Review: The Strays by Emily Bitto

30145124*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Strays

Author: Emily Bitto

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada

Publication Date: January 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781455537723

The Strays: A Novel
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On her first day at a new school, Lily befriends one of the daughters of infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. Lily has never experienced anything like the Trenthams’ home, where Evan and his wife have created a wild, makeshift family of like-minded artists, all living and working together to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930’s Australia. An only child accustomed to loneliness, Lily soon becomes infatuated with the creative chaos of the Trenthams and aches to fully belong. Despite the Trenthams’ glamorous allure, the artists’ real lives are shaped by dire Faustian bargains and spectacular falls from grace. As the girls find themselves drawn closer to the white-hot flame of creativity, emotions and art collide with explosive consequences–and Evan’s own daughters may be forced to pay a dangerous price for his choices.
—–
The synopsis of this story does a good job of hiding most of what goes on in this shocking tale, so much so that I was completely surprised at how this book unfolded. I loved that nothing is revealed and Bitto’s tale remains quite a surprise. This book evoked a lot of emotion in me: shock, anger, sadness, intrigue. This story of artists coming together is very visceral. The emotion of the characters in a story told decades after the fact, is still raw and very much present.

Lily, the narrator, takes on a fly-on-the-wall role in this story. Her role as the narrator is not to tell her own story, but to share the story of the Trentham family. We’re as distant from her as she feels from her own family. It’s hard to get to know her because her words are observations of the goings on around her. She loves this world where she is accepted without question–although the reader sees this as something akin to neglect. She can escape her own world by letting the Trentham family consume her. Lily is a vessel for this story.

I found the book to be a little chaotic. There are a lot of relationships taking place: Lily and Eva, the Trenthams, the artists that come to reside in the home, Lily and her parents, Eva’s sisters. It’s a whirlwind, but I think that’s the point. I think that Bitto shares this world through the eyes of a growing child. She doesn’t fully understand the world around her, but through this book, she comes to learn things both beautiful and horrible.

There are some pretty tough themes and topics dealt with in this book, and I don’t know if they are fully resolved. I didn’t feel completely satisfied in the end. I wanted more. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for a happy ending, but this is a story so turbulent that a happy ending may not be possible. Bitto has an alluring writing style and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she presents her world and her characters. However, it’s not a book that made me happy. It talks about many upsetting things, presented through the eyes of a child who’s ignorance prevents her–at least until she’s older–from fully understanding.

Review: The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J. M. Lee

28943776*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

Author: J. M. Lee

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

ISBN: 9781681772523

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
Synopsis from Goodreads:
An unidentified body is discovered in New York City, with numbers and symbols written in blood near the corpse. Gil­mo, a North Korean national who interprets the world through numbers, formulas, and mathematical theories, is arrested on the spot. Angela, a CIA operative, is assigned to gain his trust and access his unique thought-process. The enigmatic Gil­mo used to have a quiet life back in Pyongyang. But when his father, a preeminent doctor is discovered to be a secret Christian, he is subsequently incarcerated along with Gilmo, in a political prison overseen by a harsh, cruel warden. There, Gilmo meets the spirited Yeong-ae, who becomes his only friend. When Yeong-ae manages to escape, Gil­mo flees to track her down. He uses his peculiar gifts to navigate betrayal and the criminal underworld of east Asia—a world wholly alien to everything he’s ever known.
—–
Thank you so much to Pegasus Books for sharing this incredibly intriguing story with me. We meet Gilmo in the midst of a shocking tragedy: someone has been murdered and Gilmo is the prime suspect. Through his interrogating we come to understand him and his life, from North Korea all the way to America. With a character reminiscent of the boy from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Boy Who Escaped Paradise tells the story of a young man who understands numbers and math better than people. In his harrowing tale, he’s befriended, used, taken advantage of, and so much worse, but he remains a loyal, but naive friend to those in his life.
I thought that this story had a fascinating, yet quite awkward protagonist who’s quirks will draw you to him, but also set the reader apart as he’s quite difficult to relate to. He’s such a trusting character, seeing only the good in others and so willing to trust. He makes his way in the world, working hard and harnessing his talent with numbers to find his place in the world. One can’t help but feel for him because of his lack of understanding of humanities inclination towards deception. His world is a cruel one. The plot moved along with great pacing. I was quickly turning the pages trying to find out what was going to happen next. Gilmo has quite a story to tell.
I very much enjoyed this novel and I hope you will as well. I thought that it was well-written, entertaining, and moving.

Review: A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

22638315Title: A Reunion of Ghosts

Author: Judith Claire Mitchell

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9780062355881

A Reunion of Ghosts

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit. As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.


I had a really tough time with A Reunion of Ghosts which I found a bit disappointing because I’d been looking forward to reading it for a while. It’s the story of the Alter sisters who are in the midst of planning their death. This book is their suicide note. The Alter family is cursed by the great-grandfather who developed the chemical that was used as a lethal gas in WWI and the lethal agent in the gas chambers of WWII. This is a sad tale, with little happiness or redemptive quality. It’s a story without hope. The “family curse” is an inescapable burden to them. To them, they’ve been doomed from the start.

Suicide hangs over this family at every turn. Aunts, parents, grandparents, have all killed themselves from the shame, sadness, and anger at the devastation that hangs in their family history. Eventually, suicide becomes their own personal destinies. Even as one of the sisters thinks to fight it, and even makes a significant attempt to leave this tragic destiny behind, she fails and ultimately succumbs to the curse.

It’s a very sad story. The sisters are trapped by the sadness of the inescapable. We get to know the sisters as much as we get to know their ancestors and their history. Where they come from informs who they are.

I’ve decided that dark humour just isn’t my style. The reviews that I’ve read about this book seem to all be good, but I found that this type of humour was lost on me. I found this book deeply depressing and sad. It was very hard for me to finish and it took me a long time to read.

Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

22725443Title: Hausfrau

Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 2015

ISBN: 9780812997538

Hausfrau

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.  But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.


Essbaum’s Hausfrau is an exploration of womanhood, marriage, love, lust, and self. Anna is lost in her life. A mother and housewife, she doesn’t work and has two sons. Her marriage has lost it’s passion. Anna has no friends and can barely even speak the language of her husband. She knows no one beyond her husband and his family, and even they are still strangers to her even after years of marriage. In an attempt to find herself and to make a life for herself, she finds desperate passion in the lustful affairs she conducts with strange men. Anna experiences incredibles sexual awakening in her affairs, loosing herself in the pleasure that she cannot derive from her home life. She comes to understand herself, her needs, and her wants throughout the book, in a way that she doesn’t recognize in the first few pages.

Anna loses everything to her indiscretion. She is punished severely and receives no redemption. It is certainly not a happy ending. What’s worse is that as the reader, you can see it coming from a mile away, and yet, you can do nothing to help her. She remains on this self-destructive track in a way that makes you cringe and want to look away. But as the reader, I felt I wanted her to succeed. I wanted her to find happiness. She is in a period of exploration, trying to know herself and to build a life that has meaning in this place where she has nothing. But she becomes confident and careless in her exploits, making more daring decisions until she has nothing left.

What I loved about this book is how real and tangible Anna is. She makes bad decisions, life altering decisions, and she fails. Her decisions do not make her likeable, but they make her independent. She is seeking change and she desires to actually feel loved and wanted. She is only human. While I could not get on board with her lies and her deception, I felt like I could understand her in her unhappiness and her need to make a change.

This story questions what it means to be a housewife, a mother, a woman. What is expected of Anna in a marriage where there is no love left? What can she do if she cannot support herself? Where does one turn to when one has no one in the world? She has limited means, no connections, nearly nothing left in the world. Her actions question her moral character, but they also hint at her deep seeded unhappiness and discontent. Her actions also reflect her situation: trapped, lonely, and unsure.

I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. This one has left me a bit indecisive because it has elements that I really appreciated, but also characterization and plot that I found incredibly sad.

Review: The End by Anna by Adam Zachary

32848923*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The End by Anna

Author: Adam Zachary

Publisher: Metatron

Publication Date: November 1, 2016

ISBN: 9781988355023

The End, by Anna

Synopsis on Goodreads:
Anna’s greatest artwork would have also been her last: live-streaming her death of exposure on a remote stretch of tundra. Part love triangle, part meditation on performance art, and part archival document of a creative prodigy, this genre-bending short novel is an intelligent and emotionally resonant work from a bold and ambitious new literary voice.


This novel by Adam Zachary is a piece of art. Zachary is astounding. This story completely took my breathe away. It’s a story of Anna, an artist who’s last planned piece of art is to film her self in a live-stream as she dies of exposure. Told from the perspective of a close friend, this story gives us an intimate look into Anna’s world, her art, her sexuality, her life, and her genius. Death hangs over this whole story, infusing it with melancholy. Anna views her death with a sense of disconnect, viewing beauty in her demise rather than concern at her own thought of suicide. Her friends see her vision, but also push her to see reason. The story is wrought with emotion and a tension that lies just beneath the surface.

Zachary’s writing is clear, moving, and powerful. I could read this story again and again. I believe that I’d feel something new with each reading. The characters are raw and honest, confronting each other, questioning, accepting, loving, hurting. I fell in love with this story, and I hope you will too.

Review: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

28763485*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Sun is also a Star

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publication Date: November 1, 2016

ISBN: 9780553496680

The Sun Is Also a Star

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?


Nicola Yoon is back with this wonderful and moving story of a single, but profound moment in time where two young people meet and fall in love. This is a story of epic passion and about believing in something against all odds. The timing isn’t ideal and that makes the feelings all the more desperate and full. It asks the question, if you only had one day to spend with that one person who you’re meant to be with, how would you spend it? I’m not one for believing in fate or that there is one special person on Earth for each of us to fall in love with. But Yoon presents a story that will have you believing in fate and the purest, truest love.

Natasha and Daniel meet on Natasha’s last day in the USA before her family is deported back to Jamaica. Natasha loves facts, but Daniel is a hopeless romantic. He bets Natasha that he can get her to fall in love with him using facts. Natasha is swayed into giving the experiment a try.

This book spans the course of one single day. It savours each moment exploring each second that Natasha and Daniel spend together. They develop an honesty with one another that some adults don’t have over the course of the lifetime, and the the reader is privy to each special moment. They accept each other’s faults and insecurities in this fleeting time together. They move from topics like music, to their families, immigration, deportation, the future, as they work through a series of questions that will supposedly make them fall in love. They are both incredibly beautiful people in a beautiful story that will tug at your heart strings.

I’m a huge fan of Yoon and I hope she keeps the novels coming because I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest!

Review: Scythe by Neal Schusterman

28954189*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Scythe

Author: Neal Schusterman

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: November 29, 2016

ISBN: 9781442472426

Scythe (Scythe, #1)


Synopsis from Goodreads:
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do. Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.


OMG! OMG! OMG! I haven’t been this excited about a series in a long, long time. Schusterman has created such an interesting futuristic world where death of natural causes no longer exists. I received this book for review, not expecting much at all but I was completely BLOWN AWAY. You wouldn’t think this book is extraordinary when you look at it. The cover is nice, simple, but not mind blowing. But the story inside, I hope you’ll take a chance to read this one, because it seriously has the potential to be the next big thing.

Scythes are professional reapers who bring death to the immortal. They live by a code, some sticking to it more strictly than others. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to the great Scythe Faraday, but they are quickly pitted against each other. Their world is full of corruption and deceit. They must make a way for themselves as their lives evolve into something new and unknown.

Both Rowan and Citra are interesting and well rounded characters. They are unique and come to develop their new career path in completely different ways. Schusterman shifts points of view so we get to know the inner thoughts of each character, even when they seem to not know one another. It’s a great way for us to come to understand each of them individually and to know their motivations and desires. The author does try to inject some romance (forbidden of course) into the story, which is entirely unnecessary and does pretty much nothing in term of developing the plot, in this book at least. Perhaps he intends to unfold the romance further in the future, but it certainly isn’t a will-they-wont-they circumstance here. They spell it out pretty clearly that their into one another–verbally. There’s not much imagined spark or romantic flirtation between the two. But then again, they do kill people for a living, so perhaps that heart-fluttery excitement would be a stretch.

This world is incredibly well planned and I think that we’re going to continue to see it excitingly exposed in future novels. Citra and Rowan will hopefully explore this world more in depth as they bring the Scythedom into a new era. There’s a lot more to come and that anticipation is just bubbling under the surface. I hope Shusterman is able to keep momentum in subsequent books. I can’t wait to read more!