Review: The North Water by Ian McGuire

Author: Ian McGuire
Title: The North Water 
Format/Source: eBook/NetGalley 
Published: 11 February (UK)/15 March (North America)
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Literary thriller
Why I Read: Dark whaling tale
Read If You: Can stomach graphic, want to try Arctic ‘noir’
Rating★★★★ 
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship’s medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage. In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

I found this review tough to write. I enjoyed this book (to my own surprise!) but there’s a lot about it I feel that I need to ‘set straight’. I like to include the publishers description in my blog posts for books that aren’t yet published, but this time I do so with a hint of hesitation. Everyone’s impression of a book after reading one of these marketing descriptions will be different. However, I think there is an objective difference between the book I read and this blurb. Not a huge difference, but one that might influence your decision or whether or not to check out this book.  The North Water is Sumner’s story, not Drax’s. The two are not pitted in some sort of conflict the whole way through (which is what I expected after reading the description :P). If you’re wondering (like I did…) “How can they end up not killing each other? Are they each going to gather men to their sides?” etc., then you can put those thoughts to rest. Their conflict plays out naturally. Something else that might muddy your impressions of this tale is the first chapter, which focuses on Drax. If Drax disgusts you, and you find yourself thinking “How can I read a whole novel about this man??” – don’t worry, you won’t be reading a whole novel about him. That being said… Drax is not just evil incarnate. He’s a shocking, disgusting man, yet McGuire successfully puts some effort towards exploring why. There’s not a whole lot to the why – certainly nothing that attempts to justify Drax’s actions – just enough to make him all the more creepy.

This courtyard has become a place of vile magic, of blood-soaked transmutations, and Henry Drax is its wild, unholy engineer. (Loc128)

Going back to that first chapter… If you’ve heard anything about this book, you’ve probably heard that it’s graphic (applicable in this tale to that trinity of violence, sex and language). I don’t think I’d read anything this graphic before. It certainly made me uncomfortable at times, inducing a bit of stomach churning. I learnt from reading this book where that line of what I can and cannot stand lies. (The North Water is right on the border). Anything more graphic than this will be too unpleasant for me to bother reading. Chapter 1 functions as a warning, a shock to the system. It flashes, “If this is too icky for you, pick up another book.” But if that’s about as much as you can handle, then proceed. (If the entire book was like chapter 1, I couldn’t read it.)  The story doesn’t get worse than that. The graphic descriptions generally apply to bodily states and functions, rather than the actual acts being committed. Having said all that, the graphic descriptions don’t overwhelm the novel. I can count the descriptions of Drax’s violence on one hand. Those moments are intense and disgusting, yet they don’t become the entire story. There are other moments where you brace for the worst and it doesn’t happen. Attempting to avoid spoilers here. Just know that not everyone is as awful as you might expect. Finally, I’ll add that the foul language that seems too thick and cartoonish at the beginning eventually thins out, but the descriptions of unpleasant bodily functions never entirely cease. There’s a few spots where I commented “Is this really necessary? =.=” I’ll spare you the quotes.

“I’d venture the Good Lord don’t spend much time up here in the North Water,” he says with a smile. “It’s most probable he don’t like the chill.” (Loc1437)

Yup, I feel a bit weird writing my opening paragraph about how the book’s description and first chapter don’t give a good impression of what it’s about, but I wanted to clear that up. So that review was mostly me defending the book against gory claims…what can I say is good about The North Water? Quite a bit, actually! I loved the prose, the setting, and Sumner. The plot held my interest. What fuelled all this is probably that I had this intense feeling that I, the reader, being the averagely decent modern sort of human being that I am, would never encounter such scenes as those depicted within the tale. I know this sounds like a simple concept. Isn’t that why we read? To experience that which we would never otherwise experience? This book takes that experience to another level. I was keenly aware of the sorts of lives I will never interact with, let alone experience.

The men from the Zembla are dancing with the whores; they are all whooping and stamping their feet on the floorboards. The air is filling with sawdust and peat smoke. There is a warm, fetid odor of tobacco and ashes and stale beer. Drax looks disdainfully across at the dancers and then asks Sumner to buy him another whiskey. (Loc429)

The plot held my interest. It wasn’t wholly predictable, surprising me at times. (Thankfully, there were no twists of the WTF variety.) The rhythmic prose, however, drew me in more than the plot. McGuire can create an intense atmosphere, using precise yet evocative prose. I highlighted more great quotes than I should stuff into this post. (Also, I’ve rarely felt such emotion at the final line of a novel.) I also appreciated Sumner’s character arc. I’ve never encountered a character quite like him, one who finds himself facing such a dreadful situation. His development over the story had me glued to the page, wondering where he would end up. This is another book to add to your dark winter reading list. 

Although [Sumner] is certainly annoying, there is something admirable in his persistence. He is a dogged little fucker all in all. (Loc1509)

A small aside: I find ebooks super convenient for these historical novels. I can easily look up old slang, origins of words, historical events referenced in passing, all those little tidbits which flavour a novel that I would otherwise overlook.

The Bottom Line: A tale held together by gruesome events, you may nonetheless find The North Water a rewarding read. Setting, plot, prose, and characterization may all well captivate the reader who can grit their teeth and dig in.

 

Further Reading: 

    Top 10 Tuesday: Winter Reading

    Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

     Top Ten Books to Read In Winter

    I’m at it again! I got lucky with this week’s topic. I thought I’d feature one of my themed Goodreads shelves. I barely used shelves in my first couple years on Goodreads, but as my read and TBR lists grew, I started making themed shelves to help me find books I’ve already read (“What was that book about GMOs?”) or feel in the mood for reading (“I want a weird creepy book”). My winter-reading shelf includes both read and TBR. For a book to make it onto this shelf, the winter setting has to play a significant role in the story. It has to be a story I would enjoy reading more while surrounded by snow.

    • Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback – An atmospheric tale of settlers set in the early 18th century Sweden with a hint of magic. The title says it all, really.
      • Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.
        While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.
        As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.”
    • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey- Another settler tale, this time set in 1920s Alaska. I wrote a paper on this book for my Fairy Tales and Culture course (though I read it for fun first! Then worked it into my paper :P). As I learnt, the novel is a retelling of “The Snow Maiden” (ATU 703), not “The Snow Child” (ATU 1362). 
      •  “Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.”
    • Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin – TBR. I’m trying to give fair attention to chunksters, but I haven’t tackled this one yet.
      • “New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.
        Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and besieged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.”
    • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo – Finished this one just a couple weeks ago. A lighter read than the others on this list!
      •  “When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.
    • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – A different sort of story than The Magician’s Elephant but also good for cozying up on a cold night.
      • In the winter of 1928, still seeking some kind of resolution to the horrors of World War I, Freddie is traveling through the beautiful but forbidding French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. Dazed, he stumbles through the woods, emerging in a tiny village, where he finds an inn to wait out the blizzard. There he meets Fabrissa, a lovely young woman also mourning a lost generation.
        Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, Freddie will have unearthed a tragic, centuries-old mystery, and discovered his own role in the life of this remote town.”
    • Falling for Snow by Jamie Bastedo – Non-fiction. I read this some years ago and liked the different perspectives on snow included.
      •  “In this spirited mix of humor, science and adventure, naturalist Jamie Bastedo takes you on an uncommon romp through snow. Share in the quest of early snow scientists to unravel snow’s many riddles: Meet a madcap balloonist who risked it all to inspect snowstorms five miles up.Join snow ecologists as they gauge the importance of snow in shaping the lives of plants and animals. Pull your hair out with urban leaders, road crews, and train engineers as they do battle with paralyzing piles of snow.Discover the imprint of snow on native languages and some of our best art and literature.Explore the outer limits of snow-based recreation.And follow in Bastedo’s foot, ski and snowshoe tracks as he guides you across creaking glaciers, through hushed evergreen forests and over frozen arctic seas in a playful exploration of the many facets and meanings of snow.As inspirational as it is informative, this light-hearted book will appeal to anyone with even the slightest curiosity about that white stuff you will never again call “plain old snow.””
    • Winterfrost by Michelle Houst – TBR. Should have read this at Christmas! I think the cover looks very inviting.
      • Christmas has come, and with it a sparkling white winterfrost over the countryside. But twelve-year-old Bettina’s parents have been called away unexpectedly, leaving her in charge of the house, the farm, and baby Pia. In all the confusion, Bettina’s family neglects to set out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the tiny nisse who are rumored to look after the family and their livestock. No one besides her grandfather ever believed the nisse were real, so what harm could there be in forgetting this silly custom? But when baby Pia disappears during a nap, the magic of the nisse makes itself known. To find her sister and set things right, Bettina must venture into the miniature world of these usually helpful, but sometimes mischievous folk. A delightful winter adventure for lovers of the legendary and miraculous.”
    • Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales by Greer Gilman – TBR. 
      • “Gilman’s second novel, Cloud & Ashes, is a slow whirlwind of language, a button box of words, a mythic Joycean fable that will invite immersion, study, revisitation, and delight. To step into her world is to witness the bright flashes, witty turns, and shadowy corners of the human imagination, limned with all the detail and humor of a master stylist. In Gilman’s intricate prose, myth and fable live, breathe, and dance as they do nowhere else. Cloud & Ashes collects three Winter’s Tales (“Jack Daw’s Pack,” “A Crowd of Bone,” and the longest, “Unleaving”) centering on folk traditions, harvest rites, the seasons, gods, and trickster figures. Inventive, playful, and erudite, Gilman is an archeolexicologist rewriting language itself in these long-awaited tales.”
    • Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick – TBR. I recently learnt about this one. I haven’t read any of his books before.
      • Razor-sharp, psychological thriller set in a snowy Arctic wilderness.
        “They say that dead men tell no tales, but they’re wrong. Even the dead tell stories.”
        It’s 1910. In a cabin north of the Arctic Circle, in a place murderously cold and desolate, Sig Andersson is alone. Except for the corpse of his father, frozen to death that morning when he fell through the ice on the lake.
        The cabin is silent, so silent, and then there’s a knock at the door. It’s a stranger, and as his extraordinary story of gold dust and gold lust unwinds, Sig’s thoughts turn more and more to his father’s prized possession, a Colt revolver, hidden in the storeroom.
        A revolver just waiting to be used…but should Sig use it, or not?”
    • The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga by James Archibald Houston – I was kind of skeptical about this one…a fictional book about the Inuit written by a white guy in 1971? But the reviews are positive and address the concerns I might have had with this one, so I want to check it out.
      • In 1896, three survivors from a whaling misadventure are nursed back to health by Eskimo villagers who share their food, women, and way of life with the strangers. In return, the foreigners introduce to the villagers the spirit of competitiveness that rules the white man’s world. Map and drawings by the Author.”

    Do you partake in any seasonal reading? Can you recommend any winter reads?

    Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

    Author: Naomi Novik
    Title: Uprooted
    Format/Source: Hardcover/library 
    Published: May 2015
    Publisher: Del Rey
    Length: 435 pages
    Genre: Fantasy
    Why I Read: Intriguing description, pretty cover, strong reviews
    Read If You: Enjoy magic fantasy set in older days
    Quote: “His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales.
    Rating★★★★½
    Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon
    The back of this book features a number of accolades from distinguished fantasy authors including Urusula K. Le Guin, Gregory Maguire, Ellen Kushner, and Todd McCafrey. I try not to let blurbs from famous writers hold too much sway over me, but I was impressed, even more so when I saw glowing reviews from Goodreads friends. These praises are important because even though the description of Uprooted appealed to me, I’m wary of fantasy after too many disappointments (I am a picky reader especially in this genre). The glowing reviews convinced me it would be worth my time. 

    Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful. (1)

    I’m hooked! I liked the premise. I liked these traditional castle medieval fantasies, which may be a misnomer but it’s a label I’ve stuck with since I was younger (cc: Tuesdays at the Tower, Stardust). I like the distant fantasy atmosphere the tale starts out with. Of course, as you become more familiar with the characters and setting it feels more real and less magical. I thought the story dragged a bit while Agnieszka was at the castle. I appreciated that it was time away from Sarkan for her to grow a bit more. I liked the dark wood, buuuuut I got a bit lost in the explanation of how it came to be. This is probably my fault, not Novik’s. I have a problem with rushing through the last 20% of exciting books. Generally, a successful and entertaining plot. I also liked the prose, though I’m not sure I can articulate why – it’s clear and pretty and suits a magical tale. I liked having Agnieszka as the first person narrator, which probably has a lot do with why I liked the prose. Though, I would love to hear the story narrated from Kasia’s perspective!

    As Novik’s author bio informs the reader, she is “a first-generation American raised on Polish fair tales and stories of Baba Yaga.” Uprooted beautifully embraces the Eastern European influence, set primarily in, it appears, an alternate Poland ( in the book).  My knowledge of Eastern European fairy tales also appears to be woefully lacking. I suspect that this work contains many allusions to older fairy stories, to source stories that I have failed to recognize. At least, even I can catch the references to Jaga.

    Please noteThe next paragraph of this review contains spoilers regarding romantic relationships. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

    I finished this book, with great enthusiasm on January 8th. I put off writing this review because of the romance. I adored the romance (which, take note, is a minor subplot). When I told my sister “You’ll be surprised, because I actually really liked the romance in this book!”, she replied “Well, it must not be very romancy then.” The little one knows me well. Initially I couldn’t decide if I shipped Ag + Kasia or Ag + Sarkan more! (Sidenote, let the record show I kind of dislike that name, I think it makes me think of ‘snarky’, haha) I rarely feel inclined to ship, so this was a surprise. Certainly Ag + Kasia would have made for a more diverse read… I like the matter of fact, no nonsense, no pining after him or dying to be with him, attitude of Agniezska. There are clear moments when she would much rather he was there than not, but she didn’t need him (I feel this girl, haha). I yearned for them to get together. When he doesn’t make a move and clearly should have I was like, AUGGGGGH, and I squished my face. Then I was so pleased when Agnieszka took charge. Here finally is a protagonist I can relate to when it comes to matter of romance. But…(and here is where I’m going to go out on a limb and try to unravel my thoughts on this even if it would be easier to not say anything) I don’t want to say I find Ag relatable because I also know, intellectually at least, that this is a problematic relationship. The relationship definitely has Stockholm syndrome about it even though Agnieszka doesn’t experience a typical kidnapping. I don’t want to make excuses for Sarkan. He’s clearly an ass most of the time. Why do I feel that their romance works? So, I’ve been trying to reconcile whether I can enjoy this romance or if I ‘should’ be embarrassed by the fact that I enjoyed and supported it. I would be concerned about Agnieszka if she were my friend in real life and introduced Sarkan to me. But then – this is fiction, fantasy. I understand such a relationship might be problematic in real life. Should this understanding hinder my enjoyment of the tale? And now I’ve thought myself into a big scramble, trying to answer the question “What do I do if I like something problematic?” For me alone, enjoying this book doesn’t bother anyone. Whether this kind of romance has a greater cultural impact is not really a question I want to concern myself with at this time. It’s okay to just have fun reading a book…right? That’s the real question. Well, that’s what I want to do, whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, I just want to enjoy this book, so I think I’ll stop here. Let me know what you think, especially if you think I’m out of line.

    Whoo, there’s a load off my chest 😛 Moving on. Was this book wonderful enough for me to get into Novik’s other books? *checks descriptions* Hrm, no, I like my fantasy straight up, with no historical muddlings. If Novik ever ventures into ‘pure’ fantasy territory again, I’ll be sure to delve in. But for now I’ll be content with this book.

    The Bottom Line:  An enjoyable fantasy unburdened by serious romance. Recommended if you like this sort of thing, even if you’re perhaps often disappointed by other fantasy novels. 

    Further Information: 

    Top 10 Tuesday: Recent TBR

    Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

     Top Ten Books I’ve Recently Added To My TBR

    Whoaaaa, my first time participating in Top 10 Tuesday :O I don’t expect this will become a regular thing, as I usually don’t feel creative enough or that I have enough books to list, but this one seems doable (and I have an idea for next week!).

    I’ve already added 21 books to my TBR shelf since the start of 2016. This may be the year things finally spiral out of hand (AKA my TBR shelf holds more books than my read shelf). For this list, I’m counting the past two months as ‘recent’.

    1. National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape PhotographyMy favourite kind of photography. I want to be able to do justice to the Middle-earth landscapes of NZ!
    2. The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew – A memoir by a local figure, I was eyeing it while working at the bookstore in December. 
      • When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans that 2012 year, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father’s traumatic childhood at residential school.
    3. On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube – I recently requested some ARCs because they don’t add any weight to my suitcase and give me something to work on while travelling! The cover caught my eye and the local setting encouraged me to hit request.
      • Harriet is 11 going on 30. Her mixed-media art is a source of wonder to her younger brother, Irwin, but an unmitigated horror to the panoply of insufficiently grown-up grown-ups who surround her. She plans to run away to Algonquin Park, hole up in a cabin like Tom Thomson and paint trees; and so, to fund her escape, she runs errands for the seniors who inhabit the Shangrila, the decrepit apartment building that houses her fractured family. Determined, resourceful, and a little reckless, Harriet tries to navigate the clueless adults around her, dumpster dives for the flotsam and jetsam that fuels her art, and attempts to fathom her complicated feelings for Irwin, who suffers from hydrocephalus. On the other hand, Irwin’s love for Harriet is not conflicted at all. She’s his compass. But Irwin himself must untangle the web of the human heart.”
    4. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue – Another book I spotted at work last month. Sounds like my kind of story.
      • Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.
    5. English Passengers by Matthew Kneale A recommendation from my best friend. Usually our tastes differ but this sound likes fun. The ship factor enticed me the most.
      • In 1857 when Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship up for charter. The only takers are two eccentric Englishmen who want to embark for the other side of the globe. The Reverend Geoffrey Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His travelling partner, Dr. Thomas Potter, unbeknownst to Wilson, is developing a sinister thesis about the races of men. Meanwhile, an aboriginal in Tasmania named Peevay recounts his people’s struggles against the invading British, a story that begins in 1824, moves into the present with approach of the English passengers in 1857, and extends into the future in 1870. These characters and many others come together in a storm of voices that vividly bring a past age to life.
    6. I Have a Bed of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn Moriarty – One of my favourite YA authors. She’s Australian, and I hope to run across the book (an adult fiction novel not readily available in Canada) while I’m there.
      • Cath Murphy, second-grade teacher, was feeling awkward and foolish, but she also felt this: quirky, cocky, small, funny, wicked and extremely blonde. As her mother liked to say, all meetings with new people, even locksmiths or seven-year-olds, can make you a little afraid. She was about to meet her new class and she had just met the new teacher: Warren Woodford.However, Cath Murphy has yet to meet the Zing family…
    7. The First World War by John Keegan – Planning to finish this before NZ, treating it as my foundation book for WWI. I like to get an overview of a topic, then delve into the specific that I’m interested in (in this I’d like to learn more about the Canadian role in WWI and the role of the war in Tolkien’s life and writing).
    8. The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert – This one sounds like a delicious story. I like the cover as well.
      • “The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque – as well as the glimmers of goodness – buried deep within the soul.”

    9. Drown: A Twisted Take on the Classic Fairytale by Esther Daleno  – Could be wonderful or terrible. “The Little Mermaid” is my favourite Hans Christian Anderson story, so I want to check this out.
      •  “Belonging to a race that is mostly animal with little humanity, a world obsessed with beauty where morality holds no sway, a little mermaid escapes to the ocean’s surface. Discovering music, a magnificent palace of glass and limestone, and a troubled human prince, she is driven by love to consult the elusive sea-witch who secretly dominates the entire species of merfolk. Upon paying an enormous price for her humanity, the little mermaid begins a new life, uncovering secrets of sexuality and the Immortal Soul. As a deadly virus threatens to contaminate the bloodstreams of the whole merfolk race, the little mermaid must choose between the lives of her people, the man she loves, or herself.

    10. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood A Goodreads generated recommendation based on Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
      • Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.

      Have you read any of these? What books recently added to your TBR are you most looking forward to?

      Brief Thoughts on Some Fables

      During last week’s Bout of Books, I read two books that you might call fables. The Magician’s Elephant is an extended middle grade fable, while Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day puts a contemporary, speculative twist on the fable form.

      • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
        • Rating: ★★★½
        • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon 
        • Kate @ Bookish Illuminations review | NY Times review
        • My first time reading something by Kate DiCamillo
        • A cozy tale, perfect for a winter’s night with a big mug of hot chocolate. I took comfort in the slow, quiet story with its pleasant characters. 
          • I liked how the police officer Leo Matienne, down on the sidewalk, would talk to Peter up in his apartment and call him “little cuckoo bird  of the attic world” (79).
        • DiCamillo writes gentle yet evocative prose. She creates a charming setting of an Eastern European town long ago. I can’t imagine the tale in any different setting.
        • In the author description, DiCamillo shares that she “wanted, needed, longed to tell a story of love and magic”. She succeeds in this task.
        • The handful of full-page illustrations by Yoko Tanaka suit the story well.
        • One dark moment when the elephant decides she wants to die startled me.
        • This is not a tale for everyone – certainly not if you don’t like ‘novel-length fables’, as one Goodreads review describes it, but it delighted me. Admittedly, even for me this was a mood book. I tried it previously and couldn’t get into it. I’m not sure what a 10 year old would make of this story (too dull?). While not particularly exciting, and not particularly deep, you may find this a pleasant little tale.
      • Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
        • Rating: ★★★
        • Goodreads | Indiebound | Chapters | Amazon
        • From the publisher: “This collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables and tales is populated by people – and monsters and aliens and animals and inanimate objects – motivated by and grappling with the fears and desires that unite us all.”
        • A brief and easy read containing 40 small tales (averaging perhaps four pages), it’s hard not to recommend this even though many of the stories fell flat for me. You’ll probably find a few tales to adore and even if you don’t, reading the entire book won’t have taken much of your time.
        • The first tale – “The Book” – convinced me to sign this out from the library. It’s my favourite in the collection.
          • Other stories I really liked: “The Tunnel”, “Bigfoot”, “The Little Girl and the Balloon”, and “The Poet”
          • A few stories aren’t suited to my tastes, such as “The Man and the Moose” and “The Octopus”. I suppose I don’t like animals that fit in just as normal humans/talking animals.
        • I enjoy the atmosphere and style (dreamy, fog induced) of all the stories, if not the substance. I like the absence of names and succinct, matter-of-fact prose. I like the open ended-ness of most of the tales. I can barely tolerate open endings in long-form fiction, but I love it in short-form.  Loory’s stories are bare bones fables, containing just enough to fire your imagination. I can fill in the gaps however I like and if I can’t fill them in to my satisfaction, then I can take comfort in imagining that the author knew just what was happening in their tale even if the reader can’t figure it out. These are just the kind of stories you might expect from a collection with this title. Though they do not explicitly interconnect, their themes and moods fit well beside each other.
        • All that being said, some of the stories don’t manage to pull off what the most successful do. The sparseness doesn’t satisfy; the oddness feels a bit too weird; my imagination needs a few more tidbits to be satisfied.
        • Why three stars? I liked this collection, some stories more than others, and the writing is my style, but the tales themselves didn’t really click any deeper for me. Probably a good read if it intrigues you at all, but nothing deeply memorable for me.

      Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.
      Then he met it.
      Now he glows in the dark. (58)