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.

Quoted: The Witches of New York

He shook his head. “A skeptic is only interested in being right. I’m interested in finding the truth.”

“Even if there’s a chance your theories are wrong?”

“Especially then, because it means I might be on my way to discovering something new.”

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

deadsouls_gogolYou’re smart people, so by now you’ve probably figured out that I’m not the biggest fan of European classics. Dickens certainly did not meet my expectations, great or otherwise, I did not have a whale of a time reading Melville (heh!) and I’m sorry, but for all the fuss about Dorian Gray, his death was my favourite part of the whole novel.

And yet. And yet . . . I had hopes for Dead Souls. Not really high hopes, of course, but hopes nonetheless. I should have known better.

Now, it’s not that Dead Souls is a terrible read. Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is a unique character with an outlandish mission that entertainingly sets him against a host of overblown caricatures representing all that was wrong with Russia back in the day (greed, stupidity, general suspicion). So it’s bound to have some good points. But my problem with this classic is the same problem I have with the others . . . it’s just so darn sluggish. Literally (for real, literally) a third of the book is superfluous exposition and hyperbole. And then after all the words he didn’t need to write, Gogol had the audacity to end mid sentence! What’s that about?!

Anyways… no. 1 on my challenge. Have I finally learned my lesson? Probably not. I’ll keep you posted.

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.

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”

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

RavenKing.StiefvaterI’ll say it again: Stiefvater truly is a magician of language. While I admit there were a few instances where it seemed a little like she was grandstanding for the big finale, this was most definitely a fantastic denouement for the Raven cycle. I am happy.

And seriously, I can’t get over how perfect this is:

“Once, when Adam had still lived in the trailer park, he had been pushing the lawn mower around the scraggly side yard when he realized that it was raining a mile away. He could smell it, the earthy scent of rain on dirt, but also the electric, restless smell of ozone. And he could see it: a hazy gray sheet of water blocking his view of the mountains. He could track the line of rain traveling across the vast dry field toward him. It was heavy and dark and he knew he would get drenched if he stayed outside. It was coming from so far away that he had plenty of time to put the mower away and get under cover. Instead, though, he just stood there and watched it approach. Even at the last minute, as he heard the rain pounding the grass flat, he just stood there. He closed his eyes and let the storm soak him.

“That was this kiss.”

Swoon.

The last for no. 2 on my challenge.