Tag Archives: review

Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

08.17.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 word exchange cvr
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Category: Contemporary Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Author: Alena Graedon

Format: Hardcover, 374 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-68013-4

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

In the not so distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order take out at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called The Word Exchange.
Anana Johnson works with her father Doug at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or video-conference) to communicate–or even actually spoke to one another for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana”s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole. . .
Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague (who is secretly in love with her), Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark basement incinerator rooms, underground passages of the Mercantile Library, secret meetings of the anonymous “Diachronic Society,” the boardrooms of the evil online retailing site Synchronic, and ultimately to the hallowed halls of the Oxford English Dictionary–the spiritual home of the written word. As Ana pieces together what is going on, and Bart gets sicker and sicker with the strange “Word flu” that has spread worldwide causing people to speak in gibberish, Alena Graedon crafts a fresh, cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller, and a thoughtful meditation on the price of technology and the unforeseen, though very real, dangers of the digital age.

- From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is essentially a desperate letter of advocacy and love to the masses in its homage and sentimentality towards the written, printed, and verbal word. This dystopian novel is one in which its people are not only addicted to their technological devices, they are deeply integrated with them that the technology used itself necessitates and controls their daily functions with its ability to sense its users’ moods and desires.

One such device known as a Meme is so intuitive, it can order its user’s dinner or hail a cab on his or her behalf before asked, so intuitive in fact, that it can function this way even before its user is even consciously aware of his or her own desires.

With its mass use, its function is not only the normally acceptable form of communication, but an integral part of this dystopia’s lifestyle—until a new device is manufactured, the Nautilus, a semi-biological technological device that omits the necessity of hardware connective wiring and instead directly connects to the synopsis of the human brain by delivering input and output through neurons.

The result? An unexpected epidemic in the form of inexplicable headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, and a severe dysfunction in the processing of language through verbal slips, which eventually results in its worst cases—death.

The only people wary of technology’s cyber-attack on language, in particular, the printed word—and more specifically—the last remnants of the printed dictionaries such as the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), is a secretive and underground group called The Diachronic Society, whose mission is to warn people against the over-indulgent use of Memes and technology in general, while informing the public of its potential dangers in light of the symptoms ravaging the international community, as well as preserve what is left of language in print and its vital connections to our history and past.

What you get is a highly active, tense, and mysterious plot that centers around the disappearance of Anana’s father, Doug, the managing editor at The Dictionary, an active advocate of what is considered to be antiquarian and archaic forms of communication: photographs, art, books, and a pioneer in his distrust and prophetic view of the dangers of absolute technological use of the Aelph, the Meme, and the Nautilus.

The main characters, too, are rich in their respective connection to language.

Anana, a lover of words and words in print, but also an active user and believer in the use of her Meme, is almost as clingy to her boyfriend, Max, as she is to the use of technology—which both prove to be as dangerous to her emotional well-being as to her declining health.

Bart, a wonderfully academic and intelligent man, authoritative in his philosophical beliefs about language, its origins, its connection to history, its importance and metaphorical similarities to love.

Max, an egocentric, equally handsome, ambitious, and charming man whose business aspirations are as steep, self-indulgent, and misguided as his ethics, which secures him a manipulative and vain position as CEO of the new technological company called, Hermes, which merges a dangerous deal with the tech monster, Synchronic.

Together along with secondary characters—Dr. Thwaite, Victoria Mark, Vera, Laird, Vernon, Johnny Lee, Floyd—to name a few, create a devastatingly fast and quickly diminishing narrative, with words like, Jenda, exteen, ren, codalisk, zvono, kehzo, slank, konranm dazh, ooloochbu, words that prove the confusion and severe danger of language deterioration on a personal and communal level.

This fear-inciting book and cautionary tale of technological abuse is intelligently written to showcase our potential demise if we don’t guard ourselves against the potential addiction and dependency on online technological devices and the dangers of eventual extermination of print, language, thought, and memory.

If you’re a lover of words and language, and an advocate of the gift of literary privilege, reading, and books in print, this language dystopian novel is one you will readily empathize with and be glad, if not encouraged to continue your active enjoyment of literary pursuits. You might even consider yourself akin to belonging to the elusive, yet fictionally growing membership of the Diachronic Society.

Until then, let’s hope this dystopian novel is cautionary enough to prevent a potential epidemic of a language lost.

Until then, keep reading!

***

Characters: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3.5 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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

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About the Author:

alena graedon

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Alena Graedon was born in Durham, NC, and is a graduate of Carolina Friends School, Brown University, and Columbia University’s MFA program. She was Manager of Membership and Literary Awards at the PEN American Center before leaving to finish The Word Exchange, her first novel, with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies. Her writing has been translated into nine languages. She lives in Brooklyn.

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Links:

Like Alena on Facebook

Be Alena’s fan on Goodreads

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How dependent are you on your electronic devices? Your mobile phone? Your iPad? The Internet? Online social communities?

Do you think there is a substantial possibility of society moving away from the printed word to an eventual dependency on electronic technology as a form of communication?

How do you think we can work together to preserve what is considered to be antiquarian or archaic forms of communication such as photographs, art, books?

Do you agree with the premise of The Word Exchange in the possibility of an epidemic of a “Word Flu?”

How active are you as a reader? Has your way or desire of reading changed? For e.g. reading books in print to reading e-books online or on an e-reader?

What do you think these changes mean for publishing companies?

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zara cat stamp

Book Review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

02.27.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the bear

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Category: Fiction

Author: Claire Cameron

Format: Trade Paperback, 226 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67902-2

Pub Date: February 11, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

The black dog is not scratching. He goes back to his sniffing and huffing and then he starts cracking his bone. Stick and I are huddled tight. . . . It is dark and no Daddy or Mommy and after a while I watch the lids of my eyes close down like jaws.

Told from the point of view of a six-year-old child, The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick–two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.

- From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Bear by Claire Cameron is an emotional story birthed from a real-life event, the tragedy of Raymond Jakubauskas and Carola Frehe in October 1991 on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, two hundred miles northeast of Toronto. The couple who had planned a three-day camping trip never returned, but were attacked and killed by a large male black bear for no apparent rationale other than predation.

The high interest in this novel is not perhaps the tragedy of its plot, but instead the voice of its narrator, young five-year-old Anna, who must navigate a nearly 3,000 square mile of wilderness on her own in care of her much younger brother, Alex, affectionately known and called Stick, who is only two years of age, after the brutal attack on her parents while on a camping trip.

Though I did find the narrative sometimes distracting  and contrived, obvious in its attempt to sound like a five-year-old while some of the plot outcomes were also somewhat unrealistic, the horror of knowing a child so young must be left alone, unattended, lost, and left to fend for not only herself, but also her little brother in answer to abruptly becoming an orphan without full knowledge of this, is painfully harrowing, a force that will coerce almost any reader to continue to read on.

The heart of the book is in its travesty and loss, a child’s lucid memory, her passionate attachments, the immediacy of her self-preservation, the innocence of her deductions, and the way in which children are brutally candid, and exceptionally thoughtful in their awareness, unbashful in their displays of love and affection.

Which is why children are so easily beloved—they are the uncensored selves we as adults painfully grown out of. And why it is equally horrific to witness the news of a child in danger, which is what propels this book forward.

The characters, as seen through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, are shown in the microscopic detail of her plain and honest view from Stick’s incessant stuffed-up breathing, his heavy-set bottom, his two-year-old waddle, and his insatiable love for cookies; to Grandfather’s scent of pipe, the weariness and nostalgia of his sorrow, to the familiarity of his pull-out chair; and the Lipstick Lady’s clinical demeanor and inability to genuinely connect with children, merely capable of one-sided misinterpretation when attempting to analyze Anna’s response to the tragedy of her parents’ deaths.

The plot, too, while at times, slow—not much seems to happen from the onset of the bear attack to the ways in which the children must meander through the wilderness on their own—the details depicted through Anna’s narrative convey the genuine willfulness a child has in trying to obey his or her mother’s last wishes, as well as the natural frustration a child encounters at being given responsibilities that far exceeds his or her abilities.

While some of the plot outcomes seemed far too unrealistic, perhaps my reading felt so, in conjunction with the narrative writing style also failing to consistently seem seamless. And the language sometimes too juvenile to truly represent how a five-year-old girl might respond to such a crisis.

But, the quest to survive as an instinctual need to move forward as much as it is a direct instruction from Anna’s mother to ride in a canoe, take Stick with her, and wait because they will come, is the thriving action in the novel.

Its power seen most clearly in Anna’s love and connection to her teddy bear, Gwen, who she sniffs often for comfort and security; her frustration at carrying the burden of being an older sister when five-years-old is obviously not old enough to be a real babysitter to her baby brother, Stick; and the tenderness and desperation Anna feels in the ideology that she’s created in her mind of belonging to a family of four.

While Anna is the main narrator, it was Stick, whom I felt most empathy for. A two-year-old in the wilderness, naked from the waist down, hungry with only a few cookies, a few berries, and mud water to quench on, feverish and soiled, falling prey to poison ivy, and at the constant mercy of the elements, and a bossy sister whose lack of nurturing could not be blamed any more than could her age—it was Stick, the secondary character in the book, who made my reading plunge into a well of pity and sorrow, intensifying my need for the two children to succeed.

The Bear will certainly alert its readers to the real dangers of the wild, a sobering wake-up call that requires our knowledge and respect of the animal kingdom we so often tend to underestimate and renew our belief in the autonomy and resilience of our children especially when faced with crisis.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Pacing: 2.5 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 2.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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

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About the Author:

claire cameron

Claire Cameron’s first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Authur Ellis Award for best first crime fiction novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario’s Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

- From inside jacket

Links:

You can connect with Claire on her official website.

You can like Claire on Facebook.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

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Imagine yourself as a five-year-old girl or two-year-old boy. What would you do to try to survive in the wilderness without your parents?

Have you ever encountered a bear while on a camping trip? What was your experience like?

Have you read “The Bear” by Claire Cameron yet? What do think of it?

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 01.20.2014

01.20.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet, was birthed from a robust passion for the written word and its printed page. What started as a small collection of three to four books that belonged to a teenager who didn’t have the means to purchase an entire library, a lot of my reading was done through high school English class assignments, public library generosity, and a few finds from local garage sales. By my completion of university with a BA in Creative Writing and English Literature, my book collection grew to a whopping 300 books. As the years passed, the bookstores also grew larger, as did my income, and my consistent love of books. Ten bookshelves later, I’m at a personal best of 3000+ books in my collection.

I then discovered the word, bibliotaphe, which means book hoarder. I’ve moved a total of eight times and while I’ve lost no sleep over selling artifacts on hand through the accessibility of Kijiji, I have always mourned the loss of a good book. I’ve lent some to family members, friends, classmates, never to see them return. I’ve lost a few books while on trips abroad. I’ve even lost books by simply forgetting them at a local café. Which has made me quite vigilant in keeping an up-to-date database of all my “pretties” as I receive them publishers for review, purchase them on my own, or receive them as gifts from my thoughtful, bibliotaphe counterparts.

And what was inspired by the “Stacking the Shelves” blog meme, “Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet” was generated to feature the latest additions to my perpetually growing library.

While others may have “skeletons” in their closets, the only things in mine—are books. Well-loved books.

Here’s this week’s Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet edition. Not a bad start to the New Year.

Books for Review:

books for review - jan 20 2014

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada

for providing me with the following copies for review:

Wonder by Dominque Fortier

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

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I just recently completed a review on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and am thrilled to have received Hollow City, its sequel, in the mail as soon as it hit the bookshelves. I trust it’s just as eerie and imaginative as the original Peregrine story and I can’t wait to turn its pages as soon as I complete my read and review of the translated novel by Dominique Fortier, Wonder, which is what I’m currently reading now. Soon after that, I will be privileged to read All the Broken Things, a tender story about a 14-year-old boy named Bo, a refugee from Vietnam, who lives in a small house in Toronto with his sister, Rose, a girl severely disfigured by the affects of Agent Orange.

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Books I Bought:

books bought Jan 20 2014

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Hellgoing by Lynn Coady, published by Astoria, an imprint of House of Anansi

11/22/63 by Stephen King, published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, published by Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group

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While I’ve read and reviewed a number of Lynn Coady’s work, such as “The Antagonist,” which was nominated for the Giller Prize in 2011, I could not help but cheer for the success of her latest work, Hellgoing, which was not only nominated for the Giller, but its Grand Prize Winner in 2013. As a short story writer, I can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship of the short story, which is the collection held within the pages of Hellgoing and something I look forward to reading as I’ve heard Coady’s ability to create true and humorous dialogue is something to wonder at and applaud.

11/22/63 is a massive mountain of a book, totalling 849 pages in trade paperback, it is not only about the assassination of JFK, but time travel, which are topics King usually steers away from when his usual works feature the darkest of our fears when roused in his works of fiction that belong to the genre of horror. Stephen King is much beloved as he is idolized, a storyteller known to engage his readers in the dark of his stories.

And while I didn’t love Shop Girl, I congratulate Steve Martin for expanding his resume to include “creative writer” when he’s already a famous actor and comedian. Why write unless you actually have a story to tell and a voice to tell it in? And this novel also includes colourful graphics of art reproductions to accompany the story of fine art collecting. This is certainly a book I will check into as soon as I complete a few of my scheduled reviews.

Books I Won:

books won jan 20

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An ARC of Some Thing Real by Heather Demetrios, published by Henry Holt

A copy of Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen, published by Source Books

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I was lucky enough to win a copy of Some Thing Real and Under the Jeweled Sky both from contests on Facebook hosted by the books’ publishers. Thanks to Henry Holy and Source Books for these additions to my collection!

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What does your Bibliotaphe Closet look like this year?

What book are you most looking forward to reading right now?

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

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 12.17.2013

stuffing the bibliotaphe closet avatar - wallpaper

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

12.17.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my book inventory and in the absence of blogging, I’ve lost track of a number of books I have either bought or received from publishers either for review or as prizes. (I think I might be getting coal this year for Christmas.)

That said, I do have books that I just recently received, which I’m more than happy to share with you.

Books for Review:

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

happier at home

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Happiness. Everyone wants it. Not everyone enjoys it. Me? Well, I know I could be happier. What better way to start than at home?

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Anchor Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review. It comes out in paperback on December 31.

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The Start Here Diet by Tosca Reno

start diet

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I’ve always struggled with my weight—except for the time when I was a long-distance runner and a member of my school’s track team. But, it’s been a long time since I’ve pounded the pavement and after two babies and a million donuts later…well…my body isn’t what it should be. That said, I’m grateful to be able to review this book in time for the New Year. I’ll not only get to review it, but maybe be able to shed a few pounds as well. I’m not great with diets (I love my bread and cheese too much), but I have to start somewhere.

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Appetite for sending me a copy of this book for review. It publishes on December 31.

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Prizes I Won:

Iron Man Hulk: Heroes United DVD by Marvel

iron man hulk dvd

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Anything that has to do with LEGO, Transformers, DC, or Marvel, will always grab my attention—for the sake of my awe-inspired and obsessed nine-year-old son. He lives and breathes LEGO, Transformers, DC, and Marvel as if he created these toy/comic brands himself. He absolutely LOVES them. Because of that, I didn’t hesitate to enter a contest hosted by Nickelodeon DVD on Twitter. Lucky me (and my son), I won!

A special thanks to Nickelodeon DVD for this great prize! We both look forward to watching it together over the Christmas holidays.

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What have you found in your Bibliotaphe Closet today?

Are you a DC Comics fan or a Marvel Comics fan? Who do you prefer, Iron Man or Hulk?

***

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 10.21.2013

stuffing the bibliotaphe closet avatar - wallpaper

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

10.21.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This meme “Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet” was inspired by the original meme that I participated in and which many of you may be familiar with: “Stacking the Shelves” hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. My posts will take the format of books and bookish items (including SWAG) that I have:

  • received from publishers and/or authors for review
  • purchased
  • received as a gift or prize through winning a contest

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Books for Review:

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

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A special thank you to Random House of Canada for:

I’m Your Man: My Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons, published October 29, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, published September 24, 2013

The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich, published October 29, 2013

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Books I Bought:

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

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, published September 16, 2009

A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe, published May 29, 2012

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

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, published April 1, 2000

The Film Club by David Gilmour, published September 13, 2007

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

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Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, published February 7, 2012

February by Lisa Moore, published February 1, 2010

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

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Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates, published November 20, 2012

The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy, published April 24, 2012

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Books I Won:

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

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The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich, published March 26, 2013

Worst. Person. Ever. (Galley) by Douglas Coupland, published October 8, 2013

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

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Disappearance of Emily Marr by Louise Candlish, published August 1, 2013

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens, coming February 25, 2014

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

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The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy, coming October 29, 2013

Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, published by Peirene Press

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What bookish goodies did you get this week?

Out of the titles listed above, which ones would you be most interested in reading and why?

***

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Book Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

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Book Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

08.26.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

kiss me first cvr

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Lottie Moggach

Format: Trade Paperback, 312 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67986-2

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

***

Summary from Publisher:

A chilling and intense first novel, this is the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.”

 Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman–because soon, Leila will have to become her.

An ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity, Kiss Me First is brilliantly frightening about the lies we tell–to ourselves, and to others, for good, and for ill.

***

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

Kiss Me First, a debut novel by Lottie Moggach, is a creative and surprising story with a wonderfully original plot about two, very different women:

Leila, young, intelligent, yet fiercely logical, and somewhat sheltered in her experiences that she not only considers herself a social outcast, but is attracted to and driven to the isolation and comfort of the online forums hosted by an addictive, philosophical website called Red Pill.

And Tess, a vibrant, charismatic woman whose hunger for attention only temporarily masks her need for solitude and anonymity, who experiences the severity of both mood-changing symptoms as a result of the extremity found in those with bipolar disorder.

While one woman’s life is too emotionally buoyant that she decides the only way to cope is to commit suicide, another woman’s life is so isolated that she not only considers herself insignificant, but she also seriously considers taking on another person’s identity entirely.

The two women literally connect through the Internet to devise a plan, which suits both their different needs, and in doing so, test the boundaries of what is considered to be morally correct.

The first-person narrative easily reveals the dichotomy of the two women while its readability makes the mysterious plot not only believable, but also well-paced and engaging.

Readers engage the narrative as their own, fully immersing themselves in the characters’ neurosis, empathizing with the realism in which the work is written.

For a debut novel, the writing is convincing: both distinct voices reveal the neurosis the characters inhabit, it reveals the inner workings of bipolar disorder, and the danger of the role technology continues to play in our lives, in how people can prefer to hide or create virtual realities for themselves instead of fully participating in the real world.

While the characters are interesting enough, it’s the creative plot that will reel its readers in—and then twist them about in surprise, from its trip to disease and hospital, to an apartment above an Indian restaurant, to a freestyle commune, the virtual philosophies of Red Pill, to the head space of an online, intimate, and secret romance.

The story blurs the lines between where a person ends and another person begins, and puts to question the autonomy someone has over his or her life, the ethics associated with suicide and euthanasia, and the dangers of isolation, insecurity, and the impressibility of youth, and those who would take advantage of the vulnerable.

Readers may feel conflicted about the choices the characters feel compelled to make, the morality and/or immorality surrounding those choices, and question the ease in which fraud can take place because of society’s trust with online activity and the Internet.

Overall, the book is a wonderful surprise filled with emotional drama, dilemma, and virtual love, and compromise. For anyone who enjoys reading contemporary fiction and is interested in the mystery of bipolar disorder, the moral issues associated with suicide and euthanasia, the subtext of complicated relationships, and the growing immersion of society in technology, and the ease in which people can become prey to their insecurities, The First Kiss, by Lottie Moggach, is a poignant and disturbing novel.

 ***
Characters:  4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada  on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

Lottie Moggach. From Goodreads.
Lottie Moggach. From Goodreads.

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Lottie Moggach is a journalist who has written for The Times, Financial Times, Time Out, Elle, GQ and The London Paper. She lives in north London. Kiss Me First is her first novel.

- From the Goodreads website.

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Links:

Like Lottie on Facebook

Become a fan of Lottie on Goodreads

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Do you feel people should have autonomy over their bodies and lives to the point of allowing and/or encouraging them to commit suicide, should they feel the need to?

How would you feel about impersonating someone else at risk of losing your own identity? Would you or wouldn’t you do it?

How much time do you spend on the Internet? What do you think is a healthy/unhealthy amount of time to spend on the Internet?

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Book Review: A Consellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

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Book Review:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

06.17.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

constellation of vital phenomena

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Anthony Marra

Format: Trade Paperback, 388 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-307-36262-9

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

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Summary from publisher:

A novel of unflinching honesty, gutting humanity, haunting detail, and beautiful, raw hope dangling like a bare bright light in a basement.

A haunting novel set in a nearly abandoned hospital in war-torn Chechnya that is both intimate and ambitious in scope. Eight-year-old Havaa, Akhmed, the neighbour who rescues her after her father’s disappearance, and Sonia, the doctor who shelters her over 5 dramatic days in December 2004, must all reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness which unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.

In his bold debut, Anthony Marra proves that sometimes fiction can tell us the truth of the world far better, and far more powerfully, than any news story. You will not forget the world he creates–A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and its characters will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

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Book review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is deceptively a debut novel, which reads with the maturity and mastery of an eloquent and superbly gifted writer.

The plot, while sometimes serendipitous, lasts no more than five days, while the breadth of the story spans a rich history of seven people, even within the deplorable and harsh cruelties of the civil war that occurred in Chechnya, Russia during the 1990s.

While the result of the brutality of war is ever prevalent and graphic in the novel, the voice and tone of the book is reverently sombre, tender in its recollection, and intimate and graceful in its description and metaphor. It’s poetic prose without the self-consciousness of literary narcissism.

Marra creates detail and writes language with perfect precision and an ease that the fundamental ingredients of a beautifully told story is not only natural without being abrasive, it is also brilliantly evocative in its lyrical cadence and infuses the characters and their story with great feeling and depth.

But, make no mistake in underestimating Marra’s novel by restricting its merit to stylistic eloquence and literary genius alone. Even in its eloquent and dramatic title, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and the mystery and lucidity found in the elusive fog of its cover design, both cannot deny the validity of the truth in which the book is grounded.

It is clear, a laborious amount of time was taken to research the historical setting and events that surrounded the Chechen conflict, which not only support the believability of the story in its graphic and creative detail, but also induces a passionate response from its reader, which transforms him from simple voyeur to fully engaged participant who is able to experience the emotional landscape that the book’s realism authentically reinforces especially through its acts of war, torture, and betrayal.

The characters, too, are vivid personalities—ones that you will harbour affection for, others you will abhor and be bewildered by. The dislike of one character does not equate the dislike of a book. It is indifference to characters that turn me away from reading, but in this novel, its character-driven intimacies are the life spark of my connection and passionate response to the complexity of the characters’ horror and the significance of the novel’s story.

I was moved by each one:

Khassan’s dedication to history, his second love to his secret desire, and his accrued disappointment and loneliness that moved him to eventually converse with a pack of dogs.

Dokka’s optimism and generosity of self, in faith toward nomadic refugees, and his equal power and precision with a chess piece as with a plum.

Havaa’s intelligence and precocious thoughtfulness, as well as the secrets kept in her blue, emergency suitcase.

Akhmed’s capacity for goodness in times of disparity and the fluid ease in which he draws portraits to commemorate the lost, the dead, the haunted.

Ramzan’s blind and fearless need for self-preservation, yet his maddening desperation for a father’s love.

Natasha’s absence both in her own life as well as in others, yet her perseverance to survive the most difficult trauma.

And Sonja’s stubborn resilience at the cost of her softer humanity in order to survive the exhaustion and terror of the evidence of casualties of war, and the all-encompassing obsession with the disappearance of her sister.

***

The fluidity in which Marra writes is effortless and melodic. So many sentences in his work transform from the simplicity of description into stark, poetic revelation—and it’s in these lines that the depth of the story is not only intensified, but also made more beautiful.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the novel:

 

He was losing her incrementally. It might be a few stray brown hairs listless on the pillow, or the crescents of bitten fingernails tossed behind the headboard, or a dark shape dissolving in soap. As a web is no more than holes woven together, they were bonded by what was no longer there. – p.63

The things in his life that caused him the most sorrow were the things he’d lived with the longest, and now that everything was falling they became pillars that held him; – p.81

Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it. – p.120

When finished, she opened the doors to he new closet and bureau and felt pleased with her ingenuity. This is how you will survive, she told herself. You will turn the holes in your life into storage space. – p.182

They undressed by degree, a button here, shirtsleeve there, making a show of their shortcomings, their bodies androgynous with deprivation. It was remarkable to trust someone enough to be silly like this. She lay back. It was dark. Her lips found his. – p.321

So much of his marriage was a disappointment—childlessness, ailing health—but they were blessings, now, in the end, when he had to let go. Yet he’d grown to depend on the act of longing….knowing that doubt, like longing, could sustain him. – p.329

 ***

And while I’m an avid reader who has enjoyed the taste of a sampling of good books, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, moved me to awe by its grace and sensitivity, and by the end of the novel, I wept. Its raw intensity and devastation will make you cry out and render you deeply anguished, while its fragility and fight for redemption will convince you to hope.

While I know I am not the first, the second, nor even the third person to read this novel—I am certainly one of a long line of people who have come to believe in its remarkable power to conjure a constellation of its own—and its story is as vital as it is transformative.

Thank you, Mr. Marra. This novel was a privilege to read.

 ***
Characters:  5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

Anthony-Marra-credit-Smeeta-Mahanti-250x375
From Anthony Marra’s Official Website. Photo credit: Smeeta Mahanti. http://anthonymarra.net/about/

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Anthony Marra was born in Washington, D.C. He has won The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, the Narrative Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and his work has been anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading. In 2012, he received the Whiting Writers’ Award. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, where he will begin teaching as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction this fall. He has studied and resided in Eastern Europe, traveled through Chechnya, and now lives in Oakland, CA. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, his first novel, will be published in fifteen countries.

- From Anthony Marra’s Official Website

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Links:

Anthony Marra’s Official Website

Add Anthony as a friend on Facebook

Follow Anthony on Twitter

Follow Anthony on Goodreads

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Have you read “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra yet? If so, what did you think of it?

What’s most important to you in a book? The plot? Its characters? The style in which it’s written? Its conflict?

If you haven’t yet read the book, what do you think the title means? What do you think “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is?

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 06.03.2013

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

06.03.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This meme “Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet” was inspired by the original meme that I participated in and which many of you may be familiar with: “Stacking the Shelves” hosted by Tynga’s Reviews.

My posts will take the format of books and bookish items (including SWAG) that I have:

  • received from publishers and/or authors for review
  • purchased
  • received as a gift or prize through winning a contest

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My supposed book-buying ban is well…theoretical it seems. I see a book and WHAM! I buy it. It’s a dangerous thing. So glad I have an understanding (and literate) husband. Here’s this week’s book haul:

Books for Review:

escape velocity

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A special thanks to Goose Lane Editions

for a copy of Escape Velocity by Carmelita McGrath

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good to a fault

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada

for a copy of Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

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Books I Bought:

some great thing

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Some Great Thing by Colin McAdam

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the host

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The Host by Stephanie Meyer

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Books I Borrowed:

books borrowed

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The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

N.W. by Zadie Smith

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Unfortunately, I didn’t win any prizes this week, but I’ll be sure to keep my fingers crossed for next time.

Out of the books I listed above, which ones are you most interested in reading?

What titles did you haul this week?

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 05.27.2013

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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

05.27.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This meme “Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet” was inspired by the original meme that I participated in and which many of you may be familiar with: “Stacking the Shelves” hosted by Tynga’s Reviews.

My posts will take the format of books and bookish items (including SWAG) that I have:

  • received from publishers and/or authors for review
  • purchased
  • received as a gift or prize through winning a contest

***

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my latest book haul, so I’ve been fortunate enough to let my book piles grow. Here are the latest additions to my reading closet:

Books for Review:

the aftermath

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constellation

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americanah

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada

for providing me with copies of:

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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mrs poe

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada

for an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

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Books I Bought:

book haul 1

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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, winner of the Man Booker Prize.

A Secret Between Us by Daniel Poliquin, a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist.

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Books I Won:

everything is perfect when youre a liar

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A special thank you to HarperCollins Canada

for my prize, Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford, through a Twitter contest!

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invisibility

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invisibility signed

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A special thank you to Penguin Books Canada

for my prize, a SIGNED copy of Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan!

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What great book titles did you add to your collection this week?

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

***

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Book Review: Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor

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Book Review: Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor

05.23.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

mount pleasant

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Category: Fiction

Author: Don Gillmor

Format: Hardcover, 298 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-307-36072-4

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

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Summary from publisher:

In middle age, debt has become the most significant relationship in Harry Salter’s  life. He was born to wealthy parents in leafy and privileged Rosedale, at a time when the city was still defined by its WASP elite. But nothing in life has turned out the way Harry was led to expect. He’s unsure of his place in society, his marriage is crumbling, his son is bordering on estranged, and on top of it all his father is dying.

As he sits at his father’s bedside, Harry inevitably daydreams about his inheritance. A couple of his father’s millions would rescue him from his ballooning debt–maybe even save his marriage. But when the will is read, all that’s left for Harry is $4200. Dale Salter’s money is gone. Out of desperation and disbelief, Harry starts to dig into what happened to the money. As he follows a trail strewn with family secrets and unsavory suspicions, he discovers not only that old money has lost its grip and new money taken on an ugly hue, but that his whole existence been cast into shadow by the weight of his expectations.

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Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor is a story largely focused on the preoccupation of its main character, Harry Salter, with his debt. Born to wealthy parents and what he considers to be “old money,” he had hoped for the most part, to receive a significant inheritance from his father’s estate at the news of his death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

But, unfortunately, when Dale Salter’s will is read, Harry’s hope for financial salvation is diminished as low as the amount he receives, a measly $4,200 out of what was expected to be millions of dollars.

This sets Harry off to a desperate investigation of what happened to his father’s money and discovers there, the amplification of his troubled marriage, a revelation of family secrets, and the lure and danger of financial power and greed.

The third-person narrative primarily focused on the main character, Harry Salter’s thoughts and experiences, sets a cool tone of intellectual superiority, a fear-driven nostalgia that lulls into psychosomatic regret, and a subtle decadence of those who have had privilege and access to a lifestyle of sophistication and ease because of wealth.

Harry Salter is a gentleman of acquired tastes burdened by the expectations he has of himself, and of those tastes particularly held by his pampered wife and her dependence on the security and lifestyle he has continually provided for her, as well as the expectations of those in his social class, especially his mother and sister, who continue to live in the comfort of their standard of living as offered by the promise of their wealth. They, unlike Harry, are not in debt.

But, the characters themselves are not written superficially nor flatly.

Gladys, Harry’s estranged wife, is cold and logical, yet a necessary foundation who keeps Harry’s social and public world from collapsing, almost mimetic to Harry’s own feelings towards money.

Ben, their twenty-something-year-old son is bitterly impassive, resentful, and distant, if not indifferent to his father, taken by the cruelty and dominance of an intelligent, yet fanatical political activist.

Felicia, Harry’s sister, is cool in her self-assurance, born precocious and apparently knowledgeable and more aware of secret details in the history of both their parents, which is a surprise to Harry, as well as a personal injury.

And Dixie, Dale Salter’s third wife and recently made widow is stereotypically young and sensual, and dependant and hopeful for a large inheritance, but unsurprisingly duped.

Together, along with Dale Salter’s former financial management peers at his investment firm BRG, casts a plot of people fixated on the use, accumulation, and search for happiness, freedom, and security found in money—old or new.

The plot is well-paced, trudging forward with repressed preoccupation, quiet desperation, and intelligent and biting sarcasm, which carries until the end at which point I found the mystery of Dale Salter’s money, too quickly resolved in an act to tie-up loose ends and provide closure, if not for the reader of the novel, but for its choking and engulfed main character whose worry about financial ruin provokes physical symptoms.

Is the story of Mount Pleasant worth a million bucks? Not necessarily. But, neither was Mr. Salter’s estate at the end of his life. Then again, that might be the whole point: that there are different kinds of wealth and that the best kind isn’t always rooted in money.

If you own a bank account, a credit card, or dream of someday taking a holiday trip to Florence, Italy, or if you’ve ever invested your funds on a whim in stock market trade, own a mortgage, or a migraine from worry about your finances—this true, yet intelligently funny novel will empathize with you and your cheque book for only the cost of the 294 pages you’ve at least invested your time in reading it.

The gamble associated with reading it, far outweighs the reliability and guarantee of promised revenue gained by an illusive stock market, and the financial delusion of perpetual security, as well as the fear associated with the potential financial collapse of our time.

***

Characters:  4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

From www.globeandmail.com
From http://www.globeandmail.com

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Don Gillmor is the author of Mount Pleasant (March, 2013, Random House) a novel set in contemporary Toronto. His first novel Kanata (2009, Penguin) dealt with the whole of Canadian history and was critically acclaimed. He is also the author of a two-volume history of Canada, Canada: A People’s History, and three other books of non-fiction, The Desire of Every Living Thing, Stratford Behind the Scenes, and I Swear by Apollo.

He has written nine books for children, two of which were nominated for a Governor General’s Award. He has worked as a journalist and was a senior editor at Walrus magazine, and a contributing editor at both Saturday Night and Toronto Life magazine. He has won ten National Magazine Awards and numerous other honours. He lives in Toronto.

- From Don Gillmor’s official website

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Links:

Don Gillmor’s Official Website

Follow Don on Twitter

Follow Don on Facebook

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Have you read any of Don Gillmor’s books? If so, which one did you enjoy the most?

How far in debt do you think you can be to finally become seriously worried about it?

Is there a real difference between “old” money and “new” money? If so, how?

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