The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

“The land claims what you leave behind.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 279 pages.
Read from November 10, 2020 to November 16, 2020.

This book was the first book I read as part of a book club that I recently joined and let me tell you, it is so great to be a part of a real and live person book club again. To hang around fellow book nerds, consume copious amounts of beer, and talk about books that you may never have come across otherwise. It really is the best.

This book is the start of an emergence of a new genre of books that is a horror-based fiction that is set within Native American folklore and tales. The story blends the whimsical nature of the oral stories from the Native tradition with a classic slasher and psychological horror feel, that also becomes a modern social commentary on Native Americans today.

Set in a small town in the modern-day United States, four Native American men share an experience from their youth that has begun to come back to haunt them. They broke sacred hunting rules and now, ten years after the event, an elk entity is hellbent on revenge for the lives that they should not have taken. The opening death scene of one of the men sets the horrifying precedence of the book in terms of horror as well as the enduring racism and cultural and identity struggles that they all face. As the story progresses, you get to hear the voice of this entity and the stories intertwined with it, especially as it continues to successfully exact its vengeance.

I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this book after initially finishing it. It has an amazing concept and presence but I found the writing style really jostling. Its approach was just not for me. As the book draws nearer to the end, the story becomes very strange, and at times, hard to follow as you become more intertwined in the narrative of the entity. This style of writing made a lot of sections of this book a slog and hard to get through. When I first finished this story, I gave it a 2-star rating but after I had my book club meeting I changed my rating to 3 stars as the book created such amazing discussions, even though many of my fellow book club members struggled with this book like I did, we all came to appreciate the depth of this book after discussing it. This book is meant to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make you feel as helpless as the characters in the story as you acknowledge the physical horror that occurs but also the social horrors that they face and that many Native Americans still face.

Would I read this book again? No, but I’m glad that it exists and that I read it. I would love to read more books that are similar to this one that intertwines the Native American experience with horror. There is actually a Netflix movie called “Hold the Dark” that reminded me a lot of this book as it follows a similar pretence.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“Three words, large enough to tip the world. I remember you.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 502 pages.
Read from November 23, 2020 to November 26, 2020.

Another great library find! This book was exactly what I needed during a difficult time. I’ve read a lot of reviews on this book since finishing it and I can see that many readers didn’t jive with this book but for me, it was the perfect escape and I’m going to stand behind the praise I’m going to give it.

This story starts in the early 1700s in a small village in France in which a young Addie makes a frantic decision to avoid being forcefully married off. Despite the warnings of her grandmother, she makes a deal with one of the old gods during the night, of which nothing good can come. She wants the ability to live her own life by her own rules and commits to living forever until she is tired of living of which she will then give up her soul to this bargain maker. The catch with this deal is that no one will ever remember her. Not her family, not anyone she meets, she will always be forgotten. At first, Addie is crushed by her choice since her own family has no recollection of who she is and is cast out of their home. The first part of her immortality is full of misery and strife until she comes to use this forgetfulness to her own advantage. Her story spans across centuries and different countries with the god, Luc, constantly trying to find ways to get her to give up her immortal life. Their relationship turns into a complex one as Luc is the only being that knows and remembers her causing Addie to both desire his company and be repulsed by it at the same time. Addie, however, is content and is constantly in awe at the possibilities and experiences that the world has to offer and she finds innovative ways she can make an impact and inspire others. She has commanded her life and her freedom as she sees fit and yet… and yet she still yearns to have someone remember her. Everything changes when she meets Henry in a bookshop who remembers her name. She hasn’t heard her name on the lips of someone mortal in centuries. So why does this one man remember her after hundreds of years of passing through people’s lives?

“Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives–or to find strength in a very long one.”

Addie’s character and the dynamics with both Henry and Luc were my favourite part of this story. The writing is subtle in building these relationships creating a slower burner of tension and anticipation. The writing is elegant and references history and art in an intriguing way while also creating a journey and characters that you want to follow. I found the story compelling and easy to read. It made me feel at ease and gave me something to look forward to during a sad time in my life. While I see some other readers struggled with the story and/or characters in this book it was perfect for what I needed and I anticipate it will be a book I will read again as it was a wonderful story to escape into. The story is character-heavy but highly imaginative and is an ideal book to lose yourself in amidst this pandemic. This book reminds me of The Time Traveler’s Wife but with more whimsical elements and I think if you enjoyed that story you will likely also find something this one.

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

“To seek vengeance and power instead of cowering when the world punishes you. That’s what they think evil is, do they not?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from March 2, 2021 to March 4, 2021

My final read of the five Canada Reads 2021 selections. I managed to read all the books in time but I’ve been very behind on my reviews of late, apologies. In the CBC Canada Reads Facebook group, a lot of people didn’t jive with this book but it managed to make it to day three in the debates which, I thought was a good run for this book.

The title of this book is quite literal in that it’s about the henchmen and women that help out supervillains. While the plot sounds like a cheesy comic book this story was anything but. If you have watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, this book is placed in a very similar world with similar dark tones and humour, especially as both plots both look at how the heroes are not always the good guys.

Anna works as a Hench and at first, it isn’t because she wants to but because she has to. She is barely scraping by and paying her bills, living in a ramshackle apartment. Often scrambling and fighting for temp work through agencies, Anna’s skill set is on data and organization. It’s often tedious and underpaid work but she’s pretty damn good at it. She is meant to work behind the scenes but one of her temp jobs accidentally puts her in front line danger she is nearly killed by a superhero, becoming just another piece of collateral damage in the fight between superheroes and villains. After the incident, Anna has months of recovery to get through and a permanent limp, and what does she get for it all? She gets laid off. With no money and no home, a friend takes her in. She spends her immobile recovery time looking into the data about how many others have been injured or have died as a result of a superhero, after all, data is what she is good at. What she finds is staggering and she plans to use this new data she has found. Her research eventually gets her hired by one of the most notorious supervillains in the world. Driven by anger, she becomes the absolutely best in using this data to manipulate heroes and the media, earning her top-ranking respect from her employer. She also starts to incur her own fame within the villain circle. She may be working for a supervillain but her work may also be able to finally right some wrongs.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s smart, witty, dark, and full of sarcasm. It’s an anti-hero story done right and is a refreshing take on the old superhero tropes. All the characters are immensely relatable and the writing is well organized and a pleasure to read. I suppose if you’re not into anything comic or superhero-related this book may not have spoken to you but I think that the character work made this story highly accessible to most readers. I’m not overly into superheroes but I enjoy a good fantasy novel so this story ticked quite a few boxes for me. SPOILER WARNING: I think one of the best-executed parts of this story was the unsaid romance Anna had with her supervillain employer. As a reader, you spend more than half the novel wondering if she has feelings for him as it’s not explicitly brought up for a long time and nothing physical ever happens between them. Anna’s boss is one of the most elusive characters in the book and this strategy really helped build up the tension of their relationship and was a pleasure to read: END OF SPOILER.

In terms of the theme for Canada Reads 2021, “One Book to Transport You”, I definitely felt transported. While it may not have been a world I wanted to live in, per se, I sure loved Anna and her crew and was very much invested in her story. I feel that in comparison to the other books in the debates that it was voted off appropriately on the third day as it was about where I ranked it as well.

Overall, a well organized story that was a lot of fun to read. Highly recommend this read for superhero, comic, and fantasy-lovers.