BOOK REVIEW: Foe by Iain Reid

foeCanadian author Iain Reid’s new book hits bookstores tomorrow. And, Foe has already gotten a ton of buzz.

Why’s that?

For starters, it’s a damn good read, set in the not-so-distant future, with a simple—though unsettling—premise. It features three characters: Junior, his unhappy wife Hen, and a stranger whose big news disrupts the couple’s routine lifestyle.

The reader dives into Junior’s troubled psyche after he’s been voluntold for a space mission. Junior tries to come to terms with the prospect of leaving his farm, without any say, to go live on a space station. At the same time, he struggles with the strain of his marriage caused by both the unwelcome news and the unwanted stranger’s presence in their home. With every turn of the page, you’ll feel that there’s a slight dissonance, something “off” with the story, much like the songs Hen plays on her out-of-tune piano.

The other reason behind all the hype?

Anonymous Content just bought the film rights to Foe. No surprise, because the mind-bending plot feels ideal for a script or a teleplay—perfect for an episode of Black Mirror. I can’t wait to see how Reid’s novel will be adapted for the big screen. There’s enormous potential for a hit psychological thriller. (Pssst! Casting directors! Joaquin Phoenix would make the perfect Junior.)

So, while I had figured out what was happening by the start of book’s second part, I had a blast reading on to see how the story would play out. And, boy, was it ever a satisfying conclusion!

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me an advanced reader’s copy of the novel. Honest thoughts are my own.

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BOOK REVIEW: Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

Rust & StardustThe novel Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood—a fictionalized interpretation of the 1940s Sally Horner kidnapping case—explores the horrific repercussions of rape and abduction. Not only does it delve into the thoughts, fears and hopes of 11-year-old Sally, but also the fear, despair and culpability of the people in her life. Those she was taken from in Camden, New Jersey. Those she encountered, in cities across the United States, during her two-year ordeal under her kidnapper’s control.

Greenwood gives voice to a cast of realistic characters we hold dear, despise, pity, or who make us feel conflicted. She shows us their innermost feelings thanks to powerful, lyrical language and themes weaved skillfully throughout the novel. For instance, instead of writing graphic scenes of violence, the author instead describes the suffocating, drowning sensations felts by Sally:

“She clung to the edge of the mattress so she wouldn’t drown, the weight of him, the weight of the entire ocean on her chest, compressing her ribs, her lungs filling with the sea.”

Events and encounters feel immediate and real. The quick pace feels unstoppable. It’s hard to ignore the pull of the book. Even if you know the details the infamous, devastating Sally Horner story and how it wraps ups, it’s sure to leave your spine tingling with bright instances of shock and hope. Terror and beauty. Rust and stardust.

Rating:

I’d like to thank and St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for sending me an advanced reader’s copy of the novel.  Rust & Stardust available on August 7. Honest thoughts are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: America For Beginners by Leah Franqui

franquiI dare you not to get hooked in the first chapter of Leah Franqui‘s debut novel America for Beginners. You’re introduced to Pival, a recently widowed Bengali woman getting ready to trek across the United States in search of her son’s true fate. The estranged, gay son banished from the family by her dead husband—an angry man who failed to show Pival love or respect while he was still alive.

“Pival Sengupta was going to America to find her son or his lover. And to kill herself.”

Once I read those final sentences of Chapter One, I too was strapped in tightly for the ride.

Accompanying Pival are her guide Satya, an immigrant still green when it comes to the ways of Americans, and her female companion Rebecca, a Washington-born, aspiring actress. Much like Pival’s son, both Satya and Rebecca yearn for the American dream. While their definitions of what that dream means, and the obstacles they encounter seem to lay on opposing sides of a spectrum, both Millennials struggle for acceptance and success.

Their road trip isn’t jammed-packed with action like car breakdowns in the middle of nowhere or life-threatening wildlife encounters. What you’ll read, instead, is a story of three souls who learn to steer around each other’s emotions, needs and cultural differences. While exposition gets a tad long and repetitive at times, Franqui twines themes of homophobia, racism and patriarchal oppression into the narrative without being heavy-handed. Pival, Satya and Rebecca feel real. You’ll root for them regardless of their blunders.

As for how the story comes to an end? Both fitting and satisfying.

I’d like to thank William Morrow for sending me an advanced reader’s copy of the novel. Honest thoughts are my own. The novel hits American and Canadian bookstore shelves on July 24.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky

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I loved Sarah Selecky’s Giller-nominated collecting of short stories, This Cake is for the Party. Each story tells us about a transformative moment in its main character’s life. Everyday, seemingly trivial observations give weight and heart to her words. I couldn’t wait to delve into her first novel—Radiant Shimmering Light—just-released in Canada. Surely, the novel would be more of the same, right?

Not so fast. When you start reading about Lilian, a struggling Etsy artist who sees auras of fur babies and gets reeled in by pyramid schemes, you may think you’ve encountered the latest Sophia Kinsella heroine. You’ll scratch your head, confused. But, you’ll keep reading because it’s uncomfortably funny. You may even recognize the grip social media has on Lilian. Her idolization of Instagrammers. Her constant checking for likes. Her obsession with branded colour palettes. Admit it—you’ve been there too.

Then Selecky takes the absurdity up a notch. The narrative gains momentum when Lilian reconnects with her guru/celebrity/pseudo cult leader cousin Eleven. Excited, and a tad star struck, she accepts to move from her tiny sublet in Toronto to a guest home in New York City. There she starts to work for Eleven in the Temple. She’ll take over creatives for a business selling pricey workshops and merch to women with a penchant for self-care and the divine feminine. Life seems to be rolling along better than ever for Lilian who thinks, “This is what work-life balance feels like! Everything is finally balanced in the proverbial pie chart of my life—work, family and friends, spirituality, money, health. I love being forty. I’ve never felt stronger, healthier, or more solvent.”

At that point I was expecting the beginning of the end. A traumatic unraveling. Instead, things slowed down and became repetitive. The story lost both its edge and my attention. Every new description of an aura—whether bright magenta, grey-blue and green, or butter yellow—became nauseating. I wanted more. More tension. A bigger, brighter (Yes, I just said that!) ending. But… maybe that’s just the point of the novel. Perhaps the ending, regardless of its bright whirl of shimmering auras, is meant to be diluted. Subdued. The novel is fun, but fell a bit short for me.

I’ll be interested to see how the novel is received, in coming weeks. Have you read this new novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!

I’d like to thank Sarah’s publicist at HarperCollins Canada Ltd. for sending me a copy of the novel. Honest thoughts are my own.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

 

BOOK REVIEW: On the Up by Shilo Jones

on the upI just finished reading On The Up by Canadian writer Shilo Jones—a fast-paced, whirlwind of a book. It features three intersecting storylines of people, from different walks of life, with a common sense of desperation. All try—need—to take advantage of high rollers in Vancouver’s property market.

Clever bits echoed the dark humour of Douglas Coupland or Irvine Welsh—which I love. One-liners and unexpected chats with a pot-bellied pig made me laugh out loud. Love the setting and Canadianisms—I appreciate a poke at Stephen Harper any day.

Still, it took a while for me to get through this story. At times, the plot was so thick with chaos it led to confusion. The characters are extreme, making the messes they find themselves in amusing. On the flip side, the over-the-top characterization makes it difficult to care for them or their outcomes.

Jones is sure to find a cult following who’ll appreciate his bite and his unique view of the Vancouverite rat race.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: West by Carys Davies

WEST DaviesCarys Davies’ first novel, West, is a quick and gratifying read. At just over 150 pages long, the book reads like an olden-day tale. Her story flies through the seasons like a tumbleweed on a warm, gusty day.

Never does Davies drag out the story with flowery language or over-complicated plot. The author plucks each word, with purpose, as if from a dream. Never does the pace linger—it’s steadfast like the determination of Cy Bellman, a widower who seems to be on a fool’s errand. His quest: seeking to find the roaming, monstrous creatures whose massive and ancient bones were discovered in the wild, western frontier.

For Cy, the dizzying lure of the West keeps him moving farther away from home, from his daughter Bess.  For the Shawnee youth leading and hunting for Cy, while on his long journey, the West has a darker pull—an inevitable, poignant end to a way of life. For his people. For his family.

I definitely, whole-heartedly, recommend this read.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

BOOK REVIEW: When We Were Birds by Maria Mutch

When we were birdsI was thrilled to review the new book from Maria Mutch—best known for Know the Night, the memoir that landed her on the shortlist for Governor General’s Literary Awards 2014.

Why? Well, when an author’s debut work receives praise and accolades, or gets nominated for prestigious literary prizes, that author’s sophomore book is often a collection of her best short stories or essays—works that have helped the author get the notice and traction she deserves from the literary world. When We Were Birds is just that—a vibrant, innovative collection of stories that reveal the mastery and keen eye of the author.

Themes of predation and freedom (caged or wild, hunted or be hunted) are ever-present in Mutch’s stories. So is her infusion of lyrical language and wild, enchanting characters. Her visceral writing thrums with life and yearning. With violence and foreboding. With a bright, gorgeous intensity deserving of such a dazzling cover illustration.

This collection will appeal to both fans of magic realism, like that of Etgar Keret, and seekers of dark fairytales, like those twisted by Joyce Carol Oates. Grab a copy, out on May 24, 2018, and let your imagination run wild.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.