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: ⭐⭐⭐

 

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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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

the-unforgottenThe Unforgotten is a fitting title for Laura Powell ’s mystery with two timelines—one set in 1956 and the other about 50 years later—and whose characters are consumed by secrets. Secret feelings. Secret love affairs. Secret obsessions. Secret details about a slew of murders at the hand of the ‘Cornish Clever’ in the coastal English village of St. Steele. While these secrets many have remained buried for half a century, they were never forgotten.

Mary was but 15 years old during the summer of the killings, and she has felt the weight of the secrets surrounding the events most of her life. They affected her relationships then and in the present. When the story of the Cornish Cleaver resurfaces in the media, Mary is in her sixties. She starts to unravel. The advice of a landlady in a neighborhood pub hits close to home: “If I’ve learned one thing from spending half my life listening to people from behind this bar, it’s that lies are worse than cancer. Trust me. They eat you up and poison you, so you either let them rest for good or you cut them out.” And so, Mary starts a pursuit to rid herself of the secrets she’s been harbouring, for so long, and find out the truth once and for all.

For me, the pleasure in reading this story was not trying to figure out who the true culprit was (which was pleasurable, mind you), but seeing how guilt, fear, and love rule the characters’ decision-making. While the roiling tension in the final chapters keeps you reading until the final line, the palpable sentiments of Mary, Betty, and John are the true driving force of the story.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of The Unforgotten in exchange for an honest book review. Hardcopies hit Canadian and American bookshelves on February 6, 2018.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: Starlings by Jo Walton

starlings-jo-waltonProlific novelist of speculative fiction,  Jo Walton, will soon debut her first collection of short stories, Starlings. In the book’s introduction, Walton explains how writing short stories is new turf for her—a struggle even—and that writing novels comes much easier. That was unexpected, since I often think of this form as an apprenticeship of sorts for writers. After Walton’s confession, I wondered if I’d be disappointed. That trepidation disappeared with a “Poof!” after polishing off the first story.

Her clever, modern fairy tales, with hues of Angela Carter, charmed the curl of my mouth into a conspiratorial smile. I fell under the spell of a man made of moonlight in “Three Twilight Tales”and the enchanted mirror who sees a whirl of trees through the seasons in “On the Wall”. I took my time and paid attention to the startling, tiny details that lurk in the shadows of plot and characterization.

Other stories showcase problems seemingly particular to Sci-Fi or dystopian settings that got me thinking about messy implications of the future. “Sleeper” delves into how the manipulation of AI simulations of historical figures could influence future generations—a perfect premise for an episode of Black Mirror. I also loved “Turnover,” in which occupiers of a spacecraft yearn to preserve their arts and culture after they’ll settle on their destination planet.

Flash fiction with sly punchlines pepper the book–most made me chuckle while others fell a bitflat. And, her Sci-Fi poems didn’t engage me as much as her stories, but that’s due to my usual struggle to connect with poetry.

I would recommend this collections to lovers of short stories instead of fans of Walton’s novels. With such varied settings and modes, it’s a book best savored story by story instead of in one or two sittings.

Now, which Walton novel should I read first? Any recommendations?

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Book Review: IN THE MIDST OF WINTER by ISABEL ALLENDE

In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende
Simon & Schuster Canada

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The place is Brooklyn, New York during a snowstorm that envelops the city—shutting in everyone.

Richard Bowmaster, a 60-year-old university professor and widow crippled with anxiety, lives in shrouded loneliness in an old brownstone. In his basement apartment lives, Lucia Maraz, a visiting Chilean lecturer who works for Richard. Her openness and sensuality stirs a desire in him. A desire that he doesn’t show or act upon.

Come to shake up their lives is player number three, Evelyn Ortega. She’s a 20-something, fretful undocumented Guatemalan. She crashes into Richard’s car when he ventures into the storm for an emergency vet visit. The car isn’t hers—it belongs to her wealthy, powerful employer and she is scared out of her mind. So, Richard takes her in. He quickly realizes he needs the help of Lucia to understand Evelyn.

Together the three wait out the storm and learn about each other’s past. In true Allende fashion unravels harrowing stories of broken families and societal struggles. And somewhere along the way a twist weaves itself into play… and Allende had me firmly in her grip ‘til the very end.

Rich with vivid language and tangible yearning, this book hit the spot. While it wasn’t my favourite Allende novel, it’s well worth the read. Preferably on a cold, winter day while wrapped in a warm blanket and sipping tea.

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales with a believable take on a world that’s taken a spin for the worst. The debut novel The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson accomplished just that, on top of a creating a growing tension that keeps the reader turning the pages.

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You’re dropped in a cold, bleak setting with a handful of characters, 20-something Lynn and her family. The sparse exposition lets you focus on the action—trudging in snow and hunting for game along with our feisty heroine. At times, Lynn seems naïve for a grown woman. Then again, she’s been living isolated in the Yukon for years with her party of five and a pervy neighbor living a few miles down the way. Playing Survivor without electricity, most modern-day comforts or news from the rest of the world is her way of life.

That is, until a secretive, stealthy stranger named Jax shows up. Not much older than Lynn, he’s the strong, silent type: hard to read, hard to trust, full of secrets. Everything changes after his arrival—he threatens their order and possibly their lives. You’ll develop a sense of what’s to come because the author drops hints and snippets of truth along the way, but you’ll probably be surprised where to story leads you.

The Wolves of Winter is a fast read and tons of fun. I recommend you grab a copy when the novel is released in January 2018.

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐