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

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: The Spawning Ground

28185966*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Spawning Grounds

Author: Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780345810816

The Spawning Grounds
Synopsis from Goodreads:
On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river–and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah’s grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon’s numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
—–
The Spawning Grounds explores various relationship: between the Shuswap community and the white developers; between Hannah, her brother, Brandon, and their father; between the living and the spirit world; and so many others. This natural and visceral novel is full of spiritual understanding and acceptance. It passes stories and myth down from generation to generation. In tandem with these stories, the natural land belonging to the Shuswap community faces potential destruction.  This place of peace, nature, and spirit is at risk of disappearing at the hands of white developers. Amidst this threat, Hannah risks losing her brother to something eerily similar to what took her mother from her when she was young.
Anderson-Dargatz brings a very beautiful, complex world to life in her novel. The characters struggle to understand and accept the supernatural, spirit world that has intersected with their own. Alex bring forth the teachings and uninhibited belief in the river and salmon spirits. Hannah battles her affection and trust in Alex with her education and her ideas and her secular upbringing. Their father returns after many years away and struggles to gain the trust of his family. His relationship with his family and the people in the town is incredible complicated.
I didn’t find this novel hugely exciting, however it is breathtaking in it’s description of the land and the stories of the past. I found it a little slow moving, however the characters are intricate and compelling. It’s a wonderful Canadian story that shares the wonder of our land and our history. I quite enjoyed this novel overall.