Book Review: Fire Sermon

001E7A80-D28D-4230-A643-5A060845F351Title: Fire Sermon
Author: Jamie Quatro
Publisher: House of Anansi
Publication Date: January 13, 2018

From House of Anansi: Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically-charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.

I received an advanced copy of this book from House of Anansi in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: FIRE SERMON is bold, all-consuming, and licentious. Written with a singular eye around a contemporary affair between two people fiercely committed to their families and their faith. Quatro takes an age old story and puts an ultramodern spin on it thru letters, email exchanges, and therapy dialogue – bravo!

Maggie and James lead parallel lives; both married, same age, two children, a boy and a girl of similar age, and both writers. At the apex of consummating their affair Quatro takes us back to Maggie and Thomas’ wedding twenty years earlier. Thomas is a good father and devoted husband but Maggie doesn’t feel a charge in their relationship and the sex is lackluster. She reaches out to theological poet, James, thru letters and email exchanges where they begin a charged relationship that culminates into several physical encounters. Maggie’s lure between sexual desire and spiritual guilt, and her sense of morality and loyalty is palpable.

The subject of this book, infidelity, is cast in an intellectual, literary and near poetic light enrobed in a disintegrating marriage which is no easy feat.

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Book Review: Bellevue Square

A1090981-435B-41DD-8120-DBE40BCD0A75Title: Bellevue Square
Author: Michael Redhill
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️💫

From Doubleday: Jean Mason has a doppelganger. She’s never seen her, but others swear they have. Apparently, her identical twin hangs out in Kensington Market, where she sometimes buys churros and drags an empty shopping cart down the streets, like she’s looking for something to put in it. Jean’s a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving bookstore in downtown Toronto, and she doesn’t rattle easily—not like she used to. But after two customers insist they’ve seen her double, Jean decides to investigate.

She begins at the crossroads of Kensington Market: a city park called Bellevue Square. Although she sees no one who looks like her, it only takes a few visits to the park for her to become obsessed with the possibility of encountering her twin in the flesh. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she’ll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants—the regulars of Bellevue Square—are eager to contribute to Jean’s investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, she fears her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate much stranger than death.

Thank you to PRH Canada for this free arc in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: What would you do if you learned you had a doppelgänger, everyone has seen her but you and she may be on a murderous rampage? In BELLEVUE SQUARE Jean Mason has just seen her twin, Ingrid Fox at a possible murder scene of her friend, Katerina. Katerina was tasked with getting Ingrid to meet Jean at the Bellevue Square park. Jean’s husband is sceptical of all her time spent chasing down Ingrid and thinks she is reverting back to needing mental intervention and medicating again.

A bizarre plot twist leaves Jean hospitalized under the care of a psychiatrist. She is diagnosed with autoscopy and undergoes surgery, medicating and observation. The story sort of lost me from this point on and the ending felt strangely unfinished.

Bellevue Square is short listed for the Giller Prize. This is my first Redhill book and while I enjoyed his writing – he has a penchant for literary fiction, unfortunately this book is not for me. I never connected with the plot and characters and struggled to get through it.

Book Review: The Hopefuls

img_2062Title: The Hopefuls
Author: Jennifer Close
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 / 5

From Knopf: When Beth arrives in D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn’t work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy, and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunches, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy’s star rises higher and higher, the couples’ friendship—and Beth’s relationship with Matt—is threatened by jealousy, competition, and rumors. A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers.

My Review: THE HOPEFULS delivers a fun and engaging insight into political campaign life. The who’s who of Washington, D.C. flashing their security clearances and acronym employers. I’ve always found the whole D.C. political scene intriguing and glamorizing thanks to shows like Scandal and The West Wing. Close superbly blends a double narrative together about the campaign trail and it’s effect on personal relationships.

Beth and Matt trade in their posh NYC lifestyle for D.C. so Matt can join President Obama’s Inauguration Committee. Beth doesn’t fit the culture and never really acclimates and having Matt’s family close by (with a mother-in-law who treats her like an outsider) gives Beth more reason to hate D.C. When they meet Texans Jimmy and Ashleigh (Ash), the four of them hit it off. Matt’s career slows down while Jimmy’s takes off and Matt finds himself running Jimmy’s Texas Railroad Commissioner campaign. The two couples forge a close relationship and move in together during the campaign but friendships and marriages with the best intentions are tough to maintain with the strains of jealousy, tension and temptation.

I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narration, especially the Texas accents. I liked the characters despite Beth being a bit too negative and complain-y in the beginning, overall I think this is a worthy read.

Book Review: Brother

IMG_0911Title: Brother
Author: David Chariandy
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Publication Date: September 26, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 / 5

From McClelland & Stewart: An intensely beautiful, searingly powerful, tightly constructed novel, Brother explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity as they are played out in a Scarborough housing complex during the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991.
With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home.
Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry — teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.
Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael’s dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me a free arc in exchange for my honest review. 

My Review: BROTHER is a timely short story and exploration of racism, poverty, and police brutality. This book will strike a chord with humankind. Chariandy doesn’t mince words as this story quickly unfolds about an immigrant Trinidadian family who moved to Canada to find the American Dream.

Brothers, Francis and Michael come of age during the late 80’s / early 90’s. Immigrants were not welcomed and received backlash to go back where they came from. Their mother works long days and wants better for her sons. Food is scarce and racism prevalent. The boys love hip hop music and Francis has high hopes the music scene will get him out of their rundown Scarborough neighbourhood. The brothers are close and do everything together but Michael has a hard time fitting in and navigating the tough crowd Francis befriends. Francis is the older brother and in the absence of a father falls in line as protector and shoulders the responsibility of income also leaving little in the way of being a child. Their mother has one expectation of them and that’s not to screw up this opportunity.

This is not a feel-good story. The narrative intensifies and the final scene is numbing. This book is about brotherly love, social injustice and survival. It felt cold and distant but it’s an important story that’s timely and appropriate for diverse reading.

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere

IMG_0895Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste NG
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Penguin: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

My Review: Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a finished copy of Little Fires Everywhere in exchange for my honest review.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE exceeded my expectations in every possible way! Ng’s narrative and plot are top notch and the characters are heroic in their own right. I was 100% invested in this book from page one! I was every bit a part of Shaker Heights community as this brilliant cast of characters and personally woven into the family complexities brimming with every happy and heart breaking moment as I turned each page eager for more.

This is a story about family and community. Shaker Heights, Ohio is proud of its rules, lifelong residents and ordinariness. The Richardson’s are an upper class family who from the outside appear to have it all. Elena is a reporter and her husband an attorney. Their four children are typical, likeable kids. When newcomers Mia and Pearl Warren move into the Richardson’s rental house the family is instantly drawn to the mother and daughter. Mia is an artist who holds down a number of odd jobs to provide for Pearl. She is mysterious and wise and exudes compassion, empathy, courage – I completely and utterly adored her!

Elena and Mia find themselves on opposite sides of a custody battle involving Elena’s longtime friend and a poor immigrant mother. Shaker Heights is divided, damaging secrets are revealed and relationships strained. There are so many complexities woven into this story – an analysis of motherhood and family, vengeance, looking at a family through rose coloured glasses – so, so much intrigue!

I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s beautifully written and one I will hold onto forever and read again.

 

Book Review: Things That Happened Before The Earthquake

IMG_0838Title: Things That Happened Before The Earthquake
Author: Chiara Barzini
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: Library
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Doubleday: Mere weeks after the 1992 riots that laid waste to Los Angeles, Eugenia, a typical Italian teenager, is rudely yanked from her privileged Roman milieu by her hippie-ish filmmaker parents and transplanted to the strange suburban world of the San Fernando Valley. With only the Virgin Mary to call on for guidance as her parents struggle to make it big, Hollywood fashion, she must navigate her huge new public high school, complete with Crips and Bloods and Persian gang members, and a car-based environment of 99-cent stores and obscure fast-food franchises and all-night raves. She forges friendships with Henry, who runs his mother’s movie memorabilia store, and the bewitching Deva, who introduces her to the alternate cultural universe that is Topanga Canyon. And then the 1994 earthquake rocks the foundations not only of Eugenia’s home but of the future she’d been imagining for herself.

My Review: I fell in love with THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE from the get-go! The story opens up with Eugenia’s parents and grandmother sunbathing nude on a beach in Malibu – yes, you read that right! I was a teenager coming of age in the 1990’s and Barzini captures the people and culture during this toilsome time to a T – LA riots, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, and the Northridge earthquake.

Plucked from her quaint and cozy life in Rome, Eugenia’s hippy parents moved to LA to get rich and famous after a successful bout in a Spam Italy commercial. Her dreams of living in Hollywood are quickly snubbed when they roll up to their new house in “barrio Nuys” as the cabbie calls it. Another sign Eugenia adds to her list of why moving to LA is a bad omen. And it’s these experiences that lend both a sentimental and funny basis to the story.

An awkward and naive Eugenia, who looks to the Virgin Mary as her role model and calls on for advice, navigates her way around superficial and inward looking peers in school and a culture of wanting to fit in, gang violence, sex and drugs. Feeling dejected Eugenia puts on her figurative ‘rubber suit’ and turns to sex and drugs to cope. She befriends a disabled agoraphobic guy from a failing movie memorabilia shop who supplies her with drugs. It isn’t until Eugenia returns to Italy that first summer that she realizes her connection to her homeland is lost. And back in LA she enters into a bizarre sex and drug filled relationship with an alluring girl living in a hippie commune in the hills.

I think this book is perfect for those coming of age in the 1990’s because the events and culture are so relatable but equally enjoyable also for anyone looking for a poignant and humorous view of this decade.

 

August Book Wrap-Up

IMG_0843Hi, Book Friends! It’s the end of August and the end of summer. I read 10 books the month of August and don’t know if it’s because I had that much more free time or neglected some responsibilities, or both! And, all of these books with the exception of one were 4 or 5-star reviews – woohoo!

MRS. FLETCHER – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I adored Mrs. Fletcher. It’s a literary, coming-of-age story journeying thru personal growth, respect and acceptance.
P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Han’s narrative is adorable and upbeat making this an engaging and enjoyable story.
THE GODDESSES – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I was sucked in from the get go because I can relate to Nancy’s need to find her purpose in a new place as a stay at home mom, which isn’t always easy.
YOUNG JANE YOUNG – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My connection to Rachel, Aviva and Ruby was palpable and I felt it in my heart and my gut. This is a story about three generations of Jewish women you will fall in love with.
MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A bookstore mystery flanked by eccentric characters and a twisty plot – readers rejoice!
DEAD WOMAN WALKING – ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A story about a hot air balloon ride gone dangerously wrong when the passengers witness a cold blooded murder in the act on the ground below them.
LAB GIRL – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A scientific, biographical memoir depicting the author’s personal journey becoming a woman in science filled to the brim with passion, drive, emotion and rawness.
MY ABSOLUTE DARLING – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My first reaction to Turtle is to hug her and tell her everything will be okay and to let her be a kid.
THE FUTURES – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Brilliantly weaves together a story about first careers, young love and the financial crisis of 2008.
THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A story about an Italian immigrant family moving to LA to strike it rich in commercials in the early 1990’s. The themes are funny, disturbing, moving but most of all spot on. (Book Review coming soon)