Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eclectic Closet has Moved!

We've moved! Come visit us at our very own URL - www.eclecticcloset.ca.

This site blog will remain up for the archives but all future posts will be made at the new site. Please update your bookmarks and come visit us.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Wonderful World by Javier Calvo

"There're always kneecaps that are screaming out, begging for us to shoot them, of course." – Wonderful World

Thirty years ago, Lorenzo Girault was imprisoned for questionable activities in his antiques business. An undiagnosed pathology, referred to by his family as his "window problem," led Lorenzo to live in rooms without windows and to membership in the "Down with the Sun Society." After Lorenzo's death, his son Lucas struggles to become the man he is sure his father wished him to be. Compelled by a need to understand the legacy left by his father, and determine exactly who was responsible for his father's downfall, Lucas searches for clues in his Lorenzo's secret apartment.

Lucas's quest places him at odds with his mother and in the midst of two gangs in Barcelona's seedy underworld. His best friend is Valentina, a 12-year-old girl who has fashioned herself as Europe's top expert on Stephen King and who indulges in violent fantasies of retribution against her school chums. As Lucas sorts through the detritus of his father's life, Valentina struggles with growing up, while all around them swirls a surreal cast: a giant, comic book obsessed gang enforcer; a strip club owner with a fondness for women's coats; a dreadlock-sporting Russian underling with Rastafarian leanings; and an uptight art dealer for whom thoroughness is next to godliness.

Wonderful World, Javier Calvo’s first novel translated into English, if a film would be David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino’s love child; Lynch for the indescribable plot and Tarantino for the surreal, shocking violence. A feverish verbal joyride, Wonderful World pulls no punches. The quote at the beginning of this review is a typical line of dialogue; rapid-fire and edgy.

At times family drama, mob story, mystery and Hero's journey, Wonderful World is a dizzying, multilayered construction that even includes excerpts from a fictitious Stephen King novel. Calvo's cast is massive and the numerous plot lines almost requires story mapping to keep straight. Yet the quirky characters and chaotic plots are adeptly controlled by this talented author. Not for everyone, Calvo's "open conception of narration" owes much to the Free Cinema movement, developed in the late 1950s and characterized by a deliberate lack of box office appeal.

ISBN10: 0061557684
ISBN13: 9780061557682

480 pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 17, 2009


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Pinky Mittal grew up in the home of her maternal grandmother Maji, after the death of her mother Yamuna during the violence surrounding the partition of India. Shortly before infant Pinky’s joined the Mittal household, her Aunt Savita lost her infant daughter in a freak accident. The arrival of Pinky is a constant reminder to Savita of what she lost, and she falls more and more into a world of superstitions and secret charms, convinced her daughter’s death was not an accidental drowning but due to wicked spirits. She demands that the children’s bathroom be bolted at dusk in case the evil still lurks within.

Thirteen years later, Pinky knows she’s despised by her aunt but idolizes her older cousin Nimish, longing for him as young women long for pop or film stars. Everything changes one stifling summer evening when Pinky awakes and discovers Nimish’s secret relationship with Lovely, the beautiful next-door neighbour. In a fit of despair, Pinky unbolts the bathroom door and unleashes the ghosts within. As monsoons batter Bombay, the ghosts unleash chaos on the family and long held secrets are exposed.

Shilpa Agarwal’s debut novel Haunting Bombay is the richly detailed story of a family in crisis. Three generations of the Mittal family live together in a bungalow in 1960s Bombay. Maji, the matriarch, lives by the daily rituals which have governed her life for decades. Savita, slave to her superstitions, is in constant competition with her friends for the “Most-Number-One-First-Class-Life.” Jaginder, Maji’s son, has retreated into an alcoholic stupor rather than face the loss of his daughter.

Agarwal’s ghosts are vengeful spirits, violently exacting payment for the wrongs perpetrated upon them in life. The Mittal family, by refusing to face the tragedy in their midst, have kept Chakori’s sprit from the afterlife and have existed in a purgatory of their own making. And hidden within Haunting Bombay are deeper secrets, ones which Agarwal slowly unfurls one by one and ones that help readers understand the mysteries of this ancient culture.

ISBN10: 156947558X
ISBN13: 9781569475584

368 Pages
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Author Website: shilpaagarwal.com


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris by Vanina Marsot

Anna recently suffered a horrendous break-up and is eager to leave Los Angeles. Unlike most exes who disappear into the woodwork, Timothy has the audacity to make it big after the split. Now his face is on the cover of People and he’s being featured on Entertainment Tonight and Anna must – leave - town - now! Luckily she’s is possession of a French passport and keys to a fabulous apartment in the Eleventh Arrondissement so running away is easy.

It’s the arriving part that isn’t straightforward, exes have a way of stowing away and traveling with you. Determined to exorcise him from her mind, Anna decides to stay in Paris for a while and puts her bilingual skills to use and picks up work translating an erotic French novel by an anonymous author.

Vanina Marsot’s debut novel Foreign Tongue immerses readers in the sights and sounds of Paris within the first few pages. Whether she’s describing the delectable food served at a restaurant in the Marais (preserved-lemon tagine), shopping trips, or the verlan (slang) spoken by small boys playing soccer, Marsot’s familiarity with and love of the city radiates from the pages.

Yet although Foreign Tongue is, in part, an homage to the city of lights, mainly it is a novel about Anna’s discovery of herself. Unfortunately it is here that the novel fails to deliver. Much of Anna’s exploration is of a sexual nature and Marsot’s description of Anna’s translation work often carries more passion than many of the steamier scenes. However, Marsot includes some fascinating information on French slang and vocabulary usage and these lessons could be quite useful on future trips to France.

Readers should be aware that the novel Anna is translating is quite explicit and many passages are included in the text and more sensitive readers may be offended by the graphic nature of some.

ISBN10: 0061673668
ISBN13: 9780061673665

Trade Paperback
384 Pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 14, 2009


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe

Rosamond has recently passed away and her niece Gill faces the task of organizing her funeral and emptying her cluttered cottage. After the funeral, Rosamond’s doctor recounts finding Rosamond upright in her chair, surrounded by photo albums and clutching a tape recorder’s microphone. When Gill arrives at the cottage, she finds four cassettes along with a message "Gill - these are for Imogen. If you cannot find her, listen to them yourself."

When extensive searching fails to locate Imogen (Gill’s second cousin who is blind), Gill decides to listen to the tapes with her daughters. Rosamond has selected 20 photos to describe to Imogen and in doing so, recounts her story of escaping the Blitz in Shropshire, the resulting close friendship developed with her cousin Beatrix, and the tragic family secrets hidden for decades.

Jonathan Coe’s eighth novel is a significant departure from his well-known works of sociopolitical satire. Instead of biting wit, The Rain Before It Falls is a quiet, melancholy story of three generations of women in a Shropshire family. The emotional bankruptcy and violence of Beatrix’s childhood carries forward, infecting her daughter Thea, her blood-sister Rosamond and eventually Imogen. The path of the story feels pre-ordained, violence and emotional reserve beget the same, and Imogen’s birth seems inevitable from that of her mother.

While Coe paints a bleak, minimalist story, the emotional landscape is intense. Rosamond’s goal is to provide Imogen with a sense of her own history, which may have been kept from her by her adopted family. At the same time, she is sharing the forces that shaped her into a maiden aunt, substitute mother and ill-fated lover. For while Beatrix and her mother waver between indifference and violence, Rosamond is filled with repressed love waiting to escape and find an outlet.

In the end, The Rain Before It Falls is a morality tale of daughters doomed to repeat the same tragic mistakes as their mothers. While Coe explores waters unfamiliar to some of his readers, his exceptional skill keeps them engaged until all thoughts of political satire fade and his quiet message becomes audible.

ISBN10: 0307388166
ISBN13: 9780307388162

Trade Paperback
256 pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: March 10, 2009
Audio Extract Read by Jonathan Coe


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Feline Plague by Maja Novak

"You were blind and deaf in that cage made up of your problems, the bars of your distress blocked your eyes, and you didn’t see me at all."

Communism has just fallen and Slovenia begun the exploration of Western lifestyles. Ira, a strange young woman who barely speaks, has been hired by the Lady to help manage The Ark, the flagship store of Empire, a chain of high-end pet stores. A strange cast of characters soon enter this strange fairytale world: Erzulie, the blind window dresser; Felipe, Ira’s best friend from childhood; and Greta and Marga, twins so identical they are perceived as one. This Ark; however, instead of saving the world ultimately delivers the plague that decimates Slovenia.

The Feline Plague, Maya Novak’s first novel to be translated into English, introduces this gifted writer to the world. A modernist writer who plays deftly with the traditions of magical realism, provides commentary on political situations within her rapidly altering homeland. As Robert Buckeye explains in his introduction, Novak argues that her country’s "quick embrace of cowboy capitalism initially threatened to destroy Slovenia" and this message, savagely presented in The Feline Plague is one her countrymen didn’t wish to hear during capitalism’s early heydays.

Presenting an unpopular message is never easy, and to do so when your country has just taken its first steps out of Communism’s shadow is tantamount to playing Chicken Little. Novak, determined that her message is one which Slovenia needs to hear, wraps it in mythology (Ira is the goddess of anger and Erzulie the voodoo goddess of love and beauty) and common symbolism (Noah’s Ark). She presents her fable to the world as entertainment, trusting her message will seep into reader’s subconscious and help slam the brakes on an out-of-control system.

Ira brings about her country’s downfall by importing unvaccinated cats, turning the Ark from the world’s saviour into its harbinger of doom. The Lady, instead of making pets the new "must-have" accessory and building up earthly treasures for herself, introduces a snake into the Garden of Eden. The Feline Plague is such a powerful message because it resonates in the heart of readers far beyond the borders of Slovenia.

ISBN: 1556437641
ISBN13: 9781556437649

Trade Paperback
248 Pages
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication Date: March 10, 2009


Monday, March 23, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace

Following the death of his father, and an unremarkable stint on Fleet Street in London, crime journalist Edward Dunford returns to Yorkshire and a new job on the Evening Post as a junior crime correspondent. It’s two weeks before Christmas 1974 and Eddie’s first story is that of missing ten-year-old Clare Kemplay. The police are convinced it’s an isolated incidence, at least that is until her mutilate body shows up posed in a brutal parody of a fallen angel with swan wings stitched to her back.

Despite being warned off verbally by his editor, and physically by the local police department, Eddie can’t shake the feeling that there is a pattern in the disappearance of young girls and begins to dig deeper. What he uncovers is corruption at the highest levels and an unknown dark side of Yorkshire.

David Peace’s writing is heavily influence by a childhood immersed in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, one where at times he even worried that his mother would be the next victim. It is unsurprising then that his debut novel, Nineteen Seventy-Four, should reflect the extreme violence, corruption and darkness of this haunting period of history. As Peace states in his interview with Crimetime: "Crime is brutal, harrowing and devastating for everyone involved, and crime fiction should be every bit as brutal, harrowing and devastating as the violence of the reality it seeks to document. Anything less at best sanitizes crime and its effects, at worst trivializes it."

Similarities to George Orwell’s 1984 are found almost from the first pages of Nineteen Seventy-Four. Both novels portray a bleak landscape and dystopian society and; however unlikeable the main character, each is a naïf on a path of discovery, horror and ultimately betrayal. Nineteen Seventy-Four is the more violent novel, elucidating the warning signs we all should have heeded, while suggesting that we have only ourselves to blame for the current violent state of affairs.

Nineteen Seventy-Four is the first book in the Red Riding Quartet series, followed by Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001), and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002). The Red Riding Quartet has recently been turned into a mini-series airing on UK's Channel 4.

ISBN10: 0307455084
ISBN13: 9780307455086

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: February 10, 2009


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

"It is book of delight -- a love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory." - Jesse Ball describing The Way Through Doors (from The Elegant Variation)

Selah Morse, a recent recruit to the Seventh Ministry, is walking past when a young woman is hit by a speeding taxi. He rushes her to the hospital where he discovers that in addition to having lost her memory, she is without identification. An unexplainable urge possesses him and when asked by the doctor, he poses as her boyfriend. Charged with keeping her awake for the next 18 hours, and assisting her in recovering her memory, Selah passes the night telling her stories.

If you’ve read Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball’s first novel, then you are already familiar with the convoluted narrative methodologies he employs. The basic plot of The Way Through Doors merely provides a narrative framework for his wordplay. One reviewer, describing Ball’s fiction, stated his "stories are nested within each other, tumbling and turning inside and out like a narrative mobius strip."

The Way Through Doors is most often described by reviewers as "Russian nesting dolls," stories nestled within stories. Ball’s convoluted tales continually twist back upon themselves, causing readers to question the veracity of statements made by Selah. Each rendition of a story alters slightly with subsequent retellings, slowly leading readers to the conclusion that Selah is an unreliable narrator.

As a reader, one generally either likes or loathes contemporary, experimental fiction. Those who like straight, narrative lines and emotional arcs find this type of fiction messy and unsettling. There is little here to anchor the reader: Selah begins a story and then one of the characters will begin to relate another, perhaps one featuring Selah and Mora as characters.

In a novel where nothing is as it seems and readers continually search for narrative certainty, the writer’s ability is critical. It is incumbent upon the author to create prose that sings, carrying the readers along in its wake through sections devoid of all frames of reference. Ball handles words like a master and his delight in language oozes from the page.

As Ball says in the quote at the beginning of this review, The Way Through Doors is a "love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory." Yet I would argue that it is a love song of the imagination sung by Ball of his love for stories, expressing his love for stories. The way he views narrative is expressed most most clearly by one of his characters in this quote: "Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there..."

Interview with Jesse Ball about The Way Through Doors - BookSlut

A list of the music Ball listened to while writing The Way Through Doors - Book Notes

ISBN10: 0307387461
ISBN13: 9780307387462

Trade Paperback
240 Pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: February 10, 2009


Monday, February 23, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Peek-a-boo, I Love You by Sandra Magsamen

The newest offering in Little, Brown Kids’ “Snuggle-Me Stories” series is Peek-a-Boo, I Love You by Sandra Magsamen. Featuring Magsamen’s distinctive illustrative style and handwritten text, this 10 page board book invites young children to participate in a game of peek-a-boo.

Each of the five spreads poses a question and invites children to guess which animal is hiding under the flap, which reveals a small amount of the hidden animal. Once the child lifts the flap, the answer, written to rhyme with the question, is revealed.

“Who’s that snug as a little bug?


A kitty cat snoozing on a rug.”

Board books that provide methods for toddlers to participate are a perennial favourite. Peek-a-Boo, I Love You features a stuffed heart on the cover, which toddlers will poke and squish with delight. The flaps, initially a bit stiff, become easy lifting for little fingers. The most delightful aspect of this book however is the final question, the answer to which is a heart-shaped mirror shows your child his or her own face.

The “Snuggle-Me Stories” series is recommended for children 3 + but I test read Peek-a-Boo, I Love You with my 2 year old nephew and it quickly became one of his favourites.

ISBN10: 0316003891
ISBN13: 9780316003896

Board Book
10 Pages
Publisher: LB Kids
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Author Website: www.sandramagsamen.com


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

"I'm not sure where one should expect to find the bereaved daughter of a wealthy Malibu suicide in need of a trauma cleaner long after midnight, but safe to say a trucker motel down the 405 industrial corridor in Carson was not on my list of likely locales."

Former grade school teacher Webster Fillmore Goodhue, Web to his friends, has spent the past year relying on the good graces of his friends and generally slacking off. With time, people’s patience begins to wear thin and Chev, Web’s one remaining friend, informs him that his freeloading days are over. Faced with two equally unpleasant options (homelessness or continuing to take money from his embittered Dad), Web grudgingly accepts an offer of employment from a crime scene cleanup crew. One of the first Clean Team jobs is a messy suicide in Malibu; an odd scene that finds Web sponging brain’s from a bathroom mirror while flirting with Soledad, the dead man’s daughter.

When Web receives a late-night plea for help from Soledad, he ends up rushing to her aid even though ever instinct tells him to run fast in the opposite direction. Soon though, Web is the one in need of help when gun-totting cowboys show up at his door. Has Soledad landed him in the middle of her mess or is this really about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web needs to find out soon if he hopes to avoid becoming just another crime scene requiring cleaning.

I should start with a warning - The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death isn’t a novel for the squeamish or faint of heart. Full of Charlie Huston’s trademark violence, rapid fire dialogue, and unwavering eye for bizarre and grotesque details, this outrageous tale is sure to spawn a new legion of fans all eagerly anticipating a sequel featuring the unforgettable secondary characters. The action begins in the prologue, immediately dropping readers in the midst of outrageous levels of carnage, guts and gore. This is a novel which keeps readers off-kilter but pays dividends for those able to see it through.

If shocking violence, inappropriate language, and detailed gore leave you slightly nauseous, then The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is definitely not the novel for you. However, if you're the type who likes your noir served neat, with a side order of hilarity and unforeseen twists, then Huston’s latest will take you on a ride you’ll never forget.

ISBN10: 034550111X
ISBN13: 9780345501110

336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 13, 2009
Author Website: pulpnoir.com


Monday, January 05, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Family Planning by Karan Mahajan

In a country where family planning has been the norm since the late 70s, Rakesh Ahuga's family stands out. Rakesh, the Minister of Urban Planning, has 13 children and another is on the way. The chaos of his home (“the house was the riots of 1947”) is rivaled only by the bedlam of the Indian civil service, a corrupt and often illogical system that Rakesh navigates by frequently resigning (last count was 67 times) to get things done his way.

Recent events have pushed the Ahuja household to the breaking point. Matriarch Sangita is mourning the death of her favourite soap star. Eldest son Arjun stumbled upon his parents having sex in the nursery and is “completely shattered.” His infatuation with Aarti, a fellow student, provides a much needed distraction but in order to carry out his plan to capture her attention, he must navigate sibling politics within “a team of jihadis so bored they'd declared holy war on one another” and face years of sibling servitude.

As the women of India go into mourning over the soup star's death and a nation-wide strike is threatened, the country's political turmoil heats up and rebellion looms at work and home. Rakesh and Arjun must come to terms with themselves, each other and long-hidden secrets.

Family Planning, the debut novel by Karan Mahajan, is a finely wrought tragicomedy described by several reviewers as “madcap.” Dialogue spirals out of control, (especially the jargon of Arjun and his friends) leaving readers with only an impression of meaning rather than true understanding. We may not understand every word and illusion in Family Planning, but we are left with a feeling of authenticity, of having glimpsed a true slice of family life in New Delhi. Readers looking for a coherent, straightforward narrative may wish to look elsewhere for their next read; in doing so however, they will miss a truly delightful send-up of modern Indian life.

ISBN10: 006153725X
ISBN13: 9780061537257

Trade Paperback
288 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: November 18, 2008


BOOK REVIEW: Night's Nice by Barbara and Ed Emberley

And yellow-eyed cats
All think night's nice
And of course
So do bats.

In 1962 Caldecott Award-winners Barbara and Ed Emberley released Night's Nice, a bedtime book that quickly became a classic. Now reissued in a deluxe gift edition, the Emberley's delightful tale will introduce a new generation of children to the wonders of nightime.

Night's Nice features lilting rhymes that mimic a rocking motion, perfect for lulling a reluctant toddler to sleep. Ed Emberley's detailed nightscapes will engage children and present night as an unthreatening time. Animals, kings and children are shown sleeping while night creatures prowl and play. The final spread invites children to crawl into their own bed and join the story...

So hop into bed,
Turn over thrice,
And whisper this softly:
Night's nice, night's nice, night's nice.
Good Night.

ISBN10: 0316066230
ISBN13: 9780316066235

32 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: November 1, 2008