Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol (2017 Flatiron Books, New York)
Just in time for Christmas comes this heartwarming, exquisitely-told story from Samantha Silva. A fictionalized account of Charles Dickens’ struggle to write A Christmas Carol under extreme pressure, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is just the sort of sweet holiday tale perfect for cuddling up with during an hour of two of quiet over the festive season. (Don’t forget the hot chocolate and Bailey’s, the warm cat nestled at your feet, and the crackling fire in the hearth). I think I smiled from the first sentence until I reluctantly closed the covers at its conclusion. Holiday cheer in book form – who could ask for more?
*Project Gutenberg has archived a digital copy of a first edition of A Christmas Carol from December 1843. It includes some fabulous illustrations and a marvelous scan of the front cover – click over to enjoy it here.
Dragon Teeth – Michael Crichton (2017, HarperLuxe, New York)
Published nearly a decade after his death, Michael Crichton’s “undiscovered” novel Dragon Teeth is a decent mash-up of history, science, and good old-fashioned storytelling, inspired by the outlandish, well-documented, and sometimes extremely violent rivalry between late 19th century American paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. Their quests (competition?) to find and document fossilized dinosaurs and other creatures of the distant past in a cultural climate that was struggling to wrap its collective noggin around evolutionary theory is fascinating – especially when you consider that they did most of their bone-hunting and collecting in the wild west, where, if you weren’t bit by a rattlesnake or died of exposure or illness, you could suffer death, injury, or at the very least, be swindled out of all your worldly possessions by any number of unsavory characters. A quick, (at times overly) simple, entertaining read.
Public Library and Other Stories – Ali Smith (2015 Penguin Canada)
Smith’s collection of short stories was gathered together to celebrate the role of public libraries in personal and public life, of the value they bring to community, and the wealth of knowledge and the opportunity for engagement, thought, and creativity that they invoke. Public Library is also a protest against the closure of libraries in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the quashing of budgets, collections, and services in libraries that remain, and the overall decline of government and popular support for these previously-revered institutions. Smith’s stories are framed by quotes from writers, thinkers, and other figures as they explore their personal emotions and connections to libraries, books, reading, and writing.
The stories themselves were a delight for me and I devoured them in a couple of very short sittings. I am not familiar with Smith’s other work and I loved her style and juicy depth of language as she wound her way around several accounts of relationships gone sour, reimaginings of history, and family life. It’s difficult to pick a favourite out of this collection, but “The Ex-Wife” and “The Poet” are special standouts for me. Highly recommended.
A strange murder and the discovery of genetically engineered ants lead survivalist and FBI consultant Hannah Stander on a trip to Hawai’i – where things quickly escalate from paradise to apocalypse in Chuck Wendig’s blisteringly good novel Invasive. Wendig reigns in his signature over-the-top style a smidgeon and produces a tight, brilliantly-characterized, and perfectly-paced thriller. The dustjacket comparisons to Michael Crichton’s work are definitely warranted – I’d say this is Wendig’s finest book to date. More, please.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley (2016, Doubleday Canada)
The eighth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series packs a right-between-the-eyes knockout punch – and no, I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say this is an even bigger deal than her temporary “exile” in Canada, where she attended a private boarding school, solved a weird murder involving a body stuffed up a chimney, and learned more about her family’s connection to a secret organization which I shouldn’t discuss further. (Go get book seven, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and read it right now. It’s a ragged and uneven go, but it serves as a decent set up for the new book). In Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Flavia returns home to her beloved Buckshaw just before Christmas, to find that her father is ill and the household is unsettled and cold. The accidental finding of the body of a wood carver while running an errand cheers Flavia up immensely, as she goes to great lengths and concocts elaborate lies to uncover the murderer. Despite remaining endearingly irrepressible, Flavia is definitely taking on a more mature, experienced voice (if that can even be possible) as the series develops and she approaches her teenage years.