Category: Writing (page 1 of 19)

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fourth Stop

Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.

First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.

I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).

Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.

Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.

Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.

Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.

And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.

One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.

Moving on we have another ancient tome called Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees, first published in 1926. It was recommended by fellow writer Dale Sproule (former editor of the magazine TransVersions, with Sally McBride) and I’m so glad he brought it to my attention. It’s an adult fantasy about fairies that as many observers have pointed out pre-dates Lord of the Rings by many years, and quite possibly influenced such magnificent works as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both of which I also loved.

Hmm. Lots to write about on this shelf! Next up we have another book by a friend, this time Thrice Burned, the second novel in Angela Misri‘s excellent Portia Adams mystery series, which I reviewed on this very blog, favourably, I might add. And beyond her a medical thriller by yet another friend, Stockholm Syndrome, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, writing as Melissa Yi. This is one of Melissa’s Dr. Hope Sze‘s books, selected as one of the best crime books of the year by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter‘s Mystery panel.

And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.

Other Stops on the Tour

Thrice Burned Review

(Reposting this review after noticing the formatting of the original was kinda messed up. We can’t have that!)

Thrice Burned
Thrice Burned

As with the first book in the series (Jewel of the Thames), Thrice Burned consists of three casebooks, or mysteries, each told in the first person by Portia herself. Each casebook concerns itself with at least one mystery, each one carefully crafted. The clues are tantalizingly distributed, drawing the reader in, allowing them just as much fun as Portia herself has in trying to solve the mysteries. But there is much more on offer here than mere riddles. There are elements of historical fiction too, as each casebook is set in nineteen-thirties era London, England, featuring Scotland Yard Constables and street urchins and reporters and clergy men and plenty of other skillfully drawn characters, right down to their authentic clothing choices and distinctive accents.

Thrice Burned is the second book in an ongoing series of mysteries featuring the brilliant young consulting detective Portia Adams, who comesby her gifts honestly as the granddaughter of not only the great Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes’ friend and chronicler Watson as well. It is a nifty conceit for a series, and author Angela Misri makes the most of it. Portia Adams is utterly believable as the direct descendent of the iconic detective and his sidekick, inheriting every ounce of Holmes’ gifts for observation and deductive reasoning, but leavened with Watson’s humanity.

Each casebook features a stand-alone storyline and a neatly resolved ending, but Misri is not satisfied to let it go at that. Like many a modern era television series, each episode builds upon the last, throughout both this book and its predecessor, from casebook to casebook. As in real life, Portia and her friends continue to mature and develop. Relationships are never straightforward. Portia herself, although gifted, is no superhero, suffering from the same feelings and emotional frailties as many young women her age. Misri delves into Portia’s inner life just enough to make her real, but not at the expense of the adventures and mysteries that are the real appeal of this excellent series.

Already top-notch from the get-go, Misri’s plotting and characterization improve with each casebook, increasing in complexity and depth. This bodes well for future books in the series.

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Third Stop

Third stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour, intended to be a tiny, inoffensive distraction from the strange, science-fiction-come-true travails of our lives these days.

We’re on the second shelf from the top, a land of books guarded by a friendly looking bear, a fox who appears asleep on the job, and some tiny owls. I dare any evil-minded entity to get past them. Starting on the far left, I see a Farley Mowat book I’ve yet to read. The bear is in the way and I’m too comfy on the couch to go downstairs and see what the book is called. I just looked all his books up online and still can’t figure out which book it is. He wrote a lot of books! Later, if I’m ever able to move again, I’ll wander downstairs, identify it, and name it in the comments. If I remember. Okay, never mind, I had to get up to feed the animals: turns out it’s No Man’s River, and it’s supposed to be pretty good.

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity. A terrific piece of popular fiction, now a movie series, but the book is much better, I promise you. There because I’ve read it at least twice already, and probably will read it again.

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. Contains all three books in the series. Just finished this one about a month ago. I thought it was quite an accomplishment. Not perfect, still a heck of an achievement. Original story, memorable characters, adventure, a bold premise that would have had him burned at the stake in any other century, a smattering of science in an otherwise fantasy, and most importantly, I felt what I was reading. It’s all about emotion, you know. That alchemy of your emotions intermingled with the characters’ emotions that produces magic. Pullman achieved some magic, here.

Which brings us to Ultra, the first of the books on my shelf by a friend and colleague, in this case David Carroll, who also works at the CBC. This is David’s first book, about a young ultra-marathon runner, and it’s an excellent book. David’s an ultra-marathoner himself, so he knows of what he writes. I bought Ultra because I like to support my friends, as they have supported me, and I kept it because it’s a good book, which I will re-read one day.

Tales of Time and Space, edited by Ross R. Olney, is a collection of science fiction short stories that my parents bought me when I was a kid. There are some great stories in here by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Jack Finney and so on, but my favourite is The Last Command by Keith Laumer. When I was choosing a radio play to adapt for CBC Radio’s Faster Than Light way back when, I selected The Last Command as an alternative to The Cold Equations, but the powers that be favoured The Cold Equations (which was fine, as it’s another favourite).

The rest of the books on this portion of the shelf are by Lois McMaster Bujold, all of them part of (or leading up to) the Vorkosigan saga. If you haven’t read this yet you don’t know what you’re missing. Miles Vorkogisan is one of those characters who leaps off the page. The least of them is eminently readable, the best of them special indeed. Standouts are The Warrior’s Apprentice (not here because I gave my copy away) and Memory, but try to read them all in order.

And let me know what you think.

Other Stops on the Tour

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Second Stop

Yesterday I began a virtual tour of my main bookshelf, because I know that’s what these troubled times call for: knowledge of my bookshelf. (Take that, out of touch celebrities! Nonsense from an out-of-touch ordinary person).

Moving on from where we left off yesterday (John DeChancie’s Starrigger) brings us to another of my personal favourites: Megan Lindholm‘s Wizard of the Pigeons. I love this book of a homeless man who may or may not be a wizard, or who may just be mentally ill, whose life is beginning to fray at the edges. I love it despite the book’s deeply flawed ending. It’s as though Lindholm abruptly decided “I just need to end this sucker” and then turned what had been a fascinating, evocative, poignant tale into an action thriller belonging to a completely different, rather inferior book. But don’t let that put you off: it is a testament to how terrific the rest of the book is that the ending doesn’t completely undermine it. A conceit from this book has informed much of my life since having read it: that we all possess little bits of personal magic. I have three myself that I have always been able to count on, which I would divulge, but then they might go away. And it’s when your personal bits of magic go away that your life begins to fray. Megan Lindholm, incidentally, is rather more popular now writing as Robin Hobb.

Next up, On a Beam of Light by Gene Brewer. This is Brewer’s follow up to K-Pax, which I first discovered as a movie starring Kevin Spacey. Not as good as K-Pax, it’s still worth a read to see where the story goes, but may not survive the next great purging of the bookcase. Where is K-Pax on my bookshelf, you might ask? I probably gave it to someone. I give a lot of books away, because I believe that they’re better served in the hands of other readers, rather than simply languishing on a bookshelf somewhere. And I never loan books: I give them away. That way my friends don’t have to worry about getting the book read and back to me. They can take their time, deciding which book to read next, and then reading the book I gave them when the time is right, so that it can be properly enjoyed.

Roger Zelazny. I first heard of Zelazny when my roommate at the time, one Paul Darcy, shouted at no one in particular, “You bastard!” and slammed the book he’d been reading shut. It seemed Zelazny had finished his book on a cliffhanger. Paul explained to me about the Amber series, which I immediately read (Paul has rarely steered me wrong. Did I say rarely? I mean never.) My favourite Zelazny book, though, is Lord of Light. It is said that Zelazny, who died too young at 58, never quite fulfilled his promise, never quite wrote the magnum opus expected of him. They are wrong. That magnum opus is Lord of Light. A book, legend has it, conceived around a terrible pun buried deep within (it may be true; the pun is there, all right, as terrible as the book is brilliant).

Stephen R. Donaldson. This guy’s one of my favourite authors. You either love him or hate him. My first exposure to Donaldson was Lord Foul’s Bane, of the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. I found it in a bookstore in Summerside, PEI, read the first three pages, was immediately captivated. Took it home, read as far as a certain infamous scene, and then bit it as hard as I could and threw it across the room. Or at least, thought about doing that (Paul Darcy told me he did that once reading a Margaret Atwood novel). I persisted, read the rest of the series, and recently reread them. I consider that first series genius. So genuinely character driven, all hinging upon the protagonist’s psychological make-up.

Sitting atop these books are two by Jack Campbell. I haven’t read these yet. The novel I’m trying to write right now (when I’m not procrastinating by writing lengthy blog posts) is pure space opera, so I’m reading the competition to make sure I’m up to date. Campbell is supposed to be good at space battles using real universe physics, something I’m interested in incorporating.

That’s that shelf. I ask again: what’s on yours?

Other Stops on the Tour

Artspace Book and Zine Fest Coming up in Peterborough

I’m looking forward to attending the 5th annual Artspace and Zine Fest coming up in Peterborough on Saturday February 29th. It will be held at the Peterborough Public Library in The Community Room, which you’ll find on the bottom floor of the library at 345 Aylmer St N.

According to the organizers, “The event will feature artist-made zines, comics and graphic novels, letterpress prints and cards, the work of small presses, woodcuts, screen prints, handmade books and other types of book and paper arts.”

It’ll also feature me! Along with my friends Tanah Haney and Tanah’s husband Mark Harrison, with whom I’ll be sharing a table. Tanah is a local poet, harpist, novelist and music teacher. Mark is a photographer, graphic designer and digital artist. They’ll be there with their collaborative work “Where the World Bleeds Through,” which represents a collaborative journey through poetry and art spanning over 25 years. I’ll be there with my debut novel A Time and a Place and my new short story collection, Other Times and Places

Hope to see you there Saturday, February 29, 2020 10am to 5pm!

Find out more here: https://artspace-arc.org/event/5th-annual-artspace-book-zine-fest/

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