Book Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

08.08.2017

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

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Category: General Adult Fiction
Author: Danya Kukafka
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 368 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4437-0
Pub Date: August 1, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.

In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory. Compulsively readable and powerfully moving, Girl in Snow offers an unforgettable reading experience and introduces a singular new talent in Danya Kukafka.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The novel, Girl in Snow, by Danya Kukafka, is an exquisite, lyrical telling of three different narratives: one by Cameron Whitley, a deeply sensitive and troubled young man, whose focus, desire, and love spirals into obsession; Jade Dixon-Burns, an angry and spiteful, young woman whose jealousy and self-pity compels her to darkness and brooding; and Russ Fletcher, an officer burdened with the task of solving the mystery of Lucinda Haye’s murder and the ramifications of his own past.

The book is both beautiful and terrifying, a haunting soliloquy to loneliness, heartbreak, and revenge. The characters are flawed and vivid, their weaknesses also their haunting strangeness, but are also able to invoke in readers, a quiet empathy and tenderness. This is especially impressive since the plot also involves the mysterious treachery of murder—a murder which could easily implicate several characters in the novel.

Yet, the skill in this novel, too, is its ability to build itself in waves of narrative that is not only introspective, but thoughtful; poetic, yet wrought with believable realism. The death of Lucinda Hayes, is an opportunity for the other characters to grow, if not slowly become reborn as one usually does in trauma and crisis.

And while the writing is lyrical, it is also easily readable, a page-turner if there was an epitome of one, a book I had only read and was engrossed in for a mere two days.

The irony here, is, while Lucinda Hayes’ death means her absolute absence as a character in the novel, the three narratives by the other characters are so overwhelmed with their focus on her death, that though she is absent, she is also ever-present in their thoughts, in their wonder, and in their grief.

But, it is not all poetry and flowers—the book does put in question how easily mob thinking can arise through the epidemic of gossip and crisis, how the act of appearing sad is as inevitable as grief itself, how judgement is as coarse as it is easily thrown about to any suspecting person, and how incrimination is just as harmful as guilt.

And there are a few surprises with the help of secondary characters: Éduoard “Zap” Arnaud; Ivan Santos; Inés Santos; Mr. Thornton; Howard Morrie; and Lee Whitley—all whom play an essential part in raising the plot to its climactic revelation.

What I love about this book, aside from its lyrical cadence, is its testimony to the internal life, how history has a way of unfurling itself from the honest, and sometimes dark desires we feel compelled to surrender to. How these desires can sometimes take us to not only dark places, but thrust us into acts we might not otherwise think to commit.

Danya Kukafka is a young writer with an obvious gift for her craft; her prose, mature, and her introspective characters: haunting, scarred, and beautiful. It’s a wonder that this is only her first novel and yet thrilling to anticipate what work, stories, and narrative she might later share with the literary world.

In that sense, Lucinda Hayes, then, did not die in reckless abandon or vain.

***

Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 4.5 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of the book, Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - danya kukafka

Danya Kukafka is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She currently works as an Assistant Editor at Riverhead Books. Girl in the Snow is her first novel.

  • From the novel

Links:

You many contact Danya Kukafka on her official website, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

08.03.2017

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

bk - conversations with friends

***

Category: General Adult Fiction
Author: Sally Rooney
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 304 pages
Publisher: Hogarth Crown Publishing
ISBN: 9-780-4514-9905-9
Pub Date: July 11, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Frances is a cool-headed and darkly observant young woman, vaguely pursuing a career in writing while studying in Dublin. Her best friend and comrade-in-arms is the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi. At a local poetry performance one night, Frances and Bobbi catch the eye of Melissa, a well-known photographer, and as the girls are then gradually drawn into Melissa’s world, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband, Nick. However amusing and ironic Frances and Nick’s flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy, and Frances’s friendship with Bobbi begins to fracture. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally, terribly, with Bobbi.

Desperate to reconcile her inner life to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment. Written with gem-like precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

The novel, Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney is a formidable conversation on the complexity of relationship: friendship, love, sex—and the interconnectedness and fluidity of it—their thrill, their danger, their illogical compulsions.

It begins with Frances and Billie, two young women in college, friends who evolve into lovers, who meet through their poetry readings, a woman who wishes to write an article on them and their work. Melissa, the writer and photographer, in wanting to get closer to her subjects, invites the girls into her home and into her social circle.

From there, the circle permeates with social gatherings and connections that seem almost inevitable, ranging from the verbosity of intellectual and theoretical arguments, to the sensuality of sexual discourse and desire.

The plot of the book is rooted in its emotional development—a discourse in itself on what is not said, nor thought, but alluded to. This is the gift of the book, its character-driven clarity and depth. They move with an assurance of being exactly who the author wishes them to be in the story.

Bobbi, is an extroverted and attention-seeking lesbian, feminist, one who is both articulate as she is aggressive—and unsuspectingly sensitive. Melissa, is a wealthy, attractive, married, bisexual woman whose avant-garde style and social status arms her with a sense of power, control, and confidence. Nick, Melissa’s husband, born to wealth and natural giftedness, is accused of passivity and charm, afraid perhaps he is too good-looking to be taken seriously. And Frances, while known to be intelligent, if not more so than Bobbi, prefers to watch with calculated coldness, an astute observer and woman of few words—especially of those that express her feelings—she finds herself with debilitating trauma, both, of the physical and the repressed.

The book is not solely self-indulgent in the affairs of couples, but also has secondary plots that involve the weariness of estranged relationships with flawed parents.

At the same time, the book is also a novel that not only creates a venue for discussions at poetry readings, gallery openings, and dinner parties; its speaks to the act of writing as well. There are emails, chat messages, articles for publication, poetry readings, a short story publication. It seems the book is not only about the varying intellectual conversations amongst friends and lovers, but a comment on the boundaries, fluidity, and intentions of narrative—verbal, emotional, written, or otherwise.

The novel is rich in graphic sexuality, emotional turmoil, self-harm, and compulsion—and throws the moral compass of monogamy against the magnetized thrill of polyamorous love.

It is a love story that will immerse the reader into the world of women and men—and how they must navigate the relationships they are bound to, in friendship, in marriage, and in passion.

***

Characters: 4 stars
Plot: 4 stars
Language/Narrative: 4 stars
Dialogue: 4.5 stars
Pacing: 4 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Hogarth Crown Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - sally rooney.jpg

Sally Rooney was born in the west of Ireland in 1991. She studied English at Trinity Collge, Dublin, and her writing has been featured in The Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly, and Granta.

  • From novel

Links:

You may connect with Sally Rooney on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais

08.02.2017

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

bk - hum if you dont know the words

***

Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Bianca Marais
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 9-780-3995-7506-8
Pub Date: July 11, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais is a kind spotlight on the war against Apartheid in South Africa through the lens of a young, white girl named Robin Conrad, orphaned at the death of her parents in Johannesburg who eventually comes into the care of Beauty Mbali, a woman from the remote village Transkei in a desperate search for her daughter, Nomsa, who went missing during a mobilized protest that erupted into a riot between black students and white, security police.

The story is a microcosm of relationship between several characters—those who are ostracized and those who dominate socially at the time.

Though the characters seem to be written somewhat superficially or at least somewhat stereotypically, they were of enough to move the plot along.

Robin, the young, white orphan is rambunctious, portrayed to be innocent enough to love her black maid and later, her black caregiver, with an increasing knowledge of the tensions between the white and black community. She copes with this racism through the polarity of her twin sister, Cat and resigns to trauma at the death of her parents, Keith and Jolene Conrad—white, middle class, Afrikaaners whose opinions of black people are both low and condescending.

Edith, Robin’s aunt and last living relative who is an attractive airhostess for South African Airways and a flamboyant and eclectic world traveller is suddenly burdened with the unexpected obligation of motherhood and domestication, a role she finds rather difficult to navigate.

Then there are those who suffer the fate of Apartheid: Beauty Mbali, a widow with four children, an educated teacher who lives in a remote village and must journey a 6 km walk to a main road just to taxi 400 km to a province called Natal, another 400 km northeast to Pietermaritzburg by a crowded bus to go north past Midlands through Drakensburg Mountains, and then finally to Johannesburg—to visit her brother Andile who lives in Zondi, Soweto, in search of her missing daughter, Nomsa.

A number of other characters enforce a plot of racial cruelty and disparity such as: Piet Bekker, Wouter, and Marnus of the Die Boerseun Bende, an Afrikaaner Boy Gang, six boys ranging from 8-12 year-olds; Maggie, Andrew, Kgomotso, and Wilhelmina Vaughn, those who fight against white supremacy; The Goldman’s and their son, Morrie, a Jewish family; Victor and Johan, friends who are homosexual; King George, a bi-racial man; and Shakes Ngubane, a recruiter and leader of the Umkhonto we Sizwe or the Spear of the Nation, an armed wing of the African National Congress.

What was most enjoyable about the book was its narrative, the sprinkling of dialects in English, Afrikaans, Sotho, and Xhosa, which gave the book its true, cultural flavour. The reader can hear the narrative leap off the page as characters speak in their mother tongues, which showed not only the diversity of South Africa itself, but the richness of its many languages and cultures, however conflicted they appeared to be.

While black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, Christian, Jew, Englishman, Afrikaaner, were depicted to unite in the small microcosm of friendship in the book and some of the characters were endearing (I especially enjoyed the awkwardness and loyalty of Morrie Goldman); the failing of the book, otherwise, was often times the “telling” of the story, obvious “telling” of what readers should have been able to infer or realize on their own, would the writing be mature and well-crafted enough to indicate it through actions of the characters, nuances, or subtle hints. This was my only disappointment in the novel, aside from the stereotypical superficiality of most of the characters or the serendipitous, sometimes unrealistic plot in the novel.

While the theme of Apartheid is a serious one, its gravity in context felt distant, submerged instead beneath an almost calculated plot of responses and outcomes, something that lacked the depth and introversion needed to showcase the complexity of relationship and race at the time.

***

Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 3 stars
Dialogue: 3.5 stars
Pacing: 3 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 G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a hardcover of the book, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - bianca marais

Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s SCS, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime.

Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans and their caregivers.

Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with Bianca Marais through her official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

07.24.2017

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

bk - watch me disappear

***

Category: General Adult Fiction
Author: Janelle Brown
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 368 pages
Publisher: Spiegal & Grau
ISBN: 9-780-8129-8946-5
Pub Date: July 11, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. No body—only a hiking boot—has ever been found. Billie’s husband and teenage daughter cope with her death the best they can: Jonathan drinks, Olive grows remote.

But then Olive starts having waking dreams—or are they hallucinations?—that her mother is still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he knew about his wife. Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, their family, and the stories we tell ourselves about the people we love.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is an engrossing novel driven by its characters’ neuroses and its surprising, multi-layered plot, which not only dominate the story, but seduce its readers to delve into the book full force with intrigue and expectation.

The characters of the book are richly well-written, endorsing a realism and empathy that seems effortless on behalf of the author as seen not only through the dialogue in the novel, but through the honest feelings and thoughts of her characters, who are easily relatable.

Jonathan Flanagan, a dedicated husband and father takes his role seriously as provider for his family. But, the disappearance of his wife, Billie, after a hiking trip over a weekend, reels him into a year-long period in which grief not only alienates him from his teenage daughter, Olive, of whom he is now solely responsible for, but also into a state where his fatherhood, as well as his marriage are put into question.

Olive, in turn, is not only burdened with the awkwardness of being a teenager in high school, but being the teenager known for the one whose mother has gone missing. Not only does she suffer the loss of a mother of whom she was close, but suffers for what is believed to be hallucinations of her—alive, somewhere—but, where?

As the anniversary of the loss of Billie nears, and the process of her death certificate comes into its final stages, both husband and daughter go on separate journeys in their investigation of what happened to Billie, uncovering instead the complication of a woman they thought they knew and the histories of her past that resurface in the wake of her absence.

The book is rich in how it portrays the truth of its characters from Jonathan’s feelings of insecurity and sexual monotony in a loving, but long, loyal marriage; to Olive’s idolatry of her mother’s memory and her subliminal wish to emanate her independence and thrill-seeking personality; to Harmony’s nurturing kindness and natural rivalry with her best friend as proxy partner and hope-to-be wife to a grieving family.

The dialogue is real enough to convince readers of the characters’ relatability to empathize with them—or hate them—in lieu of their failings. And the narrative is readable, moving the book along at a comfortable pace that doesn’t make the book feel heavy, boring, or long. And once readers believe they realize the possible outcomes of the plot, the plot is intelligent and coy enough to change into a different direction.

Watch Me Disappear is a compelling story of navigating between love and loss, selflessness and independence, the fluidity of personality—and that narrative can easily shape an identity as much as it can reveal it—or keep it hidden.

Which begs the question: Can anyone really ever know anyone else?

 

***

Characters: 4 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 4.5 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 Spiegel & Grau for providing me with an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of the book, Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - janelle brown

Janelle Brown is the author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and This Is Where We Live. An essayist and journalist, her writing has appeared in Vogue, The New York Times, Elle, Wired, Self, Los Angeles Times, Salon, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two children.

  • From novel

Links:

You can connect with Janelle Brown on her official website.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

07.19.2017

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

bk - fierce kingdom

***

Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Author: Gin Phillips
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 288 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-7352-7319-1
Pub Date: July 4, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

After school on a late October day, Joan has taken her four-year-old son, Lincoln, to one of his favourite places on earth: the zoo. Just before closing time, as they need to go home, she hears some loud pops like firecrackers. Not thinking much of it, they head for the exit…until Joan realizes the eerie human emptiness means danger, then sees the figure of a lone gunman. Without another thought, she scoops up her son and runs back into the zoo. And for the next three hours–the entire scope of the novel–she does anything she can to keep Lincoln safe.
Both pulse-pounding and emotionally satisfying, Fierce Kingdom is a thrill ride, but also an exploration of the very nature of motherhood itself, from its saving graces to its savage power. At heart it asks how you draw the line between survival and the duty to protect one another? Who would you die for?

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

Fierce Kingdom is a tense novel that crescendos from a quiet outing in the afternoon between a mother named Joan, and her young toddler, Lincoln, at the local Belleville Zoo—until she discovers just before closing time, a man with a rifle and many injured and dead bodies on the ground.

The tone of the book quickly heightens to a state of adrenaline panic as Joan tries to frantically plan a means of protection and safety for herself and her young son within the confines of a zoo that is both cloaked by the growing darkness of evening and a fearful awareness of the danger posed by a potential madman with a gun.

The setting is infused with accurate detail, which gives the reader a deeper insight into the main character’s psyche as she narrates her demise, as she decides solely based on sound, sometimes sight, the immediate needs of her son, and what kind of educated guesses she may strike at about their common enemy—what exactly her next best step may be.

But, she is not the only victim held captive in the dark unknown even though she may or may not be aware of the others: an unnamed mother with a screaming infant; Kailynn, a talkative teenager; and Mrs. Powell, a retired elementary school teacher, strangers hiding and waiting in the dark.

While the secondary characters add a little movement to the plot, the true voice and heart of the book is little Lincoln and his mother’s fierce love for him and her adamant instinct for survival. Interwoven in the narrative of cat-and-mouse, is the back story of a woman whose maternal instincts stem from her own survival from a hurting past.

But, the book is clear: Joan loves her son and she will do anything and everything she can to survive.

The book, too, demonstrates what can be behind the psyche of a madman (and his cohorts), how mental illness can and does sometime play a role in unnecessary acts of violence—in lieu of deeper pain and suffering.

And yet, the novel also does justice to the tenacity of a mother’s love, how desperation can pivot those in that position to do what is unexpected—and beyond.

Fierce Kingdom is a gripping love story and bond between mother and child, and the power of will and the shear random lottery of luck that sometimes means the fine line between imminent death and wholly relieved survival.

***

Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 2.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3 stars
Dialogue: 3 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - gin phillips

Gin Phillips is the celebrated author of The Well and the Mine (winner of the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction) and Come in and Cover Me (“original and strikingly beautiful” – Elle Magazine). She has also published two middle-grade novels. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her family.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Gin Phillips on her official website.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

07.12.2017

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

bk - spoonbenders

***

Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Author: Daryl Gregory
Format: Hardcover, 410 pages
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
ISBN: 978-1-5247-3182-3
Pub Date: June 27, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

The Telemachus family is known for performing inexplicable feats on talk shows and late-night television. Teddy, a master conman, heads up a clan who possess gifts he only fakes: there’s Maureen, who can astral project; Irene, the human lie detector; Frankie, gifted with telekinesis; and Buddy, the clairvoyant. But when, one night, the magic fails to materialize, the family withdraws to Chicago where they live in shame for years. Until: As they find themselves facing a troika of threats (CIA, mafia, unrelenting skeptic), Matty, grandson of the family patriarch, discovers a bit of the old Telemachus magic in himself. Now, they must put past obstacles behind them and unite like never before. But will it be enough to bring The Amazing Telemachus Family back to its amazing life?

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

What’s fantastic about the book, Spoonbenders, is how ordinary its characters are even amidst their extraordinary powers. While Maureen McKinnon is the gifted psychic; Teddy Telemachus, a slick card shark; and their three children: Irene, a human lie detector; Frankie, an emotional telekinetic; and Buddy, a boy with an astounding gift to see into the future—these characters could easily take over the world with their powers alone, but reveal instead a vulnerable family with insecurities, mishaps, and personal burdens.

The wonder of their extrasensory perception, better known as ESP, is blunted by the logistics of what it means to live an ordinary life with extraordinary gifts—which doesn’t make their gifts less interesting, but quite the opposite. If anything, the Telemachus Family in its heartbreaking ambition to be a powerful act of “magic” and mystery, still leaves residue of loss and what could have been.

Instead, their failure as a family act of members with varying degrees of ESP gifts—while failing to impress the international world—have not escaped the interest of the government, in particular, a man named Destin Smalls, a CIA operative nearly obsessed with the use and potential of the Telemachus Family in the government’s war against espionage.

With an adamant CIA operative fiercely attentive to the family’s every move, members of the mob also enter the mix to ensure a chaotic uproar in the novel’s plot. But wait—there’s also love (and lust) behind small peepholes, grocery aisles, and late-night chat message boards. Not to mention the innuendo of potential fire risks and the inexplicable projects, which include pink crayon, a dug hole, linoleum tile outside instead of inside the house, and a tumultuous trip to the casino, Alton Belle. There are secondary characters, too, who are almost as influential as the main characters: Malice, Graciella, Danny, and Cerise.

Together these characters create a plot of absurdity and fun; and a climax that seems almost out of a slapstick, comedic film. Yet, beneath the busy chaos, runs a sadness of loss, of untimely death; of the burden of knowledge; and the loneliness of being different.

While the novel isn’t as thought-provoking as its lyrical and serious, literary peers, the Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory is an entertaining romp through a fictional world of the paranormal and its extrasensory gifts, one driven by an imaginative and playful author.

***

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

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Bond Street Books for providing me with a hardcover of the book, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - daryl gregory

Award-winning author of Spoonbenders, We Are All Completely Fine, Afterparty, Pandemonium, and others. Some of his short fiction has been collected in Unpossible and Other Stories.

He’s won the World Fantasy Award, as well as the Shirley Jackson, Crawford, Asimov Readers, and Geffen awards, and his work has been short-listed for many other awards, including the Nebula . His books have been translated in over a dozen languages, and have been named to best-of-the-year lists from NPR Books, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal.

He is also the writer of Flatline an interactive fiction game from 3 Minute Games, and comics such as Planet of the Apes.

Daryl lives in Oakland, California.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Daryl Gregory on his official website, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

07.05.2017

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

bk - amatka

***

Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Author: Karin Tidbeck
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 320 pages
Publisher: Vintage Knopf Doubleday Group
ISBN: 978-1-1019-7395-0
Pub Date: June 27, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.

In Karin Tidbeck’s world, everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by a captivating new voice.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

Amatka is a novel of quiet imagination, a story set in the near future in an unknown place, a greatly sanitized dystopian of a five-colony world run by totalitarian rule and within it, a culture of repressed citizens who are told half-truths about their history, and secretly punished for what is considered to be subversion.

The narrative of the book is sterile with purpose, a tool to emphasize the sterile culture of its characters’ lives as dictated by the strict rules they must abide by in order to survive from repeatedly speaking, writing, and naming items in order to ensure their structural integrity.

The language in the book, too, is extraordinary in its naming originality from the five colonies: the administrative Colony One, Essre; the scientific Colony Two, Balbit; the industrious Colony Three, Odek; the agricultural Colony Four, Amatka; and Colony Five, which mysteriously burned by fire.

As each colony itself holds its specific communal rules, the characters’ personalities and roles in the book are also strategically placed from: Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two, an information assistant to the Essre Hygiene Specialists (EHS) sent on duty to Amatka to study the hygiene habits of its colonists, a role assigned to her because of her quiet discretion; Ulltors’ Nina Amatka Four, a medic at the Amatka Clinic; Jonids’ Ivar Four, a farming technician; Sarols’ Ulla, a retired general practitioner; and Samins’ Evgen, the sentimental librarian for Amatka’s Library of books and letters.

While the plot of the novel is not the star of the book, the new dystopian world in which the novel resides is enough to keep readers intrigued from its Commune Office, Mushroom Farm, mycopaper, mycoprotein, scrap-by-dates, and pale polypores.

The book, like its totalitarian Committee, holds its secrets. There are those who have been punished for accused subversion, operations done to distort language, and lobotomies meant to silence a dissident few. There is a Locked Archive filled with hard truths and fewer more with access to it. There is a lake that thunders as it thaws each morning as readily as it freezes at night—without the temperature decreasing.

The cultural order and refrain of the people of this New World is harsh in its dystopian reality. The tone is as grey as its skies and setting; its climate as harsh as its protocols; and though its technological advances are new and fantastic, it’s this technological fervour that keeps the people in a constant state of fear, denial, and panic.

The book is in its dystopian tradition, a stark glimpse of what the future could hold for a people who fail to care for its natural resources and resist learning from its cultural grievances, moving from a natural free society to a totalitarian one—one where there is more than the loss of freedom at stake.

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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 Knopf Doubleday Publishing on behalf of Vintage for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Amatka by Karin Tidbeck through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - karin tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck is originally from Stockholm, Sweden. She lives and works in Malmö as a freelance writer, translator and creative writing teacher, and writes fiction in Swedish and English. She debuted in 2010 with the Swedish short story collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?. Her English debut, the 2012 collection Jagannath, was awarded the Crawford Award 2013 and shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her novel debut, Amatka, will be out in English in 2017.
She devotes her spare time to forteana, subversive cross-stitching and Nordic LARP.

  • From Karin Tidbeck’s official website.

Links:

You may contact Karin Tidbeck on her official website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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Zara

zara - kai lan frame