The Door is Ajar: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

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Public Library and Other Stories – Ali Smith (2015 Penguin Canada)

Smith’s collection of short stories was gathered together to celebrate the role of public libraries in personal and public life, of the value they bring to community, and the wealth of knowledge and the opportunity for engagement, thought, and creativity that they invoke.  Public Library is also a protest against the closure of libraries in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the quashing of budgets, collections, and services in libraries that remain, and the overall decline of government and popular support for these previously-revered institutions.  Smith’s stories are framed by quotes from writers, thinkers, and other figures as they explore their personal emotions and connections to libraries, books, reading, and writing.

The stories themselves were a delight for me and I devoured them in a couple of very short sittings. I am not familiar with Smith’s other work and I loved her style and juicy depth of language as she wound her way around several accounts of relationships gone sour, reimaginings of history, and family life.  It’s difficult to pick a favourite out of this collection, but “The Ex-Wife” and “The Poet” are special standouts for me.  Highly recommended.

The Door is Ajar: Invasive by Chuck Wendig.

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Chuck Wendig – Invasive (2016, Harper Voyager)

A strange murder and the discovery of genetically engineered ants lead survivalist and FBI consultant Hannah Stander on a trip to Hawai’i – where things quickly escalate from paradise to apocalypse in Chuck Wendig’s blisteringly good novel Invasive.  Wendig reigns in his signature over-the-top style a smidgeon and produces a tight, brilliantly-characterized, and perfectly-paced thriller. The dustjacket comparisons to Michael Crichton’s work are definitely warranted – I’d say this is Wendig’s finest book to date.  More, please.

Octagons.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recall that I work in a library (although, as of very recently, I switched branches in the city, transferring from the one that I worked at for nearly eight years).  I’m not a librarian or a library assistant so front line customer service isn’t part of my duties, but I still get a chance to talk to some of our patrons…and sometimes I just can’t help smiling at what they have to say.  Take this morning, for example:  a young mum asked me for books about shapes for her three-year-old girl.  We browsed the board book spinners and came up with some great titles, including a really sweet one featuring Snoopy (I’m a total softy for Snoopy and naturally assume everyone else is as well).  I thought I had the search wrapped up tidily as the mother flipped quickly through the books, but she turned to me with a sheepish grin on her face.  “These are great,” she said, “but my daughter is really interested in octagons right now.  She just loves octagons.”

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Well, I don’t blame her, really – octagons are very attractive shapes and quite satisfying from a mathematical perspective.  And the word is seriously fun to say aloud.  But I have yet to see a board book featuring octagons.  Actually, if anyone out there is writing board books for a living, please throw some octagons into the next “shape” book you pump out, would you? (I found this rather interesting title at work a few weeks ago, and if it exists, octagons shouldn’t be a complete stretch).  I know a certain three-year-old who would be really impressed….

If you have children, what words or concepts most captivated them when they were toddlers?  Do you remember any ideas you were fixated with as a child?  I can’t recall if I had any obsessions with certain words when I was that age (my Mum might remember!) but I know that even as I got older, I was constantly trying to reinvent the English language – it wasn’t that I mispronounced words (although I occasionally did that, and still do), it was that I was always deliberately making up new words, and renaming things around me.  The various cats we had over the years had so many inventive-yet-utterly-ridiculous monikers, it’s no wonder they never came when they were called.

Oh, wait….   😉

Clipart credit.

The Door is Ajar: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley.

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley (2016, Doubleday Canada)

The eighth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series packs a right-between-the-eyes knockout punch – and no, I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say this is an even bigger deal than her temporary “exile” in Canada, where she attended a private boarding school, solved a weird murder involving a body stuffed up a chimney, and learned more about her family’s connection to a secret organization which I shouldn’t discuss further.  (Go get book seven, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and read it right now.  It’s a ragged and uneven go, but it serves as a decent set up for the new book).  In Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Flavia returns home to her beloved Buckshaw just before Christmas, to find that her father is ill and the household is unsettled and cold.  The accidental finding of the body of a wood carver while running an errand cheers Flavia up immensely, as she goes to great lengths and concocts elaborate lies to uncover the murderer.  Despite remaining endearingly irrepressible, Flavia is definitely taking on a more mature, experienced voice (if that can even be possible) as the series develops and she approaches her teenage years.

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What are you reading this weekend?

The Door is Ajar: Yes by Rosemary Griebel.

(Rambling preamble).

A few years ago, I set out all eager and full of abundant ideas and started oh about five blogs on WordPress, nearly all of which have, over time, become encapsulated within Flowery Prose. I’ve hung onto The Door is Ajar, which, for those of you who haven’t subscribed to it, is an ongoing list of books I’ve been reading and a super brief commentary about them – not usually what I would consider entire reviews, because that requires more time than I have. At any rate, I have finally made the decision to amalgamate the two blogs here.  After all, books and writing and reading are a big part of Flowery Prose…and while I’m a bit afraid that some of you may be put off by my eclectic reading tastes, who knows? – this might just go over nicely in the end.  I just really feel the need to streamline the whole blogging process and get everything (bad pun alert) on one page. I won’t completely shutter the site of The Door is Ajar, but I won’t make any new entries for the foreseeable future – click here if you want to pop over and see what I was doing.

(The good stuff).

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Yes – Rosemary Griebel (2011 Frontenac House Ltd., Calgary)

I’m not sure how many of these poems from Rosemary Griebel are autobiographical but her incredibly powerful portraits of parents, lovers, and friends, the prairie landscape of childhood, and journeys to Europe and other regions of Canada (as well as some interesting and bold reimaginings of history) feel so personal and intimate I don’t want to believe otherwise.  I first selected this collection because Griebel is from Calgary, and although many of the poems were attractive to me due to that shared geography, I became far more emotionally engaged than I had anticipated – these are lines and stanzas that will bring tears to your eyes and make your stomach twist over, more than once.  Unexpected and absolutely beautiful work.

Book review: Build a better vegetable garden.

There’s still snow on the ground here, although there have been sightings in the area of crocus foliage (not in my garden, sadly – although I’ve been going out every morning to take a look, just in case something’s changed overnight.  Nope, just snow). It doesn’t matter. I’ve already ordered some seeds and I’ve got the veggie garden all mapped out (Version 8.0 or thereabouts – we all know I’ll be revising until the very day I plant, especially if the seed catalogues keep coming!).

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And I’ve been looking at a few new books. I was sent a copy of Joyce and Ben Russell’s Build a Better Vegetable Garden: 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest (2017, Frances Lincoln Limited/Quarto, London) for review and it hasn’t left my desk…I keep picking it up and browsing through it.  Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, there are projects in here that can get you growing in no time: setting up a raised hoop tunnel, designing and constructing a raised bed, building your own wooden planters, creating a cold frame, or making a trellis for climbing beans.  Other projects you may not have immediately thought of include making your own seed trays (and dibber!), a storage rack for your tools, a wire support for raspberries, a handy trug, a cabinet with trays for drying the harvest, and a beautiful decorative obelisk.  The best part about this book is you don’t need to be a certified woodworker or carpenter to do any of these projects.  You don’t need specialized tools (most can be done with a basic drill, a couple of types of saws, some hand tools and hardware you can easily pick up and afford).  Nearly all of the projects are made from wood.  And the instructions are straightforward, easy to understand, and very clearly photographed so you’re not guessing at any stage of the project.  I am the least crafty person I know, and I have confidence I could undertake most of these projects without making a huge mess of them (or losing a limb in the process). 😉  I really think this book would be a fantastic gift for a new gardener or homeowner – and it would be extremely useful for anyone setting up a community garden or allotment as well.  Highly recommended (and that’s my honest opinion!).

Do you have any recommendations for gardening books that have you feeling excited and inspired as you plan (or dig in) for the new season?  Tell me what you’ve been poring over, I’d love to hear! 

Holiday reads.

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.
Jean Fritz

I’ve worked in a library for a number of years, and it is interesting to observe the patterns of circulation. Right now, of course, it’s all about the holiday books, and it appears that a lot of our patrons gravitate toward the Christmas-themed, cozier side of the the mystery spectrum, as well as sweet, versus really hot, romance novels. (Maybe they read the hot ones in January instead?).

I got to thinking about whether or not I have a particular favourite book that I like to revisit at this time of year, or even a genre that I like to sample during the holidays. Given that I read voraciously, and always have, I was surprised to draw a blank.  Thinking back on past years, I realize that I don’t change up my reading habits to accommodate the holiday season. I keep reading anything and everything that catches my attention.

Do you bring out any special books to read during the holiday season?  Are they ones you cherish year after year?  Are they Christmas stories, or non-holiday books that seem to resonate with you more at this time of year than at any other time?  Do you prefer a certain genre over another?  Let me know what you’re reading right now – or plan to read over the holidays – perhaps I will want to check it out, as well!  (Ooh, a library pun, gotta love it).