Connor 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)
Is it fate or circumstance that brings two lovers together? Romantics would argue the first, the more pragmatic like me, the second. The Emperor of Paris makes the pragmatic romantic, weaving magic into the story of the decades-long sequence of events which brings two unlikely characters together. This novel is much more than just a love story. It is a love letter – to Paris, to books and to circumstance.
Perhaps the most beautiful line I’ve read in years was the simple sentence which ended the novel. “Tell me how we came to this,” Isabeau says to Octavio. And suddenly you want to start all over again at page one, to rediscover how the disfigured daughter of an esteemed Paris fashion designer comes to fall in love with the illiterate book-loving baker.
Told in two times, the story alternates between the present, as Octavio rushes home to his burning bakery, and the past, filled with charming and melancholy characters whose actions contribute to bringing the lovers together.
The Emperor of Paris is a novel to be savoured. Read it slowly. Appreciate the words, the personalities and the images created. This is wonderful writing.
I feel like I ought to say more, but it doesn’t feel right to say too much. The book is quiet and unassuming. It is beautiful. You need to read it for yourself.
Long-listed for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Aug 14 2012)
*** On a side note – I’m back! My apologies for taking a month to update my supposedly weekly blog. All I can say is life got a little crazy for a time, and something had to give. As this blog is neither family nor work, it was temporarily de-prioritized. All is well, just had a lot of things to sort out, including an upcoming move. I will do my best to make up for the missed weeks with some double postings over the next while. ***
Two brothers live on a remote estate with their father, cut off completely from the outside world. All they know they have learned from him, their bizarre perceptions of outside life being derived entirely from the collection of ‘dictionaries’ in the library. They have no toys, they have no friends. When their father suddenly dies, they are forced to leave their home, to face the world they hardly knew existed. Their innocence is quickly stripped away.
“I couldn’t decide what sex she was just by looking at her, whether she was a blessed virgin or a slut or et cetera, because of my lack of experience and so forth, and because dictionaries can’t explain everything, because, you have to believe me, I know my limits.”
It is impossible to describe this novel in any detail without ruining the story, which makes reviewing it somewhat difficult. To say it has ‘twists’ is to severely understate the matter. What I can say is that in The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, Soucy has created a fascinatingly gothic fairy tale. It is dark. It is creepy. I was horrified, and yet I was touched by the characters and their tragedies.
“We had to take the universe in hand, my brother and I, for one morning just before dawn papa gave up the ghost without a by-your-leave. His mortal remains strained from an anguish of which only the bark remained, his decrees so suddenly turned to dust — everything was lying in state in the bedroom upstairs from which just the day before papa had controlled everything. We needed orders, my brother and I, so as not to crumble into little pieces, they were our mortar. Without papa we didn’t know how to do anything. On our own we could scarcely hesitate, exist, fear, suffer.”
While it is a short book, it is not an easy read. The narrator speaks in a dense, old-fashioned and just plain odd voice that will force you to slow down, consider and absorb each word. And even then, you will constantly discover that everything you thought you understood was wrong. So very wrong.
Have I confused you yet? There is no other way. I refuse to spoil the story. You will have to read it yourself. This is easily one of my favourite books off all time, but if you are new to this blog I will warn you – I love a dark story.
Paperback: 138 pages
Publisher: Anansi (Sep 1 2000)
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches was the first novel published in Quebec to be nominated for France’s Prix Renaudot.
There are 249 superheroes living in Toronto, but Tom is not one of them. His friends are, and so is his wife: the Perfectionist. On the night of their wedding, her jealous ex-lover Hypno hypnotizes her into believing that Tom is invisible, breaking both of their hearts.
All of My Friends are Superheros was easily the sweetest, saddest, funniest and most romantic book I have read in ages. It somehow manages to pull of being fantastical while still brutally honest, giving a view into the human psyche that no non-fiction essay could accomplish.
Join Tom and his amazing assortment of superhero friends in the wackiest tale of true love ever imagined. I believe this is one I will read again and again.
Thanks to Ang for the recommendation!
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: COACH HOUSE BOOKS; 1 edition (Oct 16 2003)
Lewis Barnavelt, pudgy, orphaned and lonely, has moved into his uncle’s creepy old home in New Zebedee, Michigan and becomes fascinated by the mystery of the clock. Hidden in the walls of the house, the clock is counting down to the end of days. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be an insecure boy trying to make friends in a new school, Lewis finds himself adapting to the news that his uncle is a wizard, and his new neighbour Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch.
To solve the mystery, and in a desperate attempt to make a friend, Lewis teams up with one of the most popular boys in his class, and proceeds to tell a series of … untruths … make a series of very bad choices, and get himself into some scary situations. But I was pleased to see that for once, the protagonist is not portrayed as the hero. He’s 12 years old. He’s not the brightest or bravest boy around. He’s doesn’t discover hidden magical powers. He’s just a kid, which makes him awesome.
I absolutely loved this book and wish I could have read it years ago. I was that kid who loved to scare herself silly – and this would have done it. It’d not just a spooky mystery story – this is gothic horror for kids. Absolute terror mixed in with characters calling each other “hag face” and “weird beard.”
Read it. You won’t be disappointed. And you will be scared.
Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Puffin, January 1, 1993 (First published 1973)
You know what’s really fun about reviewing books – getting to read them before anyone else. Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure is officially released today, but I was lucky enough to score a copy a few weeks ago, and read it in advance. I am not generally one to gush, but I really, really liked this book.
Set in the slums of New York City at the turn of the 19th century, The Virgin Cure tells the story of twelve year old Moth, who dreams of riches, mansions and exotic pets, desperate to leave behind her dreary life, only to be sold into servitude by her mother. She escapes the home of her new brutal mistress, and is ‘rescued’ by Miss Emmett and her girls into a life of prostitution. When inspected for cleanliness and virginity at her new brother home, Moth first meets Dr. Sadie, the physician who records and narrates her tale.
Dr. Sadie is based on the life of McKay’s great great grandmother (I think I have the correct number of ‘great’s here), one of the first female physicians in New York City, who dedicated her life to serving the destitute women and children of the slums in and around Chrystie Street.
“I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”
Moth and Dr. Sadie are remarkably different but equally intriguing characters. McKay skillfully recreates New York life in the late 1800s, thrilling the reader with unique tidbits of information from the doctor, but yet making the world so alive that you hardly realize you are reading historical fiction. Filled with thieves, gypsies, circus performers, prostitutes and representatives from the highest and lowest edges of society, the Virgin Cure has a little something for everyone. I enjoyed this novel even more than McKay’s first novel, best-selling The Birth House.
McKay will be at Chapters in Bayers Lake tonight at 7pm for a reading and book signing. Get yourself out there if you can. You won’t regret it.
Also, check out her new Tumblr page, Pear Tree Planchette, filled with images which help bring Moth’s world to life.
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada (Oct 25 2011)
Note: This review copy was not supplied but the publisher, but purchased in a silent auction at a fundraiser.
It was like reading two books in one: Hay introduces us to the group of lost souls staffing CBC Radio Yellowknife in 1975 – then sends four of them on an epic trek through the barrens, changing their lives forever.
Most everyone has a time they recall – fondly or not – when their life changed. It may have been a job, a trip, a semester in college, but the friends made and lost, the experiences gathered meant you could never look at life the same again. This is the story Hay is telling. Two young women, Dido and Gwen, learn the ins and outs of radio, over a year in the Canadian north. But they learn about much more than radio.
Most striking about this novel is the contrasting of the characters to their natural environment. I’ve always been a sucker for books that do this well (hence my love for Barbara Kingsolver). Late Nights on Air tells the stories of these women, and their coworkers, against a backdrop of change in the north, with the MacKenzie Pipeline hearings bring controversy and conflict to their community, pitting economic growth and advancement against tradition and environmental protection. The pipeline is not part of the story, yet the controversy affects all of the characters, in different ways.
And then the story within the story: Gwen’s obsession with the story of John Hornby, the canoe trip through the barrens, retracing the explorer’s steps, visiting the cabin where he and his companions died. The trip tests all four would-be explorers physical and mental limitations, proving their mettle, bringing glimpses of happiness to otherwise lonely characters, yet ending in tragedy.
Overall, this was a book I found hard to put down. All characters charmed me – either by being charming, or so curmudgeonly I was charmed despite myself. There was layer upon layer of detail: radio’s struggle against television, a young woman’s journey to find herself, the history of exploration in the north, the conflict between advancement and tradition in the north, and on and on. Brilliantly done. My only complaint is there was perhaps an overuse of foreshadowing. I felt like Hay was hitting me over the head with the fact that “something bad” was going to happen, to that point that when it did it was almost anti-climactic.
Still, well worth a read. Also, makes me want to revisit Farley Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens, as I kept having flashbacks to grade six English class.
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Emblem Editions; 1st Trade edition (April 1 2008)
*Winner of the Giller Prize in 2007.