Book Reviews, Fiction

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4300“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”

As war and unrest is slowly taking over their country, Saeed and Nadia meet in a night class, each equally drawn to the other. They strike up a friendship that leads to romance, and as the situation in their country becomes more and more perilous, they begin to seek a way out. Amid rumours of secret doors that lead to places far away they decide to take a chance on an uncertain future, as their reality becomes one of danger and desperation.

“Rumour had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people, who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumours to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.”

Exit West is a novel that both surprised and greatly impressed me. I came across it by chance and was quite taken by its premise. As I read through the story it delivered on so many levels, the main one being the way in which it captures the reality and emotions of those caught up in conflict situations; the desperation, despair, fear, and the loss of humanity.

“What she was doing… was for her not about frivolity, it was about the essential, about being human, living as a human being, reminding oneself of what one was, and so it mattered, and if necessary was worth a fight.”

In the midst of everything we have our two main characters and the subtle yet significant ways their circumstances and journey affect them as individuals, and in turn their relationship. There is a slight fantasy element to the novel in the idea of doors that lead to a different and far away place, which is subtle and adds a charming element to the overall story. A beautiful and thought-provoking novel.

“… decency on this occasion won out, and bravery, for courage is demanded not to attack when afraid.”

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

fullsizeoutput_1ad“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

Neil Gaiman has been one of those authors on my to read list for quite a bit of time, and now that I have read one of his books I only wish I would have started exploring his works a lot sooner. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane as my first Gaiman book, and I definitely understand all the love for this author. The writing is so beautiful and it transported me back to that feeling of wonder when reading fairytales as a child.

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane our narrator is back in his hometown for a funeral, and revisits his old neighbourhood, flashing back to a time during his childhood that affected him deeply. A death close to home sets free a darkness that is not easily processed by a little boy. He finds comfort and a safe haven in the farm down the lane, where his new friend Lettie lives with her mother and grandmother. Throughout the story we journey through the events that occur, seeing everything unfold though the eyes of a child. With beautiful writing and passages that will stick with you for some time, The Ocean at the End of a Lane is a truly magical read.

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

Book Reviews

Mary, Mary by Lesley Crewe

BLOGMary, Mary tells the story of a rather dysfunctional Cape Breton family. Amid the disfunction is Mary, who is sweet, caring and always taking care of those around her. She lives with her erratic mother and alcoholic grandmother, who have had challenging lives and find themselves in a state of resentment and bitterness. Mary also has her aunt and uncle who are going through their own ups and downs, along with her cousin, Sheena who Mary never felt particularly close to. When a couple of new tenants move into the apartment upstairs, Mary feels the need to break out of her routine and live for herself.

This is a very nice and enjoyable read, with Lesley Crewe’s trademark sense of humour. The family is undeniably dysfunctional and all the characters have their own selfish tendencies, but not without redeemable qualities. The author finds the perfect balance of positive and negative traits that have you rooting for everyone and wanting them to better themselves and succeed. I did find there to be one too many revelations, which felt a bit over the top and made the overall story feel like there was too much going on. Having said that, it is a pleasant read with memorable characters.

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl

IMG_4062“… a ferryman for the dead finds his existence unraveling after making either the best decision or the biggest mistake of his immortal life.”

Charlie Dawson is a ferryman whose job is to usher the dead to their afterlife. Those chosen to be a part of The Ferryman Institute are tasked with this important duty, and in the case that they should fail, the ghosts of the dead that do not cross over stay listlessly in the world until they slowly disappear into nothingness. Charlie himself has grown into a legend, having served as ferryman for two-hundred-and-fifty years and having a perfect record of completing every assignment successfully. However, the job itself takes a toll on him and he wants out, which turns out to not be easily accomplished. The Institute wants to hold on to their most successful ferryman and is not keen on letting him go. When a top secret assignment is given to Charlie, he is given a choice: “Be a Ferryman or save the girl. Your choice.” His decision sets him on a path that leads to many questions and ultimately some interesting answers.

The premise of this novel really sparked my interest, and as soon as I started reading I was drawn into this fascinating world and its amusing characters. The world-building is very well done and it had all the ingredients of an excellent story. Unfortunately, I feel it lost its way about halfway through and never really recovered. The voice of the main female character is incredibly immature and difficult to get along with, and throughout most of the latter part of the book she comes across as a whiny teenager rather than an adult woman. There is a romantic aspect to the story that felt awkward, not believable, and not really necessary. These two factors slowly took me out of the story and it became difficult to feel engaged to the events that were unfolding. I love the world the author created and did very much enjoy the first portion of the novel, unfortunately there were aspects that really took away from the story and it ultimately did not come together for me.

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

img_3887Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

The spirits that inhabit the land of Renthia and bring it to life, are a danger to humans. Only one woman has the power to control the spirits and protect the land and its people; the chosen queen. However, the danger always looms. In order to ensure there is always a suitable candidate to take the position of queen should anything happen to the one that reigns, young women who choose to be candidates are trained to become heirs. Young Daleina, whose childhood brush with these malevolent spirits sets her on a path towards becoming heir, has the goal of doing right by the land and helping people. Along with Ven, a disgraced champion, she embarks on a quest to right the wrongs that have befallen Renthia and those she cares most about.

Don’t trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don’t trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don’t trust the water, for it will drown you.
Don’t trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don’t trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don’t trust the trees, for they will rip you,
rend you, tear you, kill you dead.

The premise intrigued me, the writing drew me in, the story captured my attention, and the characters made me care. The Queen of Blood is one of my favourite fantasy novels that I have read in quite some time. It works on so many different levels with charismatic, compelling characters, and a plot that kept me eagerly turning the pages. It strays away from the typical fantasy storyline which usually consist of one hero that is special in skill and talent, that rises above the rest to save/conquer. Instead, we have a protagonist that is a regular girl with a desire to help people, in a way she was unable to as a child when she experienced first-hand the power of the spirits. It’s about determination, strength, and wanting to do the right thing. A wonderfully written and captivating novel.

The Queen of Blood is the first in what is set to be a trilogy, with the second novel, The Reluctant Queen expected to be released in July of 2017. I very much look forward to this next instalment. 🙂

Book Reviews

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

blog“There’s no such thing as the life you’re supposed to have.” 

What if all the visions of the future that were imagined as far back as the 1950’s, were in fact incredibly accurate? Well, that is the version of 2016 that Tom knows. A reality where seemingly the wildest of dreams for the future have been realized.

“In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.”

When Tom makes an impulsive and reckless decision, he steers the course of history in a radically different direction, and he himself ends up in the 2016 world that is familiar to us. The lack of progress and achievement is shocking to him and the consequences of his actions weigh heavily on his shoulders. However, this new timeline also has a version of his life that may be a considerable improvement. So, should he try to fix his mistake and restore the reality he erased, or should he stay and live this new version of his life? But not everything is as simple as it seems, and Tom’s search for answers leads him on a journey that may have yet more unforeseen consequences.

All Our Wrong Todays is a highly enjoyable science-fiction novel that is humorous and thought-provoking. Told through a first-person perspective, it takes us through Tom’s recounting of events before and after he, you know, altered reality. Tom is certainly no hero, in fact, he is quite ordinary and very much flawed. His voice is endearing, self-deprecating, and at times provides one-liners that, to me, are laugh out loud funny (no easy feat when it comes to books). Particularly interesting is how Tom develops as a character, especially when faced with his alternate self. While at times I did find descriptions to be a little to descriptive with regards to the science and mechanics of it all, and certain passages a tad bit long-winded, I could’t help but enjoy this wonderful and creative story. There is action, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprising amount of depth. If this is a genre you like to reach for, then All Our Wrong Todays is definitely worth a read.

*E-copy provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review. Publication date: February 7, 2017.

Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

No Plus One: What to Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy

blogAfter repeatedly missing the mark, I realized that a simple fairy tale formula seemed about as realistic as, well, a fairy tale. Perhaps there was more to life than finding “The One.” It dawned on me that while I was pining away for a partner and beating myself up for being single, I was missing out on another life right in front of me – a single life full of autonomy, self-discovery, adventure and indulgence. 

I began to look at life differently and saw that the ingredients to living a fantastic single life were there all along. I scooped these up and assembled them into the nine fundamental lessons for living life fully as a single woman. These stories and lessons allowed me to start looking at my single life with a renewed sense of excitement. 

This lovely little book is a great combination of personal stories/experiences and friendly, helpful advice. It is written in a very relatable and straightforward way that makes it an easy read, and one that feels like a conversation with a good friend. A friend that is sharing encouraging and empowering advice. Through stories of various experiences and lessons learned, the authors provide points on what should be taken away from each chapter, all of which end with a list of suggestions/exercises one can do in order to apply these lessons to their life. This is a really nice read that provides helpful advice on living a great single life and being confident in your own skin. Highly recommended. 🙂

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

img_3840“But I was almost certain—almost completely certain—that she was the woman in cabin 10.” 

As a journalist for a travel magazine, Lo Blacklock gets the opportunity of a lifetime, to set sail on the maiden voyage of a new luxury cruise. The ship itself is small in size with only a handful of cabins and its guests consist of the rich and influential. While initially, the cruise is the utmost in comfort, things take a turn when one night Lo is woken up by a disturbance in the cabin next door, and witnesses what she believes is a woman going overboard. However, when she raises the alarm she learns that the cabin next door is unoccupied and all on board have been accounted for.

As a fan of mysteries, the premise of this novel captured my attention immediately. It has been compared to the Agatha Christie style of mystery, and it is in the way it consists of a room full of suspects in an isolated location and attempts to work out who the culprit is. This is more or less part of the middle portion of the story, which I found to be quite interesting and page-turning. However, there are a number of aspects that just did not work for me and which made the overall story feel jumbled rather than as a well pieced together puzzle. For one, the main character is completely insufferable, with actions, choices, and behaviour that are bizarre and ridiculous. There are a number of things that happen that are not explained or tie in at the end, with the mystery being solved and the truth revealed much earlier than expected, and I’m not quite sure I even understand what the ending really was. The premise, the setup, and the pacing of the novel is well done and there are portions of the story that are intriguing, however the pieces just did not fall into place for me with this one.

Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

Juliet’s Answer by Glenn Dixon

img_3779“… everyone yearns for a little magic. Everyone wants the Gates of Paradise to open for them, and when I wrote my letter to Juliet, it was one last knock on the door. It was one last attempt at a happy ending.”

Juliet’s Answer contains real stories in which the author recounts his experience of traveling to Verona and joining a group that is dedicated to answering the many letters that are addressed to Juliet. That is Juliet of Romeo and Juliet. After the city of Verona began receiving numerous letters from all over the world addressed to Juliet, all having to do with woes of love, a group was established that came to be known as Secretaries of Juliet. Glenn Dixon, who was a teacher for over twenty years and taught Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to his classes, decided to travel to Verona and volunteer his time in answering the letters to Juliet. He does this in an effort to heal, understand heartbreak, and maybe learn something about the ever complicated subject of love.  

“… the sentiments were all the same. All of them were asking about love. All were asking about this soul-wrenching experience that is both our deepest sorrow and our greatest joy.”

This is a nice, breezy, and enjoyable read for fans of soul-searching memoirs, as well as lovers of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The book is presented and organized beautifully into three “acts” containing photos as well as a map and a reader’s guide. The author takes turns talking about his experiences in Verona, flashing back to his struggle with heartbreak, and also dissecting and discussing the play of Romeo and Juliet in one of his classes. Each section is interesting and there is a really nice flow to the structure of the stories, particularly the way the author’s class on Romeo and Juliet is mixed in. A lovely read that tackles the subject of love and brings Verona to life.

Book Reviews, Fiction

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

img_3677“You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you’re going.

You’re not alone.”

I See You is the latest release from the author of the popular thriller, I Let You Go. It follows a woman named Zoe who sees an ad with her picture in the local paper for a website called FindTheOne.com. Other women start appearing in the ads and we learn that they have been victims of violent crimes. Zoe embarks on an investigation to uncover the reason behind the unsettling ads and why she is a part of it.

While I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, ultimately the story failed to capture my attention or draw me into the mystery. The beginning chapters are atmospheric and draw a vivid picture of the claustrophobic feeling of subway commuting, which is a perfect set up for a gripping thriller. However, there is too much time spent on the details of the mundane life of the main character that does not serve the story’s overall purpose and really slows down the narrative. The protagonist herself is not very compelling, and combined with the focus on the inconsequential details of her life, the story becomes quite dull. Unfortunately at a certain point I simply lost all interest and had to give up on this one.

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