BOOK REVIEW | A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman named Ludo bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive and writing her story on the apartment’s walls.
Almost as if we’re eavesdropping, the history of Angola unfolds through the stories of those she sees from her window. As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers.

My thoughts:
This book is stunning; poetic and concise, with a bit of a magical feel. This is the story of Ludo, who shuts herself into her apartment by building a brick wall on the even of Angolan Independence. She will stay here for the next 30 years, struggling to survive. First, she uses up her stores, then she begins eating fruit from her terrace, eventually she turns to pigeons for sustenance – all the while burning books and furniture for warmth. Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of players in the Angolan war, as well as one unexpected character who changes the course for Ludo.

This story is told through narrative, prose, and Ludo’s journal entries. There are so many beautiful passages in this book but this one, taken from Ludo’s journal, resonated deeply with me:

I carve out verses
short
as prayers

words are
legions
of demons
expelled

I cut adverbs
pronouns

I spare my
wrists

This is a short and powerful read – a true work of art.

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BOOK REVIEW | Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

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3.75/5 stars

From the publisher:
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

My thoughts:
‘Membah dis, nobody love a black girl. Not even harself.

Don’t let the beautiful bright cover fool you, this book is bleak. This is the story of a family, the secrets they keep, and the fight for a better life.

Despite living in a part of town that is less than prosperous, Margot has a prestigious job at a tourist’s resort hotel. She endured an unspeakable tragedy at the hands of her mother as a child, and is now determined to do anything that it takes to keep her younger sister, Thandi, from following her dark path. Because of her mother, Margot engages in prostitution to make ends meet and keep up with Thandi’s expensive schooling. While the family expects Thandi to become a lawyer or doctor, she is occupied with a boy from a bad neighborhood, lightening her skin, and dreams of becoming an artist. Margot and Thandie, along with their mother Dolores, harbor damaging and painful secrets which are exasperated by the confines of their culture.

Nicole Dennis-Benn has crafted an engaging story that had me moving quickly through the pages. I cared about these characters and was deeply invested in their fates. This book touches on LGBTQ issues, and issues that people of colour face with raw power. I’m half Jamaican, and I absolutely love reading Jamaican authors – recommendations please! I will be anxiously awaiting Dennis-Benn’s next work.

 

BOOK REVIEW | Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

My thoughts:
I warn the tempted: secrets decay, as corpses do, growing ranker over time.

I’ve wanted to pick up Jane Steele since it’s release, and finally decided to jump in. Jane Eyre is one of my all time favourite books and as a fan of the macabre, this had my name all over it. This is a fun read, especially for fans of it’s inspiration. This book works really well if you haven’t read the original – however, there are a lot of great moments in there for those who have.

The first half of Jane Steele had me sold and I was loving every second. The story begins with Jane as a young girl, living at Highgate House with her mother. Family drama ensues, leaving Jane and her mother to live in a guest house on the property. Shortly before her death, Jane’s mother reveals to her that she is will inherit Highgate House one day. Jane is sent to boarding school, events unfold, and let’s just say more murder takes place. In the second half of the book, Jane returns to Highgate House as a governess hired by it’s new master, Charles Thornfield. A bit of momentum was lost for me during this part of the story but there were enough twist, turns, revelations, and gore to satisfy. Oh, and the love story between Jane and Charles is fantastic.

Jane Steele is well written and engaging, and I enjoyed that Jane was a Dexter-style killer – she only takes down bad guys. I have a copy of The Gods of Gotham sitting on my bookshelf unread, and I think I’ll pick it up soon as I’d definitely like to read Faye’s 100% original work.

BOOK REVIEW | The Road by Cormac Mccarthy

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food–and each other.

My thoughts:
What would you do if I died?
If you died I would want to die too.
So you could me with me?
Yes. So I could be with you.

This is a sentiment that every parent is familiar with – the relentless fear of your child’s mortality. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than the struggle to keep your child alive, other than trying to continue with life after the loss of a child. McCarthy imagines this fear in a post-apocalyptic world, as a man and his son journey together towards a hope they aren’t sure exists.

I felt this book so deeply, I could imagine being in this experience with one of my kids. McCarthy’s prose is biting and elegant, and his dialogue is simple and realistic. I finished the final pages with tears streaming down my face. This is one of the most beautiful and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.

BOOK REVIEW | A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.

Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.

Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.

My thoughts:
The results of the American election have shaken me deeply left me questioning the world I thought we lived in. I’m a proud Canadian, but have relatives living in the States. I’ve been in a particularly bad reading slump while struggling to come terms with recent events, and am just starting to get back on track. It seems apt, though not planned, that the first read I finished post-election is by a woman with Afghan roots, about modern day women living in Afghanistan.

I think most wives imagine their husbands dying – either out of dread or anticipation. It’s an inevitability. Why not guess at why or how it might happen?

This was my first book by Nadia Hashimi, but it certainly won’t be my last. Her prose is rich and vivid as she explores injustices endured by modern day Afghan women. Zeba, the matriarch of this story, is discovered at the scene of a crime with blood on her hands as her slain husband lays close by. Accusations of her guilt begin to fly as Zeba maintains her silence, unwilling to discuss what happened. She is arrested and sent to jail, where she develops unexpected bonds with the other female prisoners.

Hashimi tackles deeply troubling issues through Zeba’s cell mates as we hear their stories and discover what brought them to the prison. These women are all essentially criminals of morality, jailed for acting in ways that society believes women should not. What is a woman’s place in Afghanistan? What is her value?

A woman was only as good as the drops that fell on her wedding night, the ounces she bled with the turns of the moon, and the small river that she shed giving her husband children.

There are so many layers and so much depth to this story. I also realize that there is a lot of grey area that goes unexplored here as well. This story is not a universal experience for Afghan women, but it is the story Hashimi wanted to tell. At the root, however, this is a murder mystery. Who killed Zeba’s husband? More importantly, why? Hashimi does not disappoint as she reveals the heartbreaking and infuriating events that led to his death and delivers, unexpectedly for stories of this nature, a deeply satisfying ending. I know I will be thinking about this book for a while.

BOOK REVIEW | The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex. It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood. As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.

My thoughts:
I was so excited to jump into my first Camilla Läckberg! I love Nordic Noir and crime fiction, and couldn’t wait to dive in.

Eric Falc, a writer who has returned to her home town of Fjällbacka, finds the body of a childhood friend who has committed suicide. She has trouble understanding why someone who is beautiful, successful, and with a husband who loves her dearly would come to such an end. She begins working with detective Patrik Hedström to uncover the details of her death. Along the way more death occurs, terrible secrets are revealed, and the truth uncovered is unexpected and disturbing. Oh, and there’s a love connection between Erica and Patrik.

This was a nice escapist read with a few interesting characters, and I will be continuing with the next in the series, The Preacher. This certainly wasn’t an amazing literary work, or the best crime fiction book that I have read, but I am intrigued enough to carry on! I believe this was Läckberg’s first book after a drastic career change, and there are some passages that give the reader insight into her style as a crime writer:

The material was increasingly taking on the form of a crime novel, a genre to which she’d never felt particularly attracted. It was people – their relationships and psychological motivations – that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favor of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. She hated all the cliches they used; she wanted to write about something genuine. Something that attempted to describe why someone could commit the worst of all sins – to take the life of another human being.

There was a side story about Erica’s sister and her abusive husband that didn’t wrap up at all – I really hope that there is more about this in the next book. That said, there were just enough twists to keep this interesting, and I look forward to seeing Läckberg’s voice develop in the next installment.

BOOK REVIEW | The Good House by Tananarive Due

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But that all changes one summer when an unexpected tragedy takes place behind its closed doors…and the Toussaint’s family history — and future — is dramatically transformed.

Angela has not returned to the Good House since her son, Corey, died there two years ago. But now, Angela is finally ready to return to her hometown and go beyond the grave to unearth the truth about Corey’s death. Could it be related to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled seven decades ago? And what about the other senseless calamities that Sacajawea has seen in recent years? Has Angela’s grandmother, an African American woman reputed to have “powers,” put a curse on the entire community?

My thoughts:
Angela Toussaint’s Fourth of July party began well enough, but no one would remember that because of the way it would end. That’s what everyone would talk about later. The way it ended.

Why isn’t Tananarive Due a superstar in the horror genre?! She should be way more popular than she is – she is a master of her craft. I absolutely loved Due’s My Soul to Keep (book 1 of her African Immortal series), and The Good House is just as amazing. Her stories are sweeping and full of depth, with interesting historical elements. They are dramatic and fantastical, yet somehow so realistic. More than anything, her books are fun to read.

We follow Angela Toussaint as she returns to her hometown 2 years after a personal tragedy. We learn about her past though flashbacks, and begin to put the pieces of the tragedy together along side her. There’s mystery, voodoo, and a ton of tension.

It’s been said before, but fans of Stephen King must read this book. Like King, Due creates vast and complex stories with well rounded characters that you truly care about. Even her supporting characters have enough depth for the reader to get invested in. The Good House reminds me so much of King’s Bag of Bones, though the stories are completely different. There is a mysterious house that the protagonists return to in both, but it’s the eerie atmosphere that felt strikingly familiar. In both stories, of course, terrible things happen.

Next time you’re in the mood for something spooky, pick up one of Due’s books (if you can find one – they aren’t easily accessible in bookstores), and enjoy submerging yourself into her world.