DeeBrief review: Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

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.

Elizabeth is Missing

“‘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.)

Continue reading “DeeBrief review: Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey”

Advertisements

Buried in the Crackpot file: a review of The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky

In The Stonehenge Letters, Harry Karlinsky gleefully blends fact and fiction into what might be the most original book you’ll read this year.

18406176

“I share in confidence that a year ago I chose to will the bulk of my fortune to the formation of a series of prizes. These will be for worthy individuals whose works have benefited mankind…I now plan to will part of my fortune for the creation of an addition prize—to be awarded to the outstanding man or woman amongst these prizewinners who can solve the mystery of Stonehenge.

– The Stonehenge Letters, Harry Karlinsky

Harry Karlinsky gleefully blends fact and fiction into what might be the most original book you’ll read this year. The Stonehenge Letters seems like a straightforward, serious piece of nonfiction about a bit of unknown history. Our narrator, a lifelong Freudian devotee, is researching why Freud was never awarded a Nobel Prize. In the archives, he comes across the Knäppskalle, or “Crackpot” files. Primarily the home of crazy submissions to the Nobel Prize, the narrator also discovers letters and documents from a secret competition: a quest to solve the mystery of Stonehenge. Which mystery of Stonehenge?, you may ask. The vagueness of the question leads to widely different approaches to and interpretations of the question from no less than Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt, Marie Curie, and other great minds of the early 1900s.

Continue reading “Buried in the Crackpot file: a review of The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky”

DeeBrief review: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones

On a sunny day in a Welsh village in 1924, Wilfred Price finds himself so beguiled by the lemon-curd yellow dress worn by his charming date, he proposes marriage to her—quite by accident.

Wilfred Price

“‘He looked at her fingers which were already purple and bloated, and wondered if Howard Carter had had this problem with Tutankhamun.
‘There was a tomb that Tutankhamun had!’ he remarked to Mrs. Howell-Thomas. ‘Absolutely magnificent!’
“what are you talking about in there, Wilfred?’ said his da, who was sitting on the flowerbed wall, drinking his tea. ‘Are you talking to a corpse again?'”

– The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price,
Purveyor of Superior Funerals, Wendy Jones

On a sunny day in a Welsh village in 1924, Wilfred Price finds himself so beguiled by his surroundings, his picnic lunch, and the lemon-curd yellow dress worn by his charming date, he proposes marriage to her—quite by accident. Though Wilfred tries to take it back, events conspire against him. Grace Reese, it turns out, is secretly pregnant and the proposal is a godsend that will save this doctor’s daughter’s reputation. Word gets out immediately of the proposal (and the pregnancy), and she can’t bring herself to tell her anyone it was a mistake. Wilfred, meanwhile, is a newly minted undertaker, trying to establish himself as a trusted name and grow his business. He can’t afford to tarnish his reputation with rumours either. And when the lovely Flora calls on him to bury her father, he finds himself drawn into a triangle that is deceptively complex.

Continue reading “DeeBrief review: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones”

The best interests of women: a review of The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and
Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race
Around the WorldFor author and historian Charlotte Gray in The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, the murder is an access point, a window into Toronto a hundred years ago, and into the changing social fabric of Canada.

The Massey Murder

“Now, within a city and country under stress, Carrie Davies’s actions played into contemporary disquiet about the dissolution of Old World standards of behaviour. Whatever did Carrie Davies think she was doing? Was this the kind of thing that would happen if people didn’t know their place and women were given the vote?

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, by Charlotte Gray

Carrie Davies would have been one of the countless unknown servants of wartime Toronto if not for her actions on February 8, 1915. An eighteen-year-old  immigrant from a big family in England, she was working to support herself while sending money home. But then she picked up a gun and shot the man she worked for: Charles Albert Massey, of the prominent old Ontario Massey family. For author and historian Charlotte Gray in The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, the murder is an access point, a window into Toronto a hundred years ago, and into the changing social fabric of Canada.

Toronto is my adopted city, the place I moved to in 2008 to continue schooling, to pursue a career and become an adult. It’s the city I know and love best, having learned its streets, its festivals, its hidden restaurant and pub gems, in a way I never did where I grew up: savouring rather than taking the terrain from granted. I also arrived in time for a crippling garbage strike and a mayoral race that, years later, has left city hall in the grip of personal and possibly criminal scandal. I have a fascination for Toronto’s politics and its history. So The Massey Murder is exactly the book I was looking for. Less a focused true crime account and more an examination of class, gender, and history, Gray has written a compelling narrative of the Toronto that was a century ago.

Continue reading “The best interests of women: a review of The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray”

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.

Continue reading “DeeBrief review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon”

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “Audiobook review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman”