BOOK REVIEW | Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

5/5 stars

I prayed forgiveness…for God to pluck me out like a coal from the fire… But Brothers, Sisters: What if that’s the wrong prayer? What if the right prayer is ‘Let me burn, only walk beside me in the flames’?.

Wow, that was intense. I’m not generally interested in books about religion, but Fire Sermon flipped the genre on its head, challenging the confines that keep devout followers trapped in unhappy circumstances.

Maggie, raised Christian, is married, contently. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who are getting older and heading off into ventures of their own. Her husband, Thomas, is kind and attentive, though admittedly atheist. Maggie reaches out to James, a poet she admires, and the pair soon begin conversing regularly. Before long, Maggie and James are in the throws of a passionate, illicit affair. James provides Maggie with what she didn’t know she was missing; he encourages her to write and share her own poetry, and offers spiritually and intellectually satisfying theological debate. Though devoted to Thomas, Maggie struggles with her desires, and what she will lose if she continues in her affair with James.

You will watch the fire consume everything you care about. You will be left with ash – the proper and only end of any burning.

This book is as much about spirituality and monogamy as it is about the nature of female desire. In less capable hands, I don’t think this story would have been so effecting, but Jamie Quatro is a phenomenal writer. Her prose is haunting and poetic, resulting in a book that asks complex questions without surmising a moral standpoint.

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BOOK REVIEW | I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

5/5 stars

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total wuss when it comes to true crime. Give me the most grotesque, horrific, depraved fiction and I’ll be just fine, but as soon as a story is true, I’m out. I really struggle with the type of crime detailed in this book – I know it happens, I just have a hard time with the details. Pegged as part memoir, part obsession, and highly literary, I knew I’d be picking I’ll Be Gone in the Dark up. Within the first few pages I was completely gripped, and the story didn’t let up once.

Michelle McNamara had always been compelled to true crime, sort of an armchair detective. She journaled her thoughts and findings on her blog, True Crime Diary,  and it wasn’t long before she became obsessed with unveiling a serial rapist and murderer that she penned as the Golden State Killer. She spent countless hours analyzing every victim’s story, reading through case files, and agonizing over the gruesome details of the crimes. As lead detective Paul Holes mentions in the book,  she was able to place herself comfortably among the professionals, earning their trust and essentially becoming a part of the investigation team.

This book isn’t easy to take – this monster’s crimes were absolutely horrific. He fed off the fear and torture of his victims, even terrorizing some with chilling phone calls years after his attack. In reading this I became uneasy, and extremely weary of anyone I would see walking by my house. It instilled a certain paranoia in me that I am still trying to shake. McNamara’s writing, however, almost made this story read like fiction. This isn’t a great true crime book, it’s just a great book. She writes with a passion and fluidity that reads like silk. Sections of this book were pieced together posthumously from McNamara’s notes, and it’s clear that she moved everyone she worked with on this case.

The GSK’s crimes began before the dawn of DNA profiling, but it’s just that that will take him down years later. He was apprehended in April of this year, 2018. McNamara passed away in April 2016, just 2 short years before his capture. How I would have loved to hear her response to this massive feat; I feel like she’d have something damn good to say.

BOOK REVIEW | The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

5/5 stars

If you knew the date of your death, how would you choose to live your life? Chloe Benjamin explores this complex question through a narrative following the lives and deaths of four siblings in The Immortalists. If you knew you’d die young, would you live recklessly, essentially securing the prophecy? Or would you live a clean life, in hope of swaying fate in your favor?

It’s 1969 and the Gold siblings – Simon, Daniel, Klara, and Varya – sneak out to find a mystical woman they’ve heard about; she can predict the day you’ll die. One by one, the kids enter into the woman’s home to hear their destiny. Armed with this knowledge the kids move on with their lives, and the chapters that follow track each of them on their paths. They never share their death dates with each other but the siblings carry it closely as they traverse life, effecting each in its own significant way. The first story, and undoubtedly the one I connected with the most, was Simon’s. Next was Klara’s story, then Daniel, and finally Varya.

This isn’t a new concept, that death is what ultimately gives value to life, but Benjamin’s unique take on this theme was both heartbreaking and refreshing. It’s the sort of story that’s easy to get lost it, and I found it hard to say goodbye to these characters as they reached their ultimate destiny. This book calls to mind the final scene in Six Feet Under; if you’ve watched the show you’ll know what I mean. I’m not sure why books about death resonate so deeply with me, but this is another valuable contribution to the genre.

BOOK REVIEW | Foe by Ian Reid

 

*I received a digital advanced review copy from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 Release date: August 7, 2018

4/5 stars

No writer confounds and surprises like Ian Reid. His books keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. This book is particularly bizarre, but I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things very recently, so I knew what to expect: philosophical debate disguised by an eerie story in which all is not as it seems.

Junior and Hen have a quiet, rural life together. They work hard, feed the chickens, and enjoy their evenings together. One day, a man named Terrance appears at the farm with a strange announcement – Junior has been long-listed for a potential trip away from Hen via a research project called OuterMore. Terrance leaves, but says he’ll be seeing them again soon. A year or so later, Terrance returns with the news that Junior has been officially selected and will be leaving for the OuterMore project for an unknown amount of time. Terrance moves in with them to prepare and research for the trip. And that’s about all I can say.

Books like this are meant for going in blind -learn as little as you can before diving in, and then enjoy the ride. Reid is asking some big and often contemplated questions here – how well can you truly know another person? How well can you truly know yourself? Where is technology leading us, and is all advancement positive? What is the essence of lasting relationships? What is up with the horned rhinoceros beetle?! Ok, this last one may be one of my lingering questions…

I have to admit that I caught on to the big twist long before it’s reveal, though I wasn’t expecting the second twist right at the end. I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but know that Reid not only carefully crafts his words, but makes subtle stylistic choices that can be revealing. This is for those who enjoy thinking about a book long after it ends, and who are comfortable with an artistic storyline. This book doesn’t wrap up nicely at all, in fact the ending is completely open for continuation. My only criticism of this book is that it could have been longer, gone deeper, explored further. I can’t rate this as high as ITOET, as it doesn’t pack quite the gut wrenching, emotional punch that his first novel did. Reid may very well be one of my favorite new (and Canadian!) authors.

BOOK REVIEW | Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

5/5 stars

“Somebody…should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished – and are perishing every hour.”

This book blew me away. A precursor to Call Me By Your Name (which is no secret that I absolutely love), I can see where Aciman was influenced. Baldwin is such a beautiful craftsman of words; his writing is so simple, yet so affecting. This would have a been a bold and brave book during during the time it was published, 1956, and it’s just one way in which Baldwin continues to astound me.

While living in Paris, David, an American, meets a bartender named Giovanni. A spark is there, and through forceful encouragement, he invites Giovanni out with the group. The two connect, and before long they are living together, nearly penniless, in Giovanni’s tiny 1 room apartment. David struggles with his identity – is he bisexual? Gay? It all seems irrelevant when he is with Giovanni. However, David has a fiancé, Hella, and has to make a difficult decision about the life he wants to have.

While living in Giovanni’s small apartment, David refers to it as a closet he is trapped inside of, and I can’t really put it any better than that. This is a story about feeling trapped, choosing to eschew love out of fear, and the painful regret that comes later. David and Giovanni’s lives go down very different paths, and they must each account for the decisions they make and the regrets they have in the face of death. This book is stunningly beautiful at times, violent and tragic at others; it was an emotional journey that had me in tears more than once.

BOOK REVIEW | The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

5/5 stars

I’ve loved The Talented Mr. Ripley since the movie was released in 1999, and have been meaning to read the book ever since. I finally picked it up, and what a reading experience it was! I absolutely adored this book from the first page to the last, and can’t wait to watch the movie again to compare the two.

Tom Ripley is a fraudster – he tricks people into sending him cheques rather than the bank, and is genuinely proud of himself whenever he pulls off a deception. There is a sense of longing for more: bigger stunts and riskier plans are on the horizon. When an opportunity arises for Tom to go to Italy to convince playboy Dickie Greenleaf to come home to America, all expenses paid by Dickie’s concerned father, he jumps at the opportunity.

Once in Mongibello, the small Italian town where Dickie has been living, he intentionally bumps into Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, convincing them that he is an old friend. Dickie and Marge invite Tom into their home, and Tom soon realizes that he quite likes the life Dickie is leading – maybe he’d like to live this way too. A chance to make an easy dollar soon turns into a frightening obsession, and eventually to murder. What follows is a complex and expertly plotted tale of escape in plain sight. Tom Ripley is a sick genius, able to manipulate any narrative to suit his own.

Highsmith masterfully delves into the mind of a psychopath; early in the book she details a moment in which Tom rubs his hands together while laughing quietly to himself after pulling off fraud, and it’s so deliciously creepy that I knew I was in for a good ride. Throughout the story, it’s easy to both sympathize with and be disgusted by Tom; Tom’s is able to convince himself so thoroughly of his version of events that it’s easy to forget what really happened. My only critique is that it ends so abruptly – I guess I’ll have to pick up Ripley Underground soon!

BOOK REVIEW | The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

5/5 stars

In the vast expanse of this unpredictable wilderness, you will either become your best self and flourish, or you will run away, screaming, from the dark and the cold and the hardship. There is no middle ground, no safe place; not here, in the Great Alone. 

Wow, what an epic journey! I was not prepared to become so deeply invested in this book; in fact, I resisted it. I’m not sure why I thought it would be hopeful and light, but boy was I wrong.

1974. Ernt Allbright was a POW in the Vietnam war; there are signs of ptsd, but nothing too overwhelming yet. When he receives word he has inherited some land and a cabin in Alaska, he jumps at the opportunity for a fresh start. His wife, Cora, is steadfast in her dedication to Ernt, so they pack their lives into a VW bus, and head to Alaska with their 13 year old daughter Leni. They are unprepared as they head into the desolate landscape, and resistant to help when they arrive. They soon learn that Alaskans take care of one another, as they are welcomed into their new community.

Through hard work, they family settles in and their new life begins. As the cold arrives, Ernt begins to unravel. He becomes angry, rages, and is violent with Cora. As the years pass, Ernt’s condition worsens, creating a danger in the home that is as frightening as the dangers of the Alaskan wild. We watch Leni grow up, fall in love with a boy named Matthew, and stay by her mother’s side no matter the cost. The story takes a turn that had me cheering (literally), but then the journey swerves into unexpected territory.

I was hooked from the first page; the narrative is gripping, fast paced, and visual – it reads like a movie. Part adventure story, party dysfunctional family narrative, and part coming of age, this book has it all. This is a story of survival, perseverance, home, and the extremes, both good and bad, that we will go to for love.