Beauty at any cost: a review of The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout

Poet Nina Berkhout seeks to explore the nuances of family, beauty, and expectation in her debut novel The Gallery of Lost Species.

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.

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DeeBrief review: Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry

In this light mystery romp, restaurant critic Dave Lowry doles out an extra big helping of foodie flavour.

Chinese Cooking

“‘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.

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Blog Tour: a review of Prototype by MD Waters

 

Prototype original

Prototype

“I want to laugh. Maybe Emma Burke would exit this room without a word, but I am not that woman any more.
Pulling free of Foster’s grip, I spin so fast Noah and Reid stop arguing to stare in bewildered silence.

‘You will not keep me here, Major Reid,’ I tell him, but shift my focus between both men in case Noah decides to join Reid’s crusade. ‘I dare you to try.’

– Prototype, MD Waters

In the follow-up to the dystopian ArchetypePrototype by MD Waters finishes the story of Emma Wade-Burke, a woman on the run in a future version of the United States where fertile women are in scare supply, surveillance is everywhere, and a band of resistance fighters is gearing up for a war against the business elite who are keeping some serious secrets. Told from Emma’s first person present perspective, Archetype had a claustrophobic quality as Emma struggled to regain her memories within the prison of the hospital she awakens in and the home she shares with her husband Declan. Book two opens after Emma has discovered the truth about herself (spoilers after the cut) and the sinister role Declan has played in both her forgotten past and in society at large.

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Romantic improvisation: a review of Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell

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.

Vienna Nocturne

“Anna had seen many virtuosi play. Wolfgang Mozart surpassed them all. He exhaled, and so many breathing notes unfurled from his unhesitating hands. He played as she had always wished to sing—how she imagined she might sing if she were not so excitable and striving, but selfless and assured, bound to music alone.

– Vienna Nocturne, Vivien Shotwell

In the late 1700s, a young English soprano sets sail with her overprotective mother to find fame and fortune on the Italian stage. And find them Anna Storace does with the company at La Scala Opera House. In Vienna Nocturne, by opera singer Vivien Shotwell, we follow “L’inglesina” from her carefree heights in Milan to Austria where great suffering, great love, and the incomparable Mozart await her under the watchful reign of Joseph II.

It’s easy to throw on some “soothing” Mozart when we’re reading or studying, or to think of Mozart’s music as old-fashioned. But debut novelist Shotwell allows us to peek behind the curtain of one of the greatest moments in operatic history, giving us a keen reminder of the drama, personalities, and political intrigue at play as this music was being composed. Based on the real life of the celebrated soprano who originated the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Vienna Nocturne is about not just the passion in the music, but an illicit love affair between Anna and the married upstart composer Wolfgang Mozart.

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Blog Tour: a review of My Heart is Not My Own by Michael Wuitchik

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. My Heart is not My Ownneck.

“‘What you nem?’ she asks. It’s more of a command than a question. Her tone reminds me of the child soldiers during the war: pushy, demanding attention. Many of the bush wives, unwanted in their home villages, ended up here in Freetown as prostitutes. The young men had AK-47s to trade for motorbikes—the girls had nothing but themselves.

– My Heart is not My Own, Michael Wuitchik

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. Once an emergency doctor working in wartorn areas, Dr. John Rourke has never fully recovered from his experiences in Freetown. Now a respected psychologist in Vancouver, he and his wife Nadia, a Croatian refugee, live in an uneasy present, agreeing never to address the horrors they have each seen. But the arrival of a mysterious package—and the news that Nadia is pregnant with their first child—forces John to face his past.

The parcel in question contains the diary of a Sierra Leonan nurse named Mariama Lahai, whom John worked with. Though John was forced to evacuate the night the rebels took control of Freetown, he has never forgiven himself for abandoning Mariama and their doctor friend Momodu Camara, another Sierra Leonan. In Mariama’s diary, he discovers what happened to her in the months after his departure. The subject matter of the novel, seen mostly through these diary entries, is intensely difficult. This fictionalized account of very real brutality doesn’t shy away from rape, mutilation, torture, and murder during the 10-year-long civil war in Sierra Leone.

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The story I am in right now, with you: a review of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

The end of the world has come and gone, and a handful of humans and post-humans are left in its wake. In MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood returns to the near-future apocalyptic world of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood to tell us what happens next. Sort of.

MaddAddam

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”

– MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

The end of the world has come and gone, and a handful of humans and post-humans are left in its wake. In MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood returns to the near-future apocalyptic world of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood to tell us what happens next. Sort of.

Before I can talk about MaddAddam, some background: I’ve had a difficult relationship with this series. I love much of Atwood’s wit and cutting social commentaries, especially in books such as The Handmaid’s TaleGood Bones and Simple Murders, and Lady Oracle. I enjoyed Oryx & Crake very much: an allegorical tale that examined transhumanism, genetic engineering, and all-powerful corporations in a mega-capitalistic near future. But then The Year of the Flood arrived, and I was so let down. The neat, clever lessons had been taken away from their allegorical underpinnings and thrust into a real-world setting. Suddenly more characters were operating within the parameters of a world I had never read as “real,” and certain things really grated for me as a reader.

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Lines and linkages: a review of The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a strategic marriage and many babies. Daughter of the king’s most trusted advisor, Aoife is drawn to maps.

Mapmaker's war

“Wyl trusted you because of your work. You were a mapmaker. You had studied a navigable world in miniature, hadn’t you? But you followed more than land. You looked to the skies, the stars, the movement of birds.” 

– The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a strategic marriage and many babies. Daughter of the king’s most trusted advisor, Aoife (pronounced “Ee-fah”) is drawn to maps. From an early age she notices things like the geometry of spiderwebs, the planes and angles that make up the world around her. She becomes apprentice to the kingdom’s mapmaker and then succeeds him, with the help of her father and of Wyl, crown prince of the realm and childhood friend. While mapping the river that forms one of the kingdom’s borders, Aoife crosses to the other side and discovers a settlement unlike any she has ever known before: a people, a way of life, and a mythology that are truly magical.

But her discovery, and the rumours she brings back of great wealth guarded by a dragon, sparks a war. She follows Wyl , who wants more than just friendship from her, on his quest to find the dragon, while insidious younger prince Raef accelerates hostilities. Aoife finds herself with a burgeoning allegiance to the people across the river, known as Guardians. Soon her life is torn in two and she must begin again, leaving behind her family, her children, and her kingdom.

For all that I found charming  and original in this book, I was also frustrated throughout. Continue reading “Lines and linkages: a review of The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue”