Book Review: The Only Café by Linden MacIntyre

10.04.2017

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

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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

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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

zara glasses

 

 

 

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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.

***

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

Book Review: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

08.28.2017

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

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Category: General Adult Fiction
Author: Sara Taylor
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 304 pages
Publisher: Hogarth, Crown Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-7851-5077-7
Pub Date: August 1, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

From critically acclaimed and Baileys Prize-nominated author Sara Taylor comes a dazzling new novel about youth, identity, and family secrets

I didn’t realize my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong.

As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she’d lived as a kid in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept – even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we’d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business. 

Sara Taylor brings the American landscape to vivid life in an unforgettable road novel that strikes at the heart of a mother-child bond.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

The novel, The Lauras, by Sara Taylor is a coming-of-age story about Alex, an agender person whose life began its nomadic frenzy when their mother pulled them out of bed, into a car, and drove off into the night towards an unknown destination and continued this way until the end of the book.

The narrative is simple, the plot plodding along with little to latch onto, and the reader left with the painstaking task of turning the pages in hopes that the plot will reveal more than a few snippets of movement or motivation largely due to the character of Alex’s mother.

While perhaps the intent was to make the character of Alex’s mother into a woman with a mischievous and mysterious past, I found her failing in the common courtesy of simply telling her son/daughter where she had planned to go and what she had planned to do once arriving there—there and all the other places mother and son/daughter eventually travelled.

This nomadic lifestyle continued its wearied plot throughout the novel with what seemed a casual resignation to its instability, an almost self-entitled above-the-law living, which masqueraded itself as a necessity by way of survival that it also seemed ignorantly vain.

The character of Alex’s mother is profanely abrasive, uncommitted to the role of nurturing mother as she is to settling down in any one place. She, in her quest-like journey deems herself spontaneous and transitory—yet, her unwillingness to open up to her daughter about her past, while holding her hostage by such secrecy (as well as abducting her child in the middle of the night without explanation and keeping the whereabouts of Alex’s father from her) all point to her own kind of selfishness and cruel authority over her son/daughter.

Ironically, Alex submits to their mother’s choices without much vigour, resigning themselves to their mother’s whims, their mother’s secret reasoning in fulfilling acts that still remain much of a mystery long after they have been fulfilled, and goes along with the nomadic lifestyle set upon them like a nuisance settling into acceptable normalcy—one without a formal education, friends to socialize with, or sometimes a bed to sleep.

In this, the novel, had no focal motivation other than to remain transitory at the whim of a woman whose secret past dictated secret destinations and purpose, all attributed primarily to the emotional makeup of a woman whose personality seemed awfully proud in being rebellious and non-traditional—even at the expense of her son/daughter’s welfare, which I found rather disappointing.

The Lauras is a book with artificial multiplicity (as hinted at in its title) and an almost suffocating relationship between mother and son/daughter, and the nomadic inheritance Alex succumbs to and welcomes, as much as both mother and child-turned-young-adult succumb and welcome indifference and absence.

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

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Zara’s Rating

small Z ringsmall Z ringone-half

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Hogarth, Crown Publishing for providing me with an e-book of The Lauras by Sara Taylor via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - sara taylor

Sara Taylor is a product of the United States and the homeschooling movement. She traded her health for a BFA from Randolph College, and her sanity for an MA in Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia. Following the MA her supervisor refused to let her leave, so she remains at the UEA to chip away at a double-focus PhD in censorship and fiction. She spends an unprecedented amount of time on delayed trains between Norwich and her husband’s house in Reading, and tends to get lost, rained on, and chased by cows with unsettling frequency. Her first novel, The Shore, was published by Random House in 2015.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Sara Taylor on her official website.

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Zara

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Readers Still Know How to Book Club: Brampton Library Book Bash 2017

08.21.2017

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

18 - club name buttons

The Brampton Library is an excellent resource, which encourages its patrons of all ages to continue reading during the summer with initiatives such as the Kids Summer Reading Club (for ages 1-12), the Teen Summer Reading Club (for ages 13-19), and the Adult Summer Reading Club (for ages 19+).

The reading clubs include an online presence, which encourages readers to log the books they have successfully completed and provides a number of in-house activities during the week at each library branch, which encourages literacy through play, hands-on experience, and education.

The Kids Summer Reading Club, in particular, provides a colourful activity log book, stickers, and a BINGO activity card through its sponsor, the TD Bank, which encourages children to visit the library more often during the summer holiday and participate in free programs such as Read and Play, Book Bingo, LEGO Mania, STEM Station, and Computer and Tech Time.

This year, I enrolled both my son and daughter in the reading clubs, while I registered for the Adult Summer Reading Club, myself, with the goal of reading as much as I could in a two-and-a-half-month span.

From June 5 to August 18, I was able to successfully read a total of 12 full-length, literary fiction novels that ranged from 300 to 500 pages each, which in my opinion, is quite good.

19 - book list

And to reward members’ efforts, as well as encourage the reading community to come together to meet others who enjoy the written word, showcase the release of new novels by local authors, as well as celebrate the love of reading, the Brampton Library graciously throws an annual book bash at the end of August.

On Friday, August 18, I was pleased to attend the Adult Summer Reading Book Club Book Bash held at the Chinguacousy Branch from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Members were encouraged to wear red in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration and register their attendance upon arrival to receive raffle tickets for a number of prizes available to win at the end of the evening.

The newly appointed CEO of the Brampton Library, Rebecca Raven, welcomed the members of the Summer Reading Club to the book bash and unveiled the release of books included in the library catalogue produced by local authors in Brampton.

2 - intro
Rebecca Raven, CEO, Brampton Library. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

After a warm introduction, members were welcome to mingle, help themselves to light refreshments, browse the newly renovated branch, and visit stations set up around the library.

 

11 - refreshments.jpg
Refreshments. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

Guests were welcome to enjoy a variety of goodies that ranged from meat and vegetable pastries, mini samosas, crackers, a variety of cheese, fruit vegetable platters, and dessert.

I helped myself to a small plate of crackers and cheese to nibble on while the festivities went on throughout the night.

It was already past six in the evening and I had missed an opportunity to eat dinner at home before I left for the event.

With my tummy rumbling, I savoured the cheese as the saving grace between a faint spell and a gasp of air, let alone a coherent conversation. (How would I be expected to speak over the groaning noise of an angry, empty stomach?)

5 - food.jpg

But, with a little food in my gut and an anticipation to find myself a cup of coffee, I was able to brave my way into the fold of social interaction with strangers, who like myself, were most likely introverted people who preferred reading books rather than socializing with unknown and soon-to-be new company.

Nevertheless, I found myself social enough to speak with Keith Moreau about his website Big Art Buzz, which features a number of local artists, including himself, and was able to take home some artist bookmarks, a Reminder Finder Perpetual Calendar (created by Moreau), and a few art postcards (also by Moreau).

8 - keith moreau.jpg
Keith Moreau, Artist. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
16 - big art buzz
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

My next stop was at the Button-Making table where a lovely librarian and volunteer for the evening made graphic buttons at request. Though I wanted all the buttons for myself, I figured it would be best to practice some self-control and concede to only asking for one button—at a time!

3 - making buttons.jpg
Button making at its finest…because they’re buttons about books and libraries! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

I later returned when there wasn’t a crowd or lineup at the table out of respect for others…and a hidden dose of guilt for asking for two buttons instead of one (though I admit, I did see someone else ask for two at once—to confirm that, no, I’m not entirely a terrible person).

At my request, the kind librarian told me I could have as many buttons as I would like, but by then, full guilt had already taken over. I decided, two would have to be enough.

Besides, if I hadn’t changed my mind, I would have probably asked for the entire bag! Thankfully, I didn’t. (Did you see the size of the bag and the number of buttons? And I only brought a mid-size purse with me.)

I may be a button collector, but I like to share with others especially with those who love books and reading as much as I do. (I may be a bibliotaphe, as well as a button hoarder, but I’m not crazy.)

4 - button template.jpg
Button graphic template. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Can you guess which buttons I chose?

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These babies!

20 - my buttons
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

As a self-proclaimed book addict and book lover, I was extremely pleased to call these my own.

After I pocketed these beauties for my collection, I was happy to make a fool of myself in front of the green screen provided by the hosts of the event and dressed myself in a gorilla mask.

Why a gorilla? Well, I figured it would be more fun than wearing a hat or a moustache. Anyone can do that.

There were a number of props laid out on a table and, of course, I went straight to the silliest, scariest one.

In honour of my favourite fantasy novel and television series, The Game of Thrones, I created and added this caption:

21 - gorilla caption

But, I digress. This post isn’t about the latest episode of The Game of Thrones (though I’ll most likely write one next week after the Season 7 finale!).

And unfortunately, the long line-up to get my handwriting personally analyzed by a certified graphologist hindered me from getting mine done.

That, and I eyed a new batch of coffee make its way to the table and I had yet to grab a cup, so I left the line-up and sped-walked its way instead. It was a tough call, but I have my priorities.

It was obvious by then that I didn’t necessarily require a graphologist to tell me that I’m too impatient to stand in a line-up and wait to get a personal reading done especially if coffee is in question.

Perhaps, I’ll be better equipped next year.

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The night also highlighted a number of local authors and their published books, which were accepted into the Brampton Library catalogue, which means exposure for local writers and more books to borrow and read for patrons:

7 - authors.jpg
Local Authors Showcase 2017-2018. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

Congratulations to all the local authors who successfully had their books featured at the Brampton Library! Bravo!

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But, the book bash wasn’t solely about activities. It was also a great opportunity to meet some new, like-minded people—namely those who either love reading and/or writing.

I’m actually an introvert-extrovert, easily chatting it up with people I meet in a gregarious way, joking almost incessantly in a vain attempt to mask my introverted anxiety about meeting new people in the first place.

I’m not much of a party-goer, nor do I like mingling in the sense that I’m left to make small-talk with strangers I meet because I happen to be in the vicinity of their space due to a common activity, event, or gathering (I particularly find it difficult to converse with people I’m seated with at weddings or have to speak with at work socials and luncheons—the thought of doing so makes me wish I could be at a café reading a good book, or writing a chapter while drinking a cup of coffee—completely alone.).

Still, I do my best not to be a complete wallflower. I do try.

And in my humble effort to talk to at least one person while at the annual book bash, I was glad to meet Meghan, a reader and book blogger like myself (whew!).

I even risked making a fool out of myself by asking her if she wouldn’t mind taking a selfie with me—as proof perhaps for later that I actually indeed spoke to someone other than myself at this little shin-dig.

Thankfully, she was kind enough to say yes, though I don’t know if it was entirely out of desire, courteous propriety, or a fear of saying no. Either way, I took the shot quickly and hoped I didn’t look as foolish as I felt. You be the judge. (At least I was wearing makeup.)

12 - zara meghan
Meghan and me, Brampton Adult Summer Reading Club. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

(It was great to meet you Meghan. Keep reading and writing. And thanks for following my blog! I’ll see you on Instagram, and the Twitterverse, and hopefully again at next year’s book bash!)

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But, a personal highlight for me was the attendance of the surprise speaker of the event!

Any guesses as to who it was?

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It was…

TERRY FALLIS!

9 - terry fallis.jpg
Terry Fallis, author. Speaking at The Brampton Library Adult Summer Reading Book Club Bash 2017. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

I was thrilled when I saw him—yes, I actually recognize authors by face—and internally squealed and clapped my hands like a 10-year-old fangirl!

gif - thrilled.gif

For those of you who may not know (but you probably do), he’s the author of the following books:

10 - fallis bks.jpg
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

 

…and published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint highly regarded for its publication of literary fiction and poetry of what is now one of the biggest publishing houses in Canada: Penguin Random House Canada—a publishing house I am proud and privileged to say I review books for and have for five years now.

Mr. Fallis confessed he had originally planned to discuss his sixth novel, One Brother Sky, which recently released at the end of May this year, but decided to change topic in lieu of the number of local authors expected to attend the event and instead talked about his personal journey towards publication, his awe in becoming the unexpected recipient of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 2008 for his self-published book, The Best Laid Plans, which was also later destined to become the popular CBC Canada Reads Winner in 2011.

Terry Fallis’ talk was endearing, inspirational, and filled with enough self-deprecating humour to entertain the likes of readers and writers like myself in the audience who know what it means to write by compulsion and desire, only to be met with the trials of traditional publication.

And the wonderful thing about it, too, was that his visit was unexpected.

And then the evening ended with an opportunity to chat a little before leaving, rescue some snacks from becoming stale leftovers, and a chance to meet Terry Fallis in person and purchase his book while looking on in awe as he personally signs it for you.

[Insert starry-eyed look here.]

14 - one shy brother bk.jpg
“One Brother Shy” by Terry Fallis. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

I was thrilled to be able to buy his latest novel, make a sad attempt at blubbering on about also being a creative writer, as if this tidbit meant that, now, Terry Fallis and I were indeed kismet friends by the sheer camaraderie of sharing a love for the same craft—writing—and have him sign his book with what was hopefully a genuine and endearing, and personal inscription—to me.

Thank you, Terry! It was a pleasure (yet, nerve-wrecking experience) to meet you. Your book, One Brother Shy, is now on my bookshelf and has been added to my To Be Read and Reviewed (TBR) list.

 

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It was a pleasure to meet Terry Fallis in person. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

 

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Personally signed and inscribed by Terry Fallis. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

I didn’t read what Terry Fallis wrote to me in his book until I arrived home later that evening—but, now every time I read it, I’m kindly reminded to continue writing with faith, a message I can truly appreciate now from someone who did not lose his own.

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For enthusiastic book lovers and those who like to connect with others in their community, I encourage you to join the Adult Summer Reading Club next August, 2018.

I look forward to joining again, and aspire to read more titles than I did this year, as well as meet more reading aficionados.

Thanks to the Brampton Library and its staff for hosting a wonderful, literary event and to Terry Fallis for visiting and inspiring writers to continue the difficult, but sometimes serendipitous journey to publication.

Until next time,

Happy reading (and writing)!

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Zara

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Summer TBR Wipeout Update

08.03.2017

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

summer-tbr-wipeout

It seems the summer was only beginning—and then I turned to look at the calendar and woosh—it’s the beginning of August with only a few weeks left until we return to school and work in the fall.

Perhaps, it’s because I’ve been able to meet this year’s Summer TBR Wipeout Reading Challenge with some fervour.

I have, so far, been able to read and review a total of 15 books—fiction and all full-length novels—since the middle of June!

Here are the titles I was able to wipeout off my Summer To Be Read/Reviewed (TBR) List:

finished books - collage

And while I’m pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish, my TBR list is fully booked until October!

Of the above books, I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend these books to my readers:

bk - eleanor oliphant is completely fine

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bk - disasters in the first world

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bk - watch me disappear

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bk - conversations with friends

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To take a look at the rest of the reviews I’ve completed on my TBR List, you’re welcome to visit my Reviews Page.

And a special thanks to The Candid Cover for hosting this challenge!

While our TBR piles never cease to end, we can always look forward to new and upcoming titles in the fall. Hope you continue to enjoy your summer digging into those piles of books with anticipation and pleasure!

Happy reading!

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How many books were you able to remove from your TBR pile so far this summer?

Were you able to meet your goals this year?

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Zara

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Summer TBR Wipeout: My Pile

07.14.2017

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

summer-tbr-wipeout

This year I’ve decided to commit myself to a Summer Reading Challenge hosted by the blog, The Candid Cover called the TBR Wipeout, which encourages book bloggers (or active readers available on social media) to read, read, and read—read as much as we can in order to make a dent in our To-Be-Read/Reviewed (TBR) Piles.

As a literary activist, professional reader, and book reviewer, my reading pile tends to accumulate quickly.

Here’s what I have on my summer reading list so far:

bk - fall of lisa bellowbk - eleanor oliphant is completely fine

bk - new boybk - fugue states

bk - all the beloved ghostsbk - do not become alarmed

bk - disasters in the first worldbk - meet me in the in between

bk - be ready for the lightningbk - ministry of utmost happiness

bk - please proceed to the nearest exitbk - here and gone

bk - hunting housesbk - amatkabk - spoonbenders.jpgbk - the child

bk - diplomats daughterbk - fierce kingdom

bk - watch me disappearbk - hum if you dont know the words

bk - conversations with friendsbk - mrs fletcher

bk - girl in snowbk - the lauras

bk - dead husband projectbk - the only cafe

bk - the paris spybk - a map for wrecked girls

bk - home firebk - a stranger in the house

bk - we all love the beautiful girlsbk - history of bees

bk - hearts invisible furiesbk - someone you love is gone

bk - zero repeat foreverbk - all is beauty now

bk - strangers with the same dreambk - six degrees of freedom

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How many books do you intend to “wipeout” from your reading pile this summer?

What do you think of my TBR pile? Are there any books listed there you’ve already read or would like to read?

What’s on your TBR pile this summer?

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Be sure to come back to check my upcoming reviews and an update on which books I’ve been able to tackle on this list.

Until next time,

Happy reading!

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Zara

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