Book Review: The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

03.26.2018

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @la.vida.zara

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Category: Biography / Memoir
Author: Dave Eggers
Format: Hardcover, 334 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-735207449-5
Pub Date: January 30, 2018

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Summary from Publisher:

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco, one of seven siblings brought up by Yemeni immigrants in a tiny apartment. At age twenty-four, unable to pay for college, he works as a doorman, until a chance encounter awakens his interest in coffee and its rich history in Yemen. Reinventing himself, he sets out to learn about coffee cultivation, roasting and importing. He travels to Yemen and visits farms in every corner of the country, collecting samples, eager to improve cultivation methods and help Yemeni farmers bring their coffee back to its former glory. And he is on the verge of success when civil war engulfs Yemen in 2015. The U.S. embassy closes, Saudi bombs begin to rain down on the country and Mokhtar is trapped in Yemen. This is a heart-pounding true story that weaves together the history of coffee, the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through civil war and the courageous journey of a young man–a Muslim and a U.S. citizen–following the most American of dreams.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers is a chronological memoir about a young man whose gift for gab and knack for survival renders him on an unbelievable journey towards self-discovery and financial independence.

And while it is as much a story about the life and career of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a restless boy with little privilege who must work his way out of trouble through his sheer talent of diplomacy and negotiation, and who later grows into a young man that lands a position as an amicable and diligent doorman at a luxurious condominium that houses the rich and affluent—it is also a story about Mokhtar’s serendipitous discovery of the history of coffee and its connection to him and his cultural, Yemeni heritage.

Dave Eggers, best known for his clear writing, writes with clarity and objectivity about Mokhtar’s ambitious and serendipitous climb towards success. And while his journey is almost unbelievable in its scope from its humble beginnings as a boy with no aspirations or plans except towards unexpected trouble, to the magnitude of a what a man must overcome in making his dream a reality, Eggers writes Mokhtar Alkanshali’s story without lyrical fanfare.

The story, too, is not only a story about Mokhtar and his passion for philanthropy and business; it is also a story about coffee—its origins, its proper cultivation, its varietals, the process of its tasting, its graded quality—and a way in which it could be made into a valued commodity for Yemeni farmers without the interference of ignorance in its proper cultivation, or the presence of loan sharks and distributors who take advantage through unfair profiteering in a war-torn country.

It is, in essence, a story about a man’s passionate resilience to make a dream come true, not only for himself, but an entire nation—a righteous quest to bring underrated, Yemeni coffee to the forefront of top-quality production and sales worldwide.

This, from a young man with no relevant knowledge of coffee itself, its production, its quality, nor any connections with its money-making industry.

The Monk of Mokha, tells without fanfare, the fantastical story of a young man whose sheer will, a gift of gab to encourage and convince, as well as barrels of what seems to be unbelievable good luck, can do—and does—to slowly, but miraculously become an expert in coffee quality until he becomes a certified Q Grader, to travelling to the deepest,  most remote, and dangerous places in Yemen during its war crisis to personally meet Yemeni farmers to sample their coffee seedlings, and teach them the forgotten history of Yemeni coffee, and how to best produce high-quality coffee beans, as well as inform and empower them to make better profits.

Mokhtar takes upon himself a mission to restore Yemeni coffee to its highest quality, while empowering local Yemeni farmers to become stronger and financially independent, and introducing quality Yemeni coffee to an unknowing, global community. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, is able to, through his tough and almost obsessive passion for Yemeni coffee and true love for his cultural heritage, create a Yemeni coffee empire, which would otherwise remain unknown, dormant, or non-existent.

All this, from one man.

And Dave Eggers records this with meticulous objectivity. While the book itself may not be exhilarating in its narrative, the story of a man who could have lost his life on several occasions and is able to survive on extremely slim odds amidst reckless war and violence, is a tale worth telling—and reading.

The context of coffee in the book is even more fascinating. As an enthusiastic coffee drinker and coffee lover, I was surprised by what I had not known and what I had learned about coffee, its origins, its history, and its production, and its quality until I read about it in The Monk of Mokha.

For coffee lovers alike, this book will be an uplifting surprise.

***

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

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with a copy of The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

dave eggers

Dave Eggers is the author of ten books, including most recently Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible. He lives in Northern California with his family.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with the author, Dave Eggers on Goodreads.

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Book Review: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

12.17.2017

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

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Category: General Fiction
Author: Megan HUnter
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 136 pages
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0-7352-3502-1
Pub Date: November 7, 2017

***

Summary from Publisher:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter is a first novella by its author, a story in a dystopian setting that begins as its title suggests, at the end—the potential apocalyptic end of civilization as its known during an unknown time in the future.

Its story focuses on a young, pregnant woman who gives birth to a baby boy she and her partner name, Z. But, with his birth not only comes the emotional joy and bond of motherhood, but a time in which the world is in an environmental crisis, one which devastates land with flood and people homeless and nomadic.

The novella in its less than 140-page story, tells a narrative of scarcity, sickness, death, and for some, survival.

The narrative, too, almost becomes a stylistic comment on the theme of the book, the way it is written so sparingly, as if prose itself is stripped to its basic necessity. The narrative is more prose poem than it is detailed novel writing.

The names of characters, too, are not fully named, but are rather diminished to single letters, as if the characters themselves, like in the potential danger of the apocalyptic theme, have also diminished to a lesser identity or a figurative identity that could be everyone—or anyone—in a mass apocalypse.

What is personal in the story is the narrative of the main character, the woman who becomes mother, how this pivotal role has involuntarily helped her fall in love with her child, with motherhood, even in the direst circumstances. It gives her at the very least, a hard resolve to focus all of her energy on the survival of her son, whose blissful ignorance is both a blessing and a curse.

While the narrative can be considered lyrical in the sense that it is not traditionally prose, the scarcity in detail can and may frustrate readers who prefer not to work so hard to imagine the gaps in which the author leaves for readers to interpret or extrapolate.

And sometimes this type of narrative misses the opportunity to really depict a fuller experience of the senses in the story. But, rather leaves a stark, inexplicable setting that readers may not fully enjoy because of the lack of detail and connection.

And because of its short size, the story does only a sparse job in giving what seemed a superficial account of plot and character dimension in what could be a compelling dystopian story.

Still, if you’re not looking for a long narrative, don’t dislike poetry or a lack of detailed prose, and want a peek at what could be a catastrophic, environmental crisis, then yes, this little novella is for you.

Otherwise, it’s an interesting, yet superficial take on the instinct and hardship involved in attempting to survive in an apocalyptic world where flood, famine, and loss are at its most relevant.

***

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 Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Hamish Hamilton for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of The End We Start From by Megan Hunter in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - megan hunter

Megan Hunter was born in Manchester in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a BA in English Literature from Sussex University, and an MPhil in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and she was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award with her short story ‘Selfing’.

Megan’s first book, The End We Start From, will be published in 2017 by Picador (UK), Grove Atlantic (USA/Canada), Gallimard (France), Beck (Germany), Hollands Diep (Holland), and Elsinore (Portugal).

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with the author on Twitter and Goodreads.

Zara

zara glasses

Book Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

12.15.2017

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

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Category: General Fiction
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 276 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1768-3
Pub Date: August 15, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is an investigation into the political and emotional ramification of terrorism at the personal level—what it means to be directly influenced and connected to it—by history, by bloodline, by political stance.

It focuses on the Pasha family, siblings whose lives are charged with the intensity of an emotionally ever-present, yet absent father, Adil Pasha, a known jihadist by the British government who fought with jihadi groups in Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990’s and then travelled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.

The knowledge of this crime has followed and burdened the lives of the Pasha family: Isma, the eldest daughter left to the responsibility of parenting her siblings after the absence of their father and the death of their mother; Aneeka, the passionate beauty whose deep connection with her twin, Parvaiz, compels her to tantrums and deceit; and Parvaiz, in lacking a father-figure clings to the haunting memory of his father’s extremist beliefs and believed martyrdom.

Their futures stained with the political crimes of their missing father, compel them in vastly different directions, which eventually through plot and what seems like serendipity, connect them with a powerful political figure of their past, Karamat Lone, Home Secretary of the British government and a progressive Muslim, along with his beloved son, Eammon.

The narrative of the novel reveals the internal landscape of its characters, how asserting and/or denying and/or identifying as a Muslim in modern day London and Afghanistan has with it complexities amidst the geo-political climate of the world as well as being burdened with the knowledge of a relative whose extremist values and jihadist motivations and actions have scarred his family, even years after his own death.

The plot, though deceptively tranquil at the beginning, even almost hopeful—quickly manifests into manipulative relationships where the instigator eventually coerces the victim to do things that will make him feel uncomfortable or put his life at risk. The tension in the book is in the injustice of these actions, which render its victims almost helpless to act autonomously.

The characters, though well developed and clearly depicted, have in them an emotional weakness to be easily persuaded, to act abruptly and with passion, as well as to respond in extremity, which can only lead to problematic situations.

The thematic thread in the book is obvious in its extremism—both in acts of terror, political strategy, and relationship. But, its success is in how it portrays its characters’ development—how one might move from a life of routine and social norms to the mind-altering, psychological framework of extremist beliefs and jihadist commitment and crime through a myriad of insecurities, manipulation, and time.

Regardless, the author is able to put a human face to the elusive beast of terror and share a narrative that personally empathizes with those who are directly affected by the cause and affect of its destruction, both socially, politically, and emotionally.

***

Characters: 3.5 stars
Plot: 3.5 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 4 stars
Pacing: 3.5 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 Riverhead Books for providing me with an advanced reading copy (ARC) of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - kamila shamsie

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi, where she grew up. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While at the University of Massachusetts she wrote In The City By The Sea , published by Granta Books UK in 1998. This first novel was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys Award in the UK, and Shamsie received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her 2000 novel Salt and Saffron led to Shamsie’s selection as one of Orange’s “21 Writers of the 21st Century.” With her third novel, Kartography , Shamsie was again shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both Kartography and her next novel, Broken Verses , won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan. Burnt Shadows, Shamsie’s fifth novel, has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her books have been translated into a number of languages.

Shamsie is the daughter of literary critic and writer Muneeza Shamsie, the niece of celebrated Indian novelist Attia Hosain, and the granddaughter of the memoirist Begum Jahanara Habibullah. A reviewer and columnist, primarily for the Guardian, Shamsie has been a judge for several literary awards including The Orange Award for New Writing and The Guardian First Book Award. She also sits on the advisory board of the Index on Censorship.

For years Shamsie spent equal amounts of time in London and Karachi, while also occasionally teaching creative writing at Hamilton College in New York State. She now lives primarily in London.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You may connect with the author on Twitter and Goodreads.

Zara

zara glasses

Book Review: The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk

10.18.2017

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

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Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Sarah Meehan Sirk
Format: Ebook via NetGalley, 247 pages
Publisher: Anchor Canada
ISBN: 978-0-3856-8760-7
Pub Date: August 8, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Perfect for readers of George Saunders, Jennifer Egan and Heather O’Neill, a rich and inventive collection of exquisite short stories by a major newcomer to Canadian literature.

In this deeply felt, compulsive and edgy work, Sarah Meehan Sirk shines a distinctive light on love and death in their many incarnations, pushing against the limits of the absurd while exposing piercing emotional truths about what it means to be gloriously, maddeningly alive.

In The Dead Husband Project, an artist who has planned to make an installation out of her terminally ill husband’s dead body has to recalibrate when his diagnosis changes. In The Date, an online dating match takes an unusual turn when the man who shows up to the restaurant has no face. In Ozk, a young girl longs to connect with her socially isolated mother, a professor of mathematics who makes a radical discovery.

Uncanny, sometimes violent, achingly sad and always profound, these stories showcase a writer with skill and empathy, and draw us in with a steady, unyielding grip.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

With a title as intriguing as The Dead Husband Project and an equally gorgeous, floral cover, this short story collection by Sarah Meehan Sirk is deceitfully dark and foreboding—and yet the 14 stories in their entirety provide a spyglass to several broken and resentful characters who find themselves navigating within some strange, almost absurd plots.

From different contexts that deal with the exhibition of death as art; to the absence of maternal love in lieu of obsessive ambition and research; adultery with life-threatening ramifications; emotional adultery and its resignation; the death of a loved one; the inevitability of aging; the submission to betrayal in friendship; the weary disconnect in relationship; to the turmoil of grief and loneliness—while these stories share burdensome contexts, the writing itself can at times, seem heavy-handed, not striving to be succinct, but rather succumbs to unnecessary explanation, which can and often does feel cliché.

What could be a collection of complicated characters with a variety of emotional landscapes in stories of obsession, pain, loss, grief, and love; instead contextualizes a narrative, which fails this intent. Otherwise, the stories themselves hold the potential of depth and retrospection.

And while the beginning of most of the stories in the collection show promise of not only interest, but depth, their endings rely on a self-conscious narrative that feels the need to “tie up loose ends” with the explanation of circumstances and/or the end result of emotions felt by its thwarted and disappointed characters—which most of them tend to be.

But, where the narrative in the book can sometimes fail, the stories’ dialogue on the other hand, can and most often does sound true. There’s also a tenderness in some details found in such stories as Ozk or The Centre.

While most of the characters are unable to incite full likeability in its readers, one can empathize with what these characters might feel considering how absurd or surprising the plots they find themselves in.

Perhaps the plots’ themes were too large or extraneous: Cancer, coma, HIV, adultery, abandonment—relying instead on the significance of their emotional magnitude and crisis, rather than focusing on truths that can be shared in more daily, simple struggles or outcomes for those who experience such dilemmas.

If not for the design of its cover, nor the intrigue of its title, and the ambition of its poorly executed imagination—The Dead Husband Project, would remain an inert collection of stories perhaps better left on the shelf.

Yet, there’s still hope. It is only a debut novel, after all.

Should Sarah Meehan Sirk hone in her creative writing skill with less explanation or a self-conscious narrative that compels itself to obvious closure, her imaginative power may then truly explore and execute the potential profoundness of what could essentially be her work.

***

Characters: 2.5 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 3 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 Anchor Canada for providing me with an e-book of The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - sarah meehan sirk

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a writer and radio producer. Her fiction has appeared in various journals and magazines and is anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories.

At the CBC, she’s produced for national shows including Q (now q) and Day 6, and hosted the 2015 summer series Stripped. Before that, she produced a Toronto crime show, hosted sports programs, filed human rights reports with Ghanaian journalists in West Africa, and co-produced, wrote, and hosted a short TV series on minor hockey that was nominated for what was then known as a Gemini award (it lost to the Olympics.) She has also produced a son, and a daughter.

She studied math and philosophy at the University of Toronto, and was mentored by David Adams Richards at the Humber School for Writers. She lives in Toronto with her young family. The Dead Husband Project is her first book.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Sarah Meehan Sirk on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

zara glasses

 

 

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

***

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

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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

***

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

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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.

***

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.

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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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