Jan 13, 2010

Author Interview/Book Review: The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

Q: Welcome to Book Dilettante, Christina! We'd love to hear how you came to write your first novel.

Christina Sunley, author of The Tricking of Freya: A Novel will discuss her book on Iceland and its history and culture. The daughter of Icelandic immigrants, her interest in history started with stories she heard from her mother.

Can you tell us the most interesting stories that prompted you to write the book?
Christina: There were two stories that my mother would tell me that especially struck me as a child. The first was of my grandfather as a young child in Iceland waking up to a morning sky black as night -- a volcano had erupted and caused widespread devastation in the area where he lived. The next story came from the following year in my grandfather's life, in 1876: impoverished by the volcanic disaster, his family set off on their shaggy horses under the midnight sun, crossed a river, and rode to the nearest seaport, where they took a ship to Scotland and then to Canada to join the "New Iceland" settlement. My mother also told me many stories about my grandfather's early experiences in the settlement, where they lived under harsh conditions as pioneers. I found those stories especially fascinating, and somehow haunting.

Q: What about the research you did to write the book - the time spent, the places you visited, etc?
Christina: Researching the novel was an incredible journey in and of itself. I made three trips to Iceland and one to Manitoba, and then did lots of reading, too, and pouring over old documents. I interviewed "old timers" in both Iceland and Manitoba, and met a number of relatives for the first time. A few experiences from my first trip to Iceland:

• Floating in a boat on a glacial lagoon – the same lagoon with its dramatic icebergs that years later is now featured on the cover of my book.

• Watching a sheep with spiraling horns climb on the ruins of the turf-roofed farmhouse where my grandfather had been born in another century.

• Sampling hákarl, an Icelandic delicacy consisting of fermented shark meat. Enough said.

• Riding a snowmobile over Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, and trying not to panic when it broke down in the midst of the vast icy wilderness.

• Trekking a still-steaming lava field in the north, where astonishing ribbons of lava seemed frozen in midstream, gleaming with the colors of undiscovered planets.

• Driving for hours by myself in a rented jeep and never seeing a single car or house or road sign along the way.

• And, of course, writing down absolutely everything I saw, smelled, heard or imagined in my notebook.

On my second trip to Iceland, I spent a month in Reykjavik taking an intensive language course in Icelandic. The next year, I spent a month as a writer-in-residence at Klaustrið (The Monastery), living alone in a stone farmhouse bequeathed by one of Iceland's most famous writers. It was just downstream from where my grandfather had been raised. I arrived at the beginning of May in the middle of a tremendous blizzard. It was so stormy most of the time I could hardly venture outside without getting blown over. There was nothing to do but write. I got more writing done in that one month than I had in the whole previous year.

Q: Is the town of Gimli in Manitoba, Canada a real place? Are any of the characters in the novel based on real people?Christina: Gimli is a very really place – in fact, it was one of the first places the Icelanders named when they arrived at Lake Winnipeg. Gimli refers to a kingdom in heaven in Norse mythology. Today Gimli is a tiny Canadian fishing village with strong Icelandic roots. They still hold a large Icelandic Festival there each summer, which I write about in my book. Only one of the characters in my book is loosely based on someone real. Freya’s family friend, Stefan, was inspired by an Icelandic-Canadian historian and genealogist named Nelson Gerrard, whose research and publications are a great inspiration for me. You can learn more about his work at Nelson Gerrard.

Q: You mentioned that only about 5 percent of your historical research findings went into The Tricking of Freya. How do you plan to use the other 95 percent?
Christina: Probably what I meant to say is that only about 5% of the historical material that I wrote ended up in the book. There were several chapters of historical fiction taking place at different points in Icelandic history that I ended up cutting out of the book. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to recycle those chapters anywhere, it did leave me with a longing to write a historical novel about the Icelandic immigration.

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer? At what point did you make this decision?Christina: My mother wrote my poems down for me before I knew how to write! I’ve always loved writing and started making “books” of stories and poems when I was about nine years old, but it’s something else entirely to declare oneself a writer and then manage to get writing done while living life and making a living….

Q: What are some of the books and authors that have influenced you over the years?Christina: I love Michael Cunningham, Michael Ondaatje, Virginia Woolf, Annie Proulx, Paul Auster, Halldor Laxness, to name a few. To the Lighthouse is probably my favorite novel of all time.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add for readers?
Christina: I’m heading to Iceland for a book tour in June, where the book has been released in an Icelandic translation called Freyjuginning. Very exciting! At the end of March the paperback will be coming out in the US and Canada, from Picador, with a new cover and a readers guide for book groups in the back. I love talking with book groups, so if you have a group and are interested, please contact me through my website at Christina Sunley.

Thanks for the interview, Christina, and have fun in Iceland on your book tour in June! It should be beautiful during summer there.

The Tricking of Freya: A Novel by Christina Sunley

Synopsis: Young Freya has been tricked more times than she likes, both in big and small ways. The biggest trick begins with an unexpected trip, when she is enticed by her aunt Birdie to travel with her for three weeks to the land of their ancestors, Iceland, supposedly to find the lost letters of their grandfather, the famous poet Olafur, Skald Nyja Islands.

Freya normally lives in Connecticut with her mother Anna and only travels every summer to the small New Iceland community in Manitoba, Canada where her aunt and grandmother live. Freya is intrigued by her temperamental aunt Birdie, an aspiring poet who has manic highs and lows. In her good moods, Birdie teaches Freya the complex grammar of the Icelandic language and its folklore.

Following that first trip to Iceland with Birdie, a disastrous summer trip that seemed like a wild goose chase, Freya visits Iceland again many years later after Birdie's death, this time alone and to find answers about the past, the identity of a mysterious relative, and about the biggest trick of all that had been ongoing over the years.

Comments: I found this wonderful book at the library and borrowed it twice. The rich array of fictional characters created in the Icelandic community in Canada and in the homeland - from  traditional to progressive to manic personalities - makes this an engrossing story, expertly told.

I came away with a better understanding of Icelandic culture, the land and language, its folklore, and the history of Icelandic immigration to Canada beginning in the 1870s.  The Tricking of Freya was published 2009 by St. Martin's Press.

Other reviews of the book: Rose City Reader and The Boston Bibliophile.
(To have your review listed here, leave a comment with your link).

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Jan 12, 2010

Book Review: Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Truly, Madly (Lucy Valentine, #1) Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Lucy Valentine is psychic - she can't see people's auras as her father can, but she can find lost objects and see into the future, just by shaking someone's hand.

The plot for this cozy mystery is unique - Lucy takes over her father's successful and well known match-making business while her dad recuperates after heart surgery. She matches couples by the color of their auras noted by her aura-seeing father in each client's personal file.

Synopsis: When Lucy gets a new client, shakes his hand, and sees a vision of the ring he has lost, she literally freaks out. The ring just happens to be on the finger of a skeleton buried in a grave in a forest preserve.

How Lucy solves this mystery and determines who-dunit is the basic plot of the book. Along the way, she plays Cupid to several other couples, both clients and friends, and does her father proud as an asset to his matchmaking business. She also finds the love of her life.

Comments: The book has all the elements of a nice cozy - the murder takes place off scene, the mystery is light and easy to read, only the bad guys get hurt, and everything is hunky dory at the end. Love blooms throughout, so make this book a cute romance as well.

I'm looking forward to more Lucy Valentine books - she is a very likeable and lively character with psychic as well as sleuthing abilities and a personality you'll just love.

(ARC made available through LibraryThing Early Reviewers). Submitted to the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 and to the 100+ Reading Challenge.

Other reviews of Truly, Madly: Just One More page...Or Two, Crazy for Books, and Alexia's Books and Such.

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Jan 11, 2010

Asian Print and Music

To celebrate reaching the 100 mark for followers of my blog, I've created an Asian theme with a Japanese woodblock print of a woman in a kimono and with links to a traditional Japanese celebration and to classical Chinese music. Hope you will enjoy them.

The print above is courtesy of Dover Publications. Today, the second Monday in January, is Coming of Age Day in Japan, a holiday when 20 year olds officially reach the status of adult and are able to vote, among other pprivileges.
In Japanese Customs and Traditions, Muza-chan has posted pictures of 20-year-olds dressed in colorful costumes to celebrate their coming of age. Though in formal kimonos, the young women chose bright, flowery patterns and have pinned flowers in their hair! There is also a video of a Coming of Age ceremony held in a Shinto shrine.

For Asian music, there are two videos of Classical Chinese Music performed in the Golden Hall in Vienna with traditional instruments such as the two-stringed erhu. Hope you enjoy them.

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Jan 10, 2010

The Sunday Salon, Jan. 10

The Sunday Salon.com

Things are slow and I'm not posting as often as I used to in 2009! I've decided to take it easy, read at leisure, and post reviews only when I'm good and ready:)

I did only one book review last week: Map of Paradise, but it satisfied three different reading challenges I'm doing this year: The China Challenge, the Chill Baby, Chill! review challenge, and the 100+ Reading Challenge. I love when one book counts for more than one!

I started a cozy I got from LibraryThing, Truly, Madly by Heather Webber - a mystery/romance novel, which I am liking very much - humor, good plot, clever writing.

Haven't gotten an answer back from author Christina Sunley re the Q & A interview I planned, so that may not happen, though I hope she's not too busy and may yet come through!

Posted a Wordless Wednesday photo of red berries, which many people liked - a spot of color in the winter white.

I finally bought The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, a novel which has to be savored and cannot be read in a hurry. I'm savoring it at leisure.

New book to be reviewed: Dino Vicelli, Private Eye in a World of Evils by Lori Weiner. The hero is a private detective who just happens to be a nattily dressed Italian greyhound. Beats the talking cats in that other mystery series.

For next week, I hope to do two book reviews and start reading a new memoir, The Youngest Son: Memoirs from the Motherland by Oreste LeRoy Salerni, about a teacher's sabbatical year in Italy.

What have you done this past week?

Jan 6, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Winter berries are still on the bush,
though the leaves have now gone. They stand out in the snow.

The bush is a rockspray cotoneaster, identified for me by Jodi of Blooming Writer: Gardening in Nova Scotia. Click on the picture to enlarge it, and click on the link to visit Jodi's wonderful garden blog.

Jan 5, 2010

Book Review: A Map of Paradise by Linda Ching Sledge

A Map of Paradise: A Novel of Nineteenth Century Hawaii by Linda Ching Sledge, author of Empire of Heaven.

Publisher's description: With its green cliffs and silvery waterfalls, Hawaii offers radiant hope to Rulan and Pao An - exiles from China, immigrants with the will to succeed despite hardship and prejudice and enemies from their homeland. But his proud couple's hardest struggle will be with their own child - Mulan, called Molly.

Born in Hawaii's sacred hills, Molly grows to despise the old Chinese ways. Locked in perpetual combat with her parents,she is drawn into a dangerous love affair with a glamorous but decadent poet, a protege of the (Hawaiian) king. And even as he family's fortunes rise, Molly's mother watches in sorrow, fearing that her child will realize too late that happiness lies far closer to home.

Beautifully told, A Map of Paradise offers the colorful sweep of history with the satisfaction of characters intimately revealed.

My comments: The Chinese immigrant Pao An worked in California before joining his wife Rulan and their daughter in Hawaii, called the Blessed Isles. There they built a life for themselves and formed a community with other immigrants. The core of the novel are the love stories of young Pao An and his wife Rulan, of their daughter Molly and the half-Hawaiian poet she lived with and loved, and of the quiet boy Lin Kong, whom Molly had grown up with and many times spurned as an adult.

This historical novel describes the arrival of the Chinese as laborers for the sugar plantations in Hawaii in the mid 1800s, and of their gradual integration into the island economy as farmers, traders, and businessmen. The novel tells of the exhaustive work in forming a Chinatown community out of the two warring groups of Chinese - the Punti and Hakka clans.

The book also details the history of the Hawaiian kingdom and the dying off of important members of its royal family in the latter part of the 19th century, giving way to increasing American and British influence and control of the islands.

Rating: I gave this novel five stars for its descriptive storytelling and its detailed historical content on the Hawaiian kingdom and the settling of immigrants there in the late 1800s.

A Map of Paradise was printed in 1997 by Bantam Books. I read this book as part of a reading challenge, which requires 10 books on China or by Chinese authors, now through Sept. 1, 2010: The China Challenge. I also submitted it for the Chill Baby, Chill! review challenge and the 100 + Reading Challenge.

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Jan 3, 2010

The Sunday Salon: A New Year and a New Name

Happy New Year everyone! A new blog name for the new year - from Book Bird Dog to Book Dilettante. Hope you'll stay with me!

What is The Sunday Salon? Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. You can join in, too!

1. This past week I got very little reading done over the New Year holidays! I posted a review of The Tricking of Freya, a novel of Iceland by Christina Sunley, on Dec. 27 and then a Teaser Tuesday on Dec. 28 with my New Year's resolution to follow the healthy eating advice in the book, Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat.

2. Am almost through reading A Map of Paradise, a book of Hawaii in the late 19th century. It was the only book I managed to sneak in during the week.

3. I sent a list of questions for an interview with author Christina Sunley re her book, The Tricking of Freya, and I hope to post her answers this week. I also finished reading The Last Surgeon, a thriller by Michael Palmer, and still have to write a review.

4. Returned from Canada yesterday after five days of visiting and eating and found in my mailbox, appropriately enough, Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 weeks, a book from the Hachette group. This should go a long way to help with my new resolution for 2010 - losing all the pounds I gained the last three months in 2009!

6. Also joined four reading challenges -
Support Your Library Book Challenge,
2010 Flashback Reading Challenge
Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge
and Chill Baby Chill! Reviews (this one runs to March 19, 2010)!

Good luck with your reading in 2010!

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Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...