I 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.
Like most things in my life, my love for Dumas’ famous musketeers stems from a Disney movie.
Starring the thespian talents of Kiefer Sutherland (Lordy, that voice), Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen (long before he had tiger blood coursing through his veins), and the hunka hunka burnin’ love that was a twenty-three-year-old Chris O’Donnell as D’Artagnan, the 1993 version of the Three Musketeers is a rip roarin’, family-friendly interpretation of the classic French novel that I now know does a marvellous job of introducing the infamous musketeers as Dumas first portrayed them—brave, loyal, and chivalrous, with rapier wit and hella impressive skills with a sword (which, fun fact, would have been a rapier). I watched that movie over, and over, and over, and over, and have since enjoyed every big- and small-screen adaptation I’ve seen—especially the recently concluded BBC television series, which I could not get enough of. So you can imagine my delight (and relief) when I loved the book just as much as I have all the adaptions. I guess there’s just something about a pack of unbeatable besties who would lay down their lives for loyalty and honour that warms the cockles of my heart.
No. 12 on my challenge. Originally serialized as Les Trois Mousquetaires in the French newspaper Le Siècle between March and July 1844, the first English translation was produced in 1846 by William Barrow and is still in print today.
In my opinion Mr. Jonasson has a knack for three things:
1) Writing characters who make the best out of the absolute worst. Take, for example, Nombeko, the heroine of this jaunty little tale. She was born in a South African slum, orphaned at ten, run over by a car, practically imprisoned for more than a decade, and then, just as she escapes, is accidentally saddled with a nuclear bomb (which is where this story really starts). And yet, she’s good with numbers, handy with a pair of scissors, smart enough to keep her eyes open and her mouth closed, crafty enough to escape alive, and lucky enough to meet the one man in all of Sweden who doesn’t give a fig about her rather dangerous luggage (and who also does not technically exist).
2) Connecting fictional story lines with factual events, no matter how unrelated, far fetched, or arbitrary they may be. For instance (and this is just one of many entertaining examples): Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely purchased Volvo from Sweden in 2010. Jonasson’s novel suggests that the purchase was somehow the result of the professional relationship between the fictional Nombeko and Hu Jintao, the real-life [past] President of the People’s Republic of China. (So… satire. He’s good at satire.)
3) Writing light-hearted comedy with such command of his craft that it loses nothing in translation (at least, I don’t think it does), and that even the most horrific scenes are reduced (or perhaps elevated) to hilarity. As such:
And because Mr. Jonasson is so good at these three things, I declare this book an absolute joy to read (despite the large doses of scientific and mathematical jargon and two very frustrating characters whom I will let you discover—and loathe—on your own).
No. 19 on my challenge. Because #2.
In case you aren’t aware, Aaron Cully Drake’s debut novel Do You Think This Is Strange? is awesome.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Last week it was short listed for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and today it was long listed for one of Canada’s oldest literary awards, the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, which awards the winning author a memorial medal and $15,000.
I promise you’ll like it. Read this post for links to reviews and retailers.
This review is too good not to share. Find the original on Goodreads.
Do You Think This Is Strange? by Aaron Cully Drake
This is absolutely the best book I’ve read this year.
Every now and again there is a novel that can change the way you view the world. For me, the first book that did this was Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter and you can read my review of this book here. The second is Do You Think This Is Strange?. I could not stop reading this novel, nor could I stop laughing! Through humour and wonderful insight Aaron Cully Drake shows just how the daily life of an autistic teenager is, and it’s not so different than every other teenager.
We watch the story unfold through 17 year old Autistic Freddy, whose literal interpretation of the world not only gets him into awkward conversations but gets him into fights with bullies. His narration is humorous as well as insightful as Freddy is very aware of how horrible he is at conversation and after getting hospitalized by a group of kids kicking the crap out of him he takes steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. He remembers everything that’s happened to him and everything he’s done that has or hasn’t gone well for him. Drake unfolds the narrative slowly and steadily through Freddy’s flashbacks as they either distract him from his daily life or consume him during his quiet thought filled moments at the end of each day and through the present ordeals Freddy faces. We see Freddy learn to deal with bullying, reconnect with an old friend, have his first kiss, and reconcile his life with his father.
While laughter kept me reading at the start, the weight of the turning point towards the end of the novel is what will stay with me. I don’t think I can ever look at another person without the compassion this book has shown me. We judge too quickly, categorizing personalities, traits, and habits into normal and not, and for what? The comfort that the ‘normal’ can stand on one side of the fence and label all the rest? This book shows how there really is no fence, no line, no difference. We’re all human, we all live the lives that are before us, come to terms with love and loss, and we’re all aware of this world in one way or another. This is a book I will keep on my top shelf along with Jane Austen, The Luminaries, Meditations, Three Day Road, and of course Minister Without Portfolio.
I purchased this book because nearly two years ago a younger cousin of mine could do nothing but sing its praises. I was skeptical, and the photos of creepy children gave me pause (for real, creepy as hell), but it was on sale and I can’t help myself when it comes to purchasing books. And now, after having read this wonderfully odd tale of peculiar children, I cannot wait to read more. It is most definitely an enveloping read—truly original and unforgettable.
No. 21 on my challenge. “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”
Honestly, I’m not sure how he manages to do it—to weave magical realism so seamlessly with morality and truth—but he does it so convincingly that it takes a minute to understand what he’s writing about. He’s a genius.
No. 7 on my challenge. I only just discovered Kaufman last year, but he’s quickly become one of my favourite writers. Thank you, Kennedy, for the recommendation.