Tag Archive: Reviews

Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel

Back in 2003 everyone was simply abuzz about Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. The word titillation comes to mind. Now Yanni is back at it again with Beatrice and Virgil, a story about an author who gives up writing after being rejected, but is drawn in by an irresistible figure with a strange request. Henry (le main charactere) is asked by his local taxidermist for help writing a play about a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil) and Henry is so entranced, nay engrossed, by these stuffed darlings that he returns again and again to the lair of the strange old man.

You may be thinking to yourself “That sounds weird, but you know, maybe it has potential. After all this guy wrote Life of Pi. Maybe there’s some hidden metaphor I’m missing like the donkey represents suffering and the monkey is the potential for evil in us all, like that tiger in the boat.” Okay so maybe you’re not thinking that, but that’s what I was thinking. I kept waiting for the turn at the end, where all of the pages of the monkey and the donkey prattling endlessly about the most inane things were going to suddenly become blinding brilliant bits of prose.

Then just as I was thinking Yann should really be called Yawn and mentally estimating the number of pages left-bam! Surprise stabbing! I guess maybe Yawn thought “Hey this book is going a little slow. I know what’ll pick things up: a good stabbing. (Click, clack, click, clack. Yawn is typing at the keys and humming the theme to Psycho) There! This won’t disorient the reader at all or make them feel like they’ve been dropped into the middle of a thriller after laboring through the donkey/monkey saga for the last few hundred pages. Now to end this with thirteen morbid jokes about the Holocaust.” Sometimes you just have to say WHAT THE WHAT?!

Reading it once was plenty


Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, Nahoko Uehashi   

This  was kind of a weird little book but I totally dug it. Moribito II presumably picks up where Moribito I left off (I haven’t read the first installment but I plan to).  Our intrepid hero Balsa is returning to her native land after a 20 year absence to speak with the family of the foster-father who whisked her away to safety and raised her.  When she discovers he’s been defamed as a traitor Balsa is determined to set things right, but ends up in the middle of a tangled plot involving old lies, family ties, and plans to overthrow the kingdom under the mountain. 

Now apparently this book was originally an anime series, and I’m a nerdy little anime lover myself.  Anime has such a wealth of strong female characters and Moribito II is no exception. Balsa is a ferocious warrior, but she’s also complex and interesting to watch as she struggles through her relationship with Jiguro, her foster-father, and how to deal with the sacrifices he made for her and the ways it affected both of their lives. The plot of this book was absorbing. I enjoy reading/watching work by Japanese artists because there’s generally an element of spiritualism that I think adds more depth to the story than typical children’s works. Moribito has this same spiritual element, along with a consideration of family and clan loyalty. This is a series that I’ll definitely be following from now on. 

I'd read it again on a rainy day

****Disclaimer- I was sent this material to review for free****** 

Grave Conditions (vol. 1-3), Scott Nicholson (hauntedcomputer.com

Anyone familiar comics history will immediately recognize in Scott Nicholson’s Grave Conditions a kinship with the 1940s and 50s wave of sensationalistic crime and horror comics such as Shock SuspenStories.  Unfortunately I didn’t like Shock comics when I studied them, and I didn’t care for Grave Conditions either. Conditions is teeming with vignettes featuring all manner of sociopaths, serial killers, and child molesters. The artwork is hit or miss; some of it is very well done while other stories are average. The biggest problem I have with horror comics in general is the basic lack of humanity in the characters. These comics represent the worst parts of  human nature and brutally exploit our fears about the monsters in society and even in ourselves. The characters are almost singularly savage and animalistic, and since these are vignettes there is no opportunity to discover if there’s anything at all redeemable.  Dark, violent, and disturbing are the bywords of this work, but perhaps that’s the way it’s intended to be. I’d recommend avoiding this unless you’re an avid fan of the genre. 

Don't waste your time

Blah’s Orchestra

La’s Orchestra Saves the World,  Alexander McCall Smith

This was one of those books. You know the ones-the ones you’re supposed to like, but you find them rather lacking. The premise promised to be uplifting. La, a woman living in a small English town during World War 2, decides to start a village orchestra to boost morale and show everyone the transformative and healing power of music. However, the book was much more focused on La’s rather mundane daily existence. There was no sense of who the characters in the orchestra were, how they interacted with each other, or how the music helped to hold them together. At various points the charcters tell us how great the orchestra was, but the reader never gets to witness it firsthand. And the ending just didn’t work for me. It’s a personal pet peeve when authors are too afraid to have an unhappy ending that they tack on something that doesn’t really fit with the story. I’d rather have taken something extremely depressing than the unlikely finish to this tale, because as most of us know second chances are pretty rare, and this one didn’t work.

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Reading it once was plenty

He and Mr. Ed are always there to protect and serve

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, Alan Bradley

So kudos to me. I picked a book by a Canadian author before I had even officially joined the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by http://bookmineset.blogspot.com/. What is the Canadian Book Challenge you’re asking? Well I’ve got one year to read 13 books by Canadian authors and review them here on Book Bites. In response to what you’re all thinking 1). Yes there are prizes 2). Yes Canadians can write books 3). No I probably won’t win any prizes because every post will teeming with facetious remarks about our kooky cousins up north, eh.

Speaking of kooky let’s talk about Flavia De Luce the protagonist/detective of Alan Bradley’s sophomore novel The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Joining the ranks of oddball detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple comes Flavia, a precocious 11 year old with an unhealthy interest in poisons. When the puppetmaster of a traveling show ends up providing a spectacular finale with his untimely demise Flavia is determined to find out who cut his strings, despite everyone’s best efforts to keep her out of the way.

This mystery was a little unconventional due to the fact that a dead body didn’t show up until about 150 pages in. And while the parlor scene (the one where Flavia reveals her brilliant deductions to the bemused town Inspector) was satisfying it wasn’t difficult to deduce who the culprit was. This book is more to be enjoyed for Bradley’s wonderfully irreverant protagonist. Flavia is cheeky and sneaky and extremely funny to watch in action, especially as she prepares a (non lethal) brew to inject in unsuspecting sister’s box of chocolates. I’m not a huge mystery devotee but I enjoyed this novel and will keep an eye on Flavia in the future.

P.S. Why are mystery authors always named Alan?

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I found this epistolary novel (written in a series of letters) absolutely charming. Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of the fictional island of Nollop whose denizens esteem language so highly that when letters start falling off a statue in the town square all of the citizens are prohibited from using their fallen fellows.  Mark Dunn has written a narrative love letter to the English language and the ways even the tiniest letters of the alphabet shape the way we express ourselves. I marveled at how Dunn could continue writing despite his alphabetic setbacks. The book would be worth reading just for that,  but Ella Minnow Pea also boasts a delightful protagonist and an exciting narrative. Word lovers everywhere will rejoice over this book.

I’m a sucker for cleverness, so perhaps it’s not surprising that this debut novel by Jedediah Berry made me swoon.  The Manual of Detection is filled with moments, both little and big, that display the author’s creativity and thoughtfulness. Let me be clear: this is not your average mystery novel.  Detection is a kind of cross-breed between mystery and surrealistic fantasy where the whodunit is less important than the way the story unfolds.  This change of pace can be nice if you’re looking for a different spin on your average noir, or off-putting if you prefer a more straightforward formula. I couldn’t put the book down and am looking forward to what this new author comes up with next.

Chances are you’ve heard something about this book (it was published in 1972).  Yes, it is about rabbits. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful and genuinely remarkable story.  There’s something about this rabbit world, filled with snippets of the unique rabbit language and mythology, that’s completely absorbing.  The characters are more developed and complex than most tales featuring human protagonists, and the narrative is a finely balanced mix of brisk action, competing emotions, and mythology. Pick up this book and keep an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.

This book in three words: Interesting, Insightful, and Terrifying (if you’re a single woman that is). Gottlieb makes a lot of great points, but if you’re a single woman of any age- watch out! This book will make you want to land the next man that’s half-way decent to you, which I suppose is the point. Her narrative is slightly heartbreaking but insightful at the same time and definitely worth reading. If you’re single and wondering why, on the fence about that guy or girl who doesn’t have all the attritutes on your list, or if you just want a glimpse into the complex female psyche then pick up this book.
Deborah Blum’s account of the rash of poisonings in the beginning of the twentieth century is morbidly fascinating. Blum is scientific without being dull or uncomprehensible, and watching these early scientists tirelessly crusade against ignorance, negligence, and of course those scheming assasins is surprisingly interesting. Filled with anecdotes about murderous grandmothers and unkillable men, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a delightfully dangerous concoction.