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)
Wesley Case, born into a rich and privileged but ultimately broken home, is desperate to escape his past, but turns as both a soldier and a Mountie only increase his shame and his father’s fury. Now, Case has turned diplomat/spy, as the unofficial go between for the commanders of two Western frontier fortresses on the Canada-US border, where he falls in love with Ada Tarr, the wife of the town solicitor, and thus incurs the ire of Michael Dunne – a hired thug with his own dreams of winning Mrs. Tarr’s heart.
Set in 19th century Saskatchewan and North Dakota, A Good Man is the third novel in Vanderhaeghe’s I, a series of books linked not by character but by theme – the decline of the so-called Wild West and the early and uneasy relations between Canada and the US.
A Good Man has everything a good Western novel should: cowboys & Indians, the ‘noble’ Mountie (and a crew of not-so-noble as well), soldiers, widows, thugs, and a touch of romance. Thankfully this time it is a romance I can get behind. While I loved Vanderhaeghe’s previous novels, The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing, I found the ‘love’ story in the latter highly disappointing. Less of a love story than a ‘girl is down on her luck so long she finally settles for the old man who has been badgering her to marry him since page 3’ kind of story. Wesley and Ada’s relationship was touching and Dunne’s obsession with her was an interesting mix of sympathetic and creepy.
But lest I make it seem that the best part of the novel was the romance, it must be noted that aside from Case & Dunne, the most intriguing character was the Sioux chief, Sitting Bull. The storyline begins not long after Sitting Bull’s victory at Little Bighorn, and everyone on either side of the border is living in fear of the Sioux. It has been many years since I studied Western History so whether Vanderhaeghe’s version of his character is accurate or not I am not equipped to say. He is depicted as a cunning adversary, commanding, intelligent, and political, and also as a family man, grieving the loss of his son and genuinely concerned for the health and safety of his family and his tribe.
This was the perfect sort of historical novel. I felt a simultaneous pride and shame for the history of my nation, but finished with a desire to know more and understand better. Well worth any reader’s time, I hope to see this novel turn up in a Canada Reads list sometime. It is just he sort of novel every Canadian should read.
Longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; 1st Edition edition (Sep 13 2011)
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. ***
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)
When Hack Nike signs his new employment contract without reading it, he unwittingly agrees to assassinate teenagers who buy the newest Nike shoe – in a ruthless stealth marketing campaign that catches the attention of law enforcement agent Jennifer Government. Hack & Jennifer live in a satirical near-future world where corporations have run wild, everyone takes the surname of their employer, the world is divided into US and non-US countries and the NRA is a hotly traded stock. God help us.
I originally picked up a copy of Jennifer Government after hearing it described as an interesting dystopian novel with a good environmental message. While I don’t think either of those is false, that isn’t how I would describe it. This is satire, through and through. In one page I frequently went from laughing at the irony of the invented situations to grimacing in horror at the choices made by the characters.
The action was fast and so over-the-top it was almost believable. The novels only downside was part of what I loved about it: dangerously close to cliché with one-dimensional prototype characters, Barry was one mis-step away from losing me through the entire storyline. But he did not mis-step, and had me hooked.
Described as “brilliant and hilarious” by Naomi Klein, and as “is the best novel in the world ever” on its own back cover, Jennifer Government delivers outrageous reading fun, and is sure to provoke some serious thinking.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Jan 6 2004)
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)
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.