Cover to Cover with Boy, Snow, Bird

English edition

This week on Cover to Cover, I want to talk about one of my favourite 2014 releases and the fact that it only has two good covers. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is beautiful and unsettling, and lingers at the corner of your vision for a while after you’ve read it. You know that odd, bright shadow that sits in your vision after you accidentally stare at the sun? That’s what this book will do to you.

And yet I’ve only found two covers that really do it justice. How is that fair? (Luckily, one of them seems to grace the most popular edition, so that’s the one you’re likely to see – pictured left.)

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Grief, history, and metaphor: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

high mountains_2.jpgYann Martel’s newest novel unfolds like a flower: subtle, delicate, and intricate.

I’ve been looking forward to reading The High Mountains of Portugal for a long, long time. It’s one of those books I greeted with a sort of wary anticipation – after all, what could possibly live up to Life of Pi? 

But I am so, so, so happy to say that this novel is so, so, so good.

The High Mountains of Portugal takes a form in three parts, each connected to the next by the fingertips:

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The Giller king: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

fifteen-dogs-by-andre-alexisHere it is: Fifteen Dogs, the book that won the Giller!(Which, for the record, I totally called.)

The place: a Toronto bar.

The players: Hermes and Apollo, somehow not quite out of place in a Toronto bar.

The bet: if granted human intelligence, might dogs be able to live happy lives – and die happy? Or is happiness naturally unable to coexist with the same sentience that makes humans, well, human?

That’s the book in a nutshell. Can dogs die happy? I knew going into it that it was going to break my heart in half and stomp on the pieces.

Which is why I was kind of surprised – and a little disappointed – when it didn’t.

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Cover to Cover with Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I’ve been meaning to talk about Karen Russell for a long while – I mention her briefly in my Top Ten Tuesday fairy tale picks, and there’s a review of her short story collections in the works (I swear!), but for now let’s look at some beautiful covers. Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Russell’s sophomore short story collection, rife with gripping characters and magic realism.

The title story is about a vampire who finds relief by sinking his teeth into lemons instead of people. It’s also, in a way, a story about the surprising joys and disappointments of life.

As you may imagine, the crossroads of vampires and lemons makes for interesting cover composition:

British edition     Hardcover edition     Vampires

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Canadian whimsy and a review in subtitles: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

daydreams-of-angelsThis book in a nutshell:

Short stories, some funny and some sad but mostly sad; Giller Prize shortlister this year; whimsical tales with a whiff of magic realism; sweet and subtle CanLit in tiny, flavourful bites.

Other works and awards from Heather O’Neill:

  • Lullabies for Little Criminals (Canada Reads winner in 2007, Governor General’s Award shortlister 2007)
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (Giller Prize shortlister 2014)

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A place of spaces: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone GapBone Gap is a small town with mysterious undercurrents. Things have a way of not quite fitting together, getting lost, and falling out of sight – objects, memories, and people alike. When young and beautiful newcomer Roza disappears, nobody bats an eye. Bone Gap is hardly worth passing through, let alone settling down in.

Finn knows otherwise: Roza was taken against her will. He hasn’t given up hope, even if everyone else refuses to look for her- including his brother, who was ready to spend the rest of his life with this strange and wonderful foreign girl.

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Cover to Cover with Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a classic tale of a boy and his tiger.

On another level, it’s a story of extreme survival, the limits of desperation, and the ingenuity of the human mind. If you loved Robinson Crusoe or Hatchet or The Bear, you’ll love this one too. It’s a good old-fashioned lost-in-the-wilderness tale mixed with a double handful of magic realism.

Plus it boasts a host of beautiful covers – stylized, whimsical, and bright.

Kindle edition penguin edition UK edition

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Top Ten Tuesday: fairy tales, fables, magic realism, and retellings

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copyThe Broke and the Bookish has a weekly top ten challenge – and this week I’m joining in!

The challenge is to post a list of ten fairy tales or retellings, and I find the majority of popular fairy tale interpretations appear as young adult fiction – I’m thinking of authors like Holly Black, Gail Carson Levine, and Vivian Vande Velde.

Since YA isn’t really my wheelhouse any more, I’ve taken a few liberties with my list – including authors who channel the weird old spirit of Aesop or the Brothers Grimm, rather than sticking to strict retellings. Fairy tales sneak their bony fingers of inspiration into literary fiction every year; magic realism and fairy tales aren’t exactly analogous, but sometimes the two genres overlap in a neat little Venn diagram.

Long story short: if you’re looking for fairy tales without diving into the often-angsty YA, I’ve got a list for you – a good mix of fairy tales, fables, and folk stories.

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Magic realism, magic dualism: Murakami’s 1Q84

1q84-coverMurakami has flawless intuition when it comes to mixing fantasy with reality to make both elements shine, and IQ84 (as with so many of his works) seems like the best sort of lucid dream.

The novel begins in 1984, in Tokyo, but we don’t stay there for long. With one wayward shortcut, our protagonists Aomame and Tengo shift to a not-quite-parallel world: 1Q84.

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