The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

McKay_WitchesI have been enchanted by Ami McKay since her first novel, The Birth House, and it seems she still has me under her spell. (See what I did there? This book is about witches. You get it.)

With both The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, McKay set a precedent as an author of great skill and imagination, and The Witches of New York certainly rises to the occasion. No matter the story, McKay writes evocatively, and effortlessly transports the reader back to early 20th century Nova Scotia or late 19th century Manhattan. She has a knack for convincingly integrating fact (historical tidbits about the setting, medical practices, high society, etcetera) and fiction, and a talent for creating incredible women who are vivid, strong, intelligent, and able to persevere and thrive in the face of adversity and misfortune.

Witches is technically a sequel to The Virgin Cure—it returns to the story of young Moth, now Adelaide Thom—but this new installment is entirely able to stand on its own. It’s the first of McKay’s novels to venture into the mystical, and even the touches of magic are so well integrated that they seem almost normal—as if psychics and spell keepers and young girls who can commune with the spiritual world have always been a part of the natural fabric of Manhattan, and McKay has simply pulled them straight from history, finally telling the stories of the witches of New York.

No. 12 on my challenge. Ami McKay lives in Nova Scotia and my edition of the book was published by Knopf Canada.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

halfbloodblues-edugyanThis book is an award magnet. It won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (praise be!), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction (holla), and was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (hella impressive). So you can bet I was expecting it to be a good read.

It. Was. And bonus: Edugyan is a Victorian!

My only complaint quibble is that the dialogue made it a bit of a sluggish read—but really, it just forced me to slow down and take it all in.

No. 20 on my challenge. Because it was on the Canada Reads shortlist, too.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

truthcommission-jubyAt first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this novel. It’s set in Nanaimo, which I love. It’s written by an award-winning Canadian author, whom I’d never read before, which I also love. It’s quirky, smart, and funny, with well-drawn characters and a host of interesting art projects that I would never in a million years have thought up. It’s fun-loving YA. But increasingly, it’s sad and more than a little horrifying. The Pale family dynamic, everything about Normandy’s sister from start to finish, the truths they uncover at school, the truths they uncover within their friend group and within themselves… it gets pretty dark, man. And it wasn’t at all what I expected. So I was inclined to review this one as a “take it or leave it” read. Something that I enjoyed, but that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. But then, as I was writing my first draft of this review, something dinged (thank you, undergrad degree).

I see what you did there, Juby. Your book (or Normandy’s creative nonfiction) reads the way a hidden truth is discovered. From light hearted fun and games (and slight parental neglect), it gradually devolves to “wait, what?”, then to “ohhhhhhh no”, and finally comes to a screeching halt when everything is revealed. It’s masterful writing, embellished by well-placed illustrations, and cleverly interrupted by entertaining, insightful, and informative footnotes. So, I’m upgrading it to a “take it” read, which I’m very happy to do, since I purchased it while book shopping with the author, who is a lovely person.

No. 13 on my challenge. “Susan Juby lives with her husband and their dog in Nanaimo, BC, Canada, the setting of many of her books.”

 

Patrin by Theresa Kishkan

patrin-kishkanNever before has a book—much less a literary novella—had such an impact on my sense of place. Patrin’s European travels as a young woman, her homecoming to Victoria, and then her journey to find traces of her family and heritage in Czechoslovakia simultaneously conjured within me an intense wanderlust, a fierce sense of belonging, and an acute yearning for home. Not only that, it made me thankful for the strong relationships I have with my family—especially my grandparents—and grateful that I have never had to question where I come from (something that I’ve never had cause to consider). Packaged in a gorgeously crafted narrative that often reads more like poetry than prose, this little tale will stay with me for much longer than the ninety minutes it took for me to absorb.

No. 11 on my challenge, though technically it was a gift. Good thing, too, because I don’t know that I’d be able to return it. This one has found a forever home on my shelf.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

13Ways.AwadIn just 214 pages and 13 stand-alone stories, debut author Mona Awad has won my undying respect. And because I can’t do this marvellous little book enough justice with a short and snappy “review”, I’m going to share one from the Globe and Mail instead:

“It wouldn’t be far off to say that reading Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is an emotional experience for anyone who looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what they see. The book depicts what it’s like to endure a mandated pursuit of thinness, unapologetically facing our toxic, body-image obsessed culture head-on. It’s also a very accurate portrayal of how hating the way you look affects your psyche over time, making for an uncomfortable and at times disturbing read. Beautifully told, with a profoundly sensitive understanding of the subject matter, it’s clear that all of the anticipation for this particular fiction debut was entirely warranted.

Continue reading “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad”

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

UndermajordomoMinor.deWittI, like most everyone else, was a big fan of deWitt’s runaway hit (heh, that rhymed) The Sisters Brothers, so my expectations for the follow-up were of average height—which, for a shorty like me, is pretty high. Now, it’s not that this meandering little tale didn’t meet my average/high expectations, but it didn’t exceed them, either. So while I did ultimately enjoy the book, I don’t think deWitt was as successful in reinventing the gothic novel as he was in reinventing the classic western (Eli Sisters was just such a great character on which to lay the burden of reinvention, and I would not say the same of Lucy Minor). But credit where credit is due: he did give it the old college try.

No. 7 on my challenge. Published by Toronto’s House of Anansi Press and written by a Vancouver Islander (turned Oregonian).

PS. There’s a bit in the middle I did not expect… and neither will you. You have been warned.

Quoted: Undermajordomo Minor

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The position (Mr Olderglough assigned it the name of undermajordomo, which Lucy and Father Raymond decided was not a word at all) was lowly and the pay mirrored this but Lucy, having nothing better to do, and nowhere in the world to be … embraced his fate and wrote back to Mr Olderglough, formally accepting the offer, a decision which led to many things, including but not limited to true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse.

How could I possibly put this book down after a set up like that?!