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.

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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.

BOOK REVIEW | I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid

5/5 stars

I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things painted with every color in my reader’s palette. I finished this mere minutes ago, reread certain sections backwards as per Ian Reid’s subtle guidance, and am totally blown away. And I’m sad. This is a profoundly sad book. This is the sort of book that causes book hangover – this story will live with me for a while, and all other books will not stack up. The ending didn’t matter to me as the journey was so enthralling. But the ending, wow.

An unnamed female narrator is on a road trip with her boyfriend Jake. They are heading to the small farm where he grew up so she can meet his parents, but she has one thing on her mind: ending things. She has been thinking about ending things with Jake for a while, but decides to go through with the trip, thinking that meeting his parents might change her mind about the relationship.

Along the way they ask each other many philosophical questions, often alluding to the nature of relationships, how you can never truly know someone else, how your thoughts are the only thing that is real, and whether we can get through life without meaningful relationships. What ensues is, hands down, one of the most chilling and atmospheric stories I have ever read.

This book is touted as psychological horror, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, Reid has painted an incredibly eerie portrait of the old farmhouse, as well as a rural school where our characters end up, but everything going on below the surface is heavy and black once pieced together. Towards the end of the book, it’s suggested that the story is read again, backwards. Each chapter is prefaced by an italicized vignette – a conversation that is taking place about an even that occurred. I read these sections backwards, and was blown away by Reid’s process.

I’ve read many reviews that suggest this book made no sense, and I can see that if it was picked up as a typical horror read. This is not classic horror (though it can be read as such), this is pure psychological horror, dealing with a heavy topic. I don’t want to spoil this for potential readers, but go into this book knowing that everything is not as it seems, and if you enjoy books that deal with the metaphysical or mental health you’ll find a connection here.

BOOK REVIEW | The Boat People by Sharon Bala| Canada Reads 2018 Contender #4

3/5 stars

In a time when political views are extremely divided, Sharon Bala’s The Boat People portrays a unique set of views regarding the immigrant experience. The vast number refugees coming into Canada are simply seeking a safe life for their families, but how do we separate those who will become contributing citizens from those with other motives? Bala seeks to answer this question, as well as shed light on a process that feels more criminal than hopeful.

Mahindin and his six year old son, Sillian, flee the civil war in Sri Lanka, setting out on a boat with about 500 other people seeking refuge in Canada. When their boat arrives in British Columbia, the refugee’s hope is quickly destroyed. Rather than starting their new lives, they are detained, questioned, and subject to a legal battle that will determine if they can stay or if they will be deported. Mahindan is separated from Sillian during the process, and fears that his past political associations will come to light, destroying their chances for life in Canada.

Inspired by actual events from 2009, Bala is effective in her portrayal of the immigration process from all sides. The story is told not only from Mahindan’s perspective, but also from Priya, a young lawyer appointed to defend Mahindan, and Grace, an adjudicator who will ultimately determine his fate. As pressure mounts, questions arise about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), why Mahindan was in a Tiger controlled area, and whether he has terrorist affiliations. Bala also touches on the smugglers and crime that goes along with moving people in desperate times.

This is such such an important story to tell, especially in our current political climate. The story surrounding Mahindan, Sillian, and their history was a joy to read. However, I was never able to fully invest myself in Priya’s or Grace’s stories – they were interesting, but didn’t feel necessary. Their stories made the book unnecessarily long, leaving me zoned out at times. This was a solid read, and a valuable addition to the Canada Reads contender list.

BOOK REVIEW | The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

4/5 stars

I’ve been reading a lot of books that are incredibly heavy in content as of late, and it was time for a thriller to mix things up – my version of lightening the mood. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window was the perfect book to get me into a different head space. I feel like I understand the place that Finn was coming from in writing an agoraphobic character, and after learning about his life experience it’s easy to see that there is a lot of himself in the book, which I love.

Anna, once a successful child psychologist, is agoraphobic – she cannot leave her apartment. A tragic event is alluded to, but we don’t learn the heartbreaking truth until much later on. Living alone, Anna relies on grocery delivery to take care of her necessities. Anna also relies on her red wine delivery, clearly a little too much. Anna spends time exploring the world through the lens of her camera – her window is her access to an outside she cannot bear to face. When a new family moves in across the street, Anna watches them through her window and soon witnesses a horrific act of violence, forcing her out of her apartment. Anna desperately pleas for the police to investigate the crime, but between her agoraphobia and the wine bottles strewn about her apartment, they police are quick to dismiss her story.

This was a fun and absorbing thriller, but something didn’t fully click for me. I think it just felt sort of familiar – like this has all been done before, many times over. This book certainly follows the Gone Girl trend – lots of twists and turns with an unreliable female narrator. I wish Finn didn’t make Anna a borderline alcoholic – though she suffered tragedy, her agoraphobia would have sufficed as her coping mechanism. Was the alcoholism added in to have the reader question her mental state? I just didn’t see the point. Either way, I had a lot of fun with this book and know it will make a great movie. Finn is a unique guy and I can tell he put a lot of heart into this one, I will certainly pick up his next book. This was about a 3.5 star read for me, but I rounded up 🙂

BOOK REVIEW | Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez | Canada Reads 2018

4/5 stars

If you’re looking for a book to completely tear you apart, this could be it. Scarborough is an account of the people living in a low-income community, east of Toronto. Through the Ontario Reads Literacy Program, our large cast of characters are connected. These characters, primarily parents and their kids, are subject to poverty, alcoholism, racism, and prejudice. Though they show it in different ways, all of these parents are doing the best they know how, with limited resources, to provide for their kids.

Told from multiple perspectives, Hernandez astutely captures life for those surviving through poverty. Bing, an intellectually gifted Filipino boy coming to terms with his sexuality and his mother, Edna. Bing and Edna have a beautiful relationship – Edna works hard at her nail salon, Bing often helping out. Laura, a Caucasian girl, suffering through abuse from both of her parents, now living with her father, Cory. Cory is an alcoholic and rarely knows where Laura’s next meal is coming from – Laura is the most heartbreaking character in the book. Sylvie, a First Nations girl, living with her loving and dedicated mother, Marie, and three year old brother Johnny. Marie knows something is different about Johnny, bu prejudices in the medical system prevent her from finding help. She rushes across town on busses, pushes strollers through slush and snow, doing anything she can to make his appointments using public transit.

All of these characters are connected through the Ontario Reads Literacy Reads program – a place kids can go before school to have breakfast and play, to be themselves. Hina, who runs the program, is often subject to racism from the parents who drop their kids off at the program, and struggles to run the program in a way that best serves the community. We hear from Hina in her weekly reports to her supervisor.

There are some amazing wins for some of the characters, such as Bing’s school performance, and Marie’s breakthrough with Johnny. This wasn’t a perfect book, but it was darn close for me. Hernandez gripped me from the first page, and I was deeply invested in all of her characters. The final chapter was a little sentimental for my taste, but I understand what Hernandez was going for.

What struck me the most with this book was how familiar it all felt, particularly the racism and prejudice. These are the problems we face here in Canada, and this is part of why I love Canada Reads so much. These are the sort of books that Canadians need to read, much like The Break last year. American authours abound, but it’s so important to read content from our own backyard.

BOOK REVIEW | Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

5/5 stars

Prentiss is ambitious with her first novel, crafting a complex, deeply interwoven narrative. The book spans countries and storylines, all the while offering a glimpse into the art scene in New York in 1980.

The story is built around a cast of fantastic supporting characters and 3 central characters: James, a synaesthetic and slightly eccentric art critic, Lucy, a small town girl who recently moved to New York, and Raul, a talented painter. These three characters will ultimately clash, a confluence of art and family. The story is so engaging that I never found myself seeking out the connections ahead of time, but rather enjoyed the progression of plot without expectation.

Prentiss’ prose is the sort that I soak up; witty, bold, and confident. Her characters are well drawn, each suffering a loss of great magnitude before ultimately finding new purpose. The character development is a driving force, moving the plot along effortlessly.

There’s a lot going on in this story, which is really its only downfall – I wasn’t ready to close the book on certain characters. I rarely say this, but this book could have been 100 pages longer and I’d be no less engrossed.