Review: Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji

28363849*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Nostalgia

Author: M.G. Vassanji

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

ISBN: 9780385667166

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the indeterminate future in an unnamed western city, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome. As society approaches the prospect of eternal life, a new problem must be confronted: with the threat of the brain’s storage capacity being overwhelmed, people want to move forward into the future free from redundant, unwanted and interfering memories. Rejuvenated bodies require rejuvenated identities–all traces of a person’s past are erased and new, complete fictions are implanted in their stead. On occasion, though, cracks emerge, and reminders of discarded lives seep through. Those afflicted suffer from Leaked Memory Syndrome, or Nostalgia, whereby thoughts from a previous existence burrow in the conscious mind threatening to pull sufferers into an internal abyss. Doctor Frank Sina specializes in sealing these memory leaks. But one day, Presley Smith arrives in Frank’s office. Persistent thoughts are torturing Presley, recurring images of another time and place. As he tries to save Presley from the onslaught of memory, Frank finds clues that suggest Presley’s past may be located in war-torn, nuclear-ravaged Maskinia, a territory located in the southern hemisphere, isolated from the north by fiercely guarded borders and policy barriers. Who was Presley before the Department remade him, what secrets are buried in the memories that are encroaching upon him?


This was my first foray into the books of M.G. Vassanji, and I’m definitely ready to read more. Nostalgia introduces the reader to a future society in a mysterious sci-fi world in a concise but moving story. In this world, identity is something that no longer belongs to the individual and death is no longer an imminent threat. Humanity has lost not only personhood, but also any sense of mortality as well. People are divided by religion, by their desire to live forever or die naturally, and even by their own sense of consciousness and reality. Vassanji has weaved together a complicated story that could have easily been expanded to double the length, or even into a series. I think my main criticism would be the length of this story. So many interesting ideas and complicated topics are introduced, and there was not enough space for the author to really delve into the nitty-gritty details and to fully flesh out these ideas. I’d love to see a follow up novel to this series where more of these themes are explored.

Frank, the protagonist, is struggling to understand the world around him. He’s questioning his own beliefs and the world that he knows. His patient, Presley Smith, is having strange dreams that spark deep confusion and thought in Frank. As Frank seeks answers, he begins to learn that perhaps everything he’s known is not as it seems. Perhaps there are other answers out there.

The book has an overall sinister feel, and does not have a warm and fuzzy happy ending. It’s not a feel good book, but instead is a story to provoke thought and to cause the reader to question the transformation of technology in our own world. Vassanji posits a potential future reality for us that could be something our world one day sees.

I thought this book was very interesting and well-written considering it’s length. It made me happy to see it on 2017’s Canada Reads list and although it was not the winner, it’s a book that definitely deserved to be a contender. Although I was unsatisfied with the ending, I found the characters to be unique and compelling. Vassanji’s way of writing is slow and thoughtful, thorough and pensive. I didn’t feel rushed or hurried. I wanted to savour each page. The reader is given tidbits of information which helps build the mystery and intrigue.

I hope you’ll give this one a try, because it’s definitely worth it, especially for sci-fi fans!

Review: Strange the Dreamer

28145767*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 9780316341684

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?


I was a HUGE fan of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so I was absolutely thrilled to receive an advanced copy of her newest book. The start of a new series, Strange the Dreamer, follows the story of Lazlo Strange, a junior librarian who is known to be a dreamer. He does not have prestige or fame. He’s an unassuming young man who has a love for a mythical lost city called Weep. When presented with the opportunity to finally see the city that has consumed his thoughts and dreams for so long, Lazlo–even surprising himself–jumps at the chance.

I really liked Lazlo as a character. I found him endearing and a little silly. He’s a great tabula rasa, ready for the story to build itself around him. He comes from nothing and really has nothing, and Taylor has set him up to perhaps be an unlikely hero as the series continues to progress.

Lazlo functions in what is a very complex and beautiful world. Taylor has built a very tragic and tangible history for the city of Weep. This history very much enslaves this city, leaving it seemingly without hope. But Lazlo the dreamer sees Weep as it once was when it really was a thing of beautiful legend. The descriptions are so vibrant and real, Taylor brings the story to life in front of the readers eyes.

There is so much to this story: love, hate, death, sadness, life, ghosts, romance, gods, and so much more. I have a feeling as this series progresses, we’re really going to see more of these things come to fruition. Strange the Dreamer offers us an introduction to this magical world and I cannot wait to see what comes next!

Worn Pages is back up and running!

Hi all!

I’ve finally had some time to get back to writing and I thank you all SO MUCH for your patience. The wedding is still a few weeks away, but now that I’m nearly done preparing the decorations, I’ve been able to go back and review a few books. I’m exciting to share the upcoming reviews with you. I’ve been reading some really great books. 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for fiction. I hope you’ll all enjoy what I have to say, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts too! Stay tuned for my first review of 2017, coming to you next week.

Happy reading!
-J

Temporary Hiatus

Hi all!
I’m so sorry I’ve been AWOL for so long. I’m getting married in just under 5 weeks so the past few months of my life have been full of travelling, planning, and family events. That’s why I haven’t been around much. Things have been crazy, and to be honest, reading has been super tough lately. But as we’re getting closer to the big day and everything is coming together, I’m beginning to think more and more about when I’m going to get back into writing, so that I can bring you even more reviews once again! I’m so excited to return, so keep an eye out for new content here. I miss hearing your comments and I can’t wait to get back to the books!

Keep on reading! 🙂

– J

Review: The Strays by Emily Bitto

30145124*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Strays

Author: Emily Bitto

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Canada

Publication Date: January 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781455537723

The Strays: A Novel
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On her first day at a new school, Lily befriends one of the daughters of infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. Lily has never experienced anything like the Trenthams’ home, where Evan and his wife have created a wild, makeshift family of like-minded artists, all living and working together to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930’s Australia. An only child accustomed to loneliness, Lily soon becomes infatuated with the creative chaos of the Trenthams and aches to fully belong. Despite the Trenthams’ glamorous allure, the artists’ real lives are shaped by dire Faustian bargains and spectacular falls from grace. As the girls find themselves drawn closer to the white-hot flame of creativity, emotions and art collide with explosive consequences–and Evan’s own daughters may be forced to pay a dangerous price for his choices.
—–
The synopsis of this story does a good job of hiding most of what goes on in this shocking tale, so much so that I was completely surprised at how this book unfolded. I loved that nothing is revealed and Bitto’s tale remains quite a surprise. This book evoked a lot of emotion in me: shock, anger, sadness, intrigue. This story of artists coming together is very visceral. The emotion of the characters in a story told decades after the fact, is still raw and very much present.

Lily, the narrator, takes on a fly-on-the-wall role in this story. Her role as the narrator is not to tell her own story, but to share the story of the Trentham family. We’re as distant from her as she feels from her own family. It’s hard to get to know her because her words are observations of the goings on around her. She loves this world where she is accepted without question–although the reader sees this as something akin to neglect. She can escape her own world by letting the Trentham family consume her. Lily is a vessel for this story.

I found the book to be a little chaotic. There are a lot of relationships taking place: Lily and Eva, the Trenthams, the artists that come to reside in the home, Lily and her parents, Eva’s sisters. It’s a whirlwind, but I think that’s the point. I think that Bitto shares this world through the eyes of a growing child. She doesn’t fully understand the world around her, but through this book, she comes to learn things both beautiful and horrible.

There are some pretty tough themes and topics dealt with in this book, and I don’t know if they are fully resolved. I didn’t feel completely satisfied in the end. I wanted more. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for a happy ending, but this is a story so turbulent that a happy ending may not be possible. Bitto has an alluring writing style and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she presents her world and her characters. However, it’s not a book that made me happy. It talks about many upsetting things, presented through the eyes of a child who’s ignorance prevents her–at least until she’s older–from fully understanding.

Review: The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J. M. Lee

28943776*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

Author: J. M. Lee

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

ISBN: 9781681772523

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
Synopsis from Goodreads:
An unidentified body is discovered in New York City, with numbers and symbols written in blood near the corpse. Gil­mo, a North Korean national who interprets the world through numbers, formulas, and mathematical theories, is arrested on the spot. Angela, a CIA operative, is assigned to gain his trust and access his unique thought-process. The enigmatic Gil­mo used to have a quiet life back in Pyongyang. But when his father, a preeminent doctor is discovered to be a secret Christian, he is subsequently incarcerated along with Gilmo, in a political prison overseen by a harsh, cruel warden. There, Gilmo meets the spirited Yeong-ae, who becomes his only friend. When Yeong-ae manages to escape, Gil­mo flees to track her down. He uses his peculiar gifts to navigate betrayal and the criminal underworld of east Asia—a world wholly alien to everything he’s ever known.
—–
Thank you so much to Pegasus Books for sharing this incredibly intriguing story with me. We meet Gilmo in the midst of a shocking tragedy: someone has been murdered and Gilmo is the prime suspect. Through his interrogating we come to understand him and his life, from North Korea all the way to America. With a character reminiscent of the boy from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Boy Who Escaped Paradise tells the story of a young man who understands numbers and math better than people. In his harrowing tale, he’s befriended, used, taken advantage of, and so much worse, but he remains a loyal, but naive friend to those in his life.
I thought that this story had a fascinating, yet quite awkward protagonist who’s quirks will draw you to him, but also set the reader apart as he’s quite difficult to relate to. He’s such a trusting character, seeing only the good in others and so willing to trust. He makes his way in the world, working hard and harnessing his talent with numbers to find his place in the world. One can’t help but feel for him because of his lack of understanding of humanities inclination towards deception. His world is a cruel one. The plot moved along with great pacing. I was quickly turning the pages trying to find out what was going to happen next. Gilmo has quite a story to tell.
I very much enjoyed this novel and I hope you will as well. I thought that it was well-written, entertaining, and moving.

Review: A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

22638315Title: A Reunion of Ghosts

Author: Judith Claire Mitchell

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9780062355881

A Reunion of Ghosts

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit. As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.


I had a really tough time with A Reunion of Ghosts which I found a bit disappointing because I’d been looking forward to reading it for a while. It’s the story of the Alter sisters who are in the midst of planning their death. This book is their suicide note. The Alter family is cursed by the great-grandfather who developed the chemical that was used as a lethal gas in WWI and the lethal agent in the gas chambers of WWII. This is a sad tale, with little happiness or redemptive quality. It’s a story without hope. The “family curse” is an inescapable burden to them. To them, they’ve been doomed from the start.

Suicide hangs over this family at every turn. Aunts, parents, grandparents, have all killed themselves from the shame, sadness, and anger at the devastation that hangs in their family history. Eventually, suicide becomes their own personal destinies. Even as one of the sisters thinks to fight it, and even makes a significant attempt to leave this tragic destiny behind, she fails and ultimately succumbs to the curse.

It’s a very sad story. The sisters are trapped by the sadness of the inescapable. We get to know the sisters as much as we get to know their ancestors and their history. Where they come from informs who they are.

I’ve decided that dark humour just isn’t my style. The reviews that I’ve read about this book seem to all be good, but I found that this type of humour was lost on me. I found this book deeply depressing and sad. It was very hard for me to finish and it took me a long time to read.