Book review: One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

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

Title: One Part Woman

Author: Perumal Murugan

Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat

Edition Publication Date: October 2018

ISBN: 9780802128805

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set in South India during the British colonial period but with powerful resonance to the present day, One Part Woman tells the story of a couple, Kali and Ponna, who are unable to conceive, much to the concern of their families–and the crowing amusement of Kali’s male friends. Kali and Ponna try anything to have a child, including making offerings at different temples, atoning for past misdeeds of dead family members, and even circumambulating a mountain supposed to cure barren women, but all to no avail. A more radical plan is required, and the annual chariot festival, a celebration of the god Maadhorubaagan, who is one part woman, one part man, may provide the answer. On the eighteenth night of the festival, the festivities culminate in a carnival, and on that night the rules of marriage are suspended, and consensual sex between any man and woman is permitted. The festival may be the solution to Kali and Ponna’s problem, but it soon threatens to drive the couple apart as much as to bring them together.


What drew me to this book was the beautiful cover of this edition published by Grove Press’ imprint, Black Cat. This cover is so full of colour and is incredibly eye-catching. Secondly, the story sounded incredibly unique and potentially wrought with many emotions and challenges. I’m very torn about how I feel about this story. There is a lot in this book that I struggled with, which could in part be due to cultural difference. I took an opportunity with this book to try a translation unlike anything ever read before, but ultimately, this was a book that I didn’t connect with. I felt immense sadness at the struggles of the central couple, Kali and Ponna, as they struggle and fail for years to start a family. However, I didn’t connect with any of the characters and felt incredibly removed from the story, to the point where I occasionally felt lost as to what was happening. I don’t believe I’m the intended audience for a book like One Part Woman. Other reviews that I have see call this book “rich,” “emotional,” and “vivid.” It was none of these things for me.

I hope your experience reading this story is better than mine. It seems to have been well received by readers at large, and I would encourage you to not let my review stop you from trying out this book yourself.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Theory by Dionne Brand

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

Title: Theory

Author: Dionne Brand

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

ISBN: 9780735274235

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Theory begins as its narrator sets out, like many a graduate student, to write a wildly ambitious thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics–a revolutionary work that its author believes will synthesize and thereby transform the world. While our narrator tries to complete this magnum opus, three lovers enter the story, one after the other, each transforming the endeavour. Each galvanizing love affair (representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit) upends and reorients the narrator’s life and, inevitably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, with results both humorous and poignant.


Theory follows an unnamed narrator through the process of writing a dissertation–a process that is regularly derailed and redirected through three poignant love affairs that shape the narrator’s life experiences. Written in an elegant and intelligent prose, this story is thoughtful and beautiful. Through memory’s eye, this story observes these amorous relationships through a retroactive lens, scrutinizing the effects each lover had on the narrator and the writing process. Each lover is representative of the the heart, the head, and the spirit. The narrator’s journey with each of them allows for growth and transformation. With each all-consuming experience comes new-found knowledge, inspiration, and change.

This book challenges concepts of gender and gender identity. It does not outright define the gender or orientation of the narrator, but we are given clues throughout. There is a void that effectually creates a blank canvas for the mind to question and expand with each relationship. This story turns the construct of gender on its head, establishing the narrator as neither masculine or feminine. The narrator just is. The voice speaks to the human experience, valuing the expansion of the mind and the pleasure of the body over all else. There is much ambiguity to be had, and in this, the door is flung open for the reader to set critical analysis aside and just experience as the narrator does.

This book is one of the more challenging reads I’ve encountered in a long while. The narrator is critical, ambling, and verbose, but I felt a sort of kinship as the story unfolded. This book does require a lot of focus and some time. It’s not quick or easy to read, but it is beautiful and it offers an interesting analysis of academia, romance, and gender that is intriguing and intense.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Virgil Wander by Lief Enger

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

Title: Virgil Wander

Author: Lief Enger

Publisher: Grove Atlantic Press

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780802128782

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals–from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.


You know that feeling of being wrapped up in a blanket by a roaring fire with a cup of something warm and comforting, surrounding by people you love and a good book? That’s the feeling I had while reading Enger’s Virgil Wander. This book had such a sense of coming home. It takes place in a small US community along the edge of Lake Superior. Their town isn’t one that people flock to, but this gathering of people is close knit and their story reads like a folklore tale. They help one another and their stories come together after Virgil nearly dies when his car plunges from the road and into the lake and he is saved by a stranger, Rune, that is both connect to the town and entirely separate from it. This Norweigian, kite-flying man is searching for some sort of connection to the son he never knew. Throughout the story, his hope also grows to establishing a relationship with his grandson whom he never knew about.

Everything about this book brought me comfort. It’s fully of love, friendship, community, mystery, folklore, and so much more. The characters all have a mystical and idiosyncratic feel to them, each unique in their own way. The protagonist, Virgil, is a bit of an oddball. He owns the local theatre and this story finds him in recovery from his concussion, thus lacking words and proper responses. No matter what he says or how he says it, he’s still loveable. His accident has him questioning his life and the direction he is heading. Post-accident, he feels like he’s living the life of a stranger and as he searches for himself, he begins to discover so much more. Although he’s lived in this town his whole life, his whole world expands in the pages of this book.

This book connected with me in the same way that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine did. It had that same idiosyncratic, curmudgeony narrator who undergoes a period of transformation and self-discovery as the story progresses. They both have that feel-good, comfort lit vibe that is so refreshing and so relatable.

I wanted to jump right into the pages of Virgil Wander. It felt like the small town where I grew up and I loved the story. It is a well-written and homey story that will bring a smile to your face. This story is humorous, heart-warming, beautiful, and a touch melancholy. Ultimately, it’s a story about the human experience, nothing more and nothing less.

Happy reading!

Book Review & Giveaway: Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

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

Title: Chicken Girl

Author: Heather Smith

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

ISBN: 9780143198680

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal. 


GIVEAWAY!

Enter to win a copy of Chicken Girl by Heather Smith by visiting @wornpagesandink on Intstagram by clicking THIS LINK!

Open to Canadian residents only, excluding Quebec. Giveaway rules are listed on Instagram. Like the image and tag 2 friends to be entered to win. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, February 26th, 2019.


Review

Chicken Girl tells the story of sixteen-year-old Poppy who is struggling to find hope in her life after being the victim of cyberbullying and body-shaming online. Her world was once bright and full of life, but she’s now lost that happiness and can’t seem to pull herself from her slump. Even her twin brother, Cam, isn’t enough to bring her back up, though she desperately wants to be happy again. Through her summer job, Poppy meets a whole host of new people who change her life completely. She spends her summer undergoing a journey to regain her confidence and so see the world beyond her own perspectives and judgements, growing into the confident and lovely young woman she’d lost somewhere along the way.

I tore through this novel in a single morning. I loved it so much. This is one of the best YA books I’ve read in a long while. It’s full of a cast of inspiring characters, all misfits in their own lives, who support one another. They’ve all struggled with their own difficult journeys and they’ve been thrust together in this story to learn from one another and to grow for the better. Their paths all include anger, hatred, judgement, fear, loss, and change. However, with one another’s support, they find love, kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance. Some of these characters are homeless or face abuse, some have struggled with racism, some are exploring their sexuality or sexual orientation. What is true for them all is that none of them are perfect. They all have faults and they are all imperfect. They hurt one another and themselves, but in the end, forgiveness triumphs.

This is a story of love and of community. It’s about people coming together, despite their differences. All of these characters are on a quest for truth and acceptance. They all seek and are deserving of love, but they have all struggled in their own ways. They have lived very human existence and experiences. Smith’s story highlights that as humans, we should celebrate our differences and come together to support one another, even though we may face incredible adversity and challenge. What is important is to seek to understand others’ stories and backgrounds and to support one another with kindness and love.

I would highly recommend this book to young adults and adult readers alike. It was an incredibly moving story that I believe will have a profound impact on readers.

Book Review: Not Even Bones

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

Title: Not Even Bones

Author: Rebecca Schaefer

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

ISBN: 9781328863546

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place—because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.


I neither loved nor hated this book. I came away from reading in feeling indifferent to this story. Not Even Bones is a story about a young girl in a dark fantasy/horror world that is similar but very different to our own. Her world is cut-throat and ruthless. Her mother hunts the worlds monsters to kill and sell them for parts on the black market. Nita’s world is ruled by darkness and death. Nita herself is a dark character. She helps her mother carve up bodies to sell, distancing herself from the person that each corpse once was.

This story is indeed very dark. There is no hope and no happiness to be had anywhere in this tale. I didn’t find it to be particularly pleasant. This world that Shaefer has created is entirely different from our own in its levels of murder and violence, but this story does call attention to a dark side of our own world that does exist in the form of human trafficking and slave trade.

Well the story flows well and is well-written, I did not find the protagonist to be relatable in any way. It felt like a lot of her success throughout the story boiled down to shear luck. And the reasons behind the horrors that befall her–the immense betrayal that takes place–are not made known in this first book in the series. It’s implied that the reader will discover why these terrible thing have happened to Nita in the next book.

I think that the world in this book was a little too far reaching for me to connect with it. It runs by its own vastly different rules. The creatures and monsters that surface throughout have intensely human characteristics, but because they are considered monsters, they are not treated with humanity. There is no light in this story and I found it to be a bit of a downer. I can say after this that Horror is not a genre that I enjoy. Perhaps you’ll have a bit of a better time than I did, but it was not the type of fantasy novel for me.

Book Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

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

Title: Rosewater

Author: Tade Thompson

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

ISBN: 9780316449052

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future. 


Rosewater is an incredibly complex and fascinating sci-fi story taking spanning one mans life as he survives a future Nigeria. The world has been changed by the arrival and presence of an alien life form known only as Wormwood. It arrived in England in 2012, but facing the threat of the military, it migrated, ending up in Nigeria. Those who came to investigate the alien force that took the shape of a biodome formed a community around the dome. This community grew into a city which is now where Kaaro, the protagonist lives.

Kaaro is an imperfect character and generally unreliable narrator. He is a thief and a criminal who has turned for the better to work for a government agency. Kaaro is known as a sensitive, meaning that similarly to a psychic, he is able to read peoples thoughts and emotions. He is able to alter their perception of reality. No one knows what made Kaaro this way, but what they do know is that others like him are dying off.

Thompson’s writing style is unusual, but it’s gripping. It took me a while to get use to his voice and to full immerse myself in this story, but Thompson only feeds the reader tidbits at a time, enough to keep you hooked, but not enough to give anything away. He’s crafty and his story is all the more strong for it. The world that he’s built in a futuristic Nigeria is complex and mysterious, even to the characters. It’s hard to know if anyone is who they say they are. It’s impossible to predict anything about the alien life form. This story absolutely sucked me in. Better yet, it’s the first in a trilogy.

This speculative book was a surprisingly good read. The cover didn’t speak to me at all, but the story with in carries magnitude and intensity. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a good sci-fi read.

Book Review: The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

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

Title: The Light Between Worlds

Author: Laura E. Weymouth

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date: October 23, 2018

ISBN: 9780062696878

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge. When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves. 


With a very C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia kind of vibe, Weymouth writes a fantastical tale across worlds. Three siblings–Evelyn, Philippa, and Jamie–find escape from their war torn world when they are transported into a world that is so very different, yet similar to their own. This world immediately speaks to Evelyn in a way her own world never has. This peaceful and beautiful realm is facing its demise at the threat of another group of world-walkers, the Tarsin army. The Hapwell trio must make a decision to help this world or join the Empire. Their hearts are pure and they choose to fight for what is good and right in this mystical place.

Time moves differently in this world. Although their lives span years and they grow up, in their own world, if they choose to return to it, they will return to the exact moment from which they came. Thrust back to their WWII reality, they have become adults trapped in children’s bodies, forced to live in a society that now knows nothing of what they’ve lived or where they’ve come from. The Hapwells must find their own way in the place to which they were born.

Although much goes on in the world around the Hapwells, this book is really about their relationships with themselves and with each other. This coming of age story deals with adolescence, death, war, loss, mental illness, depression, self-harm, first love, and family. It is so much to pack into what is not a very long book, but Weymouth is an excellent writer and she brings her characters to life through these pages. Evelyn’s struggle with depression and self-harm is absolutely heartbreaking. She lives in a state where happiness no longer exists for her. Her world is torn upside-down with seemingly no escape. Her siblings and all those around her are at an absolute loss as to how to help her. All anyone wants, including the reader, is to see her find happiness. Although the era in which this book is set has no word for depression, Weymouth intimately explores this very real and incredibly isolating struggle in depth. This family’s experience is made all the more difficult to swallow because of the truth of knowing that they are mentally so much older than the bodies that confine them. Their true world perceives and expects them to be one way and cannot fathom that internally they are well beyond their physical years.

I quite enjoyed the two view points presented in the text: Evelyn’s and Philippa’s. This story also takes on a thoughtful structure of opposing past and present. I believe Weymouth presents the story as such to convey how intensely interwoven these two worlds are for these children. Both realities compete in terms of importance in their present existence and memories and so the story weights each time and place as equal. The prose moves back and forth between the two worlds with little warning, which some have found confusing, but I found to be clearly indicated through division by chapter and signalled by italics. I think that this constant back and forth flow, this intertwining of time and place, gives the reader a solid grasp on the reality of the Hapwells’ situation. They must come to grips with what is and what was. They all have left a part of themselves behind in the Woodlands. Their current lives are so intensely informed by their experiences in another world. Thus, the story is artfully crafted to connect the reader with the characters intimately and to, for a brief moment, allow the reader to share in a common experience with these three young adults as they move forward unsteadily into their futures.

Overall, this book was really enjoyable. I was skeptical that it might be a C.S. Lewis rip-off, and there are certainly some very similar details, however I think Weymouth took this opportunity to acknowledge more in depth the repercussions of moving between worlds at a time where her characters where undergoing pivotal developmental changes. Their experiences inform who they are and who they will become and her story acknowledges that while the idea of a fantasy world is breath-taking and wonderful, that the characters who experience these worlds may also be deeply human–flawed, lovely, and totally imperfect.