Friday, August 18, 2017

Reviews! Terry Lynn Johnson, and Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle on Stage

Another book review today!

I was very excited to receive a copy of the first book in Terry Lynn Johnson's Survivor Diaries series.

I don't read adventure books that often, but really enjoy them when I do (the next book in the series is called Avalanche! and I'm really looking forward to it because of fond memories I have of reading a Scholastic book club story with the same name (Avalanche by Arthur Roth)).

This one is called Overboard! and is a fast-moving, smoothly written tale of how two children survived a rogue wave that tore apart their boat and stranded them on an island in Puget Sound.

Stay Calm. Stay Smart. Survive.
Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale watch off the coast of Washington when their boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold water. Will Travis and twelve-year-old passenger Marina have the grit and the know-how to survive?

With seventeen years of hands-on experience and training in remote areas, real-life survival expert Terry Lynn Johnson (Ice Dogs; Sled Dog School) creates on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling featuring the real skills that kids need to survive disaster. Perfect for fans of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, this book includes Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips. You will have a better chance of surviving a real-life cold-water disaster after reading this book!

I really did learn tips from reading the story. They stick in my mind better when I have characters to associate them with, rather than simply reading a textbook. Note to self, pack matches and Ziploc bags and a knife (at least) on hiking and boating trips -- this seems like a good reason to get a proper Swiss Army knife!

I loved the way the adventure also forced the main character to deal with a different problem from his past -- just the sort of emotional arc that's very satisfying for a reader.

Speaking of which, and ROW80, even as I'm completing the line edits (round 2!) for The Charm of Time, I'm working away on arcs and stakes in the background, and hopefully thinking up good ones.

Also working on the synopsis, which just doesn't seem to capture the tone of the novel yet. The story is breathless, fast moving, and yes, erotic. It all takes place over the course of a week, and features love at first sight and some suspenseful accidents and chases. But the synopsis, in comparison, is too tame! I'm aiming to post the latest version on the Forum today or tomorrow, if you'd like to offer suggestions...

I've also finally gotten the wool for two knitting projects due in the next couple of months: a baby blanket for a friend, and a hat for this little girl (I can't believe she's a toddler already!):

Here's another review!

We've had a couple of very short trips to Manchester, Holmfirth, Edinburgh, and Telford and Ironbridge this summer. I got lucky -- was in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival and got to see the Puppet State Theatre Company performance of JRR Tolkien's story Leaf by Niggle.

I reread the story a few days before the show, and remembered what a perfect little story it is. Well crafted, with just enough detail and connection and nuance, and the ending always makes me cry (joyfully). I wondered how it could be translated to the stage, as it's mostly narrative, with little dialogue. I didn't look up the Puppet State Theatre Company because I didn't want to catch any spoilerish reviews, so -- I admit -- I was vaguely expecting something involving marionettes.

Of course it wasn't like that at all, but a spoken word piece, performed by Richard Medrington. Most of the text of the story was there (I wouldn't have noticed the missing bits at all if I hadn't just reread it) and it was wonderful to hear the words come alive with such nuance of expression. I'll bet I'd enjoy more audiobooks if I could somehow work them into my daily life.

I've mentioned before that I'm always eager to hear individual stories from WWI and WWII -- bringing in such stories from Medrington's family and weaving the historical items and words and memories into the telling of Leaf by Niggle was a brilliant touch to augment the storytelling. It's amazing to think of how often he performs this show -- it felt so fresh and vibrant.

Do catch it if you can, while there's still time. I hope they film it, but I don't think it could quite equal being at the theatre. It wasn't hard to get a seat in the front row, and I was very glad I had! Snuck a photo before the lights went down:

HarperCollins has issued a single-volume edition of Leaf by Niggle for the first time, featuring cover art from the stage adaptation.
I couldn't resist buying a copy, of course.

What was the last play or other stage performance that you saw?

The 10-year anniversary of my blog (!) is coming up! Any ideas on how I should celebrate?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mini Book Reviews: l'Engle and Wecker

Busy, busy!

Work is busy, and I've also been forging ahead on edits. Got some great feedback for the new short story, which has me thinking of ways to raise the stakes (the storywriting feature I always struggle with).

I've also plunged in on work on my list of French and Swiss and Scots phrases that I need for The Charm of Time, thanks to a couple of colleagues and to Hilary!

Cross-posting to the knitting blog, though I haven't done anything on that front yet except choose a pattern for the baby blanket I'd like to knit for a colleague expecting a grandchild... Wonder what colours I should use...

In the meantime, I've read two really good books, one old and one new.

The former is And Both Were Young by Madeleine l'Engle.

Philippa -- Flip -- feels like a prisoner when she first arrives at boarding school in Switzerland; her days are strictly scheduled and she never has a minute to herself. She's constantly surrounded by girls who never stop talking about clothes and boys, making Flip feel lonely, clumsy, and awkward. Then she finds a true friend in Paul. He understands her in a way that no one at school does, and she breaks the rules to spend time with him. But as the two become closer, Flip learns that Paul has a mystery in his past. To help him discover the truth, she must put herself in serious danger.

This new edition of one of Madeleine L'Engle's earliest works features an introduction by the author's granddaughter, the writer Léna Roy.

It's odd that as much as I love l'Engle's writing, I've actually read only a handful of her books. I looked up her bibliography after rereading the Time Trilogy last month, and was pleasantly surprised to find this semi-autobiographical novel, set in Switzerland!

The blurb really doesn't do the story justice. It's so vibrant, and the characters are so real. It's also got a tinge of World War II-related mystery and depth, which made me appreciate it all the more. L'Engle is a master at setting her stories in such specific times and places that they become absolutely timeless.

Usually I'm all for reading the original version of a book, without subsequent alterations, but in this case, the changes were made by l'Engle herself, to restore text that had been considered too scandalous when the book was first published in 1949 (i.e. the girl and boy share a kiss. Imagine!). If you read it, get the 1983 version!

The latter, the new book, is The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, The Golem and the Jinni tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. One is a golem, created out of clay to be her master’s wife -- but he dies at sea, leaving her disoriented and overwhelmed as their ship arrives in New York Harbor. The other is a jinni, a being of fire, trapped for a thousand years in a copper flask before a tinsmith in Manhattan’s Little Syria releases him.

Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.

And then, one cold and windy night, their paths happen to meet.

In short, if I could write fantasy -- and since I could never equal Tolkien -- this is what I'd want to write. It's got elements of magic, of history, of the passing of time, of deserts and New York City landscapes, of myths and legends and faith. All woven together in a smoothly flowing story that keeps you invested in all the myriad characters.

For once, I was glad to be reading on the Kindle app. If I'd been reading the paperback, I would have stayed up all night and finished the book all at once. Having it on my phone was more distracting, and forced me to read more slowly. But I'm not sure if I absorbed or internalised it in the same way. If I see it at the next library book sale, I'll definitely pick up a copy.

And maybe I'll reread it sometime next year -- before the sequel is out! I was very excited to look up the author as soon as I'd finished the book and find out that she's busy writing the sequel. Hopefully there'll be a book tour that comes to Switzerland...

What books or stories have you read lately that you'd recommend?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Canadiana Part II: KnitTraders and A New Leah Mercer

Knitting news!

I haven't visited Kingston, Ontario, in a long time, but they have a great Little Yarn Shop, KnitTraders, and I love getting the KnitTraders newsletter in my inbox. It's always full of interesting news and ideas, and adds to my growing list of projects I'd like to start.

Here's one, from a Canadian based yarn company, Spinrite: "a free, online Lookbook, filled with all manner of knit and crochet projects (like this EH! pillow) sure to please all Canucks."

There's also this happening, which I really unfortunately just don't have time for this summer, but could maybe try over the winter!

Summer Shawl AlongFleece Artist
with Trisha for Canada 150 
The National Parks CollectionWelcome to our second annual Summer KAL.
This year we will be hosting a shawl knit-along that features Canadian yarn and Canadian designers
-Simply pick a shawl pattern from a Canadian Designer.Can you believe it? There are over 700 patterns that fall into that category on Ravelry alone.-Check out all the Canadian Yarn  possibilities at KnitTraders, including the stunning National Parks Collection just in from Fleece Artist; The Oh Canada colourway (or any of the other magical colours) from Happy Cat; all the stunning options from H'ewePhoria including a great new assortment of semi solids; alpaca from Silver Cloud Alpacas, (who are just up the road in Elginburg); classic sturdy yarns from Topsy Farms and Briggs and Little, Grazioso from our friends at Sweet Paprika. Plus many more. Make your selection and you're all set to join in. -Post your patterns and yarn choices on our Ravelry Page to inspire others. 
-Follow us on Ravelry, or if you're in the Kingston area please join us in-store on Tuesdays from 1-3pm and/or Thursday from 6-8pm.
-And feel free to email KnitTraders or drop in to ask any questions you might have.
OVERWHELMED at the thought of making a fancy lace shawl? There are stunning yet easy patterns available that are well within the reach of anyone who can knit and purl. Ask the friendly and knowledgeable staff atKnitTraders for their advice.Let's Celebrate our Canadian Knitting tradition now, and create something beautiful to remember this great summer of pride and joy. 

In other Canadian news (my last Canadiana post featured a YouTube playlist I'd made), author Leah Mercer has a new book coming out!

One fine autumn evening, Anna returns from work and starts making dinner, eager to welcome home her husband, Mark. It's just like any other day in their ten-year, Pinterest-perfect marriage -- until he says he's leaving her.
Discovering that the man she thought she knew better than anyone else is capable of abandoning it all sends Anna reeling. She believed the life they'd built together -- and the bright future they'd imagined -- counted for everything. How can he walk away?
The truth is Mark is battling secrets of his own -- secrets Anna knows nothing about. A painful past and an uncertain future threaten to bring his life down around him -- and he'll do anything not to expose her to that.
But unravelling the past is lonelier than Mark could ever have imagined and, as the days turn to months, Anna worries the separation will break them forever. Can she bring him back from the brink of self-destruction before it's too late, or will she discover that she never really knew him at all?

I don't know how to review this book -- anything I say will be giving away spoilers! It's intense, and very moving, and involves characters who believe they're acting for the best, even as they alienate themselves from those around them. Some misunderstandings are resolved, but other problems greater than the people concerned are simply unsolveable. Does that explain anything? I'm trying not to reveal the secrets that are slowly unravelled throughout the book.

One thing I do hope, that in a future book we might catch a glimpse of Anna and find out how she is, a few years down the road!

As for my own writing and ROW80... CampNaNoWriMo is progressing slowly. I have an idea for resolving the time frame difficulties of my YA time travel story, but still haven't uncovered the central conflict (I can see all you plotters rolling your eyes at this). Also, I keep breaking off to do more edits on The Charm of Time. I've nearly completed the missing scene (referred to as "Friday", since the book takes place over a two-week period), and can now go back to editing on paper. Starting with "Sunday"...

Two gratuitous food photos to break up the text, from different places and different days:


Eaten something good lately?

What projects are you hoping to start?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chamonix and Mont Blanc, and Knitting Spies in Wartime

Cross-posting to the knitting blog today because I've realised that five posts from now I will have 200 posts!

Trying to get my anniversaries to run concurrently -- on 6 September, I should reach 1,100 posts on this blog and, come August, I will have been blogging for 10 years!

Came across an interesting article the other day, about knitting used by spies in WWI and WWII:

"During World War I, A grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.
Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.
When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat."

Just the thing to weave -- sorry, knit -- into a story one day!

I was up nearly 4,000 metres last week! Close to 13,000 feet.

The town of Chamonix, France, at the foot of Mont Blanc, is already at over 1,000 metres, and I took the cable car up another 2,000 metres... I was clutching on for dear life, and I couldn't look out the window, but luckily the trip itself takes only about 15 minutes.

On our way to France!

25 metre-high statue of Christ the King

First sight of the Bossons Glacier

Tip of the glacier, apparently called the snout

The cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842 metres (Mont Blanc's highest point is at 4,808 metres)

Images of and from Mont Blanc.

Noting for the record that the better, more daring shots, are photos that my mother took, since I was too afraid to lean over any railings or parapets.

It was 30 degrees Celsius in town, and 6 degrees up near the top...

Recording an ascent to the Aiguille du Midi in 1856

Looking down from the cafeteria...

Heading back down

Almost there

I can see solid ground!

The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on in 1786, by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard.
The statue doesn't show Paccard, but Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who gave a reward for the successful ascent.

Old-timey mural

Back in the town of Chamonix

Church of St Bernard

Stained glass showing Grenoble, France

There was a small sidewalk exhibit all about authors and climbers through the ages.

The photos above is of Henriette d'Angeville, the second woman to climb Mont Blanc, 30 years after Marie Paradis in 1808. She caused a bit of a scandal when she married one of her guides, who was not of the same social class as she was. Here's a bit from Wikipedia:
"D'Angeville set off for Mont Blanc in 1838, in the company of Joseph-Marie Couttet, five other guides, and six porters.[1] A suggestion had been made by the guides to join with two all-male groups, but d'Angeville declined.[2] Her arrival in Chamonix created quite a stir; crowds cheered her on her way to the mountain. She received a social call at the Grand Mulets, at 10,000 feet, from a Polish nobleman (who sent his card to her tent), and an English group joined them as well.[1]
D'Angeville's party left for the summit on 4 September 1838 at 2 AM. Along the way d'Angeville proved herself strong and agile enough;[4] particularly on rock she climbed as well as the men,[2] though she did suffer from heart palpitations and drowsiness [altitude sickness].[5] The party reached the top of the mountain at 1:15 PM. Toasts were made with champagne, doves were released from the summit to announce their success, and d'Angeville was hoisted on the men's shoulders and cheered. A cannon salute welcomed them on their return to Chamonix. The celebrations the next day also included a special guest, at d'Angeville's request, the now sixty-year-old Maria Paradis.[4] Also present in Chamonix during that time, though he left the day before d'Angeville's successful climb, was a young, poor, and hopeful author and mountaineer Albert Richard Smith. Smith had tried to attach himself to an expedition but would not climb the mountain until 1851, after which he turned his experience into a theatrical show; he notes d'Angeville's expedition (and the "Polish gentleman [sic]") in his "Ascent of Mont Blanc."[6] ... Since Paradis, according to her own account, was partly carried up by her guides, d'Angeville is often referred to as the first woman to reach Mont Blanc's summit with her own strength.[7]"

I'd never heard any of the names, but they all seem like interesting people.
One young man disappeared on the mountain at the age of 27.

The Arve River, which flows all the way to Geneva.
Glaciers are made of compact ice, not snow, and the ice cap of Mont Blanc pushes out the glaciers, which melt into rivers, dragging silt with them -- which is why the Arve is the sediment-y colour it is.

Leaving the glacier

Two glaciers!
The Bossons Glacier and the Taconnaz Glacier. Apparently, Bossons is a safe glacier, whereas large ice blocks break off from the Taconnaz Glacier, and an avalanche barrier is needed.

Next time, I'd like to visit the Matterhorn, since Tolkien was there in 1911!

A quick ROW80 update!

I've been all over the place the last couple of weeks, slowly drafting a missing scene for The Charm of Time, adding a few changes to Druid's Moon before submitting it again (and the epilogue is done!), writing a new short story (this seems to be semi-regular summertime thing for me, and I love it!) tentatively called "The Tattoo", and working through another round of beta comments on "At Summer's End" before I resubmit it. The latter is this week's priority!

What's the highest peak you've stood on?
Or the lowest place you've descended to?