Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

07.15.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 elizabeth is missing***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Emma Healey

Format: Hardcover, 284 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-3458-0830-1

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

An internationally heralded debut novel of extraordinary warmth, insight and humanity that will appeal to readers who loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Still Alice: Elizabeth Is Missing is at once a page-turning mystery that takes us from post-war Britain to the present day and a piercingly honest portrait of love and memory, families and aging through the lens of an unforgettable protagonist who will seize your heart–an elderly woman descending into forgetfulness, as she embarks alone on a quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared.


Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory–and her grip on everyday life. Notes fill her pockets and dot the walls of her home, increasingly crucial reminders of the immediate world. Most crucial is the fact that she can’t find her only friend–Elizabeth has disappeared: she isn’t answering the phone and doesn’t seem to be at her house. Maud, convinced Elizabeth is in terrible danger, refuses to forget her even if her frustrated daughter, Helen, her carer, Carla, and the police won’t listen and won’t help. Armed with an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth desperately needs her help, Maud sets out to find her. And, unexpectedly, her search triggers an old and powerful memory of another unsolved disappearance–that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished more than 50 years ago, shortly after the Second World War.

     As long-ago memories emerge, Maud begins to uncover forgotten clues to her sister’s disappearance and to piece together the mystery that has haunted her family for decades, discovering new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

- From Goodreads

***

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey is an extraordinary novel spoken through the stark narrative of Maud, now an elderly woman whose battle with Alzheimer’s has over time, disconnected her memories, misplacing them throughout a wavering timeline, one that Maud desperately yearns to grasp and recollect.

It is truly an evocative book, one that perceptively showcases the incessant self-doubt and self-questioning that takes place during the internal dialogue of someone who suffers memory loss and the ramifications of how disruptive such a loss can be in daily life.

But, the narrative is not by any means demeaning, nor arbitrary. Maud is a fully realized character, one with complex emotions and intelligence, which is how well this novel was written. The narrative not only gives the reader a microscopic view of what it can mean to be elderly, but what it can mean to be held hostage by one’s own mind.

But, Maud is not alone on her narrative journey. There are those in the novel who must, out of love, and others necessity, move to surround her with as much care and routine as can be afforded.

Carla, one of her carers, while paid to make her a daily sandwich or boil her a kettle of water for tea, also provides some empathetic humour.

Helen, her daughter, while not without the frustration that accompanies taking care of an elderly parent, must for most of the novel, not only be the primary caregiver for her mother and her daily affairs, but also bear witness to the bewildering rate in which her mother’s mental capacity and daily, independent functioning, slowly, but certainly diminishes over time.

Katy, Maud’s granddaughter, is wonderfully understanding as the youth can sometimes be, treating her grandmother’s illness more as an interesting quirk, rather than a lifelong detriment and burden to Maud herself or to the family.

What is wonderful about this book aside from how surprising and almost unbelievable it is that it’s a debut novel because of how well it is written, is how brilliant the writer, Emma Healey is, in conjuring not only a story from a collection of what first appears to be disjointed memories—into a hybrid of parallel stories that gently, yet powerfully weave themselves quite naturally into a gorgeous tapestry of true events and a detailed mapping of Maud’s thought process.

The reader is not only able to piece together the fragments of Maud’s version of events into a fairly cohesive plot and form of understanding, but also decode a subtle movement and pacing of events that divulge themselves seamlessly into the mystery that is the foundation of the novel.

The disconnect between memories also act as a transformative time loop in the story where the narrator, Maud, flows in thought from her present to her past quite fluidly, unaware that her mind has unconsciously shifted from a present moment to a historical one. This ever-present narrative accentuates not only the severity of the character’s illness, but emphasizes the strong, emotional reality these memories pose for the character, and the direct intimacy readers are invited in to witness firsthand through its traumatic drama and first-person narrative.

As readers are consistently bewildered by the disorientation and anxiety felt by Maud as she desperately tries to retrace her thoughts into some kind of cohesive understanding and certainty, the loss of her memory is the battle that dictates and demands the constant disruption of her daily life and those she affects by her perpetuated wanderings, her verbal errors, her uprooting of plants, and painful memories.

But, Maud’s lamentations aren’t without logic. They make perfect sense to her. And it’s often revealed to the reader that the characters who support her also do a great job in misinterpreting what she means when she speaks. If only her internal dialogue would voice itself out loud, rather than betray her by remaining silent, which could essentially give others a better understanding of how one of her thoughts leads to another especially to those who dismiss her mind as one that is hopelessly broken.

Her memory of the past is often intricately detailed that the reader may wonder how the true nature of Alzheimer’s actually works. Maud’s recollection of her past without her awareness of it, propels the reality and trauma of it to the forefront of the story, regardless of whether or not her supporting cast is aware of it.

And what reaches the present is a revealing history indeed. One in which the reader is introduced to Maud’s tolerant, yet heartbroken parents, who at the trauma of the sudden disappearance of her older sister, Sukey, overwhelms the dynamic of their relationship to one another.

There is Douglas, their young lodger whose friendship with Sukey rivals Sukey’s passionate and shady husband, Frank. Between the two characters, Maud is young and coy enough at the time to keep a close eye on both of them in relation to her sister’s disappearance during post-war Britain. But, Maud’s recollection, though vividly haunting, shift randomly into questionable half-truths partly because of her perception and adamant personality—partly because of her diminishing memory.

Added to this cast of real characters, is the woman in black, better known as the Mad Woman, whose restless wandering, peeking into windows, and picking at bushes with nothing more than her babbling and black umbrella (according to Maud), is the intriguing and mysterious woman who greatly resembles Maud herself in future tense.

Together these characters spell out for Maud, a traceable line to the traumatic events that haunt her—the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, and her close friend, Elizabeth, for which this novel is named.

The narrative and Maud’s internal dialogue is an enlightening, yet haunting stream of consciousness that rushes out at the trigger of a thought and flows and ebbs as a tide does in returning and leaving its shore, a mental diadem that seduces its reader to not only care about this character and her plight, but to also easily navigate through the story’s clues, much like the scraps of paper Maud must collect for herself as written clues that propagate her next, vital step. The result? Content that is beautiful, endearing, and literary.

The pacing of the novel is perfectly timed, a story that lays down its foundation in the richness of Maud’s narrative and displacement, and then easily moves into a depth that uncovers more truth about Maud’s story surrounding the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, and her close friend, Elizabeth, even while Maud’s own memory dissipates and her condition worsens. It is as if the story must climax and come full-circle as does Maud’s mind needs to completely unravel.

As eloquent as the writing is, it’s the plot that will beguile its readers into misdirection as much as perhaps does Maud’s own memory pathway that diverges into a fringe of intimacy and vividness, yet skepticism. But, by the end of the novel, the mystery of Sukey, of Elizabeth, of each character’s role in the mystery surrounding their absence, will compel readers to applaud Emma Healey’s deft pen and ingenuity.

Elizabeth Is Missing is a masterful elegy to beloved victims, to the fascinating myriad of the mind, and the ruthless power of the gain and loss of autonomy—and memory. This book is absolutely riveting, a novel literary enthusiasts will not want to miss, nor forget.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - small

***

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with a copy of Elizabeth Is Missing Swimming in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

emma healey***

Emma Healey grew up in London, England, where she completed her first degree in bookbinding (learning how to put books together before learning how to write them), which she followed with an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She now lives in Norwich. Elizabeth Is Missing is her first novel.

***

Links:

You can find more information on Emma on her official website.

You can connect with Emma on Twitter.

You can be her fan on Goodreads.

***

Do you know someone who is affected with or by Alzheimer’s?

How do you think you would feel if you started to lose your memory?

Is memory a fundamental part of our identity? Without it, do we then lose our identity?

What do you think is the most frightening thing about losing your memory?

If you have not yet read, Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healey, what do do you think happened to Elizabeth?

***

zara cat stamp

Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

07.07.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 summer house with swimming pool***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Herman Koch

Format: Hardcover, 394 pages

Publisher: Hogarth

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3881-9

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high-profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.

It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.

- From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch is a dark, family drama that centers its story around the events that take place during a hesitant, yet preplanned family vacation between Dr. Marc Schlosser, his striking wife, Caroline, and their two lovely daughters, Julia and Lisa, with newly made friends: a famous actor, Ralph Meier, and his attractive wife, Judith, a successful film director, Stanley Forbes, and his young and pretty girlfriend, Emmanuelle, at the Meier’s summer home on the Mediterranean.

The strength of this novel is largely based on the pessimistic realism voiced in the first-person narrative by its main character, Marc Schlosser, who in his brutal honesty entices the reader into a relationship of interest and trust, as well as infuse the novel with a dark humour and a surprising psychological insight into the thoughts of a general male practitioner in the medical field. While doctors are held accountable by the Hippocratic Oath they take as healthcare professionals, what’s eerily disturbing about the reader’s discovery while delving deeper into the novel is the nature in which Dr. Marc Schlosser’s logic and discernment stems from a complete lack of integrity for the oath which he and other doctors are bound to by ethical and moral standards. While this seems on the surface, uncomfortably funny, the underside of this kind of psychology is quite terrifying. It begs the fearful question posed by vulnerable patients—“Is this what my doctor really thinks about?”

While the novel isn’t as largely character-driven as other books, readers get enough of a glimpse of personality through the book’s plot and dialogue. The characters themselves aren’t nearly as substantial as I would like as a reader, but the dialogue in the book is excellently convincing, which helps to make the book extremely readable.

Characters like Caroline, Marc’s trusting wife, is a camping enthusiast, the obvious worrier between both parents, and deemed the more natural disciplinarian towards their two young daughters, Julia and Lisa. Caroline is also physically attractive, enough to unintentionally claim the voyeuristic attention of the famous actor and new friend, Ralph Meier.

Judith, on the other hand, Ralph’s wife, while seemingly more uptight in the way she believes her household should be run, or how her husband and children should act, is surprisingly more open when it comes to her beliefs on monogamy.

And while Ralph is the most gregarious character in the novel, a man who doesn’t shy away from openly objectifying women, he is sexually confident and open as he is considered naturally extroverted and charming.

Stanley, a well-known film director is overly confident about his influential power and is able to easily woo a young girl nearly 35 years his junior into being his partner. His confidence, too, reveals his tendency for aggression, hypocrisy, and perversion when faced with getting what he desires.

Like most of Koch’s work, his characters usually appear to be quite different than they actually are and reveal themselves to be deeply flawed when faced with serious conflict.

While the plot is not as harsh or as controversial as his previous novel, The Dinner, its internal dialogue reveals a dark and disturbing truth, one that explores the lengths in which someone is willing to go in harming another person in retribution. Koch’s works are compelling in that his plots together with his dialogue and narrative, work together to provoke his readers into shock, even repulsion at the lack of at least one of his character’s empathy and ethical compass.

And while readers may tend to judge one character over another, in Koch’s work, the true culprit is usually the one readers believe to be the least guilty.

And what is most surprising about the plot is the cause of one of the character’s call to violence when readers may be led to believe the source to be quite different. This is what makes this novel not only readable, but interesting.

But, the novel does not only question the ethical motives of its characters, it also in its intelligent way, undermines the presumptions of its readers and poses even broader questions:

  • What is worse—the doctor with a poor bedside manner, but ethical standards who cares deeply about the welfare of his/her patients?
  • Or the doctor who is superficially social and understanding, yet a hypocrite, and could care less about the health and care of his/her patients?
  • Who is worse—the man who openly and lustfully looks at a woman and/or a number of different women, or the man who commits adultery?
  • Who’s more at fault when a sexual conflict arises? The sexual predator or the seducer?
  • Who is worse—the rapist or the murderer?
  • What are the boundaries of family? Friendship? Forgiveness? Revenge?

Summer House with Swimming Pool is a book that exemplifies how the judgement of another can be made far worse when a sobering look at oneself is dismissed entirely, and how a bad and misinformed attitude can only lead to even worse choices—ones that can undoubtedly, if unchecked, bring about the most harm.

This book at most is a testimony to passion running amuck and pride racing itself to dangerous power, one that escalates into violence and deception—a vacation most parties would rather blot out of their itinerary altogether.

Its dark humour will bring you at odds with your own presumptions. The calculated, immoral precision of one of its characters will terrify you—and may warn you against the danger of how taking one small step in the wrong direction can lead you quite quickly into a number of steps that delve you right into the quicksand of immorality.

And unfortunately, there is no such doctor, nor prescription that can save anyone that suffers that affliction. At least, not in this novel anyway.

As for me, I’m best reminded to mind who I decide to become friends with, which vacation I should or should not plan nor participate in—and when visiting my family physician for a serious ailment, ensure I’m wise enough to get a second opinion.

 

***

Characters: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallrsz_1rsz_one-half

***

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Hogarth for providing me with a copy of Summer House with Swimming Pool  in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/
From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/

***

Herman Koch is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in 25 countries and was an international bestseller. He currently lives in Amsterdam.

- From bio found in novel.

***

Links:

You can learn more about Herman Koch on Wikipedia.

You can become Herman Koch’s fan on Goodreads.

***

Have you read any of Herman Koch’s novels? If so, what do you enjoy the most about them?

How wise is it, do you think, a family should go on vacation with newly made friends?

Do you ever wonder what your own family physician really thinks when you visit him or her?

How far do you think people should go in protecting their family?

Is revenge ever the right answer? If so, when? And who decides?

Answer one of the questions I provided in my review.

***

zara cat stamp

Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014

07.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For my children, June 27 was the last day of school—the day when the bell marks one of the most anticipated moments in a child’s memory—the transition from end-of-school-year to the full freedom of summer vacation.

Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The whole family with Michael's Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The whole family with Michael’s Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

And now we’re here, a full two months of summer freedom, the opportunity to sleep late and sleep in, endless events to choose from, activities and crafts, and lots of free play. As a parent, it can be daunting to try to plan an entire summer that will not only entertain your children, but also keep education involved in their activities without making them feel like they’re back in school.

One great opportunity is to participate in the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014, hosted by a number of public libraries within the GTA.

Parents can sign their children up online at their local library, receive a membership ID number for future login, an activity booklet, a reading log book, a page of stickers, and the encouragement to keep reading throughout the summer.

For every two books read and logged online, equals an entry into a ballot to win a number of prizes hosted by the local library running the summer reading club. Members can win a Chapters Gift Card and an ice cream scoop from Baskin Robbins. A prize is also awarded to each club member who completes the 15 book challenge.

At the end of the summer, club members who have logged at least two books will be entered into the final grand prize draw for a chance to win a Kobo Arc!

Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

It’s a great motivator to keep your children eager and interested in reading all summer long with an opportunity for them to create their own, personal reading goals. It’s also a great way to keep record of the books your children have read.

As of today, both my children have been logging in the books they’ve read so far (my son tallies at six books and my daughter tallies at five) since they have both signed up for the program.

Here’s to summer—and all the great books to be read!

***

If you have children, are they participating in a summer reading program?

Which books are you looking forward to sharing with the children in your life?

Have you heard of the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club? Do you think you will enroll your children in the club?

***

zara cat stamp

Happy Birthday Canada—and Michael!

07.01.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The first of July is always a special day for our family, not only as proud Canadians, but as grateful parents.

Ten years ago to the day, I had my own set of fireworks—in labour. My son was born at 6:18 p.m. at 25 weeks and fought to survive at a mere 1 lb. and 8 oz. It was for him, a full three months in hospital, full intubation, and a number of life-threatening close calls.

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

***

For the first four years of his young and fragile life, he suffered chronic lung disease, battling an incessant case of severe asthma attacks, having to visit our local hospital with a worrying amount of frequency and unfortunate familiarity. He had at his disposal a number of neonatologists and specialists interested in his care, a miracle baby who could provide statistics and current results to their medical and neonatalogical studies.

Ten years later, while the frequency in which he visits the hospital has largely decreased, colds and influenza still pose a threat as a main trigger to my son’s asthma.

Yet, he’s thrived as a young boy and we’re grateful that he’s reached this important milestone.

He’s a recent graduate from Grade 4; a thoughtful, creative, and active boy; one who loves to read books everyday; one who cares enough about the environment to help protect and care for it by actively reminding others to recycle products or participate in conserving energy; an obedient boy, but a talkative and extremely social one, too; one who loves to greet people he sees in passing, or to make new friends he meets at the park.

michael reading
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

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

***

Aside from loving to ride his bicycle, or playing with his younger sister outside, he’s obsessed with collecting LEGO minifigures and creating LEGO structures inspired by his active imagination.

(c) Michael's LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Michael’s LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

It’s with great pride and gratefulness that we wish our son, our miracle baby, a very happy 10th birthday—one he shares with Canada every year!

Michael's 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael’s 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.

***

 Do you know anyone who was born at high risk and extremely premature?

Are you Canadian? How did you celebrate Canada Day on July 1st?

If you are Canadian, what do you love most about being Canadian?

***

zara cat stamp

 

 

 

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

06.23.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It’s been a few days into our official summer, which means as the summer vacation nears as does the higher temperatures, we’re all afforded the privilege of being outside.

Wherever I am, especially when I’m out, I rarely fail to bring a book with me—just in case. For those moments I’m left waiting—waiting for a bus, waiting in line, or waiting in a reception room. Or for that unexpected moment when I spot a quiet place like a corner table at my favourite cafe, or a bench under a large oak tree. These are not bookish clichés, but real places in which I savour reading.

And so, summer really is the best time for me to stock up on my personal book collection. Even if it means bursting my budget to its already-tight-and-stretched-out-seams.

That said, I, nor this blog would exist, nor be called bibliotaphic if this wasn’t my compulsion—I mean, disposition.

Here’s how The Bibliotaphe Closet has been stuffed this week:

Books for Review:

A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of The Quick by Lauren Owen for review.

The Quick by Lauren Owen

quick***

A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

a girl is a half-formed thing***

Books I (Busted My Wallet Out For) Bought:

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

plain truth***

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

my sister's keeper***

Waking the Dead by John Eldridge

waking the dead***

The Salesman by Joseph O’Connor

salesman***

Who By Fire by Diana Spechler

who by fire***

Astrid & Veronicka by Linda Olsson

astrid and veronicka***

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

heart is a lonely hunter***

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

city of falling angels***

At the Full and Change of the Moon by Dionne Brand

at the full and change of the moon

Open City by Teju Cole

open city***

Mr g by Alan Lightman

mr g***

The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck

secret book of frida kahlo***

The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward

fecund's melancholy daughter***

Entice by Jessica Shirvington

entice***

Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

children of the jacaranda tree***

Books I Won:

A special thanks to Penguin Canada for a copy of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, which I won through a Twitter contest.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

truth about the harry quebert affair***

Of all the books listed above, which ones are you most interested in reading?

What does your Summer TBR book list look like?

Did you receive any new books for your collection this week?

***

zara cat stamp

Waiting on Wednesday

06.18.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Week of June 23, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

signature of all things***

Fairy Tales from Around the World by Andrew Lang

fairy tales from around the world***

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everything i never told you***

Week of July 7. 2014

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronical Roth

four***

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

close your eyes hold hands***

Week of July 14, 2014

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

book of life***

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron

bone orchard***

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

valley of amazement***

Which of the above books are you most interested in reading?

If you could choose only one book to buy this month, which book would it be?

What’s on your Beach Bag TBR List?

***

zara cat stamp

Provincial Ontario Election: Why Your Vote Still Counts

06.12.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It may be the 41st Provincial General Election today where each Ontario resident has the opportunity to exercise his/her right to vote today, June 12—but that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily been afforded an easy or clear choice.

I went to the polls early this morning after I dropped off my children at school and found myself anxious when faced with the ballot not because I’ve never voted before, but because I was still very much undecided about who to vote for.

I did my research, assessing each point and comparing every issue across political platforms. I even went so far as to rate and tally those issues I not only agreed with, but prioritized. In the end, I was surprised to see which party I actually leaned towards in issues I hoped would be addressed should that particular party come to power.

Still, when faced with the ballot today, I hesitated. I scanned the candidates’ names, those who I was already familiar with, those I had watched on television during electoral debates.

My difficulty remained between choosing the party with the most political issues in its platform that I agreed with and prioritized—yet not entirely trusting the party itself to ensure its promises would actually be delivered.

Or choosing the party with whom I have trusted in the past due to its choices based on integrity and character, and shared, fundamental beliefs—but disliking its political priorities as outlined in its platform.

What I was expecting and hoping for was an alternative on the ballot—an opportunity to “decline my vote,” rather than avoid the polls entirely, in order to send the message to the provincial government that I’m unhappy with the current political choices afforded me at this time—but when I went to the polling station and received my ballot, an opportunity to “decline my vote” was not available.

And while I did my duty as a voting citizen of Ontario today, I have to admit that once I dropped my ballot into the ballot box, I was neither entirely pleased with the choices given me, nor confident in the result of my choice.

I walked away from the polling station with disappointment and a political apathy that I haven’t experienced in this country before.

But, rather than complain about the potential irrelevance of politics and the power it can often times abuse, I thought it more important to vote anyway.  At least vote in such a way that I’m well-informed about platform points and my choices.

Perhaps you’ve attested to loyalty towards a particular party because you have always considered yourself part of this party’s camp. Perhaps you’re indifferent to politics, unaware of the true power of your right to vote. Perhaps you’ve been in this country for a number of years and with the number of disappointments and scandals, which have revealed themselves from poor judgement all the way to political corruption, you’ve decided you’ve given up with the political process altogether and you’re simply apathetic. Perhaps you just need a little nudge and reminder to vote.

Regardless of your political viewpoint, it’s best to vote well-informed.

To see a great comparison list between political platforms, please visit the CBC webpage for more details.

And then go out there and vote—your vote still counts towards the end result.

Be sure to bring your election card and photo I.D. to your closest polling station.

***

Have you voted today for the Provincial Ontario Election?

Do you know the candidates in your riding and who you will be voting for?

Do you believe a ballot that includes an opportunity for voters to “decline” their vote is necessary and/or useful? Why or why not?

***

zara cat stamp

 

 

Beauty Review: Bijou Nails & Spa

06.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The season went from a long, harsh winter iced with a polar vortex straight into a non-existent spring that quickly dived into summer. Though it’s not technically summer yet, the heat and humidity has called out the sunscreen—and the sandals out of boxes from the basement.

Sandal season means pedicure season. At least it does for me. While I’m madly obsessed with nail polish (I recently downsized my collection to 239 bottles), I’m not really a salon girl. I don’t require the privilege of monthly salon appointments. I don’t even grow my fingernails long because I have two young children running about the house who keep me extremely busy—and my nails unkempt.

I do, however, try to start the summer with a fresh mani-and-pedi. If I can’t maintain it for the entire year, or even the summer, I forgive myself quickly and opt for an infrequent treatment. It’s the least I can do for the public—and my feet.

(Let’s be serious, ladies—it is absolutely gross to see neglected toes, the ones ruined with fungus, cuticle overgrowth, and faded polish peeking out of sandals in the summer! Those who agree with me can put their pretty, little, manicured hands up in the air, yes? Yes.)

And so, today, I opted to submit myself and my feet to a little, but much-deserved spoiling—okay, maybe not spoiling, but rigorous maintenance. It was like taking a jalopy into the shop hoping for a brand new car.

If anything, I felt the most compassion towards the nail technician. She looked like she broke a sweat—or a vein—scrubbing dead skin and callouses off my feet. It was a flurry of the first-time-pedicure-of-the-season-kind-of-gross. And I mean, gross.

But, we both smiled through the awkward embarrassment of it. My toes and her tip counted on it. Which leads me to this review post. I don’t usually post reviews on beauty salons, but my experience at Bijou Nails & Spa was superb that I couldn’t pass it up.

The salon located on 131 Main Street North in Brampton, south of Church, is an aesthetically pleasing spa with a chandelier to greet you in the foyer above the welcome desk and two racks of high quality nail lacquer brands such as O.P.I., China Glaze, and Essie, though I was disappointed not to see some of my favourite nail lacquers from Butter London, Zoya, or Orly.  (Trust me when I say I’m a nail polish lover.)

Nevertheless, I arrived shortly after the salon opened at 11:15 a.m., which I highly suggest patrons do. There were only two customers without the fuss, wait, or noise associated with busy peak times.

The salon is owned and run by a Korean family, while the majority of staff is also from Korea. What was wonderfully pleasant compared to other Asian-run salons that I’ve been to in the past was the quiet demeanor of the staff and the pure, relaxing environment in which I had my nails done.

The staff did not chatter amongst each other, nor yell across the room while working. They each focused on the task at hand, which was much more than just a manicure and pedicure—but creating and ensuring the environment was one in which patrons can ultimately relax and enjoy being pampered.

I was so pleased.

The decor, furniture, salon equipment, and tools all appeared to not only be aesthetically beautiful, but also new, while the salon itself was exceptionally clean. Not only did the nail technicians not talk amongst each other while working, which ensured some peace and quiet, but the music heard throughout the salon was also tranquil and at a volume that created an extremely relaxing atmosphere. I could have shut my eyes and blissfully took a nap. I almost did, but was curious to see how well the technicians would work on my mani-pedi. Yes, it was that relaxing.

The workmanship of the nail technicians were excellent, too. They didn’t rush, but paid special attention to the specific needs of my hands and feet. It wasn’t as if they were going through the step-by-step motions of what is included in the mani-pedi package like most salons do. They were thorough and attentive, willing to work hard at getting my hands, feet, and nails where they needed to be—perfect.

Not only were they thorough and attentive, but also precise. While they worked diligently, they also worked beautifully. My hands and feet have not felt—or looked—this good in a long time.

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

***

What’s even better is that the salon is currently hosting a summer special: a manicure and pedicure package for only $30. That’s tough to beat at a high-end salon.

If you’re in the area and would like a truly professional manicure and pedicure, be sure to drop by  Bijou Nails & Spa. I trust you won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t and will be sure to return next month for another manicure and pedicure.

For more details on hours and service, you can visit the Bijou Nails & Spa website.

***

* Disclaimer*

I was not compensated in any way for this beauty review. The opinions in this review are solely my own based on my one-time visit, June 4, 2014.

 ***

What kind of service do you expect when you visit a nail salon?

Have you ever visited Bijou Nails & Spa at the Main Street North location in Brampton? What did you think?

What other nail salons would you highly recommend?

Have you ever tried shellac?

What is your favourite nail lacquer brand / colour?

Was this beauty review helpful?

***

zara cat stamp

Book Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

06.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

ruby

***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Cynthia Bond

Format: Hardcover, 344 pages

Publisher: Hogarth

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3909-0

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at,” has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city–the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village–all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby Bell finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom’s Juke, to Celia Jennings’s kitchen where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man’s dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

- From Chapters Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond is a devastatingly rich, provocative, and beautifully written, haunting novel about the secret darkness that can envelop not only an individual, but infect an entire town in a story centered around two powerful characters: Ephram Jennings and Ruby Bell.

Locked together in the desolation of poverty, a dark and traumatic childhood, and the fervour of malicious gossip, Ephram and Ruby must both battle a litany of demonic forces in their lives in a small southern town called Liberty. But, liberty isn’t what they find in the struggles they come against, their histories a dark and throbbing suffering that affects their thoughts and inhibitions.

The book’s narrative is so strong and true that its testimony to realism gives the reader not only the imagination to hear the characters, but to also see and vividly imagine who they are as if in the narrative itself. The language is as beautiful as it is sharp in its edges, its poetic cadences as pastoral as the land it describes, and its heartache, and suffering as palpable as wounds themselves:

“Them lawman drag her out to that hill past Marion Lake. It musta been then they slide on they white hoods. The moon, is was nearly full and bright. From up there Neva musta been able to see her daddy’s land. All them fresh-harvested acres. Maybe that’s where she fix her eyes while Klux keep her out there for hours—doin’ what God ain’t got the muscle to look at.

Then, when they was done, out there on that hilltop, time stretch itself out like molasses. Crickets slow they crik. Owl drag her ‘hoo’s’ That’s when Sheriff Levy click the safety off that Remington Sport rifle of his—the one he brag on so, its barrel catching a piece of moon. Then each every man take his firearm to his shoulder and aim at that child. What they see through them deluxe ta’get sights they think need shootin’? Only Neva Annetta Bell. Eighteen and a half year old. Knees on the dirt. Her hope broke like water round the edges of her skirt. But them the kind use to firing into gentle things.” – p.68

Bond creates a myriad of powerful characters whose private sufferings not only adds more substance and interest to the novel, but also creates a deeper complexity to the characters themselves where judgement by the reader is not so readily made since the experiences and hardships suffered by these characters cannot entirely justify their failings, but help reiterate a better understanding of them instead.

Characters like Gubber Samuels, a man whose long history with Ephram, affords him a sentimental loyalty, yet an equally soft spine when faced with pressure from the mob of the Liberty township.

The self-taught toughness of Maggie Wilkins, protective friend of young Ruby Bell, whose tomboy haughtiness, hot-tempered anger, and fearless brawling all create and call a protective net over Ruby’s life for a time, but also danger and eventually death for Maggie, herself.

The self-entitlement, ego, and lust of Chauncy Rankin, lead him down the dark path of immorality since he was reared by example to believe that true strength can only stem from violence.

The overbearing manipulation and control of Ephram by his older, unmarried sister, Celia Jennings, whose severe self-righteousness and maternal domesticity stems from the trauma of losing, first, her father to death by the Klu Klux Klan, and then her brother who she raised as a son, to another woman against her wishes.

Reverend Jennings, whose pastoral charisma first charms Otha Daniels into a quick and deceptive marriage, sours into an unimaginable, patriarchal tyrant, a violent leader who paralyzes Otha and Ephram into distrustful subservience, frustrated fear, and further self-deprecatory introversion, only to reveal an even darker past and hypocrisy.

Ruby Bell, in which the novel is named, is Liberty’s isolated and misunderstood beauty, the granddaughter of Papa Bell, a thriving cotton farmer until the demise of his strawberry blonde daughter, Ruby’s aunt, Neva Annetta Bell, whose exceptional beauty unintentionally seduced Peter Leech, not only the Viceroy of the First National Bank, but a white man, whose physical obsession compelled him to want to leave his wife and children—and led Neva onto a hill and her eventual death after unnameable torture by 11 men of the Klu Klux Klan.

Ruby inherited the tragedy of her bloodline, its sexual violence, and corruption seeded from men’s lust for possession and power. Along with that, a maddening gift of sight that opens the door between this and the spiritual world of haints, gris-gris, and the Dybou.

And lastly, Ephram Jennings, a man of gentleness and quiet goodness, whose suffered childhood trauma does not deter him from moral strength and understanding. Though considered having castrated his manhood to the whims of his domineering sister, he is able to finally bring enough courage to walk past the emotional memory associated with the Dearing State Mental Hospital, the social degradation and hopelessness of Bloom’s Juke, to the secrets of Marion Lake and the forest on Bell Land, to finally make it to the Chinaberry Tree outside of Ruby Bell’s house filled with the filthy squalor of neglect from the hallucinatory suffering and anguish of old haunts.

The plot is as powerful as the characters who must navigate through it, with its eloquent hardship, its thoughtful realism and detail, its graphic history, and unsettling surprises and interconnectedness. It’s complexity is as rich as its lyrical narrative, traumatic obstacles, and spiritual drama. Its pacing, too, is perfect—a gradual ease into the lives of these characters, who in time come to reveal the makeup of their sordid pasts and cumulative sufferings that subsequently drive them into the darkness of themselves.

It is an exceedingly creative, abrasive, yet beautiful book, one that renders its light on the wonder and dark of the mystical, the infestation of racial hatred and crime, the audacity of sexual perversion and power, the true identity of evil and madness, and the strength of vulnerability, perseverance, and love. Ruby by Cynthia Bond is truly a magnificent book, one that will move you to contempt—and compassion.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - small

***

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Hogarth for providing me with a copy of Ruby in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

cynthia bond

***

Cynthia Bond has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwester University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond works as a writing consultant and teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center.  A native of East Texas, she lives in Lose Angeles with her daughter.

-From novel, Ruby

***

Links:

Connect with Cynthia through her Official Website.

***

What do you think it really means to be righteous?

Have you read the novel, “Ruby?” Who is your favourite, most compelling character and why?

Do you believe in spirits? Why or why not?

Do you believe in mystical, occult practices?

What do you think the “Dybou” is?

***

zara cat stamp

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

06.02.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It’s been a while since I’ve last published a post on the new books that have been added to my collection. But, since then I’ve been privileged to receive a number of great works of literary fiction—books I have been waiting to buy and read. And so, I’m also looking forward to this year’s summer TBR list where I have a few months to fully indulge in some much-awaited down-time dedicated solely to reading!

Here is how The Bibliotaphe Closet has grown:

Books for Review:

A special thank you to Random House of Canada for providing me with a number of books to review for May and June 2014:

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

lobster kings***

Crimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards

crimes against my brother***

Smoke River by Krista Foss

smoke river***

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

summer house with swimming pool***

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

elizabeth is missing***

Books I Bought:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

behind the beautiful forevers***

Books I Won:

A special thank you to Harlequin for sending me an ARC of Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan through a Goodreads Contest Giveaway.

empire girls***

A special thank you to Penguin Canada for a copy of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki through a Twitter Contest Giveaway.

a tale for the time being***

Books I Received As Gifts:

A special thanks to my husband for taking the time to buy me a few books that have been on my wish list for our 13th anniversary:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

orenda***

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

boy snow bird***

Of the titles listed above, which book are you most interested in reading?

Which book do you think I should read next?

How has your book collection grown this week?

***

zara cat stamp

Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.