Book review: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Killing Commendatore

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: October 9, 2018

ISBN: 9780385690690

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors. A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby—Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.

Killing Commendatore has the prose that we’ve come to expect from a typical Murakami book. Set on an isolated mountain top, this story follows an artist after his wife has left him for another man. The artists world is filled with little bit a small cast of characters who live alongside him, a painting by the famous artist whose home he now inhabits, and the strange ring of a bell that keeps him up at night. This story explores themes of love, loss, family, friendship, and loneliness throughout. Reminiscent of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles with it’s surrealist approach to the otherworldly, Killing Commenditore has its protagonist questioning what truth and existence really means for him. He questions his grasp on what is real and what is not, learning to overcome his own fears and hesitations and to take control of his life in a way he hadn’t been doing previously.

Murakami, as always, writes with mystery and strong undercurrents of the sinister. This world moves seamlessly between the real and the surreal, but it’s never clear if there is evil lurking in characters both real and seemingly imagined. I don’t think any of the characters are good or evil, per se, but their intentions and motives are never clearly defined. These characters are all reflecting on their own selves, trying to come to an understanding of their own states of being and their interaction with the world around them. Even the painting at the core of this book is interpreted constantly as a piece of self reflection on the part of the famous painter.

There is no way that one can gain everything that there is to be gained from a reading of a Murkami novel in one singular reading. This is a book to be read again and again. It needs time for digesting and for contemplation. This isn’t one you should get into if you don’t have the time to really devote to it. This novel really speaks of Murakami’s style and tone. It’s well worth the read and it’s got me itching for more.

Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

*I received this book from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire

Auther: Natasha Ngan

Publisher: Little Brown and Company

Publication Date: November 6, 2018

ISBN: 9780316489461

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel. But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire. Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest. Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

What an fierce beginning to what I’m sure will be an exciting series. The Girls of Paper and Fire introduces us to dynamite character, Lei. In this intricate and politically distraught world, Lei is stolen away from everything she’s ever known to become a concubine for the kind. While many view this as a blessing bestowed upon her by luck, Lei cannot believe the injustice committed against her and the other paper girls. She’s a fiery spirit who dares to pursue a hidden love–shout out for a marvelous LGBTQ character! Lei is strong, passionate, and driven character. She’s not easily broken and she fights for justice. 

Her world is incredible. Ngan is an excellent world builder. The majority of the story takes place within the palace grounds, but the world they know is under great pressure from the threat of the “Sickness” and the caste/racial biases that exist were created and are enforced by war. An elite class of demons has established itself as the ruling tier while humans lie at the bottom. No one has successfully spoken out against this system and those who defy it are snuffed out. It’s incredibly tyrannical.

Fair warning, this book contains discussion of both rape and physical/sexual violence. It’s not incredibly graphic which opens the door for analysis and discussion in a more approachable manner. As well, this courtesan custom does speak to a historical truth that concubines were kept for kings and emperors which permeated so many societies of the past and that wives were simply there for the purpose for producing heirs, only celebrated once the male heir was born. Ngan introduce inspiring female and feminist characters who modernize this terrible and age-old story and brings forth a movement to fight against this violence and patriarchal world that objectifies women for their bodies, taking advantage of them despite race or class.

This book is about overcoming and inspiring hope, despite the deepest darkness that can permeate a world. It’s about fighting back against the unjust and seeking to destroy or change the system for the better. The female characters, for the most part, lift one another up, although some do fall prey to the brainwashing of those above them, perhaps out of preservation, but we’ll never really know. I can’t wait to see how these girls take this fight to the next level in book 2.

Book Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

*I received this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Muse of Nightmares

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780316341714

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep. Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else? As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected.

AHHHH! Ok, review done. Just kidding! Laini Taylor will forever be one of my favourite YA authors. There has yet to be a book of hers that I didn’t like. She’s a fantasy writing goddess.  I really don’t want to give too much away because this is a sequel. Let me tell you up front, if you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer, then GO GET IT NOW! 

Just to recap, this series explores the world of gods, godspawn, and humans. Book one walks us through Lazlo’s perspective as he discovers the strange city of Weep and the mysterious citadel in the sky that has plagued their city for years. Book two, Muse of Nightmares, thrusts the aftermath of this story onto the reader confronting death and loss head on. Everything has changed and the characters must now figure out how to move forward in their new realities. Blends the present with an origin story, Taylor offers the reader a comprehensive look at how her world came to be and how it can possible progress forward from here. There is so much hurt and hatred that permeates this story, that it’s seemingly impossible that any peace or resolution might be found.

Taylor proves again and again that she is a masterful storyteller. Her tale calls back to the previous book, gently reminding us of all the action that occurred without becoming repetitive. She has built a vivid and tangible world, demonstrating her deftness with the figurative pen. Her already expansive universe explodes in this novel, becoming something that the reader never imagined. She demonstrates her ability to weave and transform story lines, allowing them to grow and adapt without becoming too out of control or overwhelming. It remains engaging, well-structured, and beautiful. Her world is sound and ever changing. 

The characters are breathtaking as they unfold throughout the story’s progression. This book allows us to experience the same characters even more deeply, as well as introducing new characters whose stories are equally devastating. There is SO.MUCH.CHARACTER.GROWTH. I’m so pleased. Even new characters have complete story arcs and incredible transformation throughout the novel. Delving into Minya’s past, we experience her tortuous past and begin to understand her complexity in intense and devastating detail. We also see Sarai and Lazlo struggle with the new realities that they face and we follow them as they explore new possibilities. 

Everything about this duology is incredible. The only thing I wants is MORE of these books! 

Book Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Broken Things

Author: Lauren Oliver

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780062224132

Synopsis from Goodreads:

It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods. 

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it. 

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.

I can’t say I loved or hated Broken Things by Lauren Oliver. I didn’t mind it, but it was nowhere near as good as Panic or DeliriumBroken Things tells the story of 3 teenagers–two girls in particular–who were accused of killing their best friend when they were thirteen years old. The story is intricately wrapped up with a fantasy novel that they adored and a fan fiction that they were writing together. 

The story has a very haunted and supernatural quality to it. It’s a spooky murder mystery YA novel with characters who are struggling greatly in the aftermath of wrongful accusation. These girls’ lives have changed so drastically in the 5 years since their friends deal, yet they are still at the centre of the town’s scorn and derision. Few have forgiven them their past and even fewer make attempts to make amends.

I had a really hard time believing the towns conviction in believing that 2 girls that young really committed such a brutal murder. I could understand the cold case and I could really get on board with looking into the victims friend, but the hatred that the town feels for these young girls, even after they are no longer suspects, it fierce and enduring. It weaves a very tragic tale. 

I did enjoy the friendships that developed throughout the book. Oliver always writes very interesting and well-developed characters. This book shows a story arc of things past, present, and future, and the characters really grow and blossom as the story unfolds. If you’re really in the mood for some against-the-grain type characters, this is the right book for you. They are interesting, in depth, and anything but normal. There’s a lot of hormones, feelings, memories, and so much more at play, adding to the difficulty of their search to find their friend’s real killer. 

What I liked about this book as well was that it tackled some other big issues. It explored drug abuse, physical and mental abuse, depression, anxiety, familial relationships, sexuality and sexual orientation, and so much more. It does really pack a punch with the strong variety of characters and personalities. This story really showcases the spectrum of struggles that people face throughout their lives, both intensely difficult, but also mundane.

Overall, I think fans of Oliver will enjoy this read, but it’s certainly not as powerful as her other series. For me, it was just fine, but I hope you’ll enjoy it more!

Happy reading

Book Review: Light Years by Kass Morgan

38496759*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Light Years

Author: Kass Morgan

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 9, 2018

ISBN: 9780316510448

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Reeling from the latest attack by a mysterious enemy, the Quatra Fleet Academy is finally admitting students from every planet in the solar system after centuries of exclusivity. Hotshot pilot Vesper, an ambitious Tridian citizen, dreams of becoming a captain – but when she loses her spot to a brilliant, wisecracking boy from the wrong side of the asteroid belt, it makes her question everything she thought she knew. Growing up on the toxic planet Deva, Cormak will take any chance he can get to escape his dead-end life and join the Academy – even if he has to steal someone’s identity to do it. Arran was always considered an outsider on icy Chetire, always dreaming of something more than a life working in the mines. Now an incoming cadet, Arran is looking for a place to belong – he just never thought that place would be in the arms of a Tridian boy. And Orelia is hiding a dark secret – she’s infiltrated the Academy to complete a mission, one that threatens the security of everyone there. But if anyone finds out who she really is, it’ll be her life on the line. These cadets will have to put their differences aside and become a team to defend their world from a cunning enemy – but the danger might be lurking closer to home than they think…

Light Years is a sci-fi novel that is perfect for fans of The Illuminae Files or The Lunar Chronicles. Four teens from vastly differing backgrounds are thrown together on a cadet team as they learn to navigate missions and work to gain an education in the face of an imminent war against an enemy known only as the Spectres. This book is packed full of diverse characters each with varied pasts and all who are kicking ass as this story unfolds. The author doesn’t call any special attention to these characters and it’s refreshing to read about them in such a naturally presented context. Each character is living their story, same as the others.

This book really spends a lot of time establishing this universe and providing the reader with context, setting up the remainder of the series. The story is presented in four separate perspectives which provides us with a close look at each of the primary characters’ inner dialogues. We get to know each of them so well. Each voice is so distinct and each characters is unique with their strengths, flaws, triumphs, and anxieties. Despite having so many characters, Moran is able to provide each with a complete story arc. Arran, Cormack, Vesper, and Orelia each experience their own transformation throughout the story. This book contains excellent character development for being so short. The academy that these four are enrolled in challenges their worlds and everything they thought they knew. Their perspective begin to open up beyond the worlds that they grew up in. There’s still so much more for them to learn in books to come.

The story moves along quickly and is engaging and very sweet at times. There are quite a few romances throughout–a few I could have done without–but it offers a nice balance to the rigorous training that the students are engaging in. There are many lighthearted moments to balance the racial and discriminatory tensions that arise throughout the book. The book has a well-rounded discussion of friendship, romance, espionage, colonization, status, classicism, ableism, and so much more.

I’m excited to read book two in this series. It has a lot of potential to be a heart-pounding, intense, and also romantic series. I can see this book being incredibly popular among a wide-audience of readers.

Book review: Educated by Tara Westover

35564920Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: February 20, 2018

ISBN: 9780399590504

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Tara Westover was seventeen when she first set foot in a classroom. Instead of traditional lessons, she grew up learning how to stew herbs into medicine, scavenging in the family scrap yard and helping her family prepare for the apocalypse. She had no birth certificate and no medical records and had never been enrolled in school. Westover’s mother proved a marvel at concocting folk remedies for many ailments. As Tara developed her own coping mechanisms, little by little, she started to realize that what her family was offering didn’t have to be her only education. Her first day of university was her first day in school—ever—and she would eventually win an esteemed fellowship from Cambridge and graduate with a PhD in intellectual history and political thought.

Tara Westover’s story of her pursuit of education is a brave and honest retelling of her childhood struggle to know more about the world around her. Growing up in a survivalist, Mormon family, young Tara knows nothing of the world around her–a fact made startlingly clear to her over and over again as she grows older and pursues education. Her account of her father and her devotion to him throughout her young life is profound and is sometimes a struggle to understand. Despite his extreme views and beliefs and his complete intolerance for anything that he views as an affront to his religion, Tara continues to love him and believe in him. Even when their differences grow to be too great, her heart is still open to him and her family.

This story is very difficult to read at time for the abuses and injustices that occur. Tara’s strength to seek out education is inspiring. Her adult life is full of encouraging mentors who recognize her potential. Her story demonstrates the benefit and necessity of education in the world. Although her family deems it to be evil and do not understand her as she drifts away from their world, Tara continues to seek out her path to knowledge.

This story is incredibly powerful and moving. I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s an important story to hear and to understand. Tara’s struggle for education isn’t unique, but hopefully she can inspire others to aid those who also wish to learn and do not have the ability or freedom to pursue it.

I would highly recommend this memoir. This is one I could read again and again.

Book Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

*I received this book from PGC Books in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Christmas Lights

Author: Karen Swan

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

ISBN: 9781509840618

Synopsis from Goodreads:
December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen. The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

The Christmas Lights was everything I hoped for in a fluffy Christmas story driven by wanderlust and fully of scenic Norwegian fjords. It’s the perfect book for cuddling up with in front of the fireplace. What’s it about? Social media influencers and real-life couple Bo and Zac are travelling the world, promoting products and making a comfortable living by putting their relationship and outdoor adventures on display. If you don’t have the bug to hope on a plane to Norway when you’re finished reading this, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you! 😉 

This is my first Karen Swan book and I can’t say that I’m totally hooked on her after reading this, but her Christmas books appeal to me in the same way that I can’t stop listening to Nicholas Sparks audiobooks. It’s not for the overwhelmingly mind-blowing prose, but there’s something comforting about reading a fluff piece with a relatively simple plot, a whirlwind romance, and a gorgeous setting. What was quite compelling about this story is that there’s a dark side to it which creates added suspense and attempts to make the second half of the book almost into an intense mystery/thriller. The lovely Christmas spirit is overshadowed with an unknown dark presence that threatens the free-spirited existence of the protagonist.

The characters weren’t anything special, but they drive the plot. I didn’t really believe the relationship between the main characters, but I suppose that’s the point. Their relationship is meant to unravel right from the get go and you can really tell. I wasn’t enthralled by the new romance that springs up as the story progresses either. You can see it coming a mile away so there’s no real will-they-wont-they suspense. I wish I could have enjoyed Bo a little bit more, but I really wanted her to be more concrete. She felt like a phantom imagination of what a social media traveler might be, but not really like a real girl. She lacked a lot of conviction. Her boyfriend is pretty terrible, but we’re supposed to not like him, so Swan succeeds in that. Everyone fell pretty flat. Even the antagonist in the end was not as terrifying as he’s built up to be.

Overall though, the scenic descriptions and breathtaking setting made up for it and I was perfectly content to read. I’ve even checked out another one of Swan’s books from the library. This definitely isn’t a bad read if you’re looking for something light to read this Christmas season!