The Door is Ajar: Martians Abroad and Last Day on Mars.

This week, I’m featuring a couple of books about the Red Planet….

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Martians Abroad – Carrie Vaughn (2016, Tor, New York)

Martian teenager Polly Newton desperately wants to become a starship pilot and she is excited and ready to begin her training…until her mother, the high-powered, not-to-be-challenged director of the Martian Colony, derails Polly’s plans and sends her and her twin brother Charles to an exclusive boarding school on Earth.  Headstrong, stubborn, and understandably angry at her mother, Polly struggles to fit into her new surroundings and deal with bullying classmates and stern teachers, until she and Charles uncover a secret about the Galileo Academy that has dangerous ramifications for the students at the school and Polly launches herself into action to save them all.  (Pun intended, of course).

Sounds pretty tantalizing, right?  That’s why I picked this book up.  And I loved, loved, LOVED the whole “fish out of water” scenario – Vaughn’s descriptions of how the foreign students try to adjust to Earth (the gravity, the food, the air, the open spaces, the use of water) are absolutely captivating and realistic.  The details of travelling in space are thrilling, as well – it’s all extremely brilliant stuff and beautifully executed.  But…and here’s the thing. To be fair to Vaughn and her fans, I haven’t read the Robert Heinlein story that this book is apparently inspired/influenced by (Podkayne of Mars), so I should probably do that before making a snap judgment.  It is possible that Martians Abroad is a decent representation of that earlier work – but even so, it doesn’t mean I have to be impressed. It was disappointing to me that despite the juicy depth of its scenery, the book suffers from a pretty much non-existent plotline and the motivations of the characters are vague and unrealized and quite frankly, nonsensical in certain cases.  The surprise resolution is wimpy, undeveloped, and…utterly confusing.  To me.  I did read a review from NPR that suggested that this book hearkens back to the classic, more innocent SF novels, where the stories are heavy on tech and world-building and not so much on gritty plots and action, which seems accurate, and much nicer and way more positive than what I’m saying here.  So…pick up Martians Abroad and let me know what you think after you’ve finished it.  How off-base am I on this one? (Hee hee, another pun).

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Last Day On Mars – Book One of Chronicle of the Dark Star – Kevin Emerson (2017, Walden Pond Press, New York)

After the Earth is destroyed by the sun, which is beginning to go supernova, mankind establishes a colony on Mars to garner the resources and technology so that they can flee once again as the red planet is threatened.  In 2213, the time has finally arrived for the big departure, and young Martian student Liam Saunders-Chang and his friend Phoebe spend their final bittersweet day on the only planet they have ever called home trying to solve a terrifying mystery and desperately struggling to stay alive as everything they know comes crashing down around them.  Emerson’s first novel in the Chronicle of the Dark Star series is aimed at a pre-teen audience, but it transcends its target, with whipsmart humour, solid world-building, and an inventive, yet believable scientific foundation that will appeal to older readers (including adults) as well.  Liam and Phoebe are wonderfully-drawn and relatable, and I particularly loved the focus on the emotional rollercoaster they suffer on the Last Day.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a positively gripping cliffhanger that has me utterly piqued for the next book.  Nicely done!

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….   😉

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March blog fun.

I haven’t posted one of these roundups in a few months (to say it’s been an insanely futile effort to get anything done busy lately is a massive understatement), but I’m always coming across interesting things to share, and I’ve been saving up links from a bunch of sources. Hope you enjoy this collection!

This amazing photography technique using UV light takes floral imagery to new heights – check out the breathtaking work of Craig Burrows here.

Granted, winter is officially over in the northern hemisphere, but it’s still well worth it to watch these jaw-dropping video timelapses of frost and other wintry occurrences, shot by Danish filmmaker Alf Pilz.

The 51st American football (NFL) championship game is also a done deal, but I love this fun post by Alys of Gardening Nirvana so much I have to share it: click over and enjoy The Super Bowl of Gardening.  

I was not previously familiar with the poetic form the Etheree, but this beautiful offering from Linda of The Task at Hand is a perfect welcome to spring.

Very early in the year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) posted a collection of fascinating and funny wildlife photos from northern Ontario – you can take a look at them here.  There is a link at the bottom of the page which takes you to the CBC Up North Facebook page and more pics.

Finally, a smidgen of the freelancing work and fiction that I’ve been working on has been published in the past few months, including:

My very short story “Gardening in a Post-Apocalyptic World” is included in Third Flatiron Publishing’s newest anthology Principia Ponderosa.

“The Forest Formula,” my article about designing forest gardens, is featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Herb Quarterly.

The Spring issue is at the printers right now (and I have an article in it as well!), but “Grow Delicious Microgreens Indoors This Winter” was published in the Winter 2017 issue of Archive, a fantastic new print magazine out of northern Alberta.

 

Enjoy the start of your week! It’s finally starting to look and feel like spring here in Calgary!  Many years we still have a lot of snow on the ground and winter-like temperatures in late March, but we are super fortunate this year and my hubby and my brother and I were delighted to get out on the golf course this afternoon. Temporary greens, of course, but it was so great just to soak up the sunshine and play!  I love this time of year! 

 

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).

December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

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