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?