book review, DeeBrief reviews

DeeBrief review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

This is foremost a ghost story, a chilling tale about loved ones who have died—but maybe not permanently. McMahon excels in creating taut situations set against the spooky backdrop of unforgiving east coast mountains and forests

The Winter People

“‘Because you are the closest I will ever come to a child of my own, the secret will go to you. I will write it all down, everything I know about sleepers. I will fold up the papers, put them in an envelope, and seal it with wax. You will hide it away, and one day, when you are ready, you will open it up.’
‘How will I know I am ready?’ I asked.
She smiled, showing her small teeth, pointed like a fox’s and stained brown from tobacco. ‘You will know.'”

– The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon

Today I’m introducing my blog’s second new feature of the year: DeeBrief reviews. I review far fewer books than I read, often because of time constraints, job, life, having finished too many books at once, or simply not having quite as much to say about a particular title. Often books that I would love to recommend or discuss with you get left in the dust. DeeBrief reviews will be concise snapshots, running about 500 words in length (my regular book reviews are usually 1000-1500 words). Hope you enjoy this new feature! It’ll certainly let me get to more books on my blog.

Something’s going on in the woods outside West Hall, Virginia. The sleepy little town is home to more than just a charming farmers’ market and a quirky history. What really happened to Sara Harrison Shea, whose body was found skinned alive after the death of her only child in 1908? And in the present, where has Ruth and Fawn’s mother gone? In Jennifer McMahon’s atmospheric ghost story The Winter People, three women across a century will discover the truth about “sleepers” as they search for missing loved ones.

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book review

They’re Watching: a review of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’ sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too.

The Panopticon

“It’s why nobody kept me. Except Teresa and she got murdered, and whose fault was that? The therapist said it wasnae mine, but I could have checked on her, I could have made her come through for lunch. I could have knocked on the door after her client left and asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. . .
The experiment know.
They dinnae know this, though: I’d die before I’d pick on someone. I would. You dinnae bully people, ever, ’cause all bullies are cowards.”

– The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan

Anais Hendricks, 15 years old, covered in blood, and coming down off a trip she can’t remember, is accused of attacking a police officer and leaving her in a coma. If the officer dies, Anais will be in worse trouble still. She’s been moved through dozens of foster homes, and the one touch of stability she’s had ended when her adoptive mother Teresa was found murdered, possibly by one of her own johns. So Anais is off to the Panopticon, a home for juvenile offenders, and those with nowhere else to go, designed so that its inhabitants can be seen everywhere by its guards. The kids who call it home may be referred to as “clients” by the staff, but they’re clients who can be monitored at all times.

And Anais knows all about monitoring: she believes she was grown in a petri dish by a shadowy group called “the experiment.” They watch her every move, and they’re closing in on her. Just when she thinks she can breathe someone she trusts warns her about the experiment—or is that just a hallucination? What about the stone winged cat perched above the Panopticon? Was it really foretold by the monk at the insane asylum who claims to have met Anais’s birth mother? There’s a lot going on in this pulsing, ferocious narrative, driven by the forcefully independent voice of Anais.

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blog tour, book review

Blog Tour: a review of Archetype by MD Waters

Violent political realities in Sierra Leone and their lasting physical and psychological traumas form the backdrop of Michael Wuitchik’s gritty debut My Heart is not My Own. neck.

Archetype

Archetype new

 

Don’t you tell him, that voice sounding very much like mine tells me. Lie. Lie your goddamn ass off…
Men in white lab coats and gray scrubs drive into the room the second I start to convulse. And yet, I continue to try. I have to overcome this. I want to go home.
I told you to lie, She says coolly. You don’t understand yet, but you will.
I only understand that I am at war with myself, and I do not know why. One way or another, I will win.

– Archetype, MD Waters

When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea where she is—or even who she is. And it’s only after intensive therapy and visits from her doting husband Declan that she begins to understand that she is a wife who has been through an ordeal too terrible to describe. But in MD Waters’s future dystopian debut Archetype, nothing is as it seems. This pageturner blends the amnesiac suspense of SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep with the fertility-challenged future patriarchy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a dash of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it For you Wholesale” (the basis of the Total Recall films).

How well it manages to do so is the question. Emma is plagued with nightmares (or are they memories? Visions?) of a life that doesn’t fit the picture Declan paints for her—especially of another man she seems to have intense feelings for and a revolution in which she is a warrior. She lives in a society where too much genetic modification has caused a plague of infertility and a shortage of women in general, where girls are brought up in facilities that train them to be wives. America is in the throes of a Man in the High Castle–like war, and security  cameras are pushing 1984 levels of intrusiveness. There’s a lot going on in Emma’s life, not the least of which is how she can figure out who she is, if she doesn’t remember who she used to be (and if the memories she does have don’t fit the life she sees before her).

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book review

An awfully big adventure: review of Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) by Ransom Riggs

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’ sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too.

Hollow City

“Enoch elbowed Horace. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Enoch taunted. ‘Here’s your big chance to stay behind.’
‘I want to go adventuring, I really and truly do,’ Horace insisted. But I should also like to see my 105th birthday, if at all possible. Promise we won’t try to save the whole blasted world?’
‘We just want  to save Miss P,’ said Emma, ‘but I make no guarantees about  anyone’s birthday.'”

– Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’s sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too. His particular talent is for seeing the monsters, particularly wights and hollowgast, that stalk the Peculiar children for unknown but undoubtedly sinister reasons. And when last we left them, they were on the run from their time loop haven in 1940 after rescuing their ymbryne, or bird-shapeshifting protector, Miss Peregrine from evil hollow clutches.

And the fact that Jacob is from our present, trapped in the wartorn British 1940 countryside, is the least of his worries. The hollowgast are on the Peculiar Children’s trail, and Miss Peregrine is injured and unable to escape her bird form. Worse, the other Peculiar havens have been destroyed, their ymbrynes kidnapped. If this seems like a lot to catch up on, it is: you don’t want to pick up Hollow City without having read the first volume of Miss Peregrine adventures.

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book review

A review of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley

Flavia’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Vaulted Arches

“She stuck out a pale hand and touched each of them in turn on the forearm.
As she turned her head Flavia-wards, she gave me 
such a glare!
Feely had the knack of being able to screw one side of her face into a witchlike horror while keeping the other as sweet and demure as any maiden from Tennyson. It was, perhaps, the one thing I envied her.”

– The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is a tough book to review without giving too much away. Book five, Speaking from Among the Bones, ended with a major cliffhanger, and this book picks up with a serious plot reveal. Forgive my vagueness, then: I don’t want to ruin the emotional impact for you with spoilers. Within the first chapter, I gasped several times in surprise. In the sixth installment of the wonderfully entertaining Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley, our heroine Flavia is now nearly twelve. She’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Old questions are going to be answered in this book, but there’s still plenty of juicy mystery. Who is the young man who gives Flavia a garbled message and then winds up dead beneath the train? Why is Winston Churchill there, and what is his cryptic message to Flavia about? Just what were the elder de Luces up to during World War II? And what do pheasant sandwiches have to do with it all?

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audibook, book review

Audiobook review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Orange is the new Black

“If you are a relatively small woman, and a man at least twice your size is bellowing at you in anger, and you’re wearing a prisoner’s uniform, and he has a pair of handcuffs on his belt, I don’t care how much of a badass you think you are, you’ll be fucking scared.”

– Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

I’m kicking off the new year with a couple of new blog features. The first is audiobook reviews!

If you haven’t binge-watched Orange is the New Black on Netflix (I watched all 13 episodes in a day and a half), you’ve probably at least heard about it. Part of the show’s draw is that it’s based on real life events. Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison documents the thirteen months Kerman spent in a federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut. Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, the audiobook is a fascinating and surprisingly touching look at life behind bars.

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lists, sundries

My favourite books of 2013

Time Being The Orenda Cinnamon and Gunpowder

This has been an interesting year in books for a number of reasons, from the changing face of the landscape itself (self-publishing, big publishing house mergers) to major nominations and award wins for Canadian authors, to my own reading habits. I included more non-fiction in my reading list this year, and for the first time began listening to audiobooks. I read 64 books total (not including manuscripts for work, of course! That would push the number considerably higher).

This year I consumed 15 audiobooks (two of which, A Tale for the Time Being and Night Film, I enjoyed in combination with their book version, because they both included visual material that enriched their stories), three short story collections, three non-fiction titles, five mysteries, seventeen historical fiction books, two YA, and ten sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. I’ve read books set in eighteen different countries, and because of discussions on diversity in publishing at BookCampTO 2013, I’ve become more conscious this year of how many books I read by people who don’t look like me. (For the record, this year I read exactly the same number of books by women as I did by men, without any forethought, and fourteen books featuring main characters and/or written by authors of colour. That second number could certainly be higher.)

As for my blog, the number of views in 2013 is more than double that of 2012, I included more author interviews, ran my first contest, and participated in a few blog tours. I also learned that I’m really bad at keeping up readalong posts, and the next one I attempt, if I do one, I’ll write in its entirety before starting to post! I want thank everyone who has stopped by to read, and who commented or tweeted or emailed. Thanks for the conversation! I look forward to a bigger and better 2014.

And now the fun part: my list of my favourite-favourite books of everything I read in 2013! (You can check out 2012’s list here.)

In chronological reading order, my favourites of 2013 are:

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