Right before going to NYC for BEA/BookCon, I got to be at Penguin Teen Social event at Penguin Random House Canada HQ - effectively, kicking off my bookish 2 weeks. I was trying to write and upload this post before I left, but there was just too much happening!
I love going to book events in Canada as I get to see lots of bookish friends and bloggers! Not to mention get my hands on the newest releases. And this event was not an exception.
I requested a copy of “Kens” by Raziel Reid from Penguin Random House after reading the description. It sounded like a very curious book, and I am grateful to the publisher for providing me with a free copy for review.
I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.
After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.
But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?
Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.
That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.
Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.
Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.
My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.
Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?
I don’t think so.
The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.
I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.
Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)
The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.
My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.
Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.
I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.
Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.
I requested “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” for review from Penguin Random House Canada. I never read anything by this author, and I was interested in exploring more of Canadian literature.
When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.
When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City--a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place--one of Jake's closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the "Saturday Night Ghost Club"--a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City's more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle's preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.
I rarely pick up books the moment I receive them, but something about “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” pulled me to it. I went into the book almost blind, knowing only that it was set in the 80s, in Niagara Falls Ontario, and that the author was Canadian.
I remember reading the first page of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, and then another one, and another one. Twenty pages into the book and I already knew that I was going to love it. Fifty pages in - I knew that I was going to give this book a high rating. Halfway into the book - I was requesting more books by Craig Davidson from the library.
“The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a literary novel, but it blends scientific facts with memoir like reminiscences of the main protagonist’s, Jake, in such an effortless way, that at times, I had to remind myself that there is no real neurosurgeon by the name of Jake Breaker working at St. Michael’s Hospital, right across the street from me.
Craig Davidson’s writing feels effortless, lightweight, even when he talks about haunting memories, prescription pills, and brain tumours. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, however, is not all about science. It is, in fact, a heartfelt and nostalgic recounter of childhood memories. Jake, the neurosurgeon, exists in the periphery of the book, popping in only to make a reference to something that would make sense only at the very end of the book. Most of the time, it is Jake, the twelve-year-old boy, who is the main protagonist of the story.
Even though I love literary fiction, I often struggle with contemporary or historical fiction, when I feel that I have no connection with places or events. With “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” I had no problems fully emerging myself into the story. Every location and every memory felt tangible, covered in cobwebs and dust, but still vivid.
I loved everything about the story and the plot. I did, however, guess where it was heading when I was about one third into the book, but it did not diminish the pleasure of reading it. There is something to be said about small towns that manage to both to make you nostalgic and send a chill down your spine. There were, definitely, moments in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” when I felt disturbed by the turn of events, but mostly it was a rather fun read.
I can’t say whom I liked more in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”. I loved Jack; I liked his friend Billy, his sister Dove; I liked his uncle Cal. I even liked that video store owner Lex. I did not like him at first, but later he grew on me. There are a lot of relationships in this book that seem easy at the first glimpse, but as the plot develops, you learn that everyone carries secrets, sometimes not even their own.
The ending of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” was exactly like I expected it to be: heartfelt, bittersweet, and very real. I wish it could have been less real so that I could pretend that it is a happy ending. In a way, it was a happy ending. But at the same time, it was not. What made it so heartbreaking for me was not even what actually happened, but how everyone came together to deal with it.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a masterfully crafted novel with enough twists and thrown in scientific facts about brains to keep you on your toes till the very last page. I can not wait to read more works by Craig Davidson. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2018.
I received a copy of "I left nothing inside on purpose" by Stevie Howell from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for a free and honest review.
I was attracted to this poetry collection by its title and cover. I admit that I had not heard of Stevie Howell before receiving the book, but as I would like to educate myself more on contemporary Canadian writers and poets, I was excited to read this collection.
Stevie Howell is an Irish-Canadian writer & editor. A first collection of poetry, Sharps (Goose Lane, 2014), was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. A second book, I left nothing inside on purpose, is forthcoming spring 2018 from Penguin Random House Canada.
Stevie’s poetry has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry, Hazlitt, The Walrus, Geist, Eighteen Bridges, & Maisonneuve; in U.S. publications including BOAAT, Prelude, Prairie Schooner, The Cossack Review, Gigantic Sequins, & The Best American Poetry site; & in Irish & U.K. publications including The Rialto, The Moth, Southword, & Banshee. Their critical writing has been published in Ploughshares, The Rumpus, National Post, The Globe & Mail, & Quill & Quire.
Stevie is the poetry editor at This Magazine, an MFA candidate in creative writing at NYU, & lives in Brooklyn.
"I left nothing inside on purpose" blew me away. Considering the size of the book - just a handful of pages - I expected myself to breeze through it. Instead, I spent almost a month going through it page by page, discovering more and more hidden gems between broken lines and slanted dashes.
Rich in symbolism and intricate in its form, Stevie’s poetry made me pause over and over to reassess what I was reading and feeling. I will be honest - it took me some time to get used to slashes and ampersands, but by the end of the book, I couldn’t imagine it being any other way.
I love books that make me take a moment and think. More so, I love books that make me google things that I don’t know as it does not happen very often (for example, an extraordinary case and life of Clive Wearing). Reading "I left nothing inside on purpose" felt like going on a long voyage: suffering from the unyielding heat, experiencing thirst and hunger, facing danger, making unlikely friends, and finally reaching the desired shores, weathered and more experienced than before. I am certain that this poetry collection is going to be a book I keep returning to, as I feel as if I have not explored all of its depths.
I kept delaying writing this review as I felt - and still feel - unequipped to review something so intricate and sophisticated. As always, in cases of the books that make me feel inadequate and simple, I suggest that you pick up a copy of "I left nothing inside on purpose" and read it for yourself. Dissecting and analyzing Stevie’s poems feels blasphemous.
Whatever misconceptions or prejudices you might have against contemporary poetry (something I can not relate to at any level), do consider giving “I left nothing inside on purpose” a go. It has to be experienced on your own.