Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: Was, by Geoff Ryman

WasWas by Geoff Ryman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Geoff Ryman clearly demonstrates his prowess as a writer with his novel Was. This is a tragic exploration of the Dorothy/Oz culture of L. Frank Baum from both an historical and modern perspective.

Ryman chooses the voice of a fictional inspiration for Baum's story, that of Dorothy Gael, who is orphaned due to a diphtheria epidemic, and is sent to live in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. That story explores the benign neglect of Dorothy and the eventual destruction of what had been an innocent, intelligent, creative soul under the weight of religious zeal, ignorance, and the inability to control primal needs.

As a counterpoint to that tragedy, Ryman also introduces the character of Jonathan, with whom we journey from his boyhood struggle with autism through his tragic demise as an AIDS sufferer.

The story is told with an honest, compelling narrative, beautiful in its delivery, rending in its simplicity. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: Keeper'n Me, by Richard Wagamese

Keeper'n MeKeeper'n Me by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is difficult to offer literary comment on a novel which is, in fact, the first published by Richard Wagamese, and second all but autobiographical.

Certainly if one were to study Wagamese's work it would be easy to identify the promising talent of an emerging author with this his first published work. Keeper'n Me offers a great deal to the canon of Canadian literature. There is a deft handling of the idiom of language and dialect. He does create evocative images and settings. Wagamese certainly is capable of drawing emotional response from his readers.

However, as compared to his later work, in particular Indian Horse (in which Wagamese demonstrates an author come to maturity and comfortable with his craft), there is a naivete to Keeper'n Me which does discredit to the very real issues that form the foundation of the novel, and the talent of the author.

In telling the story of an Ojibway boy who is seized by Children's Aid authorities and raised severed from his heritage, Wagamese ends up portraying the return of a lost soul to his remote, reservation community. There, he finally comes to accept his birthright.

It has the makings of a moving and profound tale. In its own way the novel is. But it could have been more. Had Wagamese refrained from sketching life on a reserve without water facilities, hydro, sufficient housing as one virtually without hardship, where the people are generally content, relatively well-adjusted, in constant laughter, and all pursuing the path of their ancient paradigms, there would have been a greater ring of truth. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a feeling of Disney in the background, of rainbows and chattering, befriended wildlife.

And that is very sad indeed. Still, Keeper'n Me is worth reading, if for no other reason than to further discover Wagamese's later work and come to understand the profound development of an emerging Canadian author.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Three reviews

Have been a bit busy of late and am catching up on reviews. There are three today, varying widely in subject matter and genre.


Kraken BakeKraken Bake by Karen Dudley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dudley absolutely captivated me with the first in this series: Food for the Gods, and the sequel Kraken Bake follows the wit, humour, whimsy and galloping good narrative of the first.

Our hero, Pelops, celebrity chef to Athens' elite populace and pantheon of gods and demigods, finds himself in deep disfavour with Poseidon, to the point he cannot take advantage of the surfeit of kraken (thanks to the California-stylin' hero, Perseus) in which Athens finds itself awash. And it is imperative, Pelops is sure, that he overcome Poseidon's jinx in order to win the culinary competition of the century to be held in Dionysus' amphitheatre.

Filled by turns with deeds dastardly and benevolent, this is simply an intelligent, rocketing good read. Highly recommended, especially for lovers of all things culinary and mythological.

Well done, Karen Dudley! Well done!

And you will please forgive the reviewer the many puns and allusions.

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The Next Sure Thing (Rapid Reads)The Next Sure Thing by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A gritty, crusty, very male-oriented novella from Richard Wagamese, exploring the underbelly of mobsters, playing race track odds, and an Ojibwa man just trying to make his way in the world.

A bit naive in its ending, but given the Rapid Reads series is likely geared toward YA readers, understandable.

As always Wagamese delivers remarkable detail, although in this story I felt his characters were a bit predictable and cardboard.

Still and all, a good read, if not one of Wagamese's best offerings.

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Him StandingHim Standing by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another in Orca's Rapid Reads series, Wagamese delivers a novella drawing from his own rich Ojibwa heritage, this time sketching the story of a wood carver commissioned to carve a mask. The story which unfolds is a classic power-play between dark and light, good and evil, in this case of a dark shaman who wishes to resurrect an evil shaman of old.

Guided by an Ojibwa elder, the carver discovers the power of his own ancestors, and a way to defeat the emergence of an ancient and destructive power.

Again, a bit naive in its delivery, and with a definite feeling of being rushed through the story, I felt Wagamese was unable to deliver his usual rich world-building and story-telling ability.

Still, a good read, and one which would certainly appeal to a younger audience.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Door in the Mountain, by Caitlin Sweet

The Door in the MountainThe Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caitlin Sweet approaches ancient Greek mythology from the YA market with a dark retelling of Ariadne and the minotaur's labyrinth at Crete.

Sweet's world shudders with the power of the gods. It seems near everyone but Ariadne has some eldritch and scintillating ability, mostly misdirected and excessive. Therein lies the undercurrent of Sweet's story: Ariadne's envy of the gods-given powers bestowed on everyone but her, but most especially her envy of her brother who is the minotaur.

One would think with such powerful myth and motivation Sweet's story would sweep away the reader, but somehow the story stutters under the weight of all that adolescent angst. Ariadne becomes a predictable and unlikeable antihero who whines and plots and inflicts pain as though that were her own god-given power.

Unlike Sweet's earlier novel, The Pattern Scars, there is a lack of depth in The Door in the Mountain, a parsimony in her former elegant phrasing, character development and narrative arc. It is a readable story, indeed quite consumable. But for this reader it is a disappointing second novel, lacking the considerable talent of her earlier work.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review: Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What one might expect from Terry Pratchett: whacky humour, intimately realized world, twists, turns and nefarious deeds. In short, another installment of escapism at its best.

In this Discworld edition, Pratchett returns to our stalwart policing crew, The Watch, who become embroiled in a series of dastardly murders, the question of what makes a thing a thing with rights, or just a machine, and the examination of class structure. All of this told with intelligence and aplomb.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Canada, by Richard Ford

CanadaCanada by Richard Ford
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Drawn by the title, and the author's pedigree, I came to the novel Canada as a Canadian, anticipating a story illuminating this vast and diverse country and people.

Instead, what I came upon was an author trying too hard, and unsuccessfully, to channel the likes of F. Scott FitzGerald or John Steinbeck, carrying with him a typically American ignorance of Canada, its people, its culture, its heritage.

The story revolves, endlessly, around a bank-robbing mother and father who, through their idiocy and sense of entitlement, leave their children, fraternal twins, barely into adolescence as orphans and essentially homeless.

The novel is full of implausibilities: the fact there are no social services to take charge of the children at the time of the arrest of the parents; the smuggling of the unreliable narrator into Canada to an alleged safe house; the robbery itself. The list is just too long to enumerate here.

The writing, although lauded by critics as a 'meticulous concern for the nuances of language', to this reader fell flat, lacklustre, without that alleged meticulous concern for the nuance of language. Frankly, it read as so much blah, blah, blah. In fact, the first third of the book is interminably expository, given little credence or gravitas by the nature of Ford's use of the unreliable narrator.

When we finally come to the denouement, we are treated to a moment out of an old Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is? Which is followed quickly by a complete change of scenery and time, one cannot help but feel because the author ran out of steam.

The characters were so utterly cardboard as to be ridiculous.

And let us not even begin to speak of the gross misunderstanding of anything to do with Canada, let alone Saskatchewan. Frankly, upon consideration, I would recommend every Canadian to pick up this novel, particularly if you're from Saskatchewan, just to explode into laughter at how wrong this writer could envisage that oceanic, wildly free geography we know as the middle province of the Prairies.

Finally, good job, Richard Ford, by way of insulting every Canadian who might read this book by stating several times in the novel: Canadians are just like Americans, and, Canadians want to be just like Americans. Seriously?

Next time the author of Canada wishes to write with authority about a foreign country, I suggest he actually live in that country for a period of time, immerse himself in the culture and the people, then, and only then, he might begin to approach the subject matter with some authority. But, then, maybe not. Any author who can write with sublime confidence that Canadians are just like Americans plainly hasn't a clue and should stick to writing about his own culture.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pratchett remains a great story-teller, sweeping his readers away to a cleverly conceived world, populated by unlikely and believable characters.

In this installation, Pratchett writes a spoof on Andrew Lloyd Weber's international hit musical, Phantom of the Opera. Pratchett also takes on the superficiality of society, of the preoccupation with physical appearance, and the beauty of a noble spirit, all done with deliciously irreverent British humour.

A great escapist read.

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