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Search tags: 100-Novels-that-Make-You-Proud-to-be-Canadian
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review 2018-03-05 17:02
Alias Grace / Margaret Atwood
Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?

 

I read this novel to fill the A in my Women Authors A to Z reading challenge and a “Book about a villain or anti-hero” for my 2018 PopSugar challenge.

For me, Margaret Atwood rarely disappoints and Alias Grace was no exception. Despite the fact that I’m recovering from a nasty cold and need all the sleep that I can get, I found myself up after bedtime, obsessively following the life of Grace Marks. Atwood has taken a historical figure and told her story—sticking to the facts, but embroidering around them in a beguiling fashion.
The themes are timeless—who is telling the truth? Whose truth? Who are we to believe? Does the justice system really offer us justice? Who gets to decide?

Though much of the novel is seen through Grace’s eyes, I still didn’t feel like I knew her well enough to judge—did she assist with the murders or was she merely an accessory after the fact? All of the might-have-beens weighed heavily on me. If only she had chosen this path or that one, things might have been so different.

A truly engrossing story.

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review 2018-03-01 21:40
Tigana / Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered country struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant king Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered. But years after their homeland’s devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade—to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana.

Against the magnificently realized background of a world both sensuous and brutal, this masterful epic of a passionate people pursuing their dream is breathtaking in its vision. A spellbinding novel in which myth comes alive and magic reaches out to touch you.

 

Those of you who read my reviews regularly know that Guy Gavriel Kay can do no wrong in my eyes. I adore his novels and this one is no exception. The bonus this time? I met Mr. Kay at a convention last August and I can now hear his voice in my head, reading the novel to me (he has a very nice voice).

Tigana is a kingdom under a curse: the people were conquered and the name of their country can no longer be heard or remembered (except by those who lived through the conquest). When a former citizen says “Tigana,” others hear only a garble or an empty spot. Can those who remember find a way to break the curse and restore Tigana to its former glory? Their lives get braided together in some convoluted and heartbreaking ways.

As with any sweeping tale like this one, there are casualties along the way, some expected, some surprising. The ending was a bit messy, something I appreciate in a book, as I find that real life endings are rarely neat. I read most of the novel on a long plane flight and it was the perfect distraction—I was able to submerge in this fantasy world and ignore the passage of time.

Book 271 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

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review 2016-05-05 22:35
Lullabies for Little Criminals / Heather O'Neill
Lullabies for Little Criminals - Heather O'Neill

Heather O'Neill dazzles with a first novel of extraordinary prescience and power, a subtly understated yet searingly effective story of a young life on the streets—and the strength, wits, and luck necessary for survival.

At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby's gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby's spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

 

If you want to get a child to love you, then you should just go hide in the closet for three or four hours. They get down on their knees and pray for you to return. That child will turn you into God. Lonely children probably wrote the Bible.

We forget, as we get older, how vulnerable it feels to be a child. To not be in charge. Not responsible for where you live, what you eat, or where your money comes from. In fact, we tend to idealize those days, thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back to the worry-free existence of a child? We forget that children have worries too, especially if they don’t have responsible adults in their lives.

This book also reminded me of lessons learned when I was old enough to go stay at friends’ houses: whatever you have grown up with is normal for you. Doesn’t matter how chaotic your own home is, you don’t realize it until you have a calmer home to compare it to (or vice versa). Your family’s regular foods will seem odd to others, your mom’s way of slicing a sandwich may even seem idiosyncratic to some. The “normal” routine may seem very exotic to those children who have no routine to speak of.

I was distinctly reminded of the memoir by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle, where she and her siblings just accepted the way life was with their alcoholic father and dysfunctional mother. They learned early to take care of themselves, because their parents weren’t going to do it. And let’s face it, every family has their own dysfunctions—no matter how stable, there’s some weird thing that every family does that make it “unhappy in its own way.” (Thanks, Tolstoy).

Many lovely turns of phrase, lots of laugh-out-loud moments, plus that last sentence lifted my spirits with hope!

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review 2015-11-27 22:03
The Handmaid's Tale / Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...  

 

“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress, and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.”

Once again, I wonder at the prescience of Margaret Atwood. I know that she was thinking of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, back in the 1970s and early 1980s, but it sounds exactly like a headline in next week’s paper. It is completely believable in 2015, a time when a shyster like Donald Trump stands on stages telling people that the Bible is his favourite book. We exist in a time when anyone who wants to be president of the US has to trumpet his religious belief, something which would horrify the founding fathers of the United States, who worked hard to separate church and state.

Fundamentalism seems is epidemic in the United States and the Middle East—Christians, Israelis, and various flavours of Islam, leaving the moderates in all of those religions frustrated that they are being represented worldwide by the extremists, being forced to apologize for their religions while also trying to point out that not all members of their religions are bigoted idiots. And one of the symptoms of fundamentalism is the desire to exert complete control over female sexuality and female lives.

Add to that the increasing comfort with violence—police who feel justified in shooting anyone who isn’t immediately completely submissive, politicians who feel increasingly justified in bombing the opposition, general media audiences who prefer explosions and shooting to relationships and sex, the prevalence of violent woman-hating pornography that has become common on the internet.

Ursula K LeGuin has noted that women can get to about the 30% mark of winning awards and gaining recognition for their art and then men start to protest that women are “taking over” and that there is some conspiracy against male artists.

“Those years were just an anomaly, historically speaking, the Commander said. All we’ve done is return things to Nature’s norm.”
Combine it all—fundamentalism, violence, and intolerance for female freedom & sexual expression, and The Handmaid’s Tale seems almost inevitable. Thankfully, although Atwood imagined it 30 years ago, we have managed to avoid fulfilling her prophecy for at least that long.

Book number 193 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

 

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review 2015-10-30 17:44
The Sisters Brothers / Patrick deWitt
The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

 

This is not Louis L’Amour nor is it Zane Grey. Traditional Westerns have good guys and bad guys and you can tell them apart by hat colour. This is not one of those Westerns; things are not so cut and dried with The Sisters Brothers. It’s as if Charlie and Eli Sisters are two halves of one person. Charlie is a drinker, a killer, everything you would imagine in a bad guy, but he still has a brother who cares about him. Eli is the more sensitive of the two—he is concerned with what others think, wants to get out of the sordid business he is involved in, he cares about animals and people, plus he worries about his weight. No wonder their boss wants Charlie to dump him!

 

The Sisters Brothers examines the family bond—how far are we willing to go to humour or protect our family members? The brother relationship is tested repeatedly, each one knowing how to push the other’s buttons. Charlie has been protecting Eli since before Eli could walk. Eli’s temper can be harnessed to protect Charlie in return. Charlie is a typical older sibling—he makes decisions and expects Eli to follow.

 

This reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s movie, Unforgiven, which Wikipedia calls “a dark Western that deals frankly with the uglier aspects of violence and how complicated truths are distorted into simplistic myths about the Old West.” Not your granddad’s Western.

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