Book Review: Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt

06.21.2017

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

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Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Author: Fanny Britt
Format: E-book via NetGalley, 224 pages
Publisher: Astoria (House of Anansi)
ISBN: 978-1-4870-0238-1
Pub Date: July 1, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

Tessa is a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent living in Montreal. She adores her husband and three young sons, but she’s deeply unhappy and questioning the set of choices that have led to her present life.
After a surprising run-in with Francis, her ex-boyfriend and first love, Tessa arranges to see him. During the three days before their meeting, she goes about her daily life — there’s swimming lessons, science projects, and dirty dishes. As the day of her meeting with Francis draws closer she has to decide if she is willing to disrupt her stable, loving family life for an uncertain future with him.
With startling clarity and emotional force, Fanny Britt gives us a complex portrait of a woman and a marriage from the inside out.

Translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt is an excavation of memory, an internal contest of decision-making and resolve with a clemency for the imagination and the idealism that imagination usually brings especially when it comes to those left behind in a person’s past.

In this case, it’s Tessa’s thoughts that centre the book, her revelatory opinions on a short, but passionate history through love and sexual emancipation, and a particular man, Francis, at the centre of her repressed idolatry and focus.

A former student of vocal music, she resigned instead to the whim of her desires in relationship to eventually fall into and graduate with credits to become a successful realtor, eventually marrying a well-suited man who loves her wholly and tenderly: Jim, a stable anchor and partner, the father of their three young sons, and a successful and professional orchestral musician whom she returns to in the routine of love and domestic life.

As Tessa takes inventory of the number of houses she showcases and manages to sell on the market, she does so with a keen and receptive eye, taking stock of the homes, as she does mentally coupling them with pre-judgements of their respective owners.

The style in which she does this, is in the same way she recalls the people and events in her life from: her supportive and doting mother, Paule; her easy-going, earth-loving adventurer of a brother, Étienne; and her confident and spontaneous childhood friend, Sophie.

Together, they form a network of those who create for her a backdrop of her identity, some the reader can assume is a catalyst to her uncertainties about herself and her life choices—especially the one she resigns to in wanting to meet Francis again upon a chance run-in as realtor to his wife, Évelyne, and the extension of herself as found in her fabulous house.

The book feels and almost reads like a giddy soliloquy filled with the romanticism of one’s own fantasies and self-indulgence; the idealism of love found in an idea of a man, rather than the man himself; a sort of emotional reckoning with an unrequited past.

A beer and a bar and the power of nostalgia—along with the sobriety of time, change, and real life, close this novel to its inevitable end.

It is a book not only of hunting houses, but of hunting for answers to the main character’s lifelong search: in all the transitions and journeying in someone’s life—what and with whom can one truly make a home?

***

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

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to House of Anansi on behalf of Astoria for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

 

author - fanny britt
From Goodreads

 

Fanny Britt is a playwright, novelist and translator. Her play Bienveillance won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama (French). Her first novel, Les maisons, was short-listed for the France-Québec prize and the Prix littéraire des collégiens. She has also translated and adapted some thirty plays and novels.
Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault first collaborated on the graphic novel Jane, the Fox and Me, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration (French) and the Joe Shuster Awards for Best Writer and Best Artist. It was also named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

From 49th Shelf blog.

Links:

You may connect with Fanny Britt on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

06.19.2017

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

bk - fall of lisa bellow

***

Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Author: Susan Perabo
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 352 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6146-6
Pub Date: March 14, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

When a middle school girl is abducted in broad daylight, a fellow student and witness to the crime copes with the tragedy in an unforgettable way.

What happens to the girl left behind?

A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.

After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is a telling microcosm of a family who must endure the aftermath of almost losing themselves to the near-abduction of the main character in the book, Meredith Oliver, during an armed robbery at a local Deli Barn.

While most would assume their luck, or blessing as having the daughter who survives the incident while another child (of whom the book’s title is named) is lost and gone missing, this is a story of the girl who survives near-abduction, but not necessarily its trauma.

The novel explores the inevitable panic and unravelling of a family who must cope with the reality of its raw vulnerability after such an incident occurs, bringing to light the psyche and struggle of what it means to desperately suffer in silence and repression in fear of naming the trauma and thus perhaps tipping the delicate balance of their daughter’s hidden mania and what they deemed to be their normal lives before the abduction of Lisa Bellow occurred.

And because of this, the story is able to showcase a vivid and intimate portrayal of hurting and imperfect characters, who, in their love and selfishness, must come to terms with the outcome of loss—and survival.

The tension in the Oliver family grows and erupts as they tiptoe around the withdrawn and melancholy girl who has physically come home, but clings to an emotional disappearance that no one in the family can seem to successfully penetrate.

The dynamics in the family implode in crisis as Claire, Meredith’s mother, grows more incessant in her fear, and pessimism, and her desperate need to feel a sense of control, while Mark, Meredith’s father, comes against his wife’s negativity and hopelessness with what seems like to her, an irritating and infuriating charismatic positivity and charm. Evan, Meredith’s brother, whose vision impediment seems to be ironic as it is a further cause of Claire’s worries, seems to be the only one in the novel with true, clear vision when it comes to Meredith’s condition as well as his and his family’s need to move forward.

But, these are not the only ones affected by Lisa Bellow’s abduction. Colleen Bellow, Lisa’s mother, in her own loss and perpetual bereavement, finds comfort and solace in the proxy daughters she clings to in Lisa’s friends: Becca Nichol, Abby Luckett, Amanda Hammels—and Meredith, herself.

As the gap of days widen from the time of Lisa’s abduction to remaining at a loss of her whereabouts, Meredith’s condition worsens, the fine line between the two girls and their connection to one another in this tragedy, slowly thins.

Together, the narrative will lure its readers to the intimacies of loss, anger, madness, and the heart of what it means to cope with the guilt of relief and burden, as well as the self-inflicted pain of suffering by having to move on without any exacting answers or the knowledge of how to do so.

The book reads like the raw tenacity of an over-bandaged wound, one which will reveal to the reader the heartache of justice in injustice and the numb, yet painful void of unknowing.

***

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

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of the book, The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

author - susan perabo

Susan Perabo’s novel, “The Fall of Lisa Bellow,” will be released March 14, 2017. Perabo is also the author of two collections of short stories, “Why They Run the Way They Do” and “Who I Was Supposed to Be,” and the novel, “The Broken Places.” Her fiction has been anthologized in “Best American Short Stories,” “Pushcart Prize Stories,” and “New Stories from the South,” and has appeared in numerous magazines, including One Story, Glimmer Train, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and The Sun. She is Writer in Residence and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Susan Perabo on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

06.14.2017

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

bk - here and gone

***

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers

Author: Haylen Beck

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 304 pages

Publisher: Crown Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-4514-9957-8

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Characters: 2.5 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Here and Gone by Haylen Beck through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

 

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

 

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

  • From Penguin Random House website

Links:

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

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Zara

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

06.07.2017

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

bk - please proceed to nearest exit

***

Category: New Adult

Author: Jessica Raya

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 376 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-7320-5

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

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

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boys and men have their share, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4.5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Please Proceed to the Nearest Exit by Jessica Raya through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - jessica raya.jpg

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Links:

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

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Zara

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

05.28.2017

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

bk - disasters in the first world

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Category: General Fiction (Adult), Short Stories

Author: Olivia Clare

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 192 pages

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2661-0

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

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

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

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

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

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

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

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

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

And those are only four stories.

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

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

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

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

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

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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

***

About the Author:

author - olivia clare

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

  • From Goodreads

Links:

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

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Zara

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

05.11.2017

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

bk - eleanor oliphant

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Category: Fiction

Author: Gail Honeyman

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 336 pages

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 978-0-1431-9909-0

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

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

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

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

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

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

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

But back to this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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

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About the Author:

author - gail honeyman

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

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Gail Honeyman on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

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New Cover Reveal: Wildwood by Jadie Jones

04.11.2017

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

Last week, the president of the new boutique publishing house, The Parliament House, reached out to me about one of its new novels.

Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the book sounds like an intriguing paranormal, young adult fiction.

Take a look:

Tanzy Highwater is not crazy. At least that’s what she tells herself. She also tells herself that the shadows stalking her in the woods aren’t living, murderous beings.

On her father’s death, Tanzy is swept up by the woods and the shadows that took him. She quickly realizes those monsters lurking in the dark now have their sights on her. Neither Tanzy nor life as she knows it escapes unchanged when she is introduced to a world…unseen.

Two strangers seem too willing to help her navigate her new reality: Vanessa Andrews, a doctor’s trophy wife with a southern drawl, and Lucas, a quiet, scarred man with timing that borders on either perfect or suspect. But Tanzy has secrets of her own. Desperate for answers and revenge, Tanzy must put her faith in their hands as her past comes calling and the shadows close in.

With wild blood coursing through her veins, will Tanzy’s choices shed light on the shadows of her past, or will they bring forth the darkness within her?

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bk cvr - wildwood

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Author:

author - jadie jones

Young-adult author. Equine professional. Southern gal. Especially fond of family, sunlight, and cookie dough.

I wrote my first book in seventh grade, filling one hundred and four pages of a black and white Mead notebook. Back then I lived for two things: horses and R.L. Stine books. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and I still work with horses, and hoard books like most women my age collect shoes. Its amazing how much changes… and how much stays the same.

The dream of publishing a novel has hitch-hiked with me down every other path I’ve taken (and there have been many.) Waitress, farm manager, road manager, bank teller, speech writer, retail, and more. But that need to bring pen to paper refused to quiet. Finally, in 2009, I sat down, pulled out a brand new notebook, and once again let the pictures in my head become words on paper.

As a child, my grandfather would sit me in his lap and weave tales about the Cherokee nation, and a girl who belonged with horses. His words painted a whole new world, and my mind would take flight. My hope – my dream – is that Tanzy’s journey does the same for you.

Confession time: Jadie Jones is not my name. It’s a pen name I created to honor two fantastic women who didn’t get the chance to live out their professional dreams. First, my grandmother – a mother of four during post World War II America, who wanted to be a journalist so bad that even now when she talks about it, her blue eyes mist and she lifts her chin in silent speculation. And second, a dear friend’s mother who left this world entirely too soon. To Judy Dawn and Shirley Jones, Jadie Jones is for you. It’s been a pleasure getting to know her.

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Links:

You can connect with Jadie Jones through her official website.

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Be sure to check Parliament House for its new and upcoming publications.

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Zara

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