Review: Today I Learned It Was You – Edward Riche

2017:89
3 of 5 stars
Published in 2016

The city is St. John’s, Newfoundland. A retired actor turns to the security guard profession and on a nightly check in a local park, has a clash with some teens. The next time we hear anything about him, he is apparently living in the park and is transitioning to a deer. Or something like that. Yes, you, too, will shake your head in disbelief.

In the meantime, we’ve shifted views to the local municipal council and the mayor, Matt Olford, who is a local hero because he used to be in the NHL on a Stanley Cup winning team. His wife has found religion, he’s contemplating entering Federal politics, he’s got a crush on a lovely fellow councillor, an immigrant from Italy. There are two animal rights activists stirring things up and another councillor who has a very large, ugly chip on his shoulder.  Social media goes viral over the whole deer situation. Many aspects of the tale are told by a lot of different voices, most of whom really have nothing to contribute to the actual story and are never seen again. That leaves most of the other regulars less developed than they should be. Not all of the narratives really cross over or just a little. It’s a bit confusing at times. And yet, it’s also kind of fun and it was enjoyable and quick to read.

While reading the book, I could almost picture it as one of those goofy Canadian films with quirky characters and lots of local colour and colourful locals. You can never go wrong with local colour in St. John’s. There are loose ends untied which loses a star in the rating and another star for the somewhat disjointed feel of the overall story.

This book was on the long list for Canada Reads 2017 though I do have to say I don’t think it would ever be considered a book that would fit the theme of “the one book every Canadian should read”.

Advertisements

Review: Poles Apart – Terry Fallis

2017:86
5 of 5 stars
Published in 2015

After the mind F#$* that was Bellevue Square and the frustration that was The Manticore and a dose of violence and investigative journalism that was The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, I am ready for something light, fun and easy to read. What better than the humour of Terry Fallis?

Everette Kane, a freelance journalist in his 30s and avid feminist has to be the dutiful son and assist his father who is recovering from a stroke in Florida. He finds a small apartment and flies from Toronto to Orlando for the duration but finds he has a lot of time on his hands so he starts a blog. A feminist blog called Eve of Equality. When Ev takes on the owner of a chain of strip clubs, one of which has newly opened in the building where his apartment is, word of mouth and the backing of a TV talk show host send its popularity into the stratosphere and suddenly his blog is the talk of the nation.  The thing is, nobody realizes the woman behind the blog is a man.

Everette spends part of his days with his misogynistic father and connecting with a feminist hero who is also a patient there and spends much of the rest of his time writing blog posts and wrangling with the comments and emails the blog produces. He gets to know several people connected with the XY club downstairs and becomes entangled in the web he’s created trying to keep his blog anonymous. There are successes and there are dangers. Everette learns a lot about himself and his family during these months and might just come out the other end unharmed. Or unhinged. It could go either way.

Loved the book. Fallis writes with such wit that you’re smiling through most of the pages at his turns of phrases, and lovely little moments. His characters feel very real and he mixes quite a diverse number of types together to interact with his earnest young Everette through the story. You always know you’re going to get an easy to read but highly enjoyable tale from Terry Fallis, a top Canadian writer if ever there was one. I can highly recommend his novels!

 

Review: Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All

2017: 22
5 of 5 stars
Published September 2015

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson (translation from Swedish to English by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

Another hit from Jonas Jonasson! I always know I’m going to read one of his books with a smile and this is no different. His books are quirky and off the wall. The book cover itself calls the adventure “madcap” and yes, yes it is. The humour is wry and dry and there’s always a satisfactorily happy ending.

This book tells the tale of a homeless hotel receptionist, Pers,  who lives in a cheap hotel that used to be a brothel, a defrocked female Protestant Vicar, Johanna, who doesn’t believe in God anymore and a violent criminal,  Anders,  who breaks bones for money who find themselves in the business of formally organizing the criminal’s daily attacks, paid for, not just by other criminals, but by anyone that wants to teach someone a physically painful lesson. They draw the line at murder for money but are not adverse to more broken bones. But when Anders the criminal finds God, an inadvertent result of conversations with the priest, he doesn’t want to hurt people anymore. Pers and  Johanna have become accustomed to the dirty money and have to come up with another plan.

Their plan is to start a church, the church of Anders, cashing in on Anders’ newly baked obsession. In his newly benevolent state, Anders has gained a lot of positive publicity in the tabloid press by giving away a lot of the money he made for the revenge hits, including money he took but didn’t do the jobs at all. As a result, Stockholm’s criminal element are looking for him. The new church might bring in the krone, but it might also be the death of them all.

These adventures and more are recalled in the book. It’s about money, charity, stupidity and even love. It’s about overcoming the expectations of your family and finding who you really want to be. And it’s about taking charge and changing your life. As are all his books!

Review: Hit & Mrs. by Lesley Crewe

2017: 20
Rating: 2.5 stars
Published: September 2009

The first Lesley Crewe book I read was Amazing Grace (review on Goodreads here) which I really liked so my cousin lent me a stack of paperbacks by her. Amazing Grace was published a couple of years ago. Hit & Mrs. is one of her earliest books, if not her first, published in 2009. They are very different in tone. AG is more serious, about dealing with the past and how it has affected lives and family in the presenet. H&M is all about the humour. You could use adjectives like “zany”, “madcap”, “romp”, and “crazy” and they’d all apply. I’m not adverse to an all out mad adventure but there were things in this book that did put me off.

We have four long time friends living in Montreal, all hitting the age of 50. Four different lifestyles. Bette has never married and has been burdened with running the family business and looking after her aging Jewish parents who are always arguing. Gemma is married to an Italian, with a mother-in-law who hates her, with a house full of children and a husband who loves her. Augusta is a widow with two teenage girls. Linda has recently split up from her husband who has run off with a young woman half his age. They decide to take a holiday to New York City using Linda’s ex’s credit card and that’s where it all falls apart.

After a luggage mix up in a ladies’ room and an accidental killing of what may or may not be a cab driver, there are incidents, accidents, mix ups, coincidences, cross communications and a lot of bad luck and the four women have more adventure than they ever expected or wanted. You get to the point where you aren’t surprised anymore, you just wonder what else could go wrong because you know it’s not at an end yet.

The things that I found difficult were the ethnic cliches. Bette is Jewish and her parents are written as the most stereotyped Jewish parents you’ll ever come across. The way they speak, “You want I should…”, that sort of thing. You can hear it in your mind playing out like a bad Woody Allen movie. I really don’t think people talk like that anymore. Maybe they do if they’re New York natives, but I’ve never heard anyone speak like that in Canada. I may be wrong. I haven’t heard every Jewish person in Canada speak but I found it a bit annoying. Gemma’s Italian mother-in-law wears black and hates her, undermines her, insults her, preys on her son’s good nature and putting him squarely in the middle and he, of course, never stands up for his wife. Between the relatives, and the non-stop shenanigans that happen to the four friends who run afoul of drug dealers and the mob, this might be a story you could picture as a movie made with some of the comedy stars of the day but though it might work on screen, I found it a bit harder to read.

This isn’t to say it’s written badly. The four friends are all well written and you can believe that they, as different as they are from each other, could still be friends. Together, they are strong, they are supportive and they are engaging. They are not helpless in the face of adversity, they just can’t deal with the problems in their own personal lives. I think I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if the tedious cliche families had not rubbed me the wrong way. I could accept the cinematic madcap-ness in New York, definitely played for dark humour type laughs otherwise.

Really, though, it’s meant to be a fun read, and it is. Even though parts of it were annoying to me, I still wanted to know what was going to happen next to the women. Is it silly? Yes, but it’s supposed to be. Is it predictable? Yes and that’s possibly not the intention, with the ending wrapped up very neat, tidy and quickly. What rubbed me the wrong way might not bother others. The ending for each woman was also relatively predictable although one thing I was afraid might happen, thankfully did not.

I’m not about to give up on Ms. Crewe. Some of her other books seem a bit less frantic and I know she’s a very good writer because I loved Amazing Grace. I also want to support her because she’s from Nova Scotia, like me and we have some very talented writers here.