Mr. Morris’ Book Reviews! – The Beautiful Land

Beautiful Land

Mr. Morris’ Rating: 7/10

You ever start reading a book and after only a few pages you stop and think, “Holy crap. This is maybe going to be my favorite book of all time”? It’s happened a few times for me in the past, and I love feeling like I’ve found THE PERFECT book for me. I had the same feeling through the first 80 or 90 pages of The Beautiful Land – and I was really truly believing it this time! – but then the novel fell into the pitfalls of a predictable storyline. Still, there were many above average moments in the writing, and Alan Averill does a great job in somehow making the outlandish plot still seem tied to the real world.

I think my main problem with the book lies in who the target audience might be. Judging by the content and synopsis, The Beautiful Land certainly seemed like it is adult fiction but there are too many cliches and far too obvious plot twists that might cause an older reader to have an over-the-top-eyeroll moment. At times it felt like I was reading YA but there was far too much adult material (ie: profanity and horrific moments) within. There are also a few too many “deus ex machina” moments, conveniently helping the characters along their way to success. You’ll know what they are if you’ve read the book.

Overall though, there are enough moments where, as a writer, I can take in and enjoy regardless of the other literary deficiencies. Like I said, the beginning is fantastic and the ending is beautiful, just as the title has led us to believe. I look forward to future books by the author.

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As the Senior Learning Commons completes its renovation, students and faculty can expect to find many new and exciting changes within. But one thing that won’t be changing is our effort to bring new titles to our readers, both for school curriculum and for pleasure.

Here are some of the older works of fiction (but new to our collection!) that you might find as you explore the new space:

Italian ShoesITALIAN SHOES [2006], by Henning Mankell
Living on a tiny island entirely surrounded by ice during the long winter months, Fredrik Welin is so lost to the world that he cuts a hole in the ice every morning and lowers himself into the freezing water to remind himself that he is alive. Haunted by memories of the terrible mistake that drove him to abandon a successful career as a surgeon, he lives in a stasis so complete an anthill grows undisturbed in his living room. Then an unexpected visitor alters his life completely: Harriet, whom he inexplicably abandoned in the midst of their youthful romance, turns up decades after they last saw each other and demands that Fredrik fulfill an old promise and take her to the forest pool he visited as a youth. Thus begins their eccentric, elegiac journey, leading to undreamt-of connections. A moving tale of loss and redemption, Italian Shoes is a testament to the unpredictability of life, which breeds hope even in the face of tragedy.

Happy Birthday, Turk!More BeerKAYANKAYA SERIES: Books 1 & 2, by Jakob Arjouni HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TURK! [1985]
When a Turkish laborer is stabbed to death in Frankfurt’s red light district, the local police see no need to work overtime. But when the laborer’s wife comes to him for help, wise-cracking detective Kemal Kayankaya, a Turkish immigrant himself, smells a rat. The dead man wasn’t the kind of guy who spent time with prostitutes. What gives? So who wanted him dead, and why? On the way to find out, Kayankaya has run-ins with prostitutes and drug addicts, gets beaten up by anonymous thugs, survives a gas attack, and suffers several close encounters with a Fiat. MORE BEER [1987] Wisecracking PI Kemal Kayankaya cares more about sausage and beer than politics, but when he’s hired to defend four eco-terrorists charged with murdering a chemical plant owner he finds himself stuck in the middle of Germany’s culture wars. And is the fiery journalist Carla Reedermann dogging his steps because she smells a story, or is she after something more? A hardboiled noir in the Chandler tradition that also provides a wry critique of contemporary racial and environmental politics, More Beer shows why Jakob Arjouni’s series of Kayankaya novels has become a bestselling international sensation.

Long StretchTHE LONG STRETCH [1999], by Linden MacIntyre
In one apocalyptic night, John Gillis and his estranged cousin, Sextus, confront a half century of half-truths and suppositions that have shaped and scarred their lives, their families and their insular Cape Breton community. Telling stories that unravel a host of secrets, they begin to realize that they were damaged before they were born, their fathers and a close friend forming an unholy trilogy in a tragic moment of war. Among the roots of a complex andpainful relationship, they uncover the truth of a fateful day John has spent 20 years trying to forget.
Taut and brilliantly paced, etched with quiet humour and crafted with fiery dialogue, The Long Stretch is a mesmerizing novel in the tradition of Alistair MacLeod and David Adams Richards.

One Careless MomentONE CARELESS MOMENT [2009], by Doug Hugelschaffer
When a small fire starts to creep through the underbrush deep within a Montana forest valley, Porter Cassel is brought in to organize the firefighters charged with containing it. The fire moves quickly from bad to worse, rapidly scaling the forest canopy and killing one of Cassel’s men. Removed from command, Cassel takes the fire investigation into his own hands, discovering that the fire was not just a random flare-up, but the work of an arsonist. In this second book in the Porter Cassel mystery series, One Careless Moment picks up where Day Into Night left off — with Porter continuing to prove himself against all odds. Fighting against local legends about the valley being haunted, shady development deals, and the tree-hugging hippies who’ve chosen Holder’s Canyon as their particular Eden, Cassel must get to the bottom of the case not only to clear his name, but also his conscience.

Red Dog Red DogRED DOG, RED DOG [2008], by Patrick Lane
An epic novel of unrequited dreams and forestalled lives, Red Dog, Red Dog is set in the mid-1950s, in a small town in the interior of B.C. in the unnamed Okanagan Valley. The novel focuses on the Stark family, centering on brothers Eddy and Tom, who are bound together by family loyalty and inarticulate love. Unrepentant, bitter, older brother Eddy speeds freely along, his desperate path fuelled by drugs and weapons, while Tom, a loner, attempts to conceal their secrets and protect what remains of the family. Eventually, an unspeakable crime causes him to come face to face with something traumatic that has lain hidden in him since he was a boy. This is also a novel about a small community of people, about complicated loyalties, about betrayals and shifts of power. Filled with moments of harrowing violence and breathtaking description, of shattering truths and deep humanity, Red Dog, Red Dog is about the legacies of the past and the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption. With this astonishing novel, one of Canada’s best poets propels himself into the forefront of our finest novelists.

Suicide MurdersTHE SUICIDE MURDERS [1980], by Howard Engel
She was cool, attractive–a real society lady–and she was in trouble. Benny Cooperman, a private eye with a hard head and a tender heart, was ready to help her in any way he could. But when her husband commits suicide the day Benny begins his investigation, the detective realizes he’s dealing with something beyond a simple “family affair.”
Probing into the curious circumstances surrounding the death, Benny finds himself in the midst of a strange group indeed–one that involves a mysterious psychiatrist, shady eminent citizens, and soon a few more suicides–or murders.

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New Books [Fiction]

As the Senior Learning Commons completes its renovation, students and faculty can expect to find many new and exciting changes within. But one thing that won’t be changing is our effort to bring new titles to our readers, both for school curriculum and for pleasure.

Here are some of the new works of fiction you might find as you explore the new space:

A Wrinkle in TimeA WRINKLE IN TIME [2012], adapted by Hope Larson
The world already knows Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, Calvin O’Keefe, and the three Mrs–Who, Whatsit, and Which–the memorable and wonderful characters who fight off a dark force and save our universe in the Newbery award-winning classic A Wrinkle in Time. But in 50 years of publication, the book has never been illustrated.  Now, Hope Larson takes the classic story to a new level with her vividly imagined interpretations of tessering and favorite characters like the Happy Medium and Aunt Beast. Perfect for old fans and winning over new ones, this graphic novel adaptation is a must-read. [GRAPHIC NOVEL]

Beautiful LandTHE BEAUTIFUL LAND [2013], by Alan Averill
Takahiro O’Leary has a very special job: working for the Axon Corporation as an explorer of parallel timelines. A great gig—until information he brought back gave Axon the means to maximize profits by changing the past, present, and future of this world. If Axon succeeds, Tak will lose Samira Moheb, the woman he has loved since high school—because her future will cease to exist. A veteran of the Iraq War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Samira can barely function in her everyday life, much less deal with Tak’s ravings of multiple realities. The only way to save her is for Tak to use the time travel device he “borrowed” to transport them both to an alternate timeline.
But what neither Tak nor Axon knows is that the actual inventor of the device is searching for a timeline called the Beautiful Land—and he intends to destroy every other possible present and future to find it. The switch is thrown, and reality begins to warp—horribly. And Tak realizes that to save Sam, he must save the entire world.

Berlin Boxing ClubTHE BERLIN BOXING CLUB [2011], by Robert Sharenow
Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin, it doesn’t matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him. So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the perfect chance to reinvent himself. But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max’s fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?

Blood Ninja IIIBLOOD NINJA III: The Betrayal of the Living [2012], by Nick Lake
The fate of feudal Japan hangs in the balance in this bloody conclusion to the epic trilogy. Taro is at a crossroads: He has vanquished Lord Oda for good, but with no land and no title, he has no hope of marrying Hana, the daughter of a daimyo. So when Taro receives news of a murderous dragon and the large reward for killing it, he and his friends find themselves on a dangerous quest to slay the beast. Their mission has the potential to save the people of Japan—but failure will result in the deaths of thousands. And dragons are not the only monsters they will encounter: The dead, led by the odious Kenji Kira, have begun to rise, and they have Taro in their sights.

Chris Eaton, a BiographyCHRIS EATON: A BIOGRAPHY [2013], by Chris Eaton
Haven’t we all been driven, at some point, to Google ourselves? And what did you find? That there are people out there who seem to have something in common with you? Dates, places, interests? How coincidental are these connections? And what are the factors that define a human life? We are the sum of our stories: Anecdotal constructs. We remember moments in our pasts the way we remember television episodes. In pieces. And we realize that our own memories are no more valid in the construction of our identities than stories we’ve heard from others. “Chris Eaton: A Biography” constructs a life by using, as building blocks, the lives of dozens of other people who share nothing more than a name, identities that blur into each other with the idea that, in the end, we all live the same life, deal with the same hopes and fears, experience the same joys and tragedies. Only the specifics are different. From birth to death and everything in between, the narratives we share bring us closer to a truth about what it means to be alive. To be you.

Golem and the JinniTHE GOLEM AND THE JINNI [2013], by Helene Wecker
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.
The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Sleeping FunnySLEEPING FUNNY [2012], by Miranda Hill
Sleeping Funny is a rare book–a debut that introduces a mature writer in full possession of her powers, one who instantly draws you in with her sure voice, intelligence, and humour, and then keeps you reading with growing admiration and delight. Rarely do we find a writer who can inhabit, with equal skill and empathy, the consciousness of a modern teenage girl trying to navigate an embarrassing Sex Ed class, a middle-aged country-village minister in the 19th century who is experiencing a devastating crisis of faith, a young pilot’s widow coping with her grief by growing a “Victory Garden” during World War II, and a group of contemporary professional women living on a gentrified big-city street whose routines are thrown into disarray with the arrival of a beautiful bohemian neighbour.
Here are strikingly accomplished stories–surprising and witty tales for readers who love to be drawn in and transported from first word to last. [COLLECTION of SHORT FICTION]

SuttonSUTTON [2012], by J.R. Moehringer
Willie Sutton was born in the Irish slums of Brooklyn in 1901, and he came of age at a time when banks were out of control. Sutton saw only one way out and only one way to win the girl of his dreams. So began the career of America’s most successful bank robber. During three decades Sutton became so good at breaking into banks, the FBI put him on its first-ever Most Wanted List. But the public rooted for the criminal who never fired a shot, and when Sutton was finally caught for good, crowds at the jail chanted his name. In J.R. Moehringer’s retelling, it was more than need or rage that drove Sutton. It was his first love. And when he finally walked free–a surprise pardon on Christmas Eve, 1969–he immediately set out to find her. [HISTORICAL FICTION]

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S STAR WARS [2013], by Ian Doescher
An officially licensed retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations–William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

The WoodcutterTHE WOODCUTTER [2010], by Kate Danley
Deep within the Wood, a young woman lies dead. Not a mark on her body. No trace of her murderer. Only her chipped glass slippers hint at her identity. The Woodcutter, keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm of the Faerie, must find the maiden’s killer before others share her fate. Guided by the wind and aided by three charmed axes won from the River God, the Woodcutter begins his hunt, searching for clues in the whispering dominions of the enchanted unknown. Looming in the shadows is the malevolent, power-hungry queen, and she will stop at nothing to destroy the Twelve Kingdoms unless the Woodcutter can outmaneuver her and save the gentle souls of the Wood. Blending magic, heart-pounding suspense, and a dash of folklore, The Woodcutter is an extraordinary retelling of the realm of fairy tales.

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Mr. Morris’ Book Reviews! WORST. PERSON. EVER.

Worst. Person. Ever.

Mr. Morris’ Rating: 7/10

While there’s not too much of a story to speak of here (ie: plot, acts, character arcs), this is was an extremely enjoyable book from one of my favorite authors.

As the back of the book reads: “This novel contains much talk of bodily functions, improbable sexual content, violent death, nuclear crisis and elaborately inventive profanity: Viewer Discretion is Advised.” And the warning is definitely not kidding. This is a much different Douglas Coupland than we’re used to seeing/reading, without any true social commentary or any attempt whatsoever at achieving literary glory. But you can tell he’s having FUN. And that’s the point of it. There’s nothing to think about aside from how ridiculous the tale is. Our hapless protagonist – Raymond Gunt – lives through an endless stream of bad luck, but as the title implies, we’re not really rooting for Raymond anyway. It’s absurdly enjoyable to be witness to so much misfortune being dumped on one individual.

Worst. Person. Ever. is crude, crass, vile, insulting, obnoxious and offensive. But it’s also funny. Very, very funny.

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Mr. Morris’ Book Reviews! – Wildwood


Mr. Morris’ Rating: 5/10

The problem I had with this book was trying to identify the correct audience. If it’s aimed towards younger readers (which I believe it is) then the length of the novel may be a bit bewildering and there is quite a lot of political jargon amongst the denizens of Wildwood. If it is meant to be enjoyed by older readers I fear it is simply too predictable with far too many character/plot cliches. Also the main character, Prue, really doesn’t have much depth and we see far more change in the characters around her.

Colin Meloy is an excellent writer however, and aside from a Wildwood sequel (which is coming), I would still not hesitate to read what he comes up with next.

I can say that the artwork does add a lot to the story and was a welcome addition.

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Mr. Morris’ Book Reviews! – Super Sad True Love Story


Mr. Morris’ Rating: 5/10

This review is going to require some math, so here we go. Follow along:

Two Stars for the absurd humor, plus Five Stars for the heartbreaking ending, plus Two Stars for Shteyngart‘s frenetic originality, minus Four Stars for the post-apocalyptic insanity in the middle that only seemed to detract from the heart of the novel = A Five Star Rating.

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Mr. Morris’ Book Reviews! – The Other Normals

The Other Normals

Mr. Morris’ Rating: 6/10

Maybe I should have actually read the dust jacket. The one blurb that I did read about this book did not mention anything about the main character’s journey from our world to a fantasy Tolkien-esque world. If it had, I probably would not have been as jazzed as I was about reading it, nor as let down by The Other Normals as I was.

I can say that it is a decent (if predictable) character study of an awkward pubescent teen, and I would not hesitate recommend the book for libraries, it just was not to my own tastes. It is also a fast read (let’s face it, this is really a 200-page book lightly sprinkled over 400 physical pages). The RPG aspect was original and had my interest right from the start, though did not go as far as it could have. I found myself writing a similar book in my head and imagining where I would take it. The dialogue was excellent, and the characters were easy to get to know. Ned Vizzini is a very accessible writer for the YA audience.

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