blog tour, book review

Penguin Canada’s Daily Delights: a review of In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

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Part of Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights!

In Falling Snow

“When I came into the ward later in the morning on my way to reception, another was in the boy’s bed. I saw Miss Ivens on her way back to the theatre. I asked her what had happened and she said the end had been peaceful. ‘Sometimes that’s all you can do,’ she said. She must have read the sadness in my face. ‘It’s enough,’ she said. ‘Sometimes you can’t even given them that. And that’s the hardest of all.’

– In Falling Snow, Mary-Rose MacColl

An elderly Australian woman receives an invitation that brings memories flooding back from a time in her life she has tried hard to forget. She imagines being a young woman, in a field hospital in France, watching in wonder the first snowfall she has ever seen. That wonder suffuses the starker landscape of a France at war, of young men dying and strong women doing all they can to save them. Mary-Rose MacColl’s North American debut In Falling Snow is a beautiful World War I tale and a thoughtful meditation on the slippery nature of memory, as well as the roles of women in family, friendship, work, and war across the 20th century.

Continue reading “Penguin Canada’s Daily Delights: a review of In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl”

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book review

The glare of celebrity: a review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith

 

cuckoo's calling

“Somé picked up his mint tea. ‘Why do women do it? Cuckoo, too. . . she wasn’t stupid—actually, she was razor sharp—so what did she see in Evan Duffield? I’ll tell you,’ he said without pausing for an answer. ‘It’s that wounded-poet crap, that soul-pain shit, that too-much-of-a-tortured-genius-to-wash bollocks. Brush your teeth, you little bastard. You’re not fucking Byron.'”

The Cuckoo’s Calling, JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith

Well, we all know the secret of Robert Galbraith and his debut novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. Galbraith, of course, is the pseudonym of JK Rowling. (If you somehow missed the story, check out this article in the New York Times.) Unfortunately, I would likely not have heard about this book if its provenance hadn’t been revealed, but I wish I’d read it unhindered by the knowledge of who its author is. It’s impossible to read without bring a boatload of expectations and assumptions to the table. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read my beloved Harry Potter books, and yet I absolutely despised Rowling’s adult debut A Casual Vacancy. How, then, to read a mystery that was published with the specific intent of enjoying critical reviews and audience response without being associated with the Rowling powerhouse?

Fortunately, The Cuckoo’s Calling returns to Rowling’s greatest strength: compelling narrative. Rowling is a master storyteller, and in this contemporary murder mystery there’s plenty of story to go around. Private investigator Cormoran Strike is physically imposing, mentally sharp, and socially a bit gruff. His girlfriend has left him (again), he’s sleeping in his office, and he’s in pain due to the leg he lost as a Military Policeman in Afghanistan. Not to mention he can barely pay his bills, including the salary of bright, eager temp secretary Robin Ellacott. When John Bristow, an old school chum, turns up with a case, Cormoran can hardly say no, especially because Bristow is prepared to overpay him grandly. Bristow’s adopted sister, ultra-famous supermodel Lula Landry, has apparently committed suicide, but Bristow is convinced she was murdered.

Continue reading “The glare of celebrity: a review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith”

book review

On the surface: a review of Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

Windsor, Ontario, may not seem like an obvious setting for a novel, but in Wayne Grady’s fiction debut Emancipation Day, tensions simmer beneath the surface, and things are not always what they seem. Jack Lewis is one of three children born to a working class black family. But Jack is born different—his skin is white.

Emancipation Day

“It felt safe, but it was dangerous for Jack in this house. He was pretty sure Peter and his mother didn’t know anything about his family, but he couldn’t be certain. Peter probably wouldn’t rat on him if he did know, but he couldn’t be sure of that either. The Barnses were white and they were rich, and he didn’t really understand such people, didn’t know what they were capable of, how fiercely they would protect one of their own. Coming to Peter’s house, talking to Peter’s mother, even calling her Della, was like putting his hand  on a hot stove to see how long he could stand the heat.”

Emancipation Day, Wayne Grady

Windsor, Ontario, may not seem like an obvious setting for a novel, but in Wayne Grady’s fiction debut Emancipation Day, tensions simmer beneath the surface, and things are not always what they seem. Jack Lewis is one of three children born to a working class black family. But Jack is born different—his skin is white. Not albino, but to all appearances caucasian. And growing up in the 1930s and 40s across the border from Detroit, this doesn’t make for an easy situation for anyone involved.

Race, family, and identity form the central tensions of the novel, each pulling at and playing with one another. Jack rejects his blackness and, in doing so, his family, passing for white as much as possible. A talented trombone player, he joins the Windsor All-Whites (who are) while rejecting the jazz music that’s rising in popularity particularly among black musicians and music lovers. When he joins the Navy during World War II, he is transferred to Newfoundland and sees the opportunity to distance himself from his family and community entirely. And when he meets, woos, and eventually marries Vivian Fanshawe, he doesn’t inform his new wife and her family of his own heritage.

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book review

Here’s to memories: a review of The Truth about Luck by Iain Reid

What’s a freelance writer who is a bit short on cash to do when his brother bails on their customary joint gift for Grandma’s birthday? If you’re Iain Reid, you follow said brother’s advice and give your grandmother a gift uniquely suited to you: time. The Truth about Luck is Reid’s memoir of the week he and his grandma took a staycation together. It’s an unassuming premise that unfolds into a quiet, funny, and insightful book.

Truth About Luck

“Grandma slowly brings her glass up, asking for a cheers. I clink hers with mine. ‘Here’s to stories,’ she says. ‘Old and new.’
‘And memories,’ I say.
She holds up her glass a moment longer as I take my sip. ‘Yes, she says, ‘and to not letting them go to waste.'”

– The Truth about Luck, Iain Reid

What’s a freelance writer who is a bit short on cash to do when his brother bails on their customary joint gift for Grandma’s birthday? If you’re Iain Reid, you follow said brother’s advice and give your grandmother a gift uniquely suited to you: time. The Truth about Luck is Reid’s memoir of the week he and his grandma took a staycation together. It’s an unassuming premise that unfolds into a quiet, funny, and insightful book.

Reid offers to take his 90-year-old grandmother on vacation for a week to celebrate her birthday. He doesn’t mention that due to cashflow issues, the vacation is going to take place in his apartment in Kingston, a couple of hours away from her home in Ottawa. Grandma doesn’t mind, though. In fact, she tells him that all her friends simply couldn’t believe he was doing such a nice thing for her. Reid’s guilt and neuroses that he can’t show Grandma a better time are overwhelmed by her relentless optimism and genuine pleasure at spending time with her grandson. They roadtrip together from Ottawa and over the course of the week go out for dinner, enjoying reading on rainy afternoons, take a ferry out to Wolfe Island, and find their conversation flowing more and more freely.

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book review

Cards, fans, and overthrowing a monarchy: a review of The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

Stockholm Octavo

“‘Madam Uzanne, I am of the belief that this geometry can create anything you can imagine. Anything,’ he repeated. ‘In short, you may build an edifice of your choosing, a palace or a prison.’

The Uzanne smiled at him in such a way that the casual observer might think that a passionate love affair was imminent. ‘I plan to make one of each.'”

– The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann

As the 18th century draws to a close, violent revolution has overtaken France and America. A quieter revolution, not as bloody but no less grim, is in the works in Sweden. From the gambling dens to the docks, the ateliers to the court of King Gustav, change is afoot, and it’s being nudged along by several key players.

An aristocratic, powerful woman known to all as the Uzanne wants Gustav deposed and his brother, Duke Karl, elevated to the throne. The apothicaire Johanna Grey will change her history, her name, and perhaps even her morals to avoid marriage to a violent older man. The seer and card sharp Mrs. Sparrow wishes to change the dire future she has foreseen for the monarchy. And sekretaire Emil Larsson, our wily and self-involved main narrator, just wants a life that provides him with a roof over his head, a game of cards, and the occasional shipment of confiscated goods through his job at the office of customs and excise.

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book review

Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be solved by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Mr. Penumbra's

 “He paused, then added, ‘Some of them are working very hard indeed.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘My boy!’ he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: ‘They are reading.'”

 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be figured out by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and, much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Clay Jannon is something of a slacker. After losing his first job out of graphic design school due to recession woes, he’s spending a lot of time on the couch, unemployed, ignoring the budding romance between his roommates. He’s waiting for something to happen, an amiable, aimless guy who is meandering through life. As he wanders the streets of San Francisco  he finds an extraordinary bookstore: open 24 hours a day, Mr. Penumbra’s is a store with “regular” books up front and strange tomes shelved way up into the storeys-high rafters. And he’s looking to hire. Clay applies and lands the job as the sole night clerk, mainly because he tells Mr. Penumbra that the books that have most influenced him are the (fictional) Dragon-Song Chronicles. Right answer, evidently. He begins work, and is tasked with the odd assignment of recording as much personal detail as possible about everyone who enters the store—and strangest of all, he is forbidden from reading any of the books. So of course, at the urging of old friends and his new love interest, Kat Potente (who has a giant brain and boundless energy, and works for Google), Clay opens the books and discover that they’re encoded.

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