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.

EXPLORING A GAL’S FAVOURITE NOVELS: How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

howtobeaheroine_CoverI didn’t know the playwright Samantha Ellis before my eyes fell on the cover of her book in NetGalley —How To Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much. The cute artwork, featuring the spine of much-loved books, grabbed my attention. I confess that once I read the cover copy, I felt like this book had been written for me.

You feel like Ellis is having an intimate conversation with you over the book she reread in her mid-thirties, books you both loved:  Anne of Green Gables, Ballet Shoes, Little Women, The Bell Jar, and Jane Eyre (sigh!). She confesses: “Reading that pile of books again, I realised that some of my heroines had misled me, some now seem irrelevant, some I had wildly misread, some I now regret. But many — most – were a pleasure to meet again.”

You embark on a reading journey with Ellis. It starts when she tells you about her first literary obsessions: Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid. After a look at the different depictions of the fairy tale characters, she’ll make you chuckle by admitting her life “would have been different if [she’d] known Disney’s Little Mermaid, not Andersen’s.” She grew up in an Iraqi-Jewish and, like the sad mermaid, felt “caught between two worlds”: her parents’ homeland and England (where she didn’t quite fit in her youth). Ellis’ personal history continues to be revealed as she compares her life choices and obstacles to those of the many heroines in her cherished books.

She was a precocious girl reading Jane Austen novels while most of her peers (and me) were reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. In fact, she probably read most of the book I read in my late teens and early twenties when she was a 12-year-old girl. This detail probably explains why she had misread so many of the heroines during first reads (and excuses the fact that she had preferred Cathy over Jane in the never-ending Brontë sister debate).

The writer quotes lines by Anne Shirley (“The worst of imagining things is that the time comes when you have to stop, and that hurts.”) and by Mr. Darcy (“We neither of us perform to strangers”), then explains how those words influenced her life. She makes you laugh when joking about puffed sleeves, remembering 80’s Timotei shampoo commercials, calling Rhett Butler a metrosexual, and taking a jab at the worst-named character in the history of the world (Take a wild guess. It was Stefanie Meyers’s bright idea.). She tugs at your heartstrings when talking about a wedding cake, seizures, and her mother’s plight. When Samantha Ellis writes, “I’m beginning to think that all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need for them at the time,” you’ll nod in agreement, take another sip of tea, and wish Samantha could be your new best friend.

How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much
By Samantha Ellis
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 272 pages.

The hardcover edition is already available in Canada. The paperback edition will be available next month in Canadian and U.S. bookstores.

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

Reading the Classics Challenge in 2015

Old BooksOn top of signing up for the 50 Book Pledge and joining the Green Gables Readalong, I wanted to push myself further when reading this year. So, I am challenging myself to read 12 “classic novels” in 2015.

Why?

Well, I read mostly contemporary literary fiction and tend to put off reading the books that somehow didn’t appear on my university English Literature courses syllabi.

After a shout out for “classics” suggestions last month, many of you gave me great suggestions. Thank you! (Please note: I use the term “classic” loosely. I cheated and included a few books from written in the early 1900s. A couple of book were even written post-WWII.)

I’ll write one “classic” review per month in the form of a Top 5 Highlights list. Here are the “Reading the Classics Challenge” picks I will be reviewing in 2015:

January:         To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
February:       Dracula by Bram Stoker
March:           Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
April:              Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
May:               Frost in May by Antonia White
June:              The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
July:                Villette by Charlotte Brontë
August:          Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
September:   The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
October:       Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
November:    Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
December:    Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I figure if I write it here, for all to see, I cannot back down. Right?

How will you challenge yourself to read more or read differently in 2015? Want to join me in the Reading the Classics Challenge in 2015? Make up your own list of not-yet-read “classics.” Read at your own pace. Let us know how you make out on social media with #ReadingtheClassicsin2015. Good luck!



HAPPY NEW YEAR!

BBT’s Top 5 Novels of 2014

Although there are still several novels published in 2014 on my TBR list (I blame it on my heavy college workload, tee hee.), I did manage to read and enjoy several awesome books this year. Below are excerpts from BBT reviews. They are my top five books of 2014 (in no particular order). Click on the link to read the full reviews.

 

Sweetland_CoverSweetland by Michael Crummey
Random House of Canada
Available August 19, 2014
320 pages, $32.00

Michael Crummey brings an isolated, austere landscape and its unforgettable inhabitants to life in his latest novel Sweetland. He paints the harsh life of the East Coast with frank simplicity. Never over-the-top.

 

MuseumCover2The Museum of Extraordinary Things
By Alice Hoffman
Scribner, 2014.
384 pages, $32,00.

It’s an enchanting story with a pace as steady and stirring as the Hudson River snaking its way into the plot. I was swept full-force into the story. Hoffman’s choice of narrators, her weaving of past and present narratives, and her colourful language drew me in. So did her captivating setting —New York City in the early 1900s.

 

TheWorldBeforeUsColourThe World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter
Random House of Canada Limited

September 9, 2014

432 pages, $29.95

I was enchanted by Aislinn Hunter’s novel, a gorgeous, complex story pulsing with life. The novel explores how time, memory, and imaginings can shape a person’s narrative and identity. The reader flutters in and out of the past alongside a whirlwind of characters —most of them spirits who have lost their selfhood.

 

TheBees_PhotoThe Bees by Laline Paull
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014
340 pages, $21.99

In Paull’s riveting, epic tale, bees put their lives on the line to protect the Queen and the beehive. The author creates an entire world revolving around these fascinating insects to mirror societal hierarchies and environmental crises. Still, there is a significant difference between Laline Paull’s novel with those of Richard Adams and G. R. R. Martin: her story evokes the divine feminine. The undercurrents of maternal love, sisterhood, and a Mother God heighten the flow of the story at every moment.

 

MonsterWifeThe Monster’s Wife by Kate Horsley
Barbican Press, 266 pages.
25.00$, August 28, 2014

In The Monster’s Wife, first-time novelist Kate Horsley honours the gothic tradition of Mary Shelley while maintaining a fresh, unique voice. Some describe this book as a sequel to Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. I view this new book as an ingenious spin-off revamping a short period of the classic tale. It takes place after Victor Frankenstein makes a pact with his ‘creature’ to play God once again —to make a wife for the creature. Victor settles in the Orkney Islands for a bout of manic, promised work. Its dark, moody atmosphere lends well to the harsh landscape of the islands and the unravelling plot. With its vibrant imagery and meticulous details, The Monster’s Wife will have a firm grip on you from the start.

 

What were your top five reads of 2014? I hope you crack open the books on my list if you haven’t already. I’m certain you will love them just as much as I did.

Thank you for reading my book reviews, blogger friends. Happy Holidays!