Book Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

06.14.2017

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

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Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers

Author: Haylen Beck

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 304 pages

Publisher: Crown Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-4514-9957-8

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother’s desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities. It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them… Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

When I delved into the novel, Here and Gone, I had done so, blindly—without any preconceptions of the book. I hadn’t even bothered to read the description provided by its publisher that’s usually found on its back cover or book jacket. In this case, I simply flipped to the first page and began reading.

It was at first an uncomfortable read for me on a personal level because its main character, like me, have two children: a young son and an even younger daughter. My own son and my own daughter are ironically the same ages as the two children characters in the book—and they were abducted.

Not only were these children, Sean and Louise, abducted, it’s the nature of who had committed the crime that makes the storyline particularly infuriating. As you read on (or if you read the book description before deciding to read the book itself), you’ll angrily discover that the heinous crime of abducting innocent children is committed by corrupt police deputies: a resentful, masochistic Chief Deputy Whiteside and his subordinate, Deputy Collins.

At the center of this chaos, is Audra Kinney, a woman with a past tainted with drugs and alcohol, who, after a serious episode that leaves her hospitalized, finally decides to flee her abusive husband to emancipate herself and raise her children on her own—and safely.

But, before they can get to their destination, Audra is stopped by police and arrested for drug charges, while she is assured her children will be kept safe in the care of another officer. The last she sees of her children is in the back of a police cruiser as it drives away—before she realizes later that they are in danger.

The turn of events moves quickly, almost as pre-meditated as the crime itself in the book. It is a show-and-tell of stereotypical characters: the masochistic gruff of a hard man whose villainy is steeled by cruelty and greed; the uncertain, yet obedient conspirator; the victim whose difficult past makes it even more difficult for authorities to believe her claims; and the children, who by no fault of their own, are the unlucky inheritors of ill-timing and ill fate.

As most crime thrillers aren’t character-driven narratives, but fuel their readers’ interest in the ever-urgent drive to know what is going to happen next, the constant question of Where are the children? What did Whiteside and Collins do with them? And are these corrupt fanatics really going to get away with this? —continually to run through the reader’s mind.

But, there are secondary characters, too, to add a little sub-plot in the story by the means of a character named Danny Lee, a man known by others as Knife-Man. Mrs. Gerber, an unsuspecting host of the small town’s inn, too, has her own burdens. They, like the recluse, John Tandy, are welcome secondary characters to a tense, but hopeful and almost predictable plot.

The story is simple as it is exaggerated, a narrative more similar and perhaps more suited to a screenplay of an action film than to a fiction novel—but readers will want to read to the end, if only to know its conclusion: Where are the children? Will they escape? And will those who abducted them get away with it?

While the ingredients of the crime story are present in this novel, the substance of the novel, and even its level of entertainment, enjoyment, or nail-biting suspense, is unfortunately more indicative of its title: Here—and Gone.

***

Characters: 2.5 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars

Dialogue: 3 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 for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Here and Gone by Haylen Beck through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

 

author - haylen beck
(c) Ollie Grove, from Penguin Random House website.

 

Haylen Beck is the pseudonym of an acclaimed, Edgar-nominated author whose crime fiction has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and made best-of-year lists with numerous publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe.

  • From Penguin Random House website

Links:

You may contact Haylen Beck through his official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit by Jessica Raya

06.07.2017

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

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***

Category: New Adult

Author: Jessica Raya

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 376 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-7320-5

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

In the tradition of Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness, Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, and Marjorie Celona’s Y, and set against the shadow of the Vietnam War and the changing social mores of 1970s America, a sharply comic novel that follows the tumultuous coming of age of both a mother and daughter, at a time when womanhood itself was coming of age.

We’re all just one bad decision away from disaster.
For as long as 14-year-old Robin Fisher can remember, she has lived by her insurance salesman father’s credo, happy to live the American Dream and catalogue everyday calamities under “Bad Things that Happen to Other People.” But life in 1970s Golden, California, doesn’t prove so golden after her father deserts the family, setting in motion a series of events that results in Robin accidentally setting fire to an abandoned party house. Seemingly overnight, she discovers that earthquakes or the possibility of electrocution are nothing compared to the hazards of high school or coming home to a family that is suddenly one member short. As Robin struggles to keep an eye on her fixation with Bic lighters and her newly independent mother’s own growing pains, she is drawn into the orbit of Carol “Jesus Freak” Closter, a vulnerable yet charismatic classmate whose friendship will challenge Robin in ways she could never have imagined. When Carol finally crosses a dangerous line, it’s Robin who must make a heartbreaking decision of her own.
Hilarious, insightful, and deeply moving, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit illuminates those unforgettable moments in life when everything changes, whether we want it to or not.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

While the main character, Robin Fisher, in the novel, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit, is only a preteen-aged girl, the tone of the novel and its thematic issues which are covered in the book, are both mature and serious.

While she is surprisingly detached to an almost unbearable indifference, both in her tone, and in her unexpected choices and responses to those around her as she tries to navigate an understanding of what she’s been forced to experience, the memories and sentimentalities that she holds on to are ever present in the narrative of the book.

But, the book is not entirely about her though it’s written in her voice. It is as much about her mother, Elaine Fisher, as it is about the other women and girls that course through the novel with their own personal stories and experiences.

 From Carol Closter, the friend she resists and then reluctantly inherits, an adamant and devoted Bible-believing Christian who is ostracized and bullied at their Ronald Reagan High School.

To Melanie D’Angelo, a childhood friend she trusts to be her ally until she realizes their priorities are no longer in sync.

To the women that foster the changes in her mother’s turbulent bouts of drama, depression, and manic lifestyle changes including Vera Miller, a professional country club wife whose marriages expire almost as quickly as they begin; to The Girls, Lorna and Suzanne, whose secretarial gifts are a key introduction to the working and single life that Elaine Fisher must be inducted; which eventually evolve into new friendships found in The Sisters, Willow, Aurora, and Celeste, feminist activists who empower one another during the political changes happening in the United States when many boys and men were called to enlist into the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam.

While the girls and women in the novel are left to renegotiate their lives according to the trauma they face, be it either: abandonment, hypocrisy, jealousy, or rape, they are not entirely alone in their suffering.

The boys and men have their share, too.

From the suffocating show of appearances for Jim Fisher who lived out most of his days in a separate pool house; to Mr. Galpin’s grieving loss of wife and child; to the misjudgement of Moody Miller; and the insecurities of Jamie Finley, whose intelligence and kindness devolves into antipathy towards the injustice of death and violence found in war.

The characters are well diversified and represented clearly to the reader through the author’s descriptions and dialogue even though the tone of the book reveals a stagnant and static feeling of hopelessness found in the small town of Golden in which they reside.

For Robin Fisher and her mother, the drudgery of life seems as dry and stifling as the coarseness of their desert town.

But, even though the plot carries with it the unexpected tragedies and trauma of its characters, often times unjustly so, the perpetual hope and conviction of Carol Closter in the faith of her God against the injustices of the world make her both an uncanny, quirky victim—and hero.

Elaine Fisher, too, in all her failings as a wife and a mother, seems to, in her ability to smoke cigarettes incessantly and recreate herself depending on the whim of her desires, speaks to a sort of bravery and survival against a time when women were not afforded independence or rewarded respect for their independent efforts. She is as colourful as her interior design antics, to her short-lived, but passionate attachments to the different men in her life.

The narrative is not heavy, though its melancholy can be found in the grave indifference the main character subjugates herself to as both a context for coping and stubborn rebellion, not to mention a growing psychosis and fascination with lighters and fire.

Yet, the book, is unapologetic for its characters’ wariness, but rather a testament to the hurt and tragedy that can sometimes afflict even the most prepared. The book reads as a resounding, “It is what it is,” mantra that neither pities itself, nor exaggerates its hardships—but admits its torment and suffering through the emotional and physical scars in which the characters must bear.

Somewhere in all of that, is tenderness—and an acceptance of second chances, no matter how small of a sliver a second chance may be.

It’s a touching, hard book—one to be read with a shocking, yet empathetic eye.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4.5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 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, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit by Jessica Raya through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - jessica raya.jpg

I was born in Montreal to American parents and raised in Vancouver, where I earned an MA in literature from Simon Fraser University, along with a Canada Council Artist grant. After several years of blissful wandering (Buenos Aires, New York, London…) I’ve settled at last in San Francisco with my brilliant husband, Hugo Eccles of Untitled Motorcycles fame. When I’m not earning my share of our exorbitant rent, I write novels, essays, and the occasional birthday limerick, preferably from my desk at the Castro Writers’ Coop.

My first novel, Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club, was published in four languages under a pseudonym and selected as a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2007. My second novel, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit, will be published in June 2017 by McClelland & Stewart, Penguin Random House Canada. My essays and short stories have appeared in magazines and literary journals, as well as the 2010 essay collection What My Father Gave Me: Daughters Speak.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Jessica Raya on her official website and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen

05.30.2017

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

bk - meet me in the in between

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Category: Biographies & Memoirs

Author: Bella Pollen

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 336 pages

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2658-0

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Growing up the middle child of transatlantic parents—her English Rose mother and cowboy boot-loving father—Bella Pollen never quite figured out how to belong. Restlessly crossing back and forth between the boundaries of family and freedom, England and America, home and away, she has sought but generally failed to contain an adventurous spirit within the confines of conventional living.

When she awakes one morning in an existential panic, Pollen grudgingly concludes that in order to move forward, she needs to take a good look at her past. In Meet Me in the In-Between, Pollen takes us on the uproarious journey of a life, from her privileged, unorthodox childhood in Upper Manhattan through early marriage to a son of an alluring Mafioso, to the dusty border towns of Mexico where she embarks on a border crossing with some Pink Floyd-loving smugglers. Throughout all, Bella grapples intently with relationships, motherhood, career ups and downs, and a pathological fear of being boxed in.

Interwoven with exquisite original illustrations by the award-winning Kate Boxer, this is a tender, funny, and poignantly honest story of one woman’s quest to keep looking for the extraordinary in an ordinary life. Reminiscent of Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Pam Houston’s Cowboys are my Weakness, novelist Bella Pollen has created an endearingly naughty and intoxicatingly humorous, dead-on look at what it means to be a modern woman.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

While it can be difficult to review a memoir or a biography because it’s written in the context of someone’s personal life and experiences, rather than fiction, a memoir or biography can be entertaining as fiction, if written well, and gives its readers the opportunity to know the writer better, both in the events he or she shares about her his or her life, or how he or she perceives them in the way the author writes.

Bella Pollen’s biography, Meet Me in the In-Between, shares the oddities of herself and her family, right from a supposed incubus, a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women, to a drunken South American caique whose reactions to an black afro wig reveals him to be a white supremacist.

And that’s only the beginning of the book!

While these stories in of themselves are odd, almost seemingly fictional, and seem entertaining enough to incur a raised eyebrow of interest; the writing style of the narrative, while not necessarily poorly written, are distracting enough because the writing seems over-written.

Pollen, however, is quick in her sarcasm and wit, her agility in name-calling and comparisons, as well as her blunt insights, which tend to tumble out is great spurts, easily classifying her as a troublemaker, of which the author seems easily proud.

Even the description of her mafia-style husband and family is painted with almost deliberate animation and volume.

The accompanying illustrations in the book, too, add a welcome aesthetic and a window to the author’s canny imagination.

If you have time to read a 336-page memoir of the crazy antics in the life of a woman whose writing is both wacky and stream-of-consciousness, then this book is for you.  

***

Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - bella pollen

Raised in New York , Bella Pollen is a writer and journalist who has contributed to a variety of publications, including Uk and American Vogue, The Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Observer.

Author of five previous novels, including the best selling Hunting Unicorns and critically acclaimed Summer of the Bear, Pollen has tackled a broad spectrum of subjects from Cold War intrigue to decline of the British Aristocracy to the immigration issues of the US/Mexican Border.

With Meet Me in the In-Between, an illustrated memoir, Pollen takes us on her illuminating, funny and often painful quest to keep looking for the extraordinary in an ordinary life.

Pollen divides her time between London and the American mid-west.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Bella Pollen on her official website, on Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Disasters in the First World: Stories by Olivia Clare

05.28.2017

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

bk - disasters in the first world

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Category: General Fiction (Adult), Short Stories

Author: Olivia Clare

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 192 pages

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2661-0

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Olivia Clare’s delightfully strange and tender debut traces the intersection of larger-than-life forces—natural and otherwise—in our daily lives. From siblings whose relationship is as fragile as glass, to a woman grappling with both an emotional and physical drought, to a superstitious spouse fearful of misfortune, Disasters in the First World explores the real and the fantastical, environmental and man-made calamities, and the human need to comprehend the possible, the probable, the unknown.

Deeply nimble and perceptive, Clare delves into the tumultuous depths of human emotion as well as the messiness of relationships, unmasking the most revealing moments of connection—no matter how fleeting. In “Pittsburgh in Copenhagen,” a man and a woman confront infidelity and estrangement as they share one last night together. “Pétur” tells the tale of a son who takes his mother on an Icelandic vacation only to be trapped together in close quarters by a volcanic eruption. “Rusalka’s Long Legs” follows a young girl’s treacherously long walk through the woods with her unpredictable mother. And in “The Visigoths,” an older sister finds a way to break through to her brother who struggles to fit in.

With outstanding precision and grace, the thirteen stories in this collection uncover truths beneath both actual and imagined disasters. They each exist as exquisite and mysterious universes—and through their intimate, profoundly moving worlds, Clare’s clarity of voice rises as a distinctive and masterful new talent.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The unfortunate demise of the short story is that it is terribly underrated as a genre. As a creative writer who studied English Literature and Creative Writing in university, I was privy to the hard-earned politic of the short story and poetry workshops inevitable to earning those degrees.

And while longer, flushed out novels are largely popular, it’s their older sister, the short story, which is not only more difficult to write for its critical voice, paced movement, and thoughtful, active plots, but essentially for its succinct and shorter form.

The short story is the foundation of every writer’s ability—and if you fail there, you fail as a writer. Period. If a writer can’t write a good 1,500-word short story, how can you expect the writer to write an even interesting 300-page novel? It’s just not done. At least not successfully.

Which is why I applaud Olivia Clare’s ambitious 13-short story collection, Disasters in the First World.

Each individual story is superb in its craft: from Pétur’s serious tone and dark, revelatory secrets; to the character, Blake’s, high-functioning intelligence in The Visigoths; to the subversive terror invoked by Cullen in the story, Olivia; or the unnerving imagination of Del in Rusalka’s Long Legs.

And those are only four stories.

It’s clear in Clare’s writing that her narrative style is adept, exactly aware that what is required to share with her readers and what is omitted is just as significant in not only moving a story along in its plot or revelations, but in also what she would like readers to be left with to imagine. In each of Clare’s stories is an underlying story, driven by real dialogue and strange and sometimes broken, yet eccentric and fascinating characters.

While the plots in the stories themselves reveal the imminent dangers of conflict, the heart of her stories, too, are the characters in relationship or tension with one another, and how they articulate themselves and their understanding. The characters, like the writing, is mature—with serious themes like sickness, mental illness, love, desire, yearning, injustice.

There’s the shift in the knowledge of Tristan’s creatinine levels in the story Creatinine; the ingratiating behaviour inevitable between a potential daughter-in-law with her boyfriend’s hermitic mother in Two Cats, the Chickens, and Trees; the battle of coping with the anxiety and depression of a loved one shown in the incessant email conversations of the story, Things that Aren’t the World; or the estranged silences, which verbalize yearning, yet repression in Pittsburgh in Copenhagen.

Memory and nostalgia play crucial roles in Clare’s stories, too, from childhood play in Quiet! Quiet!; to the desperate need for company and touch in the loneliness of the destitute in the story, For Strangers; to the distant nonchalance, yet mature awareness of Nola in Santa Lucia; to the random beauty and unlikelihood found in the travesty of Little Moon; to the self-indulgent exuberance of hope and recklessness in the Eye of Water.

If you’re unfamiliar with short stories as a genre, this strong collection will not only introduce you to the wonder of this form, but induce you into a new following. These stories are enjoyable as they are intriguing and most importantly, excellently written. It’s clear that Olivia Clare is a gifted writer with the imagination and depth that writers—and readers—aspire to read and learn from. This may be her debut collection of short stories, but she is worthy of the recognition received as such writers before her like J.D. Salinger, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Elizabeth Hay. If you appreciate literary fiction, you’ll be extremely pleased with this collection of rare, dark, yet beautiful stories.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Disasters of the First World by Olivia Clare through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - olivia clare

Olivia Clare is the author of a book of poems, THE 26-HOUR DAY (New Issues), and a book of short stories, DISASTERS IN THE FIRST WORLD (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic). In fiction, she is a recipient of a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2014 O. Henry Prize. In poetry, she is a recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and the Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship from Colgate University. Her stories have appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories, Granta, Southern Review, n+1, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Review, London Magazine, FIELD, and other journals. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at Sam Houston State University.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Olivia Clare on her official website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Fugue States by Pasha Malla

05.19.2017

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

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Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Author: Pasha Malla

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 352 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-3458-1133-2

Pub Date: May 30, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Pasha Malla burst onto the literary scene in 2009 with his first book, a collection of stories called The Withdrawal Method that won the Trillium Book Award, was a Globe Top 100 pick, and was nominated for the Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 2012, he published his first novel, People Park, which was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Now, with the extraordinary Fugue States, he gives us a layered, mature work—equal parts funny and poignant, thought-provoking and compulsively, effortlessly readable.

   Fugue States opens with the eulogy at a funeral: a eulogy delivered by Ash, a radio host, upon the death of his father, Brij, a Kashmir-born doctor and would-be writer. Later, while sorting through his father’s belongings, Ash comes across a mysterious document: a half-completed and utterly baffling work of fiction set (possibly) in Kashmir. Ash begins to wonder about his Indian heritage and the ancestral home he knows only through his father’s stories—as a place of brutality and stunning natural beauty. And yet he resists going to visit, skeptical of being another Westerner visiting a war-torn homeland; instead, Ash’s best friend Matt—a drifter, pot-head, career bartender, massage therapy student, and self-described “maker of memories” (in other words, a “fool” in the best sense, in the spirit of Shakespeare and Cervantes and Nabokov’s Pnin)—takes it upon himself to go in Ash’s place…with strange, unexpected, hilarious and excruciating results.

     Fugue States is a spectacular novel, at once a parody of clueless tourism and western meddling in world affairs and a subtle, immensely affecting book about homesickness and the deep melancholy that abides in people who, like Ash and his father, and even like the foolish Matt, have never felt completely at home in the world.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

The book begins with the definition of fugue:

A fugue is a composition founded upon one subject, announced at first in one part alone, and subsequently imitated by all the other parts in turn… The name is derived from the Latin word, fuga, a flight, from the idea that one part starts on its course alone, and that those which enter later are pursuing it.

To understand the meaning of fugue is to look at the novel, Fugue States, by Pasha Malla, in its entirety.

From its inception, the reader is given its lead character, Ash, a successful author and radio host who must navigate the recent loss of his father and what that means to him as a son, a man, a writer.

And as the reader moves further into the book, the surrounding characters, too, in their individualism are not only affected by Ash’s loss and grief, but must also navigate their own pursuits in understanding who they are, how loss and pain has afflicted their own circumstances, and what they must do to survive and move through it themselves.

What’s wonderful about this novel is the realism of its narrative dialogue in bringing these characters to life through a genuine voice that depicts them vividly from:

Ash’s sombre and keen observation of others that almost feel lightly pessimistic and sad, yet witty, sarcastic, articulate, intelligent, yet insecure and self-critical—almost nostalgic with a deference to sentimentality or nostalgia; to Mona, his sister, who by career, is a successful lawyer, but openly emotional and sentimental; to _______ and Rick, his creative and hippie-living mother and stepfather; to Sherene, his intellectual and cultural equal, potentially his love-interest, but platonic co-worker and friend; to Chip, a zealously affectionate father to his son with special needs; to Matt, his polar opposite, a nomadic hedonist adventurer and long-time friend; to his late father, Brij, a latent writer-turned-doctor whose nostalgia for Kashmir and home haunted him and his son’s conversations and connection with one another.

The novel is as surprising as its non-traditional, non-linear plot, which include in its narrative both unexpected, almost absurd events, which seem surreal, if not adapted for film.

But, these events both pose as entertainment as they do emotional trauma and weariness, a sense of making memories as a way to cope and revitalize feeling, invigorate bravery, and an almost desperate attempt to make something happen—out of pain, disconnect, and loss.

The book is both dizzying in its ever-changing plot as it is in its open-ended questions, those literally unasked, yet assumed, by the lack of definitive conclusions and outcomes in the book. Yet, it’s a thoughtful narrative in the way the main character, Ash, shows through his actions and often times, his repressed actions, his emotional landscape, his ambition towards understanding the relationship he had with his father, what it means in understanding his own loss, and his own self-realization.

While the events in the book may at times seem far-fetched, the tender and serious tone of the unspoken and unsaid, resonates a story of the deep complexity of uncertain relationship and love—and the question of home, culture, and memory.

***

Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4.5 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Fugue States by Pasha Malla through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - pasha malla

Pasha Malla was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and raised in London, Ontario. He attended Concordia University in Montreal as a graduate student.

His debut book, The Withdrawal Method, a collection of short stories, won the Trillium Book Award and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. One of his short stories, “Filmsong”, won an Arthur Ellis Award while another was published on Joyland, a hub for short fiction.

Snare Books released All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts, a collection of poetry. His first novel, People Park, was published in 2012.

Malla is a frequent contributor to The Walrus.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Pasha Malla on: Facebook, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

05.15.2017

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Category: Fiction

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 208 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-3458-0992-6

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote—“O” for short—knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day, so he is lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one boy, used to holding sway in the world of the school­yard, can’t stand to witness the budding relationship. When Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl, the school and its key players—teachers and pupils alike—will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is vividly transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington school, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. The world of preadolescents is as passionate and intense, if not more so, as that of adults. Drawing us into the lives and emotions of four eleven-year-olds—Osei, Dee, Ian and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi—Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by love and jealousy, bullying and betrayal, is as moving as it is enthralling. It is an unfor­gettable novel.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Originally drawn to the cover and description of the novel, New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier, best known for her novel-adapted-to-a-film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, I delved into the book understanding the dichotomous theme of racism I was expected to experience.

Though the narrative was written with a juvenile tone to depict the voices relative to the characters’ ages in the book—11-year-old boys and girls—I found the writing far too simplistic to carry the weight of its serious theme.

From the stark and polar opposites in culture found in Dee, the girl with golden hair, and Osei, the new boy from Ghana, to the overt simplicity of a school and playground setting, the story seemed too far-fetched in is microcosmic style to its grand attempt to adapt its story based on Shakespeare’s own Othello.

The key players in the novel from Dee and Osei as already mentioned to the attention-seeking Blanca, the popular and privileged Casper, the shy, yet insightful, Mimi, the following brute, Rod, and the manipulative and conniving character, Ian—together form a cast of characters that puppeteer the racial tensions in the novel.

While its narrative was written primarily with what seemed to be towards a young adult audience, the overt racism in the book was difficult to read even with the understanding that the setting takes place in the early 1970’s when racism was still prevalent and more obvious in western society.

Even with the main character’s privilege in society as a son of a diplomat whose status affords his family the opportunity to live in an expensive high rise building with the security and service of a doorman, as well as the opportunity to attend a prestigious school with children of privilege; the unfortunate and unfair catalyst of affliction for Osei is rooted in others’ perception, racism, and discrimination against him because of his skin colour and culture.

It’s emphasized in the novel that Osei is not only the new boy in school with only a month left until the end of the year, but that he is also the first and only black boy in attendance amidst a population of white teachers and students.

The presence of this new dynamic ruptures the routine and politic of the teacher and student body, which is evident both in the classroom as it is in the playground, which is both disturbing as it is a reality for many people of colour at a time when racism was overtly present and tolerated in society.

While the topic of racism is a worthy theme to showcase if not to discuss and educate readers against it; the over-simplistic story of a group of pre-teen children whose response to a new boy from Ghana seems far too superficial to carry the weight of its importance and complexity.

For readers looking for a quick, but uncomfortable read about the black-white politic in the United States during the 1970’s found in a story about a small group of young children who have yet to learn and understand the inclusion of people of colour into society, and the harsh ramifications of discrimination, then this book is fine to add to the bookshelf.

Otherwise, readers looking for more substance in a character-driven novel that attempts to shed light on the varying levels of racism in the spectrum of a diverse and ever-evolving community of peoples, will need to unfortunately look elsewhere.

***

Characters: 2.5 stars

Plot: 2.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars

Dialogue: 2.5 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 on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, New Boy by Tracy Chevalier through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - tracy chevalier

Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington, DC but has lived in England all her adult life. She now has dual citizenship. She has a BA in English from Oberlin College, Ohio, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. She lives in London with her English husband and son. Before turning to writing full-time, she was a reference book editor for several years. She has written seven novels. Her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, sold four million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

  • From Book Browse

Links:

You can connect with her on her official websiteTwitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

05.11.2017

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

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Category: Fiction

Author: Gail Honeyman

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 336 pages

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 978-0-1431-9909-0

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Eleanor Oliphant is, well, a bit of an oddball–albeit a loveable one. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking…and that, combined with her unusual appearance (scarred cheek, a tendency to wear the same clothes year after year), means that Eleanor has become a bit of a loner. But she thinks that nothing really important is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding perplexing social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, Glen’s Vodka, and phone chats with “Mummy.”

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and sweet IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kind of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. It’s Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repairing her own damaged one, as she realizes that the only way to survive in the real world is to open her life to friendship–and that there’s always room there for love, too…

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

I received the e-book, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman from its publisher, Penguin Random House Canada through NetGalley on May 8, 2017; my first title to review in the form of an e-book. Otherwise, I’ve only reviewed hardcopies I have received from publishers, or bought myself, or borrowed from the library.

And because the narrative of the novel as first-person was not only effectively written, believable, and intelligent, I literally could not put the book down. Though such a claim is usually considered a cliché, it was in fact, true in my case (or at least, I couldn’t put my Kindle down). And the end result? I finished the novel in a record pace of two days. Two days! That’s a personal record for me in terms of reading a full-length novel.

And I can’t credit any personal speed reading ability on my account (because, no, I don’t speed read), but can only credit that the book was indeed that enjoyable, and therefore easy to read extremely quickly. (Lucky for me! Faster reading also means the opportunity to read more books.)

But back to this one.

By the nature of its title, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, it professes to reassure its reader that its main character of whom the title refers: Eleanor, that she is also completely fine. But, by doing so,  it does in effect hint at the opposite being true because who in any way, including characters in books, can be wholly and completely fine? Not anyone I certainly know. And certainly, not the character in this particular novel, of which its named.

As any reader will quickly realize progressing through the novel, its protagonist: the character whose first-person narrative the book belongs to, is indeed not fine, but, instead, quite the opposite, if not traumatized. (Don’t worry, I’m not one to divulge unecessary spoilers.)

She’s an intriguing and complex character whose ability to randomly recall facts and academia, her fierce intelligence and humour, and formal, wordy eloquence—while these are gifts in of themselves—they are also set against her narrow and literal interpretation of what people say and do around her, only to further add to her personal oddities and ultimately her social exclusion, but also keenly reveal her lack of ability to intuitively understand and interpret accepted social cues and values.

These symptoms are similar to those associated with Asperger’s Syndrome and other mental health conditions, while the author does not literally assign, associate, or mention this condition in relation to the main character.

Instead, Eleanor’s ritualistic behaviour, strong opinions, literal, rigid personality, and lack of awareness and understanding of social cues and practices often leave her self-deprecating, socially isolated, and inevitably lonely to the point of dysfunction.

To read the novel in first-person narrative throughout the book and hear Eleanor’s voice, gives the reader direct and intimate access to her thoughts, nuances, and desires (and sometimes her lack of desire), as well as the way she identifies herself, interprets those around her, and the way she measures the success and failure of her own life as she understands it.

Ultimately, readers get a full, intimate view of Eleanor in the way she sees and understands things—or rather, how she often misunderstands them.

The book’s character is somewhat of a paradox: while her high-functioning IQ, formal eloquence, and superior organizational skills reveal a highly intelligent and mature individual, she is also, by her lack of intuition and understanding of social, acceptable behaviour, and knowledge of the world at large due to her having been ostracized and isolated for most of her life, make her also seem like a woman with a stunted perspective of a young child. This ignorance, which is by no means a fault of her own, gives her both an odd quality, as well as an innocent, almost endearing one.

It’s hard not to empathize with such a character, to feel perplexed about her thought process and actions, curious about the condition she’s afflicted with, and what specific circumstances drove her to internalize such low self-worth, pain, and hardship.

Yet, even though Eleanor’s personal and social life lacks the gusto of her more well-adjusted peers, her thoughts, though often self-deprecating, and perhaps somewhat judgemental, are, in reading them, also wonderfully intelligent, hilarious, and brutally honest.

While there’s a suffering to who Eleanor is and how she must navigate her life in order to cope with it and her past, there is also undeniable truth in the things she thinks and says—which is, for her, often the same thing—since she says exactly what she thinks without filter.

While this behaviour can and is often frowned upon by social standards; to read it in the way the author has intelligently voiced it through Eleanor’s narrative, is both genuine and refreshing.

And the book isn’t written in a melancholy tone though the main character suffers and has suffered physical and emotional trauma. It does, in its endearing way, shift its plot and narrative to one of hope and change as Eleanor slowly learns how to ease herself into the nuances of the social stratosphere she faces with the anxious, unexpected, yet eventual welcome of new friends in the form of a co-worker in the IT department named Raymond, and the serendipitous chance of helping a stranger named Sammy, in his time of need.

The plot moves into Eleanor’s crisis with the deft understanding of how someone who suffers from a traumatic past and must battle mental health issues because of it, must also endure and somehow end or resolve personal crisis.

The narrative and the characters’ dialogue is wonderfully convincing from: Raymond’s thoughtful patience, and Sammy’s charismatic wit, to Mummy’s condescending narcissism.

Together, the novel triumphs in its narrative intimacy, its horrific backstory of abuse and violence, and its authentic story of a struggle for a young woman to come to terms with her past and her own limitations in order to grow and navigate much deserved self-love and acceptance into her hopeful and evolving future.

Though the character, Eleanor Oliphant, may never be completely fine—because, really, who ever is?—Her journey towards healthy autonomy, emotional and social growth, and contentment on her own terms, is a fine enough cause for readers to witness and applaud.

This is a fine novel and even more so impressive, a debut. I look forward to reading more of Gail Honeyman’s work as it arises and encourage others to add Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine to their bookshelves.

The book will hopefully render a mirror to its readers’ chance misjudgement of those who suffer from mental illness and those whom we can sometimes carelessly isolate and ostracize.

***

Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House on behalf of Viking for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - gail honeyman

Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, and was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Gail lives in Glasgow.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Gail Honeyman on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

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