Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

I'm not a big fan of straight psychological horror, but mix black humour with creepiness and I'm hooked. Author Grady Hendrix hits the perfect satirical note with Horrorstor. Bizarre acts of destruction have been noticed by the opening shift at an American box store that sells Ikea knockoffs. A handful of employees are conscripted to stay overnight to find out what's going on. It's a night from hell. And it's funny too.

The book is designed to look like an Ikea catalogue. Each chapter starts with some pseudo-Swedish type of furniture, getting more and more odd as the novel progresses. It's irresistible.

Readalikes: Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris); The Blondes (Emily Schultz); Worst. Person. Ever. (Douglas Coupland); Afterlife with Archie (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa); Zombies Calling (Faith Erin Hicks).
"Unwind on the cushion-firm mattress as this elegantly designed wheeled stretcher transfers you to the destination of your choice. Whether it's a fast-paced trip to an urgent care center or a more leisurely cruise to the coroner's office, GURNE delivers you in style and comfort" 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dublin Impac Longlist: So Much Good Stuff!

When the folks at the Dublin Impac Literary Award say "long" they mean it. Their longlist announced today contains 142 nominees from 39 countries. I'm always excited to see what's on this list because:

  • Finding out about new books and authors, especially from other parts of the world
  • Seeing which of my favourites are included
  • Reminder of great books that I've already read
  • Nominations are all from libraries
  • Big money prize (100,000 euros) celebrates literary endeavour

Two books that caught my eye are by Australian Indigenous authors:
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko and The Swan Book by Alexis Wright. (I reviewed Wright's Carpentaria here.) I hope that these are available in Canada, because I want to read them now!

It was good to be reminded of a couple of other titles that I've been meaning to read for a long time: On Sal Mal Lane by the fabulous Ru Freeman and For Sure by Canadian France Daigle. (Note to self: less time on twitter = more time to read books.)

I noticed that two books have single letter titles: S by Doug Dorst and K by Bernardo Kucinski. Interesting. Surely it isn't often that a book gets that kind of title.

The book that intrigues me most based on title alone: Mr. Darwin's Gardener by Kristina Carlson (because Charles Darwin and horticulture).

The book covers that most attracted me: The Humans by Matt Haig (because font and dog looking at night sky) and Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist (because magpies).
Here are some excellent titles on the list that I've previously reviewed:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Eyrie by Tim Winton
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara

There are a bunch of other books on the list that I've read and haven't reviewed, so the Dublin Impac longlist is also a kick in the pants reminding me to write my thoughts on this blog before moving on to another book. Aside from Instructions for a Heatwave, these are all titles that I listened to in audiobook format. Every one of them is worthwhile:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

If you're looking for something new to read, check out the Impac list. Pick your favourites and see if they make the shortlist that will be announced in April 2015.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

British artist Isabel Greenberg has made a fresh, witty and charming tale out of ancient mythology and her own imagination: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.

"Readers! This book is not a real encyclopedia!" -from the back cover.

It's about a storyteller from the land of Nord and his series of adventures as he travels the globe in search of a missing part of himself. Meanwhile, BirdMan and his two children - the Ravens - look on from their perch in the heavens. It's told in graphic novel format with striking linocut-style images.

First panel in the book. How could I not immediately fall in love with a book that starts with mitten love?
The story of historical events depends on who is doing the storytelling. (Note the high five in background.)
The Master Bootlicker made me laugh...
Another panel that made me laugh. (God's reaction to prayer: "What the bloody hell is that noise?")
This panel is from Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood (Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins). It was pure serendipity that I read this immediately following The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, and found this reference to Bird Man / Bird God. The thing that prompted me to re-read the New 52 Wonder Woman series is the news that a new creative team is taking over the writing: Meredith and David Finch. Looking forward to what they'll do!

To see more of Isabel Greenberg's delightful art, check out her website:

Readalikes: Mouse Bird Snake Wolf (David Almond & Dave McKean); The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King

Every new book from A.S. King is reason for excitement. I know that I will find offbeat characters navigating this confounding world with wit and heart. Each one makes me feel that I'm encountering life in a new way. I am seduced every time.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future begins with a quote from Walt Whitman: "The future is no more uncertain than the present."

"Prologue: The clan of the petrified bat

   So we drank it - the two of us. Ellie drank it first and acted like it tasted good. I followed. And it wasn't half bad.
   When we woke up the next morning, everything was different. We could see the future. We could see the past. We could see everything."

Yeah, so two teens on the cusp of adulthood mix a desiccated bat into beer and drink it. Then they start getting random visions of the future and the past whenever they look at people. That's the kind of crazy stuff that happens in A.S. King's novels. From then on, it's all really real.

Ellie grew up on the hippie commune across the road from Glory's house. All their lives, they have been best friends by default. Ellie has never talked to Glory about her mother.

When Glory was four, her mother committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven. Glory's father has never replaced that stove; they only eat microwaved meals at home.

Glory is now 17 and her aunt Amy still sends birthday cards with overly girly motifs.

  "Amy always had a way of going over the top because I told her I was a feminist when I was twelve, and she told Dad he'd brainwashed me into being some sort of half-boy.
   Which was bullshit. I was not a half-boy. I was still totally myself. I just wanted Aunt Amy to get paid as much as a man if ever she got off her lazy ass and got a job.
   Why did everyone mix up that word so much?"

Today on twitter I saw this:

In Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, A.S. King takes a dystopian crack at the ongoing equality debate. Glory foresees a federal Fair Pay Act being enacted 50 years in the future. It will require employers to pay women the same as men for performing the same jobs. (That's not the dystopian part!)

  "The loophole in the federal Fair pay Act will be simple. How can states make sure they won't have to pay women fairly? Make it illegal for women to work."

Whoa. Serious societal malfunction ahead. Meanwhile, Glory struggles to come up with a plan for her immediate future.

I loved this book to pieces. King is the ace of YA. You can't go wrong with any of her novels, including a couple that I've reviewed previously: Ask the Passengers and Please Forgive Vera Dietz.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night Gardener contains the most evil tree I've ever encountered in children's literature. J.K. Rowling's whomping willow, Tolkein's ents, Patrick Ness' yew in A Monster Calls, and Chris Grabenstein's oak in The Crossroads have nothing on the sourwood at the heart of Jonathan Auxier's cautionary tale. Even its dried leaves are scary!

Ever think it would be great to have your deepest desire fulfilled? Read this book and think twice!

Two Irish orphans are employed to serve a formerly-wealthy English family who live on a remote, creepy estate. The family is hiding a big secret. Mysterious things happen in the night. It's all dire warnings at the crossroads, disturbing dreams, black roots and ichor. Perfect for children in upper elementary school who love a scary story.

The Night Gardener comes in an attractive package and would make a good gift. The Canadian Puffin edition that I borrowed from the library has a metallic dust jacket, patterned endpapers (black leaves on grey), decorated chapter headings (more black leaves), and black edging on the outside edges of the pages. The three parts of the story (the classic gothic format) are separated by solid black pages. The book design does a great job of setting its ominous mood.

Readalikes: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket); A Tale Dark and Grimm (Adam Gidwitz; Coraline (Neil Gaiman); and Into the Woods (Lyn Gardner).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

It's number 1 on Amazon's top 100 books of 2014: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I listened to this on audio in July and didn't blog about it then, even though I really liked it. Let's see how much I remember without referring to anyone's summary or reviews.

Two main themes stick with me: the impossibility of knowing what is going on in another person's head, and the insidiousness of racism in Western society.

The middle teenage daughter has died in a family with a Caucasian mother and a second-generation Chinese American father. What happened to her? Her death has widened the fractures in her parents' marriage, which was already under stress from thwarted ambitions and the absence of outside support. Will their relationship survive?

It's a story of loneliness and isolation. It's about accepting hard truths. It's a story of modern life. I'm glad the editors at Amazon recognized the power of this book.

P.S. The audiobook [Blackstone: 10 hours] is narrated by Cassandra Campbell. (I had to look that up.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fictional Lives During World War II: A List

Poppies, France - pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes paper - by Lindy Pratch
In honour of Remembrance Day, I put together a list of 10 novels set during World War II. War is an extraordinary, heartbreaking, exciting and horrible circumstance that tests our humanity. I love books that focus on character and setting, so that's what you'll find here. (The links will take you to longer, earlier reviews on my blog.)

Freddy's War by Judy Schultz
War's effects on soldiers as well as those on the home front are examined in this layered novel about a young man from Edmonton who is sent with the Winnipeg Grenadiers to Hong Kong in 1941. Lots of food writing in this one!

Tamar by Mal Peet
After her grandfather's suicide, a British teenager uncovers his secret involvement in a romantic triangle in wartime Netherlands. A nuanced look at the way war affects subsequent generations.

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
Poetically narrated in the collective voice of hundreds of women, who arrive perplexed in 1943 at a site in New Mexico where their husbands are working on a top-secret project.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
This powerful novel threads together the lives of two families through five decades of world events, starting in 1945 when the atomic flash in Nagasaki permanently marked the pattern of a woman's kimono onto her back.

Half-blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Cranky Sid Griffiths, 82 years old in 1992, relates the events surrounding his time in a jazz band in the 1930s in Berlin, and the disappearance of his youngest bandmate, who was picked up by Nazi soldiers in Paris.

Once by Morris Gleitzman
A heart-wrenching tale for all ages about a Jewish child, left in a Catholic orphanage, who decides to search through Nazi-occupied Poland for his parents. See also the companion book, Then.

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
A lyrical, layered novel that begins with a small Polish boy, his family's only survivor, who is rescued from the Nazis by a Greek geologist. The pair eventually make their home in Canada.

Coventry by Helen Humphreys
Through the dramatic events on the night of November 14, 1940, two fire wardens on the roof of Coventry's cathedral become unlikely friends as they share the horrors of an extended bombing raid that destroys much of the city.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Friendship inspires extreme heroism when a young British pilot is captured by Germans in 1943 and made to write down the details of her mission. Very suspenseful!

B for Buster by Iain Lawrence
16-year-old Kak's idealism gradually turns to horror when he lies about his age in 1943 to enlist in the Canadian Air Force and becomes a wireless operator on night bombing raids over Germany.