Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sputnik's Children

my library copy, with suitable fabric bookmark!
Sputnik's Children / Terri Favro
Toronto: ECW Press, c2017.
351 p.

This is the first in a string of speculative fiction I've picked up unintentionally from the library -- there were a bunch of shiny new books on the shelf so I thought I'd try some. And they were all weird and good and busted me out of a reading rut. 

This novel is the story of Debbie Reynolds Biondi, a comic book author of the cult hit Sputnik Girl. It's the story of a badass heroine with no past -- but the secret is that Debbie has based her comics on her life growing up in an alternate universe, under Atomic Mean Time. She lives in Shipman's Corners, Canusa -- a corporate part of what is our Niagara region in our time.

Debbie encounters time travellers and conspirators, all trying to either guide or keep her from collapsing Atomic Mean Time to save the world from nuclear disaster. When her AMT world collapses, everyone in it will blend with their other self in our own accustomed world; everyone except Debbie, who doesn't exist in our world, which is why she is the only one able to Save The World.

Or so she says.

Debbie is middle-aged, alone, addicted to lorazepam and martinis, fixated on her past story. But is she a reliable narrator? That's up to the reader to decide. As for myself, Favro's Cold War inspired AMT world is so convincing that I believed in this alternate reality thesis. The blend of science, true love, prejudice, a childhood in the shadow of nuclear war, and family dynamics is, well, dynamic. It's fast paced & fascinating, innocent & terrifying, funny and really sad, all rolled up in one -- or maybe two -- worlds.

The storyline doesn't have any logical errors, and I appreciated the detail in the setting and the time travel/science elements; it makes the reading very sensory and realistic. The characters, especially Debbie's family, were well drawn and convincing. All together, this was a puzzling and very entertaining read. It brings up questions of veracity, power, safety, war, authority, all alongside an accessible and enjoyable literary/speculative narrative. I had fun reading this, which is enough for me.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Happy Year of the Dog!

Year of the Dog, It Is

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Happy Year of the Dog! 2018 brings us into the Year of the Earth Dog, who is "Communicative, serious, and responsible in work". As the website says, "According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2018 is the year of the Dog 🐶 and its characteristic word is ACTION!" ;)

Photo by Red Morley Hewitt on Unsplash

As for my lunar new year action, just as I have for the past 11 years, I am posting a booklist for this Year of the Dog. I can hardly believe that it's the end of the zodiac cycle for me; I started long ago in the Year of the Pig. For our last celebratory booklist, we have an easy subject. There are so many wonderful kids books featuring dogs! Here are a few favourites. 

RRRalph! / Lois Ehlert

What librarian isn't intimately familiar with Ehlert's many colourful books? This one features Rrralph the talking dog, lots of sound play, and the usual cheery, fun illustrations. Entertaining and a good way to investigate language with young readers.

Wiggle / Doreen Cronin    

Another classic in lively word play and active engagement, this picture book follows a dog who loves to move. It's the first of three in a series featuring this active little pup, but still my favourite, since the cover features hula hooping, one of my own favourite ways to get active ;) 

Love is my Favourite Thing / Emma Chichester Clark

A timely read so near to Valentine's Day, this sweet picture book chronicles the adventures of Plum the dog, who loves everything and everyone (except rain). Plum gets into all sorts of mischief, but through it all, her family never stops loving her. This author writes & illustrates her books, and another of her series, the Blue Kangaroo books, are among my favourites of all time (though there is no kangaroo in the Chinese Zodiac to be able to share them with you, I've snuck them in here!)

The McDuff Stories / Rosemary Wells   

These four charming stories follow McDuff, a little white Westie who finds a home and a name in the first story, then continues to have low-key adventures with his new family. McDuff is a dog in the best sense; not anthropomorphized and very doggish in his behaviour. The illustrations are beautiful as well. 

The Hundred and One Dalmatians / Dodie Smith 

One for the slightly older crowd, this is a classic readaloud. Who doesn't love Pongo & Perdita and their pups? And who doesn't like to see Cruella DeVille defeated? The book is wonderful, by a lovely writer whose other adult books are worth exploring.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Inheritance from Mother

Inheritance From Mother / Minae Mizumura; translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter.
New York: Other Press, c2016.
446 p.

I have been reading this book slowly over the past month after discovering it at my library. I suppose that's suitable, as it was first published as a serial novel in Japan. So reading it bit by bit is kind of the way it was originally created to be read. 

It's about two sisters, Mitsuki and Natsuki, who spend the first half of the book waiting for their imperious, narcissistic mother to die. The book fights against the stereotype of the devoted daughter caring for her aging saintly mother; Noriko is no saint, she is focused on her life and her desires, and has been for most of their lives. Mitsuki, in her 50's, working as a French instructor at a university, takes on most of the responsibilities for her mother's care. This is partly because she is close by, partly because she's childless, and partly due to childhood dynamics between the siblings. 

Not only is she dealing with her mother's final illness, trying to do everything she can to make her mother's last days beautiful and comforting (while feeling exhausted and resentful), she is also coping with her husband's third affair with a younger woman. This time it's serious, and Mitsuki has to try to come to a decision about how to handle it. 

Noriko dies at the end of Part One; Mitsuki then spends Part Two of the novel coming to terms with her past and her memories of her mother. She retreats to a small traditional hotel to think, and the second half of the book is full of other guests and their issues, illuminating aspects of contemporary Japanese life. The text veers off into chapters on other topics, including a disquisition on the place of serial novels in Japanese literary history, before coming back to Mitsuki and her decision to leave her husband and finally have a room of her own. 

How she manages to do that is quite lovely and hopeful. I loved the ending, and the new life that Mitsuki feels arising. The description of her new and much less expensive living space is also lovely, even though it is revealed that it is only 62 sq. feet. Yikes! 

Anyhow, despite my levity here, I thought this was a really fascinating read. While it is focusing in on issues important in modern Japan, it's also a great look at a family's history with characters that you will feel for. Both Mitsuki and Noriko evoke a sense of compassion in the reader, seeing where they are coming from and why. And the narrative pace, while slow, allows for easy reading in small doses, without losing the thread. 



This book reminded me of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin in its examination of familial relationships and the enmeshment of mothers and daughters, though this one is set in Korea. 

It also recalled a more recent read, Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, which explores the slow move toward life after the loss of a father and husband, made by a mother and daughter together. Moshi Moshi was also published as a serial novel in its first incarnation, and the daughter ends up travelling to France to study just as Mitsuki did in her youth.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Literary Sewing Circle

Over at my other blog, Following the Thread, the newest round of The Literary Sewing Circle has begun! This is an online bookclub in which we read and discuss a book together, then make a project inspired by the book. 

While sewing is the main focus of this project, anyone who sews, knits, crochets, embroiders or otherwise makes some kind of textile craft is welcome to join in. As long as you can say where your inspiration came from in your reading, the sky is the limit!

Our current book is Cassie Stocks' Dance, Gladys, Dance. This book is on the longlist for Canada Reads right now, and has been featured right here on this blog before. 

If you want to join in, just comment on the Literary Sewing Circle blog post, and you can read and sew along at your own pace. And you can also count this title toward your Canadian Book Challenge, if you are participating in that reading challenge as well!

Hope you see some of you over there...

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves / Cherie Dimaline  
Toronto: Dancing Cat Books, c2017.
234 p.

This is a YA novel that I've heard a lot about, so when it came into my library I snagged it.

It's an Indigenous dystopian novel; it's set sometime in the future, a time in which catastrophic climate events have altered the shape of the world. The population has been drastically reduced, and life is difficult. Most people have lost the ability to dream - not metaphorically, but real, night time dream - and the result is not great. People are unhappy, unable to  function well, and they really, really want to dream again.

Then it's discovered that a 'vaccine' of sorts can be created from the bone marrow of Indigenous people, where the ability to dream is encoded. The problem? The Indigenous person does not survive the process.

So in this world, Indigenous people are hiding, heading north to where they can find a safer space. Our main character, Frenchie, is alone after his parents and brother are all taken away by authorities. He starts walking north, and eventually stumbles on another small group who allow him to join them. Made up of a mix of Indigenous peoples from across the country, this circle becomes his new family.

They struggle to head far enough to find a permanent place to live, unthreatened by those who want their bone marrow. They encounter many dangers, some quite serious; they build relationships both familial and romantic; they share their 'coming to' stories about how they got to this point. I found these backstory excerpts really powerful and moving. Each of them is so different and has so much sorrow and strength in their stories.

The conclusion feels open-ended as well -- there is room for more story here. The group discovers a large settlement comprising a wide mix of Indigenous people rebelling and resisting the regime of hospital/prisons. One of these rebels is Frenchie's own father, lost long before. After a few years of wandering in the woods it's hard for them to readjust to a more regimented, larger living space, but it is the beginning of hope.

There were a few leaps of logic here -- how did the wider society organize their 'hospitals' and teams of agents tracking Indigenous people down when society was chaotic? What exactly did the bone marrow provide? But here is where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in; the story carries the reader forward despite these questions.

It's a really interesting take on the dystopian trend, incorporating many ideas and themes that are based in an Indigenous perspective, with white characters not present much at all. The characters are well drawn and the set up is different from other dystopian stories, so well worth exploring.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Rule of Luck

The Rule of Luck / Catherine Cerveny
New York: Orbit, 2017, c2016.
391 p.

I saw this book on the new arrivals shelf at work and was intrigued. It looked like an unusual science fictiony read, set in 2950, by which time much of the Earth has been covered in water & there are settlements on Mars and Venus for people to try to get to. One of the important surviving cities is Nairobi; this is where we find our main character, Felicia Sevigny.

Felicia is a tarot reader, still a career in this future world. She works in a little shop with two others, but on this particular day is heading out for an appointment to try to get her fertility ban lifted -- when in walks a tall, dark & handsome stranger. Very handsome -- so much so that she's sure he's had every genetic mod possible.

This is the world they live in; technology is everywhere. Most people are linked into the net biologically, able to scan info immediately about everyone they meet. Felicia, however, comes from a family who is opposed to this kind of intrusive tech, so she's an anomaly, someone who can't be so easily traced. And that's one reason why this powerful stranger has tracked her down.

The stranger is Alexei Petriv, one of the leaders of a Russian crime syndicate who wants nothing more than to overthrow One Government and take its place. They have good reasons to get Felicia involved in their quest, and her instant attraction to Alexei makes this easier.

But this is where the book falls down for me. Perhaps it's just the timing, but having a secret syndicate of Russians trying to take over the world government seems a little awkward as a plot device right now.

And while I assumed from the design of this book and the cover blurb that I was going to be reading a futuristic thriller with a bit of romance, it is very much in the style of an urban fantasy/paranormal romance with a touch of thriller. The sex lasts for pages, is lavishly described and occurs with great frequency. Not that I don't like reading romances, but I prefer to pick them up on purpose, when I'm intending to do so.

There are some fun parts to this book; it starts out really strong with a good hook. But too much time wasted on the relationship between Alexei and Felicia for me -- the plot is forgotten while they explore one another. The intriguing bits -- the setting, the tarot element -- get a bit lost. I'll most likely still read the second book when I can get it, as I'd like to see what happens next once Felicia heads off world. If you are looking for a steamy romance with a futuristic setting, this is a good bet. On my 3 Chilis heat scale, this one reads a definite 2.5.