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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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The Painter: A novel
The Painter: A novel
by Peter Heller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.52
40 used & new from CDN$ 15.64

5.0 out of 5 stars A Psychologically Intense Fictional Portrait of a Western Painter, July 21 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
Peter Heller follows up his brilliant debut novel "The Dog Stars" with "The Painter", which firmly establishes him as one of the most important writers writing about the contemporary West in fiction. In naming his protagonist Jim Stegner, Heller is probably paying homage to the late Wallace Stegner, often viewed as the "Dean of Western Writers", whose former students include the likes of Larry McMurtry and Edward Abbey, among others. Heller offers us a psychologically intense fictional portrait of Stegner, an extremely gifted, largely self-taught, painter who is represented by a noted Santa Fe, New Mexico art dealer. In a literary style that owes much to McMurtry and Ivan Doig ("The Bartender's Tale") as representative in chronicling the contemporary West, Heller introduces us to a compellingly flawed character who is haunted by the senseless murder of his teenaged daughter, and one who resorts to violence merely to defend those whom he perceives are helpless, whether it is his daughter, or a badly mistreated horse. However, in comparison with those whom Stegner is compelled to kill, he comes across more as an avenging vigilante seeking justice, than as a homicidal lone wolf. Heller's superb prose and excellent storytelling skills are as compelling as they were in "The Dog Stars", and yet, readers who aren't familiar with contemporary American painting devoted to the West or, in general, the Western United States, or cherish Heller's excellent descriptive prose describing nature, may find "The Painter" a less satisfying read than his debut novel. However, I believe "The Painter" will be acknowledged by many as a worthy successor to "The Dog Stars" and one that may be viewed as one of the best American novels published this year. (EDITORIAL NOTE: While I acknowledge the assistance rendered again by a mutual friend of Heller and yours truly, it hasn't influenced my favorable appraisal of this novel.)

Shadow World
Shadow World
by Chris Impey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.61
11 used & new from CDN$ 14.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Notable Debut Novel from an Astronomer and Science Writer, July 21 2014
This review is from: Shadow World (Paperback)
Astronomer and science writer Chris Impey’s “Shadow World” should be viewed more as a collection of seven short stories, rather than a novel, that tie together the life-long journeys made by McEvoy, a compellingly curious Scot, who literally wanders all over the globe. Journeys which he can barely remember, but are recorded in ample detail in the diary he keeps over a span of twenty years. He’s a compelling protagonist in each of the seven chapters, often trying to win – and then to lose – the affection of a woman. We meet a fugitive Navajo shaman in the almost pristine wilderness of the Arizona desert, listen to classical music at New York City’s Lincoln Center, search for a long-lost civilization in some remote corner of Mongolia, and go dinosaur fossil hunting in Patagonia. Impey does a great job in transporting readers to each locale, teaching us aspects of science and philosophy that many may have not known before. As science fiction, “Shadow World” barely qualifies, except in its depiction of McEvoy, who seems all too forgetful of his prior Walter Mitty-esque adventures. As a self-published work of fiction, “Shadow World” comes close to adhering to professional publishing standards, though there are a few errors and other typos lurking within the text. Regardless, “Shadow World” remains an impressive debut novel for Impey, and hopefully, we, the readers, won’t see the last of him with respect to writing fiction.

Dark Eden
Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 20.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Debut Novel Which Cleverly Reimagines the 'Lost Colony' Trope, July 21 2014
This review is from: Dark Eden (Hardcover)
One of the major reoccurring tropes in science fiction has been depicting lost colonies - or lost generation starships - which have been cut off from the rest of humanity. Much to his credit, Chris Beckett's "Dark Eden: A Novel" is a spectacular new addition, and one deservingly worthy of being the recipient of the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. On a remote sunless world, the descendants of survivors of an unexpected landing, treat as myth, Family lore about having crossed the "Starry Swirl" in a vast "boat" - the starship Defiant - from a remote, distant world, Earth, dreaming that one day another "boat" will arrive, taking them "home" to the birth world of their ancestors. One of the most bold, most courageous, members of the Family, John Redlantern, will break taboos and longstanding Family customs, seeking the truth behind their unexpected arrival. What he discovers in his quest will change forever, the Family's history, and its future prospects for survival on a world whose only lights are those from the lantern trees and the bizarre animals which inhabit Eden. Beckett is an exceptional storyteller and fine prose stylist, writing an engrossing tale that could be seen as a space opera twist on William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", with characters and prose easily comparable with Ursula Le Guin's finest "Hainish" tales. "Dark Eden: A Novel" is an important literary debut from someone with great promise as an important new voice in Anglo-American speculative fiction.

The Girl in the Road: A Novel
The Girl in the Road: A Novel
by Monica Byrne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
38 used & new from CDN$ 10.34

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Debut Novel of This Year, July 21 2014
"The Girl in the Road" announces the arrival of a major new talent in literary mainstream fiction and speculative fiction, one Monica Byrne, whose anthropologically-oriented science fiction novel could be mistaken easily as something written during the Anglo-American "New Wave" literary movement in fantasy and science fiction of the 1960s and early 1970s; however, none of the writers back then were aware of nanotechnology, which plays an important role in the near future Africa and Asia that Byrne has envisioned for the middle 21st Century. In a literary style that may remind mainstream literary fiction readers of Teju Cole and Paul Theroux, with more than a nod or two to J. G. Ballard and Ursula K. Le Guin, Byrne recounts the incredible journeys of a young woman, Meena, and a young girl, Mariama, across the span of decades and across the Arabian Sea (Meena) and Saharan Africa (Mariama), that is told in first person primarily through their eyes. She introduces us to a near future not unlike the present, with poverty and war still an ever present danger in Saharan Africa, and with Ethiopia plagued by decades of economic and political strife dating from the latter half of the 20th Century. Across the Arabian Sea, India has emerged as the regional economic hegemon, its densely populated cities like Mumbai still teeming with people who willingly herd themselves into crowded trains filled with hundreds of people, while still retaining much of its traditional Hindu-dominated culture.

When Meena wakes up one morning in Mumbai, India, covered in snakebites, she resolves to return home, to the land of her birth, Ethiopia, a land she has not seen since her birth. When she learns of The Trail, the nanotechnological bridge which links India to Africa across the Arabian Sea like a metallic strip extending outwards towards infinity, she takes only a few items - a pozit GPS device, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof bag - and sets out on that long and winding road across that sea towards distant Ethiopia. Decades earlier, a young West African girl, Mariama, leaves her home and joins a caravan of strangers crossing Saharan Africa, headed towards Ethiopia. She befriends Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman, who becomes not only her friend, but also her protector, during the long, arduous trek that will take her from the West African port of Dakar to distant Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capitol. Byrne not only gives us two compelling fictional accounts of these two protagonists, but manages, at the end, to unite them, in a manner that will surprise and delight readers, demonstrating the remarkable resiliency of her storytelling and her emotionally charged, compellingly readable, literary style.

"The Girl in the Road" is one of those rare instances where a mainstream literary fiction writer has crafted a compelling speculative fiction novel worthy of praise and comparison with Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula K. Le Guin's work, demonstrating that speculative fiction is indeed a genre worthy of recognition by mainstream literary audiences for its exceptional storytelling and literary craft, which not only Robinson and Le Guin, but many others, have demonstrated for years, whether they are other major figures in speculative fiction such as Pat Cadigan, Samuel Delany, William Gibson, Christopher Priest and Neal Stephenson, or emerging giants like China Mieville and Catherynne Valente. Byrne's debut novel is one worthy of comparison with Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles" and Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" for the exceptional qualities of its storytelling and prose. It may earn for its writer ample critical acclaim not only within the ranks of speculative fiction, but also, I suspect, mainstream literary fiction too.

Where Earth Meets Water
Where Earth Meets Water
Price: CDN$ 8.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Debut Novel About Fate, Love And Trying To Understand the Meaning of Life, July 21 2014
“Where Earth Meets Water”, the debut novel of fellow Stuyvesant High School alumnus Pia Padukone, is not, in the words of my friend Gary Shteyngart, just a “smart and insightful” novel that is “…[a] worthy addition to the burgeoning field of Indian literature”. It is an elegant, often mesmerizing, debut novel about fate, love and trying to understand the meaning of life; a compelling tale with universal themes that should appeal to anyone reading contemporary Anglo-American literature. Padukone introduces us to Karom Seth, like the author, a native New Yorker of Indian descent, having had two miraculous brushes resulting in a personal sense of invincibility; first, by not being present at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11/2001, and second, by his absence at a family reunion in December 2004 on the southeast coast of India, missing the tsunami which swept his entire family out to sea, leaving him, an orphan. In the course of the novel, Seth struggles with his sense of invincibility, which impacts the lives of those around him, most notably his friend – and MIT classmate – Lloyd, and Gita, who becomes the love of his life. On a return journey to India years after both disasters, Karom comes to terms with his destiny and understanding the meaning of his life by meeting Gita’s grandmother Kamini, a larger-than-life figure throughout the novel, whose sagacious advice prepares him for his future. Padukone is both a compelling storyteller and a superb prose stylist, creating a most truly memorable cast of characters for a novel that should be viewed as among the best published this year. Along with Monica Byrne’s “The Girl in the Road”, Pia Padukone’s “Where Earth Meets Water” is the best debut novel published so far this year, and one which should earn ample critical and popular acclaim.

Memory Of Water: A Novel
Memory Of Water: A Novel
by Emmi Itäranta
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.51
34 used & new from CDN$ 3.34

5.0 out of 5 stars A Poetic, Dark, Dystopian Speculative Fiction Novel That Is One of the Year's Best, July 21 2014
In hauntingly beautiful prose, Emmi Itäranta's "Memory of Water" is one of the finest dystopian speculative fiction novels I have read, worthy of comparison with Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", George Orwell's "1984" and Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz", offering readers a future that is as bleak and as terrifying as those depicted in Atwood, Orwell and Miller's celebrated novels. It is also one of the year's best debut novels, written by a novelist who is familiar with the genre of speculative fiction, and one worthy of a wide readership. Centuries after global warming has destroyed modern civilization, with China now the ruler of the world, "Memory of Water" is set in what was once Finland, part of the Scandinavian Union, now ruled by the Chinese dictatorial state of New Qian. In a style almost reminiscent of early Ursula K. Le Guin, Itäranta introduces us to seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio, who becomes the last member of her family to become a tea master, an important ceremonial position that helps bind the community, while also allowing the bearer to possess important secrets regarding water usage. After her father dies and her mother leaves for an academic position in distant China, Kaitio embarks on a struggle to preserve her father's secrets, while also learning something unexpected about the final years of the "Twilight Century", the last century of global technological civilization, brought to an end by wars and the unrelenting spread of global warming. Readers should note that this is indeed a depressing novel to read, but one worth reading thanks to Itäranta's superb, often poetic, elegant prose and excellent storytelling. It is an excellent fictional testament to free will and an individual's right to think and to act for oneself, even under the worst circumstances of political repression. I have no doubt that this will be remembered as one of the most important debut novels published this year, and one that should earn ample critical praise from critics and audiences familiar with mainstream literary fiction as well as speculative fiction.

The Lost
The Lost
by Sarah Beth Durst
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
27 used & new from CDN$ 7.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid New Adult Fantasy/Romance Novel, July 21 2014
This review is from: The Lost (Paperback)
Recognized as one of our foremost American writers of teen fantasy fiction, Sarah Beth Durst's "The Lost" is the debut novel in a series that introduces New Adult readers to a metaphysical alternate reality as compellingly realistic as Lev Grossman's "Magician" novels, with the surreal fantastical elements of "Lost" (the American television series) and maybe, more than a nod or two to Akira Kurosawa's great film "Rashomon" added as well. This is a compellingly readable fantasy mixed with thriller and romance, which should appeal to older as well as younger readers, especially for dealing with themes related to personal loss and dealing effectively - mentally and emotionally - with them. Having made an unexpected wrong left turn on a desert highway, Lauren stumbles upon an almost deserted, rather mysterious, town, Lost, at the edge of the desert, whose inhabitants have, like herself, lost their way, finding themselves stranded and alone, cut off from those they knew in the outside world. An unexpected encounter with one of the town's most mysterious inhabitants, becomes much more, as Lauren finds herself increasingly attracted to Peter, who becomes both a compelling reason why she should stay and her potential means of escape as she plots her return to the outside world. Durst is an exceptional storyteller and fine prose stylist who has crafted a memorable page-turner of a novel; I look forward to reading the rest of her New Adult series, starting with "Missing" which is due to be published towards the end of this year.

The Trident Deception
The Trident Deception
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Contemporary Naval Thriller from an ex-Submariner, July 21 2014
Written by a former United States Navy commander of a ballistic missile nuclear submarine, Rick Campbell’s “The Trident Deception” is a spellbinding, page-turning contemporary naval thriller worthy of comparison with those written by the likes of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. Campbell draws upon his two decades of service as a submariner to give readers, a gritty, quite realistic, fictional depiction of life aboard a ballistic missile nuclear submarine, that may be one of the best fictional accounts of a submarine at sea I have read. Campbell’s debut novel is impossible to put down, with more than one unexpected twists and turns as a small conspiracy is unearthed that may usher World War III. Anyone interested in reading a well-written naval thriller won’t be disappointed with Campbell’s novel. I agree with others who believe that "The Trident Deception" warrants favorable comparison with Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October".

The Odyssey
The Odyssey
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Translation of Homer's The Odyssey, July 21 2014
This review is from: The Odyssey (Kindle Edition)
Barry B. Powell's new translation of Homer's "The Odyssey" joins his prior translation of “The Iliad”, as one of the most thoughtful - and accessible - translations ever printed, and like his prior translation, destined to be viewed by scholars and readers as one of the most important, most accessible translations of Homer’s great poems. Powell's new edition is invaluable as a work of scholarship in which Powell not only traces the history of prior translations and makes a well -reasoned conjecture about Homer's ancestral Greek homeland, but repeats, as he did in “The Iliad”, the notable, quite startling, claim that the Greek alphabet - which has become the one used throughout the Western world and elsewhere - was developed in part to allow someone to write down Homer's great poem. He notes that unlike the other notable languages in the ancient Near East, only Greek was a language chosen specifically for telling and writing down great epics like Homer’s. Once more he doesn’t doubt Homer’s reality, stating that he probably lived sometime in the 8th Century BC, as the Greeks began emerging from their Dark Age following the collapse of Mycenaean Greek civilization. While it remains a mystery as to why the Mycenaean Greek civilization collapsed, it is known that Greece entered a “Dark Age” that endured for centuries, allowing people to consider real-life Mycenaean Greek figures as heroic mortals and demi-gods.

Powell adheres as close as possible to the original Greek poetic language, often substituting Greek names for people and places that are better known through the Latinized versions, though the major characters such as Odysseus, retain the spellings that have been used consistently in published translations for centuries. Much to his credit, he renders Homer in an astonishingly fresh and accessible style that should win ample new fans for Homer's great poetic epic, emphasizing the lyricism of Homer's poetry. This new translation should earn much critical and popular acclaim, and may be viewed as one of the most important books published this year.

American Craftsmen
American Craftsmen
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Start to a Fine Military Fantasy Series, July 21 2014
Had the pleasure of hearing Tom Doyle read from his debut novel weeks ago at a noted New York City science fiction reading series, and I knew immediately that I had to read this. This is a great blend of military thriller with fantasy; a fine debut novel that someone like Tom Clancy might have written if he was also interested in writing realistic fantasy of the kind Doyle depicts here. "American Craftsmen" introduces us to an alternate history modern America in which "craft" - magic - employed by some of America's most prominent families have played an important role in America's wars, starting with the American Revolution. Doyle's world-building has much to commend, with the pacing and realism fans of military thrillers have read in Tom Clancy's novels. He introduces us to two compellingly drawn American soldiers who are proficient in their craft, United States Army captain Dale Morton, and Major Michael Endicott, descendants of two leading "craft" families which have fought against each other for centuries. After being cursed by a Persian sorcerer in a remote Iraqi town, Morton returns to America haunted by that encounter, and fearful that some of his evil ancestors have returned, intent on ample mischief and mayhem. Seeking refuge, he finds an unexpectedly ally and friend in a young Iranian-American woman, Scherie Revzani, with unexpected secrets of her own, as they embark upon a quest to root out the evil "craft" which Morton fears is lurking inside the bowels of the Pentagon. Ordered to pursue Duncan, thinking that he is in league with his evil ancestors, Endicott questions his mission when he stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens to shatter the centuries-old alliance between America's "craftsmen" and its military forces. Doyle is a fine prose stylist and a compellingly believable storyteller, offering readers the start of what may be one of the most notable fantasy series published recently, and one that will keep readers spellbound with its fine characters and uniquely magical alternate-history United States of America.

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