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Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead
Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead
by Michael Winter
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 20.65
30 used & new from CDN$ 20.65

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Astoundingly personal, wonderfully written., March 27 2015
I had a chance to see Michael at a reading earlier this winter as part of a fundraising series. (Normally I don't refer to the authors of books I review by their first name...but I do here, simply because it feels appropriate to.) I'd not heard of him previously. He was fantastic. Charmingly engaging. So much so that I'd have preferred to hearing him just talk, and have done without the actual reading.

'Into the Blizzard' is the sort of 'raconteuring', the kind of conversation best had in a booth at a diner over breakfast. With lots and lots of refills on your coffees. But it's not merely personal in the sense that we hear about his adventures re-tracing the steps of all of those Newfoundlanders a century ago. It's personal because of what he manages to weave of his own life into the tale. His plain observations. Seemingly unrelated factoids that, because of his friendly (and generous) narration, are brought together to ultimately infuse the book with real intimacy. This is not a scholarly tome. It does not rely hardly at all on numbers, or issue the standard reverent patriotic declarations. While this may render 'Into the Blizzard' too light a read for some, for me, its informal spareness was the perfect framing for the subject matter.

And of course having been affected so, I'm now off to consume Michael's fiction.

Between Gods: A Memoir
Between Gods: A Memoir
by Alison Pick
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.77
7 used & new from CDN$ 12.27

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A heartfelt tale of identity? A collection of blog posts? The precursor to a film? All three., March 16 2015
This review is from: Between Gods: A Memoir (Hardcover)
I attended a reading of 'Between Gods' Ms Pick made earlier on this year in the Niagara area. I hadn't been familiar with her work. So when I got home, I put in requests for her entire oeuvre at the local library. With this memoir, I can declare that I'm up to date and looking forward to her next offering.

I'm of two minds about this book. Part of me appreciated the lengths to which she went to tell her tale. But another part of me can't help wonder that it might have made a better novel.

Hers is a fascinating journey. Even as a non-Jew, I can appreciate her joy, her frustration, everything that she expresses so well. At times it reminded me of a blog. So long a period of time covered, memories painstakingly brought to the surface, each detail presented with what I received as humility...just as you would blog entries over the same period of time. (I know this because I had a personal blog I posted to for almost six years, during which there were over 3,600 entries.)

There were some things that puzzled me. Depression begins the book, and there's a section that refers to it at the end, but it's absent through most of it. For something as powerful as what she fought through, its absence irked me a little. And the sudden mention of her 'best friend', who knows her better than anyone...

Some of the attendees at the aforementioned reading saw her husband as a saint. That he put up with a lot of crap. I didn't see it that way, but the way he's there on her journey, right beside her, got me pondering if I could do the same. My final answer was 'No'. So a hearty nod of admiration to him.

Although I could not call it a literary tour-de-force (and I doubt that she ever had any intention of writing it as such), all-in-all it was a quite-satisfying read.

The Original 1982: A Novel
The Original 1982: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 11.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A delicate, heartbreaking read., March 14 2015
I have a 'history' with Ms Carson; twenty years ago, when I was writing my first novel, her music was instrumental (sorry!) in its creation. Part of the tale's 'score', if you will. So reading 'The Original 1982' was a real treat.

I'll say up front that I cried. I'd be reading, digesting what was was on the page, and then I'd realize 'The narrator's created all of this for the child she never had.' And as someone who's not had kids (and wishes he had), I found this to be especially poignant. I'd forget this, kept on reading...and then realized it again. Tears, and stoppered breath.

One of the things I loved about the novel is that it reads as something being written to someone. That is, the narrator isn't a 'writer', per se. So there are no unnecessary 'literary' passages. No fat, either. It's sparse, but delightfully so.

I see it as a love letter. To a child un-had. To being a musician, to the quiet wonders of being an artist...but most of all, to Love.

Fauna
Fauna
by Alissa York
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 14.40
13 used & new from CDN$ 3.93

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Me = Bewildered, March 12 2015
This review is from: Fauna (Paperback)
So with 'Fauna', I've completed reading Ms York's oeuvre. And as my review's title announces, I'm scratching my head: I'm amazed that she's managed to write three entirely different novels. Granted, there are some similarities between this one and 'Mercy', but her début had the trappings of 'CanLit', whereas this one is far more a 'regular' piece of fiction. Normally, when I've read an author's work (or even a singer's catalogue), there is a consistent style at play. In this instance, if you'd told me that the three books were written by three different authors, I'd have shrugged and said "OK."

The novel itself is solid. And by this, I mean it hangs together nicely. (Except the ending.) There are multiple storylines, many intersections. I was reminded of Robert Altman's films, or Paul Haggis's or 'Magnolia' by Paul Thomas Anderson. But the delivery was- Well, that of a contemporary fiction novel. There is no pretension, no showing off, just the individual tales.

Not everything works. The exploration of character isn't handled as well as I think it should have been. And perhaps it could have benefited from an injection here and there of CanLit blood. However...

...'Fauna' is a love story, a paean to wildlife. That 'Ring of Bright Water' and 'The Jungle Book' are regularly referenced...indeed, integral parts of the story...is no surprise. And for this reason alone, I'm willing to cut Ms York some slack. As well as looking forward to her next offering.

Effigy
Effigy
by Alissa York
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.16
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Well, then. That was something., March 8 2015
This review is from: Effigy (Paperback)
Such a marked progression from Ms York's début, 'Mercy'. A huge progression. A so-much-grander scope. More penetrating observations and insights. A larger dramatis personae, one that takes in a far more varied range of characters from disparate locales.

I found some of the novel to be a tough slog. It wasn't that material wasn't worth reading. There is some wonderful word-smithery in almost all of the novel, even the more dense sections. I suppose that what I'm referring to is the storytelling itself. Which is undoubtedly measured, but not often enough captivating. All-in-all, a satisfying reading experience, deftly written by someone with a fierce command of the language, but I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend it. At least not without a full introduction. A disclaimer, I guess.

I had a really, really, really hard time with the religion presented in 'Effigy'. Yes, the polygamy, but more the righteousness of all the variations on Christianity. If ever there was proof of the disgusting notion of 'killing in the name of God', this book provides it. More than once, I was tempted to throw the book across the room. But perhaps this is evidence as to the writer's skills.

Right; onwards to Ms York's third novel. Fingers crossed.

First Frost
First Frost
by Sarah Addison Allen
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.80
25 used & new from CDN$ 18.73

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A very self-indulgent review, so my apologies up front., March 6 2015
This review is from: First Frost (Hardcover)
This is not going to be like some of my other Amazon reviews for Sarah's novels, pieces of prolixity. There's all kinds of analysis and deconstruction I could offer up, but really, there's only one thing I really have to say: A lovely story of Love infused with magical realism, one that I believe is pretty much the one that Sarah set out to write.

Instead, I'm going to refer to a passage about Bay and Josh and provide my own personal experience that relates to it.

"The first time I saw him, really saw him, was the first day of school, and I knew I belonged with him."

This is a teenager speaking. My experience took place when I was almost thirty years older. I'd begun working at an e-learning company in England. It was a three-floored Edwardian building overlooking the seafront. I spent my days in the attic with 9 co-workers.

One day, not long after I arrived there, I saw 'her'. And in that moment, my heart raced even as my breath was stoppered. And the words that I instantly heard in my head were 'I want to put babies in your belly.' I felt transported, just gazing at her. As luck would have it, shortly thereafter, we ended up on the same project. She visited me in the attic one time to go over the material, the scripts for the video presentations. She was my supervisor, the Lead Designer on the project. She sat beside me and to this day, I can still feel what I felt then: infused with Love. (I still have her hand-written notes.)

As I've stated elsewhere in a review, it was a world-class case of unrequited Love. Worse, there was a part of me screaming inside that something had gone wrong, someone had distorted the timeline, changed the story... That was a dozen years ago. But I still believe that on another timeline, we ended up together.

I'm relating all this because in reading 'First Frost', I was reminded of everything I'd experienced courtesy of Heidi. So my thanks go out to Sarah.

P.S. I wrote my own letter to 'her'; I'm sure that Bay would appreciate it. I bring it up on my computer every once in a while when I need to fee both joy and sadness at the same time. Love'll do that to you...

Mercy
Mercy
by Alissa York
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.16
14 used & new from CDN$ 3.84

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Two novellas in one..., Feb. 20 2015
This review is from: Mercy (Paperback)
...the combination falling short of a good novel.

This is not your usual novel. It's a solid representation of the 'CanLit' genre. Regardless of whether it rambles, or is confusing, it's a solid effort by a gifted writer. It's not for everyone. And it's not the best story ever told. There were times when I wished that the author had approached things in a more 'commercial fiction' way, but each time I'd remind myself that 'Mercy' was never intended to be a tale told that way.

Yes, there were aspects of the story that were never resolved. Yes, I'm still not sure how everything is tied to gather, that the characters and their plots were clearly mapped out. But I sensed that 'Mercy' was told pretty much exactly the way Ms York had intended, and for this reason alone, I salute her.

As a footnote, there were lovely bits and pieces presented quite regularly that had me smiling at their execution as much as I was frowning because she'd said something that I, as a writer, wished I'd said myself, and would be forever be incapable of expressing as nicely in my own way.

Umbrella Mender, The
Umbrella Mender, The
by Christine Fischer Guy
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.88
11 used & new from CDN$ 15.88

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Slim fiction from a knowing and steady hand., Feb. 15 2015
This review is from: Umbrella Mender, The (Paperback)
The novel is an interesting mélange of basic, unpretentious storytelling, some lovely swaths of 'literary fiction' and a snapshot of a time and place and circumstances.

I say 'interesting' and not 'wonderful' simply because there's something unbalanced to it. Or, based on the response it elicited in me, incomplete.

And to a great extent, this impression starts with the title. I may be splitting hairs here, but for me, it frames the novel in a way that rankles. I also found the first-person narrative bits to be unrewarding, as if the script was off. Again, a case of something missing. In fact, I'm inclined to suggest that the novel should either have been trimmed from the near-300 pages, or else expanded. Because of the author's abilities at wordsmithery (there are some quite lovely turns of phrase, insights and descriptors), I experienced conflict in the contrasts between these passages and the more prosaic portions of her plotting.

Despite these criticisms, I'd nevertheless recommend it. Given the author's adventures in bringing it to print (I recently attended a reading where she explained her journey, but these facts are there in the Notes portion at the end), the fact that it's a labour of Love imbues it with so much life as to make it a good read.

Friendship: A Novel
Friendship: A Novel
by Emily Gould
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.81
28 used & new from CDN$ 6.52

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Middling chick-lit from a capable writer, Jan. 26 2015
This review is from: Friendship: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ms Gould has more chops than are suggested by this novel. I don't say this from having read her stuff elsewhere. It's just a hunch. I think that this tale is hampered by the usual characteristics of the genre: some snappy bits, some mild insights, lots of observational sections...but pretty much lacking story, or for that matter, depth. When I say that about story, what I'm referring to is the fact that the novel is a long 'situation' with various characters, various facets.

The book did not move me. The story was not compelling. I appreciated the facility with which it was written...but it's not something I'd recommend to anyone.

Here's to Ms Gould digging deeper to mine a more 'literary' vein of storytelling.

Far to Go /tp
Far to Go /tp
by Alison Pick
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 13.68
16 used & new from CDN$ 1.72

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Light touch for a grave tale., Jan. 21 2015
This review is from: Far to Go /tp (Paperback)
I read Alison's first novel last week and have just finished off this one.

I suppose what's usually expected about novels dealing with The Holocaust is breadth. The sense of 'the epic'. The subject certainly deserves the column space it tends to get. This isn't to say there isn't nuance, yes...but it's a subject that deserves to be treated reverently...and for most novelists, this means 'at length'.

Perhaps it's Ms Pick's grounding in poetry that allows her to present something of great poignancy without venturing into the 'overwrought'. It's a simple story with a short time-span with an equally simple narrative framework. While being limited in its scope, it never turns 'precious'. In fact, I think that the spare approach makes for a far more powerful story; Less in this case is definitely more.

It's not a memorable novel. It's not one about which I might say to a friend about 'You simply MUST read this!' But it's a loving paean to its backdrop, to family, to loss...to Love. I can absolutely see this being adapted for the screen...even though its scope might play against it in the end.

Looking forward to her next book.

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