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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)

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The Miracle Inspector
The Miracle Inspector
by Helen Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.22
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Side of P. G. Wodehouse Courtesy of Helen Smith, Oct. 20 2012
This review is from: The Miracle Inspector (Paperback)
Welcome to the dark side of P. G. Wodehouse; those of you who are accustomed to his clever, wickedly funny writing will find much of it in Helen Smith's near future dystopian thriller "The Miracle Inspector". While I will confess that I have never acquired a taste for Wodehouse's comedic fiction, Smith's novel reads like the unexpected love child of Wodehouse mixed with Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick in this subtle, surprisingly compelling, near future dystopian SF novel that is among the better examples of recent dystopian fiction I have encountered, and one that is far more compelling than anything I have read written by writers on my side of the Atlantic Ocean. Smith paints a vividly disturbing, but still engrossing, depiction of a near future Great Britain undergoing a harsh, quite precipitous, decline in which the country has been separated between a barely civilized rural landscape noted for its vigilante justice despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, and a totalitarian London in which women are denied the right to work outside their homes. Thinking they might find a happier, more fulfilling life for themselves in rural Cornwall (the southern end of the island of Great Britain), a young couple, Lucas, "the Miracle Inspector" working for a government ministry, and Angela, his almost simple-minded, wife, begin plotting their escape. What ensues is an almost relentless litany of tragic errors as their best laid plans are torn asunder by unexpected circumstances. Smith excels in depicting a near future Great Britain not so dissimilar than the present, creating a near future world in which the present is merely prologue to a surprisingly credible future, via a most simple, yet still descriptive, prose. Readers intent on reading a far more dramatic vision of a dystopian future will miss the subtle, often sly, social commentary that lurks within the pages of Smith's novel; hers is a vision that is quite compelling in its own right, and one as noteworthy as Gary Shteyngart's in his P. G. Wodehouse Award-winning novel "Super Sad True Love Story".

Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems
Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.00
39 used & new from CDN$ 4.14

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of the Beginning and the Latest Poetry from Ursula Le Guin, Oct. 16 2012
"Finding My Elegy" is a literary celebration of Ursula Le Guin's decades-long oeuvre in poetry, demonstrating that she is as much a master of this genre as she is of speculative fiction and fantasy. If nothing else, this relatively slim volume should demonstrate her considerable range and talent as a poet, drawing originally from the fantastical realms conjured in her "Ekumen" and "Earthsea" novels and stories, and then, later, drawing on subjects as diverse as her longstanding love of nature and her intensely felt commentary on social and political affairs both here in the United States and abroad.

One of my favorite poems, her ode to the great classical singer Ian Bostridge, demonstrates the intense richness and the elegant simplicity of her literary craft:

Lieder Singer

To Ian Bostridge

He stands by the piano, tall and lean
in black, unsmiling. His hands are tense.
Men are unlikely instruments.
A piano too, a strange awkward thing.

He looks out through the audience
waiting for the accompanist to begin
the running rolling subtle Schubert tune
His gaze changes as he starts to sing.

Now he sees nothing. Is he seen?
Where is he now in these long-drawn laments.
these soft rejoicings in a summer dawn?
Like Echo hidden near the hidden spring,

unbodied to music, he consents
to be nothing but voice, the rest is gone.

Sweet Tooth: A Novel
Sweet Tooth: A Novel
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 3.24

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Elegant, Suspenseful Literary Thriller from Ian McEwan, Oct. 16 2012
This review is from: Sweet Tooth: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ian McEwan has conjured a most riveting blend of literary fiction, historical fiction and espionage thriller in his latest novel, "Sweet Truth", which is as much a celebration of early 1970s Anglo-American literature as well as a spellbinding espionage thriller of the kind readers might expect from John Le Carre or Ken Follet. Drawn upon a relatively little known aspect of British espionage history, McEwan's new novel is a riveting tale of love and betrayal, espionage and one's own identity. A young Cambridge University student, the literary minded and mathematically inclined Serena Frome, is recruited by MI5 - Great Britain's equivalent of the American FBI - in identifying potential writers who could work on behalf of the Conservative British government on a public disinformation campaign against Britain's left-wing opposition. She soon identifies a likely prospect, the young writer Tom Healy, becoming both his muse, and eventually, his lover, sharing his passion for superb contemporary Anglo-American literature as he writes a potential award-winning dystopian fiction debut novel. Narrated in first-person by Frome years after the events chronicled in "Sweet Tooth", readers are treated to a rapidly spiraling web of deceit as Frome struggles to keep her secret identity as a MI5 agent from Healy, as she retains an intensely intellectual and sexual-charged relationship with him. Much to my amazement, McEwan also treats readers to the best fictional depiction of the Monty Hall problem in probability theory I have encountered, and one especially memorable for its revealing insights pertaining to Frome's behavior. Without question, McEwan's compellingly readable new novel should be viewed as among this year's best and one probably destined for consideration for many of the major awards bestowed upon contemporary Anglo-American literature.

In Sunlight and in Shadow
In Sunlight and in Shadow
by Mark Helprin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 37.00
55 used & new from CDN$ 1.48

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Novel of the Year Is Mark Helprin's Latest, Oct. 14 2012
I read "In Sunlight and In Shadow" weeks ago and I am still haunted by the bittersweet romance between former World War II paratrooper - and Harvard alumnus - Harry Copeland and the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale. It is a mesmerizing, quite captivating, tale told brilliantly in Helprin's exceedingly rich poetic and descriptive prose, marking the long awaited return of one of the world's greatest novelists and storytellers writing in the English language. Helprin has rendered a startlingly original twist on the themes expressed in William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", portraying the romance between Copeland and Hale as one that endures despite the anti-Semitism Copeland experiences and the ever present threat of unseen enemies, especially the Mafia, which seek to destroy both their romance as well as Copeland's livelihood, the elite garment-making firm he has inherited from his father, and eventually, even threatens his life. "In Sunlight and In Shadow" ranks among the most realistic depictions of late 1940s New York City, I have ever read, and Helprin achieves this without forsaking the splendid lyricism of his prose, which will remind many readers of the magical realism depicted vividly in his great New York City fantasy novel, "Winter's Tale". This is one vast sprawling epic of a novel that takes us to the offices of Wall Street financiers, the Long Island clubs and mansions inhabited by the old, aristocratic, New York Dutch and English-descended wealthy elite, and the seedy dives and restaurants of SoHo and Greenwich Village frequented by violent Italian-American mobsters all too willing to settle their differences via mayhem and murder. Mark Helprin demonstrates again why he is one of our finest American writers of fiction in "In Sunlight and In Shadow"; a truly impressive achievement of exceptional literary art that is, without question, this year's best novel and ranks alongside "Winter's Tale" as among his finest works of fiction, and among our greatest American novels.

Blades of Winter: A Novel of the Shadowstorm
Blades of Winter: A Novel of the Shadowstorm
by G. T. Almasi
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.82
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Relentless, Exciting Post-Cyberpunk Alternate History Novel Debut from G. T. Almasi, Oct. 13 2012
Relentless, exciting and utterly engrossing in its plot and pacing, "Blades of Winter" is a superb mash-up of the espionage thriller, superhero graphic novel, post-cyberpunk and alternate history science fiction, in what promises to be the first in G. T. Almasi's "SHADOWSTORM" series of novels. Not only is it a compelling homage to Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and "Reamde", but, in many respects, it surpasses "Reamde" merely in its pacing and plot, and in presenting a character, nineteen-year-old Alix Nico, who is among the most compelling female characters in cyberpunk and post-cyperpunk fiction since the likes of William Gibson's "Molly" in his "Cyberspace" trilogy and similar female protagonists in classic cyberpunk science fiction written by the likes of Pat Cadigan and Michael Swanwick, among others. "Blades of Winter" reads like "Neuromancer" hooked on speed, even if Almasi lacks William Gibson's considerable talents as a superb prose stylist; a relentless nonstop action-adventure rollercoaster of a yarn which will keep readers in suspense to the very end. Almasi's alternate history vision of early 1980's America is one in which the United States finds itself the sole democratic empire dealing with its often untrustworthy ally of Greater Germany (the former Nazi Third Reich and its European empire that includes Great Britain, France and much of the Middle East), the Soviet Union and an expansionist China which pioneers much of the biotechnology described in "Blades of Winter". In this opening segment of the "SHADOWSTORM" series, young Nico must find the truth behind her father's mysterious disappearance nearly a decade before, and how that disappearance may be tied to clandestine German bioengineering research on cloning humans as well as the activities of a mysterious group of Muslim Persian and Arab dissidents determined to free their homelands from German occupation. Without question, "Blades of Winter" marks a compelling debut of a new science fiction author who has wrought one of the most compelling examples of recent post-cyberpunk fiction I've seen.

The Other Normals
The Other Normals
by Ned Vizzini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.99
36 used & new from CDN$ 2.55

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Young Fantasy Novel from Ned Vizzini, Oct. 13 2012
This review is from: The Other Normals (Hardcover)
One of our finest American chroniclers of adolescent angst in nonfiction and fiction, Ned Vizzini, has written one of the most compellingly readable and imaginative works of fiction published this year that, I promise, will thrill children of all ages; "The Other Normals". It is a bold, brash, quite imaginative, look at adolescent male bonding and blossoming sexual interest between the sexes masquerading as a cleverly plotted sword and sorcery fantasy that is light years removed from J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. Fans of Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" and "The Magician King" will find much to admire in Vizzini's fantasy debut, from his realistic depiction of adolescent life in the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Bensonhurst and the relatively remote Camp Washiska Lake to the parallel Earth inhabited by the "Other Normals"; a world that resembles a crazy patchwork quilt of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and C. S. Lewis' Narnia that is still uniquely Vizzini's own and among the finest recent examples I have encountered of memorable world-building in fantasy and science fiction literature. However, one doesn't need to admire any of Lev Grossman's excellent fantasy literature to realize that Vizzini's creation is, to quote Lev Grossman, "wildly imaginative, incredibly funny, and weirdly wise". "The Other Normals" is an especially memorable ode to sword and sorcery games and to teenage geeks everywhere; readers will identify with and recognize themselves in fifteen-year old Peregrine "Perry" Eckhart, who is so obsessed with his sword and sorcery role-playing game "Creatures & Caverns" that he finds himself relying on it as though it is a sacred text through his hazardous treks on the "Other Normal" Earth with the likes of "Other Normals" such as Mortin Enaw and Ada Ember, whom he regards as far more beautiful and fascinating than any of the adolescent girls he knows in camp, helping them save their version of Earth from impending doom. Anyone seriously interested in taking a fresh look at fantasy literature shouldn't hesitate in adding Vizzini's latest to their list; "The Other Normals" is destined to be remembered and celebrated as a contemporary classic of fantasy, ranking alongside the best from Lev Grossman, Philip Pullman and especially, J. K. Rowling.

Ancient Light
Ancient Light
by John Banville
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.33
23 used & new from CDN$ 2.15

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Stream of Consciousness Novel on Love, Memory and Loss, Oct. 13 2012
This review is from: Ancient Light (Hardcover)
Among the finest prose stylists writing today in the English language, Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville has wrought a most memorable stream of consciousness novel, "Ancient Light" that explores the question whether one can distinguish between memory and invention. There are few writers in the English language capable of writing prose as distinctively memorable as Banville, who doesn't disappoint in a captivating, often bittersweet, tale about an old actor at the twilight of his career, thinking wistfully about his forbidden youthful adolescent indiscretion with the mother of a close friend and the suicide of his only child, his daughter, a decade ago. Past becomes present as actor Alexander Cleave relives both his youth and the life of his emotionally headstrong daughter as he finds himself becoming attached to the lead actress on the set of the film, hoping to help her navigate past some of the same emotional turmoil ultimately responsible for his daughter's death. "Ancient Light" must be viewed as among the most impressive achievements in "stream of consciousness" novels published recently in the English language; it is without question, among the finest novels published this year.

by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.00
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.41

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Novels of 2012 Courtesy of Nick Harkaway, Sept. 6 2012
This review is from: Angelmaker (Hardcover)
One of the brightest, funniest, new voices in Anglo-American speculative fiction and literary mainstream fiction, Nick Harkaway, returns triumphantly in his dazzling new novel, "Angelmaker", a crazy blend of alternate history science fiction and espionage thriller that's like riding a rollercoaster hooked on amphetamines. Ian Fleming and Len Deighton meet China Mieville and Neal Stephenson in this hysterically engrossing romp of a read, replete with the mordant humor found in Mieville's "Kraken", without throwing at readers, virtually every pop science fiction reference to "Star Trek" or "Doctor Who". William Gibson has praised this as "Dickens meets Mervyn Peake", but that's an understatement, for this is a wild, kinetic energized ride of a genre-bending read, virtually impossible to put down, filled with page after page of Harkaway's superb, spellbinding prose; it's a superb, sprawling and quite intricately plotted, fast-paced epic with sudden, rapid, twists and turns that will keep the reader engaged until the very end. Harkaway has the keen observant eyes of a first-rate Hollywood cinematographer, coupled with the soul of a poet, able to conjure many visually arresting scenes and images through the exceptional power of his prose.

Clockmaker Joe Sporks leads a mundane existence in a modern London quite similar to ours, repairing clocks, renouncing his family's prior extensive ties to organized crime for a more tranquil, legitimate existence, until he discovers and activates an unusual clockwork mechanism owned by one of his favorite customers, the elderly eccentric spinster Edie Banister. Yet Banister is no mere elderly lady with a penchant for unusual mechanical toys; she is a famous international spy now living out her life in semi-retirement; her clockwork mechanism, a doomsday machine built by one of Sporks' relatives decades ago. Together they must confront the wrath of the British government and a half-crazed South Asian crime lord who is Banister's life-long nemesis, as they struggle to find some means for neutralizing the machine and save the world from destruction, contending with crazed, fanatical monks, ninja warriors and psychopathic scientific geniuses. Joe finds salvation in a usable relic from his gangster father's bloody criminal past and through winning the heart of Polly, a smart, beautiful receptionist willing to join in his madcap globe-trekking quest to save the world. One of the most unique and entertaining novels I have read this year, Nick Harkaway's "Angelmaker" is most certainly, among this year's best.

Third Class Superhero
Third Class Superhero
by Charles Yu
Edition: Paperback
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Literary Debut from One of Our Best Young American Writers, Aug. 24 2012
This review is from: Third Class Superhero (Paperback)
Inventive, smart and funny immediately come to mind with regards to "Third Class Superhero", the debut short story collection from Charles Yu, which playfully mixes genres as diverse as scientific technical writing, mainstream fiction, plays, comic books, and fantasy. The title story itself is well worth the price of admission for this short story collection; a melancholy saga about a would be superhero's struggle to gain respect among his peers leads to a bizarre Faustian bargain with someone who could be described as being in league with Satan; an intense, emotionally gripping tale told from the protagonist's perspective. "My Last Days of Me" is a compelling tale about the star of the hit television series "Family" hitting rock bottom after interacting with a new member of the series cast, told effectively as a television script. There are eleven stories in all, exploring familiar terrain like relationships with loved ones, work, and the desire to describe one's current psychological outlook on life. Yu's prose is noteworthy for its sparse, terse sentences, which are still effective in their depiction of characters as memorable as that actor from "Family" or the protagonist of "Third Class Superhero". Yu is a courageous writer willing to break literary conventions if they stand in the way of letting him tell a good story. Without question, this debut short story collection marks the arrival of a fine young American writer of fiction, whose literary talent has been celebrated as a recipient of the Sherwood Anderson Fiction award, noted by The New Yorker and compared favorably with the likes of Jonathan Lethem and Philip K. Dick.

The Devil in Silver: A Novel
The Devil in Silver: A Novel
by Victor LaValle
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Twist of Horror, Magical Realism and Reality from Victor LaValle, Aug. 24 2012
"The Devil in Silver", one of the year's best novels, is a compelling blend of magical realism, horror and mainstream literary fiction; a great work of fiction that bends and transcends all of these genres, via a riveting odyssey into the darkest reaches of one man's soul. What LaValle has written is a superb example of psychological horror that compares favorably with the best from Clive Barker, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, and Peter Straub, but one that will also impress mainstream audiences too in its poetically plain prose, crisp dialogue and surprisingly appropriate usage of avant-garde literary techniques found in the best fiction from notable writers like Rick Moody and Thomas Pynchon, while also daring to address often contentious issues in contemporary American society and culture ranging from faith to racism. It should be regarded too as LaValle's personal, heart-felt literary "valentine" to his native New York City borough of Queens, introducing us to a cast of characters as diverse and compelling as those in Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn", but none more so than Pepper, the novel's blue collar white male protagonist. Mistakenly thrown into the run down psychiatric ward of New Hyde Hospital after wrestling with three plain clothes New York City cops, Pepper confronts not only his sanity and his sense of himself, but also a terror that lurks within the hospital itself; a living "demon" whose nocturnal visits to inmate-occupied rooms leave behind a bloody trail of mischief and mayhem, striking fear in the hearts of those inmates believing that a devil lurks inside the walls of New Hyde Hospital.

Much more so than in "Big Machine", LaValle demonstrates his prodigious talent for storytelling, taking readers along for a ride that veers not only into literary terrain well established by Haruki Murakami in "Kafka on the Shore", but also at a dizzying pace reminiscent of some of China Mieville's most recent work ("The City and The City", "Kraken"), matching the latter's playful mixing of genres and attention to detail with regards to both setting and plot. Not surprising, LaValle's latest does explore the treatment of mental health inmates in public hospitals like the fictional New Hyde Hospital. But there's also a brilliant biographical interlude on the life of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, whose descent into madness can be seen as an underlying theme of "The Devil in Silver", and a most poignant vignette recounting the life of the sole rat residing in the psychiatric ward annex of New Hyde Hospital; neither one interrupts the superlative narrative flow of LaValle's storytelling and prose. In many respects, "The Devil in Silver" is one of the most notable and successful efforts at placing "genre in the mainstream" (to borrow writer and blogger Ryan Britt's term); the novel that Colson Whitehead should have written when he wrote "Zone One"; a genre-tinged literary mainstream novel that exploits successfully many of the time-honored tropes of fantasy and horror, while remaining socially relevant in its depiction of the treatment of mental health inmates like Pepper and in delving into issues of still paramount importance in American society and culture like faith and racism. With "The Devil in Silver", LaValle demonstrates why he remains one of the rising stars of early 21st Century American fiction working in any genre.

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