Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders begins with editor Susan Ryeland telling us that she lost everything because of the manuscript we are about to read.  Just when my interest and curiousity was peaked, she leaves us to the manuscript as she read it.  32075854

I wasn’t sure about the manuscript part of the story at first.  I was hoping for maybe an interjection from the editor or some explanation during the course of the manuscript, but you get neither.  We are given the Magpie Murder manuscript without comment in its entirety.  But it grew on me.  Once I got to know the vast cast of characters in that manuscript I was intrigued.  I was actually disappointed when the manuscript abruptly ended, much to Susan Ryeland’s surprise.  When she heads to the office first thing Monday morning she learns that the author, Alan Conway, has been discovered dead and the missing chapters are nowhere to be found.

Susan becomes convinced that there are clues to what really happened to Alan contained in Magpie Murders, his (now) final novel.  But the police has ruled the death a suicide, and no one seems to want to believe any differently.

I found the book to be very clever and if you are a fan of the classic whodunnit genre you will find a ton of references to authors and their works.  I had most of the manuscript mystery solved by the time it abruptly ended, but the overall mystery of Alan Conway kept me reading because you get so little information until after the manuscript portion has been read by Susan and the death of Alan is discovered.

I wasn’t sure about the mystery-in-a-mystery aspect of this book, but it was done very well and I enjoyed every moment of it.

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The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I tend to have a hard time reviewing biographies, or memoirs, or any true-life events type book.  The problem I have is that it often feels like a review of their life, in addition to a review of their book.  The two become so intertwined that it’s hard to tease one out from the other.  It’s hard to tell which are the artistic choices and which are the life choices.  29405093

There was a lot of the book that wasn’t surprising, as Schumer brings a lot of her life anecdotes into her stand up act and, as such, I had heard at least some of these stories in some form or another before.  But there were some surprises to be had.  I didn’t know that she struggled with an abusive relationship for some time in her twenties.  I didn’t know about her father’s M.S. I wasn’t aware of her relationship with her mother and how it changed over time.  It was interesting to gain another layer of understanding to exactly who Amy Schumer really is.

I also learned about her writing method for her show, which relies less on a writers’ room for the actual writing and more on alone time writing away from other people where she can really focus and get down to business.  I also was surprised to learn that she considers herself to be an introvert (which makes stand up a super scary proposition!) because her stand up and her show make her appear so very gregarious and outgoing.  It was unexpected to find that her “Amy persona” was not necessarily a true reflection of who she really is on a day-to-day basis.

I also found it enlightening that Schumer pointed out that “everyone” at one point was calling her an “overnight success”…when she worked her ass off (her words) for over 10 years to become that “overnight success.”  She talked about the years of open mike nights she attended, how she finally was able to craft a set list of jokes for her act, and once you record an HBO special it is all back to the drafting table, because no one is going to pay you for any of THOSE jokes again.  I found it interesting.

I have watched Schumer’s show and her stand up and thought that I knew exactly what I was getting when I started this book, and was pleasantly surprised to find that while I did get some of those things that I expected, I got a whole lot more also.  And that’s why this book is worth reading.

I listened to the book as read by Schumer herself, and I think there is no better way to hear about a person’s life than straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

 

Canadiana: Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

I should have read Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill a long time ago.  I was told to.  More than once.  And this was by people whose reading recommendations carry some weight with me.  I have no excuses for why I didn’t read it, other than I have 22207an enormous TBR pile that I have been trying to work my way through and this one hadn’t made it up to the top of the list yet.  It was about time to prioritize it, especially considering that it recently celebrated it’s 10th birthday, not to mention the 10th anniversary of its win at Canada Reads (an annual “Battle of the Books” competition).  In fact, it was the 10th anniversary edition with a new foreword by the author that I had the pleasure of listening to.  The foreword was read by the author herself, and it was interesting to hear her voice before diving in to her words.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill is about Baby, a 12/13 year old girl growing up in Montreal with a father who struggles with being a single father, as well as a heroin addiction.  It is a story told from Baby’s perspective and it is as beautifully written as it is difficult in its subject matter.

The first thing that struck me about the audio version of this book was that the narrator, Miriam McDonald, speaks VERY quickly.  I listen to a lot of audio books and I often think that the narrators read too slowly, but this was not the case for this particular audio book.  It took me a few chapters to get used to the pacing, but once I did I realized that it was actually a perfect reflection of Baby’s frenetic life, her buzzing intellect, and her drive to rush into adulthood, whatever that might entail.  Miriam McDonald became Baby for me, and I will always hear her voice in my head when I think of Baby and her story.

Lullabies for Little Criminals is one of those stories that is just going to stay with you.  It is no surprise that it won Canada Reads all those years ago and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s award.  Ten years later, it holds up to its legacy easily and is still very much worth talking about.

 

P.S.

In 2014 I read a book called “Young God” by Catherine Faw Morris that had similar themes, and a protagonist (Nikki) whom I was often reminded of while I was reading this book.  If you read or have read Lullabies for Little Criminals and are looking for something similar, give Young God a try.  Think of it as Lullabies:  The U.S. version.

T.V. Transliteration: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Apparently I am a BAD Canadian.  So I’ve been told.  Since I have never, ever, not even one time read a book by Margaret Atwood.  Apparently it boggles the mind that you can graduate from high school in this country and not have been made to read at least one of her novels.  But that is what happened.  (In my defense I fell in love with Robertson Davies and read pretty much all I could…so I don’t know that my Canadian literature was COMPLETELY lacking.)

Usually when there is a movie or T.V. adaptation I make it a point to read the source 38447material first.  But this put me in kind of a predicament.  I still had a bad taste in my mouth after reading Atwood’s take on a children’s graphic novel, Angel Catbird, and I didn’t think that I could stomach anything similar to that in any way.  So I did something that I so very rarely do, I watched the first two episodes of this series without having read the book.  No really, that is a thing that happened.

But two episodes was more than enough to convince me I had to go back to the source and STAT.  This series was seriously good T.V. and I had to know how closely it followed the novel, as well as anything else that I might be missing.

The T.V. adaptation follows the novel quite closely, but it does take some liberties with characters, but does so in a way that I think is understandable and serves to move the story along in a necessary way.  It also presents some of the events of the novel in a different order and it was interesting to be both reading and watching at the same time and see those differences present themselves along the timeline of the Handmaid’s Tale.

I shouldn’t have been at all reluctant to read this book.  There is a reason that it is considered a (modern?) classic, and certainly classic Canadian Literature.  There are a lot of themes and topics to ponder, while the plot itself is fascinating to traverse.  And everyone is fond of pointing out how timely it is for this show to pop up in the current political climate, so I guess I’ll throw in with that sentiment as well.

The first season of this show serves to present you with the events of the novel in its entirety, but the world created is rich and vast and interesting and I can’t wait to find out where Season 2 will take us next.

Read the book, watch the series, and eagerly await Season 2 with me!

Graphic Novels: Sequel edition

I swear that I HAVE been reading, that never really stops and it never really ends, but what I haven’t been doing is writing here about all the reading that I’ve been doing.  In my defense there was a whole chunk of time that I was reading a bunch of sequels to things I’ve already discussed here and then I got way deep into a course that I am taking and some sewing that I am trying to learn how to do.  Those things have taken up way more of my time than I thought it would and meant that I didn’t really have time to both read AND write about the things that I was reading and I, regrettably have fallen way, WAY behind.

So allow me to catch up…at least a little…

Since I was here last I have finally finished the Locke and Key graphic novel series by Joe3217221 Hill.  That was a series that just kept getting better and better the deeper you got into it.  I was never disappointed by any of the installments and am SUPER STOKED to hear that it was recently given a pilot order by HULU.  I’m going to cross my fingers so hard that this go-round fares better than the previous pilot for Fox (2011).

As much as I loved this series I approached the finale with quite a bit of trepidation.  The ending can really make or break the overall lasting feel for the world and its characters and all I could do was cross my fingers and hope for a satisfactory ending.  Luckily, I was not disappointed.  Without getting into any spoilers whatsoever, that ending was tense and awful and perfect and wonderful. And now that I am finally finished, I can heartily recommend this series in its entirety.

I also have read more in the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson/Shannon Waters, specifically Volume 3 (A Terrible Plan), 22554204Volume 4 (Out of Time), Volume 5 (Band Together), and the most recent, Volume 6 (Sink or Swim).  This is a series that is aimed at middle grade readers, but I LIKE IT AND I’M NOT GOING TO STOP READING IT.  It is just a lot of fun, has some really great characters and I always am aching to find out what is going to happen next.  I’m always impressed with the descriptions of each badge that precedes each individual issue and how it relates to the story as a whole.   I honestly can’t wait to see what the campers have to face next, and that is the best compliment I can think of.

I may not have yet mentioned it here, but I am in love with the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughan.  I have finally finished Volume 5 and am currently in the middle of Volume 6.  This series is a great15704307 example of how a science fiction graphic novel can create great suspense and gut wrenching emotions through foreshadowing and character development.  It manages to be complex and very simple at the same time.  I think that the story is served well by having the main character, Hazel, tell the story of her parents relationship, her own birth, and their quest to protect her from those entities in the universe that wish to use her as a pawn in their own (war) games.  At heart is is very much a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, a play on the words “star-crossed lovers”, but it brings so much more to the table than just that concept of forbidden love.  I love Hazel’s voice in this series and this world is full of characters I love, I hate, I love to hate, and I hate to love.

Just recently I’ve managed to get myself a preview of Lady Stuff:  Secrets to Being a Woman by Loryn Brantz.  34467891I feel like if you are a woman, or a man who knows a woman, or a person, who spends any time at all online, you have probably run into Brantz’ work at some time or another.  She pens comics that tackle situations that might be very familiar to most women and / or introverts and / or animal lovers and/or…I could go on.  I’d seen some of the comics before online, but it was fun to read them all together at once.  Lady Stuff:  Secrets to Being a Woman is due to be published September 26th, 2017.

 

I also managed, early last month, to get my hands on a preview of SUIT YOUR SELFIE:  A PEARLS BEFORE 32894544SWINE COLLECTION by Stephan Pastis.  I was so lucky!  Pearls Before Swine is such a fun comic, and this collection does not disappoint.  It is a delight to read from cover to cover.  This is already the fifth collection (!), aimed at middle grade readers, but if you have a silly sense of humour I would encourage you to try it out anyway.  I used to have strips of Pearls Before Swine hanging up in my cubical (when I had one), and I still have some random beloved strips saved on my computer to share with friends when the moment is right.   I will never get tired of posting Rat running away from his problems (if only it were that easy, Rat…if only!).  I read Suit Your Selfie as a preview, but it was published on July 19th, so you can enjoy it RIGHT NOW…you know…if you want to.  Also click through to the Pearls Before Swine website for the comic of the day…that way you will have pre-read all future collections too!

Graphic Novels aren’t all that I’ve been reading…and hopefully I can soon update on some of those other great reads also!

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

I have to be honest, I was listening to this on audio (Fiona Hardingham is awesome) and I almost turned it off.  I had been listening to much heavier books and I needed a change to something light and fun but the tonal change from what I had been reading was jarring.  Not only that but I didn’t like Katie/Kat at first.  But this is a book about30821598 discovering who you are and learning to be yourself, so of course there is going to be … um … room for improvement.  By the end of the book I was just glad that I had stuck it out.

Part of the reason that I decided to stick it out was that the write up insisted that “her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack” and that hadn’t happened yet.  It took much longer to get there than I thought, at the time, was necessary but in hindsight it is actually entirely integral to the rest of the narrative.  Unfortunately, that means that the beginning isn’t really representative of the entire overall story arc and it’s hard to explain how or why without getting into too many spoilers.

The other reason that I stuck with it, I mentioned already:  Fiona Hardingham is a delight to listen to and I loved her narration of the story, her voice for Katie/Kat and her overall pacing of the narration.  I think she did a lot to elevate the story including her chosen tone for Demeter and the amazing Somerset brogue.  I don’t know that I would have fully appreciated the regional differences without her adept interpretations.

Sophie Kinsella writes some of the best fun, light chick-lit and this latest of her works is completely in line with those expectations.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman by Joe Hill

I can’t pass up an audio book read by Kate Mulgrew, particularly if it is written by Joe Hill.  It’s a combination that is just so…perfect.  But what happens in this situation is that I can’t help but compare it back to NOS4A2, the first of that combination that I read.  And 29875363the truth is that NOS4A2 is better, though The Fireman grew on me quite a bit by the end of the book.

The Fireman is about a virus that causes the spontaneous combustion of people who contract the disease.  But, like many apocalyptic tales, the real danger seems to come not from the virus itself, but from the people who fear it, or those that embrace it, or those that think they have it all figured out, or those that just don’t want to try to understand anything at all.  Truly, hell is other people.  This is a pretty ingrained theme when talking about most horror tales of today.  But it is a wholly effective one, particularly when decisions are made by characters that appear to have their reasons, just perhaps not the right ones.  And it is the people that give the most tension and apprehension in this story, much more so than the threat of any disease.

Kate Mulgrew’s reading of this book is nothing short of perfection.  She has just the right cadence and timbre to do the characters, and narrative, justice.  Her talent is unmatched.  Truly.

 

You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures by Alan Cumming

You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures by Alan Cumming

Last year I read Alan Cumming’s book “Not My Father’s Son” and it was one of my most favourite books of the year.

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When I put on “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams:  My Life in Stories and Pictures” it was very much like running into an old friend.  It was comforting and cozy to “catch up” with him again.  Unlike the overall narrative of the first book, this one follows a series of vignettes throughout Alan’s life.  It does refer back to Not My Father’s Son in a way that assumes you have read it, and doesn’t invest any time in rehashing that which has already been said in those pages, which I fully appreciated.

At the end of the day, I LIKE Alan Cumming.  I enjoy listening to him tell stories about his work, his family, his friends, and his life in general.  I would read anything that he decided to write down and share with an audience and highly recommend his novels to anyone and everyone.

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

There was such a stark contrast between the YA books that I have been reading and this book that I had to pause for a moment to allow my brain a little time to catch up.  It was quickly apparent that this was not a book to be taken lightly.  Don’t get me wrong, I love some good light YA reading, but a really fantastically well written YA book is a treasure unto itself.  The Edge of Everything is full of the kind of rich imagery and vivid characters that leave me in awe.  It is the sort of book where the words are multilayered, and so it makes the world multilayered.

It is unusual for a fantasy novel to be set in our world along with cell phones and instagram and still have the ability to foster a belief in the possibility of the supernatural, but The Edge of Everything manages just that.  Zoe is a fairly regular high school girl, 22296822assuming regular high school girls are totally into instagram, spending time with their best friend, taking care of her little brother … and caving with their father.  At least she used to be into caving with her father, until the day he died in a caving accident and their days of exploring together came to an abrupt end.  X is a boy with no name, a reaper of souls, a resident of “The Lowlands” a hell-like existence.  He is the only person to ever be born and raised there, and, therefore, one of the only truly alive and innocent beings to call it home. During a relatively routine soul reaping X saves Zoe from a dangerous situation, and she, in turn, tries to save his soul.

There is a lot to like in this book.  I can forgive characters a lot if I, at least, understand why they make the mistakes they insist upon making.  Zoe loved her father, she loves her brother and she wants to do what is right for him.  X is naive about the way the real world works, but also much more naive about his place in The Lowlands.  He alone grows and changes in The Lowlands and I think that might inform some of his more interesting choices.  I don’t yell at them nearly so loudly in my head if I can see where their decisions are coming from, flawed as they might be.  I already mentioned that I was fairly blown away by the writing style of this novel.  It was just such a notable change from a lot of the YA I had been reading it made me really think about the words I was reading and why they were so effective.  Also, I really like the sense of humour between many of the characters in this book.  I feel like the implication so far has been that this book is ultra serious and that is just not the case.  Zoe and her brother have a rapport that is easy to see as they joke around.  They keep things light, even as X brings them a taste of something unknown, by bringing their sense of fun to their interactions with him as well.

The Edge of Everything is a solid first novel in a new series and I am eager to find out what happens to X and Zoe, as well as all of the characters I have come to love after THAT gut-wrenching ending.

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin

Denton Little lives in a world where everyone knows their date of death, no one can outrun or bribe their way out of the date, regardless of their age, wealth or status.  At least that was the case until the crazy mad-cap events of Denton Little’s Death Date…and Denton lived through his date of ultimate doom.25397720

In this follow-up, Denton attempts to navigate how to live after living, when that is a secret so big the government might be willing to kill you.  But is it murder if everyone thinks you are dead?  If you should have been dead already?  Is life worth living if you can’t go back to your old life?  And to complicate matters, Denton’s best friend’s death date is rapidly approaching and Denton is desperate that he should live through his death date as well.

For a book about death and dying, this series is fairly lighthearted fun.  The humour is wry and sarcastic while still managing to have a lot of heart.  I love Denton’s best friend Paolo, and I think that the books are best when he and Denton are together.  Their friendship shines and is what helps give the books the chemistry they need to tackle the tough world of knowing the day of your demise from the day you are born.

I read the first book and listened to this second installment on audio and would recommend it in either format.  This is a fairly action-packed series and sometimes the audio makes you slow down just enough to fully appreciate the series of events.  On the other hand sometimes things happen so quickly that the ability to re-read or skip back is helpful to the understanding of those fast action sequences.

I don’t know if there are any more Denton books slated in this series.  But if there is I will read every single one of them.