Thursday, December 07, 2017

Brief Reviews: a collection

There are a number of books I've read over the  last few months that I've never reviewed here: some because I didn't have enough to say about them, some because I reviewed them for the Library Journal as part of my professional duties & so can't do so here. But I can share some brief thoughts about all these kind of reads, and today is the day!

First off, some Library Journal reads:

Wildwood / Elinor Florence

A Canadian novel of survival in a remote farming community, the heart of the story is in its focus on women's relationships throughout the generations. Really enjoyed it; wholesome writing, great setting. Forthcoming in 2018.

The Other Mother / Carol Goodman 

Haven't reviewed this one yet, just finished it -- it is forthcoming. But as with most of Goodman's books I can recommend it. This tale moves toward the very popular domestic suspense genre but still carries the aura of Goodman's gothic predilections. 

The Marriage Pact / Michelle Richmond

Loved it! A fun, suspenseful read that I like to call "the Da Vinci Code for marriage counsellors". You can see some of my LJ review on the author's website if you scroll down a bit.

Modern Lovers / Emma Straub

While I wasn't a huge fan of Straub's novel The Vacationers, I really enjoyed this one. It has heart. See my LJ review here.

And now for a few random reads that I never got around to talking about after I'd finished them.

The Snow Child / Eowyn Ivey
I had this on my tbr for years! I finally got around to it this year and was sadly underwhelmed. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood but the story seemed too slow paced for me and the ending was a bit of an eyeroll. Sorry to those who've loved it! 

The Clothes on their Backs / Linda Grant
This story of an immigrant family in England faced with the existence of the main character's flashy uncle (involved in things that aren't always just so) was a complex and interesting read. I felt a little disconnected from the narrative though. I was engaged while I was reading but found the ending a bit of a let down. Lots of very tactile description in it, however, which I really liked.

Under Plum Lake / Lionel Davidson
This classic children's book was recommended to me as a vision of true utopia. I read it. I disagree strongly that the vision of a life under the sea with a very masculine focused society and a snotty know-it-all main character who condescendingly references his mother and little sister is a utopian vision. Times change, thankfully.

Mr. Rochester / Sarah Shoemaker
I read this "true story" of Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre fame quickly -- I liked it despite my usual hesitation over either real people or other writer's characters being used in new books. The writing was good and it seemed to stick to possibilities suggested by the original text. But it has quickly faded from memory. I think my own Mr Rochester is stronger in my readerly brain. But the cover is too gorgeous!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler / E.L. Konigsburg
I would have LOVED this as a kid. I don't know how I missed this story of unappreciated Claudia who runs away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her little brother when I was the right age for it. I liked it as an adult reader but it just doesn't have the same magic when you don't find it at the right time.

I hope that I've now caught up a bit; this year has been getting away from me! More reviews and a yearly roundup to come, though... 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Bone Mother

The Bone Mother / David Demchuk 
Peterborough, ON: ChiZine, c2017.
234 p.

As my longer-term readers may know, horror is not my first choice for a good read. But this one, longlisted for the Giller Prize (a preeminent Canadian literary prize), and set on the borders of Ukraine & Romania, interested me for those very reasons.

It's a set of short stories, all connected in ways, featuring the ancient monsters of peasant folklore, salted with some scary 'night police' tracking them down, in a nod to Soviet style tyranny.

The stories are set in Ukraine, especially three villages near the Thimble Factory, as well as a couple of stories within the Ukrainian community in Canada (the one set in Manitoba was especially good, I thought - probably the most memorable for me). 

They are full of horror; from bloody killings to cannibalism to monsters living among us -- but somehow the overall tone is more dark folklore than gratuitous gore. The stories in which I could identify real folkloric creatures like the rusalka or Baba Yaga were the most fascinating to me. There were a couple of these short tales that I didn't like much (mostly the last one) but as a whole this book was a great read. Creepy, spooky, dark, the stories were so brief (some only a page or two) that it really felt like reading folk tales, like these were stories that had been -- or should have been -- passed down in whispers through the generations. 

As one of the reviews of this book has mentioned, the actual history that this book arises from is terrifying enough on its own: Demchuk mentions the Holodomyr (Stalin's forced famine, which created plenty of real-life horror) and the way the implacable Night Police are threaded through the stories reads as Soviet reality.

Another element that adds to the book is Demchuk's use of old photographs (in the public domain) by Roman photographer Costică Acsinte, taken between 1935 and 1945. They are portraits, with individuals staring out at you from stark backgrounds; the chapters titles are simply names. It's very effective. 

A very unusual Canadian read, but one that I read in one sitting and by the way, didn't even have nightmares after reading it! 

Friday, December 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge: December Roundup

Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables)

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.