Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

32622051Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Author: Gail Honeyman

Publisher: Viking Canada

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 9780143199090

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.


What a fantastic book! I borrowed this book from a friend and it came highly recommended. It definitely lived up to the hype. Eleanor is this socially awkward, unconventional, and quite strange individual. She doesn’t really relate to those around her, assuming they don’t understand the nuances of social convention when in actuality, she’s the only who doesn’t quite get it. She’s often the odd man out and holds her self to an incredibly high standard of intellect and social conduct, even if that doesn’t necessarily fit in with what the rest of the world would consider usual behaviour. She’s almost obsessive about it, but as the book unfolds she experiences significant change, awareness, and growth. Eleanor struggles with mental illness and grief throughout the book, although she herself is not fully aware of it until later in the plot.

I really hated Eleanor in the beginning. She comes off as abrasive and overwhelming. She seems pretty unapproachable and for the reader, it’s tough to get to know her. But, there’s something about her that keeps you hooked. I grew to love Eleanor as this story progressed. She’s witty and smart, even if she has trouble relating to those around her. She makes incredibly interesting and astute observations about her world–although she’s not quite as good at recognizing struggles in herself. Eleanor is working through the unimaginable in this story and she comes to know herself in such a beautiful, heartbreaking, and healing way. There is so much transformation in this book–it’s like watching a caterpillar form a chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly.

This book is the perfect blend of quirking and amusing, but also heart-wrenching and sad. It’s beautiful in its exploration of family, tragedy, and mental illness. It’s got ALL THE FEELS, guys! It’s one woman’s journey of growth and learning, of healing and acceptance, and of learning to overcome and emerge stronger on the other side. I really loved this story and I would recommend it to anyone again and again.

Happy reading!


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Review: To Me You Seem Giant by Greg Rhyno

34696500.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: To Me You Seem Giant

Author: Greg Rhyno

Publisher: NeWest Press

Publication Date: September 1, 2017

ISBN: 9781988732008

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s 1994 and Pete Curtis is pretty much done with Thunder Bay, Ontario. He’s graduating high school and playing drums in a band that’s ready to hit the road. Even though his parents, teachers, and new girlfriend seem a little underwhelmed, Pete knows he’s on the verge of indie rock greatness. Fast-forward ten years, Pete finds himself stuck teaching high school in the hometown he longed to escape, while his best friend and former bandmate is a bona fide rock star.


Although I’ve never been a huge music buff so many of the references in Rhyno’s book evaded me, I still really enjoyed this striking narrative that really portrays a quintessentially Canadian experience of growing up and living in a more rural city–full of mixed tapes and video stores. I was born around the time that this story is taking place, so I wasn’t completely aware of the references in this book until a bit later in life, but still, I felt a connection with the character and the city he lives in. The city that Pete Curtis calls home, Thunder Bay, has about 50,000 more people in it than the town I grew up in, but Curtis’ experience are so similar and relatable to my own. Rhyno had me laughing more than once at many a “typical” small town Canada reference. At least across Ontario, the smaller cities and towns aren’t so different from one another.

I really liked that this stories doesn’t sugar coat anything, but nor is anything too bad. The protagonist, Pete, never left his hometown, and now he’s doing very little–just working in a less than exciting teaching job and simply existing in this place. His present is contrasting with his past, often blaming failure on those around him, yet never really taking control of his own life. He’s a very passive character overall, but he seems to have found at least complacency, if not some contentment, in his passivity. In his present, he’s trying to find a bit more meaning to his life as he reflects on how he got to where he is and learns to take a more active position in his own life, rather than simply being and allowing life to wash over him.

This is a story of being and finding some meaning in life. It’s not about making huge changes or altering the course of ones life, but of being and seeking out the small things to find happiness. It’s a truly Canadian story that I think anyone who came of age in the 90s will really enjoy.

Happy reading!


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Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

35604686*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X. R. Pan

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN:  9780316463997

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.


The Astonishing Color of After is a vivid, emotional, and beautiful account of a young girl dealing with and learning to cope with grief after her mother commits suicide. This story is about Leigh who is undergoing a period of self-discovery leading up to and following her mother’s death. She is learning who she is as a young woman in terms of her heritage and culture, her friendships and familial relationships, her direction in life, and so on. Throughout this story she is learning to cope with the idea of her mother giving up her own life and she is processing what depression looked like in their household as she processes and reflects on old memories. Leigh must learn to forgive her self, her father, her mother, and even her maternal grandparents. She discovers dark truths of the past and how those have shaped the present that all of the characters are attempting to comprehend.

Leigh is this vibrant individual who is one of the most perfectly written teenagers that I’ve encountered in fiction. Well-rounded in terms of her flaws and her “human-ness,” she’s perfectly imperfect. In the memories she has, we see her struggle with her feelings and emotions surrounding her friend Axel, her rebellion against a father who loves her but doesn’t understand her passion for art, her fear at not knowing what her future will look like, and her struggle to understand what’s happening with her mother. In her present, we see her grapple with the past to try and make sense of how her life came to be what it is now, and to reach a sense of closure and forgiveness for all the mistakes that were made, whether intentional or not. In connecting with her family and really scrutinizing her past through a contemplative lens, Leigh matures and finds a sense of solace and direction her her world.

I think this is an absolute must read for young adults. Pan addresses issue of mental illness, self-awareness, self-care, and coming of age with a breath-taking sense of reality. Her story is evocative and substantial. Although it is a story about grieving and loss, in its essence, it is really a gorgeous story of hope and forgiveness. It shows that when there is loss, not all is lost. Healing and growth are both possible in the aftermath of tragedy. Pan shows the importance of feeling emotion, but also the significance of seeking healing and looking to the future. If I could recommend any YA novel that I’ve read so far this year, this would be my top pick.

Happy reading!


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Review: Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

35009611 * I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: Mrs.

Author: Caitlin Macy

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books (Little, Brown)

Publication Date: February 13, 2018

ISBN: 9780316434157

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the well-heeled milieu of New York’s Upper East Side, coolly elegant Philippa Lye is the woman no one can stop talking about. Despite a shadowy past, Philippa has somehow married the scion of the last family-held investment bank in the city. And although her wealth and connections put her in the center of this world, she refuses to conform to its gossip-fueled culture. Then, into her precariously balanced life, come two women: Gwen Hogan, a childhood acquaintance who uncovers an explosive secret about Philippa’s single days, and Minnie Curtis, a newcomer whose vast fortune and frank revelations about a penurious upbringing in Spanish Harlem put everyone on alert. When Gwen’s husband, a heavy-drinking, obsessive prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office, stumbles over the connection between Philippa’s past and the criminal investigation he is pursuing at all costs, this insulated society is forced to confront the rot at its core and the price it has paid to survive into the new millennium.


I wanted to really love this book, but it was a struggle. I did enjoy the read–it’s a fascinating drama unfolding in the Upper East Side of NYC. In this large city, a tiny community of parents comes together daily to drop their kids of and pick them up again at one of the city’s most prestigious day cares. Their world is smaller than even they think, some of these friendships dating back to their own college days or even childhoods. Past acquaintances surface and with them, deep secrets and dark scandals. This book has the makings of an edge-of-your-seat, intense kind of read. The characters all hold their own secrets and insecurities. In a group where they are judged harshly by the others, it’s difficult if you don’t quite fit in.

What really turned me off of this book is the bouncing of perspectives from one character to the next. There are too many voices talking in this book and there are too many things taking place that take away from the central plot. There are a lot of distractions. I couldn’t get into the book because it was constantly shifting and changing. It’s a neat idea in theory–you really get to see the gossiping nature of the group, the inner workings of each relationship, and the inner dialogue of the important players in the story. So, there are benefits to this style. And Macy is a great writer. Each section is written well and each character is compelling. However, there were just too many of them. It detracted from the story for me, rather than adding to it, although I can see what the author was going for.

I hope you have a better reading experience with this book than I did. I think many readers will really enjoy it, but it wasn’t for me. Happy reading!


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Review: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

35631383*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Heart Berries

Author: Terese Marie Mailhot

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 9780385691147

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II, Terese Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father–an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist–who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot “trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain and what we can bring ourselves to accept.” Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people and to her place in the world.


This memoir is poetic and moving. It is at times hard to accept or wrap one’s mind around. Mailhot confronts her demons and her pain head on in this book, as the synopsis states, “seizing control of her story.” These pages although brief, are powerful, tumultuous, and vivid. Mailhot claims her past as hers, owning her hurts, reliving her difficulties, and embracing her Indigenous culture. It is in her pain that she finds strength and agency, not running from it or bearing it like a burden, but using it as fuel to form herself and to cement her story. In this book, she explores her own language and way of expression, learning how to communicate abuse, alcoholism, self-destruction, and inner dialogue page by page.

What I really like about this story, as Mailhot states in the amazing Q&A that you’ll find at the back, “I realized that I had been using the guise of fiction to show myself the truth, and the process of turning fiction into nonfiction was essentially stripping away everything that didn’t actually happen to me, and filling those holes left behind with memory.” Mailhot talks about how two of her stories began as works of fiction, but in editing those stories into something more real, the truth began to emerge. This book has this very beautiful and artistic feel to it, despite being about some terrible acts and some very dark struggles. Through her writing, the author takes this darkness and turns it into art–something she can share with the world. It’s an exploration of memory and self. It’s a very eye-opening read.

My one criticism is that it was very quick. Her writing is very poetic, but because of that, it starts to feel wandering or tangential. It moves too quick, flitting from one thing to the next; I assume the authors intent was to create a sense of stream of consciousness, to flow fleetingly from one memory to the next. I did find it sometimes hard to grasp onto her stories, but then again, I don’t know if I’m really in the intended reader. It is not my language or my way of understanding and as an outsider reading this touching book, although I was sometimes lost in the thought, that thought may not have been meant for me.

I would highly recommend this book. It’s a very open and honest portrayal of one woman’s struggle as an Indigenous woman, as a daughter, a mother, and a lover.

 

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Review: Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

35959679*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Defy the Worlds

Author: Claudia Gray

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 9780316394109

Synopsis from Goodreads:
An outcast from her home — Shunned after a trip through the galaxy with Abel, the most advanced cybernetic man ever created, Noemi Vidal dreams of traveling through the stars one more time. And when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. As the only soldier to have ever left the planet, it will be up to her to save its people…if only she wasn’t flying straight into a trap. A fugitive from his fate — On the run to avoid his depraved creator’s clutches, Abel believes he’s said good-bye to Noemi for the last time. After all, the entire universe stands between them…or so he thinks. When word reaches him of Noemi’s capture by the very person he’s trying to escape, Abel knows he must go to her, no matter the cost. But capturing Noemi was only part of Burton Mansfield’s master plan. In a race against time, Abel and Noemi will come together once more to discover a secret that could save the known worlds, or destroy them all.


Defy the Worlds continues the story of Noemi and Abel in the second instalment of the Constellation series. Noemi is an outcast at her home planet and Abel is on the run. A scheme thought up be Abel’s creator, Burton Mansfield, quickly puts both characters back into danger, pawns to other peoples’ plans with very few option to escape or succeed. Gray’s writing is as intense and fast-paced as ever as these two race against the clock to save the lives of so many innocent people, and hopefully, themselves.

Although this is still an excellent book, I think it’s my least favourite of Gray’s so far. I still really like Noemi as a character with her defiant attitude and her set mindset that is not to be defeated. Her relationship with Abel pushes boundaries and comes up against barriers at all turns, yet she moves forward with him unflinchingly. Even in the worst of circumstances, she’s always thinking on her feet and searching for solutions to better things for the greater good. In this series, Gray has created an expansive and ever growing world with new surprises to behold as the story unfolds. I believe I’ve said this once, but I’ll say it again, Gray is a master world-builder. Her imagination is boundless and even if the plot isn’t your thing, the world is sure to mesmerize you.

POTENTIAL SPOILIES. READERS BE WARNED:

I only gave this book three stars on Goodreads because I feel like it tried to do too much, reaching a little too far and not in a great way. As new characters are introduced and new plot lines explored, the story becomes quite erratic. I will try to not reveal to much, but there is a young character that we meet for the first time who is representative of an enormous technological change in this world, however who causes undue chaos in the plot–an unnecessary device that is seemingly meant to cause more suspense and action, but in my opinion, only serves to distract from the main story. The chaos is not what I first imagined it would be, but quickly becomes more of an annoyance to get through when reading. When there are so many antagonists and threats in this book, it seemed to be a bit superfluous to add an additional one.

Still, Gray has become one of my top YA authors to read and that remains the case despite the few issues that I have with this recent edition. She crafts beautiful and clever characters and settings, so I will most assuredly be on the lookout for more of her stories in the future.


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Review: The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

35142025*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Queen of Hearts

Author: Kimmery Martin

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date: February 13, 2018

ISBN: 9780399585050

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years. As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.


I love finding a new book that you absolutely CANNOT put down. This was one of those wild, exhilarating reads for me. The Queen of Hearts is a story of lifelong friendship between women, what sustains it and supports it, and ultimately, what it can overcome. Zadie and Emma have been friends since meeting just before medical school. They experience the rush and intensity of learning the ropes at the hospital together during their rotation. They experience the beauty and whirlwind of first love together, and they experience the absolutely devastation of loss together. Theirs is a friendship that has survive and endured all the ups and downs of life, work, motherhood, romance, and so much more–until things start to come apart at the seams.

I totally devoured this book. It did take me a few days to get through because of some time constraints, but in between blocks of reading, I was obsessing over finishing this book and getting back to the story. The characters, Zadie especially, are so alive and so genuine. Although they are both successful doctors–not an experience that I completely relate too–they are both just women who are mothers, lovers, friend, and neighbours. They and their husbands have witty and hilarious banter (perhaps a tad unrealistic that all of them are this happy-go-lucky, supportive, and witty, but I’m willing to give the author this one because it was so entertaining), and the story itself is intense and fully of hooks and cliff-hangers to pull you forward onto the next chapter. Martin masterfully grabs hold of your attention, keeping you riveted so that you have no choice but to turn to the next page to find out what happens next.

To top everything off, it’s got one of the most visually appealing and striking covers of any book I’ve seen in a while. This is definitely one I know I’d pull off the shelves at the bookstore–I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover.

This novel had it all. I laughed and I cried. I was on the edge of my seat, needing to know more. I related to the characters in a way that had me ruminating on my own close friendships with my girls, imagining what our lives together look like in the future (hopefully with a little less drama than Zadie and Emma! :P). It’s such a good read. I highly recommend it. The only extra thing that this book could have used was a comfy beachside chair and a nice cold drink–I settled for reading this one while curled up under a quilt on my couch which isn’t a bad alternative at all. 🙂


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