Review | The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a novel in pictures, Caroline Preston

I love the concept behind Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt! The “first-ever scrapbook novel,” the novel takes the form of a scrapbook Frankie keeps from her high school graduation in 1920, through her days at Vassar, her struggle to be a writer in Greenwich Village and in Paris, and finally her return home in 1927. Somewhat similar in form to Griffin and Sabine, Scrapbook contains vintage memorabilia, designed as if they had been glued to the page. Pages include amusement park tickets, graduation invitations, photos cut from fashion magazine, even a magazine ad for Palmolive soap. Unlike in Griffin and Sabine, the memorabilia in Scrapbook are only images on the page, and therefore cannot be removed, but the entire look of the page is almost three dimensional.

Have you ever kept a scrapbook? Back in 2005, right before I moved to Canada, my sister gave me a scrapbook so that I would always have a piece of the Philippines with me. I turned that book into a record of my entire life — as many pictures and memorabilia as I could cram in. My scrapbook ended up looking nowhere near as artistic as Frankie Pratt’s, but it’s definitely one of my most treasured possessions. I flip through it every once in a while, and the book transports me instantly to my past, to people and memories that mean something to me.

Scrapbook transports us to the 1920s, a fascinating era in history. Frankie, voted the “smartest girl” of her graduating class, dreams of becoming a writer and finding the love of her life. Because of her ambition to be a writer, she gets to meet some of the literary luminaries of her time, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and James Joyce. Including such significant historical figures, especially when they aren’t the subject of your story, is usually a delicate task, and it sometimes comes off as name-dropping. Preston, however pulls it off and it feels plausible. The scrapbook format also works really well, because giving each writer encounter a page or two of beautifully laid out snapshots, letters and typed lines acknowledges each encounter’s significance without either overwhelming us or trying too hard to be casual about it. Frankie’s scrapbook gives the impression that meeting James Joyce for work is as important to her as a letter she receives from a beau. I also love that Frankie is a reader. I love vintage book covers, and seeing 1920s cover art for This Side of Paradise and To the Lighthouse was just amazing. I especially love the feeling that while, for me, viewing these book covers was a trip to the past, for Frankie, these were contemporary titles, and she would have no way of knowing how significant they’d be over time.

Reading Scrapbook made me want to travel back in time to the 1920s. Well-written novels can certainly transport my imagination to the past, but the beauty of Scrapbook’s unique format is that it puts me as a reader into an interesting dual position. On one hand, I feel like a 21st century woman who happened upon an old scrapbook in an attic or a garage sale, and am viewing the significant moments in the life of someone from the past. On the other hand, I am also Frankie Pratt, viewing these things for the first time and being so excited by Beau Brummel with Mary Astor and John Barrymore that I simply must include the theatre program in my scrapbook. When I think of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I picture a heavy tome of classic literature that, because of its narrative style, is going to be a difficult read. In contrast, Frankie knows Ulysses as “the notorious banned novel!” Ulysses is the controversial novel that everyone talks about, but that is practically impossible to find. She reads it not because she wants to tackle a classic, but because it has for her the thrill of the illicit. The vintage memorabilia in the pages creates an atmosphere of magic, of passion and possibility, and I at least wished I could have been there with Frankie, experiencing all these adventures with her.

Scrapbook is also such a romantic novel! The question of whom Frankie will end up with isn’t too difficult to guess, but the relationships she forms are all so fascinating. Again, the scrapbook format enhances the romance. Images of dapper men in suits, of love letters, movie tickets and telegrams all work together to create a lush, evocative world, where a gentleman can come knocking at your door or a rogue can invite you for a spin in his brand new automobile. The scrapbook format also softens the edges of emotion. When a man breaks Frankie’s heart, we know this because of a couple of photographs and a few typed lines, over a two-page spread. Frankie has a great sense of humour, and so another painful experience is countered by a lighthearted image from a magazine ad. It is almost too easy to miss the pain behind these images, and the book forces us to stop at moments and discern all the layers of emotions revealed by Frankie’s choice of memorabilia.

I can keep going on about all the things that fascinated me in this novel, but Scrapbook is definitely better seen in person than read about. The book trailer is a bit too long, in my opinion, but it does give you an idea of how the pages in the novel look:

Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a beautiful, beautiful book. Frankie is a charming, intelligent, utterly delightful woman, and her personality shines through on every page. I just fell in love with this book, and I hope you will too.

Author Encounter | Jo Walton

Some of you may have already read this blog post or seen my enthusiastic tweets and know how much I adore Jo Walton’s Among Others. Dan Wagstaff from Raincoast Books had called it a “novel for book nerds” — indeed, Among Others is a love letter to books, to libraries and particularly to science fiction. I especially love its ambiguous portrayal of magic — there is always a rational explanation, but that’s just how magic works in the real world. This book blew me away, and I’d been recommending it like crazy to anyone who loves books.

So when Dan tweeted me to let me know Jo Walton would be doing a signing at Bakka Phoenix Books, I immediately entered the event into my calendar. No way was I passing up the opportunity to meet this author!

It was a great experience, meeting Jo Walton. She read from the beginning of Among Others, ending with one of my favourite quotes: “I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” Then she opened up the floor to questions.

Will there be a sequel to Among Others? She toyed with the idea, but decided against having another book from Mor’s point of view. She explained that Among Others begins after Mor had saved the world — it’s the story of what happens after the adventure that is usually what a book is about. Then, in Among Others, Mor gets to save the world again. “You can only save the world so many times before it gets boring,” Jo said.

The book she is currently working on is about the Congress of Vienna. “Ooooh,” the audience said. “I love you guys!” Jo exclaimed. She is so used to receiving blank stares when she mentions the Congress of Vienna that she sometimes just describes her next book as being about a giant lizard monster. “Same book,” she said.

I asked her about the magic in Among Others — why did she choose to portray magic in this way, neither completely rational nor completely magical? She said it’s because the story is set in the real world, and magic doesn’t exist in the real world. Therefore, she needed “non-falsifiable magic.” She doesn’t like it when books are set in the real world, and actual magic exists but no one notices it — “Do they think I’m stupid?” For her story, she needed to create the kind of magic that could actually exist in the real world.

Then, as she continued to think about it, she realized there was a kind of magic in ordinary objects as well. She gave the example of a favourite household object — a knife, I think? If we have an old knife that we’ve used for cooking for years and has some sentimental value to us, then even if someone gives us a brand new knife, we still usually prefer our old one. “It’s not actually magic,” she said. “But there is a connection.” And that connection in itself is a form of magic. In fact, she found out that the more you observe, the more you really look around, the more you will be aware of the kind of magic that does exist in the real world.

She is also amused at how many reviewers have been reluctant to use the word “fairies.” Instead, they call the fairies in the book elves, or spirits, or if they do use the word fairies, they spell it faeries. “Fairies” is a childish word; even Mor feels awkward using it. But Mor did meet them when she was a child, and trying to pin them down with a more adult term feels awkward. Jo says that the more childish term is actually the most fitting for the fairies in this book. (Immediately, I wondered how I referred to them in my review. A quick check reveals, to my relief, that I did spell the word “fairies”, as the book does. But I do remember feeling awkward typing it.)

Jo added that, to her surprise, some readers thought there was no magic at all in the book. It had never occurred to her that some readers would think Mor was just delusional. “This book is about magic,” she said. “As you can tell from the swirl on the cover.”
I got to chat with her a bit more when I brought my book up to be signed. I told her that Dan had called Among Others a novel for book nerds, and she laughed and said that was quite accurate. I also asked if she’d actually read all the books she references in Among Others. “Absolutely,” she said. “I wouldn’t talk about a book I hadn’t read, because I wouldn’t know what to say.” She may not have read them at fifteen, like Mor has, but she has read them all. I told her that upon finishing Among Others, I immediately rushed out to get a copy of Samuel Delany’s Triton. “My job is complete!” Jo said. She’d also once read a review of Among Others on a blog where the next review was Ursula Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven, which, like me with Triton, the blogger had read because of Among Others.
The bonus of having written a book for book nerds: a librarian had actually compiled the Among Others reading list, and, after a few corrections from Jo, the publisher included the list on back of the book’s poster!
Wonderful to have met Jo Walton, and to have actually had the chance to chat with her about such an incredible book! Thank you, Bakka Phoenix, for the event, and thank you, Dan Wagstaff, for telling me about it!

Review | Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit of YA fatigue lately. I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, I have read quite a few really good YA books, and to be honest, I wish we had this much variety available when I was younger. That being said, it feels like wherever I turn, there’s the Next Big YA Series coming out, the one perfect for fans of Hunger Games. After a while, even the well-written ones start to sound the same to me — yet another dystopian world, yet another kick-ass heroine, yet love triangle, and so on. Full respect to the writers who create these stories and to the readers who love them, but I, at least, need a break.

So when my sister brought home Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures, finished it (all 563 pages!) in a single day, and suggested I read it, I was hesitant. Beyond my YA fatigue, there’s also a movie version coming out, so I was expecting to soon be overwhelmed by online buzz. Still, I figured I might as well give it a try. And I am so glad I did.

Beautiful Creatures is a brilliant Southern gothic — atmospheric, romantic, and haunting. I love that Garcia and Stohl tell the story from the guy’s perspective, and that there is no love triangle. I especially love that, while the focus of the story is the romance, there is an entire world beyond the love story, and the characters’ actions have significance far beyond their relationship. From the first chapter, I felt myself drawn into this world, and I wanted to find out more. The book did strike me as long, but the story is fascinating. It’s also really scary — I can definitely imagine it playing out well on screen, and I can just picture myself covering my eyes in the theatre.

When Lena Duchannes moves into the mysterious Ravenwood house in the small Southern town of Gatlin, Ethan Wate recognizes her from his dreams and is immediately drawn to her. Her family is cursed. They are Casters (they can cast spells), and while other Casters can choose their destiny, each Duchannes is Claimed at the age of 16 by either Light or Dark. As a powerful Natural Caster, Lena is a prize to both the Light and the Dark, and a prophecy later in the book reveals exactly how significant she is. Ethan is an ordinary boy, but he’s determined to protect Lena from the Dark as much as he can. At the very least, he fights to protect her from the other kids in school who have labelled Lena a witch simply because her uncle is the town recluse.

Beautiful Creatures has romance, but more than that, it has curses, ghosts, mystery, and, well, very real emotions. I love how, even though Lena has to deal with Dark Casters and curses, one of her major concerns is how to have a normal teenaged life before she is Claimed. Like an ordinary teenager, she just wants to have a good time at the school dance and to face a school day without being teased. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, she is invited to a party by the popular girls in her class. Lena knows they are under a spell by another Caster, but she pleads with her uncle to let her go anyway: “I want to go to a party I’m invited to. I mean, I know it’s all Ridley [casting a spell], but is it wrong if I don’t care?” As Ethan notes, “She wants to be part of all this, even if it wasn’t real.” How sad is that, and how much can we all relate to it?

Speaking of Ridley, I found myself very fascinated by her character. A childhood friend of Lena’s, she was Claimed by Dark at 16 and is now no longer welcome to her own family. She seems genuinely pained by this rejection, which makes me wonder if being Claimed as a Dark Caster makes one as absolutely evil as everyone seems to think. I love that Garcia and Stohl made her character a bit ambiguous; in her own way, she appears just as vulnerable as Lena, and I’d love to find out more of her thoughts.

The secondary characters in this book were also fascinating. I love Amma and Macon, both mentor figures who seem to have exciting pasts of their own. I also love Ethan’s best friend Link, the comic relief who I hope may be able to get through to Ridley. Finally, I love how much of this book revolves around a library — the town librarian works at a Caster library on bank holidays, and that just seems like such a magical, fascinating place.

Beautiful Creatures is such a fascinating book, and I can only begin to imagine where Garcia and Stohl will take the rest of the series!

Review | Under the Hawthorn Tree, Ai Mi (trans. Anna Holmwood)

Ai Mi’s Under the Hawthorn Tree was a wonderful book to kick off the weekend before Valentine’s Day. Set in China during the Cultural Revolution (early 1970s), Hawthorn Tree tells the love story of high school student Jingqiu and geology student Jianxin, nicknamed “Old Three.” They come from very different social, economic and political backgrounds, yet they fall in love. But, the publisher’s book description tells us, “their budding romance is cut short by fate…” This book has been made into a movie by House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou, and the film’s promotional tagline was “the cleanest romance in history.” So I began the book expecting a sweet, innocent romance, possibly tinged by tragedy. Best part is that it’s set in an exciting time in Chinese history — I admit I know little about this part of history, and, being half-Chinese, I was eager to find out more about it.

In a lot of ways, Hawthorn Tree was what I expected — the romance between Jingqiu and Old Third is sweet and innocent, and the romance really picks up once Jingqiu finally acknowledges are feelings for Old Third. The last few pages of the book are especially touching, and the last line in particular made me feel like I just read the kind of epic romance that spans generations.

Being half-Chinese and having grown up in the Philippines, I did not expect the level of culture shock I had reading this book. The world Ai Mi has created of China during the Cultural Revolution is so different from the world I know. It certainly feels different from the China of The Good Earth and from other books I’ve read set it in the 1970s. Even though the book is narrated in the third person, we remain firmly within the extremely naive, sheltered perspective of Jingqiu. Translator Anna Holmwood warns us in her introduction that the degree of Jingqiu’s innocence may seem incredible to a Western reader, but that this just reveals “the startlingly intimate reach of politics in that period.” As a 21st century reader, I found myself in the odd position of seeing only Jingqiu’s limited view of events while understanding so much more than she did. At times, this was frustrating, and I had to keep reminding myself that what I may view as overly defensive is completely natural behaviour given the character’s circumstances.

I was fascinated to learn about this period. I love that Jingqiu completely believed Chairman Mao’s teachings, because it offers such a different perspective from what I’m used to reading. Her father is a political prisoner and her mother, branded a capitalist, has been forced into menial work, so I can definitely understand why Jingqiu is extremely hesitant to even think anything vaguely revolutionary. More than that, however, Jingqiu takes pride in doing heavy manual labour and finds it difficult to understand why the “noble peasants” aren’t more excited about living the communist ideal.

Jingqiu’s mother warns her about boys, but, like Jingqiu’s friends and the books she’s read, is very vague about specifics. Jingqiu knows that going for a walk with a boy can lead you to trouble, but all she knows is that there are girls in her class who suddenly turn up pregnant and either kill themselves or are disgraced. At one point, her brother is arrested because he and his girlfriend were caught in bed together — hard enough to believe from our point of view, but even harder to believe is that both were fully clothed and, according to the girlfriend, doing nothing but sitting at the edge of the bed with a blanket over their legs because it was cold. Even if the girlfriend was lying (just sitting? sure…), Jingqiu believes her, yet thinks, but they were sharing a bedroom, which is what husbands and wives do, so what does the girlfriend mean they were doing nothing? It’s not so much that Jingqiu finds the idea of being in a bedroom together scandalous, but that she honestly doesn’t know what exactly husbands and wives do in the bedroom other than share it.

At times, Jingqiu’s naivety can be funny. For example, when she and Old Third go swimming, Old Third asks her to go out of the water first, and she notices he looks uncomfortable. She asks him why he’s so shy about her seeing his legs and if he has a cramp, then offers to rub it out for him. Her unintentional innuendo and Old Third’s utter embarrassment are just really sweet. Other times, however, her innocence and concern over protocol can be frustrating — Old Third seems like such a nice guy that I want them to get together already. Then I remind myself that Jingqiu grew up in a different culture, and when questionable details come up about Old Third’s past, she really feels unable to confront him.

Old Third is a likeable hero. He is clearly concerned about Jingqiu — he begs her not to do the heavy manual labour as it’s too dangerous for a woman. My inner feminist reacted to that, but then again, her work sometimes required her to carry hundreds of pounds of material up and down hills. He helps her out by giving her money, but always through someone else, because he knows Jingqiu is too proud to accept money from him. I of course wanted to tell her to stop being so stubborn and just take the money already — at times, their exchanges of money, with Old Third sneaking it to her and Jingqiu sneakily returning it and so on, go from funny to a bit ridiculous. He’s a sweet guy, and his bewilderment whenever Jingqiu scolds him for doing something improper (usually nothing more serious than give her an extra piece of meat at dinner) is endearing.

Hawthorn Tree is a delicate love story. Ai Mi does a fantastic job making us feel the fragility, even brittleness, of Jingqiu and Old Third’s relationship within their society. The slightest slip, and Jingqiu’s future can be compromised forever. I do wish Jingqiu had been less defensive and Old Third less gun shy, but I did cheer for them as a couple. Theirs certainly is a “clean” romance, and at times almost endearing in its innocence.

Chatelaine Book Club | Breakfast with Alan Lightman

There aren’t many things that will get me happily bounding out of bed and downtown early morning, but breakfast with an author is definitely one of them. When Laurie Grassi from Chatelaine invited me to breakfast with author Alan Lightman, I was intrigued. Alan Lightman is a theoretical physicist, an astro-physicist to be precise, and he’s written, among other works, the novels Einstein’s Dreams and the recently published Mr g. I found the concept behind Mr g interesting: the novel tells the story of creation from the point of view of God (a.k.a. Mr g). The novel begins: “As I remember, I had just woken from a nap when I decided to create the universe.” That opening hooked me; I wanted to meet this author.

It was great meeting Laurie, with whom I’ve chatted on Twitter (follow her at @ChatelaineBooks), and I was very impressed by how she knew everyone’s names. Every time someone entered the room, she’d introduce her to everyone else, sometimes even citing our Twitter handles and blog names. I was also impressed by the breakfast. We had coffee and tea in beautiful mugs, and trays of fruit, chocolate croissants and other breads and pastries. Seriously, an entire table was filled with food.

Chatelaine was also kind enough to provide each of us with a copy of Mr g. I absolutely love the cover! The original cover, above, is already beautiful, but our copies have the bright pink Chatelaine Book Club label on it, which I think makes the book even more eye-catching. (I took this image with my phone and the lighting is off; it’s much sharper in real life.)

Alan Lightman is charming. Not only is he a physicist, professor and novelist, but he also runs an organization that provides housing for women in Cambodia. He looked around the mostly female room (all female, actually, with the exception of Alan himself and book club member Josh) and admitted he was used to being surrounded by females. He then laughed sheepishly and added that it wasn’t how it sounded; he meant just because of his work with Cambodian women.

Alan read an excerpt from Mr g, then we were all invited to ask questions and discuss the book with him. Mr g wakes up from a nap and decides to create the universe. His aunt begs him not to: “You could mess things up,” but Mr g had made up his mind and thereby, without really meaning to, created Time. The aunt and uncle characters provide comic relief, but there’s also something sad in their sudden realization of the passage of time. “It was nicer when everything happened at once,” the aunt complains. “I can’t stand to think about the future.” Eternity isn’t a long time until you’re aware of time’s passage. The chapter ends with the aunt’s sudden development of vanity and need to fix her hair for the first time. I wondered if it was an echo of the Genesis myth, where eating the fruit of knowledge made Adam and Eve self-conscious and led to the fall of man.

Someone asked Alan if he was afraid of offending people by writing such a novel from God’s point of view. He responded that even with the humour and the casual nature of Mr g’s actions, he has always endeavoured to maintain the character’s dignity. We did find out, however, that someone did find the content offensive, and so wrote a catalogue description that gave the impression that Mr g was a supernatural being, but not God, and that the universe in Mr g was not our universe but in some other dimension. Fortunately, the description was corrected in time.

I was fascinated by how much of Alan’s work as a physicist influences his novel writing. He spoke to us about string theory multiverses. I’ll do my best to repeat his explanation here, and if it doesn’t make sense, or if I got anything wrong, that’s definitely all me. Alan explained it really well, and at the breakfast, I actually understood what he was talking about. Basically, physicists have a theory that there are countless dimensions, different universes, all of which are governed by different laws. This frustrates physicists because it means they cannot apply a single formula to explain everything in existence. As well, no other universe except ours can support life. Laurie asked him to clarify if he meant life as we know it, or all forms of life. Alan replied that no form of life at all can exist outside this universe. His point is that all the elements that came together to form this universe did so by accident. The absence of a single formula to explain everything means there is no grand design or grand scheme; we exist because of accident. I think that concept is very much encapsulated in the opening sentence of Mr g: the universe is created by God on a whim after a nap, literally without rhyme or reason.

I just started reading Mr g, and I am fascinated by Alan’s language. Even in the first few chapters, we move from the humorous quip of the opening sentence to some very scientific language describing the universe as “a tiny ellipsoid […] and it was a mathematical and tautological impossibility for anything within to emerge without.” Then I am surprised by phrases that are just beautiful, even poetic: “Practically everything slept in an infinite torpor of potentiality.” I love that phrase: “infinite torpor of potentiality.” Beautiful.

Thank you to Chatelaine Book Club for the opportunity to meet Alan Lightman. I had a great time, and I enjoyed meeting so many fellow book lovers. Chatelaine even gave each of us a swag bag. I had to laugh when Josh proudly showed me that he was able to fit the bag into his backpack: “I’ll carry pink for a girl, but not for myself.” I also found the cover of the Chatelaine issue timely. “Declutter!” I read, as I glanced around my very cluttered home. I also love that Chatelaine chose Mr g for its book club. When I think of book club picks for women’s magazines, and I admit I obviously need to change my preconceived notions on this, a book with a scientific slant about the creation of the universe wouldn’t have come to mind. I found Mr g an unexpected, interesting choice, and I can’t wait to find out what they choose next.

Review | Birthdays for the Dead, Stuart MacBride

Wow. Stuart MacBride just never lets up, does he? I received an ARC of Birthdays for the Dead at the Harper Collins Canada Stuart MacBride event, and it’s the only book I have with the inscription “Bieber!” scrawled on it. (Long story.) At a quiet moment during that event, I flipped through the first chapter of Birthdays. I shuddered at the detailed, creepy-as-hell account of a twelve year old girl tied to a chair and a man singing Happy Birthday to her, “the words coming out all broken and hesitant, like he’s scared to get them wrong.” For some reason, that touch of shyness and vulnerability just made that man even creepier. The chapter was barely three pages long, and I glanced up afterward, not wanting to get so engrossed in the book that I forget I’m at a public event. I saw the author whose words had scared me so much, and he was laughing at something someone said. Such a jolly, friendly man, seriously one of the nicest, funniest authors I’ve ever met. Also the writer of one of the darkest, twistiest, and yes, funniest psychological mystery/thrillers I’ve ever read. To anyone who heard MacBride read the first chapter from Birthdays at a literary festival, fair warning: it just gets darker.

Detective Constable Ash Henderson is investigating “The Birthday Boy,” a serial killer who, for the past twelve years, has been abducting girls just before their 13th birthdays. The Birthday Boy then sends birthday cards to his victims’ parents every year, chronicling their daughter’s torture and death. Ash’s own daughter Rebecca was kidnapped five years ago, and he’s been keeping it a secret from everyone, even his family, so that he won’t be taken off the Birthday Boy case. Ash’s desire for revenge fuels his investigation, and his need to continue to keep it hidden, even as more bodies are found and he fears his daughter’s body might be next, makes life even harder for him. Worse, because his ex-wife and younger daughter believe that Rebecca ran away and just never contacted them again, Ash has to deal with his ex-wife’s angry comments about Rebecca and his younger daughter’s guilt-induced rebellious behaviour.

There’s a lot going on in Birthdays, and MacBride never lets you stop to take a breath. Ash is a very sympathetic, complex character, and MacBride does a great job making Ash teeter on the very fine line between hero and anti-hero. Even when Ash does morally questionable things, you understand. As a reader, I’d sometimes be torn between feeling very sympathetic for Ash and thinking he’d gone a bit too far — and all this in the same scene. Birthdays takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster — you want them to catch the Birthday Boy (seriously, such a horrible, evil villain) and you feel for the characters as well, because they all seem so real.

Speaking of characters, I love Dr. Alice McDonald! A forensic psychologist with a list of neuroses, she’s hilarious! She also has the amazing talent of getting into the minds of psychopaths, but she has to get really drunk before she can do it. A superhero with a tragic flaw! She also gets on the nerves of Ash and everyone she works with because she’s such a chatterbox. Possibly, if I had to work with her, I’d be annoyed too. As it is, I love reading about her. MacBride’s writing shifts effortlessly between hilarious and horrific throughout the novel, even with non-comic characters, but seeing Alice appear on the scene elicits an immediate grin. In the words of Ash Henderson: “Complete. And utter. Freakshow.” Love, love, love her!

Birthdays was the first Stuart MacBride book I’ve read, and I’m definitely reading more. (So far, I’ve also read Cold Granite, the first in the Logan McRae series, and loved it too!) MacBride isn’t afraid to delve into the darkest reaches of a murderer’s mind, nor is he afraid to have his hero get just as dark and twisty as the monster he’s tracking. You are sucked right into the story, and all you can do is hang on for the ride. Best part is that the irreverent humour that makes MacBride so wonderfully entertaining at author events electrifies his writing as well. Imagine Ricky Gervais writing Val McDermid. Birthdays is brilliant, psychological thriller writing at its best. Rarely have I wanted the villain in a mystery taken down more, and the fact that I got so invested in the outcome of this case is a testament to MacBride’s writing. If you’re a fan of Val McDermid or Jo Nesbo, you’ll love Stuart MacBride.

The blurb on the back cover of my ARC says it all:

Bloody. Brilliant. MacBride.

Stuart MacBride also has a totally “bookular” website and is friendly and funny on Twitter.

Anne Rice at the Toronto Library Appel Salon

Anne Rice was such a major figure in my teenage years that I could hardly believe I would get to see her in person. I loved her Vampire books, with their tortured, Old World, non-sparkly anti-heroes. I remember once being home sick from school once and just spending the day reading Interview with the Vampire. Seriously, forget the Cullens — if you want to fall in love with a vampire, Lestat and Louis are so much more seductive. I stopped reading Rice when she started writing books about Jesus, just because those didn’t interest me, and, like many of her fans, I was thrilled to find out she’d returned to the supernatural with Wolf Gift.

As I expected, tickets to the Appel Salon event were sold out almost immediately. I planned to show up an hour early to get a good seat, but saw on Twitter that a line was already forming three hours before the event! Crazy, eh? Yet that’s the kind of devotion Anne Rice inspires in her fans. Standing in line to get my books signed after the interview, I looked around to see what books others brought. While almost everyone in line had the shiny gold and white Wolf Gift (sold just for us, one day before it hit bookstores!) and one man had a leather-bound edition still in its shrink wrap, many people had somewhat battered, dog-eared copies with yellowing pages. I love that! I saw a book with a cancelled library stamp, and I could only imagine the reader discovering that title at a library’s used book sale. I saw books with creased spines, bent covers, pages that opened naturally to a middle chapter. I also saw books that still looked new, of course, but it was those obviously much-loved copies that caught my eye. How many times have these stories been read? Where have they been read, and how have they touched each person’s life? One woman I met in line told me she had all the available editions of Interview with the Vampire. The story means that much to her. I love that. I love seeing so many people who love Anne Rice’s writing as much, or even more, than I do.

I also loved meeting up with fellow bloggers Jen and Jenn at the event! And Jen – thanks for the cookies! I was enjoying them too much to take a photo, but Random House tweeter Lindsey did!

I was very impressed by Rice’s interview. She is so articulate and intelligent, which I expected from her writing. I didn’t expect, however, how soft-spoken, almost serene, she is. Asked the inevitable Twilight question, she couldn’t barely stop laughing long enough to give her response: Lestat and Louis would be envious of vampires who could walk in sunlight; they’d love to be able to do that. They’d say, “If you can sparkle, go to it!” She admits she never thought of putting her vampires in high school, but hey, sure they’d want to go back to high school, for twenty minutes, maybe. (Yeah, that’s actually more realistic than wanting to spend a century in high school, right?) She also admits Meyer is a genius, because Meyer figured out what her audience wanted — the idea that the guy sitting beside you in biology is really a vampire! Again, Rice raises an interesting point. I was attracted to Louis and Lestat because I love the idea that there are gentlemen with Old World manners still around, who could look good in a top hat and lace collar and who could whisk me away from the ordinariness of homework and traffic jams. So, facetious though Rice may have been, why not have a classmate in a boring biology class have a fascinating secret?

I was also impressed by the depth of reflection she had on her faith. She very famously returned to Christianity only to break from it again, and, on her Facebook page years ago, she announced her decision to leave the Church brilliantly, in my opinion:

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Her decision had much more of an impact than she realized. She received an email from someone who worked for a church, and that person told Rice that due to her job in the church, she couldn’t say what Rice said, but she was grateful to Rice for saying it. Rice also said that a priest gave her the key to his church’s rectory, along with an open invitation to come and worship the Blessed Sacrament any time she wanted. I found that especially moving, because even though Rice quit the institution of the church, she is still clearly very spiritual. In fact, the epigraph to Wolf Gift is something Rice wrote herself, and she says it’s her personal prayer. I think it’s just lovely:

Say what you will to the force that governs the universe. Perhaps we’ll call it into being, and it will yet love us as we love it.

If you missed the event, the Toronto Library videotaped the whole interview:

Other bloggers’ posts on this event:

Rayments Readings Rants and Ramblings
Reeder Reads