Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“‘They don’t hate you, Saul.’
‘Well, what, then?’
‘They think it’s their game.’
‘Is it?’
I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. ‘It’s God’s game,’ he said.
‘Where’s God now, then?’ I asked.”

Incredible story.

I was worried that the combination of residential school experience with a young man’s love of hockey was going to be too much – too Canadian. I was wrong. This worked, so very well. Wagamese reminds us all that no matter how different we may be (or appear to be) as individuals or as cultures, underneath we are still the same, driven by the same needs and desires.

This ought to be on required/suggested reading lists in high schools across Canada.

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

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Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was heartbreaking and frustrating and so incredibly engaging. But really, what was I thinking, reading a novel about a women who loses three babies before deciding to “keep” the one that literally floats into her life?
While I easily empathized with the characters, I still struggled with the choices they made. We’ve all dealt with loss, it doesn’t turn you into a kidnapper. I don’t like the idea of an infertile woman as some hysterical, amoral creature who will justify anything to have a child.
Yet, the whole setting led up to making you accept it. There they are, on an island in the middle of the ocean. No one to see, no one to know. Perhaps more importantly, no one to share their struggles and lend support. A woman who lost both brothers in the war, and a man struggling with the guilt of surviving the same war. You can’t help but think “you know, in that situation, maybe I’d have done the same.”
But the fallout. I expected the standard “well meaning couple does terrible thing, learns lesson, everyone lives mostly happily ever after.” I did not expect the gut-wrenching consequences. I did not expect to be up at midnight, desperately reading, tears streaming down my face, hoping everything would be alright in the end. It so rarely is after someone has done a terrible thing.
That’s all I’m going to say. Any more will spoil it. Highly recommended.

Wait – one more thing. I didn’t realize it when I bought the book, but the back-story to the novel is the first World War, and its aftermath. Set in Australia, it is a different take on the war than usual – very similar, but different stories and battles emphasized. Made ever more poignant this year, this week, as it is the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

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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

A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe

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)
ISBN-10: 0771087403
ISBN-13: 978-0771087400

 

The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson

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)

ISBN-10: 0385670907

ISBN-13: 978-0385670906

 

*** 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. ***

All of My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

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)
ISBN-10: 1552451305
ISBN-13: 978-1552451304

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

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)
ISBN-10: 014036336X
ISBN-13: 978-0140363364