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: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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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: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Rules_of_MagicLast week, Alice Hoffman delighted fans with the release of a prequel to one of her most beloved novels: Practical Magic. That’s right. Over twenty years after readers delved into the world of two unruly witch sisters, the author’s new book, The Rules of Magic, gives us a glimpse into the lives of the Owen family members who came before.

Most of the story revolves around the coming of age of Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owen during the 1960s. These two teenage witches and their wizard brother navigate rough waters as they discover their magical powers and develop intimate relationships. It’s a difficult time for them as the family curse dictates their fates. Their loves. Their lives.

While the book was fun, I found the pace of the story slow, or somewhat passive. Also, it read like a Young Adult book at times. Perhaps that’s because I young when I read and loved Practical Magic… perhaps I have  grown up and now gravitate to Hoffman’s other fantastic books, like The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

Still, I think most fans of the first book in the series will be delighted with this prequel.

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

THE HISTORY OF BEES: A collapse of epic proportions

The History of BessThe History of Bees shares the stories of three different families, living in three different eras, whose lives are shaped by both the breeding and survival of bees. While Maja Lunde’s gripping novel is aptly titled, it could have been called Collapse.

In a 19th-century scientist’s story, the dream to make a name for oneself and leaving a legacy always seems to be on the brink of collapse. In the second story, an apiarist struggles during the onset of the terrifying Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007. Collapse takes on a darker meaning in the third story—set 80 years in a the future in a dystopian world without bees. In all narratives, the potential collapse of bonds between parent and children, husbands and wives, compels the reader to turn each page to find out what fate awaits them.

While some big twists are predictable early on, other little turns will astonish the reader. A thought-provoking read filled with tension, relatable characters, and an urgent message to protect our bees now and for generations to come.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

*** Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me a galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review.***

BBT’s Best Books of 2015: Historical Novels

In 2015, three novels of historical fiction stood out form the pack. Or should I say, the bookshelf. Their authors reimagined the loves and trials of prominent figures from the past. In each case, the reader gets to delve into the minds of the characters to find out what emotions and influences that set them on their paths. Warning: these books are so good, fiction may just become better than reality.

All TruAllTrueNotALieInIte Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley blew me away. It examines the life and trials of Daniel Boone in a fresh, new light. So many gorgeous passages. Heart-stopping narration. Don’t want to take my word for it? Well, it won the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel award in May. This fall, it was longlisted for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize. Read my review, then check out the author’s blog for more info about her writing process and fun facts about Daniel Boone. Then, get your hands on the novel. If you get sad when you finish reading it, take solace in knowing that Hawley is working on the sequel as we speak.

 

MarriageofOppositesIf you’ve been following my blog, you may know that I love author Alice Hoffman‘s work. She delivers. Every. Time. It’s no surprise that her latest novel, The Marriage of Opposites, made my list of 2015’s best historical novels. It is the story of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro and his family. Inspired by Latin American literature, this multi-generational story is laced with bursts of passion and shades of magic realism. Oh, and the ending? It’s perfect.

 

The mytholoVanessa_Cover_Onegy of Virginia Woolf has been the subject of several films and books over the years. Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar can be added to that list under the heading “inventive point of view”. The epistolary novel is made up primarily of fictional journal entries by Virginia’s older sister, Vanessa.  Under the suffocating shadow of her sister, Vanessa finds the strength to grow as an artist, a mother, and a lover. Reading her story through journals, letters, and postcards was an intimate, memorable experience. I read the book and wrote a review nearly a year ago, but still find myself thinking about the characters today.

What was your favourite historic novel of 2015?

BBT’s Best Books of 2015: Favorite YA Books

Molecules_CoverMy favorite YA novel of 2015—BY FAR—was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. It’s a story of two very different people—Stewart and Ashley—who must eventually join forces it they want to make their newly-meshed family work. The book’ll make you laugh out loud and sob aching sobs. I wrote a gushing review back in May claiming that with yet another great title under her belt, Susin Nielsen is quickly becoming the John Green of Canada. I still think that’s true. If you have young teens on your holiday gift list, grab this book (Full of feels!) for each of them. Girls and guys will like it. So will you!

Issues tackled: divorce, bullying, sexual harassment, homosexuality, mourning

 

Cover_AnnAngelAnother great YA read was an engaging collection of short stories about teenage secrets.  Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves was edited by Ann Angel—curator of fells, laughs, and ah-ha moments. These stories vary in style and genre, but each one shows us how the struggles of teens deeply impact their emotional lives. Read my review to learn about my three favourite stories. It’s a must-read collection for teens, teachers, and parents alike.

Issues tackled: hoarding, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted deseases, eating disorders, friendship

 

PROBE INTO MEMORY: Find Me by Laura van den Berg

Find Me CoverFind Me by Laura van den Berg
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2015

“The sickness” hits the Unites States leaving its victims covered in silvery scabs, bereft of their memories, and fated with an unavoidable death. 19-year-old Joy finds herself swept away to an isolated hospital along with others who have been exposed to the fast-spreading disease. Here, Joy becomes intimate with a widower, endeared by orphaned twin boys, and distracted by the mysterious pilgrims who stand vigil outside the hospital.

Unlike other dystopian novels (i.e. Children of Men, World War Z), this story is not rife with action or a rush to find a cure. In fact, most of the scientific elements fizzle away on a back burner. The protagonist has a lot of time on her hands. She gets lost in the entanglements of her memories and her imaginings. Joy’s fears, doubts, and transient lifestyle make her the ideal, unreliable first-person narrator. You feel as vulnerable and as unknowing as Joy.

Van den Berg uses poetic phrases and gorgeous water imagery that lulls you. Her words leave you aimlessly drifting along and waiting for meaning along with Joy. The story can be summed up by one of Joy’s powerful lines:

“I feel like my life is a tent someone has folded up and carried away.”

Being an orphan, Joy never had a permanent home or family life. She drifted from place to place, always finding herself lost—her future a dark blur. The language sets the mood and helps you delve into the psyche of a lonely woman in an unravelling world.

The second part of the book meanders into a new direction, possibly leaving you confused or unsatisfied. Other characters materialize along the way, but never long enough to leave their imprint on you. Like the memories of the afflicted, the relationships Joy forms with others come and go too quickly. The final scene is fitting, but may leave you with more questions than answers.

I recommend this book for readers who appreciate the intricacies of language, but not to those who want a tight plot and a clear resolution at the end of the novel.