Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quick! Three more Canadian Books!

The Canadian Book Challenge, hosted over at The Book Mine Set, is coming to a close tomorrow, and I'm supposed to have read and reviewed 13 Canadian books over the past year. As of yesterday I've only done 10!

I decided at the beginning of the challenge that I would only count books I reviewed on my blog—books I chose and decided to recommend. If I counted books I reviewed for CM Magazine I would be way over my quota—but I'm not changing the rules on myself just because I'm down to the wire. What I can do is add a few more books to my blog that I reviewed for CM over the past year and liked. These are books I can heartily recommend as excellent reads, even if they're not books I would otherwise have chosen for myself.

Old Man, by David A. Poulsen, is  the story of a father-son trip to Vietnam. An estranged father tries to come to terms with what he did during the Vietnam war, and share with his son the experiences that, for good or bad, have made him what he is. Sounds heavy and dramatic and potentially didactic, not my kind of thing at all. But Poulsen narrates it from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Nick, and he is likeable, flippant, self-depreciating. The plot is fast-paced and tense, and the difficulties of two non-communicative guys trying to get to know each other are heartbreaking and hilarious. Poulsen conveys the complexities of a terrible war by describing one man's experiences and how they haunt him, all told from the point of view of the son who is trying to understand him. Quite masterfully done. Definitely a book for guys, but also for anyone interested in war stories and history, and anyone who just likes good writing.

Objects in Mirror, by Tudor Robins, is a horse book. I went through my phase as a teenager, devouring every book about horses I could get my hands on. Objects in Mirror is also about a girl with anorexia, and when I discovered this in chapter two I thought to myself, "oh, no, a horse book that's also an issue book." But then I stayed up until past midnight reading it because it's so good!

Main character and narrator Grace's voice is completely authentic. Her compulsion to lose weight is compellingly believable, and it conflicts heartbreakingly with her love and concern for the horses. According the the author interview at the back of the book, Robins is an avid horsewoman, and she has suffered from eating disorders herself. Her understanding and love of horses shines through in her writing: the horses are all individual characters, and she really makes us care about them. Robins also does a great job with the romance in the story: I swooned a bit over "Matt the horse god," who proves to be so understanding about Grace's disease. (And Robins writes one of the better kissing scenes I've ever read!)(I kind of harp on that in all the reviews I wrote of this book, but really, a good kissing scene is a rare thing to find and should be appreciated.) So don't pass this one by because it has a picture of a horse on the cover. It's worth a read whether you're horse mad or not.

Submarine Outlaw, by Philip Roy, is the first book of a series. I reviewed books 3, 4 and 5 for CM Magazine last year, (here are books 3 and 4 on my blog) and then I went on my own to find the first two, because I enjoyed the others so much. I just can't get over how clever Roy's concept is: a teenager builds his own submarine and then travels around the world having adventures. Who wouldn't want to read about that?

This first book describes how Alfred comes to build the submarine in the first place. Alfred lives in Newfoundland with his grandparents, but doesn't want to be a fisherman. He comes across an old oil tank in the local junk yard and dreams of turning it into a one-man submarine. Turns out the crusty owner of the junk yard knows everything about submarines, and the two of them spend the first part of the book building a sea-worthy vessel. The description is detailed enough to make you believe this is actually possible without being boring. Then off Alfred goes. He rescues a dog and adopts a seagull, he has to avoid getting caught because he has no license, but when people need help he doesn't hesitate. In each story in the series, Alfred learns about a different part of the world and learns a little more about himself and responsibility. A coming of age story set in a submarine. Too awesome. Good for boys, good for middle-grade and above, good for everyone who likes adventures.

There! 13 Canadian books read and reviewed between July 1 2012 and June 30 2013! Maybe a bit rushed here at the end, but I squeaked by. Next year I won't leave so many to the last minute. I promise. Really.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold, by Jane Nickerson

Holy flying time, Batman! What happened to May and June??

I've been busy, and I haven't had much time to read in the last two months. But the truth is I haven't been inspired to blog because nothing I've read lately has really grabbed me and made me want to force you all to read it too because it's so amazing. Sad to say, I've taken a great number of books back to the library unfinished. I just don't have the time or the attention span to put up with contrived plots, boring characters and laboured writing.

I read this book several months ago, and reviewed it for CM Magazine (note that my CM review contains spoilers) and Goodreads, but I never got around to blogging about it. I'm going to blog about it now because it's a Canadian book, and I've only got three more days to make my Canadian Book Challenge quota (and I think I still need at least three books, yikes!). And because it was neither contrived, boring nor laboured!

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a retelling of the Bluebeard story, one of the more disturbing fairy tales out there. Set in the American South before the Civil War, Nickerson's version revisits Bluebeard as M. Bernard de Cressac, a wealthy Frenchman who transported an ancient abbey stone-by-stone from Europe to Mississippi. The story takes place in his huge castle-like house with rambling rooms and mysterious ruins in the garden; the setting is vivid enough to be a character itself.

The main character is de Cressac's goddaughter, Sophie. He invites her to live with him as his ward after her parents die and her family becomes destitute. At first it's a dream come true of luxury and beauty, but Sophie gradually realizes that the house is haunted by the ghosts of de Cressac's former wives. What exactly happened to them? Then de Cressac asks Sophie to marry him.

Creepy, lush, gothic, suspenseful and atmospheric, Strands of Bronze and Gold plays with the original fairy tale, making it possibly even more disturbing. Not action-packed: it's about the slow dawning of horror as Sophia realizes what her godfather really wants from her, and discovers what he has done.

Grilled peaches with bacon and maple syrup on cornbread.

I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers; nothing explicit, but mature themes.

This is my 9th Canadian book reviewed this year. Check out The Book Mine Set for lots of great Canadian books to read.