Book Review: Starlight by Richard Wagamese

38636042*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Starlight

Author: Richard Wagamese

Publisher: McLelland & Stewart

Publication Date: August 14, 2018

ISBN: 9780771070846

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Frank Starlight has long settled into a quiet life working his remote farm, but his contemplative existence comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of Emmy, who has committed a desperate act so she and her child can escape a harrowing life of violence. Starlight takes in Emmy and her daughter to help them get back on their feet, and this accidental family eventually grows into a real one. But Emmy’s abusive ex isn’t content to just let her go. He wants revenge and is determined to hunt her down. Starlightwas unfinished at the time of Richard Wagamese’s death, yet every page radiates with his masterful storytelling, intense humanism, and insights that are as hard-earned as they are beautiful. With astonishing scenes set in the rugged backcountry of the B.C. Interior, and characters whose scars cut deep even as their journey toward healing and forgiveness lifts us, Starlight is a last gift to readers from a writer who believed in the power of stories to save us.


Starlight is one of the most vivid and breathtaking books that I’ve read this year. Sadly, Wagamese passed away before the completion of this novel, but the incompletion of this story makes it all the more beautiful and leaves it at it’s most intense and pivotal moment. The story ends at a tipping point, where two stories are at the cusp of colliding, leaving the reader with an intense cliffhanger. The publisher does fill in what Wagamese intended for the climax and resolution, however, I think this story is perfect just as it is. It’s open ended and leaves the reader to fill in their own ending, and there are so many different ways this could go.

This is a story of contrast and juxtaposition: good vs. evil, love vs. hate, light vs. dark. There are three perspectives presented. Frank Starlight is a force of beauty and calm. He is a simple man who is not one for words, but he feels the land and connects with the world around him in an otherworldly and healing way. Emmy is in a state of transition. She is fleeing violence and finds peace in Frank’s world. Her story is one of recovery and utter change from devastation to beauty. She finds her way in Franks world and begins to discover so much about herself that she’d never thought possible. In complete contrast is Emmy’s ex. He is a figure of all-consuming hatred. He is obsessive, abusive, and fixated on destruction. These dichotomies create this intense movement between two completely opposing figures. It’s shocking and when these two men are placed side by side, you notice the virtues and faults of each in a much more visceral way. It makes the beautiful moment all the more moving and the darker moments that much more devastating.

I don’t want to give too much away about this book. I enjoyed it so much and I hope you will too. Wagamese is one of the most descriptive writers that I’ve ever read. He uses unusual comparisons to paint a tangible picture of the world he’s created. His book almost like a photography in that I could imagine the setting and the characters so vividly and I understood them in such a real way that it was like looking at an image or watching a movie, rather than reading a book. Wagamese’s talent will be missed. I now look to his other books because I need more of his writing in my life.

If you read Starlight, let me know what you think!

 

Advertisements

Review: What is Going to Happen Next by Karen Hofmann

34696502*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: What is Going to Happen Next

Author: Karen Hofmann

Publisher: NeWest Press

Publication Date: September 15, 2017

ISBN: 9781988732060

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Karen Hofmann’s empathetic and cathartic novel, What is Going to Happen Next, pieces together the lives of five members of the Lund family following their enforced dispersal after the death of the father and the hospitalization of the mother in the remote West Coast community of Butterfly Lake. It explores their self-doubts and aspirations in the ways they cope with their separation and reunion through their work and personal relationships, and reveals the ways in which their past is filtered through memory and desire. It also skillfully exposes a Vancouver class system from the perspectives of diverse socio-economic conditions and lifestyles. 


What is Going to Happen Next is a story of family and self-hood as it explores the details of a family torn apart early on in the characters’ childhoods and their attempts to reconcile their pasts with who they’ve become as adults. This story explores what happened to the children after their father died and their family fell apart. It follows them through adulthood as they cope with the struggles of their pasts and look to find connection and meaning in their present and future. Their current lives are so thoroughly shaped by the different situations they ended up in as children, informing who they became as adults.

This novel is actually falls into a coming-of-age category, even though many of the siblings are already adults. Each sibling is working to come to terms with where they’ve come from and where their siblings each ended up. They are mourning a lost past and seeking to create a renewed future. Mandalay, the eldest, seems to have it all together, but when you dive into her live, things are held tenuously together with the slightest of strings. She struggles with anger and jealousy, and doesn’t quite seem to know herself as well as she portrays. Cleo, next in line, has it all from the outside. She’s always taken a mothering role and that has defined her for so long, however she’s lost a bit of herself in that role, caring for others with no one left to care for her. Cliff, we learn, has struggled with injury both mental and physical, and that has left him as almost a shell, timid, afraid, and full of anxieties. He’s seeking happiness, but doesn’t have the understand to be able to attain that on his own. And Bodhi/Ben was adopted and raised in privilege. His return signals a significant difference in class between the family he’s always known and the family he’s just discovered. His innocence and youth leaves him open to discovering love and acceptance.

The characters as so unique from one another, each with a distinct voice and personality. Hofmann has written truly individual characters, so well-formed with their own voices. The risk with so many perspectives is that it’s a struggle to maintain difference between the characters, but that’s not been a problem for Hofmann. She entwines these characters’ stories so that the reader can see how these lives run parallel to one another, so different yet so similar at the same time. The children may have been raised in different homes with different insights and values, however as adults they come together to build anew.

I would highly recommend this wonderful piece of Canadian fiction. It’s always a delight to discover a new Canadian voice that I had not read before.

Happy reading!

Review: Vi by Kim Thuy

35792823*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Vi

Author: Kim Thúy

Publisher: Random House Canada

Publication Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 9780735272798

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure. Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada. While her mother and brothers put down roots, life has different plans for Vi. As a young woman, she finds the world opening up to her. Taken under the wing of Ha, a worldly family friend and diplomat lover, Vi tests personal boundaries and crosses international ones, letting the winds of life buffet her. From Saigon to Montreal, from Suzhou to Boston to the fall of the Berlin Wall, she is witness to the immensity of the world, the intricate fabric of humanity, the complexity of love, the infinite possibilities before her. Ever the quiet observer, somehow she must find a way to finally take her place in the world.


Vi is an artful and masterful story full of vivid emotions and delicate chapters that paint snapshots of the main character, Vi’s life from birth into adulthood. I was swept away  by Thúy’s writing, drawn in by her thoughtful prose and quick tempo. Vi’s story is a beautiful one of love, family, immigration, transformation, and self-discovery. She is finding her place in the world, even if it means going against tradition and cultural expectations. She fights to become who she is destined to be, although it causes great distance between her and her family.

This is not a long book. I read the entire thing in 2 sittings over the course of a day. However brief, it is a breath of fresh air inviting you to take it all in. It’s certainly a story that I’ll treasure and read again. Because there are so few pages, there is not much I can delve into without giving away too much, but I encourage you to read this story. If you are a fan of Thúy’s other works then please do pick this one up. Thúy’s writing is so gorgeous. I have not yet read Ru and I read Mãn so long ago, that after reading Vi, I strongly feel that it is time for me to revisit her other novels.

Please read, and let me know what you think! 🙂

Happy reading!

Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Chaotic Good Comps14.indd*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Chaotic Good

Author: Whitney Gardner

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 9781524720803

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans. When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop. At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure. But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.


This book was an excellent read with a feisty and talented protagonist who experiences a sort of coming of age over the course of the story as she learns more about who she is and what she wants. Cameron lives and breaths for clothing design, especially costume design. She loves to nerd out and make costumes of her favourite characters and her friends’ favourite characters. Things go awry on her sewing blog around the same time that her family moves to a new town. Cameron faces overwhelming sexist harassment through cyberbullying on her blog. At the same time, in person, she faces sexism from the guy down at the new local comic bookstore. To make things a bit easier for herself, she decides to conduct a social experiment and borrow her brothers clothes. This opens her up to a whole new world as she really experiences first hand how differently that men and women are treated, especially in the realm of fandoms.

The best thing about this book is that so many of the characters were NORMAL diverse people and not some fantasy or ideal of what teens should be. They vary in race, gender, and sexual orientation. Cam’s love interest is an “average” guy with a bit of extra weight and it’s absolutely endearing that she refers to him as “soft.” Cam herself is so vibrant and really finds comfort as both a dressy girly girl, in more typically male clothing, and especially dressed in cosplay.

As a lover of many things geek myself, as well as a budding D&D player, so many things in this book spoke to me on a level of personal interest. Although I have never come up against the same gender walls that Cameron does within my love of nerdy things and geek culture, I don’t doubt that it exists and is often a huge deterrent for many women. Gardner is ready to drop so many truth bombs with her novel. This book blows the conversations surrounding sexism and cyber bullying wide open. It’s incredibly awful knowing that this kind of stuff happens on the Internet everyday, but it’s so eye-opening and honest about the negative and potentially life-altering effect that Internet Trolls can have as they hide behind the safety of anonymity before tearing down others for no good reason beyond entertainment. Gardner also dives into sexual identity, romance, family, and friendships. She starkly contrasts male and female friendships and bases her story’s commentary about gender expectations and the subversion of gender norms.

What I didn’t like about this story was that the central drama is focused on Cam’s deception in dressing as a guy. The suggestion is brought up by her brother, but he is also the one who seems to take the most offence to it when it lasts too long, yet he does nothing to really help her out her secret. And really, all of this drama could have been avoided if Cameron just told the truth sooner rather than later. A lot of books these days seem to be relying on this trop and really if everyone just TOLD THE TRUTH, then all would be ok. Despite this though, my only qualm with this book, I really enjoyed this story. I think it needs to be getting more attention and I hope people will give it a chance.

Happy reading!


buy-from-ca-tan

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!


buy-from-ca-tan

Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

356047.jpgTitle: A Complicated Kindness

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: 2004

ISBN: 9780676978568

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City’s East Village. Instead she’s trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that’s tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock ’n’ roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o’clock.
——

It’s hard to articulate how I feel about this book, so I’m struggling a bit to write this review. I can’t say I loved or hated this book. Reading it years after the fact, I feel like there was so much hype surrounding this book that when I finally got to reading it, there’s no way it could have ever lived up to my expectations. For that reason, I did not love A Complicated Kindness in the same way that I did The Flying Troutmans.

Nomi is a teen in a mennonite town ruled by it’s minister, Nomi’s uncle. There is no room for freedom and those who oppose the religion are banished. This leaves Nomi and her father without her mother and sister. They’re living an empty existence in this town. Nomi in particular is trying to reconcile the religious beliefs she’s been brought up with and the rebellious ways of her kin. Nomi is quirky and is seeking meaning her her life. She doesn’t have aspirations beyond the pre-determined life of working in the town factory, but she can’t help but wonder what it is her mother and sister saw outside of their community. Nomi is really the best part of this book. She is our eyes into this small community, showing us what it’s like and how she lives. Her perceptions are influenced by her youthful opinions and naiveté.

What I didn’t like about this book is that I found that nothing really happens. It wasn’t exciting or as engaging as it could have been. We’re really just privy to Nomi’s day-to-day life, but the conflicts aren’t fully developed and really could have been much more dramatic. I felt like there could have been stronger feelings or greater conflict between Nomi’s family and without that, I was a bit disappointed. It was an enjoyable read, but I wish I’d read this book back when there was so much buzz about it, and perhaps I could have been a part of the group of readers who were generating all that hype. Alas, reading it so many years later, I was let down a bit. Still, Toews is an excellent writer who creates interesting and well-developed characters. I will continue to make my way through her collection of writing!

 

Rats Nest by Mat Laporte

29902260Title: Rats Nest

Author: Mat Laporte

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 16, 2016

ISBN: 9781771662444

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Mysterious and sometimes hallucinogenic, RATS NEST builds a narrative out of the complexity and dialectical uncertainty that many people feel about being alive in the 21st century. This first full-length book by Mat Laporte introduces readers to a protoplasmic, fantastical underworld, as navigated by a self-reproducing 3D Printed Kid made especially for this purpose. As the Kid descends the layers of a seemingly never-ending pit, its nightmares and hallucinations—recorded in stunning detail—unfold in twelve chilling chapters of unreality that will make readers think twice about what it means to be a human (or humanoid) on the planet we call home.


I am never disappointed by the books put out by Canadian publisher BookThug, and RATS NEST is no different. I picked this book up one Saturday morning and had it finished by noon. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a story about a 3D Printed Kid who is descending into a bottomless pit and is sending recordings back to scientists of all the fantastical things it uncovers as it travels further into the ground. It’s nightmares and hallucinations become worse and more powerful the further it goes, affecting the world above ground as well. Although a fictional novel, through sci-fi and fantasy, this book reflects on the apprehension that many feel in modern society, the fears surrounding what the human race has become and where it is going. It almost reads as a series of short stories, but is in fact, a complete novel. Each chapter presents as it’s own unique experience, but is tied together in a hallucinogenic way, both real and unreal simultaneously.

It is hard to put into words what this story is about overall. It’s a very visceral book that evokes a sense of feeling throughout, rather than overarching plot. It’s incredible imaginative and moving in it’s commentary. It’s a story that provokes thought and asks the reader to ponder it’s creations and their reflections on our own reality. Laporte’s writing is so unique and beautifully crafted. I know for a fact that this is a book I’ll be returning to in the future. I’m trilled to have it in my collection.