So it was back to work for us this week, and we discovered something interesting – we’re no good when we try to work on the blog in the morning.
Yeah, happy hour is when we come up with the gold.
So much for being industrious over a cup of coffee. How’s your beer?
It’s a relief. More inspiring than coffee.
I have to admit something, I have to be completely honest here…Netflix is definitely cutting into my reading time. Well that and my iPhone.
Me too. I’ve been watching too many BBC programs instead of reading.
At least you’re watching BBC. I just watch crap.
Yes, that true.
It’s because you have better taste in everything than I do. I love crap.
What kind of chips do you eat?
I eat Lays deep fried heavily salted plain chips dripping with grease. Not those crinkled baked pieces of cardboard without salt. They hurt your teeth when you eat them.
So onto the post. Just let me wipe the grease off my hands. We were under a lot of pressure because our guest bloggers did such a great job with their book reviews.
So I’m reviewing one of my favourite authors, Michael Crummy, and a writer new to the fiction world, Rene Denfield.
And I’m reviewing a writer who is new to me, Jonas Jonasson, and another writer debuting her first novel, Elizabeth Renzetti.
Elizabeth may be new to fiction, but not to writing – she’s a columnist for the Globe and Mail and we’re big fans of hers.
We got to meet her at this year’s Writers Festival – the highlight of the evening for sure.
So if you’re still looking for some gift ideas, here are our thoughts on some new books.
If you missed our guest bloggers’ book reviews from last week, you can read them here – Christmas 2014 Book Reviews – Part 1.
Irene’s Book Reviews
Sweetland by Michael Crummy
You know that feeling you get when one of your favourite authors has a new book out? I get that feeling in spades when it’s a Michael Crummy book, and I’m going to talk about his latest book, Sweetland.
Michael Crummy hails from Newfoundland (I think that’s how they talk there). A poet and novelist, he has lots of books, his novels being River Thieves, The Wreckage, Galore, and Sweetland, and I’ve read them all. Michael writes my very favourite type of book – books full of real life characters whose everyday, real life experiences make them extraordinary + a bit of magic.
Sweetland is about a man named Sweetland, living in a place called Sweetland. It’s a small Newfoundland fishing town that is on the verge of being shut down. The government is going to move everyone out and this place will exist no more, all because of the collapse of the fishing industry. Of course this is a problem for some people, especially some people who have never been anywhere else all their lives. Sweetland has been outside of Newfoundland but he doesn’t want to leave and devises a plan to stay behind. Here’s the opening of the book –
He heard them before he saw them. Voices in the fog, so indistinct he thought they might be imaginary. An auditory hallucination, the mind trying to compensate for a sensory lack. The way a solitary man will start talking to furniture, left along long enough.
Anyway, voices out there.
This is how Michael Crummy writes – beautifully, simply, magically.
All the descriptions of the book I read said this book is about Sweetland staying behind and meeting the ghosts that still live on in Sweetland. That’s not what this book is about and I kept reading, looking for the ghosts. They don’t show up until three quarters of the way through the book and they don’t actually play a huge role in the novel.
The novel is all about Sweetland, the tragedies in his life, his life unlived, good and bad decisions he’s made. Like all of Michael Crummy’s book, it is beautifully written and full of magic.
That being said, it’s not my favourite Crummy novel. It’s a slow read and I felt it did drag on a bit – unlike his other novels where there seems to be impossible things happening on every page. And it absolutely kills me to say that because I love Michael Crummy’s writing and I can almost not bare to ever criticize another writer’s efforts. And what do I know…I’ll tell you what I know – Michael Crummy is a brilliant writer.
So, if you’re a Michael Crummy fan, or you have one on your Christmas list, this book is a must have. If you haven’t read him before, I would suggest starting with Galore or River Thieves.
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
This book jumped off the shelf and chose me. I was walking through Chapters on my way to catch a bus and picked this book up. I read the jacket and the first page and wasn’t at all sure what kind of book it was – fantasy, young adult? It’s called Enchanted and the cover has golden horses racing through bars. I went on my way to catch my bus and then turned around and went and got the book. And I’m so glad I did.
In real life, when she’s not writing, Rene Denfeld investigates death row criminals in an effort to have their sentences changed to life in prison, and that’s what this novel is about.
It is dark, mysterious, frightening – did I say dark? It is one of the darkest books I’ve ever read and also one of the most beautiful. Here’s the opening –
This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.
I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway. I see the doorways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide clear air. I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden’s finger to press the red buttons. I see the secret basement warrens where rusted cans hide the urns of the dead and the urns spill their ashes across the floor until the floods come off the river to wash the ashes outside to feed the soil under the grasses, which wave to the sky. I see the soft-tufted night birds as they drop from the heavens. I see the golden horses as they run deep under the earth, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs. I see where the small men hide with their tiny hammers, and how the flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks.
The main characters in the story are all unnamed, including the narrator above. The story is about the woman – the investigator – the priest who also works at the prison, and a man on death row for whom the lady has been hired. Very hard to put this book down, but it is absolutely not for the feint of heart. There are atrocities going on in the world that most of us could never imagine.
I don’t know if such a book belongs under a Christmas tree, but Enchanted is an excellent read.
Sydney’s Book Reviews
Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti
It was at the Illuminating Writers Festival where Irene and I listened to Elizabeth Renzetti read from her debut book Based on a True Story.
You most likely know Elizabeth from her column in the Globe and Mail. She has wicked wit and great sense of humour.
Based on a True Story takes place in London, England. It’s about a down on her luck actress, Augusta Price, who has a wee bit of a drinking and drug problem. She is estranged from her son who lives in California with his father. Or is he the father? Augusta is never really sure.The next fascinating character is Frances Bleeker, a former Californian living in London and working for a pitiful tabloid as a journalist. Frances is shy, insecure and wears too much beige. At the beginning of the story Frances is interviewing Augusta about the memoir she wrote the previous year and surprisingly became a hit.
Here’s an excerpt from Based on a True Story –
She was almost at her seat when, over the roar and bump of the plane’s engines, she heard the curtain of the business-class cabin sliding back. Augusta stood framed in the doorway, two spots of colour high on her cheeks, with the flight attendant behind her like a farmer intent on an escaped bull.
“Holy crap,” Frances whispered and scrambled over the refrigerator, elbows and heels sinking into tender places. She buckled herself into her seat as Augusta staggered down the aisle. There was a red-wine stain, almost the shape of Africa, on the front of her blouse.
“Frances!” she barked. “There, Frances!” My things, please!”
The flight attendant was right behind her, and had the advantage of sobriety. “Sit down now, please ma’am.” “I just need,” said Augusta, forming her words with care, “to get something from my friend. A medication, if you must know. For an ailment. Which I have.”
“Now, ma’am. For your own safety.”
“I would have collected my things earlier,” said Augusta, “but I seem to have drifted off.” The airplane lurched sideways and Augusta, with a screech, clutched the flight attendant’s arm. “I’m taking you back to your seat ma’am,” said the flight attendant, and began tugging Augusta toward the front of the cabin. Now the other passengers were craning to look, whispering and reaching for their camera phones.
“Ma’am” the flight attendant said in a voice perfected through several Dealing With Difficult Passengers seminars, “I will only ask you once more. You are posing a hazard to yourself and to the security of this flight. Resume your seat”. Her colleagues scurried to her aid, surrounding Augusta like a ring of sheepdogs around an angry bull. One of them carried a handful of plastic restraints. Augusta reached down to autograph a man’s arm, although from his terrified expression it seemed he hadn’t requested the service. As the plane lurched once again, she fell, laughing onto his lap. “Christ’s sake, darling!” Frances heard her screech. “You’re well upholstered.”
“That’s It,” the flight attendant said, and reached down to take Augusta’s arm. “Hands off, you mad bitch!” Augusta’s voice was muffled by the man’s lap, her pointed toes kicking out at anyone within reach. “I know my rights! I am a British citizen! You just want to fondle my…” The words were lost as the other flight attendants descended to form a protective circle. “Get your hands off…sue you…Sober as a judge, I tell you. As a judge!”
This is a very entertaining book. I must admit it took me a few chapters to warm to the characters but when I did, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The character, Augusta, is like a train wreck you just can’t turn away from. And you know she’s going to fall sooner or later but want to be there to catch her. This book would make a good movie – a middle aged Elizabeth TayIor would be perfect as Augusta and someone mousy to play Frances… who could it be…
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson
It was with hesitation that I picked this book up only because the title threw me. What kind of an adventure could a 100 year old man have, I wondered. As it turns out a pretty amazing one!
This is a story about Allan Karlsson who lives in an old age home in a small village in Sweden. On his 100th birthday he decides he doesn’t want to attend the party the residents and staff of the home have planned for him. So he decides to climb out the window. He doesn’t have a plan. And as we find out he has never had a plan his entire life. Everything that happens to him is purely circumstance. ‘But Allan Karlsson was never one to ponder things too long.’ He has witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, and has actually played an important role in many of them.
I highly recommend this book for yourself and as a gift under the Christmas tree for friends and family. Here’s an excerpt –
– I’ll order the food, so you can choose the drinks, said Harry Truman jovially and handed the wine list to Allan.
Truman turned to the head waiter who bowed as he received the large order for tacos, enchiladas, corn tortillas, and salsa.
– And to drink, sir?
– Two bottles of tequila, Allan answered.
Harry Turman laughed and asked if Allan wanted to drink him under the table. Allan answered that the last year had taught him that the Mexicans could make spirits with as much oomph as akvavit, but that the vice president could of course drink milk if he considered that more suitable.
-No, I’ve given my word, said the Vice President Truman, and he made sure the order included lime and salt.
Three hours later the two men were calling each other Harry and Allan, which goes to show what a couple of bottles of tequila can do for international relations. Allan told Truman how the local bigwig had been blown to bits and how he saved the life of General Franco. The vice president, for his part, amused Allan by imitating President Roosevelt’s attempts to get up out of his wheelchair.
When the two men were on the most jovial of terms, the head of the security staff discreetly approached the vice president.
-Could I have a word please,sir?
-Go ahead, said the vice president in a slurred voice.
-Preferably in private, sir.
-I’ll be damned if you don’t look just like Humphrey Bogart! Have you seen him Allan?
-Sir …, said the increasingly troubled security man.
-Yes, what the hell do you want? the vice president hissed.
-Sir, it is about President Roosevelt.
-What about the old goat? The vice president guffawed.
It’s a fabulous book. And more good news, a movie is in the works as we speak.
So that 100 year old man movie was playing at the Mayfair last month.
Aaarggg. I need a better source of information. I have to stop relying on hearsay.
Nailing the facts once again. It’s almost like our signature now.