Archive | September, 2009

Q & A with The Day the Falls Stood Still author Cathy Buchanan

23 Sep

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As you can tell from my review of The Day the Falls Stood Still, I loved it and was tickled pink to be able to able to ask author Cathy Buchanan a few questions about the novel. Published in Canada by HarperCollins, the book is available at book stores or for purchase online. I strongly suggest you do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Colleen: The Day the Falls Stood Still takes place in and around Niagara Falls, and the falls themselves can be said to be one of the main characters of the book. As someone who grew up and writes about the falls, do you ever get used to their awe?

Cathy: I once attended a wedding reception at Queen Victoria Park Restaurant, overlooking the falls, and was taken aback when the out-of-towners spontaneously stood up and applauded when the floodlights were turned on, lighting up the falls. My surprise, I think, came more from being unaccustomed to the reaction of people seeing Niagara Falls for the first time than from having grown immune to the beauty of my own backyard. This moment came during my first years living away from Niagara Falls, the years when I first discovered it was possible to miss a river. I’d visit on most occasions when I was home, lengthening my running route from my parents’ house just so I could glimpse the gorge and whiling away afternoons in the Niagara Glen.  Despite having seen the falls a thousand times, I am still bowled over by their magnificence.  In The Day the Falls Stood Still, Tom describes the falls as something that would cause a man walking by to stop, and maybe fill with wonder for bit and be lifted up from the drudgery of his day.  I continue to feel the wonder that Tom describes.  I think it’s why I wrote The Day the Falls Stood Still.

Colleen: Throughout the book, Tom Cole has a strong connection to the falls, often feeling as if they are speaking to him. Yet Bess often questions not only his belief in his connection to the falls, but her own spirituality. Do you tend more towards Tom’s belief or Bess’s skepticism?

Cathy: My much loved father died as I approached the end of the first draft of The Day the Falls Stood Still. The depth of my grief was astounding to me, as was my inability to grasp the concept of mortality. Where was my father? Why was he gone? Why had he spent seventy-four years on this earth? Why was I here? Was humankind’s existence entirely accidental? I will not pretend for a moment that I’ve figured any of this out. What did happen was that my bewilderment found a home in Bess. To make her real, I read wonderful books─Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed─but I found myself taking solace in their articulation of my own heartache. I read more, again for Bess, this time about faith, the loss of faith and its emergence—Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Armand M. Nicholi’s The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. There was a time when I would have unequivocally stated that humankind is nothing more than the product of random variations and natural selection, but as I read and wrote and pondered I saw a flickering sliver of light, moments where I glimpsed something I will call faith as a possibility for me.  I suppose my beliefs are closer to those held by Bess at the end of the book than by Tom.

Colleen: The Day the Falls Stood Still is one of my favorite reads this year. What are some of the unforgettable books that you have read in 2009?

Cathy: I discovered Donna Morrissey this year, first reading What They Wanted.  I loved it, and I loved Sylvanus Now, too.  No one does the Newfie voice like Morrissey.  No one makes you feel the feral beauty of Newfoundland in quite the same way.  Another favourite was Laura Moriarty’s While I’m Falling. I happened to be reading it when Elle came out with its September reader’s picks, books that were subsequently pitted against one another in a reader vote.  I was thrilled to find The Day the Falls Stood Still included in the picks, particularly considering that the other two books on the list were new novels by former Grand Prix book-of-the-year winners.  My book came in second to While I’m Falling, the very book I was savouring.  The most recent book to knock my socks off was Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage, a collection of linked stories.  In every story she shows a remarkable understanding of human nature.

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The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Buchanan

23 Sep

Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, this is an epic love story as rich, spellbinding and majestic as the falls themselves.

1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near the falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, Bess’s vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating and harboring a secret.

The night of her return, Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to him against her family’s strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the falls for themselves. As the couple’s lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.

Set against the tumultuous backdrop of Niagara Falls, at a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels and great industrial fortunes were made and lost as quickly as lives disappeared, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an intoxicating debut novel.

Description on book jacket

Intoxicating is one way to describe this book. Beautiful, haunting and addictive are others words that come to mind.

When I sat down to write this book review, I honestly had no idea what to say.  I loved this book so much that my first few attempts ended up with me gushing about how much I enjoyed The Day the Falls Stood Still without giving any reasons why. I actually had to step away from the book and the review for a week to absorb it and think about why I enjoyed it so much.

And there are many reasons why I love this book as much as I do. Set in 1915,Falls the author spares no detail when describing the era, be it the gender roles of the time or details of the war. I felt like I was pulled back in time and had no problem visualizing Bess working on a dress or Tom writing letters home while over seas.

While I usually shy away from love stories, generally preferring not to read them, I found myself absorbed in Tom and Bess’s story, frantically turning page after page to see what happened next. I think the reason that their romance was so appealing to me was the fact that it wasn’t the only love story represented in the book. There were also threads of sisterly love and parental love, not to mention Tom’s love of the falls and nature in general.

Buchanan’s attention to detail, particularly when it comes to sewing and dressmaking, something that Bess and her mother both did, was astounding. After reading this book I almost felt as if I could sit down with a bolt of material, a needle and thread and start sewing! Sometimes this kind of detail can be overwhelming, slowing the story down, but this was not the case here.

The same can be said of the love and care she took when describing Niagara Falls. I have never been to the falls, but I feel like I know them after reading this book. It was obvious that Tom’s love of the falls stems from the author’s own appreciation of the area.

It’s hard to explain, but this book had a huge impact on me. When I had finished it, I was literally floored. Buchanan’s love of the falls and her characters came through in every word and every page and I felt privileged to be able to read it. I have already recommended it to just about anyone who will listen and know that I will be giving copies of it to close friends come Christmas. It was by far one of my favorite reads of the year.

Browse inside The Day the Falls Stood Still.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge

20 Sep

For the last little while I’ve been staring at an ever growing pile of books that I want to read. The pile has grown so monstrously large that I’ve even spread the books out, in an effort to trick myself into thinking that there aren’t that many. But there are. And I know it.

So you can well imagine how happy I was to hear about the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge over at S. Krishsna’s blog. In a bit of a twist, this challenge isn’t about reading particular books, but rather about the percentage of books you read. Basically a percentage of the books you will read between October 1st and November 30th have to have been on your book shelf for six months or more.

With all the great books coming out this fall and the recent book buying spree I went on, this challenge could be difficult. But I think I’m up for it.

So, I have decided that a whopping 50% of the books that I read in October and November will be review and non review copies I’ve had for at least six months. Tonight I’ll grab a notebook, pen and duster as I go in search of those older books that are begging to be read. Once I finish the latest Kathy Reichs. And The Amanda Project. And Mr.Darcy, Vampyre.

Oh dear…….

Falling by Anne Simpson

14 Sep

Published by McClelland & Stewart, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie

When Damian’s sister Lisa drowns as he is sleeping nearby, it naturally changes his life forever. A year after the incident, as he travel with his mother to Niagara to spread Lisa’s ashes, Damien doesn’t plan on finding himself or love and then loosing both.  But that’s what happens in Anne Simpson’s Falling, an emotional novel of love, loss and the conflict that comes withfalling each.

Opening with the death of Lisa, this book starts off with a heart wrenching scene and doesn’t stop until the end. The author doesn’t hold back and while at times it could make the reader uncomfortable, it was needed to tell Damien’s story, and tell it well.

Throughout the book Simpson puts her characters in situations and relationships that leave them not only conflicted, but sometimes doing the wrong thing, with disastrous results.  And the author resists the urge to ties things up neatly at the end, packaged pristine and perfect. Instead we are left with broken characters, impossible events and just a small glimmer of hope. But despite the topic and plot of the book, it doesn’t feel heavy; rather there is some light and desire by the characters to right past wrong behavior and start over fresh.

One of the most unique things that Simpson does is make a secondary character that we only catch a glimmer of at the beginning of the book step up in the second half and become a main player.  I was surprised by this, but the transition of the character didn’t seem forced and needed to happen for the whole story to be told.

This was a hard book to read, but for all the right reasons.  Lyrical and addictive, I highly recommend Falling.

Browse inside Falling.

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

12 Sep

Published by HarperCollins Canada, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie

When Vicky Rai, corrupt son of the even more corrupt Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh is acquitted of the murder of bartender Ruby Gill, he decides to throw a huge party celebrating his victory. The celebration six_suspects doesn’t go as Vicky planned when he is shot dead. The police have six suspects, each caught with a gun at the party. As they await the ballistics report, the police question each of the suspects, in an effort to find out who killed Vicky Rai.

This was the most unique murder mystery that I have read in a long time. In fact, while Vicky Rai’s murder is at the core of the central plot I’d almost be tempted to categorize Six Suspects as more of a character study. It is definitely a character driven story.

The majority of the novel is spent introducing the reader to the six suspects. We get to see each of the suspects’ background stories, individual motives and the evidence against them. Swarup used various writing styles to help make each of the six suspects’ voices clear. Some of the characters are written in first person while others are written in third person. Still other characters have their stories written as phone conversations (which was a bit confusing by times) and diary entries.

The conclusion of the murder mystery had a wonderful twist to it that I totally didn’t see coming. Yet it tidied up the novel neatly and realistically.  Whether you’re looking for an intelligent murder mystery or a unique study in character, Six Suspects is a super choice.

Browse inside Six Suspects.

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

11 Sep

Published by HarperCollins Canada, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie

I love vampire stories. Way before Twilight ever hit its stride I was reading about nasty, blood sucking vampires.  You know, the kind without a conscience, only concerned with drinking blood and nothing else.  Sure, I was a huge Buffy and Angel fan, but at least those shows had the odd bad guy vampire. In today’s vampire market, most of the vampire are brooding, sexy guys that are merely “misunderstood”.

Well, thankfully Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan decided to put some of the nastiness back into the vampire genre, moving as far away from the romantic notion of vampirism as possible.

When a plane lands safely at JFK airport, only to go completely dark the_strainand silent, a biological attack is feared, and the CDC is called in. Dr. Eph Goodweather takes charge of the situation and as the head of the Canary project – a fast response team that only investigates sensitive biological threats – it was assumed that he would not only be up for the job, but that he could successfully contain whatever had happened on the Boeing 777.  But no one was prepared for what was about to happen as a plague – vampirism – spread its way throughout New York.

As soon as I realized that this was a book about a plague that spreads vampirism, I knew I would be hooked. And I was. From the opening scene the tension is high, and remains so. I rarely ever deem a book scary, but this one had me shivering in a few spots and wanting to actually warn people in the book about what was happening.

The story was an amazing meld of horror, medical drama, action and urban fantasy. At the base of any great disaster book is a team of unlikely heroes, and The Strain has that in Dr. Eph Goodweather, his colleague and sometimes love interest, Nora Martinez, Abraham Setrakian (perhaps the oldest vampire hunter ever written) and Vasiliy Vet, an exterminator.

And if you are looking for a bad guy, The Strain offers up The Master, one of the ancient vampires who is up to a whole lot of not good.

For me, the most interesting and inventive aspect of the story was how vampirism was portrayed as a disease and how the authors had scientific explanations behind some of the most common vampire lore, such as vampires adverse reaction to sunlight and the fact that they appear to have no reflection.

But for you die hard fans looking for more traditional vampire lore, there is plenty of that, too, and we get some of the back story to the Master through Abraham Setrakian’s story. And towards the end of the book we get a taste of some of the more ancient vampires.

The Strain is the first in The Strain Trilogy, with the second book, The Fall being released in 2010 and the final book, The Night Eternal out in 2011.

I loved this book and this story so much, I’m not sure how I will manage to wait a year for the second book but one thing is for sure: I will be at the book store bright and early on the release date.

Browse inside The Strain.

Haunted by Barbara Haworth-Attard

10 Sep

Published by HarperTrophyCanada, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie

In Haunted Dee, like her grandmother, has “the Sight”. She can see spirits which would be hard enough to handle on its own, but Dee also experiences their deaths. When the bones of a missing girl are haunteddiscovered on the mountain near her house, Dee feels that’s something isn’t right. She soon discovered that other girls have gone missing from the community in the past few years and her search for the truth behind the disappearances leads her towards evil and into danger.

Even though there were some elements in the plot that were predictable and easy to figure out, Haunted was a good read and I really enjoyed it. YA has recently been flooded with supernatural novels, from vampires to ghosts, making urban fantasy the “it” genre. With Haunted being set in the early 1900s, it is more of an historical urban fantasy, something we don’t see a whole lot of.

The innocence of Dee and her friends combined with the darker themes of death and evil was a surprisingly cohesive partnering, giving Haunted some depth and layering.  As Dee struggles with her own past and trying to figure out who she is, she is also dealing with a community that looks at her and her grandmother (who is also a midwife) suspiciously. But at the same time she still has to do chores and decide whether or not she wants to continue with school.  Because of the time period the book is set in, the author had a chance to deal with some things that wouldn’t be relative if it took place today.

The best way to describe Haunted is Anne of Green Gables meets the Sixth Sense, which is a good thing. I would definitely recommend it.

Check out Haunted.