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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Between Gods

I was recently given the chance to interview the three authors who are coming to the IFOA event in Thunder Bay.  One of those authors is Alison Pick.  I'm not at all familiar with her work, so I put her newest book, Between Gods on hold.  Between Gods is a memoir, a genre I don't normally read.  But it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

Between Gods tells the story of a dark time in Alison's life.  While working on her novel Far to Go, she was going through a really dark depression.  It is also the story of secrets: Alison's family survived the Holocaust, but told no one they were Jewish.  And so Alison finds herself drawn to Judaism, almost on a cellular level.

But Alison is Jewish only through her father (Judaism is passed through the matrilineal line).  And she is going to marry a Gentile.  So the road to Judaism is a tough one.  She finds a rabbi who will sponsor her, but there is a catch: to become Jewish, her husband must convert, too.  While he is supportive of her desire, Degan does not want to convert.  And so this is the story of Alison's struggle to find her way back to the light (and back to the religion that feels so right to her).

Between Gods is a powerful story with beautiful (and at times haunting) text.  I loved every minute of reading it, and am now very interested in trying some of her fiction (particularly Far to Go).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lucifer

As I mentioned last time, my brother recently had a book published.  And that book is LuciferLucifer is the story of the angel Lucifer, who is given the chance of a lifetime: God will promote him, but he has to rebel against the creator in order to get the promotion.  And so Lucifer must navigate his way through God's office building, clashing with marketing and the other departments, all the while trying to figure out how to rebel against the all-knowing creator.

This is not the first time I've read Lucifer; I read a couple of early drafts for my brother while he was writing it.  Right from day one I loved this idea (and how can you not, with an opening like this?)  Going back to it, a few years later, I still absolutely love the concept.  And I have to say, I really like the changes that several drafts have brought: the ending flowed really nicely (although the flashback scenes were a little jarring because the tense changes).  I like that Lucifer has a very strong voice - I could hear my brother in these words.  His characters were all interesting and well thought out.  Setting God as the CEO of an office building and the angels as his employees made the well-known story of Lucifer rebelling against God fresh and fun.  But don't be deceived by the lighthearted tone of the first chapter: Lucifer is a story about finding oneself and becoming the person you were meant to be, even if it means leaving your old self behind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dolphin Dreams

My brother's book was recently published, so I was planning on reading that. But then he asked me to drop everything and read Lyle Nicholson's Dolphin Dreams, which is what I ended up doing. Dolphin Dreams is a novella, so it really didn't take me long to read. If I hadn't been so busy this weekend, I would have finished it in one sitting.

Dolphin Dreams is the story of Niklas Okkenon, a Finnish professor who arrives at a conference in Cancun, Mexico to deliver a speech. The conference is held in a hotel which has captive dolphins. Niklas soon finds the dolphins invading his dreams, requesting that he free them. As an ex-navy diver/demolitionist, Niklas knows how he could do it. But will he risk destroying his life to save them?

Dolphin Dreams was an interesting enough read. It was unfortunately rather predictable, (I pretty much knew exactly how the story would play out once I started reading it). And I didn't really get the motivations of many of the secondary characters throughput the book, particularly the patron of Cancun (why didn't he just buy the dolphins and set them free?) That being said, I thought Dolphin Dreams was a good effort for a first book.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Close Encounters

A work friend lent me local author Sharon Irvine's newest book, Close Encounters.  Sharon Irvine has published poetry before, but I believe this is her first book of short stories.  There are 15 stories in total, following a variety of people as they deal with relationships made out of chance circumstances.

The collection opens with "Road Kill," a story about two people travelling the Trans-Canada Highway between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay.  The keep running into one another as they stop along the drive.  But their encounters escalate to tragic consequences.  I really noticed the rather poetic descriptions in this story (which isn't surprising - Irvine is a poet).

Next was "Einstein: A Sighting."  This was a cute story about inquisitive children.  The narrator was given the only bed left in the hospital, which was in the children's ward.  There she makes some new, younger friends who are curious about the gastric tube she had inserted to clear a blockage.

"Anna" was an interesting (but unfortunately predictable) story about an elderly lady who became friends with the narrator.  The elderly lady, Anna, is a fiercely independent woman who takes care of her pet friends (who are all named after literary figures).  When Anna breaks her hip, her children want her to move into a home closer to them, which means the fiercely independent woman will have to give up her entire life in Thunder Bay.

"Turkeys 0, Beavers 6" is about a farming family who go out to deal with a beaver dam.  The beavers keep rebuilding their dam, flooding the family's best farming field.  This was the first story where the narrator was noticeably different; rather than a middle-aged woman, this story was told by a younger boy.

I didn't really like "In the Waiting Room."  This was a story about the different people who come into the waiting room of the cancer centre.  The end was really unemotional and unattached, which seemed kind of odd with a story like this.

"Dead Dreams" made me particularly mad.  It involves a veterinarian (a man, making this another story that stood out due to the difference in narrator) and his alcoholic wife.  His wife has diabetes, presumably Type 1 (although she may have been a Type 2 who was insulin-dependent).  The husband finds out that she has been having an affair on him; she ends up dying in a hotel room from insulin-overdose while he is off with friends.  My issue with this story is that contrary to the author's repeated pronouncement that alcohol raises blood sugar levels, it actually lowers them.  So if you were drinking something like vodka or gin straight, you need to eat something to avoid going low.  The wife in this story is drinking gin and orange juice.  In this case, she would need some insulin to deal with the orange juice, not the gin.  So she should not have been pumping herself full of insulin (she actually uses like whole vials!!!  It's crazy!!!!)  Because of this knowledge (I myself have Type 1 diabetes), I had a really hard time with this story.

"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Swimmer" was a weird tale.  I think it was about the crazy things your brain does while bored (in this case while swimming).  But the end made it seem like all the craziness actually happened, so I'm not really sure what to make of this story.

"No Exit" was about an elderly couple who end up taking care of their grandson while his mother gets her life back on track.  It was a pretty heart-wrenching tale.  Other than the expository dump at the beginning, I really liked it.

"Second Chance" was a story about a woman who got stuck taking care of her younger, mentally handicapped brother.  She dreams about having a life free from him, but couldn't bear to leave him alone in a home.

"The Tunnel" was a story about two girls who travel to Norway to bike.  One of them is claustrophobic and gets scared of a tunnel through a mountain.  They make it through just to be confronted with another one.

"Detour" is the story about a young man who grapples with the realization he has to take over the family now that his father has passed away. This story wasn't really anything special because it seemed kind of too similar (at least in themes) to "Second Chance."

"Close Encounters" is about a teacher who teaches a "special" group of boys (most of them are in trouble with the law).  One of her students tries to kill her after she sends him to the office for not doing his school work (he will lose his car and pass to go to school).

"Sisters" was a story about two elderly sisters who are complete opposites.  But that doesn't stop them from coming together to save a puppy who was cruelly thrown into the river to die.

"The Grief Tourist" is about a mysterious lady who keeps showing up at funerals.  Another woman recognizes the lady, and so sets out to discover who she is and why she keeps seeing her at funerals.

The final story, "Lost," was probably the best story of the entire collection.  It's about an elderly woman dealing with dementia.  She uses post-its to remember everything.  She picks up her mentally-handicapped daughter to go to church, but on the way home doesn't recognize their stop.  She stays on the bus while her daughter goes for help.

So those were the fifteen stories of this collection.  I noticed that a lot of the stories revolve around death and the aftermath of death.  I guess that's because death changes things in your life unexpectedly, often in ways you cannot control. Overall, I thought these stories were okay.  Unfortunately in a lot of cases it felt like the stories ended rather prematurely, which was a real shame; had they gone further, I think they would have all been much stronger.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's The Road has been on the List for a very long time.  I don't remember exactly why I wanted to read one of his books (and this one in particular, although it may have had something to do with the movie coming out).  But I did.  So continuing with trying to just read books on the List (particularly those that I want to read once then send on their way), after Daughter of Hounds, I chose The Road.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I went through another spell where I was starting things and failing to finish them, one of which being Peter S. Beagle's Tamsin, which I had trouble reading because my cat passed away.  But I'll get back to it one day.  So after a few false starts, I started The Road.

The Road tells the story of a father and son who are trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.  You never know what exactly happened, but the world is a dead place, where no plants grow.  Ashes routinely rain from the sky and cover the sun.  There's no real mention of how long the world has been like this but you know it's been awhile - everything is ransacked and it's very difficult to find food.  Knowing that they won't survive another winter up in the north (wherever they were - I was guessing somewhere like Seattle or Minnesota), the Father decides they need to head south.  And so they take their cart and their dwindling supplies, hiking along the roads, scavenging for supplies, and trying to avoid the other people on the road out of fear.

I honestly thought The Road was doomed to be another false start.  I started a few weeks ago, got about 50 pages in and then lost interest.  But after watching some Walking Dead with a friend (and said friend making the comment that the survivors there have to be eating tons to stay physically fit enough to fight zombies), I found I had a new interest in The Road.  Here was a more realistic portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world, one where people don't routinely go to the bra store for clean underwear (it's a running joke my friend and I have while watching The Walking Dead - all the girls have immaculate undergarments!)  I had a hard time getting into it, but I am definitely glad I finished it.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Daughter of Hounds

Daughter of Hounds is the first novel I've read by Caitlin R. Kiernan (although I did read the graphic novel Alabaster: Wolves in the spring).  I've had Daughter of Hounds on The List for a long time (I bought it several years ago at Chapters).  And now that I'm trying to clear out books that are taking up space (by which I mean I just want to read them but don't really want to keep), it was high time to read Daughter of Hounds.

I'm going to give a spoiler warning here.  I know I wrote on the side bar that I won't bother doing that anymore, but I'm planning on being particularly spoilery with this book.  You have been warned.

I had a really, really hard time reading this book.  Daughter of Hounds is split between two characters, Emmie Silvey, a strange yellow-eyed girl, and Soldier.  Soldier was a human child, stolen from her parents to be raised by the ghouls (so she's a Changeling, aka one of the Children of the Cuckoo).  And Emmie was quite obviously a child left in place of a human child.  I knew from pretty early on that Emmie was switched for Soldier, even though their ages didn't seem right; I give the book props for what happened to Soldier (her childhood was stolen, so she looked older than she actually was).

I was really torn as I read the majority of the book.  I found Soldier's chapters interesting.  There was a lot going on with the ghouls and Soldier's Changeling existence that was really interesting.  But every second chapter followed Emmie, an 8-year old girl whom I had no real reason to care about.  Sure, stuff was happening around her.  But nothing really drew me in.  It wasn't until the Daughter of the Four of Pentacles (Pearl) actually made her leave the house before she got interesting (and even that wasn't me being interested in her so much as being interested in the story a bit more). 

I also didn't like how things would be mentioned, but never really shown in any detail.  Like Emmie's step mother had something wrong with her hand.  I'm really not sure what happened to her, but it was a detail the book mentioned and then didn't bother to explain.  Also, Deacon Silvey (Emmie's dad) was a drunkard who I thought drank because he lost his wife, but might have started because he wanted to dull his psychic powers.  That seemed odd, especially when he kept drinking rather than using his psychic powers to go find Emmie once she left the hose.  I didn't find this out until after I'd already read the book, but apparently Daughter of Hounds is the third book in a sort of series, so that's probably where some of this came from.  But there was a lot that I'd wished Kiernan had gone into more detail with.  Which made me laugh in a way, because this book was over 400 pages long.  There was room to go into more detail, but it just never really happened.  

I don't want to say much more.  But this book really wasn't for me.  As I've already said, I had a hard time reading this book.  Even when it got more interesting (which was around page 200), I still wasn't very invested in the story.  So I'm just going to say that this book really wasn't for me, and leave it at that.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Naked Face

Wow. Sidney Sheldon's The Named Face is the first book I've read in a long time that's actually on The List. Everything else I've been reading has been library or Kindle books. But hopefully that's going to change over the next while because I'm hoping to stick with mostly books that are in my room taking up space.

So anyway, The Naked Face. This is an older Sheldon book and it really shows: in some ways The Naked Face is quite dated (in language and the idea that homosexuality is something that needs to be/can be cured through psychology/psychiatry). But it's still a Sheldon book, and I have generally liked his books, so I wanted to give it a try.

The Naked Face is about Doctor Judd Stevens, a successful psychoanalyst. When one of Stevens' patients is killed, almost immediately followed by his receptionist, one of the detectives assigned to the case (a man whose partner was killed years ago in a case where Stevens' examination allowed the killer to live) believes that Stevens is the one responsible. Stevens has to figure out who the real killer is before the detective arrests him for murder.

The Naked Face was a really fast read (it's about 300 pages long and I finished it in a day AFTER reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull). It was also a lot of fun trying to figure out who the killer was, although that was tough - you don't actually get the full story until near the end, when Stevens himself figures it out. This is made even harder because you don't actually MEET the killer until near the end of the book. But I was happy that the plot wasn't predictable, and overall I really ended up enjoying The Naked Face.