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Spring & Summer 2007 – Canadian Manda Group


Canadian Manda Group represents over 20 national and international publishers and distributors in the Canadian market. For a full list, click here. Here are my picks from their Spring/Summer 2007 lines.

* Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Sourcebooks, Trade Paperback, March 2007)
* The Poison Diaries by Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, illus. by Colin Stimpson (Abrams, Hardcover, March 2007)
* The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa (Arcadia Books, Hardcover, April 2007)
* Before I Forget: a Novel by André Brink (Sourcebooks, Hardcover, April 2007)
* The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen (Arcadia Books, Trade Paperback, April 2007)
* Muriel Pulls it Off by Susanna Johnston (Arcadia Books, Hardcover, April 2007)
* The Produce Bible: essential ingredient information and more than 200 recipes for fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts by Leanne Kitchen (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Trade Paperback, March 2007)
* The Cat in Art by Stefano Zuffi (Abrams, Hardcover, April 2007)
* A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon Publications, Trade Paperback, May 2007)
* Miniature Books: 4,000 years of tiny treasures by Anne C. Bromer and Julian I. Edison (Abrams, Hardcover, May 2007)
* The Depths of the Forest by Eugenio Fuentes (Arcadia Books, Trade Paperback, May 2007)
* Devil Water by Anya Seton (Chicago Review Press, Trade Paperback, May 2007)


BOOK REVIEW: The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark


Eliza Tally lives with her mother, a midwife and herbalist, in a small village several hours from London. Following the death of her husband, Eliza’s mother sees few options to ensure their survival and gives her comely daughter to the son of a local landowner, after ensure they marry in front of the hearth. When Eliza becomes pregnant with his child, he renounces their union and her desperate mother makes a deal with the devil, selling Eliza into servitude with the apothecary, Grayson Black.

Delivered to the bizarre household, Eliza struggles to cope with her burgeoning pregnancy and the strict demands of Mrs. Black. Believing that she has been sent to London so that Mr. Black may rid her of the unwanted pregnancy, Eliza realizes with dawning horror that this has never been his intention. Her only companion Mary, the slow-witted servant girl, Eliza sinks into a melancholy relieved only by her visits to the French bookseller Mr. Honfleur until the day she makes a startling discovery.

Set in early 18th-century London, Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters is a masterful tale of gothic suspense. Although mostly powerless and victimized, Eliza possesses an indomitable will, refusing to bow to the fate thrust upon her. In the early part of the novel, Eliza is a character who may alienate the reader. Prickly, self-centered and ignorant, her arrival in London sets in motion Black’s plans and the dawn of the horror readers feel on her behalf. By making the readers aware from the start Black’s sadistic plans for Mary, Clark slowly creates an atmosphere full of tension and unease. His plan to frighten/stress Eliza into giving birth to a deformed child is chilling and to our modern eyes nonsensical, yet the beliefs of this time were that experiences of the mother would have immediate effect on the child. “…for a dread of unseen horrors beyond her immediate environs must surely stimulate a heightened state of imagination which shall serve the work to its considerable advantage.” “On no account may she be permitted to grow comfortable.”

Clark clearly illustrates that monsters come in all guises, whether born that way or created through single-minded obsession. Black is so lost within his dreams of scientific fame and heavily addicted to opium, that he deems no cost too high in pursuit of his treatise. Although many at the time would view Black as a monster because of the raspberry birthmark on his face, what truly makes him a monster is his character and lack of human compassion for those he should be protecting. As he states in his journal: “bring the whores to me & I shall make monsters of them all.” In the Black household, the true monsters are the apothecary and his wife.

To modern eyes, the “scientific” discoveries appear nonsensical and the fascination with monsters (human beings plagued with infirmaries and birth-defects) to be cruel and inhumane. Little attention at the time was given to ethical ponderings of the experiments being carried out by men of science throughout England. Clark has brought this quest for scientific discover vividly to life and in the process, leads readers to question whether today we are any different. We may no longer dissect live dogs or believe “the child bears the imprint of the mother’s passions as sealing wax receives the imprint of a stamp,” but are we truly any different than those who visited sideshows to examine hunchbacks or dog-headed children?

In an age of growing intolerance, Clark’s novel will leave readers wondering what methods we use to create monsters today. What we perpetuate in the name of science now has far greater potential to inflict damage on both our species and the world around us. Greater knowledge does not naturally lead to increased compassion. Readers will quickly appreciate that the worst monsters are hidden in plain sight and, despite her appearance, Mary is the least monster-like of anyone in The Nature of Monsters.

ISBN10: 0151012067
ISBN13: 9780151012060

400 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: May 1, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in Yemen by Paul Torday


On the eve of his twentieth wedding anniversary, Dr. Alfred Jones decides it is time to begin reflecting on his marriage and his life, capturing in his diary “the increasing sense of intellectual and emotional restlessness which has grown in me as I approach middle age.” His life has been directed by his managing wife Mary and his greatest achievement at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence (NCFE) is his study on the “Effects of increased water acidity on the caddis fly larva.” His life takes a sudden turn when he is approached the representative of a mysterious sheikh with a plan to introduce salmon into the rivers of Yemen, he dismisses the proposal out of hand as a scientific impossibility.

Unfortunately, the project has captured the imagination of some senior British politicians (or perhaps it is the millions of pounds that the sheikh is willing to pour into the project) and Fred is forced to either resign immediately or begin work on a project sure to destroy his career. Finding no support from his career-focused wife (who is on an extended assignment in Geneva), Fred buckles under to the pressure from the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications and embarks on transplanting 10,000 cold-water fish into the desert conditions of Yemen and the Wadi Aleyn. What he hadn’t expected was to find was himself in the process.

Paul Torday’s debut novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the absurdist tale of a downtrodden Everyman finding his voice. Using Dr. Jones’ diaries as the framework, Torday has created a novel from memos, letters, emails, press releases, Parliamentary interview transcripts, newspaper articles, extracts from an unpublished novel and questions asked on the floor of the British House of Parliament. Altogether these pieces slowly coalesce into a picture of bureaucratic incompetence and political maneuvering, a farce worthy of Monty Python.

Through deft handling and shifting viewpoints, Torday’s characters are well-rounded and almost leap off the page. Through their words and actions, as well as some well-placed barbs, Torday is able to share his views of politics without appearing to preach. His attention to detail ensure that, with time, even characters who initially appear wooden exhibit unexpected depths and demand the reader’s empathy.

It is in Fred’s development that the underlying message of hope is found. Fred is in a passionless marriage, under the thumb of a domineering wife and pompously stuffy when it comes to science. Slowly through his work he comes to understand the meaning behind the sheikh’s words at their first meeting and why he so passionately believes that salmon fishing can bring peace to his country: “Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love.”

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen quietly adds to understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Its message of the “importance of innocent belief: not the angry denial of other people’s belief”, wrapped as it is in farcical comedy, is sure to go down for many without them ever understanding the significance. Hopefully a seed will take root, and perhaps someday, flower.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0151012763
ISBN13: 9780151012763

352 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: April 2, 2007


Spring & Summer 2007 – New Titles


H.B. Fenn is the Canadian Distributor for a range of publishers. After perusing the pile of catalogues, here are my selections from their upcoming lists. They also distribute (in Canada) Little, Brown & Company and Henry Holt, whose books I’ve previewed in earlier entries.

Key Porter Books
* Holding My Breath: a Novel by Sidura Ludwig (Trade Paperback, January 15, 2007)
* Consequences: a Novel by Penelope Lively (Hardcover, May 2007)
* Global Warring: Environmental Change and the Looming Economic, Political, and Security Crisis by Cleo Paskal (Hardcover, August 2007)

* Dreamquest by Brent Hartinger (Hardcover, May 2007)
* A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez (Hardcover, May 2007)
* Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani (Forge, Trade Paperback, June 2007)
* Mainspring by Jay Lake (Hardcover, June 2007)
* Shelter by Susan Palwick (Trade Paperback, June 2007)
* The Wanderer’s Tale by David Bilsborough (Hardcover, July 2007)
* Territory by Emma Bull (Hardcover, July 2007)
* They Came from Below by Blake Nelson (Hardcover, July 2007)
* Spaceman Blues: a Love Story by Brian Francis Slattery (Trade Paperback, August 2007)
* The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari (Trade Paperback, August 2007)

St. Martin’s
* A Much Married Man by Nicholas Coleridge (Hardcover, June 2007)
* Sarah’s Key: a Novel by Tatiana de Rosnay (Hardcover, June 2007)
* The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Hardcover, August 2007)
* The Mapmaker’s Opera by Bea Gonzalez (Hardcover, August 2007)
* Sovereign Ladies: the Six Reigning Queens of England by Maureen Waller (Hardcover, August 2007)

St. Martin’s Minotaur
* The Cruel Stars of the Night: a Mystery by Kjell Eriksson (Hardcover, February 2007)
* The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam (Hardcover, June 2007)
* Raven Black: a Thriller by Ann Cleeves (Hardcover, June 2007)
* The Companion: a Mystery by Ann Granger (Hardcover, June 2007)
* Death in the Truffle Wood: a Mystery by Pierre Magnan (Hardcover, July 2007)
* Shadows & Lies: a Mystery by Marjorie Eccles (Hardcover, August 2007)

* The Professor’s Daughter by Emmanuel Guibert & Joann Sfar (First Second, Trade Paperback, May 2007)
* Bobbie Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey (Griffin, Trade Paperback, May 2007)
* When She was White: the true story of a family divided by race by Judith Stone (Miramax Books, Hardcover, April 2007)
* Dusk Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (Miramax Books, Trade Paperback, June 2007)
* In the Shadow of Lady Jane by Edward Charles (Pan MacMillan UK, Trade Paperback, May 2007)
* The Inner Life of Martin Frost by Paul Auster (Picador, Trade Paperback, June 2007)

Spring/Summer 2007 Titles from Penguin Group


With the Easter weekend and a visit from my Grandparents, I ended up taking an unintentioned, and unannounced, week off blogging. My apologies to regulars who came seeking new book reviews! To make it up to you, here are my picks from Penguin’s Winter/Spring/Summer lines.

* Fangland: a Novel by John Marks (Hardcover, January 11, 2007)
* Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty: a Novel by Tim Sandlin (Hardcover, January 23, 2007)
* Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin (Hardcover, January 11, 2007)
* Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (Hardcover, February 1, 2007)
* Knots: a Novel by Nuruddin Farah (Hardcover, February 6, 2007)
* The Dead Fathers Club by Matthew Haig (Hardcover, February 2007)
* The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu (Hardcover, March 6, 2007)
* The Gentle Axe: a Novel by R.N. Morris (Hardcover, March 22, 2007)
* Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx (Hardcover, May 1, 2007)
* The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi (Trade Paperback, May 1, 2007)
* Unravelled by Robyn Harding (Trade Paperback, June 5, 2007)
* The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith (Trade Paperback, August 2007)
* Shining at the Bottom of the Sea by Stephen Marche (Hardcover, August 2007)

BOOK REVIEW: Black & White by Dani Shapiro


Clara Dunne was a celebrity before she truly understood what the words meant. The subject of her mother’s controversial photos, Clara’s childhood was consumed by art and her role as her mother’s muse. At eighteen she escaped and made a new life for herself, away from the glare of New York; now however, her mother’s illness is pulling her back into a world she’s spent a lifetime trying to forget.

In Black & White Dani Shapiro explores difficult territory – the issue of rights – for both artist and muse. She then makes the issue more complex by adding family dynamics to the mix, in this case the artist is also the mother of her subject. She raises a challenging question: “can a mother protect her child and still honour her muse when the subject of her best work is her child.”

The quick answer to this question appears to be no for when we first meet Clara she still bears the deep scars from being her mother’s muse. Clara’s raw, unfettered anguish roils off the page, causing the reader to gasp as the emotion hits like a ton of bricks. Her pain is so real that readers are cast adrift to share her gaping wounds.

Whose rights take precidence – the artist’s need to create or the child’s to own their life? Clara feels she is living a shadow life, that she never really owned her existence. “And so Clara wandered the campus at Yale University, surrounded by real people, as she thought of them, living real lives. She herself had forfeited that right – or perhaps she’d never had it at all…Was there a place in the world for someone like her?” Clara perceived herself as only existing when seen through her mother’s lens, perhaps an understandable reaction given that she dissociates from herself during photo shoots. The fact that Clara believes she’s forfeited the right to a life is perhaps the most chilling statement made in this novel.

In Black & White there are no winners or losers. Shapiro does not take the easy way out, allowing readers to feel only sympathy for Clara. She insists that readers see all sides and manages her prose so deftly that within chapters readers are reluctantly driven to understand the urges that motivate Ruth. Within Ruth the artist continually wins out over the mother. She seems unable to refrain from capturing what her inner eye sees, even at the ultimate cost.

The ripple effects from Ruth’s decisions are far reaching. Clara and her sister Robin have carried their scars with them and the damage reaches their children as well. Robin was invisible to her mother and she has no emotional warmth for her own children. Clara has hidden her entire past from her daughter Sam, keeping her daughter away from Ruth and, by extension, an understanding of family history and Sam’s place in the world. The numbness in which she exists has kept her husband and child from feeling she is an active part of their family.

Within Black & White there are many competing claims of selfishness. Even though decisions are made to protect the individual, each character could make a valid claim that those decisions were made purely in another’s self interest. There are no black or white answers to the questions Shapiro raises, here there is only grey.

Shapiro only lightly touches on the most disturbing aspect of Ruth’s creativity, that the images of her naked child may be used by pedophiles. Given how far she already pushed her readers, she can be forgiven for not taking the last step and pushing them over the cliff.

ISBN10: 0375415483
ISBN13: 9780375415487

272 Pages
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: April 3, 2007
Author Website:


Upcoming Small Press Titles – Spring/Summer 2007


In honour of Small Press Month, here are a few titles I’m eagerly awaiting. Perhaps I should say, some of my Top Picks.

* The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees (Soho Crime Press, February 1, 2007)
* Greed: a Novel by Elfriede Jelinek (Seven Stories Press, April 1, 2007)
* Havana Blue by Leonardo Padura (Bitter Lemon Press, UK April 2, 2007/US June 2007)
* Eternity Is Temporary by Bill Broady (Portobello Books, April 12, 2007)
* The Fugitive by Massimo Carlotto, trans. by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions, April 15, 2007)
* The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Persephone Books, April 19, 2007)
* Out of Cleveland: short stories by Lolette Kuby (Esplanade Books, Canada May 7, 2007/US September 2007)
* Memories from a Sinking Ship: A Novel by Barry Gifford (Seven Stories Press, May 10, 2007)
* The Incomplete Husband by Ben Faccini (Portobello Books, June 2007)

BOOK REVIEW: The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis


In some places, the veil between this world and the next is stretched very thin. In thin places unearthly powers can be drawn upon and twelve-year-old Mees Kipp accesses these powers to bring the dead back to life. Mees and her friends Sunny and Lorna stumble across the body of Mr. Banner face down on the local beach. While Sunny and Lorna run to call for help, Mees stays behind and reaches inside to pull Mr. Banner back through the veil. Thus begins the tale of an unusual summer in the small New England village of Varennes.

The Thin Place is the story of the inhabitants of Varennes; the people, animals and even the earth. Kathryn Davis has created a cacophony of unique voices, each pitch a small part of the complete composition. Like the ubiquitous blackflies which permeate The Thin Place, each character is necessary to Varennes’ biosphere. Initially the swarm of characters may simply annoy readers; however, in time each individual becomes clear and its part defined.

While The Thin Place is definitely a character driven novel, Davis obviously enjoys playing with language. Her descriptions are inventive and she ably captures the thought patterns of young girls. “Soon he wouldn’t be able to contain his anger, whirling around and giving Mees a piece of his mind. A piece of his mind, Lorna thought. He did that so often, no wonder it sometimes seemed like there wasn’t any left.” However, Davis doesn’t restrict her inventive prose to the human narrators. She weaves various elements into her engrossing novel; police logs, old journals, horoscopes, sermons, and the viewpoints of animals, plants and even the earth find voice here.

“Life has nowhere to move, being everywhere, doesn’t move though it’s always in motion, is the leaf is the trash is the girl’s pierced navel the worm the cat’s paw the lengthening shadows.” Words, like the characters, intertwine to create patterns and hyper-awareness of the otherness of Varennes – and the novel Davis has crafted.

Summarizing The Thin Place is no easy task; it must be read to be fully appreciated. She expects her readers to follow her through this created labyrinth and just as readers believe they have found the path and are on solid footing, the ground moves again. She challenges readers with obscure mystical references and yet on the surface The Thin Place feels accessible. In the end, Kathryn Davis forces readers to explore the thin places around them and contemplate the nature of life and death.

ISBN10: 0316014249
ISBN13: 9780316014243

Trade Paperback
304 Pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: February 1, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson


Ambrose Zephyr has spent his life playing with letters, first with antique type blocks and later at the advertising agency Dravot, Carnehan. Around his fiftieth birthday, Ambrose fails his medical exam and is told he has one month to live. Hoping to pay final visits to his favourite places, and visit a few on his must-see list, Ambrose and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (Zipper) embark on a whirlwind trip. On their trip organized from A to Z – Amsterdam to Zanzibar – Ambrose and Zipper keep physically moving while their minds stand still at the momentous news. As their journey leads them to confront the upcoming change in the course of their lives, ultimately Ambrose and Zipper must face the final moments of their marriage.

The End of the Alphabet is the debut novel by CS Richardson, a Canadian book designer. This small gem explores two significant life issues: what makes a marriage and how someone faces their final moments. Richardson handles these age-old issues with gentleness, humour and panache, encouraging his readers to read between the letters for the words unsaid. Richardson provides no answers, allowing the tone and flavour of his tale to speak, and his readers to find their own meaning.

Richardson’s tender words are a masterpiece of balance, yin and yang, Ambrose’s A to Z to Zipper’s Z to A. Beginning and ending with the phrase “this story is unlikely,”
The End of the Alphabet is circular, reflecting back upon itself. In a dream a camel shares an essential truth with Ambrose: “There is no why…Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all as simple as that.”

Richardson’s skill as a book designer is clearly displayed in this small volume. Zipper buys a moleskin notebook to record their travels and the book’s jacket is the notebook, reflecting mementos of the trip – even Ambrose’s camel.

In spite of the subject matter, The End of the Alphabet is a joyful book, full of love. This is a book worthy of frequent samplings.

ISBN10: 0385663404
ISBN13: 9780385663403

152 Pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: January 23, 2007


BOOK REVIEW: Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


The term “political pawn” could have been created to describe the short life of Lady Jane Grey. The eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Jane was groomed from infancy to marry a prince or king. Her parents had great ambitions for their daughter, their greatest dream being to marry her to Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII. This dream died at his demise at age 15, leaving the way open for a bid to seize the throne. Any male child of Jane’s stood third in line to the throne – if Mary and Elizabeth died without male progeny – under the terms of 1543 Act of Succession.

Her parents conspired with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland to marry his son Guildford to young Jane and place them on the throne, an act designed to prevent Mary, Edward’s half-sister, from returning the country to Catholic rule. Jane’s short rule, as the “nine day queen,” led ultimately to her imprisonment in the Tower of London and death by beheading when Mary claimed her throne.

Alison Weir is a noted writer of popular history of the British monarchy and Innocent Traitor is her first historical novel. In the author’s note she describes the freedom that fiction allowed, providing an opportunity to delve into the emotions and motives of historical figures. Readers may assume that some of the most far-fetched events described here are fiction; however as Weir states: “they are the parts most likely to be based on fact.”

Beginning with Jane’s infancy, Weir combines historical fact with educated guesses to create a compelling tale. Alternating between key players, she creates convincing and unique voices for each. Jane endured a brutal childhood at the hands of a domineering and abusive mother. Weir has portrayed their relationship realistically and shown the consequences this distance had in the events which followed. Innocent Traitor brings to Tudor period vividly to life.

Lady Jane Grey was an unusual woman for her time. As Weir explains: “Precocious, highly gifted, and intelligent, she was educated to an unusually advanced standard for a girl and realized that there was more to a woman’s life than just marrying, having children, and running a household.” Her determination to remain true to her faith, and face her death with dignity, together with having the shortest reign in British history, have made her a figure of fascination for many.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0345494857
ISBN13: 9780345494856

416 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: February 27, 2007
Author Website:


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