Category Archives: review

Book Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

08.05.2015

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis / @zaraasian

a robot in the garden

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Deborah Install

Format: Paperback, 288 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81533-0

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

 ***

A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install is a sweet, fictional debut novel about a child-like sentient who calls himself Acrid Tang, a decrepit, but high-functioning artificial intelligence who surpasses even the modern android’s level of programming.

He is first discovered by Ben Chambers as he spies him randomly sitting under a tree in his garden and is quickly taken by him, his unexpected appearance and lack of ownership, and his unique body architecture obviously built by a creative and innovative maker.

With no knowledge of where or from whom this robot originates, Ben Chambers, takes it upon himself to journey across the globe to uncover the mystery behind Acrid Tang’s unusual build, worn-down condition,  and exceptional giftedness. In the process he travels from the United States to Tokyo, Japan, then to Koror, Palau, and back again.

In the process, he not only attempts to uncover the mystery of Acrid Tang’s beginnings, but through his challenging  journey, discovers his own potential for acceptance and healing after the hidden grief of mourning the death of his parents, and a new ability to take on more responsibility without fear.

The result is a sincere look at the interrelationship between an orphaned, sentient being and a grown man capable of new ambition and familial love.

The novel is a light read, its narrative grounded in Ben Chambers’ seriousness and Acrid Tang’s childlike naivety. And while the robot evolves, so does his human counterpart. They both learn from each other, the aspects of trust, the discrimination against the old and the broken, and the ability to see one’s own limitations and choose to move beyond them.

I did, however, find the character of Ben Chambers’ easy wealth, far too easy, in order to substantiate his costly journeys around the world in search for Acrid Tang’s mysterious beginnings. If the reader can forgive this character’s and/or novel’s flaw in the plot, the adventures themselves are neither exciting, nor commonplace, but an attempt to generate movement in the plot’s story and increase the characters’ bond of friendship and love.

Overall, Acrid Tang, is the robot-Pinocchio, whose faulty, cracked cylinder, pulsing heart, and peeling gaffer tape which holds him together, house an innovative program of self-awareness and earnestness unparalleled by any other AI in existence within the novel.

It’s that uniqueness that makes this novel a traditionally “coming-of-age” story—for both its Artificial Intelligence community and the humans who choose to live amongst them.

Zara’s Rating

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About the Author

From http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/257875/deborah-install. Photo by Hannah Montague.
From  Penguin  Random House website.  Photo by Hannah Montague.

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Deborah Install has been writing fiction since childhood, submitting her first book to a publisher at the age of 8. Her love of writing persisted, leading to a number of jobs, including web journalism and her most recent role as copywriter at a design and marketing agency. She lives in Birmingham, UK, with her husband, toddler and affectionate but imperious cat.


–  Bio from inside jacket of novel.

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What is your view of Artificial Intelligence and sentient beings and their place in society today and in the future? Do you agree or disagree with their existence?

If you were an “owner” of a fully functional AI android, what would you like it to do? What would you like its primary function to be?

Do you believe AI androids to be a realistic part of our future? Do you believe AI androids should have full autonomy and be considered persons under the law? Why or why not?

What are the dangers of implementing fully functional AI androids into society as we know it? What do you think would be their limitations?

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Zara - blue fur

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Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

07.21.2015

By Zara D.Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis/ @zaraasian

for today i am a boy

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Category: LGBTQ Fiction

Author: Kim Fu

Format: Paperback, 242 pages

Publisher: Harpercollins Publishers

ISBN: 978-1-44341-264-3

Pub Date: January 6, 2014

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For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu is an engrossing and readable novel about a young man named Peter Huang, the only son in a family of three sisters, a silent and stifled mother, and a Chinese patriarchal father whose ingrained attitudes about manhood are both proud and resolute.

In this lyrical debut, Fu creates a truthful portrait of a young man whose sensitive and effeminate nature delves him further into the recesses of his true desire—to fully identify himself as a woman.

The plot explores Peter’s internal and private torment, his abhorrence towards the body he was born with and the insistent desire for the kind of body he lacks. While his own genitalia repulses him, his desire for women only goes as far as his admiration for their beauty and femininity, and his wish to ultimately emanate them.

But, this tendency is often repressed, exposed first in small doses at a time within the safety of his sisters’ bedrooms and their trust; to the absence of his family while he is left to clean in the privacy of their home; to sexual exploration with BDSM with a dominant woman; to the stifling relationship with a lesbian-turned-Christian; and to the exposure to people of the LGBTQ community who encourage him to live out his fantasy if not for one day during Halloween.

While the male stereotype is often dominantly imposed by Peter’s father and his expectations of him, Peter himself is tortured with his own feelings of guilt and shame, struggling often between his compulsion and desire to live out the female identity that is his true, internal nature and the gender role, society has come to expect of him as a male. The result is a fiercely honest dialogue of identity crisis, repression, and hopefully for the reader and the main character — emancipation.

 Zara’s Rating

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About the Author:

Kim Fu. Photo from http://kimfu.ca/bio.
Kim Fu. Photo from http://kimfu.ca/bio.

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Kim Fu’s novel FOR TODAY I AM A BOY (2014) was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and winner of the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. Her writing has been widely published and anthologized, including by the Atlantic, NPR, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays. Her first poetry collection HOW FESTIVE THE AMBULANCE will be published by Nightwood Editions in 2016. Fu is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Seattle.

– From: Kim Fu’s Official website.

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Do you know anyone who is transgendered?

Aside from sex, what kind of stereotypes are most associated with gender?

Of such stereotypes, which do you think are changing? Which do you think should change?

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Zara - blue fur

Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

11.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zara.tokiniha

lucky us

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Category: Fiction

Author: Amy Bloom

Format: Hardcover, 250 pages

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6724-4

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a modern telling of two very different sisters from the 1940’s who must reconcile their fate with each other and the consequential hardships they encounter right from childhood into their adulthood.

It is the story of Eva Logan-Acton and her half-sister, Iris. The two who are thrown together at the loss of both their mothers, one through death, the other through abandonment, left open to the neglect and betrayal of their biological father, Edgar.

Not only is there a dichotomy between the two sisters in look, but also in temperament, the two in their personal failings, somehow find ways to survive poverty, manipulation, and loss.

Though the plot lends itself to the absurd, it’s the characters’ dilemmas and persevering spirit that makes this book at the very least an entertaining read. Is it realistic? No, not really, but it is possible and lures the reader into turning each page with interest.

The heart of the novel is wound in the realism of its characters’—especially the main characters’ personalities. Iris, the drama queen is both self-indulgent as she is tough-skinned, a survivor, and an emotional manipulator, but would be lost without her grounded sister, Eva, to anchor her down emotionally throughout the book.

Eva, self-sacrificial to the point of semi-martyrdom, while formally uneducated, finds ways in which she can survive the drama of her sister, the inconsistency and eventual illness of her father, and the short- term charity of her friend, Francisco’s sisters in the beauty salon where she dutifully sweeps floors and washes sinks. She teaches herself how to read, memorizes her father’s Little Blue Books for abridged versions of knowledge and sometimes useful or non-useful facts, and learns not only how to read Tarot cards, but how to best advise customers with news that encourages them and encourages them to return to the salon for her most-often positive advice.

But Iris and Eva are not the only characters in the novel with unique personalities and circumstances. There is Edgar, whose love for Clara, a jazz singer and closeted albino who cannot redeem him from the mistakes he’s committed in the past, nor the disease he must face in the near future; Francisco, a gay makeup artist and friend-turned-father-figure; Reenie, Iris’ focus of love and borderline obsession; Gus, the ousted husband whose relation to Reenie places him in an unbelievable and life-threatening circumstance; and Danny, the stolen orphan made to seduce and fulfill a gap in a grieving woman’s life.

Together the story unfolds into a highly unlikely plot that still seduces the reader enough to not only continue reading, but also empathize with the characters and their sentimental failings. Somehow the absurdity of the plot doesn’t deter the individuals from eventually finding some form of love and solace, and even a self-imposed, redefinition of family.

Lucky Us feels like a somewhat sarcastic title, but is able to self-prophesy on the story’s behalf by the time the novel ends. I’m just not quite sure who the title is referring to exactly—the characters themselves or the readers who get to witness a highly tumultuous story unravel itself into some form of success or the readers who are lucky enough not to suffer the same type of consequences as the characters that find redemption in their own answers?

Amy Bloom does a good job of creating interesting enough characters that will urge its readers to turn the page and come away from the story with more than an afterthought, but a sense that the injustices of the world still have a purpose even if they insist on sometimes remaining unclear.

 ***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of Lucky Us in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

 amy bloom***

Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; Normal; Away, a New York Times bestseller; and Where the God of Love Hangs Out. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. She teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University.

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What do you think is the best thing about having a sister?  What do you think is the worst?

How far would you go on getting what you want? Lies? Murder?

What is your definition of family?

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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

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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

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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

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Zara’s Rating

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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

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Zara’s Rating

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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.

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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/

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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.

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Links:

You can learn more about Herman Koch on Wikipedia.

You can become Herman Koch’s fan on Goodreads.

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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.

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Book Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

06.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

ruby

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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

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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?

***

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Book Review: Moving Foward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo

 

05.05.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

moving forward sideways like a crab

***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Shani Mootoo

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67622-9

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

***

Summary from the Publisher:

From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties.

Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent-only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger. As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo is a quiet and lucid narrative about a woman named Sidhanni Mahale who yearns to elucidate the truth behind the choice she had to make to abandon Jonathan Lewis-Adey, the son she raised and fostered with her former and long-time partner, India, of 10 years in downtown Toronto before their relationship abruptly came to an end.

In Jonathan’s personal search for the mother he lost as a child, he discovers instead that the mother he knew and remembered as “Sid,” has transformed herself physically into a man who now goes by the name, “Sydney,” and lives in his native birthplace, Trinidad.

Over a nine-year period, and then again, Jonathan returns to Sydney’s side in Trinidad as he lay aged and dying, trying to reconcile the truth of his mother’s original disappearance from not only his life, but also from her own gender from birth into a life-altering decision that ultimately changes and rectifies her sexual identity into a male one.

Much of the narrative is written in personal journal entries or letter correspondence between Sydney and his best friend and long time, secret love, Zain. The letters along with the journal entries reflect the longevity of their friendship and Sydney’s deep affection for Zain, as well as her repressed desire.

While the pacing of the novel in itself is rather slow, the narrative is sentimental and somewhat lyrical, returning often to the storytelling of a life-changing walk towards the clinic where “Sid” eventually began to undergo the process of physically changing into a man.

Much of the novel is dedicated to this journey, its struggle, its tension, its anticipation—its necessity for the main character. And in that explanation, though layered behind the backdrop of growing up and living in two very different cultural environments: Trinidad and Toronto; two opposing genders: female and male; the story which urges to tell itself is one of enduring love for a son that was let go too soon.

In this, Jonathan discovers for himself a “re-discovering” of the woman and the memory of the woman he was so attached to as a child, and the man that woman has become. Jonathan, too, discovers his own liminality, a white man who has grown up most of his life in Toronto, Canada, but whose love for his mother and her native country of Trinidad, has also greatly influenced him and has a special place for him culturally. He is of two places as much as “Sid” and/or “Sydney” is of two genders, once a woman who transitions into man.

While the plot is light with exception to the emotional trauma of Zain’s “unsolved” death by home intrusion for Sydney, much of the book is character-driven told primarily through journal reflections.

There is Sid, whose love and desire for Zain and later other women was only exemplified by what she felt was a betrayal of her own body, one that was born as a woman, but undeniably desired to be a man.

There is Zain, whose love and acceptance of Sid surpassed their geographical and cultural differences, while nurturing a lifelong friendship that perplexed, if also frustrated a number of people in their lives even though Zain herself, proclaimed by her relationships and through her marriage that she was a heterosexual.

There were Sid’s parents who were at most, perplexed by their daughter’s ambiguity, but tolerant and understanding of who she was, up until their own deaths.

There is Gita, Sid’s sister whose intolerance was made evident not only by their emotional distance, but by her inability in the end to attend her sister’s/brother’s funeral.

And also India, Jonathan’s birth mother and Sid’s former partner who had become exasperated with Sid’s slow and gradual change into masculinity and eventually decided to become partners with a man later on in life.

And Jonathan, a sensitive man whose attachment to Sid propels him to travel to Trinidad numerous times over nine years, ends up not only reconciling with Sid as a parent, but becomes the primary witness to the story behind her gender transformation, and later the primary person to perform the last rites for Sydney’s funeral.

It is overall, an introspective novel that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past, focusing on Sydney’s love for Zain and his desire to be a man. In listening to Sydney’s stories, Jonathan learns as much as made possible, the truth of Sydney’s complicated feelings as a person and her/his unrelenting love for him as a son.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

***

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 Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.
Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.

***

Shani Mootoo is the author of the novels Cereus Blooms at Night, which was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the B.C. Book Award for Fiction; He Drown She in the Sea, which was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and most recently, Valmiki’s Daughter, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Mootoo was born in Trinidad and grew up there and in Ireland. She immigrated to Vancouver two decades ago, and lives with her partner near Toronto.

– From book jacket

Links:

To learn more about Shani, you may visit her page on Wikipedia.

***

Do you know and love someone who is part of the LGBT community?

What do you think it feels like to feel “betrayed by one’s own body?”

If you read the book, “Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab” by Shani Mootoo, do you think Sid’s romantic love was reciprocated on some level by her best friend, Zain? Why or why not?

***

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Pre-Publication Blog Tour & Book Review: The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

04.25.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

memory garden

 ***

Category: Paranormal Fiction

Author: Mary Rickert

Format: Trade Paperback, 296 pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks

ISBN: 978-1-4022-9712-0

Pub Date: May 15, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn’t know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

memory garden - flower jasmine

***

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert is a pensive and lyrical narrative about the trepidation and surprise of aging, its physical discomfort and pain, its impending inevitability. It’s also a story about the vitality and trust of a friendship between women that’s depth and longevity prove to be unchanged regardless of how much time has passed. It’s also a story of the weight of guilt, its burden, and the poison of secrecy and its old haunts that can pollute one’s life with sadness, fear, regret. Lastly, it is a story of meaning—of flowers and of love.

The narrative in The Memory Garden is as quietly lush and punctuated with flare and oddity as its descriptive garden filled with orphaned shoes and wild flowers.

It’s that of Nan, her worries and complaints of aging, her resignation to its unexpectancy, but its harsh inevitability.

And it’s that of Bay, the restless longing and rebellion of youth, its innocence and confusion, its desire for identity and truth.

The result is an intimate discourse on the mother-daughter relationship, its joy and weariness, its gaps not only in age, but in the mystery of the unknown. And it is at its heart, a window to the uniqueness and flair in which the two live, as both outcasts in their small town, victims of rumour and discrimination.

The setting is as lush and creative as it is a hub for an underlining darkness and eeriness from its detailed and bright descriptions of foliage and hortivulture to its elusive recollections of a dark past and fluctuating visions.

The characters, too, are uniquely vivid and endearing from Nan, whose love and knowledge of horticulture only emphasize her quirkiness, which can be seen through her shoe garden and her creative traditions such as lighting candles outside and refraining from blowing them out on birthdays or climbing through a window annually on Christmas to be greeted by freshly wrapped and dry pyjamas.

To Mavis, whose clinking, gold bracelets are synonymous with her dramatic entrances, her raspy, deep voice, which is able to command the attention of those she speaks to, her lifelong dream to visit Africa, and her sharp restraint, and emotional coolness.

And Ruthie, whose emotional gregariousness hinders her from controlling what she discloses to others, while having a natural giftedness in the kitchen when it comes to cooking a feast or baking delectable sweets—especially her favourite confection—chocolate cake.

Howard, whose small bruise on the cheek is but, a physical mark of his true internal bruising from being ostracized by his family at the news of his sexual orientation.

Stella, a spitting image of her grand-aunt, Eve, in her youth, surprises the women with a coincidental, yet intrusive visit to their reunion in the hopes of gaining more information about her grand-aunt’s life and death.

Thalia, Bay’s best and only friend, is a loyal confidante and curious, yet accepting outsider who is privileged to witness the rumoured mysteriousness of Bay’s family.

And Bay, whose growing yearning for adulthood and answers to her birthright compel her to be torn between the love she feels and has for her adoptive and “strange” mother to wanting to be free from the cruelty that surrounds being ridiculed and ostracized for that very uniqueness.

And Eve, whose stunted innocence carries with it a dark and heavy secret, one that unfurls their childhood into panic, causing in itself helpless decisions made by the inexperience youth.

And lastly, Grace Winter, whose circle of friends and radical independence, sparks curiosity that later leads to vehemence and discriminative crime.

Together these characters are largely revealed through their dialogue, their hardships, and fears as lethal as their self-imposed guilt, and as strong as the bond of their friendship that even after a 60-year absence, has not disappeared.

The plot, while not necessarily active, is simple, yet filled with haunting memory and storytelling as fragrant as the wild garden and forest behind Nan and Bay’s home. It is filled with surprises that take in its gradual pace as long as it does for foliage to bloom, but worth like a beautiful garden, an appreciative result.

The language, though not overly literary, is sound enough to be interesting, pacing the story by the reader’s curiosity for answers and resolution, entertaining by the overall likeability of its characters.

It is as its title discloses. a Memory Garden, delicately tended to with dedication and love.

 ***

Characters: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3.5 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Sourcebooks for including me in the Pre-Publication Book Blog Tour and for providing me with a copy of The Memory Garden in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

Mary Rickert. (c) Photo by Will Bauer. All rights reserved.
Mary Rickert. (c) Photo by Will Bauer. All rights reserved.

***

Before earning her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Mary Rickert worked as a kindergarten teacher, coffee shop barista, balloon vendor at Disneyland, and in the personnel department at Sequoia National Park, where she spent her free time hiking the wilderness. She now lives in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a small city of candy shops and beautiful gardens. This is her first novel. There are, of course, mysterious gaps in this account of her life, and that is where the truly interesting stuff happened.

– From inside bio in novel, The Memory Garden

Links:

Connect with Mary Rickert on her official website.

Find more information on Mary Rickert on Wikipedia.

Be a fan of Mary Rickert on Goodreads.

 ***

Be sure to visit the other blogs that are participating in the Pre-Publication Book Blog Tour for The Memory Garden:

Linus’ Blanket

Royal Reviews

Book Bag Lady

Lesa’s Book Critiques

Bookalicious Babe

Mirabile Dictu

Story Matters

***

What do you think is most powerful about the bond between women in friendship?

What do you think is the best and worst thing about aging?

Do you believe in magic? In ghosts? In witches?

Do you believe in the meaning of flowers and what they represent? What is your favourite flower and why?

***

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Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

08.17.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 word exchange cvr
***

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

***

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

***

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.

***

About the Author:

alena graedon

***

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.

***

Links:

Like Alena on Facebook

Be Alena’s fan on Goodreads

***

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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Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

 

04.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

light between oceans ***

Category: Fiction

Author: M.L. Stedman

Format: Trade Paperback, 346 pages

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3808-6

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

***

Summary from Publisher:

This exquisitely written debut novel sweeps you into the lives of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne. After WWI, Tom returns to Australia very much alone and deeply marked by what he has seen and done. It comes as a shock when the beautiful Isabel finds him attractive. A proper courtship ensues and before long it is Isabel herself who boldly declares her love for Tom. She willingly leaves her comfortable life to join him on the remote island of Janus Rock in Western Australia where he takes up the post of lighthouse keeper.

Her only wish — and his too — is to have lots of children with whom to share their love. But life does not unfold as it should. Isabel experiences a series of miscarriages and most cruelly — a full-term stillborn. She is devastated and inconsolable.

And then, a small miracle: a half-destroyed boat is washed ashore carrying a dead man and a softly crying infant. Tom, ever the serious and honorable professional, wants to immediately report the shipwreck but Isabel convinces him that this was meant to be — that likely the baby’s mother has drowned and with the father dead, the baby is truly an orphan.

Reluctantly Tom acquiesces and they declare to their friends and family back home that finally they have borne a child. Baby Lucy lights up their world and they shower her with the love they so longed to give.

And then… the lie of Lucy’s birth begins to unravel and Isabel and Tom are forced to deal with moral choices that no parent should ever have to make.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

 

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman is an emotionally rich and fully engaged story about a couple’s post and isolation on the island Janus Rock in keeping and maintaining the much aged and beloved lighthouse of the small town of Partagueuse.

But the idyllic life of lightkeeping and the idealism between Tom Sherbourne, and his new wife, Isabel Graysmark, in their marriage, quickly disintegrates into devastation and madness with the number of consecutive miscarriages that befall them.

With each miscarriage, Isabel Graysmark, now Mrs. Sherbourne, mourns the deaths of her infants, internalizes her incessant biological failure, and becomes absolutely focused and obsessed with the compulsion of motherhood, which has adamantly eluded her.

Then with the unexpected arrival of a boat that washes up on shore with a dead man and a wailing baby, the Sherbournes stretch the line between morality and immorality with a life-altering decision that not only determines the fate of their family, but greatly deceives and disrupts the whole of the Patagueuse community.

Though the setting is in the 1920’s, the writing is not written with a heavy pen as usually expected in stories of that time, but rather an ease that showcases the depth of a character-driven novel and a story, which will not fail to grip its readers to it’s every word, if not every page.

The dialogue brings the book alive with its accurate-sounding accents and idioms especially from the characters, Ralph Addicott and Bluey, the men who steer the store boat, the Windward Spirit, out to the ocean periodically to provide the Sherbourne family with food, supplies, and current news from town.

But, the heart of the novel is not only its characters: Tom Sherbourne, Isabel Graysmark, Bill and Violet Graysmark, Septimus Potts, Hannah and Frank Roennfeldt, and Lucy-Grace, Ralph and Hilda Addicott, and Bluey—it’s the moral injustice in the book that will drive readers to vehemence and outrage.

I was so personally affected by the reading of the book, so greatly disenchanted by Tom Sherbourne’s yielding submission to his wife, and Isabel’s unreasonable demands and delusions that I simply seethed with hatred for her character and had at many times dropped and/or threw the book down in contempt, needing to turn away from its unfair implications.

I was so moved to anger by this novel, I had at times almost decided not to finish it—but, my curiosity, my yearning for justice, truth, and reconciliation was so severe due to the devastation of the novel, that I was, in the end, glad I had decided to change my mind.

I also found the lyrical prose about the interrelationship between the stars, the ocean, the lighthouse, and the biology, and isolation of Janus Rock, sentimental and beautiful.

Though imperfect, the conclusion of the novel moved me to tears. Though the reading of the book was emotionally gruelling while I struggled to reconcile with the maddening choices made by the desperation of a woman obsessed with her own loss, the novel does well in exploring the internalized conscience, the magnitude of the rippling effect of one’s choices, and a re-examining of the definition of true motherhood and family.

Regardless of your response to this novel, a strong one will be required of you. Either from the vehemence towards one character, disappointment in another, or love and compassion towards its victims. The Light Between Oceans will not only signal the danger of poor choices, the desperation that can be associated with loss and even love, it will prove to be a shining light that bridges the gap between right and wrong, and those drowning in its current.

 

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 Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada on behalf of Scribner for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

ML Stedman

M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London. The Light Between Oceans is her first novel.

– From Goodreads Author Page

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Sometimes desperation can have terrifying consequences. How far should one go in fulfilling one’s own desires before it becomes an unhealthy form of obsession or a question of immorality?

Have you ever felt this kind of desperation before?

If you’ve read the book, who do you think Lucy-Grace should have stayed with? Belonged to?

What do you think is the true definition of motherhood and/or parenting? Is it biological? Relational? One or the other? Both?

The lifestyle of a lightkeeper is a unique one. Could you see yourself as a lightkeeper? Why or why not? What about its lifestyle would you find most interesting/enjoyable? Most difficult?

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