Things seem to be coming up “Anne Logan” these days. I’m really enjoying recording my weekly radio segments on the CBC, because it’s so fun to chat books with other people who really enjoy reading. And the fact that a large audience is forced to listen to my babble is a secondary perk. And now, the great people at Black Lion Journal have posted an interview with yours truly on their blog, along with a nice pictorial timeline of my life in publishing so far. They even have a featured series that showcases some truly adorable pictures of my cats. What else could a girl ask for?
This past week, I spoke about the genre of humour with the wonderful Chris dela Torre on the CBC Homestretch. I would have posted this segment sooner, but a sick toddler has derailed my blogging schedule (among other things) so I’m just getting to this now. But don’t let my tardiness deceive you, this was a really funny interview. And it’s not just funny because we’re talking about hilarious books, a few interesting things came up too. For instance, Chris and I both admit we won’t technically buy gossip magazines, but we will pick them up if we find them lying somewhere. I also remind aspiring writers to ‘keep their day job’ if they’re trying to make it big. A harsh piece of advice for someone who volunteers with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, but believe me, I’m just being realistic.
Here’s a good book buying tip for you: when a major actress like Reese Witherspoon has blurbed a book, you can generally assume it’s going to be worthwhile. Now I know what you’re thinking; “But Anne, aren’t we just buying into the publicity plan that the publisher has laid out for us?”. The answer is yes, you are. But Hollywood actresses don’t just willy nilly blurb books, they’ve got better stuff to do than lend a helping hand to the publishing industry. So clearly, Simon and Schuster has gone out of their way to get this blurb, which couldn’t have been easy, even if Reese is making a movie of the book. And publishers aren’t stupid, they wouldn’t waste their time on a dud of a book, they clearly thought In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware was worth the effort. Not surprisingly, I’m on board as well.
The story is about a small, intimate bachlorette party taking place in completely glass house in the middle of the woods over a weekend. That alone is creepy right? They could have played board games the entire time and I still would have been nervous for them. But of course, someone ends up dying, and there are drugs and alcohol involved, so it’s difficult to say who is really doing what. What else makes this book freaky? The party attendees (four girls, one guy) all play with a Ouija board, and scare themselves silly when an unexpected message comes up.
Ware uses a common tactic in her plot development where she starts off the book in the future, with one character in the hospital, injured, and recently discovering that a murder investigation is taking place. So, before we even get into the woods, we know something bad is going to happen. As the book progresses, we return to that hospital room every few chapters to learn another tiny piece of information while the story also unfolds in the glass house. Slowly, we start to put the puzzle together of what happened that weekend, along with the protagonist. My only complaint about this book is Ware’s decision to jump back and forth in time like that. The atmosphere of this book is so important; we need to be creeped out about the situation as much as the characters on display in their glass cage, but the scenes in the hospital are an interruption to this build-up of the creep factor. It returned the reader to a ‘safe place’, whereas Ware would have been better off leaving us to squirm in the woods.
Despite that, I still really enjoyed this book, I raced through its pages, so take a page from a famous Hollywood actress and pick it up.
Yesterday I spoke with the lovely Judy Aldous about one of my favourite genres of books: the thriller. We discussed The Fall by Noah Hawley and In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Obviously, I loved both these books, and I knew I would, based on the extraordinary publicity efforts made by the publishers. Am I buying into the publicity machines of Simon and Schuster and Hachette? Obviously. But I’m no fool, this is a good way to make book choices, because publishers are some of the most trustworthy readers I know. Judy is also no fool, because she correctly guessed that Reese Witherspoon is making a movie out of Ware’s book.
Pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I’m a nervous flier before on this blog before. I wouldn’t call myself a bad flier, because I do it quite often (one of my life’s greatest ironies unfortunately), but I’m a white knuckler for sure. I care how big the plane is, I refuse to sit in the back few rows because I KNOW it is bumpier, and I absolutely hate turbulence. I most recently confessed to a friend that I would rather endure a non-life threatening surgery than get on a plane; yes, that is how much I hate flying. So why would I read a book about a plane crash you ask? Quite simply, I knew that Before the Fall by Noah Hawley would be good, and if I don’t let my fear of flying get in the way of my travelling, why would I let it affect the books I read? Luckily, I was right, I really enjoyed this book. Plus, the actual plane crash isn’t really described in detail, so I was spared that trauma.
I would call Before the Fall a perfect summer thriller-it’s a great beach read because most of the characters are either beautiful, rich, or both. Hawley is also a television writer, so his plot line is extremely tight. The pace of the book is fast, there is always something new and exciting happening, and there are great twists that kept the pages turning.
The book begins with the unexplained crash of a private plane carrying a few very wealthy people, two kids, and a random painter that befriended one of these rich gals and got on the flight last minute. He ends up surviving the crash with one other person, the 4-year-old son who inherits millions as he is the only surviving family member from the crash. The majority of the book details the last few days (and relevant backstories) of everyone else on board that flight, including the crew and flight attendant. We even get the perspectives of a few of the investigators working on the case, all in an attempt to explain what really happened because there are many theories: mechanical malfunction, terrorism, etc.
One of the spookiest scenes in this book is when the divers find the remnants of the plane on the bottom of the ocean, and they have cameras strapped to their heads that are sending the video feed back to the investigators on land. This situation perfectly highlights the benefits of Hawley’s television writing; he paints an extremely vivid picture for us, it’s like he’s beaming a screen right into the reader’s brain. That’s why I found this book so easy to read, it was like watching television.
But Hawley also made us care about the characters, and there are many of them. As we continue through the chapters, we realize that almost every person on that plane may be the reason it went down. So, it’s a wonderful thriller and whodunnit in one. Have I convinced you to read this book yet? It’s set to be made into a movie as well, so although I won’t be watching it (seeing a plane crash on screen is too much for me, I learned that by foolishly watching Alive), I know lots of people will be.
Wow, I’ve made a big mistake. I waited way too damn long to read this book. Fishbowl by Bradley Somer came out in 2015, has won a bunch of awards since then, and I still didn’t read it until last week, right before I was slated to talk about it on the radio. What was I thinking? I even talked to the author myself a few months ago, and in my head I thought “I really need to read that book” but other things just kept getting in the way. Well thankfully I picked it up a few days ago, and I’ve ripped right through it once I realized how amazing it is.
It’s got a really interesting premise; it takes place over the span of about half an hour (with a few flashbacks thrown in for good measure), and details the lives of a select few apartment dwellers in a particular building. It’s all brought together by the fact that a goldfish named Ian (love that name!) is falling from the top floor balcony of the building, and is witnessing each character for a split second within their apartments. Each story spins off from there, and we cycle through each story in short chapters, many of them ending with exciting cliffhangers that keep the reader pushing through the pages.
I’m so impressed with this book for a few reasons. One is that the writing is really good, it’s fun and descriptive, but doesn’t get in the way of the story, because plot is a big player in this book. Second is that the characters are thoroughly fleshed out, and we finish the book caring deeply about each and everyone one of them. Third, Somer has chosen just enough story lines to keep us engaged, but not too many to confuse us. Fourthly (is that a word?) the storyline itself has something for everyone; there are sexy times, there are sad times, there are really funny times, there are quirky times that made me secretly smile on public transit, the list goes on.
I’m so embarrassed that it took me this long to read this book because Somer lives in Calgary, he’s a member of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and so many people told me how great the book was, but I still didn’t pick it up. It’s been sold in a bunch of countries, and people in Poland are reading and enjoying Fishbowl, but it still took me over a year to read this, even though it was written right in my own city. This is why reading local is so important, because supporting the authors that live around you benefits not only them, but your whole community, especially when amazing books like this are being written in your own backyard. Seriously, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like this book, and I don’t think I’ve ever stated that on this blog before, so you know I mean business. What are you waiting for???? Go buy this book now.
I had never read anything by Olive Senior before, but I had heard of her, and I knew she was a good writer, so picking up The Pain Tree was an easy decision for me. As was recommending her, and gushing about her publisher Cormorant Books on the radio last week.
If you’re looking for a collection of well-rounded, well-written, and well thought out stories, this book is for you. As a fan of this genre, I’m always excited to see how different authors have put their collections together. With some books I’ve read, it’s clear the stories were thrown together to just get the book published. Many authors write short stories sporadically over the years, so sometimes these collections are simply put out once the author has written enough to fill a book. The Pain Tree is different, because you can tell the stories are carefully curated to evoke particular emotions in the reader:personally, I felt wonderment at reading them.
The stories vary widely in tone, theme, and perspective. One story is told from the view of an old man fearing the progress of his community, scared that the future will punish him for his dealings with the devil during his lifetime. Another is told from the perspective of a woman returning to her childhood home, tearful and full of regret after realizing how poorly she treated the house keeper that raised her from birth. One of my favourite stories, “The Country Cousin” details the fairy tale life of a young woman brought into a household, taken advantage of, and then kicked out again, but landing in the lap of luxury with a rich, loving husband.
Some of the pieces have a fun, even supernatural storyline attached to them, while many others are quite somber. All the stories deal with serious issues; slavery, sexual assault, gender politics, even class discrimination are dealt with in the 190 pages of The Pain Tree. So why did I feel ‘wonderment’ at reading this? Senior is an amazing writer, drawing us into a world where we don’t feel entirely comfortable, but still enjoying our experiences within it. Race seems to be at the forefront of many issues in the U.S. these days, so reading a book that explores the complicated relationship between different classes, races, and genders is a very timely and worthwhile activity for us all to participate in.
My fixation on Alberta writers comes with good reason. I’m on the board for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta yo! Their mission is to connect, encourage, inspire, promote and support Alberta writers and their writing, so it would be a down right travesty if I didn’t feature them on one of my radio segments this summer. So yesterday, I spoke about the three nominees for the George Bugnet Alberta Literary Award, click here to listen to it.
Although the ceremony already happened in June (remember I blogged about it before?), I thought it was important to revisit the three nominees because they represent some of the finest fiction that come out of this province in 2015. Fishbowl by Bradley Somer won, but Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie and Richard Van Camp’s Night Moves were all worthy opponents, so no matter which of the three you pick up, you’re guaranteed to enjoy it.
Is this book literary? Yes. Is this book a thriller? Yes, of sorts. Is this book a worthwhile piece of historical fiction? Definitely! The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis is a lot of different things, it’s very unique in so many ways that it will appeal to many different audiences. But before I get into all the reasons I loved it, I wanted to state a few things up front.
Ellis still has some work to do in her plot development, I found the book to move a bit slow at the beginning, but the dangling of the protagonist’s misdeeds to come was enough to keep me going. Also, a few of the scenes were a bit repetitive, it seemed as though the same things were happening over and over again, so the lack of action needed some extra attention as well. However, even with these faults, The Butcher’s Hook is worth your time, and here’s why;
“His fingers trail over the book, stroking the patterned page as a snail marks its path with slime.” (p. 96)
“Hearing him speak is like stepping barefoot on a slug” (p. 107)
I absolutely loved Ellis’s writing. Just by quoting those two lines above, I’m sure you can see why: how perfectly she has evoked this terrible character Onions! The protagonist Anne is a fiery young woman whose terrible merchant father has promised her to Onions, an older, disgusting man who is well-placed to be a socially acceptable husband. However, Anne has fallen in very passionate love with the butcher’s boy Fub. As the novel progresses, the reader quickly realizes that Anne is capable of more than you initially think, and she will literally stop at nothing to make sure Fub is hers alone. Dum Dum Dummmmmmmmm… (insert scary piano music here).
Anne is the other reason this is such a great book, and not just because she has the greatest name in the world. (I was hoping to use that joke on air last week, but I didn’t get the chance, so it gives me great pleasure to use it here). She is probably one of my favourite fictional characters I’ve read this year. She’s sassy, intelligent, and doesn’t suffer fools. For those of you who have read the wonderful Flavia de Luce series, she’s like Flavia, but grown up, and kind of evil. For those of you who have no idea who Flavia de Luce is, just trust me on this one, you’ll love Anne, and you’ll love The Butcher’s Hook.
I love reading short stories, and because they’re not as popular as they deserve to be, I’m always taking advantage of a little air time to talk about how great they are. You can click here to listen to my latest segment on CBC’s Homestretch. For those of you who listened to my radio spots a few years ago, you’ll recall me talking about short stories back then as well. No, I’m not recycling my ideas! I’m just putting emphasis on a style of writing that I really enjoy, and I think other would too, if they just gave them a chance. Can you tell I feel strongly about short fiction?
I also give a little plug to my very first publishing gig at Cormorant Books, because I’m feeling a bit nostalgic these days.