Like Water for Chocolate, is the story of a Mexican girl named Tita. She is desperately in love with Pedro but life, and her mother, have conspired to keep them apart. Instead of being together Tita has to watch as Pedro marries her sister and she is forced to live a life of servitude under her domineering mother. Told in monthly instalments this novel tracks the relationship (or lack thereof) of Tita and Pedro and how their love affects the people around them.
I thought this book was really clever. Not only was each chapter a month of the year, each was accompanied by a recipe. The chapter would open with an ingredient list and instructions on how to cook the dish. These instructions, however, would always segue in the central themes and conflicts of that chapter. I was amazed by how seamless some of these transitions were. It is a real testament to Esquivel`s writing that she could preform this feat twelve times over and still keep me interested in the story.
This book has been frequently described as a love story and while that's part of it, I think that is too simple of a description. Instead I would like to describe this book as a full out soap opera! Tita's in love with Pedro, Pedro is married to Rosaura, the other sister is running around naked, brides are throwing up on their wedding gowns and the mother is obsessed with making everyone unhappy. And to top it all off they're all living under the same roof. It's like Days of Our Lives meets The Bachelor Pad! Sometimes the absurdity of the situation just made me outright giggle. You'll find yourself reading on just to see what these crazy characters will get up to next.
Like Water for Chocolate, is a fun and charming novel. There are some really ridiculous – and at times down right weird – moments but there are also some really sweet ones. Esquivel uses some interesting and very unique methods to help the reader look into the life of one crazy family and I think her techniques are something to be appreciated. Definitely one to stick one the shelf and have on hand whenever you need a reminder there are families crazier than your own. (less)
“‘So I’m finally going mad,’ she thought, ‘like everybody else. What a nuisance. Though I suppose it will be a change.’
The Edible Woman is easily one...more“‘So I’m finally going mad,’ she thought, ‘like everybody else. What a nuisance. Though I suppose it will be a change.’
The Edible Woman is easily one of my top 3 Atwood novels. I can not believe this is a début - the writing is excellent, the ideas and themes are expertly built into every scene and despite it’s rather serious message it’s a fun and captivating read.
This is Atwood’s first novel – published in 1965. A lot of the groundwork for themes that pop up throughout her body of work are outlined here. It explores female identity and societal expectations but Atwood claims it isn’t a “feminist” text. It’s more proto feminist – a book that touched on some of the very ideas/opinions that were soon to come in the feminist movement. I think it’s fair to say that Atwood was a bit a head of the curve. But she didn’t just predict what was to come. She also penned – in my opinion – a novel with enduring themes. There’s a timelessness to it. Though it takes place in 1960s Toronto, so much has remained the same. Change the fashion and the food prices and this novel could have easily taken place today.
Loss of Identity
“You didn’t tell me it was a masquerade. Who the hell are you supposed to be?”
The Edible Woman is the story of Marian. A young woman living and working in Toronto, she has a pretty normal life. Has an apartment with a room mate in a decent neighbourhood, works Monday-Friday, and is dating a nice boy. It’s the kind of life she’s supposed to want. Her life is “on track”. But when her boyfriend proposes she has an…unexpected reaction. She loses herself, while she’s trying to fit the model of what society and her fiancée want her to be – the loving, adoring soon-to-be wife who is supposed to quit her job, love wedding planning, ready to have babies etc.
These expectations begin to weigh down on Marian and she sort of disconnects from her life. She begins a pseudo-affair with a graduate student named Duncan, she disconnects from food – first meat and then other foods as well. There’s this fantastic scene at the party where Marian’s fiancée is trying to take her picture. The scene is set up to show how Marian feels like she’s in the cross hairs, being hunted – at one point she even confuses his camera with a gun.
Atwood demonstrates this dramatic change with a narrative switch. I haven’t seen too many other books employ this tactic, so maybe that’s why it stands out for me so much. The first section of the book is told in first person. But after the proposal – when her life begins to turn upside down – the narrative switches to third person, like an outsider looking in. And then finally when she gets things back on track the novel switches back into first person. I think it’s kind of brilliant, and it’s actually more subtle than it sounds. I didn’t even notice it during my first read through.
“For an instant she felt them, their identities, almost their substance, pass over her head like a wave. At some time she would be — or no, already she was like that too; she was one of them, her body the same, identical, merged with that other flesh that choked the air in the flowered room with its sweet organic scent; she felt suffocated by this thick sargasso-sea of femininity.”
The other thing about The Edible Woman that really stands out for me is the food. Particularly the descriptions of food and how Marian reacts to various pieces. She begins to identify with the animals (and later with vegetables and even the mould growing in her sink) and the food begins to taste differently to her. The muscles and tendons between her teeth. At times it can get quite disturbing.
Food has been a fascinating subject for me, ever since my first attempt to become a vegetarian in the 9th grade. I began to read books like In Defence of Food, Fast Food Nation, Food Inc and the like. I find the more I read about food and the consumer culture around food, the more fascinated I am by it. I’ve been a vegetarian now for a number of years and there’s a lot of moments in The Edible Woman I could relate personally too. I don’t think Atwood is advocating for vegetarianism at all in this novel – but there is something to be said about the expectations surrounding our food, misconceptions about what’s “essential” and what’s “healthy” and consumerism in general.
Furthermore, the ideas surrounding food extend to Marian herself, and the way society can sometimes seem to consume women. This is demonstrated when Marian begins to see her co-workers as entities that can be consumed.
‘They were ripe, some rapidly becoming overripe, some already beginning to shrivel; she thought of them as attached by stems at the tops of their heads to an invisible vine, hanging there in various stages of growth and decay.”
It’s also demonstrated by the final scene. Which I love, but I’ve learned that people have interpreted it in a variety of different ways. I’m going to share my interpretation and I would love to here your thoughts as well.
Warning SPOILERS for the ending of the book!
“‘You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you?”, she said. ’ You’ve been trying to assimilate me.But I’ve made you a substitue, something you’ll like much better. This is what you really wanted all along, isnt it? I’ll get you a fork”
At the end of the novel, Marian makes the cake in the shape of a woman – effectively a cake of herself. She offers it to her finacee, telling him that he;s been trying to consume her so he might as well have the whole thing. When he bolts (as most people would) she proceeds to eat the cake herself.
Here’s where my question lies. The eating of the cake – what does it mean to you? Some people find it quite depressing. They see it as her becoming a consumer again. Entering back into the world of expectations and ignorance. But I see it in a more positive light. She’s re-claiming herself. Taking back the power over her life (hence the switch back to first person). Which version do you subscribe to?
I love The Edible Woman, I think it’s a darkly funny and insightful novel. It definitely leaves you with lots of food for thought (pun intended – sorry). I know a lot of people don’t care for it but it will always be one of my favourites no matter how many times I read it.
A Gate at the Stairs has been on my TBR list for a long time. I first heard about it when it came out...moreReview originally posted at More Than Just Magic
A Gate at the Stairs has been on my TBR list for a long time. I first heard about it when it came out in 2009 but just never picked up for whatever reason. When I saw the audiobook at the library I decided it was time to finally give it a go. And for the most part I’m glad I did. It was a funny, clever read that really grew on me the more I listened.
The description of A Gate at the Stairs doesn’t give all that much away. So I thought I was in for a sort of “inside look at a family”. Tassie – our narrator – isn’t technically a part of that family, but she’s not really an outsider either. Hired on as a babysitter/nanny for the child the couple plans to adopt she see’s them at their best and worst. Through all their achievements and their many, many struggles. So in a way I was exactly right about what this book was going to be. But there’s also so much more to it than that.
I thought Tassie was an excellent character and the perfect narrator. She was fresh and sarcastic and clever (maybe a little too clever sometimes) and one of the only truly likeable characters in the book. But on the other hand there was also a lot that I didn’t like about her – she was a little selfish, self absorbed, at times flaky – which I think is normal for someone her age. She was your average twenty year old. Trying to figure out your footing when you are no longer a teen but don’t feel at all like an adult. I thought she was a great narrator because she has a uniquely blunt and honest perspective that really added to the events that were unfolding.
Out of all the issues that Tassie presents us with in her account of this story, there were two that distinctly stood out in my mind. The treatment of war/soldiers and the idea of multiculturalism.
Early on in the story Tassie’s brother announces that he’s going to enlist. A Gate at the Stairs takes place after 9/11, so enlisting in this case means heading off to Afghanistan. Through his decision and other character’s reactions to this decision we get to see the whole spectrum of people’s beliefs on war and fighting. We get an idea of how even a war fought on distant shores affects those back home. And most importantly (I think) we see how one person’s opinion can fluctuate depending on who the subject of their opinion is.
The second idea/issue that I was fascinated with in this novel was this idea of trying to “deal with” multiculturalism. Sarah – the mother of the adopted child – forms a weekly support group for racially blended families. We only ever get snippets of the conversations they have – as Tassie is listening in from the other room. But I loved the range of emotions and ideas. And I loved the examples of people being in “support” on multiculturalism but only the kind that suits them. I think this part of the book is ripe for discussion and if you’ve read it I would love to hear your thoughts.
And if nothing else A Gate at the Stairs is just really well put together. It’s very clever writing. Although at times it feels like Lorrie Moore is trying too hard. But there are a lot of neat turns of phrase. I had to go back and listen to a few passages because they would really get to me.
“It was like the classic scene in the movies where one lover is on the train and one is on the platform and the train starts to pull away, and the lover on the platform begins to trot along and then jog and then sprint and then gives up altogether as the train speeds irrevocably off. Except in this case I was all the parts: I was the lover on the platform, I was the lover on the train. And I was also the train.”
“Love is a fever,” she said. “And when you come out of it you’ll discover whether you’ve been lucky – or not.”
Notes on the Audio
I really enjoyed Mia Barron as a narrator. Her voice was vibrant and energetic and exactly how I would imagine Tassie speaking. She was not so great at bringing out the personalities/voices of others, but since Tassie was the narrator of the story it makes sense that everyone would sound a little like her trying to imitate them. Overall a fun audiobook and I would definitely listen to more from this narrator.
Recommendation: A clever and insightful book great for fans of adult contemporary, literary fiction and those looking for a good book club pick. Lots to discuss here!(less)
The story itself is a familiar one. Not only does it borrow from The Scarlet Letter, there are strong influences from The Handmaid's Tale here as well. Regardless of its familiarity it is told in a way that in unique and shocking. It takes those stories and it re-enforces their messages in a whole new light.
This book made me FURIOUS. Like throw it against a wall and scream furious (although I promise I am never that mean to my books). I just wanted to grab Hannah Payne by the shoulders and shake her. Her attitude and decisions did not make any sense to me (personally). That's not to say they weren't realistic. They totally were. But they weren't something I myself would do or support. They were decisions that I found ludicrous at the best of times. Let's start with the fact that she constantly puts the Reverend Dale's needs before her own, completly throwing her life away for someone who's married and, oh yeah, her reverend (a huge abuse of power). But the especially sad part is that she seems to have no value or respect for her own life. She takes on all the guilt hereself (when there's definitely blame to share) and falls on a sword that she doesn't deserve. It drove me nuts.
Now that I got all of that off my chest, I want to clarify that none of the above was a criticism of this novel. I love novels that can get me angry and worked up - as long as they're going somewhere with it. I'm talking about novels that make me want to run around and debate people about. When She Woke is one of those novels. It is a novel that will provoke a reaction from you. It'll make you furious and frustrated but will also throw so much insight and sentiment your way that you'll be re-reading passages and staying up into the wee hours just to see what happens.
Obviously since Hannah drove me so crazy, I needed to see what happens to her and what her future will be like. I can't tell you anything about her future without giving key points of the book away, but I can assure you that this book just keeps getting better and better. As you keep reading more and more layers are reaveled. Your assumptions about characters, and society at large, are definitely going to be challenged.
Hillary Jordan has gifted us with an incredible book. It's one that points out the dangers of allowing politics and faith to interact so closely with one another. But more importantly it's a novel that reaches deep down inside you, stirs up your emotions and questions ideas that are so often taken for granted. (less)
Half Blood Blues is a heart wrenching story of survival, betrayal and how the choices we make affect us for the rest of our life.
Half Blood Blues, along with The Sisters Brothers are two books that have received a lot of buzz this award season. Both have received short list nominations for the Giller and Booker prizes. It doesn't get much better than that. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that I read The Sisters Brothers earlier this year and fully enjoyed it. And as a result I went into Half Blood Blues, unsure if it could match it the quality and creativty. Now I can honestly say I don't know which book I prefer more. They're both so good!
But I'm getting off topic. Half Blood Blues is one of those books that feels so gritty and raw with emotion that you become deeply attached to the characters and to the story. They consume you. It's authentic and dark. There are no “good guys” or “villians” - characters are whole people and Edugyan doesn't shy away from showcasing darker side of human nature.
The most brilliant example of this is Sidney Griffith. In my opinion Sid is one of those great literary characters that only come around every now and again. He's not perfect man. Far from it – I could write a list a mile long of all the things he's done or characteristics he should change. But he's someone you connect with, someone you can relate to. Despite all his flaws, you find yourself pulling for him. It was almost a protective feeling I had for Sid – like I wanted to shield him from the world and tell him it was going to be ok from here on out, but at the same time I also knew he was going to be okay.
Writing and characters aside, however, the most amazing part of this book is the ending. And I don't just mean that it is a well put together ending. When I got near the end of this book I didn't want to know what happened. Without giving too much away, there comes a point where Sid is presented with a particular choice. Both options have their benefits but both also have their consequences. Some many argue strongly for one side or another but really it's a choice that could go either way. I found there was a part of me that didn't want to know what Sid chose. Whatever choice he would end up making would defining who he was as a person and I almost didn't want to know, I wanted it to be ambiguous, because in real life isn't always going to be ambiguous? I still think he chose well and Edugyan ended on a strong note, but there's still that little part of me that wishes I had stopped reading right before reaching the end.
Half Blood Blues blew me away. It is a beautifully written book - Esi Edugyan writes with a strong voice and forms amazing, complex characters. The story broke my heart and by the end of it all it felt like I had lived it right along with them. It's an amazing read, more than worthy of all the attention and recognition it's been receiving. (less)
After spending a few days with this novel, reading and rereading passages, I can honestly say it is one interesting experiment of a book.
Once you crack open Why Men Lie, it won't take long for you to realize that Linden MacIntyre is trying to make a point. It wasn't always clear to me what that point was but there was definitely more than a simple story here. This wasn't really a surprise to me, his earlier book The Bishop's Man, also carried a strong message and after years on the fifth estate I imagine he probably has a lot of points/ideas he wants to get out. Trying to figure out, just what exactly he was trying to communicate was probably my favourite part of the entire novel.
I hadn't realized right away that this book is a companion novel of sorts to The Bishop's Men. Effie is the sister of Duncan, the protagonist of The Bishop's Man. She's not a major player in the first novel but it's interesting to see how MacIntyre expands on her story. If you ever find yourself wondering what happens to a specific character after a story ends, you may be interested in Why Men Lie. It gives life to characters who otherwise would have be forgotten.
MacIntyre also makes the daring move of writing this new novel from a women's point-of-view. I say daring because I can't even begin to count the number of male authors who have fallen flat on their face when trying to attempt this feat. I have to admit he pulls it off pretty well. Effie has a strong voice and a somewhat overbearing attitude. And I think MacIntyre captures it perfectly. At times she drove me crazy and made me want to hit her over the head with the very book I was reading, but in the back of the head I knew I was supposed to feel that way.
This is a novel that gave me pause and still has me mulling over the question of "Why Men Lie?" That being said, despite the interesting premise and the strong narrative voice, this book is no Bishop's Man. It was just missing that captivating quality that made me want to keep reading and cast aside all the other books in favour of this one. Maybe that's asking too much? But that's how I want every book to make me feel - and having read and loved The Bishop's Man, I know Linden MacIntyre is capable of writing a book that makes me feel that way.
An interesting novel, that I recommend to those who are already fans of Linden MacIntyre, as well as those who love Canadian literary fiction. There's some good stuff here, it's worth taking a look at. (less)
The Girl in the Box was a book that wasn't even on my radar before I was contacted by the author. But the promise of mystery, references to Guatemala and a mostly Canadian setting, made me sit up and pay attention.
Dropping you right into the heat of Guatemala, Sheila Dalton proves from the first few pages that she has an incredible eye for detail. The story moves around to a number of diverse locations, but Dalton handles them all beautifully, adding in small details which really enhance the imagery. From the sweltering heat of Guatemala, to the frozen wasteland of Northern Newfoundland, I constantly found myself being sucked into her settings.
I also found the mystery within The Girl in the Box to be well plotted and paced. I felt the same level of adrenaline pretty much from beginning to end. I was also in a pretty solid state of suspense for most of the book. I had no idea what to come or what the answer to the big mystery would be. Despite the fact that I am constantly guessing what the ending will be when I read a mystery I don't really want to know. I like the surprise at the end and so I was happy to find this book quite unpredictable.
Finally, I want to mention this book is told from multiple points of view and the story doesn't move along in an exact linear time line. I felt this was a gutsy move to use this method but it definitely paid off. The shifting timeline helped add to the suspense and the multiple POVs allowed for a really well rounded story, where very little was left up in the air. Yay for no loose ends!
I get ridiculously happy when I can recommend Canadian fiction. What can I say? I'm a proud Canadian. I know that we've got some AMAZING writers here and I love being able to share that knowledge with the world. The Girl in the Box has definitely been added to my list of great Canadian fiction and I will definitely be reading more work from Sheila Dalton in the future. (less)
Treasure Island was one of my all time favourite books growing up. I had an old copy with a dark green cover and...moreOriginally reviewed at Hooked on Books
Treasure Island was one of my all time favourite books growing up. I had an old copy with a dark green cover and yellowed pages. I read it so many times the pages actually detached themselves from the spine. The true mark of a well read and well loved book. Needless to say this love of the original made me jump at the chance to read this book and see how it held up against the traditional story.
For the most part I'm happy to say Silver: Return to Treasure Island has a place alongside the original. It continues the story in the same spirit of the original but doesn't force a story on the original characters. As far as I'm concerned the original characters have been exhausted. Thanfully, Andrew Motion seems to agree with me - tackling this adventure with a whole new (but related) set of characters - Jim Hawkins Jr and Natty Silver, daughter of the infamous Long John Silver. This gave this story, and their search for Treasure Island, a fresh and entertaining perspective.
Another thing which really shook this story up for me was how the island had changed. Going in I assumed that the island would be it's regular old, treasure filled, people-less self. But there were some interesting surprises and twists, which reminded me that nothing really stays the same. Ultimately this evolution of the island made Silver a lot more thoughtful than one might expect.
Silver is no Treasure Island but it is an exciting book in its own right. Filled with adventure, poetic language and plenty of surprises, it's an impressive book from beginning to end.
Final recommendation: A poetic and beautifully reimagined tale, that fans of the original will fall in love with.(less)
Every Day is a beautiful book. I love David Levithan’s books. Every one I’ve read has been brilli...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Every Day is a beautiful book. I love David Levithan’s books. Every one I’ve read has been brilliant. But this one is my favourite. Hands down.
It is almost unfair how well David Levithan writes characters. There are dozens of characters in Every Day. Each day A inhabits a new teenager. Gay, straight. Fat, thin. Depressed, enthusiastic. Sports stars, homeschooled. And each one only gets about a chapter of our time. But each and every single one felt unique and authentic with hopes and dreams and fears. And yet A was equally independent and developed. Two characters in one, in many. It was kind of amazing.
Originally I thought this was a story of true love but the more I read the more I realized it’s more a story of first love. A gets lost in the reckless free fall that is falling in love for the first time. What I think it kind of brilliant about Everyday is that we sympathize with him despite the fact that what he’s doing is manipulative and subjectively “wrong.” It’s even pointed out to us at multiple points by both A and Rhiannon that it’s wrong. That’s not up for debate. But being in love for the first time is such a rush of emotions we’ve never really experienced before. It doesn’t always allow us to think clearly. A big theme of this book is that even though love is powerful that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s powerful enough.
I’ve included this book in YA Pride but it’s not really LGBTQ. But it kind of is. A always loves Rhiannon. No matter what body A is currently residing in. And we never get a clear idea of A’s own personal gender. But it doesn’t matter. He loves Rhiannon, and the physical just isn’t important. Every Day is about the power of love to see past the surface, but also the difficulties that kind of love presents. Love is not always the answer.
What it comes down to is this – I loved this book because it showed how complicated things are. Sure there were times where things were easy or happy but it was never simple and it was never black and white. And because of that it felt so realistic despite it’s “out there” premise.
Recommendation: An absolutely stunning book, with beautiful prose, which teaches the reader to always look beneath the surface and the complex beast that is love.(less)
I remember last year when Shine Shine Shine came out. It received rave reviews from publications...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I remember last year when Shine Shine Shine came out. It received rave reviews from publications and fellow bloggers and I knew I had to check it out. I was also incredibly intrigued by the myriad of genres that were attached to it. Science Fiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Romance, Magical Realism. I’ve seen it described as all of the above. Having now read the book I still don’t know if I can agree with any/all of those but I digress. On to the content of the book itself.
Shine Shine Shine is a challenging novel. There’s a lot at play here. I like novels like this. Books that require me to take some time and really think about what I’m reading/listening to. And to question what’s really being said below the surface of the story. I don’t claim to understand everything that’s going on in this book – or even most of it but there were two elements I found especially interesting.
Shine Shine Shine focuses on two central figures – Sunny and Maxon. It switches back and forth between two times in their lives. Their present life as a married couple and their time growing up together (from childhood to adolescence to young adults). I loved this juxtaposition of their lives growing up together and their lives post marriage. I found it interesting to watch them grow together, and grow apart and and see how their previous decisions influenced their present life.
In addition to their relationship I found that a central focus of Shine Shine Shine is motherhood. Sunny being a mother to Bubber. She’s now pregnant for the second time. She’s forced to make a decision regarding the prolonged car of her mother or pulling the plug. And Maxon’s very complicated relationship with his even more complicated mother. It gives you a lot to think about, looking at motherhood through all these different angles.
As you can see Shine Shine Shine was a book that sat heavy in my mind. Both while I was listening to this audiobook and after it was over. Though I felt the the ending was quite abrupt. And I definitely wanted more to the story. I can’t help but admit that this is an incredibly well written narrative.
Recommendation: If you like books that are constantly eating away at your thoughts and leave you asking questions you had never considered before, Shine Shine Shine is for you.
Notes of the Audio
Joshilyn Jackson is a good narrator. I really felt like she was Sunny. Her personality came through loud and clear. But in addition she also able to affect other unique characteristics in Bubber, Maxon, Maxon’s mother… The list goes on. Everyone feels incredibly unique and I never once got one character confused for another.
However, despite the quality of the narrator I wouldn’t recommend Shine Shine Shine as an audiobook. Since it shifts from past to present so frequently I found it a little disjointed. Time shifting would’ve been easier to keep straight in print. Maybe it’s just me but I find the little headers with the date/year extremely helpful.(less)
Sometimes you start a book and you know right away. You just know that this will be one of those books that sticks...moreOriginally posted at Hooked on Books
Sometimes you start a book and you know right away. You just know that this will be one of those books that sticks with you for a long time to come. You'll hang on every word, every interaction and each one will touch you deeply. This was my experience with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
It is the characters that really make this book an amazing experience (though the story will captivate you as well). Harold Fry moved me in a way I definitely hadn't expected. I found myself cheering for Harold when things were going his way, crying out for him when obstacles came up against him. There were a couple of times where actual, full blown tears came to my eyes. I loved Harold's spirit, I loved the honesty about who he was and how he saw himself, and most of all I found myself connecting with him in a incredibly personal way. And I don't think I'm the only one that will have that experience.
Although if we're being honest, the real surprise wasn't how much I fell in love with Harold's character. The real surprise was Maureen. At the beginning of the novel, she's a bit annoying and uppity but as the story progresses you learn just how layered her character truly is. At times her own struggles really stole the show and I was amazed by how badly I misjudged her. I found myself cheering for her, just as much as I was cheering for Harold.
I had no idea what to expect from this book. As this is a mostly speculative fiction blog, you can guess that it's not the type of book I usually read. And at face value I don't have that much in common with Harold. But that is where this book is unique. It's a book that spoke to me in a very universal way. I may not look like Harold or live where he lives but we're all on a journey of one kind or another and Harold's journey is just one manifestation of that.The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has been nominated for the Booker Prize and it would not surprise me at all if it walks away with the award.(less)
When you think of the end of the world, you expect it to come all at once, for it to be fast and absolute pandamonieum. You expect people to panic. But in Karen Thomas Walker's version of the end of the world things happen much differently. The earth begins to turn more slowly. A subtle shift. One that humanity definitely wouldn't notice right away. The changes would come, but they would come gradually. Because of this, the Age of Miracles feels like a more realistic, evenly paced account and to me, that's what really set it apart for other apocalyptic novels.
I loved that it wasn't a technical analysis of the end of the world. The reader wasn't bogged down with the scientific details of what was going on. Most of which we would barely undersand anyway (or at least, I would barely understand). Told from the perspective of a young girl the changes were pointed out slowly, gradually. Small things that may not have seemed like a big deal on their own, but added together, one at a time, really drove home the desperation of the situation.
Finally, it's really easy to get lost in this story. I was shocked by how the pages flew by. It was an easy to read novel and Karen Thompson Walker has a superb narrative style. It's a depressing story (the world is ending after all) but it's also an enchanting one.
Final recommendation: A highly recommended, beautiful novel. Fans of literary fiction, speculative fiction and even YA readers will love this book.(less)
I think this will forever be one of my favourite books. I am so happy they made it into a movie because it was the push I needed to finally read it. A...moreI think this will forever be one of my favourite books. I am so happy they made it into a movie because it was the push I needed to finally read it. And I loved every minutes of it.
No review I write can do this book justice, so all I can say is READ IT. So good. (less)
I finished this book ages ago, but I’ve had a hard time writing the review so sorry for the delay. It’s just...moreOriginally posted at More Than Just Magic
I finished this book ages ago, but I’ve had a hard time writing the review so sorry for the delay. It’s just this book is so unique that it was hard to put my finger on all the things that make it so special.
When I first heard about Yok, I had no idea there were three other companion novels to go along with it. So don’t worry if you haven’t either. Yok stands on its own, as far as I can tell it’s characters are separate from those in the other three books. It has, however, made me extremely curious about books 1-3, so don’t be surprised if reading Yok, adds three more titles to your TBR.
Because Yok is told in four separate stories, I think this review would work best if I shared my thoughts on each story separately.
1) Sors or Fox Antonio Ortega: The story of Fox Antonio Ortega is the story about a man fox that yearns for true love. Unfortunately his true love, Beatrice Cockatoo, is the daughter of a major crime boss in Yok, and he’s not willing to let his daughter go lightly. Thankfully Fox is up for the challenge. Though at times this story could be a bit silly, I thought it did an excellent job of setting the overall tone of the novel. You knew there was going to be some serious blurring of lines between reality and fantasy and you knew that despite the fact that these were stuffed animals, they were going to get involved in some very real problems. I felt very moved by Fox’s plight and genuinely got caught up cheering him on.
2) Pertiny or Erik Gecko: By far my favourite of the stories. Erik lives with his two older brothers, Leopold Lepoard and Rasmus Panther. Now anyone with siblings will tell you that you’re not always going to get along, but Erik’s situation is much worse. He suffers full on abuse from his two (significantly larger) brothers. To the extent that they occasionally lock him under the floor boards when he’s displeased them. Erik’s story broke my heart, especially when he was faced with a crucial decision which could result in his freedom. This story also contained one of my favourite quotes from the novel:
“This excuse of a life that I live, this masochism that I expose myself to daily , cuts into my soul, it may seem I accept it without thinking, as if I enjoy being bullied and held down, but inside I am burning up…Life is mysterious and not a second goes by that I don’t despise myself for this self-imposed punishment, that no one else sees and no one promotes…I’m not just a wretch, I’m worse than that, I betray myself.”
I think Tim Davys did an excellent job capturing not only the helplessness as victim of abuse feels, but also the self-inflicted abuse that many also go through, the self loathing and disappointment that is sometimes just as hard to shake. The story of Erik Gecko is one I’ll not soon forget.
3) Corbod or Mike Chimpanzee: I personally think that this is the weakest story in the collection (although that’s not to say it’s a poorly written story). I just couldn’t connect with Mike like I could with Erik or Fox. His particular problem to overcome was simply his own mediocrity. His music wasn’t good enough, his finance’s family didn’t think he was good enough. And though that should be a feeling we all can relate too, it just didn’t seem like Mike cared enough. He was someone I wanted to like more than I did, and as a result I didn’t enjoy his section nearly as much.
4) Mindie or Vincent Hare: Vincent Hare is on a life long quest to seek out a meaningful life. This often leads him down so dubious paths and wrecks havoc on his sanity. I think Vincent’s story is a perfect mixture of what I loved about Erik’s story and Fox’s story. It is at once both humorous and serious, meaningful and entertaining. Definitely a strong way to end the collection.
The over arching theme to this collection seems to be hope. Hope that we can all overcome our situation, however big or small that situation would be. Even if you’re a stuffed animal, even if you live in a crime filled, poverty-stricken slum and even if the “Chauffeurs” could come at any time and end it all. There is always hope. And that idea brings beauty to four otherwise, rather tragic lives.
Recommendation: A heart warming book that would be great for those literary fiction lovers who are tired of the same old, same old. It’s a book with something to say and I would be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t relate to at least one of the stories within.(less)
Ablutions takes us into the life of a small town (or what I assume is a small town) bar tender. But it does so in a unique way.
The book is set in sec...moreAblutions takes us into the life of a small town (or what I assume is a small town) bar tender. But it does so in a unique way.
The book is set in second person, making you the reader the bar tender. You're not watching him, listening to him. You are seeing things through his eyes as he sees them. It's an interesting method and one that I enjoyed (once I got used to its different feel).
However, where this book began to lose me was that at a certain point I just didn't care about the bartender any more. His life is tragic, and dreary and he's a disaster of his own making. And for the first half the situations he finds himself are entertaining, bizarre and interesting. But then it's just more of the same and nothing ever seems to change and you wonder why you're still reading about this sad little man.
I love Patrick deWitt's writing but this just wasn't for me.(less)
It actually blows my mind a little that this is Helene Wecker’s debut novel. It is an absolutely...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
It actually blows my mind a little that this is Helene Wecker’s debut novel. It is an absolutely stunning and gorgeous tale that pulled me in right from the first few pages and wouldn’t let go until the very end.
The setting for The Golem and the Jinni is absolutely perfect – Historic New York City at the end of the 19th Century is an incredible time and place. It has an old world, ancient feeling to it – as more and more cultures, with deep traditions, make a new home there. But yet it is still a new and vibrant city. There are people everywhere and always some sort of commotion. It is as if the city itself is filled with energy. These two different versions of NYC combined give a very magical quality to the story. The blending of the old with the new to create something previously unthinkable.
Within the larger setting of New York there are two smaller worlds that our characters abide within. The more impoverished Jewish area – where the Golem, Chava resides. And a place called “Little Syria” where the Jinni, Ahmad, is released from his prison. I loved the blending of Jewish and Islamic cultures throughout this story. Both religions share some common roots, but are distinct. I think Wecker does an excellent job approaching the more mystical elements of these theologies and cultures without making them seem silly or simply superstitious There is nothing I hate more than when writer’s depict religious traditions (whether in the present or historical fiction) and only serve to make them look foolish. Thankfully Wecker treats both traditions with the respect they deserve.
Small confession – Before I started reading I thought this was the story of two characters, the Golem and the Jinni. But it is actually the interwoven tale of many. I liked the way Helene Wecker blended them all together. One perspective would bleed into another as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They truly felt as though they were one whole – one story. As opposed to books like Game of Thrones where everything is interconnected but the different points of view seem so separate and disconnected from one another. As if you were reading a series of stories that happen to intersect at some points. The Golem and the Jinni is an ensemble piece. Each character needs one another is order to continue on.
Of all the characters however I think the Golem was my favourite. I liked the Jinni too but Chava seemed to experience more growth throughout the course of the novel and struggled with more interesting (to me) dilemmas For example, wanting to please everyone or trying to maintain your independence in a sea of others. As opposed to the Jinni’s need to learn responsibility and to become less selfish. Both are fascinating and I think different people will be drawn to one or the other depending on what mood they’re in or what themes/ideas interest them.
Recommendation: The Golem and the Jinni is one of those beautiful books that only come around every so often. I think I could talk forever about this book but only scratch the surface of why it’s wonderful. If you love rich, detailed, thematic writing with a touch of fantasy and mysticism thrown in The Golem and the Jinni is absolutely the book for you.(less)
This book came out last year and I can’t believe it flew under my radar for so long. It’s bold an...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
This book came out last year and I can’t believe it flew under my radar for so long. It’s bold and beautiful and heart-wrenching and I absolutely loved every minute of it. Honestly, it oozed amazing out of every page.
Did you ever feel like a book was written just for you? Like all it’s themes and ideas had been plucked right from your head? Because that’s what I felt the entire time I was reading Kiss the Morning Star.
There are four main reasons why you should read this novel.
1) Road Trip. I know a lot of people love road trip novels. Myself included. Kat and Anna set out on the road with a vague idea of where they’re going and what they what to accomplish. They discover so much about themselves and each other on the way. I always wish I had taken a trip like this when I was younger. Maybe one day…
2) Jack Kerouac. I can’t say I’m a huge Kerouac fan (my own copy of On the Road is still lying unread on my bookshelf) but I have enjoyed what little I have read from him and the other Beats. The girls set off on this road trip with only a copy of Dharma Bums as their guide. I think this would be an amazing and liberating experience. And I think that Elissa Janine Hoole did a fabulous job blending in some of his philosophy with the journey of Anna and Kat. It never felt over the top or in your face. And it added an extra layer to the novel that gave it a more literary feel.
3) Religion/Belief. Anna’s father is a minister, so religion – specifically belief in a Christian God – has always been a part of her life. But when her mother dies that belief is shaken. Really shaken. She once found it easy to strike up a conversation with God. Now she’s not sure if he’s/she’s even there. As part of their voyage Anna and Kat make of list of different places one might find God – nature, sex, love, drugs etc. And then they start looking. This leads to some really, interesting theological conversations. I think this element of the novel will appeal to anyone who is or has ever questioned their faith.
“It would not be fair to say that the fire stole my faith, since in truth it has been slipping away from me all my life, flipping between my fingers like a shiny little minnow–such a far cry from the trophy salmon that dangled from my father’s fist.”
4) Loss of a Parent. This is where this novel really hit home for me. Anna is suffering from the semi-recent loss of her mother. And I was about Anna’s age when I lost my father. The circumstances were different and I didn’t experience everything Anna did. But the grief? The sense of anger and guilt and numbness all rolled into one? I found that dead on. Kiss the Morning Star is a very raw, emotional read.
Recommendation: Kiss the Morning Star is a smart, funny, thoughtful and heart breaking literary novel. It’s everything I want in a contemporary story and I need to get my own copy ASAP so I can read it again. That being said however, I don’t think it will be for everyone. Those who don’t care for religious elements in their reading (even if those elements consist of someone questioning their faith) may want to keep this one off their to-read list.(less)
I’m just going to call it now. This is one of my favourite books this year. It’s like Middles...moreThis review was originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I’m just going to call it now. This is one of my favourite books this year. It’s like Middlesex meets The Casual Vacancy – full of touching prose, well crafted characters and an extremely compelling story.
Golden Boy is the story of an intersex teen named Max. Raised as a boy his life is turned on its head when he is sexually assaulted. This book hooks you in right away. I started reading it before bed one night and I was up so late devouring every last page because I needed to know what was going to happen to Max. Golden Boy was an incredibly emotional book. At times it could be hard to read (trigger warning for rape) but it was always honest and realistic.
The unique thing about this book is that it rotates perspectives between a wide variety of characters – people of different ages and genders. Max, his younger brother, his parents, his doctor. It was incredibly fascinating to see how people at different stages of their life cope with the same situation. In a similar vein, Abigail Tarttelin also gives the reader a wide range of medical perspectives. It was interesting to see how different education or societal pressures (or lack there of) influenced people’s opinions and prejudices.
Out of all the different characters however I think I liked Max the best. He is definitely a sympathetic character. It absolutely broke my heart watching him cope with being a victim. We see him go through all the different stages. Guilt, blaming himself for not fighting back more, shame, withdrawl from friends and family. I just wanted to reach into the page and hug him.
I reviewed another intersex novel earlier this week (Pantomime) and I am glad to see they are out there but would still like to see more and to see more people talking about them. These novels are uniquely able to raise questions about gender – particularly what is means to be male/female and how social constructs shape who we are and who we think we should be.
Recommendation: Though Golden Boy is not technically a YA novel I do think it is a book with massive cross over appeal. It’s an inspiring and heart breaking story for fans of literary fiction and those who like to questions society’s expectations.(less)
“Life is full of stories. Or maybe life is only stories.”
After hearing Ruth Ozeki read in Toronto I knew I would have listen to the audiobook. She has the most fantastic voice. It’s energetic and also very soothing. Usually I can usually only listen to an audiobook for an hour or so at a time but with Ozeki narrating I easily doubled that. Her voice draws you in and makes you want to learn more.
A Tale for the Time Being is a tragic story that touches on a number of issues and themes but the one that stood out to me the most was that of suicide. It explored the idea of suicide from a variety of angles (from Japanese notions of honour, to the people who jumped out of the towers during 9/11) and provides a lot of food for thought. Nao’s story is an emotional one and at times hard to read. I loved the back and forth between her narration and Ruth’s. I could really relate to Ruth and her reactions to Nao’s story felt so authentic.
This is an incredible story of loss, of courage and of moving forward. There’s a reason A Tale for the Time Being is making all the “best of” lists. Ruth Ozeki has a way with words- both on the page and off.(less)