Review: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

31434269*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Here I Am

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780735232938

Here I Am

Synopsis from Goodreads:
How do we fulfill our conflicting duties as father, husband, and son; wife and mother; child and adult? Jew and American? How can we claim our own identities when our lives are linked so closely to others’? These are the questions at the heart of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in eleven years–a work of extraordinary scope and heartbreaking intimacy. Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a spiraling conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the very meaning of home–and the fundamental question of how much life one can bear.

What an emotional rollercoaster of a novel. Foer has always been one of my favourite authors. I was a bit hesitant about this novel. I’ve never really read a story quite like this before, however I was pleasantly surprised. This novel is moving, charged, and wrought with tension. It’s tragic, showing both the thoughts and motivations behind each characters, particularly husband and wife, Jacob and Julia, but also the decision they make, whether to following their instincts and shy away. Characters resist their impulses, driving more and more distance between themselves and the ones they love. Amid their personal issues, the world quite literally is falling apart. This American Jewish family must watch as Isreal falls victim to natural disaster and then political threat.

This novel was sad, but incredibly moving. It’s thought provoking and really hits the tough questions about marriage, family, love, friendship, extramarital affairs, and so much more. Nothing about these characters’ lives is easy. Jacob and Julia have 3 children, the oldest of whom is approaching manhood quickly. He’s learning to understand himself and his connections with others, both familial and romantic.

I found a few things to be unnecessarily explicit, which for me, unless it has a purpose, is completely extraneous. This felt like a tool meant more to shock than anything else and really did little to drive the plot. The graphic nature of the text messages help to convey the shock and pain that rocks the couple to the core, but it also goes too far in some instances in my personal opinion. If it doesn’t move the story forward, it’s not a necessity.

However, overall, it’s a witty, exciting, intelligent dialogue on family relationships. Foer’s style of writing is forever changing, keeping the experience of consuming his story very interesting. He keeps his reader engaged. He’s consistent and presents his story in an incredibly strong way. He subverts expectation in ways that are surprising and thoroughly enjoyable. Here I Am will not disappoint.


Review: Swarm by Scott Westerfeld

23989925*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: September 27, 2016

ISBN:  9781471124914

Swarm (Zeroes, #2)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes. These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground. But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister. Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him. Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

I will confess, I’m not sure why I didn’t realized, but I did not know that this was book two in a series. Silly me! That being said, there was hardly any need for me to read book one, and going back now would merely be out of curiosity. Book one, I believe, would probably provide me with a better understanding of characters and how they came to be who they are–their development so to speak, but these authors do a wonderful job of providing enough information about how the characters got to be where they are so that I was fully informed of the story up until this point.

I’m glad of this series, because after reading Westerfeld’s last novel, Afterworlds, I was so disappointed. I’m a huge fan of his Uglies series and this last novel was a huge let down for me. But he’s back in business with Swarm! It’s an excellent collaborative work. I’m not often a fan of YA novels with multiple authors, but this one is quite cohesive and compelling. The story is strong, the characters are diverse and very interesting. Their powers are completely fascinating.

The only thing I would have enjoyed seeing more of–and again this may be something that I missed out on in book one–is reading about the characters practicing their powers. They do this to some extent in Swarm however, it’s minimal and I would have loved to see the authors touch on it a bit more. I always enjoyed reading about characters who are working on self development to further their story and their quests.

This is definitely a series that I’d encourage YA readers to try out. I very much enjoyed it.

Review: The Spawning Ground

28185966*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Spawning Grounds

Author: Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780345810816

The Spawning Grounds
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river–and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah’s grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon’s numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
The Spawning Grounds explores various relationship: between the Shuswap community and the white developers; between Hannah, her brother, Brandon, and their father; between the living and the spirit world; and so many others. This natural and visceral novel is full of spiritual understanding and acceptance. It passes stories and myth down from generation to generation. In tandem with these stories, the natural land belonging to the Shuswap community faces potential destruction.  This place of peace, nature, and spirit is at risk of disappearing at the hands of white developers. Amidst this threat, Hannah risks losing her brother to something eerily similar to what took her mother from her when she was young.
Anderson-Dargatz brings a very beautiful, complex world to life in her novel. The characters struggle to understand and accept the supernatural, spirit world that has intersected with their own. Alex bring forth the teachings and uninhibited belief in the river and salmon spirits. Hannah battles her affection and trust in Alex with her education and her ideas and her secular upbringing. Their father returns after many years away and struggles to gain the trust of his family. His relationship with his family and the people in the town is incredible complicated.
I didn’t find this novel hugely exciting, however it is breathtaking in it’s description of the land and the stories of the past. I found it a little slow moving, however the characters are intricate and compelling. It’s a wonderful Canadian story that shares the wonder of our land and our history. I quite enjoyed this novel overall.

Review: Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking

27833835*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Three Years with the Rat

Author: Jay Hosking

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, from Penguin Canada Books Inc.

Publication Date: August 9, 2016

ISBN: 9780670069378

Three Years with the Rat

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After several years of drifting between school and go-nowhere jobs, a young man is drawn back into the big city of his youth. The magnet is his beloved older sister, Grace: always smart and charismatic even when she was rebelling, and always his hero. Now she is a promising graduate student in psychophysics and the centre of a group of friends who take “Little Brother” into their fold, where he finds camaraderie, romance, and even a decent job. But it soon becomes clear that things are not well with Grace. Always acerbic, she now veers into sudden rages that are increasingly directed at her adoring boyfriend, John, who is also her fellow researcher. When Grace disappears, and John shortly thereafter, the narrator makes an astonishing discovery in their apartment: a box big enough to crawl inside, a lab rat, and a note that says This is the only way back for us. Soon he embarks on a mission to discover the truth, a pursuit that forces him to question time and space itself, and ultimately toward a perilous confrontation at the very limits of imagination.

This is one of the most imaginative and exciting novels that I’ve read this year. Taking place in my local city, Toronto, it was familiar yet so very strange and mysterious. It’s sci-fi meets noir mystery. It’s full of theoretical science that becomes very real in the folds of these pages. Hosking writes to his reader without shying away from technical terminology and scientific theory, meeting his reader on an equal plain. It’s an intelligent story with incredibly complex characters and situations who address ideas of existentialism and being. It’s thought provoking and the narrative moves along quickly.

This story questions time and space. It posits the idea of alternate dimensions wherein every and any possible can and does exist. Characters face feelings of love and loss as they try to navigate familial and romantic relationships. The narrator, nameless, but so clearly defined by his actions and interactions with those around him, drives this story forward, finding passion only in the search for his sister. Like the narrator, we are on the outside. We are learning as he does, but our capacity to understand only stretches as far as the narrator’s knowledge. This story is fragmented, alternating between past and present, seemingly at random. We construct the story in fits and starts in a manner that only ceases to enhance our positioning alongside the narrator. On the other hand is his sister, Grace. She is the one character who clearly understands everything in her world(s), however her knowledge seems to be inaccessible to us, the reader. Because of this distance, the ending is a bit convoluted so I’m not entirely sure what it is intended to mean, but I loved it nonetheless. 5 stars!

Review: And The Trees Crept In by Dawn Kirtagich

28449150*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: And the Trees Crept In

Author: Dawn Kurtagich

Publisher: Little, Brown

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9780316298704

And the Trees Crept In
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?
This new book from The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich bring the creep factor that her previous novel had, but not quite to the same level. Where The Dead Houshad me nervous to turn the page, scared of what might come next, And the Trees Crept In had a much more fantastical element. I feel like this is one for lovers of Coraline. It’s got that same kind of whimsical, yet scary feel. However, it was very easy for me to tell where this story was going, before I even got about halfway through.

This story brings together a haunted rising of the unimaginable, the unstable mental state of a family member, abuse, a threat of war, and a desperate love between sisters. There’s a lot going on. The chaotic state brings this element of fear for the characters and is meant to inspire similar feelings in the reader. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. The impossible occurs page by page, so much so that you cannot trust the narrator nor the world she describes to us. We cannot trust the words on the page. The only way to know the truth is to get to the end of the story. With such an unreliable narrator, even in the end, the reader is left to question if what has happened is true.

I loved that this book incorporated the journals of both sisters. We see the pages burning away as Silla writes each letter. These burning pages are suggestive of the impermanence and instability of this every evolving world. Within each of Silla’s letter there is a “hidden” message, demonstrated by larger bolder letters. It was a little silly in my opinion, however this is a YA so the author may not have wanted the hidden message to be too cryptic or difficult to find.

Overall, it reminds me of those ghost stories that are told around the campfire by friends of family members just trying to have a good time. Definitely not as good as The Dead House, but still entertaining.