Book Review: Strangers with the Same Dream by Alison Pick

01.17.2018

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - strangers with the same dream

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Category: Literary Historical Fiction
Author: Alison Pick
Format: Hardcover, 378 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-345-81045-8
Pub Date: August 29, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

A brilliant, astonishing and politically timely page-turner set in 1921 Palestine, from the author of the bestselling novel Far to Go, nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

This spare, beautifully written, shocking and timely novel whisks us back to 1921 Palestine, when a band of young Jewish pioneers, many escaping violence in their homelands, set out to realize a utopian dream: the founding of a kibbutz on a patch of land that will, twenty-five years later, become part of the State of Israel. Writing with tightly controlled intensity, Alison Pick takes us inside the minds of her vastly different characters–two young unmarried women, one plain and one beautiful, escaping peril in Russia and Europe; one older man, a charismatic group leader who is married with two children; and his wife, Hannah, who understands all too well the dark side of “equality”–to show us how idealism quickly tumbles into pragmatism, and how the utopian dream is punctured by messy human entanglements.

This is also the story of the land itself (present-day Israel and Palestine), revealing with compassion and terrible irony how the pioneers chose to ignore the subtle but undeniable fact that their valley was already populated, home to a people whose lives they did not entirely understand.

Writing with extraordinary power, Pick creates unforgettably human characters who, isolated in the enclosure of their hard-won utopian dream, are haunted by ghosts, compromised by unbearable secrets, and finally, despite flashes of love and hope, worn down by hardship, human frailty, and the pull of violent confrontation. The novel’s utterly shocking but satisfying conclusion will have readers flipping back to the first page to trace patterns and wrestle with the question of what is, or is not, inevitable and knowable in the human heart.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

I was privileged to meet Alison Pick in person at a Penguin Random House event in Toronto, which showcased several upcoming books that retailers, librarians, and book bloggers could easily get excited about. At the end of the session, attendees were given a copy of Strangers with the Same Dream with an opportunity to hear its author speak and then personally sign the book. I had not yet read the novel—and in my ignorance, was not yet familiar with Alison Pick’s work.

PRHC fall preview - Alison Pick
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
PRHC fall preview - strangers w same dream signed
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

But, I am now thrilled to say that has thankfully changed with my recent reading of her latest novel that serendipitously found its way into my book tote, and then later onto my night table, and eventually to my Completed Reads Bookshelf—and has become one of my favourite books of 2017.

Strangers with the Same Dream is written with an elegant narrative, a voice that renders its readers into the private world of communal living in the culture of a young, Jewish kibbutz, working the land and building a new Israel.

The intricacies and workings of this kibbutz is tenderly written with a reverent eye on its ancestors’ traditions and its new ideals, its hope for enlightenment with its connection to the land and its people, and its plans for settlement and its growing future.

And while ideals and motivated speeches urge the community to plod on in its newness and in its toil, its insecurities, and its doubts—the truths shown in frustrated plans in trying to build a new community from bare land and few resources, reveal a private and fragile innocence soiled by lust, pride, and self-centredness by a few that reverberate its consequences throughout the kibbutz, and ultimately affect the entirety of the young collective.

Within the fascinating details of what it means to be a young, Jewish person part of a collective that embarks on the challenging task of building a home and community in 1921, Israel—is the private yearning, tension, and struggle some individuals face in integrating themselves into the kibbutz they committed themselves to.

The novel is sensitively told through the perspective of key characters: Ida, whose plainness is overtaken by her reverent hope and obedience to the ideals of her ancestors and Jewish traditions; to David, the commune’s self-appointed and volatile leader whose misguided sense of control evolves into lapses of poor judgement, paranoia, and several mistakes, which lead to the book’s climatic resolve; to Hannah, whose role as wife, mother, and matriarch burden her with the loss of her personal motherhood and autonomy to the rules endorsed by the life of the commune.

Within these characters’ narratives are by no means, secondary characters, but rather other key characters who play a vital role in propelling the plot to the richness of the book’s emotional complexity and hidden deconstruction.

Strangers with the Same Dream is an extraordinarily intimate journey of what it means to conquer and reclaim not only a land of promised Jewish inheritance, but of the needs of the individual versus the needs of the communal; the tension between hope and its ever-renewing sense of idealism against the hardship of reality’s frugal cooperation, lack of resources, and sometimes disappointing and even devastating outcomes; and the ever-changing dynamic between power, provision, corruption, and equality.

I love this book. It’s written with intelligence and tenderness, and evokes a plot filled with restrained violence and passionate hope. Readers will quickly be immersed in the story as one might themselves become a member of this young, naive, yet hopeful kibbutz, and become privy to the internal struggles of its complex characters whose reign to self, battles with the higher calling to concede to the faith and livelihood of a collective and its ideals.

It’s a beautiful and necessary historical fiction, which addresses the fundamental and emotional turmoil—and deep satisfaction—the individual can face amidst a collective diligently hoping and working towards an unknown future.

***

Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
Language/Narrative: 5 stars
Dialogue: 5 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with a copy of Strangers with the Same Dream by Alison Pick in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - alison pick.jpg

 

Alison Pick’s best-selling novel Far to Go was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and won the Canadian Jewish Book Award. It was a Top 10 Book of 2010 at NOW magazine and the Toronto Star, and was published to international acclaim. Alison was the winner of the 2002 Bronwen Wallace Award for the most promising writer in Canada under 35. Currently on Faculty at the Humber School for Writers and the Banff Centre for the Arts, she lives and writes in Toronto.
  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with the author on her official website , Twitter, and Goodreads.

Zara

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Book Review: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

12.17.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - end we start from

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Category: General Fiction
Author: Megan HUnter
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 136 pages
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0-7352-3502-1
Pub Date: November 7, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter is a first novella by its author, a story in a dystopian setting that begins as its title suggests, at the end—the potential apocalyptic end of civilization as its known during an unknown time in the future.

Its story focuses on a young, pregnant woman who gives birth to a baby boy she and her partner name, Z. But, with his birth not only comes the emotional joy and bond of motherhood, but a time in which the world is in an environmental crisis, one which devastates land with flood and people homeless and nomadic.

The novella in its less than 140-page story, tells a narrative of scarcity, sickness, death, and for some, survival.

The narrative, too, almost becomes a stylistic comment on the theme of the book, the way it is written so sparingly, as if prose itself is stripped to its basic necessity. The narrative is more prose poem than it is detailed novel writing.

The names of characters, too, are not fully named, but are rather diminished to single letters, as if the characters themselves, like in the potential danger of the apocalyptic theme, have also diminished to a lesser identity or a figurative identity that could be everyone—or anyone—in a mass apocalypse.

What is personal in the story is the narrative of the main character, the woman who becomes mother, how this pivotal role has involuntarily helped her fall in love with her child, with motherhood, even in the direst circumstances. It gives her at the very least, a hard resolve to focus all of her energy on the survival of her son, whose blissful ignorance is both a blessing and a curse.

While the narrative can be considered lyrical in the sense that it is not traditionally prose, the scarcity in detail can and may frustrate readers who prefer not to work so hard to imagine the gaps in which the author leaves for readers to interpret or extrapolate.

And sometimes this type of narrative misses the opportunity to really depict a fuller experience of the senses in the story. But, rather leaves a stark, inexplicable setting that readers may not fully enjoy because of the lack of detail and connection.

And because of its short size, the story does only a sparse job in giving what seemed a superficial account of plot and character dimension in what could be a compelling dystopian story.

Still, if you’re not looking for a long narrative, don’t dislike poetry or a lack of detailed prose, and want a peek at what could be a catastrophic, environmental crisis, then yes, this little novella is for you.

Otherwise, it’s an interesting, yet superficial take on the instinct and hardship involved in attempting to survive in an apocalyptic world where flood, famine, and loss are at its most relevant.

***

Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 2.5 stars
Cover Design: 2.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Hamish Hamilton for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of The End We Start From by Megan Hunter in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - megan hunter

Megan Hunter was born in Manchester in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a BA in English Literature from Sussex University, and an MPhil in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and she was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award with her short story ‘Selfing’.

Megan’s first book, The End We Start From, will be published in 2017 by Picador (UK), Grove Atlantic (USA/Canada), Gallimard (France), Beck (Germany), Hollands Diep (Holland), and Elsinore (Portugal).

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with the author on Twitter and Goodreads.

Zara

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Book Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

12.15.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - home fire

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Category: General Fiction
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 276 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1768-3
Pub Date: August 15, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is an investigation into the political and emotional ramification of terrorism at the personal level—what it means to be directly influenced and connected to it—by history, by bloodline, by political stance.

It focuses on the Pasha family, siblings whose lives are charged with the intensity of an emotionally ever-present, yet absent father, Adil Pasha, a known jihadist by the British government who fought with jihadi groups in Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990’s and then travelled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.

The knowledge of this crime has followed and burdened the lives of the Pasha family: Isma, the eldest daughter left to the responsibility of parenting her siblings after the absence of their father and the death of their mother; Aneeka, the passionate beauty whose deep connection with her twin, Parvaiz, compels her to tantrums and deceit; and Parvaiz, in lacking a father-figure clings to the haunting memory of his father’s extremist beliefs and believed martyrdom.

Their futures stained with the political crimes of their missing father, compel them in vastly different directions, which eventually through plot and what seems like serendipity, connect them with a powerful political figure of their past, Karamat Lone, Home Secretary of the British government and a progressive Muslim, along with his beloved son, Eammon.

The narrative of the novel reveals the internal landscape of its characters, how asserting and/or denying and/or identifying as a Muslim in modern day London and Afghanistan has with it complexities amidst the geo-political climate of the world as well as being burdened with the knowledge of a relative whose extremist values and jihadist motivations and actions have scarred his family, even years after his own death.

The plot, though deceptively tranquil at the beginning, even almost hopeful—quickly manifests into manipulative relationships where the instigator eventually coerces the victim to do things that will make him feel uncomfortable or put his life at risk. The tension in the book is in the injustice of these actions, which render its victims almost helpless to act autonomously.

The characters, though well developed and clearly depicted, have in them an emotional weakness to be easily persuaded, to act abruptly and with passion, as well as to respond in extremity, which can only lead to problematic situations.

The thematic thread in the book is obvious in its extremism—both in acts of terror, political strategy, and relationship. But, its success is in how it portrays its characters’ development—how one might move from a life of routine and social norms to the mind-altering, psychological framework of extremist beliefs and jihadist commitment and crime through a myriad of insecurities, manipulation, and time.

Regardless, the author is able to put a human face to the elusive beast of terror and share a narrative that personally empathizes with those who are directly affected by the cause and affect of its destruction, both socially, politically, and emotionally.

***

Characters: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Riverhead Books for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - kamila shamsie

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi, where she grew up. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While at the University of Massachusetts she wrote In The City By The Sea , published by Granta Books UK in 1998. This first novel was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys Award in the UK, and Shamsie received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her 2000 novel Salt and Saffron led to Shamsie’s selection as one of Orange’s “21 Writers of the 21st Century.” With her third novel, Kartography , Shamsie was again shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both Kartography and her next novel, Broken Verses , won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan. Burnt Shadows, Shamsie’s fifth novel, has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her books have been translated into a number of languages.

Shamsie is the daughter of literary critic and writer Muneeza Shamsie, the niece of celebrated Indian novelist Attia Hosain, and the granddaughter of the memoirist Begum Jahanara Habibullah. A reviewer and columnist, primarily for the Guardian, Shamsie has been a judge for several literary awards including The Orange Award for New Writing and The Guardian First Book Award. She also sits on the advisory board of the Index on Censorship.

For years Shamsie spent equal amounts of time in London and Karachi, while also occasionally teaching creative writing at Hamilton College in New York State. She now lives primarily in London.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with the author on Twitter and Goodreads.

Zara

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Book Review: The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk

10.18.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - dead husband project

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Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Sarah Meehan Sirk
Format: Ebook via NetGalley, 247 pages
Publisher: Anchor Canada
ISBN: 978-0-3856-8760-7
Pub Date: August 8, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Perfect for readers of George Saunders, Jennifer Egan and Heather O’Neill, a rich and inventive collection of exquisite short stories by a major newcomer to Canadian literature.

In this deeply felt, compulsive and edgy work, Sarah Meehan Sirk shines a distinctive light on love and death in their many incarnations, pushing against the limits of the absurd while exposing piercing emotional truths about what it means to be gloriously, maddeningly alive.

In The Dead Husband Project, an artist who has planned to make an installation out of her terminally ill husband’s dead body has to recalibrate when his diagnosis changes. In The Date, an online dating match takes an unusual turn when the man who shows up to the restaurant has no face. In Ozk, a young girl longs to connect with her socially isolated mother, a professor of mathematics who makes a radical discovery.

Uncanny, sometimes violent, achingly sad and always profound, these stories showcase a writer with skill and empathy, and draw us in with a steady, unyielding grip.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

With a title as intriguing as The Dead Husband Project and an equally gorgeous, floral cover, this short story collection by Sarah Meehan Sirk is deceitfully dark and foreboding—and yet the 14 stories in their entirety provide a spyglass to several broken and resentful characters who find themselves navigating within some strange, almost absurd plots.

From different contexts that deal with the exhibition of death as art; to the absence of maternal love in lieu of obsessive ambition and research; adultery with life-threatening ramifications; emotional adultery and its resignation; the death of a loved one; the inevitability of aging; the submission to betrayal in friendship; the weary disconnect in relationship; to the turmoil of grief and loneliness—while these stories share burdensome contexts, the writing itself can at times, seem heavy-handed, not striving to be succinct, but rather succumbs to unnecessary explanation, which can and often does feel cliché.

What could be a collection of complicated characters with a variety of emotional landscapes in stories of obsession, pain, loss, grief, and love; instead contextualizes a narrative, which fails this intent. Otherwise, the stories themselves hold the potential of depth and retrospection.

And while the beginning of most of the stories in the collection show promise of not only interest, but depth, their endings rely on a self-conscious narrative that feels the need to “tie up loose ends” with the explanation of circumstances and/or the end result of emotions felt by its thwarted and disappointed characters—which most of them tend to be.

But, where the narrative in the book can sometimes fail, the stories’ dialogue on the other hand, can and most often does sound true. There’s also a tenderness in some details found in such stories as Ozk or The Centre.

While most of the characters are unable to incite full likeability in its readers, one can empathize with what these characters might feel considering how absurd or surprising the plots they find themselves in.

Perhaps the plots’ themes were too large or extraneous: Cancer, coma, HIV, adultery, abandonment—relying instead on the significance of their emotional magnitude and crisis, rather than focusing on truths that can be shared in more daily, simple struggles or outcomes for those who experience such dilemmas.

If not for the design of its cover, nor the intrigue of its title, and the ambition of its poorly executed imagination—The Dead Husband Project, would remain an inert collection of stories perhaps better left on the shelf.

Yet, there’s still hope. It is only a debut novel, after all.

Should Sarah Meehan Sirk hone in her creative writing skill with less explanation or a self-conscious narrative that compels itself to obvious closure, her imaginative power may then truly explore and execute the potential profoundness of what could essentially be her work.

***

Characters: 2.5 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Anchor Canada for providing me with an e-book of The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - sarah meehan sirk

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a writer and radio producer. Her fiction has appeared in various journals and magazines and is anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories.

At the CBC, she’s produced for national shows including Q (now q) and Day 6, and hosted the 2015 summer series Stripped. Before that, she produced a Toronto crime show, hosted sports programs, filed human rights reports with Ghanaian journalists in West Africa, and co-produced, wrote, and hosted a short TV series on minor hockey that was nominated for what was then known as a Gemini award (it lost to the Olympics.) She has also produced a son, and a daughter.

She studied math and philosophy at the University of Toronto, and was mentored by David Adams Richards at the Humber School for Writers. She lives in Toronto with her young family. The Dead Husband Project is her first book.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Sarah Meehan Sirk on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: The Only Café by Linden MacIntyre

10.04.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - the only cafe

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Category: Fiction
Author: Linden MacIntyre
Format: Ebook via Netgalley, 432 pages
Publisher: Random House of Canada
ISBN: 978-0-3458-1206-3
Pub Date: August 8, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Scotiabank Giller prize–winner Linden MacIntyre delivers a page-turning, thought-provoking novel about an enigmatic man haunted by a troubled past in his native Lebanon and the Canadian-born son who tries to solve the mystery of his father’s life.

Pierre Cormier had secrets. Though he married twice, became a high-flying lawyer and a father, he didn’t let anyone really know him. And he was especially silent about what had happened to him in Lebanon, the country he fled during civil war to come to Canada as a refugee. When, in the midst of a corporate scandal, he went missing after his boat exploded, his teenaged son Cyril didn’t know how to mourn him. But five years later, a single bone and a distinctive gold chain are recovered, and Pierre is at last declared dead. Which changes everything.

At the reading of the will, it turns out that instead of a funeral, Pierre wanted a “roast” at a bar no one knew he frequented—The Only Café in Toronto’s east end. He’d even left a guest list that included one mysterious name: Ari. Cyril, now working as an intern for a major national newsroom and assisting on reporting a story on homegrown terrorism, tracks down Ari at the bar, and finds out that he is an Israeli who knew his father in Lebanon in the ’80s. Who is Ari? What can he reveal about what happened to Pierre in Lebanon? Is Pierre really dead? Can Ari even be trusted? Soon Cyril’s personal investigation is entangled in the larger news story, all of it twining into a fabric of lies and deception that stretches from contemporary Toronto back to the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in September 1982.

The Only Café is both a moving mystery and an illuminating exploration of how the traumatic past, if left unexamined, shadows every moment of the present.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Only Café is a plot-driven novel that scrutinizes the enigmatic character, Pierre Cormier, and his silent and secretive past—a past, which incurs his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of September 1982 during the Lebanon civil war.

With his company amidst a political controversy and the news of his health deteriorating, he leaves behind his ex-wife, his pregnant wife, and his grown son, Cyril, to find solace in the solitude of a boat drifting off the shores of Cape Breton, originally his hometown after finding refuge in Canada before his move to Toronto to pursue a prestigious career in law.

His vacation soon becomes a long-term absence that designates him as a missing person; a loss that his son, Cyril, has not been able to readily mourn.

With journalistic savvy, Linden MacIntyre, baptizes his main character into the threshold of newsroom politics, awarding him an internship and a six-month contract to delve into the modern complication of the history of the Middle East as he concurrently investigates the facts of his father’s mysterious life—and death.

The novel is cryptic in design to insinuate the involvement of events by both Pierre Cormier and his unknown and complicated friendship with a man named Ari from The Only Café. Together, the communal atrocities of war appear to them in memory and conversation, a confessional that unloads the mysteries of guilt and affirmation in the way that those who suffer the trauma of war must experience.

And as the story unfolds, answers become less apparent, if only to complicate fact and perspective—both catalyst and responsibility of those involved in civil war in Lebanon—and the truths that haunt an enigmatic and absent father and provokes and propels his hopeful son.

If you are looking for a book that shares the nuances of male friendship, journalistic propaganda, and historical, political warfare, as well as quest-like journeys through memory and its correlation to identity, you’ll enjoy what The Only Café has to offer.

It is a book that testifies to the acceptance of loss and a lack of answers that can and does surround those we love and may never fully know. And testifies to the brutality and ramifications of war and the drive for survival in lieu of its sometimes necessary, yet guilt-ridden violence.

***

Characters: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 3.5 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with an ebook of The Only Cafe by Linden MacIntyre via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - linden macintyre

Linden MacIntyre’s bestselling first novel, The Long Stretch, was nominated for a CBA LIbris Award and his boyhood memoir, Causeway: A Passage from Innocence, won both the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction and the Evelyn Richardson Prize. His second novel, The Bishop’s Man, was a #1 national bestseller, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Dartmouth Book Award and the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year Award, among other honours. The third book in the loose-knit trilogy, Why Men Lie, was also a #1 national bestseller as well as a Globe and Mail “Can’t Miss” Book for 2012. MacIntyre, who spent 24 years as the co-host of the fifth estate, is a distinguished broadcast journalist who has won ten Gemini awards for his work.

  • From Penguin Random House Canada

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Zara

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The 2017 Giller Prize Shortlist Announced

 

10.02.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

giller prize logo

It’s that time of year again when literary hopefuls and their publishers wait anxiously to see if their book has made the Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist to be in the running for Canada’s highest literary initiative—prestigious bragging rights and the endowment of a whopping $25,000.00 cash prize.

This year’s jury consists of:

André Alexis

André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His novel, Fifteen Dogs, won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Pastoral (nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Asylum, Beauty and Sadness and Ingrid & the Wolf. His latest novel, The Hidden Keys, was published in 2016.

Anita Rau Badami

Anita Rau Badami is the author of four novels: Tamarind Mem, The Hero’s Walk, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? and Tell it to the Trees. She is the recipient of various awards including the Marian Engel Prize, the Regional Commonwealth Award, and the Premio Berto Prize for International Literature. Published worldwide, her novels have also been nominated for the Ethel Wilson Prize, Hugh MacLennan Prize, the Orange Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Hero’s Walk was a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads in 2016. Born in India, Anita lives in Montreal, Quebec.

Richard Beard

Richard Beard’s six novels include Lazarus is Dead, Dry Bones and Damascus, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His latest novel Acts of the Assassins was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2015. He is also the author of four books of narrative non-fiction, including his 2017 memoir The Day That Went Missing. Formerly Director of The National Academy of Writing in London, he is a Visiting Professor (2016/17) at the University of Tokyo, and has a Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia.

Lynn Coady

Lynn Coady is a novelist whose fiction has been garnering acclaim since her first novel, Strange Heaven, was published and subsequently nominated for Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction when she was 28. Her short story collection, Hellgoing, won the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, for which her novel, The Antagonist, was also nominated in 2011. Her fiction has been published in the U.K., U.S., Holland, France, and Germany. Her most recent book is a nonfiction enquiry into reading and digital culture called Who Needs Books? Coady lives in Toronto and writes for television.

Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander is the author of the internationally bestselling story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, the novel The Ministry of Special Cases, and the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. He’s received the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His fiction has been widely anthologized, most recently in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, and has been translated into 20 languages. He’s the author of the play The Twenty-Seventh Man, which premiered at New York’s Public Theater, and translated the New American Haggadah (edited by Jonathan Safran Foer). He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

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After 112 titles were submitted by 73 publisher imprints from across the country to the Scotiabank Giller Prize literary jury, the list was comprehensively downsized to a competitive longlist of 12 titles:

The 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

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Brother by David Chariandy, published by McClelland & Stewart

An intensely beautiful, searingly powerful, tightly constructed novel, Brother explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity as they are played out in a Scarborough housing complex during the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991.

With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home.

Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry — teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.

Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael’s dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.

With devastating emotional force David Chariandy, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian literature, crafts a heartbreaking and timely story about the profound love that exists between brothers and the senseless loss of lives cut short with the shot of a gun.

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Transit by Rachel Cusk, published by HarperCollins Publishers

In the wake of family collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed Outline, and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change. In this precise, short, and yet epic cycle of novels, Cusk manages to describe the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life, through a narrative near-silence that draws language toward it. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.

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The Bone Mother by David Demchuk, published by ChiZine Publications

Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.

Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

David Demchuk has been writing for theatre, film, television, radio, and other media for more than thirty years. His reviews, essays, interviews and columns have appeared in such magazines as Toronto Life, Xtra, What! Magazine, and the Toronto Star. The Bone Mother is his first novel.

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We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes, published by HarperCollins Publishers

A blackly comic and heart-rending odyssey by the inimitable author of Down to the Dirt scrappy tough guy and three-time loser Johnny Keough is going a little stir-crazy awaiting trial for an alleged assault charge involving his girlfriend, Madonna, and a teapot. Facing three to five years in a maximum-security prison, Johnny knows this might just be the end of the road. But when Madonna doesn’t show up for court due to a fatal accident, shell-shocked Johnny seizes his unexpected “clean slate” as a sign from above and embarks on an epic hitchhiking journey across Canada to deliver her ashes to a fabled beach on the outskirts of Vancouver.

 

Johnny’s wanderings see him propelled in and out of the driver’s seat of stolen cars, knocking heads with cagey cops, nearly decapitated by a moose, coming face-to-face with his incarcerated biological father in a Kingston jail, and finding surprising connections with strangers on the lonely road west. But most of all, he revisits the choices and mistakes of his past—his relationships with his adoptive father and a cousin who meant the world to him, and his first real chance at love with the woman who is now lost to him.

We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night is the story of one man’s kicking-and-screaming attempt to recuperate from a life of petty crime and shattered relationships, and somehow accept and maybe even like the new man emerging from within, the one he so desperately needs to become.

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Boundary: The Last Summer by Andrée A. Michaud, published by Biblioasis International Translation Series

It’s the Summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary Pond, a holiday haven on the US-Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air.

Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blonde Lolitas. Life seems idyllic.

But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over…

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Tumbleweed: Stories by Josip Novakovich, published by Esplanade Books/Vehicule Press

In this latest short-story collection Josip Novakovich explores the shallow roots of emigration as he traverses North America from university post to writing residency. These stunning stories showcase the author at his most intimate, taking on an aura of memoir as they invite us into the privacy of his family experiences. Above all, Novakovich is in search of a natural existence, whether it be living close to the land or raising animals.

The author of the critically acclaimed Ex-Yu, which illustrated the lives of those scarred by the Balkan wars, here revels in the rootlessness of America and its wide-open spaces. As a companion to Ex-Yu (2015), Tumbleweed reveals a rarefied author who is as capable of warming readers’ hearts as he is of probing the depths of global despair.

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Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin, published by House of Anansi Press

When history looks through the annals of polar exploration, it is sure to deem Sir John Franklin’s 1845 campaign in search of the Northwest Passage as the darkest chapter. All 129 men would be lost to the ice; and nothing retrieved from an inventory that included two Greenwich chronometers given to the expedition.

When historians analyze the most profound mysteries of the modern age, they therefore remain mystified as to just how one of those very same timepieces would reappear in London – crudely disguised as a Victorian carriage clock -over a century and a half after being recorded as lost in the famous disaster.

It is a real-life mystery that did, and still continues to, defy an explanation. When Nelson Nilsson catches the eye of the lone female in the arrivals hall of Inuvik airport in the Northern Territories of Canada, the last thing his life needs is further complication. Still unable to comprehend the enigmatic obsession that led his brother to take his own life, Nelson just wants to get in his care and drive.

When travel-weary Fay Morgan looks up and mistakes Nelson for a taxi driver, she realizes for the first time that she has finally made it to the one place on earth that may hold the answer to her burning question. And when she capitalizes on Nelson’s good nature and obtains a lift, she feels fate is on her side.

It is an improbable meeting that will unearth an impossible connection: as the questions Nelson has about his present, and those Fay has about her past, share a common link -itself inextricably tied to the movements of an elusive timepiece.

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Next Year for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson, published by Doubleday Canada

In this moving and enormously entertaining debut novel, long time romantic partners Kathryn and Chris experiment with an open relationship and reconsider everything they thought they knew about love.

After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another’s sentences, and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. When Chris tells Kathryn about his feelings for Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the Laundromat, Kathryn encourages her boyfriend to pursue this other woman—certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather a little side dalliance.

As Kathryn and Chris stumble into polyamory, Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily grows beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new romantic possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, both Kathryn and Chris will be forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.

Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey L. Paterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what lies at the mysterious heart of relationships, and what true openness and transformation require.

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Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill, published by Doubleday Canada

From award-winning and bestselling author Michael Redhill comes a darkly comic literary thriller about a woman who fears for her sanity–and then her life–when she learns that her doppelganger has appeared in a local park.

Jean Mason has a doppelganger. At least, that’s what people tell her. Apparently it hangs out in Kensington Market, where it sometimes buys churros and shops for hats. Jean doesn’t rattle easy, not like she used to. She’s a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving business, and Toronto is a fresh start for the whole family. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved in anything dubious, but still . . . why would two different strangers swear up and down they’d just seen her–with shorter hair furthermore?

Jean’s curiosity quickly gets the better of her, and she visits the market, but sees no one who looks like her. The next day, she goes back to look again. And the day after that. Before she knows it, she’s spending an hour here, an afternoon there, watching, taking notes, obsessing and getting scared. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the market’s only park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she’ll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants–the regulars of Bellevue Square–are eager to contribute to Jean’s investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, it becomes apparent that her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate stranger than death.

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Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.

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The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada

The characters in the thirteen stories that comprise The Dark and Other Love Stories exist on the edge of danger, where landscapes melt into dreamscapes and every house is haunted. A drug dealer’s girlfriend signs up for the first manned mission to Mars. A girl falls in love with a man who wants to turn her into a bird. A teenage girl and her best friend test their relationship by breaking into suburban houses. A wife finds a gaping hole in the floor of the home she shares with her husband, a hole that only she can see.

Full of longing and strange humor, these subtle, complex stories about the love between a man and his pet crow, an alcoholic and his AA sponsor, a mute migrant and a newspaper reporter—show how love ties us to each other and to the world.

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I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters, published by Invisible Publishing

A tender but lively debut novel about a man, a woman, and their Chevrolet dealer.

Agathe and Rejean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Rejean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the side of the road – with no trace of Rejean. Agathe handles her grief by fondling the shirts in the Big and Tall department at Henderman’s Family Apparel and carrying on a relationship with a cigarette survey. As her hope dwindles, Agathe falls in with her spirited coworker Debbie, who teaches Agathe about rock and roll, and with Martin Bureau, the one man who might just know the truth about Rejean’s fate.

Reminiscent of 2015 Canada Reads finalist And the Birds Rained Down and Gone Girl, I Am A Truck is a funny and moving portrayal of Acadian love and loyalty.

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So, which of the books above made the shortlist?

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Congratulations to authors: Rachel Cusk, Ed O’Loughlin, Michael Redhill, Eden Robinson, and Michelle Winters!

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Which books on the shortlist do you think will win the Giller Prize this year?

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Zara

zara glasses

 

Book Review: Copycat by Alex Lake

09.02.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Fiction
Author: Alex Lake
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 416 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-0082-4026-4
Pub Date: September 5, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of After Anna and Killing Kate. Imitation is the most terrifying form of flattery. Which Sarah Havenant is you? When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen. But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house. And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own.

  • From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review:

The novel, Copycat, by Alex Lake begins with a taunting Facebook account impersonation of the book’s victim, Sarah Havenant, a wife, mother, and medical practitioner, whose life eventually careens into a nightmare catalyzed by her unknown abuser through fraudulent emails, texts, and communications on her behalf, which not only debilitate her, but confuse and bewilder her family and friends.

The narrative includes her heightened anxiety and growing frustration and fear, her husband’s growing doubt of her sanity and emotional well-being, as well as her abuser’s anger and personal vendetta to eventually “destroy” her.

This leaves the plot with its primary function: plant the seeds of hidden hints as to who might be the culprit in the book. Is it a stalker? An old flame? An ex-lover? A disgruntled stranger who happens to have nothing better to do than to victimize a random person simply because he/she can?

With a character who seems well-adjusted to the fabric and privilege of her own life and those in it, she’s blessed with a well-established, loyal, and loving husband; three young and healthy children; a stable and prestigious career; and several friends who foster a social climate that says she’s well-liked, and because of this, it can be difficult to propose who the potential abuser might be.

The antics aren’t extraordinary, but delve so far as to be able to forge Sarah Havenant’s own handwriting, which prove to be a sour point in solidifying an outside culprit, and only seems to bewilder her husband and friends into questioning her innocence, if not her own mental health.

Still, as the reader goes further into the novel, the hints themselves lean toward larger signs pointing to the potential copycat in the story—the reader only need to read and trust his/her instincts at who might be the possible suspect, which reveals itself not in the end, but as early as the last three-quarters of the book.

The story then, isn’t as much about “who” is the culprit, but rather, “why” and “where” does all this anger and hate stem from? What has made Sarah Havenant the chosen victim of her abuser? And what in the heck did Sarah Havenant do to deserve her victimization in the first place?

From there, the novel moves quickly to a state of torture, one that is uncreative, but stereotypical; sad, but not entirely moving. The fault here might be largely due to the reader’s lack of empathy towards the main character, Sarah Havenant. There isn’t enough time, nor a stylistically written narrative to make the reader emotionally invested in the main character to genuinely care for her well-being by the end of the novel.

Also, while the novel took its time in flushing out Sarah Havenant’s story and palpable suspects in the plot, the same pacing wasn’t used by the end of the book—it simply rushed itself to its inevitable end, as if to quickly stitch a gashing wound with nothing more than what was on-hand.

But, as most books follow the trade of its mystery-thriller genre, the reader can and will be compelled to read to the end to discover the answer to its whodunnit formula.

Copycat is a novel, though not extraordinarily written, will speak to the technological crisis that opens our lives to the fraudulent dangers of social media and the lurking possibility of how easily life can be manipulated if wrought by past misdeeds, a vigilant will, and a good plan.

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Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 2.5 stars
Cover Design: 2.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to HarperCollins Canada for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of Copy Cat by Alex Lake in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

Alex Lake is a British novelist who was born in the North West of England. After Anna, the author’s first novel written under this pseudonym, was a No.1 bestselling ebook sensation and a top-ten Sunday Times bestseller. The author now lives in the North East of the US.

  • From HarperCollins Publishers website

Links:

You can connect with Alex Lake on Twitter.

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Zara

zara glasses