I picked this up because I kept seeing people compare it to The Vegetarian, which I enjoyed earlier this year. But having finished Shelter I don't thiI picked this up because I kept seeing people compare it to The Vegetarian, which I enjoyed earlier this year. But having finished Shelter I don't think it is anything like The Vegetarian - other than the subject matter being quite dark and that the author and characters were Asian.
I thought Kyung was a ridiculous character and that any attempts Yun made to make him more sympathetic had the opposite affect - and he wasn't the only one. A number of terrible things happen to almost every character in this novel but I never felt any sort of emotional investment towards them, so events/twists that were supposed to shock and upset me just fell flat. ...more
The High Mountains of Portugal is divided into three parts and each part tells the story of a different person. The first takes us back to 1904 whereThe High Mountains of Portugal is divided into three parts and each part tells the story of a different person. The first takes us back to 1904 where a young man, Tomás, discovers an old journal in Lisbon. Tomás has recently experienced great loss – both the woman he loves and his child have died – so when this journal hints at a mysterious religious artifact he decides to go on a quest to find it and sets off into the mountains in one of the early forms of the automobile.
The second story jumps ahead thirty-five years and introduces us to a Portuguese pathologist. He is a diehard Agatha Christie fan, who when working late one night, encounters a strange woman from the mountains. This woman proclaims that her husband is dead and she would like him to perform an autopsy. Which he does – though he could have never predicted what he finds inside the man. And last but not least, fifty years later, we meet a Portuguese-Canadian senator. After losing his wife, this senator quits his job and decides to move back to his ancestral village in the mountain of Portugal, along with the chimpanzee he recently adopted.
The first section of this book was a rocky start. I had a hard time connecting with the character initially, the writing felt choppy and the plot chaotic. As a long time superfan of Life of Pi, this made me really nervous. But because I love Life of Pi I decided to hang on and see where Martel was going with this. Which was ultimately the right decision, because while I never really felt comfortable with the first story, the second and third blew me away.
Life of Pi was such an interesting book for me when I first read it because of the way it presented faith. The High Mountains of Portugal tackled this theme too but it also look a close look at grief and the way it affects different people. Each one of these men have lost someone close to them and each one of those men handle grief differently from the other, but faith always plays a part. In some cases, like Tomás, it’s more apparent – he is literally searching for a religious artifact. But other times, it’s more subtle. It’s not necessarily faith in God, or a higher power either. Faith it multi-faceted and Matel presents it as such.
Though I really loved this book, I do wish that the women in the stories could have been more. It felt like their entire purpose was to die (or be dead) in order for the men to grieve them. The wife of the pathologist does have a considerable amount of page time, but the story is ultimately his. It might have been nice if a least one of the stories focused on a woman and her grief instead. That may have disrupted the symmetry of the book, but could have provided some unique layers to the point Yann Martel was trying to make....more
Binary Star is a tricky read, that will, at times, make you uncomfortable. In many ways the life of the couple in this novel is a train wreck you can’Binary Star is a tricky read, that will, at times, make you uncomfortable. In many ways the life of the couple in this novel is a train wreck you can’t look away from. He is an unemployed alcoholic who pops too many pills. She is a grad student with a very serious eating disorder...
Alphabetique is one of the most unique books I read in 2014. It’s a collection of twenty-six shorThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Alphabetique is one of the most unique books I read in 2014. It’s a collection of twenty-six short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. Which would make it unique enough on its own. But Molly Peacock takes it one step further by making each letter the subject of the stories themselves.
The stories all have clever titles like “E’s Encyclopedia of Emotions” (a personal favourite) and “While Jiggle Juggles, J Makes Jam” and none are longer than a few pages. It’s an impressive exercise in creative writing and one that demonstrates what a strong command Peacock has of English vocabulary and language.
It may not the best book to curl up with. The stories, small, bite-sized length, make it ideal for stolen minutes, when you just need a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. You can read and enjoy “C, the Softie” and then quickly get back to whatever you’re doing. Each story is also accompanied by beautiful illustrations, which would make it a great gift for the book lover in your life....more
In 2010 a massive earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. In only thirty-fiveThis review originally appears on More Than Just Magic
In 2010 a massive earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. In only thirty-five seconds 200,000 people died and more than a million were left homeless. It’s impossible to forget those early days after the earthquake – it dominated the news. Now, a few years later, we don’t hear as much about it. Which is why when I first heard about Dimitry Elias Léger’s novel, about the days following the earthquake, I knew I had to read it. The effects of this natural disaster are still felt across the country and the people are still mourning those they lost and trying to rebuild. It’s important that we don’t forget what happened.
I expected God Loves Haiti to provide an insider’s view into what Port-au-Prince was like in those early days. I expected it to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of having the international community so invested in their recovery. But what I didn’t anticipate was just how Léger would explore these issues. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture, Léger broke down the situation into three distinct points of view.
“They tell me the stats without giving me the resources to change the situation, knowing full we can’t generate the resources on our own.”
1) The President – This is a man frustrated by how little his position means, how little power he actually has. Previously he has grown a little disillusioned with his country, and its people’s ability to pull themselves together. But the earthquake has given him some perspective. It allows him to see there are ways to help his people and that Haiti is about more than him and his job. It’s about a people and a culture who have survived against all odds.
“The Americans, like the French before them, want nothing more than to make those decisions for us.”
2) Alain – In many ways Alain is the President’s polar opposite. Unlike the President, Alain had never once lost hope that Haiti had a bright future ahead. Until the earthquake that is. The earthquake took everything he loved from him – his girlfriend, his home, his city. Injured and alone he doesn’t go home or try and make contact with his family. Instead he stays in the refugee camp and lives with the rest of the survivors. Through him we see some of the dichotomy of Haitian society, but also the diversity of the people and their will to survive.
“Haitians found facing the future to be exquisitely difficult after the most reliable thing they had ever known in their life, the ground they stood on, had decided to violently betray them without warning.”
3) Natasha – Natasha may be the most complex character of them all. She’s an artist, and a dreamer. But she’s also a bit of a pragmatist. She’s the melting pot of the ideas that separate The President and Alain – fitting since they are both enamoured by her. Minutes before the earthquake Natasha was prepared to leave Haiti behind forever. She had locked her lover (Alain) in the closet and was going to hop of a plane with her husband (The President) and disappear into the Italian countryside. She had given her country her soul via her art and she was ready to let go. But there’s nothing like a near death experience to make you reconsider your choices.
At times God Loves Haiti can be a bit heavy handed. There is a message that Léger wants to communicate and it is obvious throughout. But it’s not because he doesn’t trust the reader to figure it out for themselves. It’s because it’s too important to waste time being subtle. This novel provides a quick, but enlightening glance into a country that we really only hear about when tragedy strikes. We need more books like this....more
A Reunion of Ghosts is the story of three sisters – Vee, Lady and Delph. They’ve always been closThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
A Reunion of Ghosts is the story of three sisters – Vee, Lady and Delph. They’ve always been close. Maybe a little too close. But as far as they were concerned, they were all each other had. When Vee got cancer, when Lady tried to commit suicide and when Delph wanted to hide away from the world they turn to each other.
It’s not entirely their own fault that they shut themselves off from the world. They’re burdened by what they believe to be the family curse. They believe their great grandfather did something so horrible that his sins are trickling down all the way to the fourth generation. Just like the Kennedys. But instead of assassinations and plane crashes, their family is constantly done in by suicides. Delph’s even made them a handy chart to keep track.
So when Vee’s cancer returns with a vengeance, they decide there’s only one thing for them to do. They’ll die together. They have no heirs. They’re the last generation – the curse will end with them. But before they go, they’re going to write a note – a note detailing their family history and what led them to this final destination. And that note is this book.
A Reunion of Ghosts is a challenging read – and not just because it’s a giant suicide note. That’s actually the least of it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that’s what these three sisters are writing it for. It’s challenging because the history involved, the format of the novel and the voice. And none of that is a bad thing, it just meant I had to adjust my expectations as I was reading.
Let’s start with the history, because for these three sisters, history is everything. (The history is also closely tied into the format.) Their great grandfather, Lenz Alter was a scientist. Technically, so was their great grandmother – she was the first woman in Germany to attend university and receive her PhD. Although her dreams of working alongside her husband in the lab were never realized. But the curse begins with Lenz, not because he kept his wife out of the lab, but because of what he invented in there. It was called the “manna project” and it was a fertilizer intended to save the world. However, when war broke out they realized it could be put to other uses as well, and behold! chemical warfare was born.
The novel jumps back and forth quite frequently between the girls in the present, and their ancestors before them. At times, when it jumped back to tell the story from the perspective of one of these ancestors it could be difficult to keep everyone and all the events straight. It felt a little like I was being ping-ponged throughout history. Their fictional history was fascinating however, and it’s easy to understand why they might think they were cursed. Though at times it took me a minute to get my bearings, I ultimately think having the history interspersed throughout the text, worked better for Vee, Lady and Delph’s character development than had Judith Claire Mitchell chosen a more linear style. Immediately after you read about an important event in their family history, you were able to understand what the trickle down effect was for the rest of the family.
The interwoven history and characters isn’t the only thing that makes A Reunion of Ghosts unique – there’s also the voice. A Reunion of Ghosts is written in first person plural. Instead of “I” statements, everything is written in “we” statements. It is in every way Vee, Lady, and Delph’s shared story, they are three parts of one whole. The only other book I’ve ever read in this format is Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters. It’s a style that seems to lend itself perfectly to stories about siblings – different people, forever linked by their shared history and blood.
At times A Reunion of Ghosts can be frustrating. It can be frustrating to read about this deeply flawed family and their deeply flawed decisions over the years. It can also be frustrating to play witness to the sisters’s fatalist attitude when there are other options in front of them every step of the way. But it’s frustrating in a good way. It’s frustrating because in every other way you love these characters. They’re quirky, weird and they love puns (girls after my own heart). They’re the kind of people I would want to hang around with if they hadn’t decided to avoid all other human contact. It doesn’t matter that this book is complicated and frustrating, in the end it’s impossible to put down....more
Further Out Than You Thought is the story of twenty-five year old Gwendolyn Griffin. Life has notThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Further Out Than You Thought is the story of twenty-five year old Gwendolyn Griffin. Life has not been easy for her recently. In order to put herself through grad school she started stripping. It was only supposed to be temporary, but with her boyfriend out of work and bills piling up it’s gone on longer than expected. To make matters worse she’s just found out she’s pregnant and the LA riots have broken out. It’s a tumultuous time and Gwen isn’t entirely sure how she’s going to make it through it all.
There are three main characters of significance throughout this novel, Gwen (or Stevie Smith when she’s on stage), Leo her boyfriend and their depressed, gay best friend Count Valiant. Though they are all important to the story, the real focus is Gwen herself. In addition to being a grad student, she’s an aspiring poet, and it shows. She will take every opportunity to wax poetic, whether she’s watching the other strippers, fighting the roaches in her apartment, or witnessing the city aflame. At first I really enjoyed the lyrical writing style, it was an interesting perspective to view Gwen’s world through. But after awhile the overuse of metaphors grew tiresome.
There also wasn’t as much about the riots as I expected. Though they are taking place over the course of the novel. and though they influence Gwen, Leo and Valiant, they are not the focus. At first I was a little disappointed. I was pretty young when the riots actually happened and I was curious to learn more about them. But as the book went on I was so wrapped up in the drama of the characters I didn’t mind as much. Further Out Than You Thought is a character driven novel. It is about the trials and obstacles they face and the growth they experience along the way. If you’re a fan of character-driven stories you’ll really enjoy it, there is plenty to dissect and examine.
Further Out Than You Thought is a gritty, emotionally raw novel that explores the intertwined lives of three troubled people. It’s a fascinating read, if not a little verbose, and one that I would recommend to more adventurous book clubs. It’s dark but it will leave you will a lot to talk about....more
Despite having only read a couple of Mitchell’s novels I have no problem referring to him as oneThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Despite having only read a couple of Mitchell’s novels I have no problem referring to him as one of my favourite authors. Just recently I was tagged in a Facebook post and asked to share the top ten books that influenced me most. Cloud Atlas was one of the first books that popped into my head. I know Cloud Atlas is a rather polarizing book – people either love it or hate it – but its story and the journey of the characters over generations really spoke to me. I was a little worried that The Bone Clocks wouldn’t live up to my expectations but I ended up loving it just as much as his previous work (if not a little more).
Like Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks also takes place over a long period of time. But this time it’s slightly more contained – jumping in intervals of ten years, rather than entire generations. Each part focuses on a different character but there is a common thread drawing them all together – Holly Sykes (the focus of the first part). In many ways what happens after part one is simply the ripple effect of Holly’s life. Through her relationships with other people they too are able to become subjects of this story. Underneath the more science fiction elements of this novel it is about how people are connected to one another – which is a theme you may be familiar with if you’ve read Mitchell’s earlier work.
But this isn’t just a novel about interconnectedness. It’s also a story of redemption. Everyone in this story has something they feel guilty about. Crispin Hershey feels bad about sending a book reviewer, Richard Cheeseman, to jail in Columbia. Ed, Holly’s husband, feels guilty about the deaths of his photographer and guide in Iraq. Even Holly herself lives with the guilt of her younger brother’s disappearance. It’s a feeling every character struggles with at one time or another, and it informs the decisions they make from that point on. And whether they realize it or not they are all trying to make up for it in their own way. Holly writes her book as an attempt to reach her brother, Ed heads back into the danger zone and Crispin starts the “Friends of Richard Cheeseman” group to try and secure his release.
All of the characters in this novel were incredibly fascinating, complex individuals. They all had a unique story to tell. And what made them even more unique was, due to the format of the novel, the reader gets to know them over time. We get to see how much things have changed for them and how much things have stayed the same. In a way we become Horologists ourselves when reading this novel. They are born over and over again witnessing different stages of the world. While reading The Bone Clocks you get to experience the same thing, but without the forty-nine days in the Dusk.
The icing on the cake however is Mitchell’s prose. I tried to describe what his books were like to a friend and found it a near impossible task. He has a style all his own. A little bit of this. A little bit of that. A lot of things you would never expect. It is criminal how easy it is to slip into the universe he has created – a universe that spans not only years but his books as well. For anyone that loves compelling stories and authors that aren’t afraid to push the envelope, The Bone Clocks is the one book you need to read this year....more
When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearinThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearing some buzz about this title and how great the writing was but didn’t really know what it was about. And the gold horses combined with the blurb from Erin Morgenstern made me think I was in for some sort of magical circus story. In case you were under the same impression let me set the record straight – that is not at all what this book is about. In actuality The Enchanted is a dark yet gorgeous novel about life, hope, and the death penalty.
The story opens on Death Row. Our narrator has been in the “dudgeon” for some time now. He doesn’t speak, he simply observes. But the world he observes is much different then the one you or I might see should we visit that same place. Everything he sees and hears is affected by his belief that the prison is an enchanted place, and that gives his words a magical quality. He is particularly focused on the comings and goings of “the warden,” “the priest” and perhaps most importantly, “the lady” – a death penalty investigator who is on the case of the inmate in the cell next to him. All the characters are interesting but “the lady” was the one that stood out for me above all the others. She had a foot in both worlds – in the darkness of the prison and in the light of hope and humanity.
Before reading this novel I had no idea that “death penalty investigator” was even a job and I was fascinated by the lady’s process and the information she discovered. She looks into the childhood of one of the inmates and some of the things she discovers are incredibly disturbing. It’s not that her efforts are trying to excuse the crime but simply better understand it. I think through her eyes the reader is given a very balanced look at both perpetrator and the consequences of his actions.
In addition, The Enchanted provides a bit of an inside look into the correctional system. It’s a very honest and at times difficult account of what that life is like. This takes place in the United States, so of course there are a number of differences from our own system. But there are a lot of similarities as well. I have a number of family members who work in corrections and from listening to them I can attest that there are definitely some issues in this book that pop up in the Canadian system as well. Things like food, corruption, contraband, rape etc. Denfeld doesn’t sugar coat anything, but rather lays out the truth for you to draw your own opinions and tap into your own humanity.
What really amazes me about this book is how Denfeld uses such beautiful prose to describe such horrific things. Her writing is lyrical and poetic and I dog eared so many pages of my copy because I knew there were passages I would want to come back to over and over again. The way this book touches on hope, on love, on compassion – even in the midst of all the darkness and despair – is a beautiful thing. There is magic inside this book, just not in the way I expected. The magic is in the prose, in the characters and in the story. Trust me when I say this book will defy your expectations and blow you away....more
When I was younger my family had a cottage out near Westport Ontario. On the road to the cottageThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I was younger my family had a cottage out near Westport Ontario. On the road to the cottage there was a house that had a large cage out in it’s side yard. My mom used to regale us with stories of the bear they kept there. His name was Tony and they used to stop by in the summer to see him and feed him treats. I was too young to have ever met Tony the Bear but I’ve heard so many stories I feel like he was a part of my life too. So all throughout reading All the Broken Things I secretly imagined “Bear,” the young cub Bo trains, was inspired by Tony, which made me fall even more in love with the book then I would have anyway.
But even if you don’t have a random pet bear story from your childhood I think you’ll love this book. It’s a heart warming story about a boy trying to survive despite the odds. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Bo. When he was younger he came over to Canada with his parents from Vietnam, unfortunately his father didn’t make the trip. Now in Canada he has to balance the regular pressures of being a kid with an alcoholic (and slightly agoraphobic) mother and his little sister, Orange, who was born with some pretty serious birth defects because of Agent Orange. His coping mechanism for all these? To get into almost daily fights with another boy from school.
Bo is a fighter both literally and figuratively. He does what he needs to in order to survive. When a local carnival man, Gerry, see’s him fight he asks Bo to come wrestle bears for him. Now I think most kids would run in the opposite direction from an offer like that, but Bo see’s it for the opportunity it is – not just to make money, but also to have a place where he belongs. His situation gets a lot worse before it gets better but he keeps fighting all the way through. And you’re sure to become one of the many fans cheering him on from the stands.
I think most readers will also adore Bear. Throughout the course of the novel you see her grow from a cub to her full size, but no matter her size she will charm the pants off you. It was occasionally easy to forget it wasn’t a dog Bo was leading around Toronto. She was so loyal and obedient it was amazing. But she was more than just a pet. She had a strong personality of her own and that could make her unpredictable. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time – half worried something horrible was going to happen to Bear and half worried she was going to do something horrible. You’ll just have to read for yourself to find out if either scenario came true.
I had a few small issues with the novel. I thought the choice of Orange for the sister’s name felt a little off. Early on the reader is told that it is short for Orange Blossom. A nice name but given that her deformities were caused by Agent Orange it seemed a little too on the nose for me. I also struggled a bit with “Teacher” – Bo’s teacher and one of the church members who sponsored their immigration. At times she seemed super involved with their lives and at other times she became incredibly distant. Of all the characters she was the only one who felt inconsistent.
Small nit picky things aside All the Broken Things is a beautiful, unique and slightly bizarre book. It tackles a lot of issues – from family, to freedom and survival, to the effects of Agent Orange and the roll Canada played in it. It’s an interesting and thought provoking novel that I think would work great for book clubs. The story is quite layered so there would be a lot of pick a part and discuss (and if you’re not in a book club feel free to tweet me and we can discuss!) All the Broken Things is an original coming of age story about a boy and his bear against the world and I highly recommend you check it out....more
The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet Minturn, a half Chinese, half American girl livingThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet Minturn, a half Chinese, half American girl living in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. The story follows her from when she was a small girl in her mother’s courtesan house, to becoming a courtesan herself, to married life and beyond. It is a rich and detailed tale and is really a testament to Amy Tan’s skill as a storyteller.
From the first few pages I felt transported into the world of Chinese courtesans. It’s a snippet of history I know very little about but it is definitely a fascinating one. Though at first glance many may dismiss their profession as high class prostitution, it was also interesting to see the ways these women wielded some power over men. Especially in a time when women had almost no power at all. No matter how bad Violet’s situation got she carried on. All the women in this book did. The men on the other hand were a different story. There were times I become enraged by their actions in the story and I had to remind myself they were a) from a different time period and b) fictional to keep myself from throwing the book across the room. (The exception to this being Edward who I will adore forever).
Though the setting is beautifully articulated it is the characters who really make this story shine. Not just major characters like Violet and her mother Lulu, but minor ones as well like her mother’s business partner Golden Dove and an old friend named Danner. I found myself growing attached to so many of the characters and didn’t want to stop reading because I missed them when I was away from the book.
A lot of coverage of this book (including the synopsis above) focuses in on the relationship between mothers and daughters. That is a huge theme throughout the story. Both the relationship between Violet and her mother, Lulu and Violet and her own child. They have a challenging relationship. But what I found myself focusing on the most was the tumultuous relationship Violet has with her father. His lack of presence from a young age is something that shapes Violet’s personal identity right from the get go and as pieces of him keep popping up throughout her life she is constantly forced to revisit her feelings towards this man she barely knows and who didn’t want her because she was a girl.
Be warned, however, this is a long book. If you’re the kind of person that wants to know every detail of a story, you will love The Valley of Amazement. But if you’re the kind of reader that prefers fast paced, plot driven novels, you may find this a bit too dry.
I personally found The Valley of Amazement to be a fascinating, rich novel about a period of history that isn’t often talked about. The story will shock, surprise and amaze you as you follow Violet and Lulu’s struggles to survive on their own and be a stronger person than they were before. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha or family sagas like The Pillars of the Earth and the House of the Spirits, The Valley of Amazement will appeal to you....more
You know when you watch an episode of The Simpsons and it starts out in one place and ends up inThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
You know when you watch an episode of The Simpsons and it starts out in one place and ends up in a completely different one? But you don’t even realize how far off course you went until it’s all over? That’s kind of what this book is like.
The Universe versus Alex Woods, is, unsurprisingly, about a young man named Alex Woods – a boy who was never meant to have a regular life. Hit on the head by a falling meterorite at ten years old he becomes a bit of an outcast at school and befriends Mr Peterson, a old American Vietnam war veteran in his neighbourhood. That alone would make an interesting novel in my opnion, but this book takes things a bit further when it introduces Kurt Vonnegut to the mix.
Unlike Mr Peterson, who loves Vonnegut’s work, I have never been a huge fan. I’ve read a few of his books and well I think they’re well written I didn’t see why people LOVED them. But during The Universe vs Alex Woods, we follow Alex’s discovery of the books and the book club he forms as a result and I found myself wanting to read all of Vonnegut’s books. Especially ones I hadn’t heard of before – like the Sirens of Titan and Timequake. Alex’s enthusiasm about these books and the conversations the book club have made me excited to give Vonnegut’s writing another shot. I love when a book gets me excited about reading even more.
And then if that wasn’t enough this book switches trajectory once again. I don’t want to reveal to much about what happens next but this book addresses a pretty important and serious political and social debate. It’s a fantastic look at humanity, dignity and a person’s right to agency over their own body. And though the book ended on a sad note, it was also – in my opinion – the appropriate one. I was proud of Alex and I wish he was a real person so I could hug him.
The Universe Vs Alex Woods is one of those books that manages to be a great many things all at the same time. It’s thoughtful and intelligent – without being condescending. I hate when books purposely try to be clever but it all feels very natural here. This book is also compelling. You want to know what will happen to Alex and where is crazy life will take him next. And surpringly, given some of the subject matter, this book is funny. Gavin Extence’s voice is charming and refreshing and I’m really looking forward to reading more of his work.
Recommendation: The Universe Vs Alex Woods was a book that really resonated with me. It is thought provoking and heart warming without being annoying, depressing or over the top. Highly recommended....more