Book Review: The Only Café by Linden MacIntyre

10.04.2017

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

bk - the only cafe

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

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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

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Book Review: Copycat by Alex Lake

09.02.2017

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

bk - copy cat

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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

***

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.

***

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.

***

Zara

zara glasses

Book Review: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

08.28.2017

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

bk - the lauras

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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.

***

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

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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.

***

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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Book Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

08.08.2017

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

bk - girl in snow

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

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Zara’s Rating

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

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About the Author:

author - danya kukafka

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

  • From the novel

Links:

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

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Zara

zara - kai lan frame

 

 

Book Review: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

08.03.2017

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

bk - conversations with friends

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

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Summary from Publisher:

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

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

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Zara’s Rating

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

***

About the Author:

author - sally rooney.jpg

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

  • From novel

Links:

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

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Zara

zara - kai lan frame

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

08.02.2017

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

bk - hum if you dont know the words

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

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a hardcover of the book, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais in exchange for an honest and timely review.

***

About the Author:

author - bianca marais

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

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Links:

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

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Zara

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Book Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

07.24.2017

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

bk - watch me disappear

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

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Summary from Publisher:

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Characters: 4 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 4.5 stars
Cover Design: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Spiegel & Grau for providing me with an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of the book, Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - janelle brown

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

  • From novel

Links:

You can connect with Janelle Brown on her official website.

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Zara

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