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Monday, August 1, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (36): Random Canadian Books!

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Dare by Marilyn Halvorson

Published: Originally published in 1988, this edition was released in 1990 from General Paperbacks which I think is an imprint of Gemini Books, but don't test me. There's a more recent printing that I'll be linking to, released in 2014.
Genre: Realistic YA.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 191
Part of a series? Nope, but a whole lot of her books are kind of cowboy/Western Canada themed.
Got via: It's a library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Dare, almost 16, is big, tough, street-wise kid, always in trouble at school and around the town of Crossing, Alberta. His 12-year-old brother, Ty, is just the opposite: quiet, studious, at the head of his class.

When their grandmother dies, the two are faced with the prospect of going to a foster home - until Laura McConnell, a part-time teacher, invites them to her ranch.

If it weren't for Ty, Dare would be long gone... a desire that intensifies into white-hot rage as he clashes with Laura and faces the pain of his past.

Thoughts: This is set in Alberta and that was kind of neat. I'm not from Alberta or have ever been there, but I enjoy reading about different places in Canada. There's something that's fun about reading about places in your country, especially when a lot of books are US-centred. You've probably noticed that I have a soft-spot for even not very good Canadian books because they are Canadian. Now, the book itself is... fine. It's not the most amazing thing in the world, but it was fine.

It is a touch dated in the details like an AC/DC concert in Calgary being the cool thing for teenagers to do, but it is also kind of dated in its tropes. It kind of reads like something a teacher would make you read in like grade eight to make you learn something. This would make a good, like, Lifetime inspirational movie. Like the appeal of an emotional story of two brothers, one of whom isn't making the best choices, going to live with a pretty awesome woman who pushes them to be their best ad how they all learn to love each other is definitely there.

The writing is good, and in researching the author a bit, I think I've actually read another of her newer books. I think she only has upwards to go when it comes to the quality of the writing. I can honestly say I enjoyed this one. The questions I have to ask myself are, would I read this again, and am I going to keep it? Those answers are linked in - no, I would probably not read it again, and because of that, I'll probably be passing it along. My copy is also in pretty rough condition, so it's not like I'm oohing and awwing over the prettiness. Fly free, little bird.

Props to this cover, though, for actually depicting a scene in the book. I like when that happens. I do not personally think I would re-purchase this, but if this appeals to you, you can buy a new edition released in 2014. Cover to the right. Nice new cover.

A Bird in the House by Margaret Laurence

Published: This edition was originally published in 1987 by Bantom Seal. This collection was first published in 1970, and versions of some of the stories were published in various magazines as early as 1963. There have been many editions of this released, with the most recent being 2010.
Genre: Adult fiction.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 179 plus an excerpt of another book, an about the author, a list of other books in this series, and a listing of other books from the publisher.
Part of a series? This is the fourth book of five in the Manawaka sequence, but as far as I can tell, they are only loosely connected by all being set in the fictional same town. I read this as a standalone.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): In eight interconnected, finely wrought stories, Margaret Laurence recreates the world of Vanessa MacLeod – a world of scrub-oak, willow, and chokecherry bushes; of family love and conflict; and of a girl’s growing awareness of and passage into womanhood. The stories blend into one masterly and moving whole: poignant, compassionate, and profound in emotional impact.

Thoughts: This was a hidden gem! There are probably a lot of people who are chuckling at me realizing this, though. But I hadn't ever heard of this besides seeing it on my shelves. The format of this is really interesting, as the timeline jumps around at times, and everything is being told by adult Vanessa about her childhood self and family.

(Hence why this is an adult novel about a young character, not a YA novel, which I initially thought it would be because of the cover.)

Things don't have happy endings all the time, and not everything is resolved. Sometimes characters just die, or leave, or other things that happen in life. It's very slice-of-life in a way, but also everything makes Vanessa who she is. The fact that it's set in the thirties and the Great Depression, and Vanessa is an aspiring writer, and the peeks you get of her older self are all really, really cool. The family is complicated, frustrating, and fascinating. They are by far not perfect, and an overreaching theme is about how Vanessa has relationships with those imperfect people.

I liked this one so much more than I ever thought I would. If you ever find this one, guys, check it out. I will definitely be keeping this one. I would probably even buy a used copy of one of the new editions in slightly better shape if I ever ran across one (they seem to be fairly pricy to buy new). Mine looks fairly old. Although I have to say, I do like the cover, even for its datedness. I really like that the model isn't like fashion model thin. She's got a bit of a tummy, and it's cool to see that.

Side note: I read this on Canada Day weekend watching Pirate's Passage. Very Canadian weekend, apparently. It also amuses me that they'll occasionally mention something like Jergens hand lotion, or other brands that you still see today. Considering the setting of the thirties, it's cool.

Out of the Dark by Welwyn Wilton Katz

Published: Originally published in 1995 by Groundwood Books, there was a reprint in 2001. Mine is probably the 1995 one because there's a library stamp from 1996.
Genre: Contemporary MG.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 179 plus the author's note.
Part of a series? No.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Faced with the tragic loss of his mother, Ben Elliot is forced into a move he hates. He has had to give up his home and friends in the city to move with his father and younger brother to the tiny village of Ship Cove on Newfoundland's isolated northern peninsula.

The only thing that makes the place bearable is its nearness to the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, where he finds comfort in the ancient myths and sagas his mother loved. He also revives his childhood game of imagining he is Tor, a young Viking shipbuilder. But when the Tor game becomes increasingly real and harder to control, Ben discovers that the lines between past and present, fantasy and reality, are beginning to blur - with dangerous consequences.

Thoughts: I'm a little conflicted about this. The writing is really quite good. The Newfoundland setting isn't something I run into a lot in books, and it's vibrant and wonderful. Basically, the only thing that I really didn't like was the Viking stuff. Like actually in the story, it was well worked into the setting and the character's interest, but the random italics got really distracting. Honestly, if they had formatted the Tor stuff (the character Ben pretended to be, not the publisher, ha) differently, it probably would have worked better. There was also some Norse mythology told in italics, most of which Ben's mother had told him at some point. But the thing is, Norse names plus italics make word soup, honestly. I would have preferred hearing it from Ben, not just having the mythology told to me out of the narrative.

Honestly, it's not even that those parts were badly written or anything. But you'd be reading these really interesting scenes about Ben and his family and even just Ben talking about the history of Newfoundland and then bam, suddenly Vikings. Like (and I'm making this up as an example) it'd be Ben and his dad getting in a boat, switch, Tor making a boat for the Vikings or something, switch, Ben picks up the oars. I get the idea behind it, that he's escaping reality and stuff, but it really interrupts the flow of the novel at times. When it's integrated into the story, and thread into what's actually happening to Ben, it's really cool. When it's just thrown onto the page, it's a bit clunky.

And honestly, I spent a lot of time really worried about this kid. He's kind of hallucinating or dissociating or something, and this is obviously because of the loss of his mother. Someone should probably talk to the kid about that! Like, that's a little too glossed over.

However, though, I still liked this one. Again, the writing is good, the setting was awesome, and it's interesting. I just wish the bits that weren't Ben's story had been blended in a bit better. I think that kids who are interested in Norse mythology would really like this, and I would definitely be interested in checking out other books from the author. I even have one on my to-read pile that I'm excited about reading, since the writing will probably continue to improve. Even with this being a bit older, I think most of it still works well. Kids may ask why they don't have computers or internet, but honestly I wouldn't be surprised if rural Newfoundland lacks in a bit of technology - like my aunt in Northern Saskatchewan can only get one internet provider on her farm - and a mention of video rentals raising questions about a lack of DVDs, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You could have a good conversation from that.

I complained a lot, but I don't think this was a bad book at all. It was a good book, and I can definitely see kids enjoying this. The only thing is, I don't think the cover is the best choice. It reminds me of The Other Elizabeth, which is a book I read about eight hundred times as a kid and I should do a blog post on some day (and can't find a cover picture of online - I'll take one and put it next to this post). But this only has two stamps from people checking it out. Maybe it had an index card that was stamped instead, but the stamps are from 1996 and 2001, so that's a bit of a gap. And the book looks brand new - I thought it was from the mid-2000s, not the 90s. I don't think this cover makes kids look at it and want to read it.

Which is a shame! If you come across this, I'd say go ahead and check it out if you're into kid books. It's worth giving a chance.

Castle Tourmandyne by Monica Hughes

Published: First published by HarperCollins Canada in 1995, my edition was released in 1996.
Genre: I'm gonna call this middle grade fantasy. I don't think it's YA. I think if it was published today, it'd be put out as middle grade.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 157 plus a handful of pages of other books the author wrote.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think honestly this is the copy I had as a kid. I ended up with two copies at one point, and kept the one in better shape, but one I had since I was nine or ten.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Marg is thrilled that her cousin Peggy is coming to stay for the summer. But Peggy - prickly, sarcastic, and downright mean - has no time for her "baby' cousin"... until Marg receives a beautiful Victorian dollhouse for her birthday. Strangely drawn to Castle Tourmandyne, Peggy insists on assembling the dollhouse in spite of its printed warning: "Be careful to make this house with love".

Soon Peggy is haunted by terrifying dreams in which she is trapped in the dollhouse, a place without love or protection from evil. Marg alone can save her. But first, Marg must enter Castle Tourmandyne herself - and confront the spirit within.

Thoughts: I was so nervous to re-read this. This was one of my favourite books as a kid, along with another of the author's books. (My Name is Paula Popowich - I should talk about that some day, too.) Reading this was super nostalgic for me, since I read it so many times as a kid. It's one of very few books I brought with me when we moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan. And I'm glad to say it has held up pretty well. There's a few dates aspects - video tapes, green and pink plastic roller blades - but I don't think it affects it badly, and the writing has held up well.

The idea of a haunted dollhouse is just delightfully creepy. (And seriously, check out this list when you're done reading this post. Look at all the creepy doll books.) The scare factor is definitely kid-appropriate. While I still think it's creepy and appreciate that, it's not going to give me nightmares or anything. It's kind of like Goosebumps or Fear Street. Scary for kids, but in an appropriate way.

One thing I noticed as an adult was that occasioanlly Marg's dialogue sounded much older than a twelve year old. I don't think twelve year olds in 1995 said "shan't". I woner if part of that was that the author wasn't published until fairly late in life, and also that she was British. I could see a British kid saying "shan't". But honestly, I know from reading this as a kid that it didn't bother me. I loved this as a kid.

I like the relationship between Marg and Peggy, how they fight, and how complex they are. Peggy is kind of a jerk! And yet she is also presented as a sympathetic character, and her growth and emotions are so important to the story. The message is good, I adore two girls fighting evil together through love, and it's just creepy enough. It's a little old, but I still enjoyed re-reading it, and it will be staying on my shelf.

So, two are staying, one is a maybe, one will be passed along.

Don't forget to enter the contest! Ends on Friday!

Peace and cookies,

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