Blog Tour Review | Hey Canada! Vivien Bowers, illus. by Milan Pavlovic

Remember encyclopedias? Hardcover books with glossy, colourful pages. In my nerdiest moments, I had a great time flipping through them and learning random factoids about Elizabethan drama, far away places and whatever other topic catches my attention. Wikipedia is a much more efficient way to research, but there’s a certain charm in an encyclopedia’s glossy presentation of information.

Reading Vivien Bowers’ Hey Canada! reminded me of that experience. The story is simple: Gran takes nine-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Cal on a road trip across Canada. They visit all the provincial capitals, and learn about each one’s history and points of interests. It’s a fun, informative introduction to Canada for 7 – 10 year olds, a wonderful book for parents to read with their children to teach them about this country. As a recent immigrant myself, I would recommend this book to other immigrants, particularly those with children. Written in clear, easily accessible language and filled with photos of Canadian landmarks, Hey Canada! is a great way for a family to learn about the country together.

I enjoyed reading the facts and looking at the photos. I remember being in elementary school, and studying the dialects, cultural traditions and top industries of various regions in the Philippines. I imagine Canadian school children have studied the same about the various provinces. Hey Canada! is a great resource for this. I assume the plant and bird at each province’s chapter heading is the official plant or bird of the province (i.e. the osprey is the official bird of Nova Scotia and the mayflower the official plant), and I like that this was taught via a simple illustration in the chapter heading.

I liked the historical comic strips for a similar reason. Having not grown up studying Canadian history, it was fascinating to see small glimpses of each province’s history. For example in the chapter on Quebec, we see the British attack Quebec City in 1759, and the final panel shows the present-day Plains of Abraham as an idyllic park. I now want to visit the area, and perhaps read a bit more about this history.

The Find It! boxes are also particularly interesting as a teaching tool. It lists highlights in the chapter, and so, especially for parents reading with their children, it helps make the reading experience a bit more interactive. The only thing I didn’t like was that the list items sometimes referred to illustrations or text. Since they referred to highlights of the province, I would have preferred them to have referred to actual photographs. As well, and this admittedly is partly because I’m lazy, but I would have also liked the images to have labels, just so if I’m flipping through the book, I can immediately see what an image is, without having to search the entry.

Cal’s Tweets seemed designed to make the book seem more contemporary. Unfortunately, other than being labelled a tweet and, I’m assuming, consisting of less than 140 characters, it looked and sounded just like a regular Cal factoid rather than a tweet. I think using @ mentions, hash tags, and perhaps even formatting it to look like a tweet (with photos being labelled Twitpic or Instagram, and the Reply, Retweet etc buttons) would have helped these be more tweet-like. That being said, the primary appeal of Hey Canada! is its classic format, and the tweets just stand out as incongruous with everything else.

Hey Canada! is also very narrative in style, along with being informational. Gran and the kids joke around a lot, and there’s even a subplot about Cal’s hamster. The humour is very gentle, geared towards younger children and mostly about Gran’s singing and Alice’s snoring. It’s light family entertainment, and again, good for children or families reading together. With Canada Day coming up soon, it’s a great time to take an imaginary trip across the country with your whole family, and Hey Canada! is a fun way to do just that.

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Thank you to Tundra Books for providing me with a copy of this book.

Review | The 500, Matthew Quirk

James Patterson compares Matthew Quirk’s The 500 to John Grisham’s The Firm and it’s easy to see why. Just like Grisham’s protagonist, Mike Ford is a fresh-faced hot talent who gets in way over his head in a high-powered career. Quirk takes the premise to Washington — “The 500″ refers to the 500 most powerful people in Washington, usually those pulling the strings from the sidelines. Mike Ford has been hired straight out of Harvard Law School to join the Davies Group, Washington’s most powerful consulting firm. The Davies Group mandate is to make things happen for their clients, and that usually entails convincing one or more of the 500 to agree to something. As an ambitious young man raised in poverty and with a con man for a father, Mike’s street smarts provide fresh perspective for the Davies Group, otherwise staffed with privileged intellectuals.

The 500 is more action-packed than I remember The Firm to be. While The Firm, from what I remember, dealt a lot with the protagonist’s loss of innocence and the development of his relationship with his wife, The 500 focuses on the mystery — what are Mike’s bosses hiding? What do they want with an alleged war criminal? Why are they shutting Mike out and can Mike trust them? Unlike Grisham’s protagonist, Mike begins this story no longer an innocent. He has been trained by his father to be a con man, and has since struggled to live on the right side of the law. Unfortunately, his employment at the Davies Group forces him to use his long-suppressed con man skills, first to succeed, then later on, to survive.

Davies Group founder Henry Davies has built his empire on the tenet that everyone is corruptible. There’s an interesting reversal here — the law-abiding “good guys” manipulate people into corruption, and Mike’s old law-breaking “bad guy” acquaintances may be the only ones he can trust. It’s an old notion, and one that I think Quirk hammered home far too much. At one point near the end, just in case we hadn’t gotten the point yet, the narrator makes just that observation. It turns an otherwise fascinating story into a morality tale, and I wish it had been handled more subtly.

I do love the relationship between Mike and his father. Mike has tried his whole life not to become like his father, yet we see early on how much his father has influenced his life. I love the way Mike’s understanding of his father develops — it felt more genuine than Mike’s romance with a co-worker, and added a nice touch of emotion to this thriller. The romantic subplot was okay. At times the love interest felt more like a kick-ass Angelina Jolie fantasy figure — the perfect partner for a con man, who may or may not be trustworthy — than an actual woman.

Overall, the best part of The 500 is the mystery. I love that I couldn’t figure out what the Davies Group was up to, nor could I tell who Mike could trust. More than the Davies Group tenet that everyone’s corruptible, the House M.D. idea that everyone lies holds true in this book. The mystery was fast-paced and exciting, with unexpected twists. A lot of the action scenes and coincidental twists were a bit far-fetched, and would probably work out better on a TV or movie screen than a book. As well, despite the Washington D.C. setting, I would not consider The 500 to be a political thriller — I know there are major political consequences to the actions of the Davies Group, but the narrative was too focused on Mike’s experiences within the company to explore the bigger political picture. That being said, The 500 is a fun read and hard to put down.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Fifty Shades of Grey: The Highlights

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. My sister told me about this awesome tumblr where someone live blogs her reading of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Spoilers abound and yes, her reactions are pretty much spot on. Fifty Shades is as bad as people say, though the good news is, it’s often funny bad rather than boring bad. It’s best read out loud — gather a group of your best girlfriends, track down an available copy at the library (seriously, not worth spending good money on, unless perhaps there are a dozen of you and each only has to contribute a dollar or so), and make a drinking game out of it. Every time Ana bites her lip, every time Christian mutters darkly for no good reason, every time Ana’s subconscious primly purses her lips, every time Ana calls Christian “my Fifty Shades” — drink! You’ll be drunk within two chapters.

Reading Fifty Shades was, in turns, confusing, hilarious, infuriating, and most unfortunately, boring. Rather than write a long, well-thought-out review, I figure it most effective to just talk about plot points and passages that inspired a sticky note-level reaction from me. Fair warning: this post may contain spoilers and explicit material. Caveat: there isn’t much of a story arc to spoil, and there are more explicit scenes in Harlequin novels.

The first chapter (Ana interviews Christian for a school paper) confused the hell out of me. I could not understand Ana’s reactions at all.

[Christian says] “The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly.”
[Ana replies] “You sound like a control freak.” [page 10]

Huh? How is attributing your success to the people who work for you a sign of being a control freak? I see no reason for Ana’s reaction rather than to give Christian the opportunity to give the double entendre “I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele.”

In that same interview, Ana asks why Christian invests in farming technologies. He replies that it’s to feed those without enough to eat:

“It’s shrewd business,” he murmurs, though I think he’s being disingenuous. It doesn’t make sense–feeding the world’s poor? I can’t see the financial benefit of this, only the virtue of the ideal. [page 12]

Ana, you idiot. Yes, Christian may have a philanthropic side, but to seriously think there can be no monetary benefit to investing in farming technologies?

“Until we meet again, Miss Steel.” And it sounds like a challenge or a threat, I’m not sure which. I frown. When will we ever meet again? [page 15]

If anyone says that to me in a challenging or threatening tone, I won’t bother wondering when we’ll meet again. I’d be making sure we didn’t.

They do meet again, and Christian takes Ana to his home.

My mouth drops open. Fuck hard! Holy shit, that sounds so… hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified. “You want to play on your Xbox?” I ask. [page 96]

This is a 22 year old college graduate. She may be a virgin, but she wasn’t raised in a glass bubble.

He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. [page 112]

Show of hands: has anyone ever tried taking their socks off any other way? I know this scene is supposed to be hot, but I kept imagining a male stripper whipping both socks off at the same time like some circus trick. Wheee!

So they have sex, and it actually is getting pretty good. Like Harlequin good. Then this passage:

Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow… [page 116]

I couldn’t help it: I laughed. All I could think of was, ride ‘em, cowboy! Then it gets worse when he puts a condom on:

Oh no… Will it? How?
“Don’t worry,” he breathes, his eyes on mine. “You expand too.” [page 116]

I have to admit, it was a fun scene to read. So they continue to have sex, and it starts getting pretty hot again. Then:

“You. Are. So. Sweet,” he murmurs between each thrust. “I. Want. You. So. Much.” [page 121]

Seriously, imagine this scene for a moment. Never mind how sore Ana must be at this point, how sexy is this staccato speech?

Other things that drove me mad:

Ana’s constant lip-biting. Every other page, literally, she was either biting her lip or Christian was telling her to stop biting her lip. At one point, she smiles at another character and realizes she’d been biting her lip without noticing it. Here’s a fun exercise: stand in front of a mirror, bite your lower lip, then smile widely. You sexy thing. (I think I look like a deranged clown doing that, but apparently it turns Christian on.) By the third time or so that Christian “mutters darkly” that he wanted to bite her lip for her, I wished he would just chomp her lips off altogether and be done with it.

Christian’s obsession with food.

“I’m really not hungry, Christian…”
His expression hardens. “Eat,” he says quietly, too quietly.
I stare at him… his tone is so threatening. [page 155]

James eventually explains (kind of, like in one sentence) why Christian has such an issue about finishing food. But at this point, I was hoping for a plot twist where it turns out Christian was the witch from Hansel and Gretel. That would at least explain why he feels the need to threaten Ana to eat.

Ana whispers, bleats, murmurs, squeaks and, my personal favourite, mewls. Does anyone actually mewl in real life? How high-pitched is this girl’s voice? Worse, when she speaks, it’s always with a breathless, “oh my” quality that makes me think: wide eyed little girl. And yes, I meant girl — women, I believe, can speak up a bit more than Ana ever does. In contrast, Christian orders, mutters darkly and smirks. I’m imagining the Phantom of the Opera, except without the sexy singing voice. At one point, Ana wears pigtails, hoping that the girly look will keep Christian from being rough with her. All I could think was, dressing up younger to keep predators away? You can’t be that naive! Honestly, the way that infantilizing her turns him on, I’m thinking this book could’ve taken a much darker turn than James intended.

Ana and Christian’s flirtation over email is actually pretty good. Christian complains that Ana isn’t as forthright in person as she is over email, and I have to agree. Playful e-mail Ana is much easier to take than in-person Ana whose subconscious and inner goddess form a Greek chorus behind her.

I actually felt sorry for Christian. Little as I understand about the BDSM lifestyle, it works for some people, and clearly, for Christian as well. I don’t understand why he would try to fit Ana into that lifestyle when she’s so judgmental, calling him sick and wanting to bring him into the light. Why Ana would stick it out when she so clearly doesn’t enjoy the things that turn Christian on, and why Christian insists on being with her when she keeps making him feel like a total freak, make zero sense to me.

Finally, just for fun, Ana’s friend Jose apparently has a “dazzling toothy all-Hispanic-American smile.” It’s like E.L. James wanted to put the boy-next-door quality of “all-American,” then remembered Jose was Hispanic.

Seriously, if this book were meant as a parody of bad romance novels, parts of it would be downright clever. Instead, Fifty Shades is a parody of itself. I can’t imagine being able to parody a book that seems itself to be a parody, so I was curious how Andrew Shaffer did it with his upcoming Fifty Shades parody Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. His response:

If you’re interested in Fifty Shames, by the way, here’s a bit of added incentive to check it out:

Back to Fifty Shades: it’s not my thing. Granted, I haven’t read erotica before, nor have I read BDSM romance novels. I do read romance novels, and personally think Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz and Judith McNaught write better romances. For steamy romance, I’ve read better sex scenes in Harlequin Blaze.

Worst part about Fifty Shades is that, despite all the laugh out loud moments, the book becomes boring. The conversations, the flirtations, the sex scenes most of all, become redundant. Ana bites lip, Christian mutters darkly, Ana’s subconscious purses her lips, Ana and Christian have sex, Ana says “oh my,” Ana’s inner goddess dances the merengue or the salsa or the macarena, Christian wants to spank, Ana says “oh my,” Ana’s inner goddess hides behind a sofa. Rinse. Repeat. Over and over and over again. Funny bad tapers off into boring bad, and that’s the worst thing that can happen.

I am glad that I read Fifty Shades. It was mostly entertaining, and while I often wished I had a drink with me, there were enough funny parts to keep me turning the page. Erotic? In over 500 pages, maybe a scene or two. The BDSM scenes were especially un-erotic, partly perhaps because it’s not really my thing, but mostly, I think, because Ana so completely hates it (yet allows it to happen) that these scenes felt more uncomfortable than anything. Romantic? The email exchanges were fun and flirty, but overall, not very. Will I ever read Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed? Out loud, with a group of friends, a library copy and a lot of booze — then yes, possibly.

Personally, though, this may be a much more interesting read.

Or, check out Selena Gomez’s spot-on parody at Funny or Die. Not only did she mimic Ana Steele perfectly, but this video is much more entertaining than the book:

Review | Redshirts, John Scalzi

Okay, this book is just awesome. I started reading John Scalzi’s Redshirts before work one day, and almost instantly regretted my decision. Tip: Start it on a weekend, or after work, whenever you have a few free hours, because you will not want to put it down. That evening, watching me walk around with my nose stuck in this book, my sister observed that I was going through it pretty quickly. Yes I was, and it’s because, in my sister’s words, Redshirts hit all my geekspots.

I am a huge geek. I fangirl over Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek, for those who don’t know). When I saw this book in the Raincoast Books catalogue, even before reading the description, I immediately thought of Star Trek redshirts and was momentarily embarrassed that I may have confused a serious thriller with a Star Trek parody when I realized I right. Now, if like me, you know why you should never wear a red shirt on an alien planet, stop reading this review right now and find yourself a copy of this book.

Redshirts, as any self-respecting Trekkie knows, are the characters killed off before the first commercial break in the 1960s Star Trek series. Deaths usually occur when the crew beams down onto an alien planet, and they are usually pointless, put in only for some dramatic tension right before the opening credits. But what if the remaining future redshirts realize that there’s something fishy going on? What if they band together and decide to do something about it? In Redshirts, when Ensign Andrew Dahl joins the crew of the Intrepid, he finds out that a low-ranking crew member dies in every Away Mission, and that his more senior co-workers go into hiding every time a high ranking officer enters the room.

The first part of the book is a total send-up of Star Trek, and I suppose, other cheesy 60s science fiction shows. Scalzi’s observations about logical inconsistencies in Star Trek are spot-on, and he mercilessly undercuts them with biting humour yet also with an insider’s wink at the reader that belies the affection of a die-hard fan. To clarify: Redshirts is not just a Star Trek parody, in that it’s not an episode rehash with different names and caricatured details. The book is very much aware of how ridiculous some of its situations are, but there is enough underlying menace that even as we laugh, we realize how serious the situation is for the poor redshirt in it, and we genuinely want him to survive.

On an Away Mission in the first scene, Science Officer Q’eeng reveals that pulse guns are ineffective against Borgovian Land Worms, that in fact, pulse guns send them into a killing frenzy. Ensign Davis, who had just fired a pulse gun at an attacking worm, wonders why Q’eeng didn’t just reveal that very important bit of information during the mission briefing. The scene is hilarious, and we can just see it happening in a Star Trek episode, but we also can’t help but wonder why, indeed, Ensign Davis wasn’t provided with information that could save his life. Along with the hilarity comes the sobering realization that characters you come to care about are indeed treated as alien fodder. Because the story is told from the perspective of these redshirts, they become real to us, and, even as we laugh, we are struck by the unfairness of their situation.

The story takes an unexpected turn when Ensign Dahl and his friends discover the reason behind the redshirt phenomenon and make it their mission to change things. It’ll be difficult to discuss my reaction to the rest of the story without giving away any spoilers, so please excuse my vagueness. (Or, conversely, if what I write makes you guess something spoiler-y, I’m sorry — I definitely don’t want to give anything away.) Personally, with all the mystery and menace built up in the first part of the book, part of me wishes Scalzi had taken it in a different direction, a more straight up, mystery/thriller angle. That being said, I see how his choice actually makes even more sense for this story. While still keeping us on a crazy, hilarious ride, Scalzi’s twist introduces a philosophical angle, and offers us a new train of thought to ponder. I enjoyed the rest of the book — I laughed perhaps a bit less, but the plot remained compelling, and it was an interesting shift in reading experience. As with the first part, however, what kept me reading were the characters — I’d come to care for Ensign Dahl and his friends, and I wanted them to have much more of a life than redshirts usually do.

Minor quibble: You know how jokes have a point where, if you push it just that teensy bit over, it stops being funny? I personally thought Scalzi crossed that point in the last couple of chapters. He was coy enough about it, and smart enough not to belabour the point, so that it wasn’t annoying. As well, in fairness to him, it did fit with the rest of the story. Still, part of me went “meh” at that bit of development.

The novel ends with three codas. I hated the first one, mostly because if the last couple of chapters toyed with pushing the joke a bit too far, the first coda takes the joke all too seriously. I found it tiresome and just tad too self-aggrandizingly clever, and at that point, I wished the book had ended with just the novel. The next two codas, however, are brilliant. The second coda took the novel’s philosophical themes and expanded them by offering a different perspective. The “moral lesson” near the end was a bit too pat, a bit too neatly tied up, for me. It involved a message being delivered, and I wish the contents of the message were just less obvious. Still, other than that “moral lesson”, I loved the perspective provided by the second coda, and the new questions it raised.

The third and final coda, however, totally made the book for me. It took a funny, sometimes philosophical, other times exciting, novel and made it real. The characters felt real enough to care for — as I’ve said, I really wanted Ensign Dahl to change the redshirts’ fate — but the third coda took it to another level entirely. It gave a fully fleshed out story to a minor character, and in doing so, added texture and depth to the story of another secondary character in the novel proper. Definitely one of the best parts of the book.

Redshirts is as hilarious and thrilling as you would expect, but it works because Scalzi takes it far beyond that. Trekkies and fans of cheesy science fiction shows in general will find much to recognize and laugh at in this novel. Non-fans may not have as many knee-jerk laugh out loud moments, but I’d say it’s worth flipping through anyway, just to see if it’s for you. I had such a blast reading this book, and highly recommend it to fellow geeks everywhere. Trust me: it’ll hit all your geekspots.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks Mom! From a Bookworm for Life

How did you fall in love with reading? Do you remember the first book you read or the first book that was read to you? I grew up on Disney movies, and the Disney princess I’ve always identified with the most was Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. This song from the movie probably best explains why:

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually walked around with my nose literally in a book — being naturally clumsy, I’d be a hazard to everyone around if I did — but certainly, for as long as I could remember, I always had a book with me when I went out.

I can’t remember what the first book I ever read was, but I do know who to thank for my lifelong love for reading. My mom loved books. Beauty and the Beast was her favourite Disney movie, mostly because she was a major romantic at heart, but, I like to believe, also because she saw a bit of herself in Belle the bookworm.

One of my favourite stories about my mom as a child had to do with Nancy Drew. Mom loved Nancy Drew, but her family couldn’t afford to buy a lot of books. She had a classmate who owned the entire Nancy Drew collection — this was back when the series only had the fifty-six yellow hardcover books — so my mom would borrow the books from her classmate. Mom would hurry to finish each book in a day, usually reading late into the night under the covers, just so she could return it to her classmate the next day and borrow the next book in the series. She then promised herself that whenever she began her own family, if she had enough money, she’d buy her own set of Nancy Drew books for her children.

Not only did Mom make sure my sister and I had the entire Nancy Drew series, she also made reading our main treat. Other families took kids to the toy store or the amusement park; Mom made an event out of going to the bookstore. We grew up in the Philippines, where we don’t have the community libraries I discovered here in Canada. So the National Bookstore branch near school became our second home. Mom became friends with the booksellers at that branch. She knew them by name and gave them presents every Christmas. It was a big chain bookstore in a bustling metropolis, and the staff changed often, but they all knew my mom, and the bookstore felt like home.

Mom encouraged me to read, and she didn’t care what I read, so long as I was reading. That’s probably why whenever I hear about schools or parent groups banning children from reading certain books, it just makes me really mad. I can’t dictate how individual parents choose to form their children’s reading habits, but I do know that if I ever have children of my own, I’ll follow my mom’s method: let the child decide what he’s old enough to read. Chances are, the books he’ll be interested in are books he’s mature enough for, and those that he finds difficult to understand, he can come to the parent for help. I remember the very first adult novel I read: John Grisham’s The Firm. I was around ten. I remember mostly being confused — how do people keep so many characters and so many stories straight? I struggled through it, mostly because I wanted to say I finished an adult novel, and that eventually led to me becoming a big Grisham fan and reading his other books. But mostly I found it confusing, and a little boring. Granted, Grisham is nowhere near as racy as other adult novels, but still, I’m grateful that my mom never interfered with my choice of reading material.

Growing up, I was probably more a Sweet Valley or Baby Sitters Club kid than a Nancy Drew one. Even with Nancy Drew, I much preferred the newer, paperback mysteries to the yellow hardbacks. My mom couldn’t understand it, of course — she thought the original series far superior. Nowadays, when I see the new, even more modernized, Nancy Drew books, I can understand how she felt. Still, perhaps it’s because of my mom that I not only grew up with memories of Nancy Drew, but I also fell in love with mysteries in general. Agatha Christie is my all-time favourite, of course, but I love so many other mystery writers, from so many mystery genres, that it’ll be impossible to list them all here. And all that, because Mom grew up loving Nancy Drew.

Mom passed away last year. Beside her grave is a little glass cabinet. It was meant to be an altar, for a crucifix and a rosary, but since it turned out to be pretty big, we had enough room to put small mementoes in as well. Among the things we placed was our copy of The Secret of the Old Clock.

My sister and I became readers because of Mom. If I ever have children, I know I want them to fall in love with reading as well. There are so many books I want to pass on to them — Lois Lowry’s The Giver, for one, and many other books that have been such a big part of my childhood. Above all, however, I definitely want to pass on the Nancy Drew series, all fifty-six of the original hardcovers. They may end up preferring whatever version of Nancy Drew is being published in their childhood (at least I very much hope there will always be new Nancy Drew books being published), but the original fifty-six are important in a way newer books won’t be. They’re a link to the past, to at least two generations of readers. Mom left behind so much more than Nancy Drew books when she passed. But a love for Nancy Drew is part of Mom’s legacy, and it’s one that I, as a lifelong bookworm, will definitely be passing on.

Review | Wayworn Wooden Floors, Mark Lavorato

There’s a reason this is my first poetry review on this blog: I don’t know much about it. I’ve studied some in school, of course, and I’ve bought a few books by poets I like (off the top of my head: Byron, Cohen, Layton and Purdy), but given a choice between prose and poetry, I almost always go for prose. So I love what Mark Lavorato says in the publisher’s page for Wayworn Wooden Floors:

But I would also love to have someone who has never bought a collection of poetry before pick it up. I would love for someone to be turned onto poetry because of it. I know that’s asking a lot. But I think that the poems throughout are really quite accessible, and for that reason, unintimidating. And I would love for that person to read Wayworn Wooden Floors, and in doing so, see that poetry — arguably the world’s oldest art form — is something that has been around forever for a reason.

Lavorato’s poetry is certainly accessible; his language is simple and straightforward. When I like poets, it’s usually because the sense of rhythm in their words is so strong that it propels me through the piece, or because their imagery is so unusual that it captures my imagination. I didn’t quite get that experience with Lavorato’s poetry — I liked his poems, but they didn’t transport me.

That being said, there are some poems and some parts of poems that really struck me. I really liked “This World,” the first poem and the source for the book’s title. “This World,” Lavorato writes, “is the sprawling attic / of an abandoned building / murmuring to its own musty heights.” The comparison appealed to the romantic and the mystery lover in me, and I love the melancholy, heavy, almost oppressive imagery — “the moon heaves,” for example, and “Wayworn wooden floors lie / as if in wait for the dust to settle.” The overall sensation is fatigue; Lavorato’s imagery calls up the notion of a world longing for release. My favourite verse:

Dried wasps coil on the windowsills,

endowed, still, with a sting

for a tidying hand.

I love that final, futile bit of defiance, and I just love the phrase “sting for a tidying hand.”

I also really liked “Maps of Antiquity,” mostly because I love the first two lines: “Back when the world had edges / and was fringed with tentative shores,” I just love the sound of those lines, the unexpected idea of the world having edges, and the idea of “tentative shores” forming a fringe. The poem goes on to a more ordinary ending, in my opinion, and so fell flat for me overall, but the beginning really stuck with me.

Finally, I also liked “Fingerpaintings,” where Lavorato seamlessly integrates into his verses lyrics from nursery rhymes. Part III for example, my favourite in this poem, begins: “It was Einstein said we’d fight / the Fourth World War with / Sticks and stones.” The section goes on to talk about war, integrating within the lines the children’s ditty “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names with never hurt me.” Other than the clever conceit of including the saying so seamlessly, there is also the irony of the line “names will never hurt me,” given the historical context of war. In World War II, for example, being called a Jew can most certainly hurt you, and on so many disturbing levels. Lavorato also includes a sly description of “that mushrooming / knowledge of perfect decimation,” clearly referring to the atomic bomb and its genesis in Einstein’s theory.

Most of the poems, however, didn’t really stand out to me. I mostly found them okay, though I fully admit people who read a lot of poetry may appreciate it better. Take for example “A Handful of Seeds.” It had a beginning that I found promising: “My father teared at movies. / His hobby, though, / was taking life.” It turns out that the speaker’s father is a hunter, until he injures his leg and makes friends with birds. It should be a touching scene, the injured hunter feeding birds seeds, but I just found it sappy. The description of birds, “Light feathered bodies / dainty with hollow bones, / hovering like spectators in a gallery” strikes me as a fairly standard description of birds. I like the unexpected metaphor in poetry, as in fiction, the phrase that makes me sit up and pay attention.

Still, it’s a beautiful book, as all Porcupine’s Quill titles are. I also like Lavorato’s idea about poetry: “I would like to impress upon readers that their lives are filled with as much poetry as any other. It is simply the magnification and the Petri dish that make it verse.” (from the publisher’s website) If you’re interested in checking out Wayworn Wooden Floors for yourself, Lavorato has a couple of upcoming appearances:

Tuesday, June 19, 6 pm
Paragraphe Librairie/Bookstore. Mark will be reading from this new collection.
Located at 2220 McGill College Avenue, Montreal

Thursday, June 21, 6 pm
Nicholas Hoare Books. Reading and Celebrating.
Located at 45 Front St. E., Toronto
www.nicholashoare.com

Want to want to win a copy of this book? I’m giving my copy to Nicholas Hoare Books to give away on or before their event with the poet. Follow them on Twitter (@NicholasHoareTO) for an upcoming contest to win the book, and drop by their event to get it signed!

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Thank you to Porcupine’s Quill for a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Watch, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

The Watch relates the account of an incident during the Afghan war from multiple perspectives. A legless woman, called Antigone by the other characters, has dragged herself over twenty kilometers to an American outpost, in order to request the body of her brother for a proper burial. Her brother, however, is a suspected Taliban insurgent, and higher ups have ordered the American soldiers to send the body over, so that they can have incontrovertible proof of the man’s death. The soldiers also view Antigone with suspicion — is she really there for her brother, or is she a Taliban decoy? Seeing the story first from Antigone’s perspective, then from the perspective of various soldiers, reveals how complex the situation is, and how horribly war affects people on both sides.

It’s pretty powerful material, and raises some important observations about the experiences of war. There are things I liked about it, and I could see what Roy-Bhattacharya was trying to do, but overall, the book just didn’t really grab me. I think it may be a matter of personal preference, and I can see other readers being really affected by this book, possibly even having their lives changed.

The woman’s name is Antigone, and that’s pretty much an indication of the style employed in the book. The language is lyrical, the first chapter in particular, which was narrated by Antigone, highly emotional. The other chapters, all in first person narratives, with the narrator generally identified by his rank, each had its striking, poignant moments. For me, the glimpse into each character’s experience of Antigone’s stand is not as interesting as the glimpse into each character’s back stories. A couple stood out — the story of a soldier who had met his girlfriend in a classics course, and whose girlfriend had left him while he was stationed abroad, and the story of the Afghan interpreter, who faced derision from the American soldiers with him.

The overall story picks up as well in the end, particularly with the chapter from the captain’s perspective. That final chapter gives a rather harsh commentary on chains of command and the dictum to soldiers to obey orders without question. When lower ranking officers raise reasonable objections to unreasonable orders (i.e. to withhold the brother’s body from Antigone), when they argue for idealism, and when the higher ups are revealed to possibly have hidden agendas, the entire structure and purpose of the American garrison in Afghanistan is challenged. At the same time, however, particularly in the final chapter, you can’t help but be caught up in the fear and paranoia — who can you trust, in a situation of war?

Overall, however, while each chapter had its interesting moments, the consistent shifts in viewpoint kept the story from really gelling for me. Aside from the Afghan translator and Antigone herself, I found it difficult to tell the other characters apart. I’m sure the various narrators showed up again in other chapters, particularly in the last one, but they were generally so interchangeable that I found it difficult to recognize and therefore care for each soldier beyond his own chapter. Overall, the characters were more like tropes than people — this is most probably deliberate on Roy-Bhattacharya’s part, given the association with Antigone, but it kept me detached.

Like I said, it’s possible that it’s just not my kind of book. Other reviews have, I think, been more positive:

The Independent
Publisher’s Weekly
NPR
Goodreads

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Thanks to Random House Canada for the ARC of this book, provided in the goodie bag at the awesome RHC Blogger Love Fest.