Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre

Effie Gillis has lived with three men, plus her father and brother, has been lied to and hurt by them all, and has finally reached a point in her life where she feels autonomous and strong enough that no man will surprise her again. When she runs in to JC Campbell, a friend from more than 20 years ago, she sees in him what she has been looking for her whole life: an independent, stable man she can trust.

Of course, if this were true, it wouldn’t make a very interesting novel, now would it? I don’t like to write spoilers into my reviews so all I will say is: it is mostly true. But like the rest of them, JC lies. But then again, so does Effie.

Why Men Lie is the third novel from Linden MacIntyre, the follow-up to his Giller Award winning The Bishop’s Man,  and as the third in what’s become known as his Cape Breton trilogy, some of the characters are carried over. Effie is the sister of Father Duncan MacAskill, the ‘bishop’s man’ of the previous book. Having dealt with most of his demons, he plays a smaller role here, offering advice and stability to the many troubled characters.

I read this novel quickly – it was only released two days ago – and with its complexity, I am sure I won’t fully comprehend all it is saying it until I have had more time to think on it, discuss it with friends and reread it. My first impressions though are pretty much all favourable.

Effie’s struggle to differentiate between memories, nightmares and suggestions both touched and terrified me. I know that confusion, that fear – thankfully not in as an extreme situation as hers. The relationships and cross-connections between all the main characters were the right mixture of confusing, amusing and realistic (if you are from a small community). The ex-husbands who are first cousins is classic.

I both love and hate that we are never told for sure what really happened all those years ago between Effie and her Dad, why Sandy really shot himself. In the end, the “why” men lie is not important. They do. So do women. Get on with it and live life. That said, Effie’s “stalker” [minor spoiler] was not convincing or very well wrapped up, and I was left confused as to what the point of the character or plat-line was to the overall story.

There is a familiarity in MacIntyre’s writing that makes his novels feel like they are about people I know, like I am some minor character who could easily appear in the next chapter. The fact that I am from a small community not far away from all the action on the Long Stretch is part of it, but I have read a lot of Cape Breton authors and only a few of them can recreate ‘home’ so well.

Well worth the read, wherever you may be from.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada (Mar 27 2012)
ISBN-10: 0307360865
ISBN-13: 978-0307360861

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this novel from Random House Canada. As per my review policy, this in no way obliges me to write a positive review. I sincerely enjoyed the book.


Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Awaking to pain, heart-break and intense hunger, Lena must learn to face a frightening new world. She has left her family, friends and all she ever knew behind to start a new life –  but her intended partner in this new life was shot down during their escape. As she is nursed back to health and then adopted and trained by Invalids for the resistance, Lena’s character develops from the weak and confused girl we met in Delirium to a strong(er) and determined young woman.

Remember Lena? She lives in a world where love – amor deliria nervosa – is a disease. By law, everyone must be cured at the age of 18 in order to maintain law and order.

In Delirium, Lena meets and is infected by falls in love with Alex, only weeks before she must receive the cure. Convinced of the folly of her society, Lena runs away.  Only the sad ending to the last book is that Alex did not escape with her – he is shot by the border guards, and she is alone.

In Pandemonium, we follow Lena’s continuing story as she fights first for her own survival in the wilds, then as a member of the anti- government, pro-love resistance, and finally to save herself and her unlikely partner when kidnapped during a political rally.

It should be noted – this is a YA dystopia. There are definite parallels to the classics Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale but we’re really looking at a teenage love story, with a dystopian dressing up. This would make me extremely critical if it wasn’t well done, but it is.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Book 1 was good but not great. Sequels tend to be worse, and if I hadn’t had a few dollars left on a Kobo gift card, I probably would not have bothered. I am very glad I did. Oliver has drawn me further into the saga with a few not completely unexpected but still risky plot twists. I am greatly looking forward to Book 3.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 006197806X
ISBN-13: 978-0061978067

Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace by David Adams Richards

Ivan Basterache and his wife pregnant wife Cindi have a heated argument over money – bills are torn up, chairs are smashed, food is thrown. Cindi gets so upset she takes a seizure, falls and gives herself a black eye. The fight is bad, for sure, but neither are prepared for what happens next.

Cindi’s black eye wins her the sympathy of the community, old ‘friends’ take her in, encourage her to leave Ivan, who has always been a troublemaker. Ivan is ostracized as the rumours swirl that he beat her, hit her in the stomach, caused her to lose the baby.

Richards has recreated a slice of rural Maritime life, not the kitschy and quaint lifestyle we like to portray, but one of old traditions, hard times, cliques and long entrenched prejudices.

“Money had nothing to do with it, nor did age. But still, the two groups could be defined. Education might be the key – but that was not true either, although people who wished to make simplistic judgements would use the criteria of money, age, and education to accredit the difference.”

With the community, his former friends and even (most especially) his father against him, Ivan doesn’t have a hope in hell. Yet as the story progresses, he quickly becomes the most sympathetic character. Far from perfect, and with a temper he needs to control, but he and the old doctor seem to be the only ones with Cindi’s best interests at heart.

“There are lots of was people hide bigotry from themselves,” the doctor mumbled. “Today’s way is progressive concern.”

Cindi is perhaps the most difficult character to accept. It takes her weeks to speak up in her husband’s defence, and even then it is a weak effort. She is described as ‘slow,’ having repeated multiple grades through high school, and only graduating so the system could be rid of her. She is an epileptic, and prone to depression. Not taking her medication, drinking to excess and desperate to belong somewhere, she is easily led by the stronger, wilful Ruby.

“Cindi’s life that summer was like a movie, where all her friends were tantalized by and hoping secretly for more stories to come out of this affair, while telling each other they were not, and hoping it would end.”

Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace is one of those rare stories where no character is entirely blameless, yet all are difficult to dismiss outright. Even Anthony, who you want to hate for his selfish stupidity, has devoted his life to his daughters and has a back-story that wins at least a little sympathy.

Having read a long series of disappointing books so far in 2012, I was thrilled to find a novel with such depth, a story that truly touched me. This is the first of Richards’ books I have read. It will not be the last.

Paperback: 240 pages

Publisher: Emblem Editions (Sep 11 2000)

ISBN-10: 0771075146

ISBN-13: 978-0771075148


The Valley of the Horses by Jean M Auel

Banished by the Clan, Ayla strikes out on her own, looking to find a mate of her own kind, one of “the Others” (Cro-Magnon man) to accept her into his family. When still alone after months of travel, Ayla settles in a cave near the river, thus beginning an astonishing series of first discoveries for mankind: domesticating animals, riding horses, building a horse cart, starting fire with flint, end more. And when you think nothing can top her ingenuity, she discovers an extremely handsome and well endowed young man. Go Ayla.

Having enjoyed but not been blown away by Clan of the Cave Bear, I had high hopes for improvement with book 2 in the Earth’s Children  series. It started well. I was actually really enjoying the first half of the book. Yes, you are required to suspend belief somewhat, to think that Ayla is so smart that she discovers just about everything. But I could do that. It is supposed to be representative, to show the reader how early man may have discovered such technologies. You don’t have to take it literally.

Then there was Jondolar. It was clear with the double plot line that Ayla and Jondolar were bound to meet at some point, and while I wanted it to happen, I think my biggest problem was that I really didn’t like him much. Too perfect. Too arrogant yet annoyingly and unbelievably self-conscious.

And then there was the sex. I was briefly taken in by their mind-blowing sex. Briefly. There is such a thing as too mind-blowing. This was impossibly good, and poorly written at that. If I want a bodice-ripper, I know where to find one. Auel should have stuck with her strengths – meticulously researched historical fiction.

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Crown (Nov 27 2001)
ISBN-10: 0609610988
ISBN-13: 978-0609610985

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

 “It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters.”

Six years after the fortunate marriages of Jane & Lizzie Bennet, younger sister Lydia arrives in a flurry at the doors of Pemberley, exclaiming “Wickham’s dead. Denny has shot him!” And with that, we are swept back into the world of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.

As soon as I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. I couldn’t explain why. I typically don’t like mystery novels. I am not much of a Jane Austen fan. Sequels written years later by different authors generally seem in bad taste. And yet, I was drawn to it like to a train wreck. All I could think was while it might be bad – and even very bad – it was fascinating, and had so much potential. This was not to be another Austen romance. The Darcy’s were dealing with a murder.

It was fun, to a certain degree. James recreated the world exceptionally well, and many of the characters too. She wrote Elizabeth very well, but I was disappointed at the choice to turn her into a sensible married lady. Lydia was spot on and just as frustrating as in the original. Darcy was sadly less convincing. His dialogue felt forced. His inner monologue even moreso.

What was fun, then? Revisiting the characters. The letter of “condolence” from Mr. Collins. A token appearance from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, with her offering:

“I have never approved of protracted dying. It is an affectation in the aristocracy; in the lower classes it is merely an excuse for avoiding work.”

The history buff in me loved the details of the investigation – or lack thereof – as conducted in 1803. The court proceedings were enlightening, and the musings of Darcy and Henry Alveston (Georgiana Darcy’s dashing young beau) on necessary judicial reforms, amusing.

As for an overall verdict: If you are a mystery or Austen fan, by all means, you will almost definitely love it. If not, read it for fun. Don’t expect a lot more.

Hardcover: 304 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada; First Edition edition (Dec 6 2011)

ISBN-10: 0307362035

ISBN-13: 978-0307362032