Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

26160470Title: Kafka on the Shore

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: First published in 2002

ISBN: 9781400079278

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.  


What an excellent book from legendary author, Murakami. I am slow to the punch with this one, but the more I read from Murakami, the more I have to read. And I’m never disappointed. Kafka on the Shore reads like a dream, but it touches ones emotions in a very real way. This is a story of coming of age, full of murder, loss, self-discovery, lust, the supernatural, the absurd. The author is a master at creating mind-bending worlds that run parallel to our own, so realistic, yet so in touch with the otherworldly.

The main characters, Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata, are opposites in terms of age, intelligence, and life experience, but their lives, unbeknownst to them, are intertwined. They’re realistic and almost alive. While Nakata struggles with even the simplest of tasks, he views the world and the people around him with unflinching honesty, observing life as he sees it, quite literally. Kafka is young and is embarking on a journey to truly find himself. Incredibly smart despite his desire to leave high school life behind, Kafka’s observations and musing are astute and studied. Both characters are on the hunt to discover that which is unknown. Their travels take them on adventures that they could have never predicted.

Murakami’s writing is excellent and his world, despite it’s absurd twists and turns, is accessible and not to difficult to understand. I think that many readers would relate to and connect with this particular novel. The characters are complex and truly lovely and there are so many surprises that it’s impossible to know how this book with turn out. Murakami is a true artist with the pen.

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Review: Blame by Jeff Abbott

30842435* I received this book in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Blame

Author: Jeff Abbott

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: July 18, 2017

ISBN: 9781455558438

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The crash that killed him
Two years ago, Jane Norton crashed her car on a lonely road, killing her friend David and leaving her with amnesia. At first, everyone was sympathetic. Then they found Jane’s note: I wish we were dead together.

A girl to blame
From that day the town turned against her. But even now Jane is filled with questions: Why were they on that road? Why was she with David? Did she really want to die?

The secrets she should forget
Most of all, she must find out who has just written her an anonymous message: I know what really happened. I know what you don’t remember…


Never have I enjoyed a thriller so much as I enjoyed Abbott’s Blame. It has a surprisingly engaging plot and some completely unseen twists. I couldn’t put it down. It’s not often that I get too into the thriller genre, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. As a result of an accident, the protagonist, Jane, cannot remember the 3 years leading up to the crash that killed her childhood friend David. She is left a pariah, considered a murderer and an addict to nearly everyone in the town. Many in the town assume that because of her amnesia and the terrible accident that Jane is out of control. In this town, everyone has secrets, some far more terrible than others.

Not a single character is trustworthy, not even Jane. Abbott writes with with fingers pointed in all directions. Everyone can be a suspect here. Because our narrator is so profoundly unreliable due to her lack of knowledge–which even she acknowledges!–we cannot trust a thing that anyone tells her. The only things we know to be true are the small written facts we’re given along the way: a hand written note, a photograph, etc. Even Jane notes that anyone could tell her anything and she’d have to accept it as truth, because she knows no different. She is unreliable, but she is also incredibly vulnerable. Both Jane, and the reader, look to each character with mistrust and suspicion. It builds the intensity of the story and creates a frantic desperation to find out the truth…before it’s too late. Many innocent lives are at stake. The question of “why?” hangs over this tragedy, lurking in everyone’s actions and motivations. They all want the same thing, but there are things that someone is trying to keep hidden.

I’m just completely in awe of how much I liked this book. I can’t compare it to other thrillers, because it’s very unfamiliar territory for me. I can say that there were many characters that I did not sympathize with, and felt anger towards. But there are many redeeming characters who are open to forgiveness and willing to drop everything to help find the truth. Abbott has built a very interesting community in this tragedy stricken town.

While this book may not warm me up to this genre as a whole, as a stand alone book, I really appreciated Blame. I’m glad I took a shot to try something new, because it definitely paid off.

Review: The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

32621113*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Blood Miracles

Author: Lisa McInerney

Publisher: John Murray, a Hachette UK Company

Publication Date: April 6, 2017

ISBN: 9781444798890

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Like all twenty-year-olds, Ryan Cusack is trying to get his head around who he is. This is not a good time for his boss to exploit his dual heritage by opening a new black market route from Italy to Ireland. It is certainly not a good time for his adored girlfriend to decide he’s irreparably corrupted. And he really wishes he hadn’t accidentally caught the eye of an ornery grandmother who fancies herself his saviour. There may be a way clear of the chaos in the business proposals of music promoter Colm and in the attention of the charming, impulsive Natalie. But now that his boss’s ambitions have rattled the city, Ryan is about to find out what he’s made of, and it might be that chaos is in his blood.


From what I’ve seen online, I should have first read McInerney’s Glorious Heresies before reading The Blood Miracles. Many writers seem to be of the opinion that GH is necessary in order to understand the backstory and references throughout this new novel. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but I disagree with this statement. Without having read GH, I found The Blood Miracles to be a full, easily understood, suspenseful narrative. If there were any blanks, McInerney does an excellent job of filling them in, because I certainly do not feel as though I’ve missed out on anything by not reading her previous novel. Often with sequels, one cannot pick up the second or subsequent books to read on their own, but The Blood Miracles does stand on it’s own two feet. I found it to be incredibly engaging, moving, and well-rounded, with enough backstory that I walked away feeling satisfied that I knew the characters, where they came from, and where they were headed. I think I’m even more inclined now to pick up Glorious Heresies to see how it compares.

I love, love, loved that this book is written with Cork slang. It sucks you right into the story. You can hear the characters in a fully immersive, visceral experience. It brings Ryan to life in a very real way. Ryan is barely a redeemable character. In fact, I hated him in the beginning. And then I began to love him for evoking such conflict in me. He became a character that I loved to hate, yet I was rooting for him all the same. I do not generally read or enjoy stories as hard as this one, so I was very skeptical and a bit resistant to reading it at first. But there’s something about Ryan–a something that the women in this novel also experience–that just draws you in. Through him, I was able to let the story grip me and really take me on a dark adventure.

I now cannot wait to get started on Glorious Heresies. I think I’ll really enjoy it, based on the reviews I’ve seen and the recommendations I’ve received. I hope those who loved GH will keep an open mind about this new novel. From what I understand, this book takes a very different turn and many people seem wary of this change. But I think The Blood Miracles has a lot to offer. I know I, surprisingly, really liked it, and I hope you will too!

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!

 

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: 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.

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