Review: Lost Animal Club by Kevin A. Couture

29902528.jpgTitle: Lost Animal Club

Author: Kevin A. Couture

Publisher: NeWest Press

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9781926455662

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In his debut story collection, Kevin A. Couture creates a world where the veneer of humanness stretches thin and often cracks, while burdened characters take on a variety of beast-like traits. In his desperate survival plan, a pre-teen “rescues” dogs in order to sell them back to their well-off owners. A hare-like marathon pacesetter reflects on the pace she sets, for others and for herself, both on and off the race route. A man confronts his drive for alcohol and the deadly and isolating consequences that leave him to risk his last scrap of control. And two kids, for different reasons, execute their plan to capture a bear cub.

What an intense short story collection from author Kevin A. Couture. As a debit, this collection packs a punch–it’s strong, unexpected, and fiercely moving. The stories are full of emotions of fear, strength, desperation, confusion, survival–those really nitty gritty human emotions that shape and drive us. These emotions are what makes us imperfect and so deeply flawed. Couture faces dark and often disturbing themes head on in a way that is artful and masterful. These are stories to make you think, as well as to question, what it truly means to be human, especially in the context of interacting with others. Who are we as we relate to those around us?

These stories stuck with me, so consuming that they infiltrated my dreams in an unexpected way. Days, or even a week, after reading these stories, I found myself remembering them and sinking into them and questioning if it was something I’d come up with in my own head, before remembering that no, it was a story that is still dancing through my mind. I found Couture to be so startling and so unpredictable. I’m excited to see what else he has to offer.



Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

ISBN: 9780735213180

Synopsis from Goodreads:
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present? It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Benjamin’s The Immortalists is quite a captivating tale that combines together topics of family, love, coming of age, crime, loss, and mysticism in to one neat package. It is the story of the Gold children, each told the date of their death by a mysterious fortune teller, and left to lead their lives haunted by this information. Whether or not this information holds any truth or bearing on reality is to be discovered. Benjamin weaves this peculiar tale through the individual perspectives of each child–her structure (one story at a time, decidedly separate from the stories that come before and after) reflecting so vividly the familial relationships throughout the story. Although we, the readers, are privy to the characters’ insights, they themselves are often ignorant to information and emotions held by their own family members. In this way, the story is often frustrating as all the reader wants is for these characters to put differences aside and to open up to one another. If only they could and perhaps much tragedy would be forgotten. As much as it is frustrating, it truly speaks to reality and genuine family dynamics–families often face a dissonance when held to particular standards or expectations, but beneath all layers of hurt and regret, there lies unwavering love and loyalty.

Benjamin’s tale, at its root, speaks of the human experience: of imperfection, mistakes, diverged paths, craving for belonging and truth, need for truth, desire for purpose, etc. The author doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, bringing these characters and their stories to life in a visceral and tangible way. The characters are so real, I felt as though I could reach out and touch them. Benjamin’s style is full of life, despite dwelling so much on the topic of death. It’s a compelling topic to address, this notion of knowing the date of one’s own death. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as The Immortalists so intimately explores.

My only criticism, and the reason I didn’t give it 5 stars on Goodreads, is that this story didn’t fully immerse me in the consuming emotional experience that I think it has the potential to offer. A book becomes profound and even life-changing for me (one to add to the favourites list) if I really experience that emotional and moving connection with the story and the characters. While this book was beautiful and so vividly real, there was something missing that I can’t quite place my finger on. It made me want to cry, but something stopped me. For a book so consumingly full of loss and love, I wasn’t able to completely lose myself to its story. This is not hugely detrimental, by any means. It is an excellent story, by an incredibly talented author. It’s one that I highly recommend, without a doubt.



Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett

35248505.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: S.T.A.G.S.

Author: M.A. Bennett

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

ISBN: 9780735264144


Synopsis from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

I really do dislike having to give negative reviews, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I really didn’t enjoy Bennett’s S.T.A.G.S. I’d hoped I would, but the more I got into the book, the more unrealistic and far fetched it seemed. I love when new worlds are built–there are endless possibilities–and authors can really do a lot to suck you into their worlds and to convince you of the setting as reality. The reader can suspend disbelief and accept the world in a  truly well-written tale. Unfortunately, at least for me, that wasn’t the case.

S.T.A.G.S. is meant to be a suspenseful and thrilling story, with an element of horror. The world of privilege that the reader is brought into is tainted by centuries long family secrets of torture, abuse, and even murder. The plot is easy to guess, perhaps simplifies for a younger intended audience. The story so obviously shouts “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE SINISTER” in a way that takes away from the eeriness of the setting and draws attention to the mystery and impending doom. It left no surprises and left me feeling pretty disconnected from the story as a whole.


Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

35504431Title: Turtles All the Way Down

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 2017

ISBN: 9780525555360

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

Although I haven’t been a huge fan of John Green’s books in the past, I really connected with Turtles All the Way Down. Aza struggles with debilitating anxiety. She falls into these catastrophizing  spirals, overcome by the fear of infections and germs. Green writes Aza’s anxiety in a way that is so consuming and emotional. I found myself crying more than once in this book as Aza struggles to understand herself and to connect with others. She works to gain an understanding of her self and her self in relation to others, Aza struggles to get through school, to connect with her friends, and to give dating a try. She’s looking towards her future, but it’s difficult for her to imagine how she’ll get there, where she’ll end up, and how she’ll survive. Past the anxiety, there is the mystery of Davis Pickett’s missing father. Aza’s search for her self is paralleled by her physical search for Davis’ father.

This portrayal of mental illness is raw and honest. It’s a struggle to read because of the thick emotion and the feeling of being trapped that Aza experiences. It is often overwhelming in it’s realness because it can bring up a lot of feelings in the reader. I could feel the anxiety well up in me as I read through. Aza faces a lot of OCD and obsessive thoughts. She feels a lot of pain and hatred towards herself for being unable to stop her compulsions. I feel like a lot of readers out there will really relate to Aza. Her story is one of struggle, but there is also hope and triumph. She is able to find contentment and strength in this story. She is able to see light at the end of the tunnel. As much as this story is heartbreaking, it’s also inspiring.

My biggest complaint is the awful cover of this book. It’s a terribly hideous cover and is definitely not one that I would pick up. A friend of mine recommended this book and gave me her copy to read, along with the highest praise. I would not have picked it up in the store. Despite the ugly jacket, this book stands out as an incredible and moving read with a protagonist who is flawed and struggles–she is so very  human. I’m very glad to have enjoyed a John Green book.


Review: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

33584812.jpgTitle: Mrs. Fletcher

Author: Tom Perrotta

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: August 2017

ISBN: 9781501144028

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence. Meanwhile, miles away at the state college, Eve’s son Brendan—a jock and aspiring frat boy—discovers that his new campus isn’t nearly as welcoming to his hard-partying lifestyle as he had imagined. Only a few weeks into his freshman year, Brendan is floundering in a college environment that challenges his white-dude privilege and shames him for his outmoded, chauvinistic ideas of sex. As the New England autumn turns cold, both mother and son find themselves enmeshed in morally fraught situations that come to a head on one fateful November night.

Mrs. Fletcher is a story so far out of my reading comfort zone, and I think it was just a bit too much for me to really enjoy it. I found this a bit disappointing because there are many interesting explorations of topics such as gender, adulthood, selfhood, and sexuality. But this is a very sexy book, to the point where it really takes away from these fascinating themes. This book was a bit of a flop for me.

Eve is exploring a new phase in her life as she becomes an empty nester. She’s an incredibly interesting character. As she attends a weekly Gender and Society class, she begins to explore and question her own sexuality, trying to discover who she is in this new role. Her story is the more fascinating of the two. I think Eve really faces some big struggles and some large life changes that she’s trying to make sense of. She’s not sure who she is when she isn’t a mother.

On the other hand, her son Brandon is a chauvinistic jerk. He experiences very little growth. He’s rude to women, self centre, judgmental, unforgiving. He’s hurtful and has no redeeming qualities. I didn’t find his part of the story enjoyable or relatable at all. He’s gross and his story isn’t funny or endearing in the end. He’s a complete mess.

I think this is a book that people will either love or hate. I don’t think there is any in between. I didn’t really get the humour of this book. It thought it had a lot of emotion behind it and there were a lot of intelligent themes, but it fell flat for me. Not into it.


Review: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

35297339*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Asymmetry

Author: Lisa Halliday

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

ISBN: 9781501166761

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, “Folly,” tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, “Folly” also suggests an aspiring novelist’s coming-of-age. By contrast, “Madness” is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.

One of the most commonly used words to describe this book on Goodreads is “clever.” I can attest that this book is indeed clever, as well as masterfully crafted, astute, observant, tender, and stimulating. It’s an intelligent book with characters who are so honestly created that the pages breathe with their life. It is a novel to make you think and to provide a different perspective on our ever-changing world. This book challenges it’s reader to accept situations that are atypical and perhaps outside of ones comfort zone: a relationship between a  young editor and a geriatric author, and inside a Customs office as an Iraqi-American man is detained by an immigration officer who questions his sincerity.  Halliday highlights inequalities that exist in our world–the judgements people impose, the lack of acceptance, the unfounded stereotypes. Her novel addresses ideas of faith, culture, wealth, memory, and age. Although the stories appear tenuously connected, Halliday ties her novellas together into one novel through these themes.

On a personal level, I did not connect with the characters in this story, however I found this story to be incredibly stimulating intellectually. The characters are thoughtful and witty. Each sentence of the story is purposeful. Halliday doesn’t waste words. Her writing is artful and intentional, leading the reader into a very reflective and contemplative work.

I had trouble rating this story on Goodreads. On the one hand, I was increasingly engaged with this story the more that I read. On the other, I did feel a sense of disconnect with the characters and started to fade as I got closer to the end of the story. In the end, I’ve decided that this book deserves 4 stars, although personally, I’d place it at 3.5. It’s a singularly unique and inventive story. It certainly requires some time and thought to read, but overall, it was thoroughly enjoyable to read.


Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

32223884Title: The Child Finder

Author: Rene Denfeld

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

ISBN: 9780062659071

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope. Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too. As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

What a wonderfully moving and emotional story about pain, loss, fear, as well as hope, recovery, and strength. Denfeld’s The Child Finder is about a dedicated and persistent woman, Naomi, who works as a private investigator specializing in finding missing children. Noami is a woman with a mystery past. She knows she showed up in a field one day in her childhood and was taken in by her foster mom, but prior to that, her life is a blank slate. Her dreams hint at something terrifying, but what that thing is, Naomi doesn’t know. When she returns to Oregon to work on a new missing child case, Naomi is confronted by her past as well as by the possibility that perhaps not all cases are solvable.

We also get to see into the life of the Snow Girl who lives a devastating life in captivity. She spends years in his home facing unimaginable horror, but as such a young child, she knows no differently. She learns to love her captor and they communicate in silence, forming an unnatural bond in an incredibly unnatural situation. The Snow Child grows and becomes conflicted with her life. She understands that something is off with her situation, but she has learned how to achieve relative safety in her current environment and the world beyond is foreign and unknown.

Denfeld’s writing is breathtaking. The stories she weaves in this book are both devastating and beautiful. Her plot is so intense, you feel as though her world has come alive in front of you. Even when she writes about the most unspeakable things, her writing is artful in its description so that her story breaks your heart. She does not dwell on things to terrible to name. She leads you in and out of the horrors of this story so that hope is found in between the words. Her writing is always hinting at recovery and restoration of good. This is a story of true love and deep pain and is absolutely alive in these emotions.

Denfled has earned a solid place on my roster of favourite writers. She’s an artist with a pen and each of her books is gorgeously written. She addresses tough topics and difficult situations with an empathetic mind, opening the pages of her novels to explorations of both sides of a troubling situation. I would encourage you to read her books and open your mind to reading something that isn’t flowery and isn’t easy, but is entirely beautiful in a very different way, to discover the emotional worlds that she creates.