Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

img_2822“Dear Mr. M,

I’d like to start by telling you that I’m doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I’ll get to that later on….

Yes, I have certain plans for you, Mr. M. You may think you’re alone, but as of today I’m here too…”

Sometimes I have to admit defeat when it comes to a book, and unfortunately this was one of those times. After more than halfway through Dear Mr. M, I had to step away as it was increasingly becoming a very tedious read. But perhaps the reasons I could simply not get into this novel, might be the reasons why others may enjoy it.

Mr. M is a teacher and novelist who is falling into obscurity. He had one bestselling novel many years earlier called The Reckoning, which told the story of a teacher’s disappearance after having had an affair with a student and who was last seen at a cottage where the student and her boyfriend were staying. The novel, while sold as a work of fiction, looks to have been based on real people and events, and in present day Mr. M is being watched and carefully observed by a young man. This is where the novel begins, and later switches to different perspectives from people who have been tied to events described in The Reckoning. 

This novel is complex and slow-paced. The narration at the beginning is quite compelling as the young man watching Mr. M is describing his observations, thoughts, and conclusions. It’s unsettling and sets the perfect atmosphere for a gripping psychological thriller. However, as the narrative progresses it begins to meander and the various trains of thought become increasingly more difficult to follow. There are portions of the novel that I found intriguing, and the characters themselves are interesting, but the overall density of the narrative was a little to much for me.

*E-copy provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

img_2830“It’s interesting, isn’t it, to watch this character attempting to reconstruct herself, quite literally, in the midst of this chaos?”

Enjoyable, entertaining, and just plain addictive.

This novel took me completely by surprise, and from the moment I picked it up I could not put it down. I started it on a Saturday evening and found myself completely glued to it, telling myself “just one more chapter,” “just one more page,”until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Then first thing Sunday morning my nose was back in the book until I turned the last page. This does not happen often for me, and in fact it is quite rare, with few books having captured my attention in such a way.

It’s a simple story about a woman named Stacey who is grieving the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and raising two young boys. She is a poet with several published collections, however at this point in her life she finds herself unable to write and is feeling quite stuck. One day, she receives an email about interest and an offer to make one of her books of poetry, Monsters in the Afterlife into a movie. This sets up a series of trips and encounters with A-list movie star, Tommy DeMarco, resulting in a tumultuous relationship.

This is not a sweet or romantic “love story,” but rather a story of two screwed up individuals who find a kind of solace in each other, and what unfolds is a highly dysfunctional relationship. Stacey and Tommy are not particularly likeable characters, and as the title suggests, there are monstrous qualities to both individuals. It is not a relationship you necessarily root for or against, but rather keep turning the pages to see how and where the rollercoaster will go. Because, even though the two characters may have unlikable qualities, they are compelling. Monsters: A Love Story is a highly enjoyable novel and the perfect escape read.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

img_2807“The Dollhouse. . . . That’s what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you.”

The Dollhouse is set in the 1950’s at The Barbizon Hotel for Women, home to women working towards success in New York City, which included models, secretaries, and editors. It focuses on a woman named Darby who arrives at Barbizon in 1952 to attend secretary school. While overwhelmed with the city and feeling out of place among her model roommates in the beginning, Darby soon befriends a hotel maid, Esme, and discovers a world she never thought she would experience. Jump forward to 2016, where a journalist named Rose becomes curious about her new, mysterious neighbour in what used to be The Barbizon Hotel and has since been turned into a condominium. The story jumps back and forth in time from Darby’s time at Barbizon to years later when there are rumours and an investigation into an incident that had occurred during the 1950’s at the hotel, that Darby was involved in.

I found this to be a compelling novel based around a very fascinating time and place in history. It provides a great sense of what it would have been like during that era and the characters themselves are quite interesting. Particularly enjoyable is exploring Darby’s story and experiences in 1952 and the characters surrounding The Barbizon Hotel for Women. While the present day storyline has its moments, I did find that certain aspects of Rose’s life as well as actions somewhat distracted from what I felt was a really strong narrative of Darby’s life. There is a parallel between Rose and Darby that is created, however, as Rose does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, that parallel is not as successful as it could have been. We do get a better understanding of Rose as the novel concludes and the stories wrap up. Overall, I found The Dollhouse to be a very enjoyable read.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

img_2737“Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside.”

With those words, Louise Penny marks the start of her twelfth and what is possibly her best Inspector Gamache mystery novel. We are taken to the town of Three Pines where an old map has been discovered hidden in the walls of the bistro. While it looks like something of a novelty at first glance, it becomes obvious upon closer inspection that there is a greater significance to this discovery than originally thought. The map is given as a gift to Gamache for his first day of work as the new Commander of the Sûreté Academy, and soon becomes part of a murder investigation in which there are many worthy of suspicion, including Gamache himself.

“It’s so easy to get mired in the all too obvious cruelty of the world. It’s natural. But to really heal, we need to recognize the goodness too.”

This series has been a favourite of mine for a few years now, and with each new release it is always lovely to be transported to the beloved Three Pines and its familiar and charismatic cast of characters. Each book delivers an intriguing mystery and a new adventure, all of which have been entertaining and easy to get lost in. A Great Reckoning is no exception, and I found it to be an outstanding novel that has fast become my favourite in the series. The mystery as always is compelling, however the truly exceptional part of Louise Penny’s books is the depth and nuance with which the characters are portrayed. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and character driven stories. It can absolutely be read as a stand alone if you have not read the series, however there are certain aspects that would be a spoiler for events that occurred in previous books. A Great Reckoning is a wonderful novel and I eagerly anticipate any future releases.

Most Anticipated Fall Book Releases

fall“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

There are a lot of great books to look forward to in the next few months, and while it was not a simple task I did narrow it down to the top six I am most excited to get my hands on. In no particular order, here are the top six books on my fall reading list:🙂

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (October 11th)
This is the next release in the Shakespeare Hogarth series, with Margaret Atwood taking on a modern retelling of The Tempest.

“When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.”

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (October 25th)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of one of my absolute favourite books of 2015, Signal to Noise so anything she releases is a must-read for me. Her new book is described as a YA paranormal thriller where “vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City.”

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (November 1st)
“The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?”

This is the new release from the author of Everything, Everything. It is a novel about fate, which tells the story of Natasha and Daniel who meet under unusual circumstances. I very much enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s debut novel and look forward to reading more of her work. Continue reading

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

IMG_2693Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all!

First in what is set to be a duology, This Savage Song is the new YA fantasy from the very talented Victoria Schwab. August Flynn and Kate Harker are on opposite sides of a divided city during a time when violence creates actual monsters. Kate’s father leads by allowing monsters to roam free and protects those who are able to pay for it. Kate is intent on proving herself to her father and showing him that she can lead and follow in his footsteps. August is one of the Sunai, a monster who looks human but is able to steal souls through music, which is part of his nature that he greatly struggles with, wanting nothing more than to be human. When Kate is sent back home to attend the local school, August is assigned to enrol in order to keep an eye on her as the tensions between the two sides of the city are rising.

A fun read with a great concept, This Savage Song is thoroughly enjoyable. It is well written and very easy to sink into, with descriptions and dialogue that flow with ease. I especially appreciate that it is not a story that relies on typical tropes found in YA novels with romantic entanglements and complications. In fact, there is no romantic component, which is a refreshing change. I did find that the novel lacked a certain depth, particularly when it came to exploring this world and questions of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. As a result I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I would have liked. However, it is a fun and easy read that provides a nice little escape, and perfectly sets up the next part of the story that is to come in the second and final instalment.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

IMG_2667“Any business transaction—actually any life transaction—is negotiated by how you are making the other person feel.”

A raw and gritty coming of age story, Sweetbitter explores a year in the life of a “backwaiter” in an upscale NY restaurant. At twenty-two Tess leaves her hometown and everything and everyone she knows for a move to NY and a fresh start. She doesn’t have dreams of stardom or any of the typical motives/reasons for which many people move to the big city. While she is unsure of what exactly she is in search of, the fresh start in a new city leads her on a journey of mixed experiences and self-discovery. We follow her story over the course of her first year in NY, as she experiences food, wine, and relationships.

“It’s an epidemic with women your age. A gross disparity between the way that they speak and the quality of thoughts that they’re having about the world. They are taught to express themselves in slang, in clichés, sarcasm—all of which is weak language. The superficiality of the language colors the experiences, rendering them disposable instead of assimilated. And then to top it all, you call yourselves ‘girls.’ ”

There are many times when I don’t fully understand the hype around certain books, but fortunately this is not one of those times. Sweetbitter is an incredibly engrossing book and one that I could sit and read without putting it down or taking breaks. It captured my full attention from the beginning as it dove into Tess’ journey, which is filled with a lot of excess. The author takes us into the behind the scenes world of the employees at an upscale restaurant, exploring the cuisine along with the chaos and personal relationships. The characters are flawed and not likeable and there is no distinct plot, and yet I still couldn’t put it down, which really speaks to the quality of the writing. The true strength of this novel is the way in which the author perfectly encapsulates the feeling of loneliness and the need to belong. A well written and impressive debut novel.

“’It’s a dangerous game, isn’t it? The stories we tell ourselves.’”