Queenpin is the story of a young woman, who remains unnamed throughout, plucked from a two-bit nightclub where she’s cooking the books for a pair of hQueenpin is the story of a young woman, who remains unnamed throughout, plucked from a two-bit nightclub where she’s cooking the books for a pair of half-wits and placed under the wing of the powerful Gloria Denton, a big player in the world of organized crime. Under Gloria, our narrator develops into a student of the game by dressing the part, living the part and finding the confidence she never knew she had. However, as the old saying goes, nothing gold can stay. She falls in love with a hapless gambler named Vic who threatens to completely upset the apple cart.
I firmly believe Megan Abbott is a time traveler. This book could have easily been written in the 40s at the height of the genre – it’s like a puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the picture that writers like Chandler and Hammett were assembling at the time. While Abbott uses all the common noir tropes, the story feels fresh and dangerous rather than recycled. I think a lot has to do with the genre flip – think Double Indemnity but with an infinitely more dangerous target.
I think what initially drew me to noir was the dialogue. Back then if you weren’t lying, you were giving someone the hard truth. Characters were less likely to meander around the point and more likely to spit out lines like they were in a hurry using a bottomless well of wit and snark. That said, Abbott is a student of the game and it shows in spades. My eyes danced along the pages, trying to keep up with Queenpin’s contemptible cast.
While Megan has been having a wealth of success with her foray into modern, young-woman noir, I’d love to see her return to this time and setting for another go-around. Abbott is one of my favorite authors working today and I’m looking forward to seeing her at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto....more
At the conclusion of the eleventh book in the series, THE WRATH OF ANGELS, Parker came into contact with a list containing the names of many evil menAt the conclusion of the eleventh book in the series, THE WRATH OF ANGELS, Parker came into contact with a list containing the names of many evil men and women. Following the discovery of this list, Parker connected with FBI Agent Ross, a man with whom Parker has since struck a deal. In exchange for selected pages over time, Parker is given impunity to seek out and hunt those named. Along with this negotiated freedom, Parker also receives a generous retainer in exchange for his services to Ross and the FBI, albeit under the table.
Unfortunately, along with the retainer are requests from Ross for additional work. In A GAME OF GHOSTS, Parker is tasked with tracking down Jaycob Ecklund, a private investigator who recently went off the grid working a case for Ross. As Parker, along with Louis & Angel, begin digging into Ecklund’s life, they quickly become caught up in a web of organized crime, murder and the mysterious actions of a deadly cult that will stop at nothing to protect its anonymity.
A GAME OF GHOSTS, the fifteenth book in the series, is the most transformative since the above mentioned THE WRATH OF ANGELS. While dealing with a deadly cult is nothing new for Parker, there are several major moments that will irreparably alter the timeline. Although Connolly has crafted a rich world filled with deeply developed characters, it’s good to know he isn’t just content to coast and is willing to shake things up when needed. I wish I could spill the beans about one of the several shocking events, but I’d ruin it for fans of the series seeing as it hasn’t even been released in North America yet (I nabbed the early UK release).
As far as supernatural activity goes, on a scale of one to ten, if the first novel in the series was a one, then A GAME OF GHOSTS is an eleven. Over the course of the series, Connolly has slowly ratcheted up the scare-factor with each passing entry. Now, at book fifteen, we’re seeing Connolly throw realism completely out the window. While I can remember being hesitant initially with this gradual change in direction, I’ve come to alter my opinion as it helps the series stick out and feel different in a sea of thrillers.
I am forever grateful to Mr. Connolly for providing his readers with a new installment of Charlie Parker’s story every single year. There are not many authors who can do that yet still keep the quality of their work at such a high level. I’d lament about having to wait a whole year for the next book but then I think of George R.R. Martin fans and well.. it could be much worse....more
Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) tells the story of a future conflict between the United States of America and Canada. Following a terrorist rBrian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) tells the story of a future conflict between the United States of America and Canada. Following a terrorist raid on the White House in 2112, Canadians find themselves on the receiving end of the United States Military’s mighty muscle as Ottawa is torn to shreds by a menagerie of missiles. Following the attack, the story then shifts twelve years into the future as the new North American landscape is revealed.
This was an interesting premise that grabbed my attention right away. A Canadian/American war set approximately three hundred years after the first (and to date only) conflict between the two nations? Yes, please. My expectations then shot sky-high after I found out that Brian K. Vaughan was behind the story.
That being said, I was disappointed when I found out that We Stand On Guard was a limited series (the entire story clocks in at a dismal 160 pages); a feeling that only became amplified after I finished the book. There’s so much going on in this world that I felt Vaughn (or even another writer if he chose to hand off the series) could have gotten so much more out of it. For example; the Canadian freedom fighters we’re introduced to are pretty one-dimensional, but interesting enough that I would love to know more about their past. I’d also have loved to have known more about the political climate around the world in reaction to the initial battle of North America. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m currently head over heels regarding The Expanse – a series that deals with the socio-political climate surrounding conflict between planets and cultures.
Due to the brevity of the story, I found it hard to really get invested in any of the deaths. Most of these characters are cardboard cutouts and seeing that this is a story about war, casualties are going to be coming fast and furious, many of which just washed over me. I wasn’t all that crazy about the art either although that likely puts me in the minority as Steve Skroce (X-Men, The Matrix) is well-regarded in his field.
Despite my grievances, I still enjoyed this. It was cool to see a few Ottawa landmarks like the Byward Market, Parliament Hill and even a Beavertails stand committed to a comic book, so it was fun if even for the novelty. I just wish there was more to it....more
One night in Toronto, Greek Gods Hermes and Apollo are having drinks at a pub. Apollo wagers a years servitude that any animal, any animal of Hermes cOne night in Toronto, Greek Gods Hermes and Apollo are having drinks at a pub. Apollo wagers a years servitude that any animal, any animal of Hermes choosing, would become more miserable if gifted human intelligence. After some discussion, the pair choose a group of dogs at a local veterinary clinic as the subjects for their experiment.
Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs was a compelling yet heartbreaking story. After a significant boost in brain power, it isn’t all that shocking to see that things go pear-shaped rather quickly for the pups. Both the leadership and a level hierarchy are quickly established amongst the pack and seeing as the dogs have now developed the ability to consider complex emotions resulting from these developments, those on the low end of the pecking order become increasingly miserable. Understandably upset with their current situation, a small number of the dogs leave to find humans that will take them into their homes. I found the exploration between the dogs with their recent abilities and their new owners to be the most fascinating parts of the novel. Able to understand and communicate with their owners on a higher level, it skews the relationship between “master” and “pet” and asks what it means to be human.
I think Fifteen Dogs is an important read and well-deserving of both the praise and the awards it has been given. Alexis’ careful and clear prose is the perfect fit for an idea that could quickly go off the rails without the right author. While there are several deaths that are both violent and upsetting, there are a few that are beautifully written (especially the final one) and a real testament to Alexis’ ability as a storyteller. I give this one a firm recommendation but if you’re someone who frequents the website “Does the Dog Die” to avoid movies, then Fifteen Dogs might not be for you....more
Nostalgia takes place in a future where mankind has seemingly discovered immortality. As humans live longer and longer, they take on more and more menNostalgia takes place in a future where mankind has seemingly discovered immortality. As humans live longer and longer, they take on more and more mental baggage. Rather than live for decades with painful memories, humans have parts of their minds erased and replaced with fictional, more pleasant histories. Doctor Frank Sina specializes in Leaked Memory Syndrome (also known as Nostalgia), an unfortunate side effect where repressed memories bleed into newly crafted ones thus confusing the subject.
When Presley Smith begins suffering from LMS, he seeks help from Frank. Shortly after his initial meetings with Frank, Presley disappears. As Frank begins to dig deeper into Presley’s past, he uncovers a link between Presley and the nuclear-ravaged world south of the equator. The seriousness of the situation increases when representatives from the Department of Internal Security take an interest in Presley’s case citing him as “one of their own”. Undeterred, Frank continues his independent investigation putting both himself, and Presley, in grave danger.
This was a hell of an interesting plot with an excellent setting. Unfortunately, I found it suffered from poor execution. The narrative jumped around more than I cared for leaving me without focus, generally apathetic and genuinely bored. Vassanji’s protagonist isn’t all that likeable either. I’m not saying that every main character needs to gel with me or my worldview, but I found him egotistical and uninteresting. Frank was a huge reason I found the novel to be a big let-down in what I felt was a very strong premise.
I think purely for its subject matter, Nostalgia belongs with the current crop of Canada Reads finalists, but I would certainly put this behind more timely reads like The Break and The Right to be Cold....more
Madeline Ashby’s Company Town takes place in New Arcadia, a city built atop an oil rig off the east coast of Canada. Populated by technologically-augmMadeline Ashby’s Company Town takes place in New Arcadia, a city built atop an oil rig off the east coast of Canada. Populated by technologically-augmented humans with Newfoundland accents, the story follows Go-Jung Hwa, a bodyguard for legalized sex workers. When the rig is purchased by the affluent Lynch family, the aging patriarch approaches Hwa with a job offer - protect his fifteen year old son from a litany of death threats. Soon after she takes the job, a number of her friends from the sex trade begin to fall to the hand of a suspected serial killer. Can Hwa balance her new responsibilities alongside her quest to find and stop the person murdering her friends?
I haven’t had the chance to read a lot of fiction - especially sci-fi - that’s set in Canada, so this was a relatively fresh experience for me. Being from Cape Breton, the Newfoundland accent and dialect is in many ways similar to the one I grew up with, so seeing it written out in a novel was a bit jarring at first but only enhanced my enjoyment going forward.
Hwa, the novel’s protagonist, stands out in more ways than one. Born with Sturge-Weber disease, her body is partially “stained” (her words). Seeing as no technological modification would aid in her appearance and straddled with a low income making modifications economically impossible, Hwa is one of the only pure and organic citizens in New Arcadia. This makes her nearly undetectable by those with cybernetic enhancements thus making her role as a bodyguard the perfect fit. Her disease has left her with a wealth of insecurities which brings her down to earth and makes her a more relatable character. Don’t let that fool you completely though, she’s still a certified ass-kicker and she steals every scene she’s in.
It’s not like Hwa has it easy, either. The villains that Ashby created to put in her way were real bastards. Seeing as the identity of the serial killer is in the dark well up until the end, when I arrived at the conclusion, the reveal blew my mind. As much as I love figuring out the “bad guy” ahead of the main character, there’s nothing better than being wrong.
With many threads to follow, Company Town is a fast-paced read. The world-building is top-notch and the cast of characters works well to push the novel forward. Company Town is a wildly original story and a great pick for CBC’s 2017 edition of Canada Reads. I’m hoping for a strong showing from Tamara Taylor....more
The Break begins with Stella, a woman who witnesses a violent crime from her kitchen window late at night. Through alternating narratives, the authorThe Break begins with Stella, a woman who witnesses a violent crime from her kitchen window late at night. Through alternating narratives, the author takes the reader through the lives of those connected with the victim, shining a light on both the violence and struggles within Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood.
Katherena Vermette’s novel, is in a word, bleak. In saying that, it’s not an attempt to dissuade potential readers, just know that I found it tough to get through. On a positive note, while the subject matter is trying, many of the characters act as beacons of hope for a culture and crises that are often overlooked.
As horrific as it is, the crime itself is overshadowed by the circumstances that lead to its creation. It acts as almost a kindling for what the author is conveying to the reader. From the apathetic police department to the fear of interjection on the part of witnesses, a broken system is at the core of the story. Many of the characters, even the perpetrators, exist in shades of grey, something that may not sit right with those looking for justice or simple black and white alignments. Unfortunately, that is often not the world we live in. There are no easy answers and Katherena pulls no punches with the novel’s finale.
While The Break is only the second of the five Canada Reads novels I’ve read so far, I would be shocked if this didn’t take the crown at the end of the competition....more
In The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier recalls her childhood in the Canadian Arctic and her fight against the threat of climate change as an adIn The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier recalls her childhood in the Canadian Arctic and her fight against the threat of climate change as an adult. The author takes us through her travels to Nova Scotia and Ontario at a young age, as well as her time in a residential vocational school in Churchill, Manitoba. During her years away from home, she had lost a great deal of her culture - it would be years before she was again fluent in her mother tongue - and when she returned home, it would be a different community than the one she had left.
Watt-Cloutier tells of her battles with the KSB ( Kuujjuaq School Board) as a member of an independent task force charged with improving the education system. As her career developed, she took a position with Inuit Circumpolar Council where she began her fight to recognize climate change as a human rights issue rather than a political or economical issue. The way she explains it is that basically the Arctic acts as a sort of giant petri dish for POPs (persistent organic pollutants). As the industrialized world to the south releases more and more pollutants into the atmosphere, as the chemicals evaporate, they settle into colder climates to the north. In turn, this contaminates the air, the animals (food source) and the water. Before this was discovered, the lack of industry in the North led to the common belief that the Arctic is a pristine and unaffected ecosystem, but all the pollution from the industrialized south - from which the Northern community receives no direct economic benefit - has turned their environment into a toxic depository.
Another topic discussed, albeit briefly, is the residential school system. Canada’s a great country, right? We’re often portrayed as harmless, hockey fanatics who just can’t stop apologizing to everyone, even if we did nothing wrong. That’s why it is so shocking to look into our past and see a pretty brutal and often overlooked era in our nation’s history. The mistreatment of our indigenous population is something I had only recently been made vaguely aware of and I can guarantee you it is something I was not taught in school (side note: Canada did offer a formal apology in 2008). Sheila’s own experiences in the residential school system, while upsetting, were a walk in the park compared to those suffered by the students at the ones run by Christian missionaries - something she seems to feel a lot of guilt over.
Much of the information in here is unsettling to say the least and for that reason alone, I believe this to be an important book. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and ignore the more unsavory aspects of our great country but Canadians should be made aware of their history, warts and all. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very real struggles of those who have had their culture and rights swept under the rug....more
On July 31st, 2015, Roddy Piper tragically passed away at the age of 61. Prior to his death, Roddy was writing a new book about his early years and suOn July 31st, 2015, Roddy Piper tragically passed away at the age of 61. Prior to his death, Roddy was writing a new book about his early years and subsequent career both in the ring and in Hollywood. As a tribute to their father, daughter, Ariel, and son Colton, picked up where he left off and finished his life’s story.
Although Piper had written a book years ago and had released several documentaries, I believe this is the first time he’s truthfully delved into his troubled childhood. Homeless at fifteen, Piper lived in youth hostels across the country before starting a career in wrestling. Most wrestlers seem to shoehorn their lives before wrestling into their books because they likely feel it’s necessary in telling their story. More often than not, it falls flat due to an unremarkable childhood but Roddy’s pre-wrestling life was absolutely brutal. I think it plays an important part in who he became and how he was able to achieve the level of success that he did.
Once he had enough money to buy a car, he started driving to shows and sleeping in his backseat. He would often change into his gear and stay in the car before he was due to perform as a response to how badly he had been hazed by the boys in the locker room. After getting a few years under his belt as a preliminary performer, Roddy moved on to the East Coast of Canada and performed for Emile Dupres’ International Wrestling promotion (later renamed Grand Prix Wrestling). It was really cool to learn that he wrestled one of his first matches in the old North Sydney Forum - a repurposed airplane hanger close to my hometown on Cape Breton Island.
Following his stint in the Maritimes, Piper’s travels within the territory system of the United States are then explored. From his battles with Chavo Guerrero Sr. in LA, “Playboy” Buddy Rose in Portland and Greg Valentine in North Carolina, there are plenty of hilarious and fascinating stories to sink your teeth into. More than any other time in wrestling, I love reading about this era specifically as the truth about the business was still heavily guarded. This led to the majority of crowds believing that they were watching legitimate contests. As a bad guy (or heel), Piper loved to get the crowd riled up. One of the best stories had me laughing out loud when in order to appease a heavily Mexican crowd in Los Angeles, Piper agreed to play the Mexican national anthem on his signature bagpipes. He then proceeded to play “La Cucaracha” as chairs came flying into the ring in anger from the insulted masses.
I was surprised that he doesn’t get to the WWF until about the halfway mark of the book as that is arguably where he made his biggest impact. All of his big moments are covered from the first Wrestlemania squaring off against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T to his first pinfall defeat at the hands of Bret Hart in 1992. In between his landmark achievements in the WWF, his career in Hollywood is discussed. I enjoyed the story behind the ridiculously long fist fight with Keith David in They Live but his struggle to find a meaningful follow-up to that film is heartbreaking. Roddy had such a huge presence and could have been a massive action star if he had had the right guidance.
As far as wrestling biographies go, I thought this one was one of the better ones. Ariel and Colt put a tremendous amount of work in and it shows. My only real complaint would be that his time in WCW and his return to WWE in the early 2000s were kind of glossed over but when you compare the work he did early in his career to his later years, it’s understandable to see where the focus should lie. While it’s not as good as some of the classic wrestling books out there, it’s a worthy read that fans will enjoy....more