January books as reviewed by an extremely tired person.

G. Brender à Brendis. A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet. Erin: The Porcupine’s Quill. n.d.

We happened to be walking by the artist’s studio while staying in Stratford last October and stopped in to see what was inside and ended up having a lovely little visit/tour of Brendis’s studio (including his 19th-century printing press and happy Pekingese, Smudge!) A picked up a puffin print and this alphabet book with a flower engraving for every letter of the alphabet. The engravings are tiny and exquisitely life-like. (My only regret is that I didn’t actually pick up a print of Smudge, though I love my little puffin friend.)

Steve Burrows. A Siege of Bitterns. Toronto: Dundurn, 2014.

Was feeling ho-hum about this mystery at the beginning, but kept going and found myself really needing to know how it ended. It’s not super great at female characters, but otherwise a solid book. Plus: birds!

Alan Garner. The Owl Service. London: HarperCollins, 2017.

Modern-day retelling of the Blodeuwedd story in the Mabinogian. Was creeped out in the first half of the novel in that nothing-overtly-horrific-is-going-on-but-everything’s-a-bit-sinister way of 19th-century ghost stories. Pretty good stuff.

Hiromi Goto. Half World. Illus Jillian Tamaki. Toroto: Penguin, 2009.

Oh boy did I love this novel. Warm, fast-paced, but also thoughtful, with meaningful (and hopeful) things to say about recovering from trauma and loss. Half World (the place people go when they die to work through their worst moments) is incredibly weird and terrifying. Melanie is a delightfully imperfect heroine. And there’s a talking cat. (And rat.) (And a raccoon with a magic eight ball.)

Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Mozart’s Starling. New York: Little, Brown, 2017.

Haupt rescues and raises a starling to understand how Mozart lived with his starling. Many delightful anecdotes about starling problem solving and mimicry. There’s also a cat named Delilah. (I really enjoyed the mix of history/biography/ecology/music in this book.)

Danez Smith. Don’t Call Us Dead. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

A collection of poems about living in the intersection of blackness and queerness in contemporary America. The first section, ‘summer, somewhere’ (from which the collection’s title is taken), imagines an alternative heaven for black boys who’ve been killed by white violence, is raw in its anger and mourning, and is absolutely devastating.

Hasan Ali Toptaş. Shadowless. Trans Maureen Feely and Jake Anglis. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Reading this book is like having a weird dream where you’re talking to your neighbour but your neighbour is also your childhood best friend (who looks nothing like your neighbour in real life) and you’re standing in the middle of an old spooky factory going ‘what a great restaurant!’ and absolutely nothing makes sense and that’s what Shadowless is like except with a cat that turns into a horse and dozens of barbers in a strange old-timey town where people keep disappearing.

(I really enjoyed it.)

David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest.* New York: Black Bay Books, 2016.

Urrrrgggggghh noooooooooooo.

*AKA Dystopian Tennis Boys.

Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. Eds Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt. Macintosh, Halifax: Nimbus, 2017.

This anthology of poems for children from/about Atlantic Canada  is gorgeous in all possible ways. It’s beautifully designed and comfortable to hold, and the selection of poems is excellent. The editors mention in their introduction that they picked poems especially meant to be read aloud and the selections fit that bill quite nicely. They poems range from very silly, playful poems heavy in alliteration and rhyme to beautiful wistful selections (the title is taken from Charles G.D. Roberts’s ‘Sleepy Man’, which I found eerie and moving all at once). The range of authors is also excellent and diverse, and there’s an extensive author bio section with lots of suggestions for further reading. Plus (unusual in a young person’s anthology), a small, very readable literary-critical-style introduction to the poems. (You can tell academics made this book but it never ever forgets its main audience of young people.)

6 February 2017


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