Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neil

We were just acting out the strangest, tragic little roles, pretending to be criminals in order to get by. We gave very convincing performances.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 368 pages.
Read from June 4, 2018 to June 14, 2018.

This book has been heralded with awards and accolades for its unique and outspoken story about Baby, a twelve-year-old girl just trying to make sense of the world and how she fits into it.

Baby is her name. Her real name, not some cute nickname. Baby’s parents were very young when they had her with her mother exiting from her life at an early age. Jules, Baby’s father, loves her but unfortunately, he seems to love heroin more. Jules does the best he can but often finds himself in less than ideal situations for raising a child. While Baby is on the cusp of leaving her childhood behind her, she tells her story with the frankness that can only come from that of a child yet she is slowly becoming more aware of how abnormal her life is with her father as she ages. While there are many pervasive aspects to this novel involving sexuality, drugs and prostitution, the quirky and honest way that Baby delivers her story makes for an enthralling combination of awe, shock and amusement.

“Suddenly I realized that I wanted everything to be as it was when I was younger. When you’re young enough, you don’t know that you live in a cheap lousy apartment. A cracked chair is nothing other than a chair. A dandelion growing out of a crack in the side walk outside your front door is a garden. You could believe that a song your partner was singing in the evening was the most tragic opera in the world. It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer you.”

The success of this book comes with how the author has delivered it in combination with some beautiful, and at times, poignant writing. Baby’s understanding and sense of the world is appropriate for her age yet reflective and insightful enough to engage any reader. Even if you had the idea of a normal childhood, the delivery of Baby’s story will still appeal to you because of how she approaches childhood and the insights she has on it. Childhood, in many ways, is horrible and magnificent time, which is reflective of the tone of this book. It is a portion of our lives that we can truly never ever relive or experience again for better and for worse.

“As a kid, you have nothing to do with the way the world is run; you just have to hurry to catch up with it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Baby’s story and found the book to be highly readable and engaging. I think most fiction lovers will appreciate this quirky, awkward and honest rendition of a peculiar and traumatizing childhood.

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

“In a nutshell, I am not unaware of my failings. Neither am I a stranger to irony.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 379 pages.
Read from May 11, 2018 to May 17, 2018.

Forget The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz this is the novel that Richler should be best known for.

Barney Panofsky is the type of man that takes a no-nonsense approach to life and relishes in the absurdity that it often brings. Barney has been married three times, the last one whom he considers the love of his life and has lost due to his own poor choices. After being accused by his sworn enemy of being a wife-abuser, fraud and a murderer, Barney is compelled to write his own memoir to set the record straight, which what you are reading. The problem is that Barney’s memory is deteriorating and isn’t quite what it use to be. Who is telling the real truth about Barney?

This is a unique story of friendship and love through the eyes of an imperfect man. You could almost call this book a murder-mystery as the event of Barney’s friend’s death is constantly up for discussion in the book. The ending also offers a jaw-dropping conclusion, which I won’t spoil.

In comparison to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I enjoy this novel the most. I found Barney to be much more agreeable. I should also add that Duddy makes an appearance in this novel. As a reader, it was easier to sympathize with Barney’s choices, albeit even the poor ones, whereas I found myself shaking my head more than once at Duddy’s actions and lack of morals. Barney has morals and is a man that is intensely dedicated to the people that matter to him. He still makes stupid choices with the people he loves but at least his moral compass is straight. Additionally, Barney has a canny sense of honesty and humour about him that Duddy lacked.

“But I hate being a grandfather. It’s indecent. In my mind’s eye, I’m still twenty-five. Thirty-three max. Certainly not sixty-seven, reeking of decay and dashed hopes. My breath sour. My limbs in dire need of a lube job. And now that I’ve been blessed with a plastic hip-socket replacement, I’m no longer even biodegradable. Environmentalists will protest my burial.”

Be sure you read the footnotes for some added humour and clarifications. They are footnotes that Barney’s son adds that really expand on the story and Barney’s character.  Apparently, parts of Richler’s life were an inspiration for his book. Like the fact that Richler met and fell in love with his second wife during the wedding to his first wife, similar to Barney. I would like to imagine that Richler was a lot like Barney and that this is why he is such a readable and strangely likeable character.

Despite Barney’s blunt character and obvious faults, this book is actually highly moving and emotional. Barney becomes that obnoxious friend that you somehow don’t want to part with and miss the energy they bring when they are not around. You mourn Barney’s losses as if he were truly your own friend and are sad to part with him at the end of the novel.

While I enjoyed this book more than Duddy’s story, I would still recommend reading both and to read Duddy’s story first as it technically comes before this novel. I would say that this book is also a necessary read for anyone from Montreal or Canada. Richler paints an intriguing version of the iconic city that would appeal to both French and non-French Canadians. Overall, this is a witty, enjoyable and grabbing story sure to captivate the most imperfect of us.

 

Nocturne by Heather McKenzie

“The only way I can protect the ones I love…is to disappear.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 363 pages.
Read from March 13, 2018 to March 19, 2018.

I was thrilled when Heather reached out to me again to review an ARC edition of her latest novel in the Nightmusic Trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in her series, Serenade, and am thankful I have had the privilege of continuing to read and review the series.

Nocturne picks up right where it left off in Serenade so I would recommend starting with Serenade if you are interested in the series or you will not have a clue what is going on in Nocturne. If you have read Serenade then you are in for a treat as all of the best characters make a come back in this novel as well as few stellar new ones.

Kaya feels free. Finally. Well, as free as you can feel being away from an oppressive and murderous father who wants you dead to ensure he gets full control of his billion-dollar pharmaceutical company. But she has Luke and that is all she needs. Despite her good fortune with the help of her friends in her initial escape she is still being hunted and is constantly be on the run. She soon learns that she is being hunted by more than just her father which has brought a few unwanted people back into her life. This knowledge came with a violent scene in which Kaya tragically learns that if she truly wants to protect the ones she loves she must leave them. Kaya heart-wrenchingly lies to those close to her and then sets off on her own, something she has never been allowed to do before. She is picked up by a cowboy named Ben who invites her to work on his ranch for room and board. Kaya is gutted with the loss of Luke and tries her best to maintain herself but will she be able to stay hidden? Is this what her life is now going to be like? No longer a sheltered princess living in a castle, Kaya grows and learns about her own capabilities and is finally free to make her own decisions. Luke and the ones who love her are not so easily deterred from protecting her, and as the story climaxes, Kaya will be thankful for their persistence.

Nocturne definitely keeps the same intense pace as its predecessor! This is the kind of action that needs to be in more YA novels with female leads. The novel is exciting, action-packed and suspenseful. The story is constantly moving and changing, creating nail-biting anticipation as Kaya and her friends literally fight their way away from those wanting to harm her. The story does not shy away from gun violence, blood, gore or from the characters getting a little frisky! The characters emotional reactions are visceral and the scenes invoke fantastic imagery. It is also nice to see a plot set in Saskatchewan, Canada. While it isn’t the most glamorous place, it is nice to see real rural Canadian settings in a YA book and I think that will speak to a lot of local readers.

Fun Fact:
Heather McKenzie decided to write a book because her own daughter wanted to read a story that did not have vampires, werewolves etc. but rather something set in real life.

As with a lot of YA novels, I struggled with the romance aspects of the plot and this book is sappier than Serenade. The massive love triangle was not as appealing to me as the extreme in which the characters cared and lusted for each other seemed like a stretch, but then again, I am not a teenager. I have not forgotten the fierceness I felt with my first love or how all-encompassing it felt so I think that the romance in this story would be very engaging for most teens. The other new characters in the story, like Thomas and Marlene, are fierce, smart and funny and are fantastic additions to the story.

There is one character and aspect of this story that I question and that is how the new character, Ben, was handled. Without spoiling the story, Ben makes some reprehensible choices under the guise that he was drunk and didn’t mean it. Just because someone is drunk does mean that they are not in control or not responsible for their actions. Ben also had a track record of the behaviour. However, Ben is a complicated and dynamic character, which is not always seen in YA, and he really added some depth to the story. I don’t think you’re supposed to like Ben or even feel sorry for him and thankfully the other supporting characters reactions and fortitude make up for his failings. Some of the novel’s focus is on Kaya’s desire and her desirability, which, of course, every teen girl wants to feel! So as a teen reader these plot nuances are a way to build on that and for the reader to play into a fantasy of desirability, which is completely understandable. So perhaps I think I just need to turn my adult-brain off and just enjoy the story for what it is, and it is one that I actually really enjoyed.

In fact, I demolished it over the last few days and bemoaned when I had to put it down. I feel really lucky to be one of the first to get my hands on this book. If you are a teen, a lover of YA fiction, action and romance then you are going to love this book. It is a great follow-up to Serenade and I can’t wait to see what the final book has in store for Kaya. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait too long for the final addition in this series!