Review: The Flying Troumans by Miriam Toews

2940207Title: The Flying Troutman

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date:

ISBN: 9780307397492

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children’s long-lost father, Cherkis. Eleven-year-old Thebes spends her time making huge novelty cheques with arts and crafts supplies in the back, and won’t wash, no matter how wild and matted her purple hair gets; she forgot to pack any clothes. Four years older, Logan carves phrases like “Fear Yourself” into the dashboard, and repeatedly disappears in the middle of the night to play basketball; he’s in love, he says, with New York Times columnist Deborah Solomon. But though it might seem like an escape from crisis into chaos, this journey is also desperately necessary, a chance for an accidental family to accept, understand or at least find their way through overwhelming times.

This book was my introduction to Miriam Toews (yes I know, I’m so behind the times!) and I LOVED IT! This is a story of family, mental illness, growing up, healing, and so much more. This novel was absolutely raw in it’s emotion, confronting difficult issues head on and doing so with a touch of dark humour. The book is filled with this family’s desperation as the characters confront the reality that their lives may never be the same again, but they find strength and support in each other. They come together in a way that even they did not think could or would ever happen.

I can’t say I had a favourite character because I liked them all quite a lot. Thebes is quirky and trying to assert her independence in a world that doesn’t always accept individuality as a good thing. Logan is moody and brooding, but his heart is soft and strong. He’s learning that it’s ok to be emotionally and show his true feelings, even as a young man. Hattie is a scattered mess all around, trying to get a grip on her own life. Her heart is big and her devotion to her family is even greater, even if she struggles to know if what she’s doing is right and ok and even though she mourns the life she’s lost.

I couldn’t get enough of this book. I zipped through it in a few nights. I couldn’t get enough. I can’t wait to read even more of Toews books.

Review: The Party by Robyn Harding

32620309*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Party

Author: Robyn Harding

Publisher: Scout Press

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 9781501161247

Synopsis on Goodreads:
Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

The Party is not really the type of novel that I usually choose to read. I’m a fan of happier endings or more in depth studies of character. This novel, well while written–I can appreciate–is not really up my alley. This is a story of a night gone terribly wrong. Hannah is turning sixteen, a big year. What could go wrong?? An intensely damaging accident alters life for two separate families, calling into question everything these characters have ever known. It’s a very moving story, with incredible struggles and frustrations on all sides.

This book is well written and very fast-moving. The story builds and builds in its intensity, becoming more heart-stopping as the novel progresses. Characters change and become unpredictable in the face of tragedy. It’s a novel that highlights what happens when people face unimaginable destruction, anger, and terror. However, I can’t say that any of the characters are likeable and that made it a real struggle for me. Even the teenagers, although one may be able to redeem them and forgive them due to their age, are quite awful in general in this book. The adults act on their whims and are so detached from reality. They’re all living in their own heads, selfish to the core, and perhaps that’s why this novel unravelled for me. I couldn’t sympathize or connect with anyone. Perhaps that is not the author’s purpose, but for me, that’s what draws me into fiction. I like to feel a kinship or a connection with the characters. I like when a book moves me to my very core.

Unfortunately this was just not the book for me. Perhaps those who enjoy suspense/thriller novels more will enjoy it better than I did. Based on the Goodreads reviews, I think that it will go over very well with those who read that genre. I hope you’ll enjoy it more than I did! Happy reading!

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Publisher: Balzer and Bray/Harperteen

Publication Date: February 28, 2017

ISBN: 9780062498533


Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The Hate U Give is an absolutely heart wrenching story about Starr, a sixteen-year-old girl who witnesses the killing of a lifelong friend of hers at the hands of a police office. Starr is the only witness to this devastating act, but she struggles with whether or not she should speak out. She wants her family to be kept safe, as her parents want her to be kept safe as well. Her statement would spark much controversy and could be a catalyst for (potentially negative) change in her neighbourhood and across the country.

Starr is also a young girl, still trying to know herself–who she is and where she fits in in the world. She lives an impoverished, predominantly black neighbourhood, but she attends school in an upperclass, predominantly white private school. She has friends of both races, but she finds herself pretending to be someone she is not while at school, even to her close friends and boyfriend. As the tragedy unfolds around her, Starr begins to confront who she is and who she really wants to be, even if that means losing a few people that she thought meant a lot to her.

This story addresses issues of race, conflict, police shootings, gang wars, friendship, family, love, and so much more. Each page is heavy with thought-provoking prose and intense commentary on some of the terrible crimes that are committed in our world. Thomas opens the doors for dialogue with young readers to talk about how young people especially can find a voice and take a stand against the wrong doings in our world. Starr is an excellent role model as she gains confidence and finds the words to express the crimes committed against her friend, her community, and even herself. She is able to vocalize her fear, her anger, her sadness, in a way that calls for change and a desire for things to be different.

Thomas is an excellent writer, creating a story that is both tragic and beautiful. Her prose comes to life in these pages, creating a world that is incredibly real, that parallels our own. It is honest, open, raw, and so many other incredible things. It addresses very real problems in our own world and asks readers to consider their own positions and to reflect on how we can all act to make this world a better place. It is accessible and truthful and overall, just a beautiful book.

Review: Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

23602494Title: Us Conductors

Author: Sean Michaels

Publisher: Random House of Canada

Publication Date: January 1, 2015

ISBN: 9780345815767

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In a ship steaming its way from Manhattan back to Leningrad, Lev Termen writes a letter to his “one true love”, Clara Rockmore, telling her the story of his life. Imprisoned in his cabin, he recalls his early years as a scientist, inventing the theremin and other electric marvels, and the Kremlin’s dream that these inventions could be used to infiltrate capitalism itself. Instead, New York infiltrated Termen – he fell in love with the city’s dance clubs and speakeasies, with the students learning his strange instrument, and with Clara, a beautiful young violinist. Amid ghostly sonatas, kung-fu tussles, brushes with Chaplin and Rockefeller, a mission to Alcatraz, the novel builds to a crescendo: Termen’s spy games fall apart and he is forced to return home, where he’s soon consigned to a Siberian gulag. Only his wits can save him, but they will also plunge him even deeper toward the dark heart of Stalin’s Russia.

Before reading this book, I’d never heard of the theremin, but after reading it and conducting research on YouTube, I feel much more knowledgable about this strange and unusual instrument. This story is about the inventor, Lev Termen, his experiences in New York as a spy for the USSR, and his return to Russia as a convicted criminal. What I love about this story is that it portrays an eeriness that reflect the strange sounds of his invention. It’s got this air of mystery and intrigued coupled with a sense of romance and even danger. Teremin himself is a very interesting man, obsessed with circuits and music, practitioner of kung-fu, music teach, romantic, agent for his homeland. He is a man of many facets.

Michaels’ prose is sweeping and beautiful. He constructs a detailed, historical world bringing this moment in time to life. Teremin is the most real character in the book and is the easiest to fully understand, as the novel is told from his perspective. The other characters are all perceived through his point of view and understanding so we don’t get to know them as well. Each relationship is defined and described by Teremin, which gives the whole book a very autobiographical feel to it as Teremin narrates his experiences.

I really liked the end portion of the book the best. The setting changes to Stalin’s Russia and it’s in this section that I felt like the book really came alive. It’s the most visceral part of the book. The gulags are dark and dangerous. Death is imminent and Teremin is living moment to moment. The glitz of Jazz Age New York is gone and is replaced with cold and darkness.

I do struggle a little bit to understand how Us Conductors beat out Canadian greats like Heather O’Neill and Miriam Toews as the winner of the 2014 Giller Prize, as I don’t think that the writing in this book is as strong. But it’s still an excellent and incredibly interesting read.

Review: The You I’ve Never Known

30312837.jpg* I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The You I’ve Never Known

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

ISBN: 9781481442909

Synopsis on Goodreads:
For as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire. Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined. Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago. What is Ariel supposed to believe?  How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

I’d never read an Ellen Hopkins book until I picked up The You I’ve Never Known. I didn’t mind this story, but I can’t say that I loved it. I thought it was entertaining, dealt with some tough issues, and was quite readable. What I did like were her explorations of sexuality, family, friendship, and abuse. I thought these topics were real, raw, and relevant. It’s always nice to see YA books dealing with real life tough topics, making them more accessible to young readers.

I also thought it was different that the book is written mostly in verse, in a good way. I was skeptical and a bit nervous at first. I’m really not a poetry lover and I thought that’s what I’d gotten myself into with this one. But in fact, it was SO easy to read and I actually lost myself if the stanzas as I went a long, much the way I do in a good novel. Don’t be daunted by the form. It’s very easy to adjust to.

My main criticism is that I found it to be way too long and that it drags at times. The characters do start to grate a bit on you after a while and the story would be a lot stronger had it wrapped up earlier. I also saw the twist in this book coming from a mile away. No spoilies, but it’s not that hard to spot. I do love a good surprise ending in a book, but sadly, I could see right through this story. Still worth the read, but it’s not the best book I’ve ever read.

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

30849412* I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Publisher: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Publication Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780399547010

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Flora struggles with anterograde amnesia. Her short term memory lasts, at best, a few hours. She is medicated and only a few people are trusted with her care. She goes to school and hangs out with her best friend, Paige, but beyond that, her life is spent at home in the care of her parents. Every time her memory resets, Flora must remember who she is, where she is, and what’s going on–which she does though a series of hand written notes and writing on her arms. This story is about Flora claiming independence, although nearly everyone is against her. Through a series of events, Flora is left alone in the world. With the encouragement of the boy she believes to be her love, and the support of her brother through email exchange, Flora carves out a life for herself in a world that tells her she is incapable. Despite her own fear and perpetual confusion, she takes control of her own life and develops a system to help her remember.

I thought this story was incredibly unique. The protagonist is feisty and strong, yet maintains a child-like innocence and sense of trust. The last age she remembers being is 10 years old, although now, 7 years later, she faces a discrepancy between how she feels mentally and how her body is maturing physically. Flora is incredibly resourceful and manages to rise above her struggles. She’s adventurous and brave, even though sometimes she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her or around her. She’s incredibly likeable to both the reader and to the other characters throughout the book. She makes friends in the town her love her for her friendliness, her openness, her spunk, and her endearing nature.

This story has many layers of tension throughout. First, is the struggle of Flora with her own inability to form long term memories. Her own body is a challenge to her and she must face her own self each and every day. Second, is the conflict between friends: Flora and Paige. Paige is a girl who carries much responsibility as the designated caretaker of Flora in social situations, but Paige is not immune to the struggles of teenagehood and jealousy which creates a rift in their friendship. Third, the battle between Flora and her mother, which Flora is not aware of. Her mother is so full of both love and fear that all she can do is keep a tight grasp on her daughter. With so much tragedy in their lives, her mother’s greatest fear is loosing her child. All of this conflict creates a very complex and layered story. Barr writes so eloquently and masterfully. There are so many things I didn’t expect or see coming in this novel and that made it impossible to put down.

Overall, this was a fantastic read. It’s complexity and endearing characters make it an extremely appealing read. It’s one I know I’ll read again, without a doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one made in to a movie in the next few years! 🙂

Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

28575699.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Title: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Publisher: Poppy

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

ISBN: 9780316260060

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium. As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

What I really loved about this book is that it opens the door to conversation about mental illness. So many people, teens and adults alike, struggle with mental illness every day, but it is not something people find easy to talk about. Although in recent years, people have begun to open up and talk more and more about mental illness, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. This story follows Mel as she tries to cope with her mental illness. She is working to find out what works best for her and she’s trying to understand herself and her mood in any way she can. Much of the book contained her journal entries which I felt really brought this book to life. It turned Mel into a real girl that readers, teen readers especially, would find accessible and relate-able. I think this story is a real eye opener and will be a great conversation starter for readers of all ages.

This story is very honest and doesn’t try to hide or gloss over Mel’s struggle. It portrays her difficulty in her real life, keeping her bipolar disorder secret and trying to appear as a “normal” teen, while trying to deal with her struggle in her home life. The novel addresses themes such as coming-of-age, friendship, romance, family, and so much more. I thought the story progressed well and the timeline seemed to unfold at a reasonable rate, making it even more believable. As someone who has dealt with anxiety, I really connected with Mel. I understood where she was coming from and how she gets to where she is at the end (no spoilies. You’ll have to read it for yourself :D).

I found that all of the characters in this book are really unique and each has a great sense of individuality. What I mean is, sometimes characters all seem to sound the same, but each one of Lindstrom’s are convincing as their own person. They have interesting traits and I feel like most characters experience growth throughout the novel, learning from their mistakes and adapting as the plot unfolds, and not always in good ways (making them even more realistic).

Definitely recommend! I’m a fan of Eric Lindstrom after reading both of his books, and I hope you’ll enjoy his writing as much as I did.