Friday, 30 March 2018

Book talk on a long weekend...

I’ve decided to write my blog post today to free up more time later this weekend so I can tackle other things that need to get done, including visiting family.  I always feel that Good Friday is a quiet day of reflection, and what better topic to reflect upon than books! I have no special treat, but I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai on this overcast, chilly morning.
I read two Canadian books this past week, both titles that I received when I went to the big library conference at the beginning of February.  The first is a mystery by Atlantic writer Alice Walsh, Last Lullaby.  Set in fictional Paddy’s Arm, a small town of 7000 with a prominent arts college, this novel follows the investigation into the death of an infant and the disappearance of a young woman and her baby around the same time.  Lauren LaVallee is a disgraced lawyer who came to Paddy’s Arm hoping to revive her career after her law licence was suspended while practicing in Quebec. She also teaches law classes at the local college, where she met Claire and husband Bram, and became close friends with them.  When their baby dies suddenly, it appears to be a case of crib death. But when the autopsy suggests this may be a homicide, with Claire as the number-one suspect, Lauren promises she will do everything she can to prove her innocence. At the same time, a student in Lauren’s law class, Jade, and her infant daughter, Cara, go missing, and Lauren suspects the two are connected in some way.  But how? Facts get muddled up with small-town gossip, and everyone, it seems, has something to gain from these events. Lauren struggles to find the truth while also juggling her law practice, teaching, and raising her daughter Bailey, the result of a past relationship from her time in Montreal, a relationship that threatens to resurface and invade her new life. This was not brilliant, but it was a good solid mystery, with a homey feel that gave me the sense that I was eavesdropping on the town gossip.  I loved the way Walsh was able to capture the speech patterns of Newfies, and the references to other places in Canada, particularly in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario, were a bonus. I don’t know if this will be the first in a new series, but I would certainly read other novels by this author, especially if they featured Lauren LaVallee. I would recommend this to anyone who likes cozy, small-town murder mysteries.
And I read a very short novel by another debut Canadian author, Jon R Flieger called You Are Among Monsters.  This was not a book I would have choosen for myself, but the author was at the conference and was handing out free copies so I took it, thinking I would pass it on to my super-reader friend.  But it was actually quite good, far exceeding my expectations (let’s face it - I had NO expectations!). This story is told from the alternating points of view of Ian and Becky, a young-ish couple who have been living in the small fictional town of Coaldale, Alberta.  They moved from Windsor, Ontario (where the author lives) so Ian could complete his training as a funeral director. That was four years ago, and he’s still “in training”; his job mainly consists of being a transfer agent, one of a pair whose job it is to get a dead body from the scene of death to the funeral home, where it can be appropriately prepared.  This is not the life he expected, but he doesn’t know how to change things. Becky, meanwhile, has made numerous applications to the PhD program in History at Bow River University, only to be faced with one rejection letter after another. Unable to find work, she settles into a mundane existence filled with cooking and cleaning and endless episodes of “The Jetsons”, much to Ian’s dismay.  When her interest in Canadian rum-running figures becomes an obsession, disaster is sure to follow. In walks Athene, a precocious teen whose mother was murdered by her father five years earlier. This was Ian’s first transfer, and when Athene wants answers about her mother’s death, she goes straight for Ian, who falls victim to her wily ways. No one is where they want to be but no one knows what they should be doing to make things better.  This was a strange little book, darkly funny and fairly insightful. It reminded me in many ways of David Gilmour’s early novels, particularly How Boys See Girls:  both books have a main character who is trapped in a tedious existence who finds release in a much younger woman/girl about whom he obsesses; both are claustrophobic in focus; and both are darkly funny.  Gilmour’s novel is more fleshed out, but I can see that Flieger has potential as an author. The parts when Becky is writing about the historical figure “Ravager” Misty Collins reminded me of the sections in Marian Engel’s novel Bear when librarian and archivist Lou is on the island reading Colonel Cary’s notebooks documenting bear folklore.  I was drawn in and engaged by Becky’s frustration and the sexual tension between Ian and Athene, but just past the middle of this slim novel, there is a chapter from Athene’s point of view, just a single chapter of only a few pages, that kind of spoiled it for me.  After that section, I was never able to become as engaged in the story, which is unfortunate, because it started out so promisingly. I was also somewhat disappointed by the ending, but, overall, it was a worthwhile reading experience (in large part because it was so short), and this author is certainly one to watch.  
That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful Easter weekend!  
Bye for now…
Julie

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