Sunday, February 22, 2015
It is my firm belief that if you are a person who frequently reads and you have not yet encountered Neil Gaiman, you are missing out on one of the greatest treasures that the literary world has to offer. You owe it to yourself to head out immediately and buy a copy of Trigger Warning, sit down on the nearest comfortable chair, and immerse yourself in the worlds these pages present.
Trigger Warning is Gaiman's third collection of short stories, written specifically (as it says on the cover) to trigger certain memories or feelings within the reader. As Gaiman himself points out, a lot of novels or web pages now carry this label, as a warning to the unwary browser that what they are about to read may affect them intensely, usually in a negative manner. While the stories in this collection can and do trigger intense feelings, none of them do so maliciously or vindictively. Rather, they attempt to take the reader along the fringes of life, to show off the things that aren't common but are still kind of possible for the right kind of reader.
Those who have read Gaiman before will know that he particularly enjoys poking little holes in regular life, rather than writing some massive, epic tale. Gaiman loves to show the little touches of magic that everyday life can hold. This is evidenced in the stories "Calendar Of Tales" and "My Last Landlady," two of the best stories of the anthology, in which we catch the merest glimpses of the unusual and accept them as fact. There are higher fantastical tales in the book, such as "The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains," a revenge story in which the title becomes reflective of more than one aspect of the story.
There are also stories dedicated to the less magical, but no less important. Trigger Warning also includes a Sherlock Holmes and a Doctor Who story, and fans of either will enjoy both. There's also a story given to the late great author Ray Bradbury, which, without giving away too much, is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever read.
Trigger Warning is an apt name for this book, as each story causes a cavalcade of emotions and identifiable aspects that are not merely parts to be skimmed through, but pieces to be savoured. Many short story collections contain stories that vary between the excellent and the terrible, but Trigger Warning contains many of the former and none of the latter. The other stories, those that can be classified in neither category, are still memorable and noteworthy enough to linger long after the book's covers have been closed. I highly, highly recommend this book to you, to be read now and in many years to come, to relive old memories and perhaps create new ones.
Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/veritybooksanddvds.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Althea and Oliver is not your typical “girl next door” fairy tale, not the kind of polished fairy tale Disney would create. It's fun and it's exciting, but it's bittersweet. Personally, I thought this book was a giant ice cream sandwich; the center was delicious, but the edges were kind of sticky. In this story, Oliver has a condition that keeps him from leading his life the way he wants. The condition gets in the way of his relationship with Althea, who sort of runs off the rails. Altogether, it's emotionally complicated. I found I was sucked in by this book, but it was painful to read about how much both Althea and Oliver were suffering. Althea and Oliver is a crazy, unplanned, unsettling road trip.
Even though Math and English generally aren't associated, I think mathematically Cristina Moracho's book has the right amounts of all the essential stuff. It is funny, but it still seams real enough to make a point. It really emphasizes how different loving and being in love are. Knowing someone inside-out doesn't make you necessarily fall in love with them, or make you their perfect match. As your world expands, so does your ability to find people you can relate to. So the people you grew up with aren't anchored to you, they can change and drift apart. Althea and Oliver really represents this kind of growth. Althea and Oliver is an enjoyable read. However, I don't think it's meant to be simply touching. It surprisingly teaches a lesson. It was a typical teenage romantic crisis roller coaster, but with the bitter aftertaste of reality.
Johanna de Jong is a senior at Bishop Macdonell.
Most of our lives have been touched by cancer in some way. My paternal grandfather was diagnosed with bladder cancer a few years ago. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and continues to lead an active, full life. However, many people are not so fortunate. My boyfriend’s father unfortunately passed away from prostate cancer and this in fact motivated him to pursue cancer research. I myself graduated with a degree in biomedical science when I still had ambitions to become a doctor. However, despite the public’s awareness of cancer, the precise mechanism by which cancers develop is still not completely known. In Sue Armstrong’s fascinating biography of a cancer’s most important gene, p53: The Gene That Cracked the Cancer Code, Armstrong reveals the remarkable knowledge we have gained and yet how far we have to go.
Armstrong’s book is wonderfully succinct and easy-to-read. Her background as a journalist and science writer enable her to write with an ease and simplicity that are appealing to the general reader. However, her grasp of the scientific concepts and key discoveries related to the genes are admirable and commendable. Armstrong takes us along the journey from the discovery of the gene to the uncovering of its function and potential. She interviews key researchers and scientists in the p53 discovery process, such as Alfred Knudson, David Lane, and Joseph Fraumeni. This creates an interesting interweaving of the scientific discoveries of cancer and the fascinating lives of the scientists themselves. One particularly interesting story was of Mario Capecchi, whose prominence as a scientist could never have been predicated by his tumultuous upbringing involving a poet mother and life on the streets in Italy.
The book is engrossing, divided into well-organized chapters charting the progression from the ignorance of p53’s existence to the realization of its importance. Along the way, we discover its dual significance as a tumour suppressor as well as a vindictive tumour driver once mutated. For anyone interested in cancer, whether academically or generally, p53 is informative, fascinating, and meticulously researched and interviewed.
As Professor Gerard Evans describes in p53, about one third of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lives and one quarter will die from the disease. Statistics like these certainly alert us to the attention we should pay to cancer in our lives. Fortunately Armstrong’s p53 concludes on a positive note, reminding us that the book is yet unfinished – discoveries continue to unravel the mysteries of p53 and its role in cancer every day.
Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical baritone. He plays five instruments and speaks three languages (with a few in progress). Mike holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was obvious from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog someturbidnight.blogspot.ca. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Looking for something other than your basic young adult dystopians? Look no further! The Walled City by Ryan Graudin Is a fast-paced, gripping novel based off a real walled city that used to exist in Hong Kong. Written from three interwoven stories, Ryan uses brilliant writing to grab you by the wrist and drag you off into this story filled with family, love, and sacrifice.
The story follows three teenagers, all trying to live different lives inside the walled city that is filled with poverty, crime, and brothels that basically own the city. The relationships between Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai felt so real that it was like I was running right alongside them. Everyone was different, with their own hardships to go through, and I feel like they made this story into the brilliance that is it!
Going into this novel I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. I was also not prepared for it to go in the direction it ended up taking. The Walled City is very dark but still had lots of funny dialogue between some of the characters. The tone is, like I said, a lot darker than I expected but I think that with a topic like this, you need to go all in or it won’t work. And I think Ryan made this story work perfectly!
The book is divided into days, making it a piece of cake to just fly through, staying up until the wee hours of the morning saying that line I know every book lover has said, “Just one more chapter!” I am still blown away by the amazing writing and I can’t wait to read more of Ryan’s work. I was completely engrossed in this book until the last page and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a darker dystopian-feel type novel. And the best part is, it’s a stand-alone! No need for trilogies because this novel wraps it all into one action-packed story! If you are at all interested in this book I definitely suggest you give it a shot because I can assure you, you won’t be let down!
Jordan Teasdale is a Grade 11 student who has been reading since her mom first dropped the Harry Potter books into her hands. Her love for reading has only grown from there. She blogs at covertoocover.wordpress.com
Monday, February 2, 2015
If you knew that a novel involved an 82 year old Saskatchewan farm woman who intends to walk to Halifax in her boots, equipped with a rifle and chocolate, would you be inclined to pick it up? Further, if you knew that a talking coyote was a companion for her journey, how would this influence your decision to engage? Perhaps you would say no, which would be a mistake.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James's storyline weaves between Etta’s present journey and her past as a school teacher when she first meets Otto, once her student, before he goes to war. The reader gains insight into the sparse times in the west during the late 1930s -- how war recruitment, with the promise of excitement while doing one’s patriotic duty, decimated towns as young men left for the so-called overseas adventure. How the war impacted Otto’s return as well as family friend Russell who didn’t enlist, are woven into this story of love, pursuing important goals and having faith in self and others.
Hooper has a sensitive touch in describing Otto, who can’t understand why his wife wants to make this journey. He receives occasional messages from Etta and becomes obsessed with making papier-mâché animals that stand in his front yard, and join him while he waits.
Best friend Russell, a perennial deer stalker, is prompted by Ella’s journey to finally go beyond the perimeter of his own property and head north to track down his beloved deer.
Emma Hooper’s colourful yet minimalist touch places you directly in Etta's boots, yet what is left unsaid is almost richer than the offered account. This gives the reader a wide canvas for the delicate storylines to be personally interpreted and embraced.
Suffice it to say that I was sad when I finished this book. It has high entertainment value. Congratulations to Hooper for her first novel. I hope she continues to create other imaginary worlds in which we can immerse ourselves.
Jennifer Mackie has lived in Guelph for over 40 years, is a business consultant with never enough hobby time for reading, sports, online puzzles and quilting. She reads for entertainment and to discover the world of ‘curious’. Along with finding value in the story, she enjoys experiencing different writer’s styles and methods for how they entice one into their made up worlds.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
In popular culture, great tragedy is often remedied with overwrought sentiment – the sappier the better. The problem, however, is that sentiment is too often used as a crutch to shore up an otherwise shallow exploration of the subject matter. And it often works – make readers laugh or cry and many of them will feel like you’ve accomplished something truly monumental.
But you and I will know better.
Thankfully, Benjamin Whitmer’s Cry Father is nothing of the sort. Personal tragedy it has in spades. This is a novel of lives lost and lived, of grief and mourning, and of resurrection and self-destruction. In place of sentiment is a kind of emotional grit that sits low and heavy in the gut.
This is the story of Patterson Wells, a tree clearer working in disaster zones who’s recently lost his young son. For solace, he writes his son letters during the quiet hours of the night. When that doesn’t work, he drinks.
When he returns to Colorado for the season, Patterson stops to go fishing with an old work buddy. The buddy, however, is in a meth-induced frenzy and has left his wife naked and hogtied in the bathtub. Choosing to set her free, Patterson sets into motion a series of events that will force him to confront his past and ultimately forever change his future.
Whitmer’s novel is a resonant exploration of violence, justice, and the legacy that fathers leave for their sons. It is a story bereft of cheap sentiment, and is all the better for it.
While a glass cutter by day, by night Z.S. Roe spends his time writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His writings have appeared in various publications, including the Cambridge Times, The Silhouette, and The Toronto Sun, among others. Most recently, his short story “Peeping Tara” appeared in issue 13 of Dark Moon Digest. You can visit his blog at www.zsroe.com
The opulence of The Great Gatsby era couldn’t last forever, not even for F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of the classic American novel, and his wife and companion-in-crime, Zelda.
In West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan chronicles what happened after the drug- and alcohol-induced, partying to no end, uncontrollable money-spending years were over. At the start of the novel, the infamous couple of the 1920s is separated, with Zelda in an East coast mental hospital on the east coast and Fitzgerald in Hollywood, scrambling to make enough money to support himself while paying for his daughter’s education and his wife’s hospital bills.
In sharp contrast to the days of rich and plentiful, O’Nan depicts an author who is rarely recognized for his literary work and whose health slowly deteriorates as he tries, and fails, to stop drinking. No longer producing bestsellers, Fitzgerald writes scripts for movie giant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, work for which he has no enthusiasm as he receives little credit or recognition for his contributions.
O’Nan’s account of the American author is, to put it simply, depressing. There’s little glamour in Fitzgerald’s later life. His mistress, Sheilah, whom he meets while living in Hollywood, replaces Zelda, albeit acting more responsibly than his wife and encouraging Fitzgerald to quit drinking. Her companionship can’t however forestall his ailing health.
The images of Zelda are perhaps the most haunting. At every trip that Fitzgerald makes to the hospital, she is both physically and mentally a different person, sometimes skeletally thin and withdrawn, other times rounder and maniacal. The reader is in the same position as Fitzgerald, unable to predict whether she’ll act out or behave like the ‘old’ Zelda, a state that she rarely reaches. The moments between the pair are tense, foreboding, and eerie. The reader is aware, like Fitzgerald, that the good moments are not meant to last for long, a theme reflected throughout the book.
West of Sunset is a must-read for fans of biography, historical fiction, and of course, Fitzgerald himself. O’Nan’s writing is reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s own style, lending authenticity to the narration of his life, despite the novel’s categorization as fiction. Portrayals of famous authors and Hollywood bigwigs that Fitzgerald encounters are a pleasure to read, adding depth to the history of his relationships and the 1930s movie industry as a whole.
Though at times the plot can feel slow – Fitzgerald moves from somber meetings with Zelda at the mental institution to getting replaced on movie scripts in Hollywood to fighting with Sheilah to alcoholism and back again to the institution–and the reader can suspect the inevitable climax of the novel, O’Nan succeeds at crafting a fascinating story out of the final years of a then-forgotten contributor to American literary culture.
Alicja Grzadkowska is beginning her first semester as a graduate student studying Journalism at Ryerson in the fall. Her bookshelf is stacked with yet-to-read fiction titles, which hasn't stopped her from regularly adding to her collection. Traveling to big cities across North America is another one of her obsessions, and one which she hopes to indulge in again as soon as possible.