Quick Hits: Strange and Otherworldly

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.

*****

fionavar

The Fionavar Tapestry Omnibus, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins

In the three novels that make up the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road), five University of Toronto students find themselves transported to a magical land to do battle with the forces of evil. At a Celtic conference, Kimberley, Kevin, Jennifer, Dave, and Paul meet wizard Loren Silvercloak. Returning with him to the magical kingdom of Fionavar to attend a festival, they soon discover that they are being drawn into the conflict between the dark and the light as Unraveller Rakoth Maugrim breaks free of his mountain prison and threatens the continued existence of Fionavar. They join mages, elves, dwarves, and the forces of the High King of Brennin to do battle with Maugrim, where Kay's imaginative powers as a world-builder come to the fore. He stunningly weaves Arthurian legends into the fluid mix of Celtic, Nordic, and Teutonic, creating a grand fantasy that sweeps readers into a heroic struggle that the author makes all the more memorable because of the tributes he pays to past masters.

What It's About

"It is difficult to believe, but this [The Summer Tree: Book I of the trilogy] is Kay's first published book. For most authors, first means substandard, the quality improving as they gain experience. Kay is an exception to this rule; he has produced a first work of excellence."—SF Reader

 

The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor

Genre: YA Fiction (fantasy/vampire) (Grade 7–12)

Publisher: Annick Press

What It's About

Nothing ever happens on the Otter Lake reservation. But when 16-year-old Tiffany discovers her father is renting out her room, she's deeply upset. Sure, their guest is polite and keeps to himself. But he's also a little creepy.

Little do Tiffany, her father or even her astute Granny Ruth suspect the truth. The mysterious Pierre L'Errant is actually a vampire, returning to his tribal home after centuries spent in Europe. But Tiffany has other things on her mind: her new boyfriend is acting weird, disputes with her father are escalating, and her estranged mother is starting a new life with somebody else.

Fed up and heartsick, Tiffany threatens drastic measures and flees into the bush. There, in the midnight woods, a chilling encounter with L'Errant changes everything... for both of them. The Night Wanderer is both Gothic thriller and modern coming-of-age novel.

What People Say

"Shivers and chills in an Anishinabe setting ... refreshingly smart humour."—Quill & Quire

"Teens who devour vampire fiction will enjoy this unusual slant on the oft-told legend."—VOYA

 

The Green Man, by Michael Bedard

Genre: YA fiction/mystery/fantasy

What It's About

When Ophelia's father heads off to Italy for the summer to finish work on his book on the poet Ezra Pound, O—as she prefers to be called—is sent by train to stay with her Aunt Emily, who runs a secondhand bookshop back east called The Green Man. Emily has recently suffered a heart attack. Part of the reason O is sent to stay with her is to see if she can help out with the shop.

Part mystery, part fantasy, this compelling and beautifully written novel slips between the real world, and that of the creative imagination. Cloaked in the simple story of a young woman taking over a bookstore from her aged aunt, The Green Man is an eerie story about finding voice and courage, and about suspending disbelief.

What People Say

"Mystery, fantasy, romance, horror, and poetry come together in this classic outsider story with sometimes shocking twists and turns that reveal heartfelt connections ... [T]he action is fast, and the simple prose is pitch-perfect ..."—Booklist

 

thesnowqueen

The Snow Queen, by Eileen Kernaghan

Genre: YA fiction/fantasy

Publisher: Thistledown Press

What It's About

In this reworking of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, the magical worlds of Saami shamanism and the Kalevala coexist with the polite Victorian society of nineteenth-century Scandanavia. At a time when traditional faith is challenged by modern science, the old pagan gods still haunt the northern forests. One of the novel's two heroines, Ritva, lives in this forest with her Saami shaman mother and robber-baron father until a cultured Danish teenager named Gerda is captured and brought to their camp. Gerda has embarked on a dangerous quest to rescue her friend Kai from the Snow Queen, an evil enchantress whose wintry palace lies far to the north. Their quest leads each of the young women to a fuller understanding of their possible roles in the world, and the need for each to find their individual futures on their own terms. Kernaghan blends fantasy and historical realism to create an enchanting, provocative story that will inspire readers of all ages.

What People Say

"Kernaghan takes the bones of original fantasy and adds real period detail and strong characterization to create a vividly textured story." — SF Site Reviews

 

*****

And three more—this time more urban, contemporary, adult, surreal.

 

And Me Among Them, by Kirsten den Hartog

Publisher: Freehand Books

What It's About

Ruth grew too fast. A young girl over seven feet tall, she struggles to conceal the physical and mental symptoms of her rapid growth, to connect with other children, and to appease her parents, Elspeth, an English seamstress who lost her family to the war, and James, a mailman rethinking his devotion to his wife. Not knowing how to help Ruth, Elspeth and James turn inward, away from one another. As their marriage falters, Ruth finds herself increasingly drawn to Suzy, the dangerous girl next door.

Ruth is not precocious, nor a prodigy, but her extraordinary size affords her extraordinary vision: a bird's-eye perspective that allows her not just to remember but to watch her past play out. Possessing an uncanny ability to intuit the emotional secrets of her family's past and present, Ruth gently surfaces Elspeth and James's vulnerabilities, their regrets, and their deepest longings.

What People Say

"The novel is emotionally exquisite and heartfelt, and captures the madness of parenting in an utterly unique twist on the first-person point of view."— Globe and Mail

"An elegant, satisfying investigation of small-town Canadian life, teenage isolation and the universal quest for acceptance."—National Post

 

The Waterproof Bible, by Andrew Kaufman

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Random House

What It's About

Rebecca Reynolds is a young woman with a most unusual and inconvenient problem: no matter how hard she tries, she can't stop her emotions from escaping her body and entering the world around her. Luckily she's developed a nifty way to trap and store her powerful emotions in personal objects - but how many shoeboxes can a girl fill before she feels crushed by her past?

Three events force Rebecca to change her ways: the unannounced departure of her husband, Stewart; the sudden death of Lisa, her musician sister; and, while on her way to Lisa's funeral, a near-crash with what appears to be a giant frogwoman recklessly speeding in a Honda Civic.

Meanwhile, Lisa's inconsolable husband skips the funeral and flies to Winnipeg where he begins a bizarre journey that strips him of everything before he can begin to see a way through his grief ... all with the help of a woman who calls herself God.

What People Say

“There are very few Canadian authors, other than Sheila Heti, Yann Martel and occasionally Atwood, willing to submerge that deeply into magic .... His prose is so refreshingly heartfelt and natural that he makes it easy to believe.” —The Coast

“A quirky, tender, fantastical page-turner that makes even the most torrential of feelings—despair, doubt and desperation—feel good ... The Waterproof Bible is a witty, poignant stroke of beauty that deftly explores deluges of desire and need, fear and faith."—Globe and Mail

 

Radio Belly, by Buffy Cram

Genre: Short Stories

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre

What It's About

In the surreal world of Buffy Cram's stories, someone or something has slipped beneath the skins of her already beleaguered characters, rearranging the familiar into something strange and even sinister, making off with their emotional and even physical goods. A smug suburbanite becomes obsessed with the "hybrids," the wandering mob of intellectual vagrants overrunning his complacent little cul de sac; a father and daughter's post-apocalyptic Pacific island civilization, built of floating garbage and sustained entirely by rubber, is beginning to fray, literally, revealing something disastrously like moss beneath its smooth synthetic skin; following an appendectomy, a young woman's belly starts transmitting what sound like Russian radio signals; a young publishing assistant, demoted at work and dumped by her boyfriend, finds herself unable to control her strange new appetites.

Inhabited, occupied, possessed—suddenly, the world as they knew it is no longer quite recognizable, not to mention safe—if it actually was safe before."

What People Say

"... a terrific melange of overt weirdness and exquisite subtlety."—San Francisco Book Review"

"... because of [Buffy Cram's] characters' strange quirks, they seem to leap off the page and stand before you fully formed in glorious living colour ... a must read."—Vancouver Weekly

 

*****

 

See more Quick Hits!

Our first installment

Funny, Moving, and Everything in Between

Dirt, Time Travel, Love and Gossip 

April 15, 2015
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