Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers is one of Canada’s foremost publishers for children and young adults. Almost a decade ago, the company began putting out short, simple, yet well-written stories (often from established authors) under its Orca Soundings imprint – high interest/low vocabulary novels for “reluctant readers” ages 12 and up. This spring, under the new imprint Raven Books, Orca introduced the concept to a new audience: adult readers.
Raven Books’ Rapid Reads line is being marketed to a larger audience than the juvenile series: ESL students, reluctant readers, people facing literacy challenges, and those who are simply too busy to devote themselves to lengthier novels, but who are looking for a well-written, quick read. Raven Books is releasing three new titles in its Rapid Reads line this fall.
The Way It Works is Nova Scotia author William Kowalski’s second Rapid Reads title, following The Barrio Kings. As with the earlier book, Kowalski tells a compelling story featuring strong characters. Walter Davis is alone and homeless due to a series of unexpected and devastating events. He lives in his car and is struggling to find a job. Walter uses a postal centre as a base for his job search, and eventually builds up the courage to ask the desk clerk, Yolanda, on a date. The logistics of impressing her while concealing his personal circumstances are a challenge, and things take a turn for the worse. Despite the book’s brevity, Walter’s determination and resourcefulness quickly draw the reader in, and the story builds to a satisfying, if somewhat trite, conclusion.
Another returning author is renowned playwright and mystery novelist Gail Bowen. Late night talk-show host Charlie D., who first appeared in Bowen’s Rapid Reads title Love You to Death, is back in One Fine Day You’re Gonna Die. It’s Halloween and Charlie has an on-air guest, Dr. Robin Harris, who is discussing death and dying. When Dr. Harris’s former flame calls the station claiming to have a hostage, it is up to Charlie and the station manager to defuse the situation. Replete with suspense and tension, One Fine Day is compelling and difficult to put down.
Its one flaw is not in the writing, which is superb, but in the text design. Almost a third of the book (all of the on-air segments) are italicized, which can be exceedingly difficult for readers with dyslexia to decipher.
Vancouver Island crime and mystery novelist Lou Allin is new to the Rapid Reads series. That Dog Won’t Hunt draws readers into the off-balance relationship between drifter Rick Cooper and alcoholic widow Gladys Ryan. Rick is hitching his way across California when he meets Gladys and her aging golden retriever, Bucky, who got stranded on the side of the road when Gladys’s classic Mustang broke down. Rick comes to the rescue, and when Gladys offers him a job at her Northern Ontario hunting lodge, including a substantial share in the season’s profits, Rick becomes a jack-of-all-trades, clearing land, building new accommodation, and shepherding tourists to hunting grounds. At season’s end, however, Gladys reneges on their agreement and a fight breaks out, leading to a shocking twist.
Neither Rick nor Gladys is a particularly endearing character, and consequently, That Dog Won’t Hunt is not the most comfortable read. That being said, the characters are strongly portrayed and the book is compelling and gripping.
With these three titles, Rapid Reads demonstrates that it is hitting the mark. For the most part these are accessible, compelling stories for readers who are reluctant, challenged, or harried.
"The problems, feelings and worries of all-night radio host Charlie D and his callers will be intensely familiar for many a teen reader...His first-person narration is smooth, smart, dryly self-deprecating and economical...[and] Bowen's minimalist style, resonant and suggestive, speaks volumes...The novel, like Bowen's popular Joanne Kilbourn amateur detective series, explores the infinitely variable, intractable mystery of relationships. It is not only a rapid read, but one that is gripping and thoughtful." (The Vancouver Sun
"Radio personality Charlie D. hosts a 'Day of the Dead' show with a thanatologist, whose ex-lover calls in with terrifying news that propels the story to a heart-pounding finish. Psychological insights into people in crisis deepen the story, while the warm chemistry between Charlie D. and his likable producer will please romance fans...With rare voices and taut suspense, these titles provide accessible choices for struggling and strong readers alike." (Booklist
"A page-turner of the best sort. Once again, Gail Bowen marshals her considerable talents and crafts a story that you will not stop reading until you reach the end. And when you do, you wonder what's next in store for Charlie It won't take much to hook readers on this Rapid Read! Highly Recommended." (CM Magazine
"Replete with suspense and tension, One Fine Day
is compelling and difficult to put down." (Quill & Quire