Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu (blog tour!)

I was asked to take part in ECW’s latest blog tour for CAUCHEMAR by debut novelist Alexandra Grigorescu. ECW has an amazing track record for debut fiction, especially by women. Amanda Leduc, Stacey May Fowles, Jennifer Lovegrove…their covers are always sharp, the writing gorgeous. This book continues on this trend, though it is a step sideways from what I usually read. But first, here’s 2Qs for Alexandra on her experience:

  1. ECW is a really great Canadian press. What was it like working with them as a first-time author?

As a first-time author, there was a lot of jolting awake—bursting with questions and concerns, and hung up on this or that sentence—but working with ECW Press has been a pleasure through and through. They have such a wonderful, talented team, and I felt myself to be in very good hands. 

I’m quite a visual person so the opportunity to have input into the cover design was deeply gratifying, and the experience of having editors that care and are excited about the book really contributed to the sense of a shared vision. 

  1. What did you do to celebrate your book being acquired? / What will you do to celebrate its release?

Hearing that the book had been acquired was an absolute joy (of the jumping up and down variety), but I knew I still had some work ahead of me. 

Now that the book is tangible, we’ve been going to bookstores and observing it in its natural habitat, with all its new shelf buddies. To celebrate, my husband and I are looking forward to a balmy vacation. But really, every day is a celebration in some small way: cracking open some wine, cooking a good pasta, feeling entitled to blink in surprise every so often and whisper, “It’s for real.” 

Cauchemar

CAUCHEMAR opens with the sudden death of Mae, the beloved mother figure of our 20-year-old protagonist, Hannah. Having lived on the edge of a secluded swamp with Mae her whole life, Hannah now faces an uncertain future alone. Enter one handsome boat man/musician and a birth mother with a very bad reputation, and we’re thrown into an intriguing story of extremes set is the lush setting of the Louisiana bayou.

In Grigorescu’s story, everything has been dialed up to the absolute maximum. The colours are very saturated, smells are rich, and the stakes are high. When there’s blood, it’s a bloodbath. Where there’s love, it’s life or death. Where there’s a silverfish, it’s the biggest effing silverfish in the world, and the sex fits into that near-cliché territory of perfection. It makes for a visceral reading experience that requires you to fully immerse yourself in the story. If you accidentally keep one foot out in reality, the illusion will shatter.

I think many readers will eat this story up. And so they should. There is a lot to chew on. Moody, spicy, sexy, vivid, and creepy-as-hell. But even with such an intense, flavourful plot, I didn’t exactly devour the novel as I was expecting to. But I think that says more about my individual taste than the book. The Gothic, swampy setting is very reminiscent of True Blood. Thankfully, Cauchemar isn’t campy like the show, though it gets up there on the melodrama ladder.

Overall, this is a rich piece of literature and Grigorescu is a gifted writer who has created a near 4D experience for her readers. There is just so much going on at all times, we jump from danger to danger, to flashbacks, to betrayal, to nightmares and visions, to magic, and an ever-present otherworldly presence blanketing everyone and everything. Yet, despite all this weight, the story moves extraordinarily quickly, which can be a bit jarring. We’re riding out this fantastical storm, white-knuckling the sides of the boat without rest. There were times where I wanted to stop and breathe and sink into the characters and this seductive world without another thing creeping up on me, but I wasn’t given the opportunity. Also, Hannah reminded me of a bit of Harry Potter in that she was often carried through the novel, piggybacking on the plot and the actions of others. Things kept happening to her and we experience them through her eyes, but so MUCH happens; one life-changing, traumatic wave crashing into her only to be followed by another (equally distressing) one immediately after. She doesn’t seem to get the chance to fully deal with all the awful things that happen to her, so neither do we. Because of this, I think the story could have been wrung out a bit, leaving a few things behind in order to bolster the impact of others, however, none of this made me want to jump ship. This isn’t a story you can just abandon and swim for shore. There is enough of a “wtf” factor to keep you reading until you find out exactly what happens in the end. CAUCHEMAR is a page-turner and Bella’s Bookshelves was right in saying it is a movie just waiting to be made, but it would definitely have to be a trilogy AT LEAST, maybe even a franchise, to do every element justice.

Thanks to Sam @ ECW for the arc and AG for answering my two little Qs!

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Brace Yourselves for Tony Burgess

Image 1I’ve had Tony Burgess on my to-read list for months. Unfortunately, things keep getting in the way, which has kind of upped the suspense in reading horror stories by someone who seems synonymous with the term “maniac” (based on the reviews I’ve read so far). I’ve been doing some zombie recon for a super secret pet project (NO, I am not trying to grow synthetic zombie replicas to sell on kijiji during The Walking Dead off season…but CLOSE! Nevermind, I’ve already said too much…) and reading Burgess was definitely an eye opening, near retching experience. And I say that with praise.

So I actually read two Burgess novels this week because after I finished the first one, I didn’t really know how to move on with my life, let alone a new book, so I figured I might as well keep walking down this road to creep town.

Tony Burgess’s novel Pontypool Changes Everything (ECW Press, 1998) takes place in the small town of Pontypool Ontario, about 30 minutes from where I live. One time, I saw a wonderfully charming live performance about the settlement heritage of Pontypool put on by 4th Line Theatre. Burgess’s novel is the complete antithesis of that. Exploring a deadly Image 2virus that is contracted through language, the story follows several characters in the wake of this epidemic that begins spreading across Ontario, first as a version of aphasia and culminating in bloody, neck-breaking cannibals. This original and brilliant premise is wrapped in a fragmented, surreal, violent, and hazy narrative that takes some commitment as a reader. There is also film version, loosely based on the novel.

The N-Body Problem is Burgess’s latest (released in October from Chizine) and it might be the most shockingly twisted novel I’ve ever read. Ever. A story that starts off in a world where the bodies of the undead are orbiting the Earth, turns into something so insane and grotesque, I’m actually awestruck. Tony Burgess definitely isn’t for everybody, but this is post-apocalyptic horror literature (and I mean literature because it is severely well-written) that stretches the genre to the extreme. A particularly unique and wild take on a zombie story, I read The n-Body Problem in one sitting, and was immobilized for a good 30+ minutes afterwards. If you want to blow your reader expectation out of the water (and have a stomach for the sick and graphic) give this one a shot, it’s on a whole other warped little planet.
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Mini Reviews: An ECW Triple Bill

I’ve been meaning to talk about these books for a while now. All three of them stuck with me for a long time after I had read them recently. Three hard-hitters in strong subject matter and emotional punch, swirling varient themes of faith, trust, desire and suffering in a pool of beautifully written prose. All three of these books were written by amazing women authors (two of them being debut novels) and published by ECW Press. ECW (or Entertainment, Culture, Writing) is a Canadian publisher that continues to impress me with its breadth of content. I’m especially drawn to their literary selection, though they publish everything from Taylor Swift books to Wrestle mania, mystery, and children’s novels. Their books feel good to the touch, they provoke you, they make you think. Most importantly, they are stories I know I’m going to want to revisit and discuss…once I’ve had a chance to cope.

ECW

Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles chronicles a passionate affair between a Charlie, a married writer, and Veronica, an engaged hairdresser. These inherently flawed characters make for an engrossing trajectory that pits emotions and moral consciousness against each other, while waiting for that imminent crash and burn moment when one finally wins out over the other. Appropriately titled (with a beautiful and simple cover image) Fowles depicts all the unraveling complications of love and hate, duty, and deceit with accuracy and resolution.

ECW2The Miracles of Ordinary Men begins with Sam, who wakes up to find angel wings have inexplicably sprouted out of his back. Though only a select few can see them, his life begins falling apart under their weight. At the same time, Lilah, in coping with her younger brother’s recent mental collapse, finds sexual penance at the hand of her otherworldly boss. A haunting exploration of God, faith, and uncertainty that forces secular humanity into the face of inexplicable wonders. A brilliant take on good and evil under the guise of magical realism, Leduc draws out terror and magnificence from her writing while still leaving us to search for our own answers.

Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove is the story of a Young Jehovah’s Witness named Emily who idolizes her older, fearless sister Lenora. Once a model Witness, the teenaged Lenora begins to rebel against their rigid upbringing, causing a rift in their already fragile family dynamic. As the child Emily acts like a sponge, filtering the emotionally laden circumstances that occur around her through an innocent perspective. Image 110 years later, adult Emily struggles with the serious emotional and physical scarring that has resulted from it. The slow reveal of what becomes of Emily and the fate of her sister is done with heartbreaking suspense and precision. A powerful, provoking, and intimate narrative that flows seamlessly from first person to third person and back and forth through a tumultuous decade.