The Night Has Teeth by Kat Kruger

NightHasTeeth_LowRes_1024x1024Connor Lewis, 17 years old and socially awkward, if off to Paris to study for a year on scholarship. He quickly makes two new friends, flirty and oddly attractive Madison and her boyfriend Josh. The couple seem constantly on the verge of breaking up, and sparks are flying between Connor and Madison. But what seems like it could be the set up for a typical YA romance becomes something altogether different.

We meet Connor’s host family: Amara, an attractive tattoo artist in her early twenties, and her broody boyfriend Arden. To say this is not your standard exchange student scenario would be a huge understatement. We flash back to his childhood, and discover he bit a boy, badly, on his first day of school, and has been an outcast ever since. Now in Paris, Connor discovers an underworld of werewolves: the born (who transform into majestic wolves)  and the bitten (the half-man, half-beast monsters we are more familiar with).

Throw in some beautiful people, the City of Light (and the dark tunnels beneath it), a creepy cemetery or two, and a novel scientific theory on the evolution of the werewolf, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine story.

“The night has teeth. The night has claws, and I have found them.” — Eyewitness account of the Wolf of Magdeburg, 1819

So if it isn’t your standard YA fantasy romance, what is it? It’s a part paranormal, part sci-fi, and all parts awesome werewolf story. I know, you are skeptical. So was I. Twilight kinda killed werewolves for anyone not a Twihard. (Dear God I just used one of their made up words.) But honestly, Kruger has told a fascinating story, which is of course just the set up for a larger story – this book is part 1 of the Madgeburg Trilogy (part 2 is due out this summer).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Night has Teeth, and recommend it highly. I will disclose a personal bias: Ms. Kruger is a friend of mine.  I read it months ago, and hesitated to post a review as it was hard to find the right voice to review a friend’s work. I wanted to convey how much I enjoyed it without gushing and coming across as fake. I hope I have accomplished that… and I hope you check it out the book and enjoy it too.

Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Fierce Ink Press (Sep 23 2012)
ISBN-10: 0988106701
ISBN-13: 978-0988106703

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The Town That Died by Michael J Bird

town that diedOn December 6, 1917 the biggest man-made explosion before the nuclear bomb detonated in Halifax Harbour, destroying most of the town, killing more than 1900 people and injuring approximately 6000.

In one fiftieth of a second, the French ship vanished in a searing ball of flaming gases. With a thundering, staccato roar the blast waves from the exploding chemicals struck out at Halifax and Dartmouth with the violence of a hundred typhoons. The earth shook and the bed of the harbour split open…

When the sky emptied even then Hell was not yet finished with the stricken towns.

Bird’s book is a compelling mix of minute-by-minute events leading up to and immediately following the explosion, and first and second-hand accounts from survivors. He then wraps up the book with an account of the trial of the captains of the two colliding ships, the Imo  and the  Mont Blanc.

Bird follows a number of explosion survivors through the hours and days after the event, detailing the horrors they witnessed and the struggle to survive.

There is of course the well known and heroic tale of Vincent Coleman, telegraph operator. The immediate and generous response of the United States, with Boston and New York standing out as strong supporters.

And the lesser known tale of William King, presumed dead, his unconscious body taken to the morgue on Chebucto Road – where he awoke two days later. There is young Edith O’Connell, who lost her home and entire family, and 17 year old Lillian Atkins from Yarmouth, who miraculously survived the devastation at the Dominion Textile Company. These and so many more amazing and heartbreaking stories.

And then there are the other stories: the looting and profiteering. The crime. There are always those willing to take advantage of a city in peril.

Few thought Halifax harboured any would-be ghouls or vultures. The disaster showed how many. Men clambered over the bodies of the dead to get beer in the shattered breweries. Men taking advantage of the flight from the city because of the possibility of another explosion went into houses and shops and took whatever their thieving fingers could lay hold of.

With the 95th anniversary of the disaster this year, it seemed time for me to finally read this book in full, start to finish. I have owned it for years, but only ever treated it as a reference book, skimming through for facts or stories. As someone who knows the story well, I was unprepared for the power of Bird’s narrative.

Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing; illustrated edition (Jan 1 1995)
ISBN-10: 1551091267
ISBN-13: 978-1551091266


Kin by Leseley Crewe

When David and Annie first meet their new neighbour Lila they are children; it is 1935 in Cape Breton and they are among the only families in their home of Glace Bay not feeling the extreme crunch of the Depression. Too young to understand the disadvantages of her background they only know that she is different, and that they are drawn to her, and they immediately adopt the orphaned Lila as their ‘kin’ and begin a complex weave of relationships that Crewe follows from childhood to old age, in Round Island in 2011.

I am a Cape Bretoner, and a history buff. My grandparents and their siblings grew up on the island (granted – the other side of the island) in the same time period. Their day-to-day lives could have been very similar. I was very excited to see this book show up in my mailbox, and could not wait to read it.

I have never read Lesley Crewe before. I actually have one of her other novels, but it is in my ever-growing ‘to-be-read’ pile. So I had no idea what to expect. Still, if you’ll forgive the contradiction, this was not what I expected. I somehow thought it would be lighter, more of a feel-good, down-home romance-y story. The cover was pretty. The title suggests happy family connections. All of that was there, but there was more. Far from dark, Kin was still not a light easy read. Its characters were complex, the action unexpected.

Kin follows three generations of families through more than seven decades in and around industrial Cape Breton, and as far away as Halifax and Montreal. The cast of characters is long, but it is the first three – Annie, David and Lila that the plot centres around. I loved Annie through and through, as I expect I was supposed to. Even her frustrating choices were completely understandable. And I fell in love with Henry right along with her. Actually, much quicker than she did.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but I do want to say I was disappointed with how her story ended. (It seemed abrupt, and didn’t fit the rest of the story well. Perhaps that’s just me? I’d love to hear what other readers think.)

David and Lila were harder to deal with. I struggled to understand their relationship mostly because it was so believable; it’s the hopeless childhood love story we have all seen time and again in various forms: full of passion and chemistry but little substance, and if not given the chance to mature, doomed for failure. Numerous times I wanted to throw the book across the room as they made their heartbreaking decisions.

Kin did a fabulous job of capturing the ties of family and friendship in a small community, while also portraying how these ties can be limiting and destructive. It was engaging and at times humourous. If there is a criticism, I think it could have ended quicker – not earlier in time, but just with less detail. Near the end it felt like Crewe was desperate to wrap up all the little details, but I like to have at least a few open to my imagination. (I feel like I say this a lot. If I ever do get around to writing a book, someone kindly remind me of this and make sure I wrap it up efficiently.) Still, I greatly enjoyed the story and will be moving her other novels up in my ‘to-be-read’ list.

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing (Sep 4 2012)
ISBN-10: 1551099225
ISBN-13: 978-1551099224


The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Joey Smallwood is poor, and insignificant, a dreamer and frequently a failure – perhaps the least likely person to rise to fame and glory – and yet that’s what he does. Presented as both fiction and biography, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams tells the story of the first half of Smallwood’s life. The true star of the novel though is not Smallwood at all, but Sheilagh Feilding, his long-time friend and the love of his life, an alcoholic journalist whose diary excerpts make up half of the narration of the story.

As Fielding and Smallwood grow together and apart, doomed lovers and professional opponents, the history of Newfoundland plays out in the backdrop. Smallwood covers a disastrous seal hunt for the local paper, and walks across the province (then colony) to unionize the rail workers. Later, he becomes a champion for confederation, leading Newfoundland to join Canada in 1949 and becoming the province’s first premier.

Smallwood is a frustrating character, and difficult to like. From all I have read, this was equally true of the man as it is of the character. Whether his actions were to the benefit of Newfoundland, or pursued for his own selfish purposes, is still debatable today. It is perhaps this frustration with his character that makes Fielding stand out so well.

Whether or not you have been to Newfoundland or know anything of its history, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams provides a thorough introduction to the land and the people. True, it threatens from time to time to fall into cliché, but then you are reminded that while fiction, the story is heavily based on historical facts and characters. The novel’s central ‘mystery’ was not much of a mystery at all, but while it could have been stronger, it did not take away from my enjoyment of the story.

Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Anchor (May 2, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0385495439
ISBN-13: 978-0385495431


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.


The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston

Coming of age is difficult for anyone, but more especially so for Draper Doyle Ryan, whose recently deceased father keeps appearing in the house, yard, and local hockey rink, and whose family has produced such an overwhelming number of priests, nuns and martyrs that he can never escape their watchful and disapproving eyes.

Draper Doyle (always referred to by two names, much to his chagrin) just wants to play hockey and attend school like a normal boy, but instead he must learn to sing, dance and box like a good Catholic orphan (half-orphan, to be precise). As he and his family struggle to make sense of his father’s mysterious death, he grows closer to his strange (funny!) and reclusive uncle Reg and learns the key to controlling the overbearing Aunt Phil.

This is the second of Johnston’s books that I have read, and while the characters were of his typical humourous and engaging style, there was no real build or hook to the story itself. I was more than halfway through the novel before I could really pinpoint the central plotline, and when I left it in the office over a long weekend, I felt no pull to get back to it four days later, and if it wasn’t on my TBR list and due back at the library I could easily have forgotten to get back to it.

Still, when all is said and done I think it is safe to say I haven’t laughed at a book so much since reading Gordon Korman as a child. Truly entertaining.


The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Eleven year old Mynah is alone on a ship travelling from Colombo to London, where he will reunite with his mother. Assigned to take his meals at the “cat’s table,” with a motley collection of eccentric and socially unimportant passengers, Mynah prepares for a long, dreary 21 day voyage – but what he gets is a life changing adventure.

The Cat’s Table has been described in numerous reviews as Ondaatje’s most approachable and accessible novel yet. Unlike his previous, heavier material (I can only compare towhat I have read:  Anil’s Ghost and The English Patient) The Cat’s Table flows easily and can be read quickly. But take my advice: don’t read it too quickly. Through Mynah, we see the complex and confusing world of adults through a child’s eyes, as he deciphers the desires, motivations and relationships around him. There is a lot more going on here than you initially see (you are reading Ondaatje, remember), and you will want to pay close attention.

In the second half of the book, the story is told more and more by Mynah as an adult – as Michael, a now successful novelist living in Canada and reflecting on his youth, and how the journey affected his life in ways he could never have imagined as a child.

While the story closely resembles that of Ondaatje himself, he insists it is not autobiographical, but simply using events from his life as a basis for a story.

Put this one on your Christmas wish list. A truly entertaining read.

Shortlisted for the 2011 ScotiaBank Giller Prize.

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (Aug 30 2011)

ISBN-10: 0771068646

ISBN-13: 978-0771068645