip Notes (II)

(1) If you wait an extra five days to buy your plane tickets, they will suddenly be $600 more expensive. Don't do this. So long, easy flight home! It was nice dreaming about you. I'll be in the car.

(2) When dining at Mary's Kountry Kitchen, be aware: "Petite Portions" are exactly that. Also, I think that people need to stop with the kutesy kountry spellings. Please.

(3) When it comes to homesickness, I think that it's the little things that count most. Being in a different country? That's fine. All of the locks on doors turning in the wrong direction? That's a bit jarring.

(4) Things elderly American men want to know:

  • You're from Canada?

  • What's the price of gasoline up there?

  • How many litres are there in a gallon?

  • Do you import most of your oil?

  • How's the governor general doing?

  • You sure have a pretty country up there.

  • Do you speak French?

  • I hope you appreciate your grandmother.

June 24, 2008

Trip Notes (I)

(1) Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I observed the first scarlet leaves of, um, summer.

(2) Went to the Barnes Foundation Museum on Sunday. Saw 181 Renoirs, almost 70 Cézannes, also numerous Matisse paintings, Soutine, Picasso, Rousseau, etc. Renoir I like very much. Matisse I do not like at all. Soutine I like. Rousseau I don't think was particularly good at doing faces, but I think I liked his stuff overall. And thus concludes your armchair tour of Impressionism.

(3) Also saw my new favourite painting in the world ever, for which I cannot find a representation online. It's called something like "Two Women on the Shore, Mediterranean," and was painted in 1896 by French pointilist painter Henri-Edmund Cross. It's gorgeous. And I didn't even remember to take a picture of it . . .

(4) The sun makes me sad. I have gotten overheated two days in a row (not burned, just too hot for too long) and have been sadly crawling around the house feeling cold and sleepy.

(5) But on the plus side, there are lots and lots of books to read here!

(6) Lots!

June 20, 2008


On Wednesday night I handed in my last paper and had my last class until September.

Last night, I did the last of my work at my second summer job.

Free, free!

Well, free to work more hours at summer job number one, is really what it comes down to. But also free to stop reading boring essays about reader-response criticism from this book. And free to not write boring essays about reader-response criticism.

Theoretically, I'm free to post more here . . . but not this coming week! I am a-travelling down Statesward, for my grandmother's 85th birthday shindig. Posting, I expect, will continue to be light.

In the mean time, I've started packing and must decide on what books to bring along. The trip begins with a twelve-hour drive and ends with another one, and so I'm picking great chunky books that are likely to last more than an hour or two apiece. So far, my picks are these:

Four Fires is a newish novel by Bryce Courtenay -- one of my favourite novelists -- and it's huge! My copy comes in at 992 pages, which is only 16 pages less than the Tolkein. I can knock books this size down pretty quickly, but between the two of them I think I've got a lot of car time covered. As for the two Baldacci books, I haven't read them and don't really know what they're about, but they were were given to me to read by my friend H, and so I'll take them along as well.

And soon I will be gone! My TBR pile has been dwindling in an alarming fashion, but I am expecting nine or ten books to arrive in the mail soonish -- and so hopefully I'll have a nice pile to come back to.

June 16, 2008

Little Houses

It's been all thunderstorms lately, probably one every other day or so. That's an estimate, of course; it may feel like more than it's actually been. But the point is: rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. And as previously mentioned, there are few things I find nicer than reading an old book in a warm place while it's storming outside.

This past week I've read through almost all of the Little House on the Prairie Books. All the ones we own, anyway: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, These Happy Golden Years, and Farmer Boy. I don't think we've ever had copies of either Little Town on the Prairie or The First Four Years, but I have borrowed them from the library, far in the past.

I love these books.

There are a couple things that really work with these books, aside from the very obvious nostalgia factor. One thing is definitely Garth Williams's illustrations, which are charming and evocative and otherwise wonderful. I have always loved the illustrations in these books. They appear fairly frequently, often interwoven with the text (they appear less frequently in the later books).

The narration is also delightful. The books are written for children, so it's simple and direct. That doesn't stop it from having a certain poetry to it, especially when it comes to descriptions of the prairies on which the Ingallses lived over the years. It's just charming, and I know I keep coming back to that word. But that's what these books are: charming.

They're also very galling. Especially after having read them all over a short period of time, I feel quite convicted -- about how lazy I am, and how much stuff I need, and how little I appreciate things like not starving to death every winter and not having to slaughter my own animals for food. That Pa Ingalls runs around building houses and barns and digging wells with his bare hands, and Ma Ingalls cooks and bakes her own everything, and their children are so disciplined, and they're all so poor and so happy . . . you know. Consider Christmas in Little House on the Prairie:
Something was shining bright in the top of Laura's stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.

Mary had one exactly like it.

These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes at her own tin up.

[ . . . ]Laura and Mary never would have looked in their stockings again. The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much. They were too happy to speak. But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty.

Then they put their arms down inside them, to make sure.

And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

Yes, dear readers, think of having a whole penny for your very own. Oh dear. And the whole series is full of this sort of thing.

I like them anyway, though. I mean, it is a very sweet Christmas. I just feel abominably selfish after reading that sort of thing.

I was also reading up on Laura Ingalls Wilder (yes, on wikipedia, that fount of at least some wisdom). Apparently there is some controversy as to the authorship of the novels: namely over the question of how much was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and how much was written and/or revised by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. I don't think it matters particularly much, personally, but it did make for interesting reading.

Now I'm kinda itching to read the rest of them . . . along with the first chapter of On the Shores of Silver Lake, which has been ripped out of my copy by agents unknown. Anyone feel like typing it up?

Edit: Someone did! Thanks, Rebecca :) You can visit her Laura Ingalls Wilder website here.

June 11, 2008

Missed Connection

Dear Dancer,

Have you finished The Silmarillion? It's been a week or two and so maybe you have. I saw you again on the subway and now I want to know. Did you like it?

I saw you the first time on the bus home one night, I think after my night class, so probably at around 8:30 or 9:00. You were with a man I assume is your dad. You look about twelve: you've got olive skin and long brown hair drawn up in a neat bun. You might be Jewish. You're almost definitely a ballerina, something I originally guessed because of your hair and your grace and slenderness, and then mostly confirmed when I saw your National Ballet School gym bag.

You were buried in The Silmarillion and I don't think you looked up once the entire time that we were both on the bus. Not that I watched you the whole time or anything. I hope you don't get a creeper vibe from this. But you were very obviously deeply concentrating on the text. Actually, the book was the first thing I noticed about you. The Hobbit wouldn't have surprised me as a choice of reading material, nor even The Lord of the Rings although the latter is a big old read and I didn't get into it until I was still a fair few years older than you.

Seriously: The Silmarillion is intense. It's dense and full of unpronounceable names and obscure items of historical and linguistic interest. I couldn't get through it at all, and I've read The Lord of the Rings at least a half-dozen times. Actually, just this week someone BookMooched my copy off of my hands. It cost me a dollar more to mail it to him, actually, than it would have cost if I had taken the time and the subway fare to hand-deliver it. But I digress.

I saw you and your dad again the other night, although you weren't reading anything then. I wanted to speak up, to ask you if you had finished the book, but I didn't want to be that weirdo on the subway, and at any rate the two of you moved to the other end of the car and didn't get off at my stop this time. So I didn't ask you.

I just wanted you to know, though, how happy it made me to see you that first night. See, I love reading. It gives me great pleasure, and when I see someone obviously enjoying a book it makes me happy to see them do that. And, I don't know why exactly, when I see a young person reading it feels almost like a personal triumph of some sort. I can't really explain it, but that's how I feel. So it made me doubly-glad to see you reading. Plus, Tolkein is fantastic.

So, Dancer. I hope you finished your book and that you loved it. If you haven't read The Lord of the Rings yet, you should do that next. It's okay to skip the second half of The Two Towers, though -- I always did that after the first or second time. It's just Frodo and Sam being lost in Mordor for a few hundred pages. Nothing much happens. Don't you think?

Maybe the next time I see you, I'll ask.

June 10, 2008

Thunder and the Big Woods

We've just come through a hot spell, which finally resolved itself late last night with one of the bigger thunderstorms I've witnessed in a long while. It was much more exciting than the previous night's tornado warning (since, with that, nothing happened). I had already been in bed and mostly asleep when first the rain started, and then the thunder and lightning, and boy it was big.

I ordinarily love thunder and lightning. For me, there are fewer pleasures more simple than sitting in a warm place, watching a storm. Rain is my friend. But last night, I was frightened by the storm. I peeked outside for a while and then when the lightning started coming every three seconds or so, I had to close the drapes and turn on the lights. I didn't think I'd be getting back to sleep for a while, so I looked for something to read. Something familiar, preferably, and comforting.

I ended up choosing Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, which I haven't read in ages and ages but has been, along with the rest of the series, a longstanding favourite. I read the whole thing again last night. It didn't take very long, since I read faster than I did when I was seven. I still loved it, though.

Part of why these books have been favourites are the illustrations, which are drawn by Garth Williams and prominently featured. I'm not near the scanner tonight, but I did manage to find two examples online (click to embiggen):

Dance Scene from Little House int he Big woods

Charley from Little House in the Big Woods

Are they not sumptuous? Garth Williams illustrated the entire series when they were reissued in 1953, and his sketches are vivid and charming. I've always loved them. (I'm pretty sure that he did Charlotte's Web, as well).

This time around I also noticed things that maybe I hadn't before, like how much of the narrative deals with food. Well, with food and/or bears, which I guess were just about the prime concerns of Wisconsin pioneers in the 1860s. And how, despite being set in that time, the only mention of the Civil War is this:
Uncle George was home from the army. He wore his blue army coat with the brass buttons and he had bold, merry blue eyes. He was big and broad and he walked with a swagger.

Laura looked at him all the time she was eating her hasty pudding, because she had heard Pa say to Ma that he was wild.

"George is wild, since he came back from the war," Pa had said, shaking his head as if he were sorry, but it couldn't be helped. Uncle George had run away to be a drummer boy in the army, when he was fourteen years old.

That's it! Except for later when Uncle George blows his bugle. I guess I never missed it as a child -- well, it never would have occurred to me -- but it surprised me on this reading once I pegged the time frame. It makes sense, though, since Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1857 and thus could be expected to have only the very dimmest memories of war-things, if any at all.

... And then I finished the book and went back to sleep. Little House in the Big Woods is still utterly charming. In fact, I think I might read the series through again ... and not wait for more rainy nights to do so.

June 4, 2008

Author Interview: Susan Woodring (Springtime on Mars)

Look, an author interview! A while back I was contacted by -- or maybe contacted, I don't remember -- by Mary Lewis of Book Stop Blog Tours. Time and events passed as they usually do, and soon enough I was sent a marvellous book of short stories to review as part of the author's blog tour.

Behold: Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring. (The title will take you to Amazon; the author name to her personal website).

After I read Springtime on Mars, I straightaway asked whether Susan would be available for interview purposes. She most definitely was:

1) So, who are you? Introduce yourself to us.

I am a homeschooling mother of two: Abby is almost 6 and little Aiden is almost 2. My stepson, Paul, will be 15 this summer. In addition to Springtime on Mars (Press 53, 2008), I am the author of a novel, The Traveling Disease (Main Street Rag, 2007). I live in western North Carolina with my kids and my husband, Danny.

2) How did these stories come into being? Were they written as a set, or written higgledy-piggledy and then amalgamated into one collection? Are there certain ones which mean more -- or less -- to you? Were there any stories that were particularly hard or particularly easy to write?

The stories in my collection were written over a period of about four years. I didn’t set out to write a collection, but was pleased to see a few common themes emerging among the stories I was working on. Once I started to see the book coming together, I wrote one final story, “Morning Again” specifically for the collection. Two of the stories, “Radio Vision” and “Inertia” seem to have almost written themselves. They just came out in a terrific burst and, though there’s always at least a little revision required, these two took less of it than most of what I write. The rest were labored over in many drafts and revisions. They are each very important to me, for different reasons. I’d say, though, that the title story and “The Core of Planet Earth” are maybe a bit more important to me for the ideas about fear and love, and loss and faith they represent.

3) The events of "Zenith, 1954" take place before those of "Radio Vision" but their order in Springtime on Mars is reversed. I think that was the right order to put them in; is it the original order? Did you conceive of these two stories separately, or as one tale that was later halved?

Yes, I wrote “Radio Vision” first, but was then compelled to go back and spend a bit more time with those characters. I wanted to re-envision them in the early days of their marriage, to disentangle them a bit and go back and see their beginnings. I wanted to see where Joe’s obsession with both God and science came from, and I wanted to see Marianne on the brink of motherhood—through writing “Radio Vision” I caught a glimpse of what being a mother meant to her, and I wanted to go back and see it more clearly. I’ve never written linked stories like this, but it was a very interesting experience. I think it can be a beneficial exercise for any writer to envision his/her characters at a different point in time, to figure out how their lives came together.

4) In short fiction in particular, it is the unmentioned details that make stories poignant. In "Morning Again" we are left to imagine what Liza's trouble is, or why, exactly, Harold keeps his past life so secret. In "Beautiful," the action seems to stop at the climax of the story—there's no denouement. Most of what is going on behind-the-scenes stays there. As the author, do you feel like you know what's happening underneath the surface of these stories? Or are they also mysteries to you?

Yes and no. When I am drafting a story, I believe most of the subtext and underlying themes are being pieced together through my subconscious. Ideas and concepts are coming together in ways I’m only half-aware of at that stage, and it’s never anything I really plan. Then, when I’m revising or doing subsequent drafts, I can see some of the underpinnings of the story, and I trim and elaborate portions or aspects of the story to bring it out maybe a bit more, though I truly value subtlety and try to be careful not to “tell” too much.

5) Talk to me about lightning.

First, let me warn you: it’s dangerous! And very beautiful, too. It was an important image to me in my story, “The Neighbors.” I was very interested in the idea of one being “struck” by a sudden turn of fortune; in the same story, another man is “struck” with sudden wealth. In writing that story, I was really interested in showing how quickly a person’s life can change in a lasting, far-reaching way.

As far as my journey as a writer goes, using lightning in this story was significant in that it was the first time I allowed myself to use a phenomena, or a bit of the strange, in my fiction. Though “The Neighbors” is the last story in the collection, I actually wrote it first. Before, I had written stories that were grounded in ordinary life and kind of stayed there. With this story, I stepped out of that a bit and began writing stories where the extraordinary and the ordinary intersect. I think it’s an important moment in the life of a writer—when you finally sort of let go, and just push through, cultivating your imagination.

6) A lot of the stories in Springtime on Mars take place around the 1950s-1970s. What, for you, is the appeal of these particular decades?

These decades, for me, represent such a balance of optimism and hope versus pessimism and an unsettling foreboding. On the one hand, it was during this time that our country experienced a great deal of growth. Economically, we became a wealthy nation. Also, technology and advances in science were grand on a scale beyond anything we’d seen in our history. Yet, there were so many downsides to all of this. Looking back, we have an advantage of perspective. The prosperity of the fifties gave way to a new brand of materialism. Materialism often breeds a vague sort of emptiness—the feeling that something is missing, but not really being able to pin-point what’s lost. I think there were many during this time who felt this way, especially when you think of how many of those who were adults in the ‘50’s were children during the Depression and came to age during World War II. The advances in science and technology gave us so much in terms of entertainment, convenience, and medical care. However, our technology also gave us, as the century marched on, new ways to destroy ourselves and more to fear throughout the Cold War Era. And, during the same era when we mapped out DNA and traveled to the moon, we, as a culture, adopted secularism on a much larger scale than ever before. We were beginning to grasp how amazing and vast our universe and the very elements of life were, and at the same moment, we dismissed God. We brought ourselves to a new height of wonder--and were utterly alone there.

7) It is clear from many of these stories that your faith as a Christian has influenced your writing. Does it work the other way around? Has your writing influenced your faith?

I think my faith, my writing, and my being a mother all work together to cultivate a sense of wonder. Everyday life—my kids, nature, the very complex and fascinating facets of thought and life and love—is in itself a miracle, a reason to both celebrate and contemplate, cause for both thoughtful introspection and outward expression. As a writer, I’m constantly training myself in the art of observation, both in the physical world around me—oh, how to capture the particular blue of this particular sky—and in the people around me, noting the tiny gestures, the insecurities, the doubts, and the glints of brilliance and doubt that flicker in and out of every lilt and sway of voice, every slight shift in expression, every word uttered. All of these observations give me a glimpse of what life is about, the sheer miracle of it, and more: about the one who created it all.

8) One last question: if you were trapped on a desert island, what three books would you NOT take with you? (Or, what do you think are the three most boring books in the world?)

When I was in high school, I suffered through The Fountainhead, and I don’t think I’d care to recreate that experience, but that doesn’t mean that I really shouldn’t read it again, or that I wouldn’t gain something from another go-through. Books, like everything else, are so subjective. I think the only true test of a good book is this: if the reader is compelled to turn this page, then the next one, that book has completed its task. I can learn something, as a reader and as a writer, from any book—I truly believe that. And besides, maybe I’d want a boring book on a desert island—a really good, engrossing book would just go by too quickly, wouldn’t it?

(End of interview).

I don't have much more to say about Springtime on Mars besides the above -- and I think what Susan wrote is more interesting than what I'd say, anyway. But if you were to take Springtime on Mars and apply any of the following adjectives: really good, engrossing, compelling, amusing, bittersweet, enlightening, sad, compact, delicate, regional, strongly characterized, utterly re-readable; that application would surely not be inappropriate.

June 2, 2008

May Books

M is for May, and May is for Modernism! At least in one case. May is also for Murder! And May, though it may not seem so on the surface, is for Short Fiction.

Here are the books I read last month (with comments appended):

The Princes of Ireland, by Edward Rutherfurd. This was a re-read, which didn't occur to me until I was done about the first chapter. It's still good, although I think I enjoyed it more when I read it the first time. Edward Rutherfurd writes huge historical novels -- huge both in time covered and in physical pages! The Princes of Ireland was the story of the city of Dublin, told through stories following numerous generations of its Irish, English, and Viking inhabitants. The narrative didn't reach modern times (unlike in his book London), but I believe that there is a sequel.

*Virus Games, by G. L. Sheerin. I will let my full review speak for itself.

*The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks.  Likewise.

*The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. May is for Modernism! And murder! I dropped a modernist fiction class quite early in the fall term on account of not liking the professor, and so most of the books for that class are still unread upon my shelf. I've decided to read through them all (though it's worth noting that I decided this at the beginning of the month, but only picked up The Grass is Singing). This is a hard book (in terms of what it deals with, not in terms of how it is to read) but a very good one, I think. It reminds me of a lot of Bryce Courtenay novels; it's set in South Africa and deals with themes of racism and what happens when a white woman becomes obsessed with her black servant.

Journey to Cubeville, by Scott Adams. Ho, hum, another Dilbert anthology (i.e., bathroom reading).

*The Togakushi Legend Murders, by Yasuo Uchida. May is for Murder! This is one of two Japanese books I read in May (the translated-to-English versions, anyway). It's a strange little book; the prose seemed very formal and somewhat stilted a lot of the time, which may well be a facet of the translation. This is a classic detective story with a twist: the murders seem to be symbolically linked to regional legends about a demoness named Maple. It was interesting, but not particularly wonderful.

*Jennifer Government, by Max Barry. Now this book had a very neat concept behind it. It takes place in a sort of alternate universe, where "capitalizm" has trumped all other systems of economics and even of government. In this world, the United States has an Empire. People take the name of their company as their last name (Jeniffer Government, John Nike, etc) and the unemployed have no surnames. Children take the name of the company that sponsors their school (so Hayley McDonalds goes to a McDonalds school). As to the actual plot, there's a murder (of course), and a revenge story, and a romance ... pretty standard stuff, really. It's the world itself that captured my interest, rather than the plot.

*Springtime on Mars, by Susan Woodring. May is for Short Stories. Review, author interview, and giveaway are all coming on June 4! Until then I will say nothing.

*Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett. Surely nobody is surprised that I've read more Pratchett. Gosh, I really love these books. Carpe Jugulum is the first to feature vampires and was, as always, very smart and very funny.

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night! I love this book. I love Dorothy Sayers all told, but I am especially fond of this book (and those of you who have read it will surely know why!). It's so good. It's also the only mystery I've read recently without an actual murder in it: just threatening letters, and a good lot of vandalism. And it takes place at Oxford! Yay.

*Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald. This is a great big book with a great big story to tell. Just go read it, okay? I wish I had read it years ago.

*Asleep, by Banana Yoshimoto. My second Japanese book in May, Asleep is a strange little story collection. There are three stories: of a woman who becomes haunted in her sleep by another woman whose love-triangle rival she used to be, of a woman in a relationship with a married man who suddenly cannot stay awake, and of a woman who is mourning the loss of a lover and starts mysteriously sleepwalking. Very bizarre, but beautifully wrought.

*The News from Paraguay, by Lily Tuck. This was a pretty mediocre read. I'm not really sure why I finished it, actually. The history bits are interesting but the extraneous "love" scenes and gratuitous violence really made it a chore to get through. I don't object to love scenes or violence in general, but they really need to be well written to make it worthwhile.

*The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett. Hooray, more Terry Pratchett! This book is certainly not about Australia. No no no. It's just about a continent that's curiously and coincidentally similar to Australia. Surely.

Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner. This is a book I read first a few years ago, and then snatched off my friend H's shelf on my last visit. This is Lauren Winner's story of her life and her faith: her girlhood as the child of a Christian mother and a Jewish father, her teenage conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and her subsequent conversion to Christianity. From the way she writes, I think she's the kind of person I'd really enjoy being friends with. She writes openly about her failures as well as her successes in her life, and touches well upon a lot of other things (the value of liturgy, the value of reading, studying Scripture...). It's really good.

*Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë. I have now read one book by each of the Brontë sisters: Jane Eyre by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, and now Agnes Grey by Anne. Agnes Grey is a wonderful and sweet story. It's really just charming. I still think that I like Jane Eyre the best of the trio, but this book was lovely.

*Storm Glass, by Jane Urqhart. This is another Short Story collection, written relatively close to the beginning of Urqhart's career. I very much enjoyed it; I hadn't know before how much I liked short stories, but I seem to be reading a great many of them and they're definitely growing on my as a storytelling method. These stories are smart and mysterious and well-wrought and you should read them.

*Deception on His Mind, by Elizabeth George. This month was rounded out with another nice murder. I do very much enjoy George's books (as a glance through my Book List will surely tell you). Her mysteries are smart and thick and the characterization is just as good as the plot (which are usually excellent) if not better. This is one I read all out of order, as are most of them, but they stand alone well.

Also this month I've been reading a lot of short fiction out of a Norton Anthology for my criticism class. I haven't listed them because they're not "books" in themselves, and because I haven't finished every story in the book in which they are contained. I mean to, though. Short stories are cool.

So! On to June ...