Book Review: In Another Country, Selected Stories by David Constantine

I had never heard of David Constantine before I picked up this book, but after I had quickly scanned his bio on the inside cover of In Another Country, I realized what I was missing. He’s kind of a big deal, being nominated for many different prizes, and according to his Canadian publisher Biblioasis, he is “regarded as one of  the greatest living short story writers in the United Kingdom”. Who knew? Clearly I didn’t, so I dove right into this collection with high expectations.download (3)

This book of short stories brings together the best of Constantine’s work from the past three decades, so anyone new to his writing will get a good sampling of what he’s about. Personally, I felt as though many of the stories blended into the next, because of the similar content. The more I reflect back on what I read, I believe I felt this way because of the significant representation of nature throughout the book. Although each character was very different, the outdoors/the environment played a huge role in each narrative, usually affecting the plot or characters directly.

constantineThe longest story (and in my opinion, the one that dragged on a bit too long) was “An Island”, which appeared as diary entries from one man to a past lover. The protagonist  lands on a very isolated island, strongly affected by the scenery, and only somewhat by the people around him. Not a great deal happens in the story, and the reader is never given a very clear idea of the past and future of this strange man; we are forced to live in the moment alongside him, desperate to leave this island setting yet unclear as to where we would go after that.

Not all the stories had lone characters in the wild though, for instance “The Mermaid” details the mundane routine between an aging couple, and their unspoken battle that plays out over a few months; same with “Strong Enough to Help”, which describes an encounter between an older man who is obsessed with poetry, and the door-to-door interviewer tasked with understanding his preferred social activities. Overall, Constantine relies on detailed descriptions of each character’s environment to bring the reader along on the journey, which is something that many readers enjoy, although I must say, I did not. There wasn’t enough meat to the stories: not enough content to warrant such flowery descriptions. That being said, he is a very skilled and subtle writer, never did I feel as though his metaphors were silly, or overwrought. He is a poet after all, so if you’re into that kind of stuff, give him a try.

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Big book alert: Patrick deWitt has a new book coming!!!

Ahh the Fall. For book nerds like me, this is a great season for a few reasons; one, the weather is getting colder, so we have better excuses to stay in and read, and two, the Fall is when highly anticipated books are released, just before book award lists are announced. Canadian book lovers will no doubt know about Patrick deWitt, his last book The Sisters Brothers was HUGE, download (2)appearing on virtually every award list possible, keeping critics buzzing for months. My American readers may or may not be aware of him (or perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, assuming I even have American readers on this blog) but anywho, the SB should be made into a movie any day now, so you will know about him sooner rather than later!

9781770894143_edacd8ca-0aef-45b1-a5d6-aaa327c8278b_1024x1024But back to why the Fall is so great: I’ve got deWitt’s new book Undermajordomo Minor on my to-read shelf, and I’m planning to pick it up shortly, but in the meantime, his publisher has released this book trailer for those who don’t have access to the advanced reading copies I so lovingly covet as a book blogger. Who’s excited now????

Also-how great is the cover treatment on this book? I love themes!!!! I have to use a lot of exclamation marks here to demonstrate how excited I am…

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Book Review: Wake the Stone Man by Carol McDougall

When I picked up this book from my shelf, I immediately noticed the seal on the front announcing it had won the “Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature”. Not exactly an exciting call to action, because who wants to read a book about social justice in the dead of summer? But I had promised to review it, so I reluctantly picked up Wake the Stone Man and started reading it. I finished it in just a few  days, and I still find myself thinking back to it and the characters even as I’m on to my next book. Needless to say, it had a profound affect on me.

downloadAs the above paragraph suggests, the topic was not light: two young girls grow up together within tragic and unfortunate circumstances. One is a residential school and foster care survivor while the other loses her parents in a car accident at Christmas (that’s sort of a spoiler alert, my bad). Anyway, situations are dire, and both struggle in different ways. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: a common theme throughout is redemption through art, and the way it can clarify our emotions, rather than complicate them. This is an aspect to the narrative I really enjoyed, and found easy to relate to, as many book lovers would, I’m sure.

So despite the difficult subject matter, what made this book so likeable? It’s certainly not cliche, far from it I would argue. I found the juxtaposition between the problems of such different women very unique. Yes, the story is about the tragic echoes of the residential school experience, download (1)which many authors are beginning to explore more and more. But McDougall takes it one step further, forcing us to examine the impact of this abuse on not only the Aboriginal kids who were forced into it, but also on the kids on the outside, looking in. In the author note, McDougall explains that she was one of those kids, standing on the outside of those gates, looking in. She transfers this memory to the protagonist of the story, Molly. Doubtless, many people (people not that old, in their 40s and 50s most likely!) will have experienced something similar if they lived in these areas. Like a haunted house, outsiders were curious about these schools, but avoided speaking about them, because the truth was typically too scary to imagine. Now that the truth is out, many are horrified at what they lived next to all those years ago.

One area McDougall could have given a bit more thought to would be the dialogue in the book. Sometimes it didn’t ring true, in fact, it was jarring at some points. The slang used within some of the conversations and Molly’s inner dialogue seemed very out of character and could have used a bit more editing before being printed. That being said, I’m reviewing an advanced reading copy, so perhaps some of this was changed before it was published.

But a couple of misplaced curse words are no reason to pass up this book. I won’t say it’s an important book to read, because this typically scares people off. So I’ll just say it’s worth your time, and then some.

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Book Tag: Reading Habits Tag

I’m curious to see if people care about my reading habits or not, but either way, I’m posting this because I was tagged by another blogger.  I’m a techno newb, so I may not be doing this right/tagging people correctly, but thanks to Book Bunny I’m going to attempt it, so here goes!

Do you have certain places at home for reading?IMG_20150809_163306396_HDR

Yes, although I’m willing to pick up a book and start reading just about anywhere. My favorite reading location is my couch, in our front living room, with Smokey, Pearl, or both sitting on my lap.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Bookmark! I have about a million of them, but my favourite one is from the resort my husband and I got married at in St. Lucia, called Jade Mountain. 

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?

As a new mother, I am frequently forced to stop reading ( usually accompanied by a baby’s wail, signalling the end of nap time), but when I’m reading at night before bed, I typically try to make it to the end of my chapter or section.

Do you eat or drink while reading?

Oh hell yah! A nice cup of tea is a great accompaniment to any kind of book, but if I’m feeling naughty, a Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar is my go-to choice.

Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

The only thing I can do at the same time as reading is breastfeed my baby, or pet my cats if they are close at hand. That’s about it.

One book at a time or several at once?

Usually I like to stick to one book, but these days I find myself reading one kind of book to blog about, plus some parenting book that gives me some sort of clue as to what I should be doing with my kid.

Reading at home or everywhere? IMG_20150809_165817026

Errrrrrrrreywhere.

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

I read my own books silently, but I read out loud to my baby.

Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

God no.

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I’m not sure if I actually break the spines, but I force them open as much as needed to read comfortably. I also try to keep the dust jackets of the hard cover books intact, so I can pass them on to others when I’m done.

Do you write in your books?

Why the hell would I do that?

I’d like to tag the wonderful blog I Will Never Own Enough Books to answer these same questions, when she gets around to them! And no rush, I know you’ve got lots of reading to do :)

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Book Review: Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg is based on the life of Mazie Phillips, an out-spoken, big-hearted woman who lived through The Great Depression, helping those less fortunate in any way she could. Although she is referred to as a ‘celebrity’ in many places, not much is known about her, which is why this book felt like it was missing something for me.

Attenberg tells the story in a very unique way, including snippets of Mazie’s long-lost diary alongside people’s first hand accounts of their run-ins with Mazie. She also weaves in minor story lines of the people who discovered her diary years later, so there is no shortage of characters or perspectives in this book. The way the story is told is quite brilliant actually, it doesn’t give everything away, expertly creating the mystery around this woman while drawing the reader in with each entry, leaving us wanting more.download

Saint Mazie focuses in on a few decades of Phillips’s life, presumably the ones that people know most about. After moving in with her older sister and husband as a young child, Mazie turns into a rambunctious teenager and young woman, going against what is typically expected of women at the time. In fact, I see her character as a young Carrie Bradshaw, playing out an old-fashioned version of Sex in the City. Mazie loves the streets of New York City, even more so than the numerous men she befriends during her late nights partying.

The dialogue is witty, and as mentioned before, the various perspectives are a nice change from the typical historical fiction I read, but I do wish there was more to the book as a whole. Perhaps my critique is unfair: Attenberg may have intentionally left big gaps in the narrative on purpose, as there is little known about Mazie. But I can’t help but think that more information or plot was needed to round out the story.  It feels as though a chunk of the narrative is missing; even if no resolution is possible or known, there needed to be more to make this a satisfying read.

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Book Review: The Incarnations by Susan Barker

This is one of the best, if not the best book I have read so far this year. Bold statement I know, but The Incarnations by Susan Barker is worth the praise. So why did I like it? There are so many reasons why, I have to put them in bullet form:

  • It’s got a bunch of mini, well-told, and well-developed stories within the main narrativedownload (1)
  • The numerous characters are colorful, flawed, and so interesting to read about
  • Many of the situations are painfully emotional, and very well written without being melodramatic
  • There is a deep-seeded mystery being developed between each plot line that ends in a satisfying way
  • It’s an incredibly unique story, and considering the thousands of books being published each year, this is no small feat!

When you read the amount of books I do, you develop a deep respect and reverence for a book that is truly ‘different’. “Oh, a story about an enigmatic young woman, I’ve been dying to read one of these” said no one ever. Honestly, life is ripe with a million untold tales, there just needs to be someone creative and insightful enough to pick up on this, and turn it into an enjoyable book to read. Barker has done just that with this book, her third novel. I loved it so much I wished she was Canadian, because I wanted to claim this as our own.

Now I should warn you, there are some very violent, and terrible happenings in this story. But it covers a good chunk of Chinese history, so there’s got to be some blood and gore to stay true to life! Personally, I’ve never been one to shy away from this sort of thing (crazy cat ladies like myself need their action from somewhere) but just keep this in mind before you pick up The Incarnations, it’s not for the faint of heart but you’d be missing out BIG TIME if you skipped it.

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Book Review: Where did you Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie

Okay, Lynn Crosbie scares me a bit, and not for the reasons you think. The stuff she writes is a bit strange, always has been, and yet I’m drawn to her work like a cat to an open box (see below). I discovered her back in university during my Canadian Poetry class with the amazing Carolyn Smart (another great poet). At that time I read Crosbie’s poetry collection Paul’s Case, based on the Paul Bernardo case from the 90s. Anyone who lives in Ontario will know what I’m talking about. Anyway, this was a controversial book, very disturbing, but after studying it so closely I’ve been following Crosbie’s writing ever since.cat-trapslynncrosbie

Her latest, Where Did You Sleep Last Night has an interesting premise: Evelyn tries to commit suicide, and wakes up in the hospital beside a man (Celine) who is basically a reincarnated Kurt Cobain. He looks like him, talks like him, and creates music just like him. Together, they become famous musicians, and the reader follows along their path to fame, their spiral into drug-induced episodes, and the constant highs and lows of their relationship. Both Evelyn and Celine are on drugs for the majority of the novel, so you’re never quite sure if what you’re reading is actually happening, or if it’s just a hallucination or exaggeration, but either way, it’s beautifully written and described.Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie.  No Credit

I’ve included a few samplings of her writing below, to give you an idea of what you’ll find in the book:

“a sweater that has unravelled into a river of cream” (p. 8)

“books and magazines stacked everywhere with paper tongues panting from each”(p. 15)

“and he carved our names on the bridge as my scarf unwound and fainted beneath us,landing like a vein in the stones” (p. 120)

A novel written by a poet is always a joy to read, the metaphors they employ are like no other, and instead of devouring the pages like I normally do, I’m forced to stop and savour the words as they come. When drugs are being consistently consumed by the characters throughout the book, the narrative becomes even more fanciful, creating the perfect opportunity to describe extraordinary, frivolous, and sometimes downright disturbing images for the reader. However, this is how Crosbie writes, and what people have come to expect of her. She has not disappointed with this latest book.

A lot happens in these pages, although similar to someone on a high (not that I would know first hand!), you skim over these situations without even realizing they’ve happened. In fact, when I would put the book down to go do something else, I would have to sit and clear my thoughts for a bit, my mind feeling a bit muddied after what I had just read. Because (I’m assuming) Crosbie has done this on purpose, I see this a strength of the writing, not a drawback. So are ya ready to get freaky? Time to pick up this book.

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Book Review: The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

I read this book, and then climbed a (very small) mountain with my family. Nothing makes a survival story quite so real until you put yourself in the situation that’s being described in the story you just finished! Luckily, we made it off the trail alive, unscathed, and in very good spirits, but I can’t say the same for the characters in Lori Lansens‘ latest, The Mountain Story.a12701b2ec1f2e4f438a81184d731fc8-e1429041224310

Many people loved this book, and I can easily see why. It’s a plot that is filled with both suspense and emotion: a literary adventure, if there ever was one. But a book about a mountain hike gone wrong has even more appeal to someone who is used to (not quite comfortable with) being on mountains for both skiing and hiking. Mountains, even small ones are majestic, and when I first moved to Alberta, I vividly remember getting sweaty palms just driving past them on my way into Banff. Like Mother Nature herself, mountains are beautiful, but have the power to destroy you. They are not forgiving; the slip of a rock, the passing over of a storm, the dislodgement of a piece of snow can easily mean death for a human, and unfortunately, many mountain enthusiasts are killed each and every year, even the most experienced. Mountains are not discerning, they choose their victims at random, no matter who you are.

Mount San Jacinto-the inspiration for the fictional mountain in the story

Mount San Jacinto-the inspiration for the fictional mountain in the story

Ok that sounds very ominous, but I feel this way because I respect and admire mountains, which the characters in this book do as well. Wolf, the protagonist finds himself ready to jump to his death off the very same mountain that his friend Byrd fell from just a year before. But instead, he comes across some inexperienced hikers who have lost their way. Taking pity on them, he tries to lead them to where they are going, but instead they become lost, and stranded on the mountain for five days. Based on the size of the mountain described, this would have been very easy to do, so the plot is easily believable, and I’m sure many people can relate.

What makes this book so interesting is the fact that Lansens interrupts the survival story with flashbacks of Wolf’s childhood (which is also quite harrowing, and in some ways, more horrific than what he’s experiencing in the present day). So, although you’re eager to get back to the mountain, you read the justifications for Wolf’s suicidal mission, slowly understanding and sympathizing with his situation, present and past. Obviously Lansens is a skilled writer if she’s able to take the reader away from a mountain disaster, to something not as life threatening but just as absorbing. So take a big breath of courage and pick up this book before a hike (or if you’re a nervous hiker like me, perhaps after would be better). You won’t be disappointed.

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Book Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

This book is written by two bloggers. They may have co-authored The Royal We, but Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan are best known for their successful celebrity style blog Go Fug Yourself. I had never heard of this blog, but that doesn’t say much, because I don’t follow fashion (especially now that I can’t fit into my old skinny jeans from my pre-baby days). You can probably guess that this book isn’t a serious literary novel, but I still enjoyed it, especially because it’s summertime, which is the perfect (and only time) I will read ‘chick-lit’ and not feel guilty. This is the season this genre was created for! download

Although the protagonists’ names are Nick and Rebecca, I quickly realized this was a book loosely based on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance, very loosely based: it’s a fun re-imagining of what their courtship might have been, with some twists thrown in for good measure (and to avoid any libel suits, I’m sure). Rebecca, or “Bex” is an old-fashioned American girl. She comes from a wealthy family who made their money in couches, and she’s a tomboy through and through. She literally stumbles into the path of the King-to-be, and they quickly find themselves falling deeply in love with each other, despite the difficulties of romancing a royal.

I didn’t have any jaw-dropping revelations while reading this, but I did thoroughly enjoy it, and I laughed out loud quite a bit, the dialogue in particular is hilarious. I suspect this wouldn’t be surprising to anyone who regularly follows Go Fug Yourself, Cocks and Morgan are obviously a funny pair, and have translated this charisma into a successful novel. The publicist for this book called it ‘good frothy fun’, and I couldn’t agree more.

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Book Review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

So, I saw that Judy Blume had a new book coming, and of course I jumped at the chance to review it. Who wouldn’t? It’s Judy Freaking Blume! I didn’t read the premise of the book at all, hell I didn’t even look at the cover. I just said “Yes, please send it to me”. And then, I saw it on my to-read shelf at home, and immediately took it off my bookshelf thinking “Yes, it will be great to finish this book before I go on my trip home, because it’s hardcover, and I don’t want to pack it in my luggage, and I really want to read it now, so I’ll just crack it open today!” I didn’t even clue into the fact that the book was about plane crashes until I started reading the first page. Geez, do I have terrible timing or what?

No one likes reading about terrible senseless tragedies like plane crashes, especially because flying is something many people do numerous times a year. People who are nervous fliers like me? They definitely don’t like reading about plane crashes, and yet Judy Blume has written about plane crashes, and it’s her first book in a long time, so you can see the conundrum I was in. Not wanting fear to control my life, and/or my reading choices, I soldiered on through In the Unlikely Event, even though I’m a nervous flier, and  hopping on a plane in a few days. I wanted to include this long introduction to my review to make it clear that I am commenting on this book as a nervous flier, so keep that in mind.

The book starts off with a very nervous woman about to board a plane, and then jumps back thirty five years before that to describe the fateful year that is responsible for this woman’s anxiety. Based on true events, there were three plane crashes in Elizabeth New Jersey over a three month period, which Judy Blume experienced herself, as she grew up in Elizabeth. Miri, the protagonist is the woman who we follow back into her childhood to experience this terrible year firsthand. download

My love of Miri is what kept me turning the pages of this book. This is the power of a Judy Blume book. I was reading about literally my worst nightmare, but I was still able to enjoy the story, and felt better, not worse about flying once I finished it. To Blume’s credit, she describes flights that are perfectly safe alongside the tragic ones, which seemed to alleviate my anxiety quite a bit. But the characters themselves are what kept me going back. Miri is such a well developed character, I felt like she was a real person that I could know, or relate to in my own life. Her thoughts, emotions and actions did not always reflect one another, which made her such an interesting, and believable person. Blume excels at drawing us into the lives of people that we are introduced to in only a few pages before they perish in a crash. And yet, although we’ve only known them for a few paragraphs, we mourn them just like their fictional families and friends.

The only problem I did have with the book was the number of characters introduced. I would have liked to have gotten to know a few of them better, and I lost track of similar-sounding names a few times. Some may say that’s the fault of the reader and not the author, but I hate when too many people are needlessly described, it can take away from the impact of the other, more important central characters.

Anyway, this book is well worth the read. Plane lovers should rush out and buy it in the hardcover. Nervous nellies like myself can wait for the paperback.

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