Read EditorialEyes for book reviews (mainly literary fiction with a sprinkling of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical, and YA), author interviews, and literary event posts.
About me? I've been in publishing in one form or another since 2005, from a tiny literary magazine to freelance editing and proofreading to a mid-size academic publisher to a big-name fiction publisher.
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In Cauchemar, debut author Alexandra Grigorescu weaves some extraordinary magic. This sultry southern gothic tells the story of twenty-year-old Hannah, raised in the Louisiana swamp by Mae, a midwife who relies a little more on voodoo than Hannah ever realized. When Mae dies unexpectedly, Hannah is thrust into two worlds, opposite in nature but just as dangerous—the distrustful townfolk Mae has kept her isolated from, and the sinister sorcery of Hannah’s witchy birth mother…
As quickly as Alexandra Grigorescu evokes the robust spices in deep south cooking, she sends shivers up your spine at the mention of something white and scaly sneaking through Hannah’s dreams…and into her reality. Alexandra stopped by the blog to answer a few questions and share an excerpt from chapter two of Cauchemar.
Alexandra, thank you so much taking the time to discuss your mesmerizing book with me. Let’s start with perhaps the most mysterious question of all: What led a Canadian in (currently very) snowy Toronto to set a book in the deep, swampy south?
Thanks so much for having me, Dee, and thank you so much for your kind words. Winter’s the perfect time to start taking a mental vacation to somewhere warmer, and nothing transports me quite like writing.
But the answer to that question lies, I think, in a quick little story: When I first started writing Cauchemar, I was living in this tiny bachelor apartment in Toronto, and I was dating my now-husband. We were in the early days of the spring thaw. I was taking a step back, assessing the vista of my life, and I had that fingertip itch to just write.
I’d discovered a nearby salvage shop (The Chief Salvage Co.), which was brimming with old B&W photos, jewelry, and bones that were sometimes sourced from the South. I’ve always had an affinity for bones, and I fell head over heels for this sun-bleached cow skull, lightly cracked and missing a few teeth—a bovine Yorick. I spent what was, to my newly unemployed self, a bit of a fortune on it, and mounted it as the only significant decoration in that small space. I’d positioned it, without meaning to, so it was reflected in the mirrored closet door. Everywhere I turned, I saw that skull, from morning to night. Thing is, that skull didn’t look like a cow’s to me. It seemed like a relic. It felt like parched coral. In the morning light, it looked almost reptilian.
Poet Nina Berkhout seeks to explore the nuances of family, beauty, and expectation in her debut novel The Gallery of Lost Species.
“The fixation was with the search for the exemplary paperweight or the valuable Coney Island postcard. While Constance and Viv were off at dance class or stage coaching or vocals, these quests kept him going. My father always brought me along. He said I was endowed with special artifact-finding powers, when all I did was follow him around without discovering anything extraordinary.“
– The Gallery of Lost Species, Nina Berkhout
I’m always drawn to tales of difficult families. These multilayered relationships can encompass so much love, pain, and betrayal. Poet Nina Berkhout seeks to explore the nuances of family, beauty, and expectation in her debut novel The Gallery of Lost Species. Constance Walker, a failed actress from France, and her artist/custodian/collector husband Henry struggle to raise their two daughters in the face of their own disappointments. As youngest child Edith grows up, she discovers that love may not be any more real than unicorns, no matter how hard she tries to find either. Using the motif of the unicorn and the quest of cryptozoology to frame a story of addiction, failed dreams, and tested familial bonds, Berkhout has rich material to work with.
“The novel is a big, baggy, glorious, inchoate, inexact form.”
– David Mitchell, September 20th, 2014
For the packed house at the International Festival of Authors yesterday, David Mitchell needed no introduction. Globe & Mail Arts Editor Jared Bland teased, “He was ranked among the top 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. . . So I guess he’s getting less and less influential.” He described David’s new book, The Bone Clocks, as a “hypnotic Rubik’s Cube of a novel.” When he read his introduction to David before the event, he told us, the author said whoever wrote that “had had too many metaphors on their Corn Flakes this morning.”
An afternoon with David Mitchell promises to be just as sprawling, intelligent, and funny as one of his novels. David began with a reading from The Bone Clocks, “this monster I’ve unleashed onto the world.” He set the scene for his excerpt, asking us to imagine him as a mid-30s foreign war correspondent. It’s 2004. He’s just discovered that his four-year-old daughter is missing: “And this is what happens next.” Ed stumbles through a fan convention filled with Darth Vaders and and Harry Potters to get outside, racing toward a boardwalk psychic Aoife had demanded to visit earlier. The horror of his lost daughter is juxtaposed against the cheery chaos of Brighton Pier.
In this light mystery romp, restaurant critic Dave Lowry doles out an extra big helping of foodie flavour.
“‘And you,’ she said, ‘the aforementioned white guy from Andover, Massachusetts, waltzed into the Eastern Palace here, and they turned over kitchen—wok, stock, and spatula, so to speak—to you?”
– Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves, Dave Lowry
Tucker is not your average white, upper-middle-class college dropout. He’s obsessed with Chinese culture, speaks passable Mandarin, cooks traditional Chinese food with the best of them, and his chivalrous instincts have gotten him embroiled with Corinne Chang, who may or may not be involved with diamond thieves. In this light mystery romp, restaurant critic Dave Lowry doles out an extra big helping of foodie flavour.
Eighty-two-year-old Maud knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, but because Maud is elderly and suffers from dementia, no one takes her seriously.
“‘Oh, Maud,’ she calls out as I leave the shop. ‘I asked for coffee and you’ve given me tea!’ I walk back through the park. There’s a plank for sitting on, a long sitting plank, by the bandstand that looks toward Elizabeth’s road, and I have a rest, watching a man top up a compost heap. It’s cold and it looks like rain, but I don’t feel like going home yet.”
– Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey
What do you do when no one will believe you on a matter of life and death? Eighty-two-year-old Maud knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, but because Maud is elderly and suffers from dementia, no one takes her seriously. After all, she doesn’t remember that she’s been to the shop to buy tinned peaches twice today, or that the man on the phone is angry because she called him but forgot why. But she does know that Elizabeth is missing, and she must gather her failing memory about her to find out why in Emma Healey’s heartwrenching, humourous debut novel. (I had the chance to see her read from and talk about Elizabeth is Missing at IFOA in June.)
Different motivations prompt immigration to the United States in Cristina Henríquez’s ambitious novel The Book of Unknown Americans.
“I couldn’t help but think of how in Pátzcuaro Arturo used to come home at midday and sit at the kitchen table, eating the lunch I had spent much of the morning preparing for him. Soft tortillas that I had ground from nixtamal, wrapped in a dish towel to keep them warm, a plate of shredded chicken or pork, bowls of cubed papaya and mango topped with coconut juice or cotija cheese. . . And now this? This was where I had brought him?“
– The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez
Different motivations prompt immigration to the United States in Cristina Henríquez’s ambitious novel The Book of Unknown Americans. The Riveras arrive in Delaware from their comfortable, happy home in Mexico with the hope that their brain-damaged daughter Maribel will find help at a special school. The Toros emigrated years ago from Panama. They try to cope with alienation in their new and from their old ones, loss of identity and hope, while finding the profound importance of community.
Unknown Americans plays against the idea of America as the promised land for people running from social or political upheaval, or people running toward a shining dream of success in a different country. For the most part, the legal immigrants of the story have left loving homes, strong cultural and familial ties, and steady jobs, for an uncertain future. Henríquez alternates the point of view between Maribel’s mother Alma and the Riveras’ teenaged son Mayor to move the story forward, interspersing short interludes told from the points of view of other neighbours in the apartment complex.