A few weeks ago I plucked up the courage to reach out to House of Anansi Press about reviewing some of their books and was thrilled to get a response back from them! I’ve always enjoyed the incredible range of books that come from this company and was so excited when I received a package from them only a few days later. In said package were two incredibly different novels from some authors I wasn’t previously familiar with. The first was Clifford by Canadian author, Harold R. Johnson, and the second was the German thriller by Melanie Raabe (translated into English by Imogen Taylor), The Stranger Upstairs.
I very much enjoyed both of these novels and can’t thank Anansi Press enough. And now for the reviews!!
Clifford is the fictional biography Harold R. Johnson has written in memory of his deceased brother, Clifford. After the events of his brother’s funeral, Harold returns to his derelict childhood home to spend the night on the land and revisit the memories shared with his family and – more importantly – his brother.
The story is a simple on to follow and is full of not only quirky stories about science and the meaning of reality, but also the hardships of Native children in a time of cultural genocide and Residential Schools, although those aren’t the primary focus of the book. To be honest, it wasn’t the story itself that had me captivated with this book, but it was the way it was told.
The narration that Johnson provides is like having coffee with a dear friend after a tragedy. The dear friend in question being the kind of person who will respond with “I’m not ready to talk about it” or something similar when prompted about the tragedy, but is content to talk about it at their own pace. Having recently lost a family member myself, I found that tone to be very comforting and it was quite honesty a book that just felt safe – for lack of a better word.
I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for more of Johnson’s work, regardless of it being fiction or non-fiction. He has an incredible writing voice and that alone makes this a novel worth checking out.
Author: Harold R. Johnson
Published: August 28, 2018
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Synopsis: When Harold Johnson returns to his childhood home in a northern Saskatchewan Indigenous community for his brother Clifford’s funeral, the first thing his eyes fall on is a chair. It stands on three legs, the fourth broken off and missing. So begins a journey through the past, a retrieval of recollections that have too long sat dormant. Moving from the old family home to the log cabin, the garden, and finally settling deep in the forest surrounding the property, his mind circles back, shifting in time and space, weaving in and out of memories of his silent, powerful Swedish father; his formidable Cree mother, an expert trapper and a source of great strength; and his brother Clifford, a precocious young boy who is drawn to the mysterious workings of the universe.
THE STRANGER UPSTAIRS
Melanie Raabe’s latest thriller, The Stranger Upstairs, is a terrifying novel of threats, lies, and uncertainty that had me physically anxious while reading. Sarah Petersen has been a single mother to her 8-year-old son, Leo, since her husband’s disappearance seven years ago. After so long, she is shocked to receive a call informing her that her husband has been found and is on his way back to Hamberg as they speak. Nervous and excited to see Phillip again, Sarah’s world is turned entirely upside-down when it’s a stranger that meets her at the airport rather than her husband.
Imogen Taylor did a wonderful job in translating the novel into English as this is probably the single most stressful novel I’ve ever read in my entire life. The pacing is rather slow – something that usually annoys me in a book like this – but it entirely works with the plot as things unwind and become more and more complicated, building tension even in the quietest of scenes. The twists are wild and unpredictable and having the narrative switch between Sarah and The Stranger adds that extra layer of “What in the hell is going on?!?!” that really sucks you into the story entirely.
The ending wasn’t what I was expecting at all, and even as I write this review I don’t know exactly how I feel about it, but either way this is the strongest thriller I have read in a long time. I would highly recommend reading this if you want a scary – but non-horror – read for the October season.
Author: Melanie Raabe
Published: September 11, 2018
Publisher: Spiderline (House of Anansi Press)
Synopsis: Several years ago, your husband, and the father of your young son, disappeared. Since then, you’ve dreamt of his return; railed against him for leaving you alone; grieved for your marriage; and, finally, vowed to move on. One morning, the phone rings. When you answer, a voice at the other end tells you your husband’s on a plane bound for home, and that you’ll see him tomorrow. You’ve imagined this reunion countless times. Of course you have. But nothing has prepared you for the reality. For the moment you realize you don’t know this man. Because he isn’t your husband; he’s a complete stranger — and he’s coming home with you. Even worse, he seems to know about something very bad you once did — something no one else could possibly know about . . . Could they?
Thank you again to House of Anansi Press for sending me copies of these books in exchange for my honest reviews.