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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Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Mercy Among the Children, by David Adams Richards

Mercy Among the ChildrenMercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Periodically there are books which come into our lives we choose to read not because they are guarantors of entertainment, escapism, pleasure, but because we are aware the writer has something to say, hopefully says it well, and the scent of which lingers in years to come like a primal memory, an underlying truth.

Such is the case with David Adams Richards' Giller Award winning novel, Mercy Among the Children.

Told through the unreliable narrator of Lyle Henderson, son of the main protagonist and chief underdog in the story, Sydney Henderson, Mercy Among the Children is an epic tale of hypocrisy and greed, of ignorance and poverty not only of economics but of morality. It is not a pleasant read. Nor is it an easy read. But it is gripping and needs to be read much in the way Steinbeck needs to be read, or Harper Lee, or any number of writers who have championed the cause of the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Set in the Miramichi Valley of New Brunswick, Canada, this labyrinthine tale weaves through betrayals, robberies, murder, toxic waste of the soul and the environment, through generations of people held under the implacable autocracy of the company town. It is relentless in its brutality and sorrow. There are no happy endings in sight. And it resonates with an awful truth which simply cannot be ignored.

My only quibble is in the opening third of the novel the relentless barrage of misdeeds against the Henderson family teeters on the brink of the precious, so that at any moment I fully expected Dickens' Tiny Tim to make an appearance. Beyond that, there is a court scene which very much put me in mind of Harper Lee's now legendary court case in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the societal burden Steinbeck presented in The Grapes of Wrath

A recommended read which should be followed immediately by something mindless, hilarious and utterly frivolous, just for balance.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Why Men Lie, by Linden MacIntyre


Why Men LieWhy Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last in MacIntyre's Cape Breton Trilogy, Why Men Lie completes the fallout from a brutal act in WWII which has haunted the men involved and their families.

In this novel MacIntyre visits the character of Effie Gillis, who lived in silent fear for years, and now as a middle-aged woman attempts to reconcile that past and her own visceral, instinctive reactions to any trigger which might be construed as related.

While it is a story about latent violence both of the spirit and the body, it is also a story of quiet hope, one without blazing moments of epiphany, but rather of muted understanding.

Ultimately a very Canadian novel from a very Canadian writer.

Highly recommended.

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