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.”

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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.”

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

img_3051“To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names,
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.”

What a wonderful way for an author to introduce a novel. When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism novel that tells the story of love and friendship between Miel and Sam. Miel is an outcast who fell out of a water tower when she was five years old, and roses grow out of her wrist. Sam is a young trans boy, struggling with his identity, and known for painting moons and hanging them in trees. We are taken on a journey through their personal struggles and stories, which are expressed through beautiful writing.

There is a very whimsical and dream-like quality to this novel, which is absolutely lovely and reminded me why I adore stories with magical realism. The characters are compelling and the way in which the author tackles different social issues along with those surrounding identity is effective, relatable, and ultimately very powerful. There are moments throughout the early sections that are a little confusing and hard to follow, however once I got into the flow of the story it became quite engaging. A truly beautiful novel I recommend for anyone who enjoys magical realism.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 4, 2016.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

IMG_1957“Her heart was heavy because it was open, and so things filled it, and so things rushed out of it, but still the heart kept beating, tough and frighteningly powerful and meaning to shrug off the rest of her and continue on its own.”

Novelist Mr. Fox has a habit of killing off the heroines in his novels.  His muse Mary comes to life and turns Mr. Fox into a tragic character through her own stories, while he in turn does the same to her.  In the meantime, his wife Daphne is convinced that he is having an affair and soon becomes involved in the game between Mary and Mr. Fox.  With stories within stories Mr. Fox is an interesting adventure with a fairytale feel.

Helen Oyeyemi is a wonderful writer, and her prose is absolutely beautiful. There are a number of lovely quotes that I couldn’t help but mark and reread. The concept is unique and many stories are quite captivating, however I feel the overall book would have been much stronger if some of the content had not been included.  There are a lot of little stories and not all worked with the concept.  By the latter part of the novel it does start to drag and unfortunately lose the charm of its initial beginning, although it is unique and the writing is lovely.  If you prefer novels with a linear plot then this book is probably not for you.  However, if you like lots of stories, fairytales, and getting lost in beautiful language, then Mr. Fox is definitely worth a read.

“The girl tried, several times, to give her love away, but her love would not stay with the person she gave it to and snuck back to her heart without a sound.”

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

AFSP“Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.”

A YA debut from author Samatha Mabry, A Fierce and Subtle Poison tells the story of seventeen-year-old Lucas who spends his summers in Puerto Rico with his hotel-developer father.  Stories of a cursed girl filled with poison have become a part of the island, and having grown-up hearing the various myths and theories, Lucas has always wondered what is fact and what is fiction.  When his girlfriend goes missing at the same time that he begins to receive letters from the mysterious Isabel, his quest for the truth takes him down a dangerous path.

The concept and premise of A Fierce and Subtle Poison is very intriguing.  It is wonderfully written and the style of writing really fits the mood of the novel.  I found it easy to get into the story and once I started reading I was immersed in the mystery and the tales surrounding the cursed girl.  There was a point for me about three-quarters of the way through where my attention waivered and my interest and excitement for the story decreased, which I feel may have been as a result of a lack of connection to the characters.  There are many different avenues a story like this can take, especially when it comes to YA novels, and I appreciate where the author took the story and how it left off.  While I wish I could have connected more to the novel as a whole, I did find it interesting and enjoyable.  A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a wonderfully written debut with a compelling premise that I would recommend to fans of magical realism and mysteries.

*ARC provided by NetGalley.  Publication date: April 12, 2016.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

IMG_1080“Society is the choice between freedom on someone else’s terms and slavery on yours.”

All the Birds in the Sky is a unique book that takes elements of magical realism, fantasy, and science-fiction to create a page-turning story with memorable and endearing main characters.  We are introduced to Patricia who is a witch with a deep connection to nature, and Laurence who is a genius when it comes to science and technology.  They find friendship in the challenging times of their youth, but end up going their separate ways only to reunite as adults and at a time when the world is descending into chaos.

This book is different.  That is, it doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre and it’s not easy to describe.  It is a book that you need to dive into and just experience, preferably without a lot of prior knowledge about what the story consists of so I hesitate to say too much.  It explores themes of friendship and love with an impending apocalypse that examines the relationship and conflict between science and nature.  The story is well crafted and presented, diving into and interconnecting all of these different themes and aspects of the book as a whole.  What makes All the Birds in the Sky a stand out for me, is the depth of its main characters.  The author takes care and time to develop each character, so that we first get to know them as individuals, which sets the foundation of the story and allows us to fully understand their bond and connection.

At times sad, at times funny and undeniably charming, it is a story to get lost in.  A compelling read I recommend to anyone looking for something a little different.

“You know… no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you’re not.  But if you’re clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were.”

The Blue Girl by Laurie Foos

IMG_0068“All secrets are terrible, I know that, and I know that no matter how many times I feed them to the blue girl, there is no relief.”

Sometimes the premise of a book is so strange that you can’t help but be drawn to it.  The Blue Girl is a very unique and intriguing story, told through alternating perspectives of three mothers and three daughters.  They live in a small town with a lake and they all have their secrets, leading lives of silent suffering.  One day while at the lake, the mysterious girl with blue skin is saved from drowning by Audrey, one of the daughters.  From that point on the three mothers begin to make night visits to the blue girl and feed her moon pies, which contain their secrets.

An odd concept but one that is very well executed.  Through the different perspectives we truly get to feel the sadness and desperation of the lives of these girls and women, along with the damage that can be caused by a lack of communication.  Everyone has their fears and secrets, and are aware of the secrets of their mothers and daughters but choose silence.  The Blue Girl is a unique, beautifully written novel and a great choice if you are looking for a simple and easy read.

“I say nothing.  I let them have their secret.  Now, I think, we all have them.”

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

BLOG“To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale.”

Ava is a normal girl, with one unique difference: she was born with the wings of a bird.  She is from a line of women with odd abilities and traits, but hers is one that is quite noticeable.  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender introduces us to Ava’s family and walks us through their history, struggles and misfortunes, particularly when it comes to love. There are many stories told throughout, narrated by Ava, which lead us to her own story and her life.

The words in the title itself best describe this book; it is strange and it is beautiful.  Strange in concept and absolutely beautiful in the writing, storytelling, and delivery.  There are stories within stories and each character that plays a part is given a rich and interesting background.  Ava’s narration is captivating and her emotions are captured and related wonderfully.  This is a book for fans of magical realism and storytelling.  It is not a book that is full of dialogue and action.  Instead it is one that focuses on the stories and depth of its characters.  For a strange and beautiful read, I would absolutely recommend The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. 

Favourite passage: “I’ve been told things happen as they should: My grandmother fell in love three times before her nineteenth birthday.  My mother found love with the neighbour boy when she was six.  And I, I was born with wings, a misfit who didn’t dare expect something as grandiose as love.  It’s our fate, our destiny, that determines such things, isn’t it?

Perhaps that was just something I told myself.  Because what else was there for me – an aberration, an untouchable, an outsider?  What could I say when I was alone at night and the shadows came?  How else could I calm the thud of my beating heart but with the words: This is my fate.  What else was there to do but blindly follow its path?”