Monday, April 27, 2015

The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering by Jeffrey Rotter

ISBN: 978-1-62779-152-6

I thought that The Only Words That Are Worth remembering would be an interesting read. It is a satirical science fictiony book--which is pretty far from my comfort zone--but I like to broaden my horizons, so why not?

The book takes place in the future, after the world has pretty much fallen apart. Rowan and his family, the Van Zandts, are a rag-tag bunch who, after several run-ins with the law, are given the option to either go to prison, or be the test-subjects in a rocket launching from Cape Cannibal, Floriday (Cape Canaveral, Florida, obviously.) They choose the latter and join another family, the Reades. Rowan falls in love with Sylvia Reade, only to lose her affection to his twin brother. Heartbroken, he accepts an offer from Bill Reade (the disturbing father) to sabotage the project and send just the Reades to Europa (one of Jupiter's moons.) Then he runs, gets addicted to Fink (some kind of drug,) and travels through what has become of the US.

TOWTAWR is a strange story. It reminded me a little of A Canticle for Liebowitz--it had the same post-apocalyptic feel, albeit a little more quirky. 

I appreciated the language: a lot of the names of recognizable cities have been bastardized in the future, apparently. 

I recommend this book to those who believe that the world is falling apart and want a glimpse into the messy future.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

ISBN: 978-0-385-52907-5

I Saw a Man is about morality, forgiveness and doing the right thing. Owen Sheers does a magnificent job in illustrating what not to do when you're in a tough spot. 

The book takes place in the year 2008, during the height of the conflict in Afghanistan. It tells the story of Michael, a fairly successful immersion journalists who meets and falls in love with Caroline: a journalist as well, but more of a risk-taker, always looking for a story in a war-torn country and always in danger's way. 

The two marry and settle in Wales. Soon after, Caroline tells Michael that an opportunity for an interview with a known terrorist. Thankfully, it would be in Pakistan, not Afghanistan and so there was much less risk (still a lot of risk.)

Caroline was killed by a drone missile strike manned from Nevada. 

Struck by grief, Michael moves to Back to London and meets Josh and Samatha, whom, with their two young daughters, Michael spends all of his time with. 

Michael is on the road to recovery when he starts receiving letters from the pilot that pulled the trigger that killed his wife. They are letters of apology and explanation written illegally against protocol in an attempt to be forgiven by Michael as Daniel's (the pilot) life is falling apart. 

Michael falls back into the emotional rut he was in, unable to forgive. Meanwhile, something terrible happens at Josh and Samantha's house (which I will not divulge.)

Owen Sheers is an award-winning poet and his way with words is showcased in I Saw a Man. The title of the book is made up of the words that are said just before Caroline is killed and ostensibly the cause of numerous people's lives being destroyed. 

It is a fantastic book, a page-turner. I was reminded of Woody Allen's film Match Point during parts (although there are no murders, premeditated or otherwise--no spoiler!)

I'd recommend I Saw a Man to pretty much anyone: the writing is great, the story is great and it's a bit of a social commentary which is, well, great. 

It will be available in early June--something to look forward to. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1045-7

I haven't read something as dense as The Children's Crusade in a long time. Dense in a good way, of course, the type of pages that are filled with content and hard work. Ann Packer surely put a lot into her novel and it most definitely paid off.

The Children's Crusade is about a family over time: the Blairs. Bill, the father, is a pediatrician--an ideal father and role model to his children. If Bill has any faults whatsoever, Packer doesn't write them into her novel. His wife, Penny, on the other hand is another story. 

Penny is very focused on her artwork: that which she has given most if not all of her attention after having four children. She even goes as far as to first move from the family house to a converted shed down the hill (that she makes a studio,) and then, once her children are all grown, move away completely to Taos, where there are likeminded individuals.

Robert is the eldest. He tries his hardest to follow in his father's footsteps: he goes to his alma mater and becomes a doctor.

Rebecca, the only daughter, is the most intelligent. She becomes a psychiatrist, focusing on her work (a trait acquired from Penny,) and only settling down in her forties. 

Ryan is the compassionate one. He was his mother's favourite. His biggest fault is being too empathetic: perhaps the kindest character in any novel. 

And then there's James. 

James--the only child whose name does not start with the letter R. The wild child, the accident, for lack of a better term, the fuck-up. James, living away from the rest of his family, comes home several years after Bill's death. He has fallen in love with a married woman and needs the money from the family home to start a new life with her. Bill had written a clause into his will: if Penny had wanted to sell the house, she needed the consent of at least one of her kids. Up until this point, James would do anything to thwart his mother's wishes--it was a relationship filled with hatred and vitriol. But now, James is desperate and is forced to join "The Dark Side" as he puts it. 

The character development was thorough and it's hard to pick a favourite. Broken down, each child has their own redeeming traits although none are quite as complex as James. 

This novel is a commitment. It isn't something you can just breeze through in a couple of days (unless that's all you're doing.) I'm certain that Packer put everything she had into it and I truly appreciated it. 

It is a very good book and I recommend it to anyone that likes reading about families. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

All Monsters Must Die by Magnus Bartas & Fredrik Ekman

ISBN: 978-1-77089-880-6

Welcome to North Korea--or welcome to the parts of North Korea that regulated tourism is allowed to see, I should say. 

In All Monsters Must Die, Magnus Bartas and Fredrik Ekman ( I'm going to go with The Authors from here on in) give us a look into the oppressive regime from the inside in the year 2008. No, of course they are unable to see the rampant famine of the majority of the population. They are brought on a tour of all the "great" sights of the country: the birthplace of Kim Jong-il (a log cabin that looked to be built 20 years prior,) Mount Baekdu--which always has snow on its crest (even though as their guide was explaining this phenomenon, it was devoid of any,) the USS Pueblo (the American spy ship that was seized in 1968, the North Korean's apparent proudest moment of thwarting their imperialist enemy to date) are among the most notable.

Yes, the guides are zany. It is truly another world in North Korea. When talking about haircuts (North Koreans can choose from five,) Mr. Song (a guide) explains that hair drains the brain of essential nutrients and so the longer the hair, the bigger the detriment. This is a theory that I have never heard.

But it isn't just wackiness on the tour, there is a sense of unpredictability as well. When another tourist is prying too much for Song's liking, he basically threatens his life. Sure--why not?

The primary focus of the book is on a Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok. Madame Choi was a famous actress in South Korea; Chin, her ex-husband, was the country's greatest director. In 1978, they were kidnapped and taken to North Korea--the primary players in Kim Jong-il's plan to develop his nation's movie industry.

We all know that Kim was a movie buff, but The Authors delve much deeper into his hobby which, by the end of their explanation, seems much more calculated than quirky. The power of melodrama was instrumental during Kim Jong-il's regime (and currently, I suppose, as nothing has changed with Kim Jong-un.)

I really enjoyed All Monsters Must Die. It was acclaimed in Sweden upon its release in 2011 and I'm happy it finally made its way over here. I haven't read any other travelogues about North Korea so I don't really have anything to compare it to, but I think it was pretty thorough. I also appreciated the story of Choi and Shin, which was integral in their description of the country.

Also, the translation was fantastic (not that I speak Swedish, I just mean that I never would have known that the book was originally written in another language.) Saskia Vogel did the wonderful work.

I'd recommend All Monsters Must Die to anyone that appreciates history and wants to know a little bit more about a country that they will probably never visit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

ISBN: 978-0-06-230212-0

I feel incredibly fortunate today (not that I don't most days, but today is exceptional.)  It seems as though every book I request or am sent is a seminal work. I'm sure the bubble will eventually burst, but boy, am I ever happy I got my hands on a copy of Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson.

Braggsville, Georgia (population approximately 7000) is D'aron Davenport's home town. It is in the heart of the South, quite the contrast with UC Berkeley where he is going to university. It's there (Berzerkeley as it is affectionately called) that D'aron--now Daron to avoid confusion--finds three like-minded individuals to spend his time with. Candice (a Midwestern white girl,) Louis (an Asian guy who wants to become the first Lenny Bruce Lee,) Charlie (black, soft-spoken and seemingly confused,) and Daron join forces to become the 4 Little Indians: four very liberal students doing their best to invoke social change. 

And so, after Daron informs them that there are Civil War reenactments performed in Braggsville, the crew decides to take a field trip. Their plan is to interrupt the reenactment with a fake lynching. Daron's father learns of the plan and forbids his son to step anywhere near it. Charlie is clearly not comfortable and opts out. Candice and Louis follow through. They rig a harness, Louis goes blackface and the worst case scenario is the one that Geronimo Johnson writes. 

No--I am not going to tell you what happens. That would be a disservice. Welcome to Braggsville is hard-hitting and everyone should be hit. Hard. 

There is still segregation. There is still racism. And even though everyone in Daron's world did their best the shield him from it, his eyes slowly open as the novel progresses. So he comes of age in a very scary way--triggered by a very scary thing that few people have ever experienced. 

Obviously the idea of racism existing in the Deep South isn't very far fetched; most people wouldn't shake their heads and say "I just don't believe that in this day and age.." It was just extremely hard for D'aron, who grew up in its veil, to come to grips with. 

And it's everywhere! I'm from Canada. As much as we like to pretend that we are all living in harmony, there is no way that anyone can argue that white people are no more priveleged than, oh, I don't know, the First Nations.

It's not groundbreaking, it was just done well. Johnson uses interesting, contemporary language. There is slang, he doesn't necessarily stick to a script. Everything you need to know is there, though. Most people will want to read it but I am sure some folks just don't want to hear it. So be it. People have a tendency to walk around with a blindfold rather than make themselves aware of problems in their environment and push for changes. There are characters in the book that are just the same: they do not want to stir the pot. 

I liked the writing style(s), I liked the characters, the message is IMPORTANT and, to summarize, I loved the book in its entirety. 

Get out there and read a copy if you're okay with listening to a serious matter in a different voice. 

Simon and Schuster Canada...

...has sent me an ARC to review. I just wanted to say thank you. I am truly humbled by all of the publishing houses that have contributed: this blog would not exist if not for you. And obviously the books that you publish...

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Poser by Jacob Rubin

ISBN: 978-0-670-01676-1

The Poser is original, entertaining, thought-provoking and many other complimentary adjectives (what a start, right?) Jacob Rubin--a first-time novelist--came up with a refreshing story and told it brilliantly. I was enraptured from the first page and my interest was piqued until the very end. 

I guess this is going to be one of those glowing reviews, but not without merit:
Jacob Rubin nails it. 

Giovanni Bernini is an impressionist (not a painter but a master mimic.) As an early child, his uncanny ability would get him into trouble. The only support he would get was from his mother who loved him and his remarkable talent dearly. 

He stumbles upon Max, a talent agent, who takes him to the big city to maximize  his potential (profit-wise, of course.) He introduces him to Bernard, who owns a club, and Giovanni begins his career as a professional impersonator.

He meets Lucy whom he has a relationship with and is particularly taken with her as she is the only person he has met to date whom he can't really impersonate--he can't "find her thread." Lucy had been involved with Bernard in the past  and had a bit of a reputation--I'll say no more. 

He eventually finds Lucy with Bernard (ahem,) thus ending their relationship. Little did Giovanni know that it was all part of Bernard's bigger plan. That plan in brief: turn Giovanni into a movie star and then parlay his fame into a career in politics. Basically, Bernard wanted to use him to take over the world. Nothing crazy, really. 

Yes, there are hints of The Manchurian Candidate, but there is no brainwashing involved. Giovanni is a willing participant in every one of his endeavours, misguided though he may be. His issues are what drive this novel, no one else's. He is as sympathetic a character as you will find--I couldn't stop myself from pitying him.  

The book is set in a make-believe place in a non-descript time--neither are of any significance. The only real matter of importance is Giovanni and his perpetual need to mask himself in others, never really showing anyone who he is. 

The book is a comedy by definition but deals with a young man's inability to find his own identity: a topic I would describe as pretty serious. It's very relatable (in a magical sort of way.) Hasn't everyone been uncomfortable in their own skin at some point in their lives? Maybe it's just me...

Jacob Rubin has been compared to Jonathan Lethem--I can see it. I was reminded of the world and characters of Gun, With Occasional Music while reading this book (no talking baby gangsters, but still.) That is a good thing. Creativity is key for me and those brave enough to exhibit it in the writing world are alright in my books (no pun intended.)

Anyone looking for a unique read that will keep you turning pages should definitely give The Poser a shot. READ THIS BOOK. You won't be disappointed. 

My goodness, I really liked this book.

Well done, Jacob Rubin. 

And...HarperCollins Canada...

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for enabling this humble blogger to read and review books from every major Canadian publishing house. It is complete! I am grateful and now am equipped with all of the tools I need to make this blog work. 

Happy Easter and Passover to everyone that celebrates and observes. I'm going to take this long weekend to clean my place and, well, read, I guess. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times by Peter Kavanagh

ISBN: 978-0-345-80852-3

I'm a really big fan of memoirs. I like the organic rawness of them, the possibility that just because someone remembers something one way, it doesn't mean it necessarily happened like that. There's no real science, just memories and describing your life to the best of your abilities.

There was a lot of science in The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times, though. Not in a bad way--I'm not trying to say that didn't appreciate it. In fact, I'm not really sure that I did, but that may just be me. 

Peter Kavanagh tells his story. He was born with polio in the early 1950s during the height of the Canadian epidemic. His father worked on numerous construction sights across Canada, so his family was constantly on the move. He struggled throughout his childhood. He was bullied and so lashed out, using his mind as a weapon to become the predator. As you can imagine, it was difficult. One leg was longer than the other. He had to wear a brace. It wasn't smooth sailing. Finally, at the age of 12, he, with his family, decided to undergo hip surgery--hip displaysia being a worrisome problem caused by the polio. Unfortunately, this meant living the entire next year in a body cast. 

If you thought things were going to get easier, you were wrong. I suppose you wouldn't think that, though, given the title of the book and the fact that he hasn't learned to walk three...anyway, you get it!

Kavanagh took advantage of his longer leg. He stopped using a brace and started wearing sneakers. Bad decisions. His foot couldn't handle the pressure and so he would break it several times. 

Later on in life, Kavanagh suffered through numerous other ailments, culminating in another hip surgery. 

All through the book, the author does a wonderful job describing all the medical problems and procedures he had to endure. He is a self-proclaimed man of words and there was no shortage of them in the book. For those who like lengthy descriptions, this is wonderful: Kavanagh does a remarkable job in walking the reader through every detail in a very comprehensive manner. On the other hand, if you think--as Polonius did in Hamlet--that brevity is the soul of wit, you, my friend, may be at wits end upon concluding The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times.

So what did I think about the book? I'm still not sure. I certainly respect Kavanagh's will and ability to overcome the medical nightmares that most could only have nightmares about. I'm uncertain, though, that this is a memoir, so to speak. It's certainly genre bending, if that means anything.

So yeah, I liked it as a medical journal blended with the most pertinent parts of a life story. Not really as a memoir though.

You should probably read it to make more sense of what I'm saying.

It will be released on April 14, 2015.