Tag Archives: fiction

Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

03.06.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the museum of extraordinary things

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Category: Fiction, Magical Realism

Author: Alice Hoffman

Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 372 pages

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9356-0

Pub Date: February 18, 2014

***

Summary from the Publisher:

Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is as extraordinary as the contents of the museum it speaks of. And I don’t mean that as a pun. It’s a legitimate assessment. There’s enough in this book to draw from that will enrich any readers’ experience in reading it.

It is a dual story of Coralie Sardie, gifted swimmer and daughter of The Professor, ex-magician and current curator of the museum that showcases oddities and special wonders; and of (Ezekial) Eddie Cohen, former tailor and later errand boy of the streets, now a professional and passionate photographer.

The plot of the book is as intricate and intriguing as the number of people with gifts who are employed by the museum. While it is primarily a story of Coralie’s eventual rebellion and empowerment beyond the borders of her father’s ambitious and sinister control, as well as Eddie’s reconciliation with his Jewish Orthodox roots, poverty, the dichotomy between the working class and the wealthy, the death of his mother, and his strained relationship with his father—there is an underlining and haunting plot of search and rescue that stems from a fight towards work equality, and the advocacy against political and economical crime and injustice.

The narrative is richly engaging while able to stay real and genuine, even lyrical, which is usually expected with Hoffman’s wonderfully stylistic work. The depth in which Hoffman goes into revealing her characters’ histories and feelings, bridge a real connection, empathy, and likability between readers and the characters themselves. In reading this novel, Coralie and Eddie feel very much like personal friends even though they remain fictional ones.

Coralie Sardie, a young beauty, raised in isolation, is both a natural and gifted swimmer, drawn by circumstance and personal calling to the water, who becomes both by her father’s intentions and her own emotional landscape, almost a mystical creature of the Hudson River. While she has a predisposition to naive innocence, she slowly learns her own emancipation through her own, private rebellion, and the revelation of secrets behind the closed doors of her father’s study and workshop within the museum of extraordinary and sometimes frighteningly absurd things.

Eddie Cohen, an only son to an Orthodox Jewish elder, raised by a single father, to emotional grief and loss, hard labour, and an imbalance of work politics, becomes hardened by disappointment and the dichotomy between rich and poor, right and wrong. His emotional buoy is found in his discovery and fascination with the light and dark of photography. He inherits this vocation through Moses Levy, who becomes his mentor and his father-figure.

As the story unfurls, so does its mysteries: Eddie Cohen takes on an investigative role, a searcher for people and things lost. In doing so, he reveals the mystery of his own personal story, reconciling himself to his past, to his relationships, and to his faith, discovering, too, a chance at redemptive, romantic love.

The characters are as varied in the book as they are, interesting, even dual in nature, often misinterpreted or misunderstood.

The Professor, a shrewd businessman is also an illusionist driven by his compulsion to discover, recreate, and collect strange artifacts and even “stranger” people. His focus on deceiving his public as much as his focus to succeed financially and socially in the entertainment district, drives him to severe controlling tendencies and habits, irrational decisions, even unethical and immoral acts. The spiral in which The Professor travels downward, rapidly engulfs him in atrocious acts and a fervor that decapitates his mental stability, edging him further toward the path of madness.

Maureen, the obedient, but not docile mother-figure unravels a few secrets of her own, in the history of her facial scars to the irreplaceable bond she has with Coralie Sardie.

Mr. Raymond Morris, The Wolfman, while wild in physique, is highly educated in literature and the arts, and a gentleman of decorum and tenderness.

The Liveryman, ex-convict-turned-driver, has but a surprising decency and a natural love and gravitation to the language of birds.

Jacob Van der Beck, an abrasive Dutchman living on the outskirts of the city, a frustrated hermit, an avid fisherman and lover of the water, is wiser and kinder than his city folk counterparts, a witness, and an unexpected friend, able to consider and tame a wild wolf.

Mitts, a happy and loyal Pitbull, eager for friendship, trusting of strangers, and a hearty, good dog.

The theme of duplicity, of appearance demystifying expectations and stereotypes run throughout the novel from the roles the characters are expected to play to the people they really are, and the complexity of those lines, which often become blurred.

This book has not a little of everything, but a lot. While the characters are fully realized, the variety and complexity of who they are and their plight is highly creative and endearing. Though this novel reveals a sinister cruelty in its active and mysterious plot, the story at its heart is filled with drama, reconciliation, spiritual awakening, emancipation, and the conquest of love. Aside from its contextual richness, it really is a beautifully written novel.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is continual proof of Alice Hoffman’s unique gift for magical and complex storytelling.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

***

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.

***

About the Author:

alice hoffman

To find more about Alice, you can read her biography here.

Links:

You can visit Alice’s Official Website.

You can like Alice on Facebook.

You can be a fan of Alice on Goodreads.

***

If you were to be included in a Museum of Extraordinary Things, what kind of special gift do you think you’d like to have?

If you’ve read the book, who is your favourite character and why?

Even though The Professor is a flawed character, do you as a reader, feel any sympathy or empathy towards him? Why or why not?

Have you ever visited a type of “Museum of Extraordinary Things?” What did you think?

Book Review: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman

02.21.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Book of Jonah

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Joshua Max Feldman

Format: Hardcover, 342 pages

Publisher: Bond Street Books

ISBN: 978-0-385-67959-6

Pub Date: February 4, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

The modern-day Jonah at the center of Joshua Max Feldman’s brilliantly conceived retelling of The Book of Jonah is a young Manhattan lawyer named Jonah Jacobstein. He’s a lucky man: healthy and handsome, he has two beautiful women ready to spend the rest of their lives with him, and an enormously successful career that gets more promising by the minute.

He’s celebrating a deal that will surely make him partner when a bizarre, unexpected Biblical vision at a party changes everything.

Hard as he tries to forget what he saw, this disturbing sign is only the first of many Jonah will witness, and before long his life is unrecognizable.

Though this perhaps divine intervention will be responsible for more than one irreversible loss in Jonah’s life, it will also cross his path with that of Judith Bulbrook, an intense, breathtakingly intelligent woman who’s no stranger to loss herself.

As this funny and bold novel moves to Amsterdam and then Las Vegas, Feldman examines the way we live now while asking an age-old question: how do you know if you’re chosen?

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from

The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Book of Jonah, the debut novel by Joshua Max Feldman, is a richly provocative story about the disassembling of one’s life security and agenda, its accumulation of success in various forms, and the inevitable question and role of morality, and the power of faith and change when the two, polar beliefs collide, conflict, and agitate until life itself almost dissolves.

Those who are familiar with the original book of Jonah in the Bible will recognize not only its title, but the thematic similarities between Jonah Jacobstein’s predicament and resistance in this modern, contemporary version and the original text.

The book is wonderfully character-driven filled with fully realized characters that engage the reader in visualizing their superficial and/or naive sensibilities, the magnitude of their personal failings, even their loss.

And because Feldman writes with intelligence and articulate precision, the voice of his characters, especially that of its main character, Jonah Jacobstein, is clear, realistic, and very male in his ambition, rhetoric, denial, and self-doubt.

While Jonah’s life as he recognizes it dissolves into a series of unexplainable visions and bouts of harried panic, Jonah faces the inadequacy of his relationship with the brisk snobbery and self-entitled coldness of his tycoon girlfriend, Sylvia, and the emotionally unstable drama of his long-time love and mistress, Zoey. While both women differ as much as polar opposites do, their extremities pull Jonah in a dishonest and destructive duality, one that is inevitably immoral, exhausting, and unhealthy.

His position as corporate lawyer for a prestigious firm, coerce him to participate in less-than-moral actions when agreeing to take on a case on behalf of the BBEC in a lawsuit against a much smaller, independent business, with the promise of a promotion from “associate” to “partner” should he succeed.

Parallel to this, Judith Bulbrook, raised in the cocoon of privilege and the belief that fulfilment comes from the care and stability of two, loving parents, industrious diligence, and commitment to the power of prestigious academia; she spirals into a harsh darkness of self-destruction in the form of promiscuity and emotional manipulation in answer to dull the horror of her personal loss.

Together they form the requirements of a specially ordained quest, one that moves them to a renewal of some kind of faith; neither devout, nor indifferent, but one that points to introspection, quiet forgiveness, and subtle, conceding acceptance.

The narrative is articulate, tough, and unwavering, as is the theme in the book. And the plot, while well-paced, will readily move the reader along to enjoy the suspenseful outcome of its sporadic visions.

While the narrative surrounding Judith Bulbrook is manic and can successfully bring the reader to its level of wallowing depression, the severity of Jonah’s revelations also cause important and sober retrospection. But, as is the purpose of all spiritual journeys, there is hope of redemptive power, however large or small for both these characters, and potentially some of the other characters in the book.

After all, the honour of hearing God’s message carries with it a burden of testing, which Jonah Jacobstein and Judith Bulbrook both face—and that we all face, no matter our religious or non-religious affiliation.

In The Book of Jonah, the “whale” must have its fill in order that Jonah gets “spat out” to fully realize its life lesson. And we as readers, in coming away from this novel, may also be privileged enough to reconsider and re-learn our own.

 ***

Characters: 4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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

***

About the Author:

joshua max feldman

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Joshua Max Feldman is a writer of fiction and plays. Born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, he has lived in England, New York, and Switzerland. He currently resides in south Florida. The Book of Jonah, his first novel, will be published February 4th, 2014.

– From Goodreads

Links:

You can visit Joshua’s official website.

You can like Joshua on Facebook.

You can follow Joshua on Twitter.

You can be Joshua’s fan on Goodreads.

***

How do you think you would react if you received a direct message or vision from God?

If you’ve read the novel, “The Book of Jonah” by Joshua Max Feldman, which was your favourite part? Your favourite character?

Who do you think you most resemble of the fictional characters in “The Book of Jonah?” Jonah, Sylvia, Zoey, Danny, Max, The Colonel, Judith?

How far are you personally willing to go in order to do what’s right? (A good hint at answering this is considering what you would most likely do when no one is looking.)

***

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Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

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Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

09.11.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

maddaddam

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Category: Dystopian Fiction

Author: Margaret Atwood

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-0846-7

Pub Date: August 27, 2013

***

Summary from Publisher:

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, which is being fortified against man and giant Pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. While their reluctant prophet, Jimmy — Crake’s one-time friend — recovers from a debilitating fever, it’s left to Toby to narrate the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

 Meanwhile, Zeb searches for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. Now, under threat of an imminent Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters.

 At the centre, is the extraordinary story of Zeb’s past, which involves a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.

Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

***

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The much-anticipated third book in the dystopian trilogy, Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, made its exciting debut at the end of August.

For those of you who are familiar with Atwood’s work and have had the privilege of reading the previous titles in the trilogy—Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood—you’ll be pleased to discover both narrative plots come together in the last novel, MaddAddam.

The narrative is as gritty as its dystopian setting, filled with the last remnants and artifacts of an old world, one which reflects our present day.

But in MaddAddam, paved streets are rubble. Foliage is overgrown. The “waterless flood” has massacred mankind through a rare epidemic.

And two very real ideologies—one, the advocacy to preserve, restore, care for, and improve the environment by controlling pollution and protecting plant and animal diversity in the form of the book’s God’s Gardeners; along with two, the advocacy to purchase excessive amounts of goods and services through consumerism found in the form of the CorpSeCorps—both explode into two dangerous and polar extremities that make up, not only the book’s setting, but the dichotomous tension and conflict of its warring plot.

While I greatly miss the lyrical prose of the God’s Gardeners’ tone of voice that was heavily rooted in The Year of the Flood with its spiritual and prayerful homilies of nature, the seasons, and its patron saints; its lessons in DIY derelict fashion, alternative culinary arts of survival more than taste, creative, ingenious architecture; and knowledge of horticulture, its healing properties, as well as its more potent powers to kill in the form of DIY weaponry and tactics for the sake of survival—the narrative in MaddAddam is primarily raw and abrasive through the diversified talents of Zeb’s unrefined, yet chameleon character, whose stealth is as coy and intelligent as his ability to wormhole through firewalls and infiltrate computer systems and software.

Toby, too, is her own artifact of the God’s Gardener culture as the former Eve Six, who still carries within her the knowledge of its feast days, rituals, prayers, and environmental theology. But, her tone, too, has been repressed by a much more necessitated virtue during the post waterless flood—a cold and tough instinct for an exterior that ensures her female leadership and resilience towards survival.

But, it’s not only the human characters that have adapted to the new world. Through the ambition of those driven by beauty, longevity, consumerism, and ultimately power with moral boundaries stretched so thin, the ethical boundaries themselves disappear to create a number of new, hybrid, animal species.

The excitement of reading MaddAddam is the discovery of Atwood’s imagination visualized in book form through the species she’s concocted. They are creatively imaginative as they are also quite frighteningly plausible, which makes Atwood, not only a creative writer of the dystopian novel, but potentially society’s literary prophet, should we refuse to be mindful of the direction we take and how far we should take it in meeting the demands of our own ambitions and whether or not they remain ethical.

The hybrid animal species in the book, I found most entertaining.

From the Mo-Hairs, a bred animal that grows human hair in blonde, brunette, red, and black, for human hair inplants. To Pigoons, giant pigs with human brain function and cortices.

And of course, the highly anticipated story behind the growing culture of the blue-perfectly-bodied creatures created by Crake, and therefore aptly named Crakers, whose eyes are luminescent green and whose skin turns blue in maturity; whose territorial marking includes a morning ritual of communal urination by the males in the group; to mating rituals that include the sense of when a woman is “blue” and therefore ready to be mated with by first, the offering of flowers, and huge, wagging, blue penises; to their strictly vegetarian diet; and an angelic, yet purposeful, gifted, and exquisite, alien singing voice of which humans cannot imitate nor reproduce.

The creation of these highly imaginative species is what makes MaddAddam and the Oryx and Crake trilogy so compelling and creative.

Stripped of these, the plot would be at its best, predictable, if not mundane. But, plot in dystopia is usually diluted anyway by its more significant comment on society and its much-needed warnings, reprimands, or lessons.

While I was disappointed by the ending of the book, its outcome as well as its change in narrative voice from Zeb and Toby to the gentle, yet precocious Craker, Blackbeard, which felt as if Atwood simply tired from writing and therefore changed the voice to “wrap up” the story in third person summary; I did, however, appreciate that even though MaddAddam is the conclusion of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, the story itself is left open for possibility—and perhaps the possibility of another book? (Loyal Atwood fans would certainly love this!)

Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to read an Atwood novel and in particular, finish a trilogy that has showcased the darker side, as well as the potential of ourselves.

From Zeb, Toby, Crozier, Rebecca, and Swift Fox’s attempts at sipping down dandelion root coffee or ash-tasting alternatives, to their bed sheet fashion, and “God’s Gardening” labour; to the peace-loving ignorance of the Craker’s lack of knowledge of the past prior to the flood, and even prior to the truth of their own beginnings, which “hatched” from “the Egg;” it’s the Crakers’ superb innocence, intelligence, and impressionism that moves them toward a new form of Craker-Oryx-Jimmy-the-Snowman-Toby spirituality—which like the dystopian tattle-taling of this story reveals—that logic and intelligence, no matter how superior, without the restraint of morality and ethics, as well as a strong foundation of history and truth, can never truly equate the result and necessity of wisdom—oh, and yes, that life and spirituality will always find a way of surviving, thriving—and evolving.

“Oh, liobam,” I say as I throw my hands up in frustration. “Holy pigoon!” I say as I turn the last pages. I wish the book, or the trilogy, doesn’t have to end.

(And, in the best Craker singing I can fashion, I seriously consider stocking up on strong Starbucks coffee, a slew of floral, printed bed sheets, a rifle, pencils, archival paper—and also be willing and open to make new friends.)

And in honour of completing the Oryx and Crake trilogy, I plan on planting a good tree and naming today, The Feast of MaddAddam, in which no animals with “Scales or Tails,” shall be eaten.

***

Characters: 4  

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 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 McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the 1989 Book Prize; Alias Grace, which was a finalist for the 1996 Booker Prize and won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize; and her most recent, The Year of the Flood. Among her many other rewards, she has also received the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. She lies in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

– From inside jacket.

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Links:

Margaret Atwood’s Official Website

Follow Peggy on Facebook

Follow Peggy on Twitter

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If you were to create a new species, what attributes would you want this species to have?

If you’ve read the Oryx and Crake trilogy, which group would you most likely belong to? The God’s Gardeners or the CorpSeCorps? Or somewhere in between?

Out of the trilogy, which is your favourite book? Oryx and Crake? The Year of the Flood? Or MaddAddam? Why?

In what ways do you see our society moving towards a dystopia like the one Atwood describes in MaddAddam?

How important do you think it is to know the truth of our histories?

When do our oral stories that eventually become written ones, then become historical facts? Or do they?

Do you believe spirituality and the seed of faith and religion are inherent to our species in our better understanding of the world? Why or why not?

How can we reconcile a balance between technological advancement and a preservation and protection of the environment without falling prey to either extreme?

If you were a character in one of the books in this trilogy, who would you most likely be like? An Adam? An Eve? Zeb? Toby? Pilar? Lucerne? Katrina Woo-Woo? Swift Fox? Trudy? The Rev? Glenn? A pigoon?

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Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

07.25.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

crazy rich asians

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Category: Fiction

Author: Kevin Kwan

Format: Hardcover, 408 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67905-3

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

***

Summary from publisher:

Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she”ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.

***

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is a debut novel filled with plethoric proportions that crack open the secret microcosm of the ostentatious privilege and snobbish elitism which belongs to and is bred exclusively for the Asian and pedigreed superrich.

The main character, American-born, young Chinese woman, Rachel Chu, with little to her name except a doctorate and a mistaken identity of belonging to a lower-class, wealthy family who owns Taipei Plastics due to the run of gossiping tongues and a shared last name is unaware of the significance of her boyfriend, Nicholas Young’s, family history, lineage, and excessive financial power.

In her humble naiveté, she agrees to accompany Nicholas on a trip to Singapore, only to be thrown into the cruelty of voracious gossip, stealth backstabbing, and seething envy by his high-minded, vicious relatives and competitive rivals.

While the writing and the plot is simple, with thick and often detailed footnotes meant to add humour to the book, it’s the characters themselves who shine in the literal limelight of their pampered and often gargantuan egos.

Money can do that—as well as open doors of exclusivity meant for those with massive fortunes, in particular, the three most powerful clans in Asia: the Youngs, the Shangs, and the T’Siens.

This book describes an audacious decadence, one filled with private planes, palatial properties, couture clothing, and a decorum adhered to and expected from the politics of the severely wealthy, and the sweet bloodlines of Asian royalty.

There are, however, a few characters with enough integrity and humility that decide to be grounded and “easier”-going than their stuck-up counterparts:

Nicholas Young, while the expected heir to his grandmother’s massive fortune, chooses a more independent and low maintenance life in America with a like-minded woman, who, while she shares common interests with him, remains an outsider to his privileged financial and social class.

Astrid Leong, cousin to Nicholas, and idolized for not only her grand net worth, but her complete accessibility and divine taste in couture clothing and jewellery, remains a non-superficial woman who has had to learn to cope and grace herself in playing the role she was born into.

Then, of course, there are the contemptuous characters whose skewed views of self-importance bloats them into a pompous stratosphere that blinds them to their superficiality, while also making them ridiculously hilarious because of their audacity:

Elenor Sung-Young, Nicholas’ over-protective, controlling mother who goes as far as to hire a private detective to scrutinize his American-born Chinese girlfriend.

Edison Cheng, who’s financial insecurity compels him to brashly control and coordinate his wife’ and children’s greeting, mannerisms, and brand-named clothing, as well as his insecure and desperate effort to please those in positions of financial power.

The book reads as an Asian soap opera of the opulent rich, with at its heart (and yes, it is more money), a love story between a young couple that battles against the expectations threaded in their birthright and the modernity and ease of free love.

While it brags a fantastical extravagance in the story; its characters, especially its snobbish breed, compels the reader to new depths of contempt, which may dilute his or her original jealousy of their excessive wealth.

Succinctly said? It’s a perfect beach read for the summer, both glittery as its gold-foiled front cover, and its story literally true to its title—the Asians in it are superbly rich and absolutely crazy!

***

Characters:  3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 2 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 unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

kevin kwan
Photo credit: Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte

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Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore. He currently lives in Manhattan. Crazy Rich Asians is his first novel.

– From Random House of Canada website.

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Links:

Like Crazy Rich Asians on Facebook

Follow Kevin on Pinterest

***

If you were as rich as one of the Asian families in “Crazy Rich Asians,” what would be the first thing you would do with your money?

Make a list of all the things you would buy or do if you were as wealthy as the characters in this book. What does your list look like?

***

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Book Review: The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

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Book Review:

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

06.06.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

hungry ghosts

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Category: Fiction

Author: Shyam Selvadurai

Format: Hardcover, 378 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67066-1

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

***

Summary from publisher:

In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts”-spirits with stomach so large they can never be full-if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free those doomed to this fate by doing kind deeds and creating good karma. In Shyam Selvadurai’s sweeping new novel, his first in more than a decade, he creates an unforgettable ghost, a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch whose wily ways, insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control, and tragic blindness to the human needs of those around her parallels the volatile political situation of her war-torn country.

The novel centres around Shivan Rassiah, the beloved grandson, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and who also-to his grandmother’s dismay-grows from beautiful boy to striking gay man. As the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his elderly and ailing grandmother, to remove her from the home-now fallen into disrepair-that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days. But throughout the night and into the early morning hours of his departure, Shivan grapples with his own insatiable hunger and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts of his own creation.

The Hungry Ghosts is a beautifully written, dazzling story of family, wealth and the long reach of the past. It shows how racial, political and sexual differences can tear apart both a country and the human heart-not just once, but many times, until the ghosts are fed and freed.

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Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai is an exquisitely rich story about Shivan Rassiah, a young boy born from poverty and the weight of a burdened past that originally stems from an abrasive grandmother that poisons her lineage to create a wilful and eventually rebellious daughter—and the fate of her belief in her own terrible karma.

Amidst the turmoil of a divided Sri Lanka where the tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese people are a vivid and violent backdrop to the tensions between Shivan’s estranged grandmother and mother and the sides he is forced to choose from in order for his family to survive—Shivan also grows, discovers, and explores his own sexuality as a gay man and battles against the intolerance of his homosexuality by his Sri Lankan culture and community.

Between his grandmother’s controlling dominance and astute ambition for power and money; his mother’s depression and devastation at the failure of a western country, Canada, whose expectations she held towards were far too high in estimation compared to her real immigrant experience; and his sister’s radical extremism in feminist theory and racial equality—Shivan is often a victim of emotional liminality and displacement, marginalized in his culture and experience not only by being both Tamil and Sinhalese, but more importantly a Sri Lankan-born boy who immigrates to Toronto, Canada as a refugee and eventually becomes a westernized Torontonian and later, a Vancouver resident, open and active in the LGBT community.

The richness in this novel is found in the author’s ability to write with an eloquence and ease that give his characters resounding depth, authenticity, and a vulnerability, which readers can eagerly connect to and appreciate.

And the emotional landscape of the novel’s characters are not static, nor linear, but like life, mimic the fluctuation of people who change their minds over time and over a number of experiences.

The cultural translations of Buddhists stories also enrich the novel in metaphor and Sri Lankan culture, as well as intensify the substance of the novel’s characters.

But, the novel is not just entirely character-driven. The plot, too, is rich as it is turbulent and engaging. The capacity in which characters can love is just as passionate as their ability to hate and condemn, which drive them to illogical and unthinkable acts of cruelty.

The plot, filled with the torment of conflict and anguish, create an emotionally charged and gripping tale that will move readers to empathy and reflection about the importance of resisting exclusivity, answering the issues of cultural displacement, and advocating racial and gender equality, while defining the ideas of love and home.

Overall, The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai is a beautifully written book, full of substance and dichotomy, tenderness and heartache, tension and cruelty—a book that is so gloriously good, I couldn’t put it down—and still mourn the loss I feel in turning its very last pages.

A book like this is one is one in which you befriend its fictional characters in your reading and then miss them severely, feeling a loss at having to accept that though the story does not end, the book itself, has to. The Hungry Ghosts by this gifted and mature writer will inevitably leave its readers hungering for more.

***

Characters:  5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 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 Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

shyam selvadurai

From the Shyam Selvadurai Official Website.

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Shyam Selvadurai was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965. He  came to Canada  with his family at the age of nineteen. He has studied creative writing and  theatre and has a BFA from York   University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

Funny Boy, his first novel, was published to acclaim in 1994 and won the WH Smith/Books  in Canada First Novel Award and in the US the Lambda Literary Award. It was also named a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and was translated into 8 languages.

His second novel, Cinnamon Gardens, was published in Canada, the  UK, the US and translated into 9 languages. It was shortlisted for Canada’s Trillium Award, as well as  the Aloa Literary Award in Denmark  and the Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli in Italy.

Shyam is the  editor of an anthology, Story-Wallah: A  Celebration of South Asian Fiction, published in Canada and the US, and his  novel for young adults, Swimming in the  Monsoon Sea, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and is the  winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the US, the Canadian Library  Association Book of the Year Award and Silver Winner in the Young Adult  Category of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award.

His articles have  appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Time Magazine, Toronto Life, Walrus Magazine, Enroute Magazine, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He served as Festival Curator for the Galle Literary Festival for  2 years. His fourth novel, The Hungry  Ghosts, was  published   April 2, 2013 in Canada, India and  Sri Lanka.

– From the Shyam Selvadurai Official Website

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Links:

Shyam Selvadurai’s Official Website

Connect with Shyam on Facebook

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Have you ever faced cultural displacement before? Where and how?

What unfulfilled desire do you “hunger” for the most?

Have you read Shyam Selvadurai’s book, “The Hungry Ghosts” yet? If so, what did you think of it?

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Teaser Tuesday. 06.04.2013

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Teaser Tuesday

06.04.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read • Open to a random page • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

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Here’s my random teaser for Tuesday:

“They ate in the canteen at the end of the trauma ward, where Sonja flaunted the hospital’s most sophisticated piece of technology, an industrial ice machine that inhaled much of the generator power but provided filtered water. The girl was more impressed by her warped reflection on the back of her spoon. ‘It’s December. The whole world is an ice machine.”

‘Now you’re practical,’ Sonja said.

The girl made a face at the spoon. ‘Can fingers ever grow back?’ – p. 45

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Can you guess from what title it’s from? No, problem. It’s a new release!

cloud question marks

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constellation

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It’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, published by Random House of Canada, May 7, 2013!

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What do you find “vital” in considering a book a great read?

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Congratulations, Pulitzer Prize 2013 Winners!

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Congratulations, Pulitzer Prize 2013 Winners!

04.15.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

While a number of categories are represented for Pulitzer Prizes such as:

  • Public Service in Journalism
  • Breaking News Reporting
  • Explanatory Reporting
  • Local Reporting
  • National Reporting
  • International Reporting
  • Feature Writing
  • Commentary
  • Criticism
  • Editorial Writing
  • Breaking News Photography
  • General Nonfiction
  • History
  • Drama
  • Music

I will be featuring the Pulitzer winners in the following categories:

Fiction

“For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life,…” the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is:

Awarded to “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson (Random House), an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.

– From The Pulitzer Prize 2013 Jury

orphan masters son - cvr

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An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother-a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang-and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.

– From the publisher

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Biography or Autobiography

“For a distinguished and appropriately documented biography or autobiography by an American author,…” the Pulitzer Prize winner for Biography or Autobiography is:

 Awarded to “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo,” by Tom Reiss (Crown), a compelling story of a forgotten swashbuckling hero of mixed race whose bold  exploits were captured by his son, Alexander Dumas, in famous 19th century novels.

From the Pulitzer Prize 2013 Jury

black count - cvr

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Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo – a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best-loved heroes of literature.

Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave — who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.

– From the publisher

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Poetry

“For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author,…” the Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry is:

Awarded to “Stag’s Leap,” by Sharon Olds (Alfred A. Knopf), a book of unflinching poems on the author’s divorce that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge.

– From the Pulitzer Prize 2013 Jury

stags leap - cvr

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In this wise and intimate telling-which carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending-Sharon Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up.  Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music-sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry Olds has yet given us.

– From the publisher

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Feature Photography

“For a distinguished example of feature photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs,…” the Pulitzer Prize winner for Feature Photography is:

Awarded to Javier Manzano, a free-lance photographer, for his extraordinary picture, distributed by Agence France-Presse, of two Syrian rebel soldiers tensely guarding their position as beams of light stream through bullet holes in a nearby metal wall.

– From the Pulitzer Prize 2013 Jury

To view Javier Manzano’s award-winning photo, please click here.

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Have you had the privilege of reading any of the Pulitzer Prize winning books for 2013?

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners! The prestigious Pulitzer Prize has been honouring excellence in journalism and the arts since 1917 and is well-deserved.

***

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Book Review: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Book Review:

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

03.22.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Benjamin Wood

Format: Hardcover, 420 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-8931-2

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

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The Bellwether Revivals by debut novelist, Benjamin Wood, is in a few words, an embodiment of its own subject matter: genius and enthralling madness—and the fine line it trespasses between the two.

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The narrative begins distantly, an omnipotent, observant tone that lays the foundation of its parts for the reader: the characters in Eden, the high-minded musical genius absorbed by his unconventional theories of the power of sound; Iris, his intelligent and musically talented sister who intuitively plays the cello; Oscar, the protagonist of the story, who, as the socially underprivileged and academic outsider in comparison to his new Bellwether friends, helps bring logic and compassion to this highly tense novel.

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Organ, St. Michaelis, Hamburg. Site of Johann Mattheson’s remains.

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It is a book that is equally rich in its development of characters as it is in its progressive and climatic plot, which is a feat in itself considering a book usually weighs more in one spectrum than the other.

It’s a story of Eden Bellwether and his exploration of musical theory and music itself, as a force, if rightly composed and attributed, holds physically healing and redemptive powers. His musical genius and inherent self-importance, which perhaps derived from the latent seed of mental disorder was only further perpetuated by a self-indulgent and wealthy upbringing by a family who continually encouraged his prodigious talent and fearfully succumbed to his every wish. The danger of this kind of environment coupled with the mania and complexity of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, only solidified the severity of Eden’s deteriorating psychosis.

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He’s a brilliant scholar and gifted musician, but the price of his superior intellect is a costly social incompetence that keeps him from being able to empathize and connect humanely, if not intimately with others. The egocentric nature of his character cannot help itself into amassing into a condescending, cocky, dominant, and controlling individual.

And those that suffer most from his presence and his ever-growing mania, are those who are closest to him, both in relation, in reverent awe, and intellectual worship—and even palpable fear.

From his debutante and complacent mother (Ruth), his confident and overly ambitious father (Theo), his suffering and compliant sister (Iris), to his specifically chosen friends (Marcus, Yin, and Jane) for their tolerance and adoration of Eden himself, as much as for their individual and necessary musical deftness.

Oscar, on the other hand, is resilient to Eden’s charms and holds a sobering view of the man whose mysterious genius is both exemplary and disconcerting. He is the grounding force for all those involved and the one with the most honest compassion as shown in his love and care for Dr. Paulsen, a resident of the nursing home, Cedarbrook, in which he works, and his willingness to involve himself in the matters of Eden’s “mental illness” on behalf of his growing relationship with Eden’s sister, Iris.

***

King’s College, Cambridge University, England.

This is a powerfully unsettling read that will intrigue even the most logical personality and metaphysical, occult skeptic. It moves from delusions of grandeur to frightening crescendos of absurdity and madness that begs the question of how close and intermingled genius is with giftedness and mental illness.

Filled with the idyllic sanctuary of a wealthy environment found in the Bellwethers’ lifestyle and estate, the genuine intimacy between a couple in love, and the subordinate compliance of friends who love, revere, and almost fear their friend—it’s a gorgeous book and a “hypnotic” read. It’s a subtly frightening, psychological analysis of love, friendship, and sibling rivalry that spirals into a coarse doom of the horrors, dangers, and possibilities of a brilliant mind.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a media copy in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

Zara Alexis

A Review: The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

 

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A Review:

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

02.24.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Lynn Coady

Format: Hardcover, 337 pages

Publisher: House of Anansi Books

ISBN: 978-0-88784-296-2

Pub Date: September 3, 2011

Giller Prize Short List Finalist

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The Antagonist by Lynn Coady was a short listed book finalist for the prestigious Canadian Giller Prize for 2011. So, when I opened the book, I approached it as such and expected a literary eloquence in narrative, details of landscape in setting, and a myriad of complex characters in an elaborate plot that speaks to a high order of the privileged few about its philosophy on the potential downfall or evolution of society. (Insert breath, here.) Yeah, one of those books. A book that is heavier than my hand in writing this first paragraph. Because heavy-handed is not a place a writer wants to be, nor does a reader. I know. I’m both.

So, it was much to my relief that this book surprised me (but, only after the fact, because really, I don’t like it when an author initially says in his or her writing, “Ha! And you expected Northrop Frye!”). So much for what I know.

Northrop Frye. (c) Photo by Andrew Danson

From:  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/northrop-frye

It’s said you “shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but the lesson learned here, too, is you shouldn’t judge a book by its seal of award nominations – long-listed or short.

That’s not to say it was a poorly written novel, unworthy of its shortlist Giller acclaim. It’s not. It’s a deceptively simple narrative, a confessional collection of email written by the main character, Gord Rankin Jr., also known as Rank, in response to his best friend’s (Adam) book publication in which he discovers he is the star and central character.

But, star is too kind a word for the “antagonistic” email-writer who resents being fictionalized in a novel without first granting his explicit permission, if not disclosing the full “truth” behind its story – his story. Thus, an onslaught of daily conversational rants becomes the collective essence of the book, which through its dialogue reveals the true nature of its hulking giant and his overly scrutinized temperament.

Gord Rankin Jr., as Rank, a name he imposed on himself, has but, one main identity flaw: he is big. Big for his age, bigger than his friends, and feels the pressure associated with his bulk as a weight to act out a premature manhood that he has not yet emotionally identified with, and yet has unexpectedly manifested itself into his overgrown body.

Most pre-pubescent boys wish for such a growth spurt, rushing forward into their futures searching for elusive manhood explained to them as something innately measured by the size of their biceps, the abundance of their hair growth, their sexual promiscuity and prowess with women, and the bravado of adrenalin and aggression readily exhibited in sport. At least this is the stereotype.

And Rank is the victim of such stereotypical branding. Unfortunately, not only is he unprepared to fully understand the magnification of his own strength, this stereotype, which trapped him as a child has also led him to its full supplication. He was simply too big in his own mind and others around him that he succumbed to living out a lifestyle that pegged him as an uneducated, muscle-bound brute.

But, it wasn’t just size that he battled against in his upbringing. It was his own animosity towards his brash-mouthed, brazen father and the loss of his idyllic, “saintly” mother. This kind of burden coupled with a readily instilled, hot temper coupled with physical dominance is bound to erupt in some form of violence whether it be unintended or not. And the outcome can be traumatic.

And so, it is through this therapeutic email writing that Rank slowly discloses to the reader as well as to his friend, Adam, his version of the story that has been, according to Rank, superficially immortalized in a book.

Subordinate characters in the story include a quick-tempered father, a drug-pushing thug, a judgemental constable, a college fraternity of friends, an alcoholic bouncer, a Born-Again girlfriend, and an empathetic counsellor and hockey coach—all catalysts to a larger story to the bulk of Rank, himself.

It is an easy, quick read. At times the writing is self-absorbed, but then how can it not be, considering the email writing is one-sided and self-reflective? This book is as much an internal dialogue as it is long-winded. It has to be. It’s email—in all its technological-acronym-glory of OMGs and modern, street-dialogue including the word, fuck. But, there is brash wit and a hidden intelligence in Rank’s dialogue that lets you know that he’s no “dumb jock.”

The friendship between Adam and himself, though not fully articulated, is one of polar opposites, where Rank, the broad-shouldered, meat-eating, alcohol-partying guy finds a confidence in the quiet assurance and watchfulness of his academic peer and counterpart, Adam.

It’s a story about strength and the lack of it; about family and friendship; and the power of the fist as much as it is about men and the fragility of their egos—as well as their hearts.

Now, go and punch something for not buying this book sooner.

No?

Good.

Better to just go and read this book instead.

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Zara’s Rating

       

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A special thank you to the House of Anansi for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

02.05.2012

By Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Author: Erin Morgenstern
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: September 13, 2011

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The Night Circus is an intricate tale of creativity with a rich cast of characters who, with their specific gifts and talents help showcase the magical realism that moves throughout the book.

It is about Le Cirque des Rêves aptly translated as The Circus of Dreams not only because of its hours of operation that only takes place nocturnally in the evening until dawn, but also because of its dreamlike and fantastical effect on its patrons.

A circus is usually attributed to magic and feats of wonder as a form of entertainment. This circus, rather than only a collection of good showmanship skills of deception and tricks that audiences can enjoy simply as voyeurs, instead becomes an organic house of multiple tents, pathways, and magic that invites and seduces its patrons to not only visit, but also participate in and experience.

Image from:     http://matchbookclub.blogspot.com/2011/10/enchanted.html

So much so, there are those avid followers of the circus in the book who themselves become a cultist group of lifetime worshippers, a secret society that dubbed its name from the whisperings of rumour later known as the réveurs. The réveurs, a fanatical, creative group reveal themselves to each other by a colour coded uniform: black, white, grey, and a “splash of red” in honour of Le Cirque des Rêves’ own colour theme throughout its grounds: black, white, and black and white stripes.

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/b-randy/6327494925/

But the story goes further than providing simple entertainment to its patrons or to its readers. The true premise of the night circus as a venue is its stage for a duel competition between two gifted adversaries, Celia Bowen, daughter of famous and renowned illusionist, Prospero the Enchanter, and Marco, orphan-turned-student to The Man in the Grey Suit, Alexander H.

Together, they simultaneously study under the tutelage of their magician masters, honing in on strengthening their natural gifts—Celia, who is able to move, dismantle, and return objects to their natural form, and Marco, who is able to create illusions within the minds of his chosen audience—until each in turn must learn to outdo the other in the competition of their lives.

Though I found the romantic dialogue and narrative to be somewhat exaggerated, I believe the author was attempting to showcase the lovers’ passion and strong connection to one another through their magic. It is highly unrealistic, but then what story of deep, passionate love ever is? The two lovers are intrinsically a different type of breed altogether.

Image from: http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/01/22/carnival-of-fear/

As the gifts of the competitors strengthen and expand, so does the complication of the circus. The characters that belong to or are involved with the circus are:

  •  Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, a wealthy eccentric gifted in hosting elaborate parties called Midnight Dinners, who also has an inherent talent with knife-throwing.
  • Mme. Ana Padva, a retired Romanian prima ballerina with an impeccable sense of style who is revered for her fashion design and seamstress skills.
  • Mr. Ethan W. Barris, a gifted engineer and architect.
  • The Burgess twins, Tara and Lainie, dancers, actresses, who provide consultation on various subjects due to their keen sense of observation.
  • Alexander H., the man in the grey suit who is best known to wear a top hat and carry a cane.
  • Tsukiko, the tattooed contortionist.
  • Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a gifted artisan and clockmaker commissioned to create a showcase piece for the circus.
  • Isobel Martin, tarot reader and fortuneteller.
  • Bailey Alden Clarke, a young circus enthusiast.
  • Winston Aiden Murray nicknamed Widget, a twin born on the opening night of Le Cirque des Rêves.
  • Penelope Aislin Murray called Poppet, the second of the twins to be born on opening night.

As these characters become more deeply embedded in the circus’ magic and its danger, the effects on its members and its patrons, as well as its own magic, slowly becomes darker.

As fantastical and wondrous as magic can be, there is always an undercurrent of dark that runs within it because its mysteries are not readily understood, accepted, revealed, nor practiced. An array of magical practice is showcased in the book as homage to the art of the occult.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/wovendumpster/the-night-circus/

Yet, they far stretch the limits of what we normally understand as magic. Erin Morgenstern has moved beyond the boundaries of what we are familiar with and has created a new world of richly, imaginative ideas.

The beauty of this book is in the literal magic that takes place within its pages. Where our imagination has failed to carry us further than what we yearn to experience and understand, Morgenstern has supplied a richly imaginative story, plot, and magical realism that inspires us to believe not only in her authoritative writing powers, but also her fantastic and creative imagination.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182599118/

Reprinned by Morgan Koch

If Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is deemed a rich classic, Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus is its modern and magical counterpart.

Image from: http://geoffarcher.wordpress.com/

The cover design is intelligently made to match the colour themes found in the book from its starlit front cover, to its black and white striped first pages, right down to its red stitched hardcover binding.

It’s a wondrous, intoxicating book that needs to be thoroughly read more than once, over and over. A naturally born skeptic myself, Erin Morgenstern has been able to magically convert me to becoming one of her night circus’ devoted rèveurs. The mysterious pages of the book continue to be turned in Friedrick Thiessen’s clock: tick, tock, tick, tock…and poof!

Image from: http://homeiswheretheboatis.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-night-circus/

For the addicted réveur, it will always become dawn too soon.

Where will you be when Le Cirque des Rêves comes to the outskirts of your town?

As for me, I’ll be in the black and white striped tent wearing my blood-red scarf, looking out for The Man in the Grey Suit in the shadows, Prospero the Enchanter amongst the stain-glass windows, and Celia and Marco in the Ice Garden, bound by magic and love. 

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182602219/

Pinned by Linda D.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Random House Canada for providing me with a signed copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for review.

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