BOOK REVIEW | Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury | Banned Books Week

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

My thoughts:
We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. 

I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far without having read Ray Bradbury, but I am so glad that I have finally remedied this. I picked up Fahrenheit 451 without thinking about Banned Books Week, but the timing could not have been better. I mean, wow! A world in which books are not allowed- horror at its best for bibliophiles.

Fahrenheit 451 was written by Bradbury in 1953, and what a life it has lived since then. Having finally read this, I can see it’s influence in nearly every dystopian / post-apocalyptic book that I have read. Joe Hill’s The Fireman was clearly influenced by this book, I found elements in Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, and the silencing of Clarise due to her hunger for knowledge brought to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. 

I cannot add anything of value to the legacy of this book, I can only say that I really enjoyed it. Bradbury has keen insights into humanity, and I found myself highlighting many quotes as I read:

We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor…he made toys for us and did a million tings in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again. 

What are your favourite Ray Bradbury books? The Halloween Tree and The Illustrated Man will be up shortly for me!

BOOK REVIEW | All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

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2.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town – or perhaps lives among them – drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

My thoughts:
This is an incredibly difficult book to review – I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. To start, it’s is extremely triggering. If you have experienced sexual violence, this book may be hard to read as graphic depictions of rape are illustrated throughout. I am comfortable with all topics and never shy away from anything graphic, controversial, or frightening, but this book is extremely detailed and it’s a lot take in. Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a party, and is given an experimental treatment that erases her memory of the traumatic event. While the graphic detail seems to be too much, it does serve some purpose; as a reader, you feel the violation – it becomes real. Since this book is marketed as a thriller, I wasn’t expecting such a significant statement on sexual violence.

The element that struck me most with this book is the idea of erasing the memory of a trauma. If you erase the physical memory, will the emotional memory still respond to triggers? Will the victim be better if they do not know what they suffered? Or, is moving through the suffering the path to healing?

I struggled with the narrator in this book, and unfortunately this is what takes away from the story. It’s written from the perspective of an unreliable, third person minor character, which is a device I often love. Dr. Alan Forrester, the psychiatrist that is treating Jenny and her family following the attack, tells us Jenny’s story through his unique lens; as a psychiatrist, he has insights into all of the major characters. I love an unreliable narrator, but Forrester often confused me: he would jump from being so compassionate and caring with Jenny, to uncharacteristically calling a young woman a slut.

Finally, the shocking twist that was promised was not really shocking at all. Unpredictable, yes, but not the major plot shift that I was expecting. I was left disappointed.

All is Not Forgotten had so much going for it, but the unreliable narrator combined with the disappointing conclusion made for a flop. Wendy Walker is clearly creative and intelligent, and I would be interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

BOOK REVIEW | The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante | Book Two of the Neapolitan Novels


4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The second book, following last year’s My Brilliant Friend, featuring the two friends Lila and Elena. The two protagonists are now in their twenties. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila. Meanwhile, Elena continues her journey of self-discovery. The two young women share a complex and evolving bond that brings them close at times, and drives them apart at others. Each vacillates between hurtful disregard and profound love for the other. With this complicated and meticulously portrayed friendship at the center of their emotional lives, the two girls mature into women, paying the cruel price that this passage exacts.

My thoughts:
Life is like that: one day you’re getting hit, the next kissed. 

This quote essentially sums up much of The Story of a New Name. We continue our journey with Elena and Lila from their late teen years into early womanhood, and we see this dichotomy literally with the men in their lives, and figuratively as their friendship evolves. The women endure frightening amounts of physical abuse at the hands of men, and Ferrante’s prose is a biting and honest as in My Brilliant Friend:

I had a confused need for that aggression. The vise on my wrist, the fear that he would hit me, that river of painful words ended by consoling me: it seemed to me that at least he valued me. 

Elena and Lila experience many of the milestones that tend to come with this stage in life: love, children, career. This book is highly relatable at moments; Ferrante writes women like no other and isn’t afraid to put to paper thoughts that are too ugly to say aloud. In others movements, however, this reads like an Italian soap opera: affairs, pregnancies as a result of the affairs, and a cast of characters that are indecisive and confused about their lives.

Elena and Lila are a mess of the best kind, I can’t wait to see how these women behave in their more adult years.

BOOK REVIEW | Bird Box by Josh Malerman


4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Something is out there . . .

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

My thoughts:
I’ve always had a fear of the unknown. Specifically, what cannot be seen. I hate the dark because I can’t see what is in front of me. Standing in the ocean creates anxiety because I can’t see my feet – what just brushed my leg? Was it a fish? Seaweed? Something sinister? Bird Box takes this fear and ramps is up to a 10+ by removing the character’s vision in a post-apocalyptic, and extremely dangerous, world.

Malerman is a master of suspense; the tension in this book is extreme. It’s an exhilarating page turner that manages to keep it’s pace the entire way though. If this is Malerman’s debut, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

BOOK REVIEW | The Sellout by Paul Beatty | Man Booker 2016 Shortlist Selection

The Sellout by Paul Beatty.jpg

4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

My thoughts:
I sit in a thickly padded chair that, not unlike this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks. 

I hated this book. I mean, I did initially. The entire first chapter was just too much for me: outrageous and over the top, and I couldn’t yet see it’s purpose. Who does Paul Beatty think he is? This book is ridiculous! After all, this is a story about a black man reinstating slavery to save his home town.

I continued reading, however, and then I got angry. When the narrator’s father dies at the hands of the police, I let out the long breath I had been holding. This book is so important and so relevant to what is going in America right now. I’m half black and a very proud Canadian, but I have black relatives living in American that I worry about. Whenever I turn on the news to see a young black man lying dead in the streets I think about my cousin, my uncle. Something must change.

While this book is mean to provoke, to engage, to enrage, it also contains moments of clarity and joy. These two quotes made me laugh out loud:

How come there aren’t any African-American mermaids?  Because black women hate to get their hair wet.

I’m so fucking tied of black women always being described by their skin tones! Honey-colored this! Dark-chocolate that! My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, café-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown!

There isn’t much I can say about this The Sellout that hasn’t already been said, and it’s incredibly difficult to comment on satire, but this book worked for me. Paul Beatty has an MFA in creative writing and a MA in psychology, and I can feel the depth of his education in these pages. The Sellout is both wildly imaginative and incredibly smart.

If you’re struggling to get into this book, try it out on audio! The audio helped me get into it, and I picked up the book shortly after.

BOOK REVIEW | My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante | Book Two of the Neapolitan Novels


4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

My thoughts:
We lived in a world in which children and adults were often wounded, blood flowed from the wounds, they festered, and sometimes people died.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “masterpiece” to describe a book before, but Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend may just change that. I can’t recall the last time I was so quickly swept away by a book – I didn’t want to put it down. Ferrante’s depiction of female friendship is raw and powerful, but above all, real. Ferrante’s honesty, combined with the violent and impovroshed 1950’s Italian neighbourhood in which these characters live, makes for a truly engaging read.

My Brilliant Friend follows Elena and Lila from their childhood into their adolescence, and the reader experiences many of the things you’d expect young girls to go through during these formative years. Their friendship is wrought with tension, jealousy, competition, self-doubt, and arrogance – though, on the other hand, we see genuine moments of tenderness and kindness. Much like any long term relationship, Elena and Lila’s friendship is complex.

Oh, and Lila is tough as nails. I love this moment when Lila seeks to protect Elena from the older neighborhood boys:

She showed me the sharp shoemaker’s knife that she had taken from her father’s workshop. “They won’t touch me, because I’m ugly…but with you they might. If anything happens, tell me”.

My Brilliant Friend examines the significance of education during a time when it wasn’t seen as necessecary.

My mother wanted the stationer to take me in as an assistant: in her view, clever as I was, I was suited to selling pens, pencils, notebooks, and schoolbooks.

The contrast of Elena’s formal education with Lila’s self-teaching was fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how this dichotomy continues throughout the series. This book, after all, is just as much about class struggle than it is about Elena and Lila.

Elena Ferrante is in herself a fascinating figure; she has chosen anonimity, leaving her work to speak for itself. I cannot wait to continue with the Neapolitan novels to see where she takes us next.

The 2016 Man Booker Shortlist

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The 2016 Man Booker shortlist has been announced!

I am excited to see two Canadian authors on this list (Madeline Thien and David Szalay, who is Canadian born), as well as a nice cross section of diversity. I’m surprised that The North Water didn’t make the shortlist, but I am very much looking forward to reading the 4 that I haven’t yet picked up. I will likely read His Bloody Project next, and may try out The Sellout on audio (I tried to read this a few months ago, but just couldn’t get into it).

Check out my review of Eileen 
Check out my review of Hot Milk 

Amazon links:
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
All That Man Is by David Szalay
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien

What book are you most excited about? Any predictions for the winner?