Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

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*I received my copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Strange Library

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 2014 (originally 2005)

ISBN: 9780385354301

The Strange Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

The Strange Library is a fun and quirky little story that is more a piece of artwork than anything else. The story finds the young protagonist, an innocent boy, trapped in a the nightmarish basement of his library, with a keeper who refuses to let him go and who threatens to eat the boy’s brain. It’s written in typical Murakami fashion so if you’re a fan of this genius writer, you’ll enjoy this story as well. He’s paired with designer Chip Kidd to great a lovely little collectable. The story is accompanied by eerie and whimsical images that follow the plot. The images enhance the threatening nature of the story. They are too close or very strange. It’s fun and it’s beautiful and overall, it’s a quick and enjoyable read. I can’t say that I own any other book quite like this one. It’s a fine addition to my library.

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Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

20170404Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Publisher:Knopf

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9780385353304

Station Eleven

Synopsis from Goodreads:

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of “King Lear.” Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from “Star Trek: ” “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, “Station Eleven” tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

—–

What a rush! Station Eleven is arguably one of the best novels that I’ve read this year. Spanning the years before and after the disastrous pandemic that obliterates the world’s population, Station Eleven is a story about survival, relationships, and humanity. This apocalyptic story brings together so many perspectives and voices, all of them connected and intertwined in one way or another. The characters are all so real. They love and fall out of love. They are flawed, but a terrible situation helps both the reader and the characters themselves to find their strengths. A stunning situation of unbelievable loss brings out the compassion and the resourcefulness of people–people who lived their whole lives in the comfort of a world cushions and made easy by technology. Suddenly without this luxury, they are left with nothing but their own hands and each other. The few survivors work together to recover and to reestablish life.

Often the question that arises is, can things go back to what they were before? The technology and relics of “before” are preserved and remembered in the Museum of Civilization. Although the characters hope for some sort of return to their old world–they teach the children exactly how the world was before the collapse, a vision that to the children seems like nothing more than the imaginings of a sci-fi novel–the chances of restoring the old normalcy are nearly zero. However, they form communities, restore some order to their lives, and hope that one day they might live as the world lived before the sickness.

Emily St. John Mandel’s voice is strong and confident. Her writing is intelligent and intricately weaved together. Nothing is mentioned without purpose. Every statement brings you one step closer to understanding. Her story rings with truth. It is so plausible, I will admit, that it had me thinking, would I be prepared if this story came true–if I was a survivor of some awful pandemic? Out of darkness, individuals rise with strength and good. They never forget where they come from, but they accept that their lives will never be the same. Yet they do what they can to create a spark of good from the death and terror that surrounds them.

In my opinion, a perfect book. A must read. I think I’ll go back and read it again now.

Review: We Should Hang Out Sometime

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

Title: We Should Hang Out Sometime

Author: Josh Sundquist

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: December 23, 2014

ISBN: 9780316251020

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true story

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A bright, poignant, and deeply funny autobiographical account of coming of age as an amputee cancer survivor, from Josh Sundquist: Paralympic ski racer, YouTube star, and motivational speaker.Why was Josh still single? To find out, he tracked down the girls he had tried to date and asked them straight up: What went wrong? The results of Josh’s semiscientific, wholly hilarious investigation are captured here. From a disastrous Putt-Putt date involving a backward prosthetic foot, to his introduction to CFD (Close Fast Dancing), to a misguided “grand gesture” at a Miss America pageant, this story is about looking for love–or at least a girlfriend–in all the wrong places.

I had no clue who Josh Sundquist was when I first picked up this book to read. I had an e-galley of this book, and it sounded amusing–young guy who’s never had a girlfriend, could be interesting. What I stumbled into was an extremely hilarious, awkward turtle of a story of failed attempts at romance and a boy so clueless about love that it’s almost painful at times. I zipped through this read. It’s quick and witty and charming. After reading this story, I can now say that I follow Josh both on YouTube and Twitter and am looking forward to more hilarity.

Josh as a narrator is absolutely hilarious. He structures his romantic encounters in a very “scientific” way: introduction, question, hypothesis, investigation, and ultimately, conclusion. Complete with hand drawn graphs! He’s entertaining and half of the stories have you face-palming at his obliviousness. His younger self is endearing and comical, while the older Josh–the writer Josh– looks back insightfully with an eagerness to learn just where things went wrong.

In a world where there are heavy expectations to have been in a relationship (or many) at such a young age and not having any sort of relationship or romantic encounter by the time you’re in your 20s is considered strange by much of the population, it’s a refreshing breath of fresh air to read a story about a man who fumbled his way through crushes and didn’t have any sort of romantic relationship until he was well into his 20s. I related so well to his story–the awkward crushes, the misinterpreted signals, the unrequited love. Josh’s is a story of how finding love at such a young age should be: sure sometimes frustrating and painful, but for the most part innocent, awkward, fun and pure.

At it’s heart, Josh reveals, his story is one of self-confidence and self-image. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy, growing into a man while learning to navigate the world of love and embarking on a journey of self-discovery. It’s a light-hearted, fun read.

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

80660Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Publication Date: 2003

ISBN:9780061124297

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

What an emotional roller coaster of a book! Wow. So devastating. It put a halt to my entire day. There’s so much to say about this story, but it’s so difficult to critique such a moral-questioning tale. This is the story of Kevin Katchadorian, potentially a sociopath, and his family. It’s an epistolary novel written from the perspective of Kevin’s mother, Eva. Her family–Kevin, her husband Franklin, and their daughter Celia–are all presented through her perspective and her memories.

What I found most difficult in this story is that it makes you question everything that’s being told to you. Yes, there is a devastating mass-murder that takes place, and you constantly question why such a horrendous thing takes place. It’s a part of the story that will bring you to tears. But the story is about the murderer: who were the influences in his life, and how did he come to be the adolescence that brought the weapon to school.

It’s impossible to really know the whole truth of Kevin’s life. Eva, as a narrator, is biased because she never wanted to be a mother. She’s completely unreliable, leaving the reader to fend for themselves to question what the real story is. Is Kevin a product of nature, nurture, or a little bit of both? Does he even deserve to have his story told. Eva and Kevin don’t hit off right from the get go. Kevin is born and refuses to nurse on the breast. It’s just down hill from there. Theirs is a relationship of malice, of struggle, and even of violence. I wanted to believe Eva as even her own husband is unable to do, but it’s difficult to find the root of truth in her stories because of her inherent dislike and distrust of her own child. I can somewhat sympathize with her struggle and her isolation. Her own husband refuses to believe a word she says. If her portrayal of Kevin as a child is truthful, than he is born a depressed, angry, and withdraw child. She is a woman forced to bear the cross of trying to connect with a child that loathes her very existence with a husband who always sides with the child that hates her. But I do believe that her anger pushes Kevin to become the teen that he is. Eva cannot stop herself from hissing insults and jabs at her son even as he is a toddler.

This entire story calls morality into question. It led me into wanting to place blame, but didn’t give a suitable person to place that blame on. Ultimately, Kevin is the person who made the decision to kill, but is he really at fault for the person he became. Was he driven to kill by the neglect of a mother who could never bring herself to truly and honestly love him? Obviously this story raises a LOT of VERY difficult questions. Of course, Kevin’s actions are horrifying and are completely unforgivable. It is not a story of happy endings. Overall, it is well written and contemplative. I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch the movie now, knowing the ending, but it’s an excellent read.

Review: The Universal Bureau of Copyrights

22225753Title: The Universal Bureau of Copyrights

Author: Bertrand Laverdure

Translator: Oana Avasilichioaei

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 2014

ISBN: 9781771660525

Universal Bureau of Copyrights

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From multidisciplinary artist Bertrand Laverdure comes UNIVERSAL BUREAU OF COPYRIGHTS, a bold, strange, and addictive story that envisions a world where free will doesn’t exist, and an unnameable global corporation buys and sells the copyrights for all things that exist on the earth, including real and fictional characters. Part narrative-poetry, part sci-fi-dystopian fantasy, readers become acquainted with the main character, a man who deconstructs himself as he navigates the mystifying passages of the story. Having no control over his environment, time continuum, or body, he is a puppet on strings, an icon in a video game and, as he eventually discovers with the bowels of the UNIVERSAL BUREAU OF COPYRIGHTS, the object of countless copyrights.

I’m finding this a difficult book to review because it is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered outside of academic study. I enjoyed it in its absurdity, it’s shockingness, and it’s willingness to challenge traditional narratives. Bertrand’s translated voices pulls, no coaxes, you along through the unfortunate tale of the main character. His limbs and digits are taken from him and we realize he lives in a world where he has no control, not of his body, his life, or even his death. He ends up with a mesmerizing, singing, wooden leg and a fully functioning arm made of chocolate. He loses his fingers and eventually loses control of his body and his sensory ability.

This book will push you to challenge your notion of what a novel is and of what storytelling is. The story is poetic in its unfolding, often disjointed in a way that mirrors the content of the story. The reader is put into the character’s place, feeling lost, uncertain, tentative, or afraid, as the story carries you along.

One of the things I really loved about this story is that it is metafictive. It is a story that knows it is a story. The tale often refers to the main character. A “literary tourist” challenges the main character: “What are you doing to the fictions original ecology? You’re nothing but a mediocre patch-it-upper!” (111), as if the main character is ruining the story as he plunders along through this unfamiliar world. Chapter 7 is where we can really see this book introducing itself as a work of metafiction. In Chapter 7, we meet all of the “literary tourists” who are described as people “who haven’t necessarily read the book, but who have followed, with guide and road maps, our hero’s adventure” (44). The book here directly acknowledges itself as a book and it’s main character as a character. It is not parading around as fiction disguises as reality. It understands its fictiveness. Having studied metafiction in detail in university, I find this book fascinating and would definitely recommend it for any metafiction course.

Overall, a very unique story. A challenging, but enjoyable read.

Review: Doomboy by Tony Sandoval

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

12724844Title: Doomboy

Author: Tony Sandoval

Publisher: Magnetic Press

Publication Date: October 2014

ISBN: 9782888904380

Doomboy

Synopsis from NetGalley:

A lonely, metal-obsessed teen sends a heartfelt song to his missing beloved, only to find out that his music has traveled to the beyond, and re-broadcast to the entire city. Only his best friend knows that he is really the mysterious rock god and anonymous legend known as “Doomboy.”

Doomboy is a story of loss, recovery, and inspiration. ID is the mysterious “Doomboy.” Through his music, he speaks to his recently departed girlfriend, Annie, in an attempt to apologize to her. He has a literal hole in his chest, a whole that formed when his heart broke at the news of her passing. The artwork is a contrast of beautiful backgrounds mixed with grunge inspired, harsh ink drawings. The art makes you cringe sometimes and swoon at others, vibrant in its own mood and feeling. Combined with ID’s story, it makes for an emotional comic about a boy learning to cope with death.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.10.17 PMThe music and sound in this story is often conveyed through the movement of animals (see above) in the sky or visible swirls (much like the wind). The image above is one of my favourites. ID hears a sound over the radio frequency, an etherial noise depicted as sea creatures rising up from the ocean. It is beautiful, mystical, and magical. The contrast between the two artist styles is clear in images like this one. You can see the soft, dreamlike quality of the music in the sky, contrasted against the solid, hard-lined in drawings of reality. You can see the sound and contrast again portrayed in the image below. ID is on the beach during a thunderstorm.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.21.51 PM

 

 

ID’s inspiration for his music is Annie, but I wonder too if he saw Annie and his feelings reflected in the world around him, drawing on this too for creative inspiration.

Overall, I really enjoyed this comic. It took me a few pages to get into it as I was reading it on my computer, but I would love to see a physical copy of this book. The art is beautiful, and Sandoval’s portrayal of loss and recovery really struck a cord with me. I understand “Doomboy.” I think that a lot of readers will be able to connect with him.

*I acknowledge that the images used in this post are property solely of Tony Sandoval and Magnetic Press and have only been replicated here for example and review purposes.*

 

Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

18242896Title: The Here and Now

Author: Ann Brashares

Publisher:Hachette Children’s Books

Publication Date: Paperback, January 2015

ISBN:9780385736800

The Here and Now

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Prenna James emigrated to New York when she was twelve. But Prenna didn’t come from a different country, she came from a different time – a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.
Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth and take the lives of her younger brothers. But everything changes when she falls for Ethan. She might be able to save the world … if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

The Here and Now did not live up to the expectations I had of Ann Brashares, being a huge fan of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series. I hate giving bad reviews, but unfortunately, there was little in this book to redeem it’s faults. I can’t say that I enjoyed it.

First of all, the protagonist, Prenna, is a bit of an idiot. There’s a scene in the book after she’s rebelled and fled from home and the time immigrants’ governing body, but instead of keeping her distance to protect herself like any thinking human would, she thinks, “I need to go home and have a shower to freshen up.” Despite being warned by her travelling companion, she returns home. Of course, there are people waiting to arrest her and detain her. Like really? Honestly, you can’t even call this a rookie mistake, because it’s just plain stupid.

Secondly, there’s absolutely nothing at all to the romance. They’re friends first and that is quite adorable, but it goes from nothing to all instantly. There’s no real discussion, and suddenly they’re sleeping together, making out, and seriously talking about having sex. They don’t even take the time to establish themselves as a couple before they’re fooling around. On top of that, they’re in the middle of a mission to save all of Earth, but they take a break from that mission to take a little vacation at some Myrtle Beach-esque location where they frolic in the waves and mack on one another as if Earth can wait to be saved. Let’s just leave everything to the very last second and hope that things turn out okay.

I had to question Ethan as well. He sees this girl appear out of thing air when he’s approximately 14, but he never once mentions anything to Prenna. Not in the 4 or so years that they’re friends. It’s only when things begin to fall apart that he’s mentions, ‘actually, I know you’re from the future, and I’ve known all this time, so you don’t have to waste any more time lying to me and even though you hardly said 2 words to me before now because you were trying so hard to keep your secret, I actually love you and will risk my life and everything I know to save you and these people who have done their best to ensure that you remain passive and under control.’ I can’t see what about her draws him in, but he can’t help but falling in love with her. Why, I don’t know.

I couldn’t pin down how old these characters were supposed to be. I think they’re supposed to be 18? But on the one hand, Prenna can’t seem to function without everyone telling her what to do (i.e. take off your glasses because they’re tools to spy on you, or, make sure you so something to stop the future we lived from happening, or, don’t go back home or they’ll capture you), but on the other hand, she and Ethan are served alcohol and look old enough to pass for university aged students. Honestly if Ethan wasn’t around, Prenna would have been dead right around page 2.

Lastly, the villain. He’s a murderous, unrelenting felon one second, and the next he’s everyone’s best friend in the hospital. He’s hardly in the story, thus his presence doesn’t really appear to be much of a threat to the reader. He’s there, but he’s not really there until the very end of the story. And then conveniently, he offs himself at the end.

I didn’t mind the way that time travel was dealt with. I liked the idea of it as a means of escape from the horrendous future, but as I’ve said before, time travel is always problematic. Brashares does discuss how their interaction with the “time natives” can influence how things turn out in the future, and she does open up the door for the world to have a new and hopefully better future, but ultimately, because of the weak characters and lack of strong plot, the time travel topic was just too much for this novel.

I wouldn’t recommend this, I’m sorry to say. If you have read it, I hope you had better luck with it than I did.