Book Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is a very dark book. It takes place in dark territories (the crumbling city of Detroit being the main setting), but it also delves into the darkest parts of people’s psyches and souls. It shows the dark side of everything: from the mediocre visual art industry, to the crude jokes found in every police department, to the deepest recesses of a killer’s thoughts and motivations. Everything and everyone has a dark side in this violent thriller, but despite this, it kept me reading.

Like in many horror stories, we see the world through not only the protagonist’s eyes, but the monster’s as well. In this case, the monster is a human being who is also a struggling artist, seemingly possessed by a supernatural power that makes an appearance only towards the end of the book. This was a very smart tactic by Beukes, because it left the reader questioning what was really going on. Is this person truly evil, or are they being helplessly maneuvered around by an unknown entity? I don’t believe this question is ever really answered, especially because it’s a question we ask about people who commit heinous acts in our own world as well. Surely people who commit grisly acts against others are not of sound mind? I like to think this is the case, if only to help me sleep better at night.

The book trailer embedded in this review is a good example of the kind of creepiness you’re going to encounter when reading Broken Monsters. Some of the images described in the book are quite haunting, more so because it blurs the line between ‘art’ and ‘gore’. In some cases, the police mistook works of art for pieces of human bodies grafted together (and vice versa), which forces one to question what is in good taste when it comes to the art world. The idea of recording unfolding crimes on one’s phone for the sake of media, and distribution to the general public is also a big topic in this book, when a desperate blogger goes around the police in order to ‘release’ the story for his gain, thus complicating the case against the killer in the meantime. Does the public deserve to see these gruesome images, or is this best left to the professionals? Again, an interesting debate that I don’t have the energy or space for in this blog.

Even the cover of the book is super creepy!

Even the cover of the book is super creepy!

Another aspect to this book that I found equally disturbing was a high school student’s game of baiting potential pedophiles online. In a secondary storyline, they would create false identities of younger girls trying to catch older man in the act of trying to meet with them, and then humiliating them in public with the hopes of scaring them away from this terrible proclivity of theirs. Obviously this is a very dangerous game for the teenagers to play (even though their intentions are admirable), and when it’s later revealed what online bullying one of them has experienced, you feel pity and overprotective of their youth all at once. Once again, these are very timely topics that seem to be cropping up more and more these days.

So, a disturbing look at what lies beneath in the human psyche, but a worthwhile read for those who enjoy the genre and won’t get scared silly by reading it. Can you see yourself picking up this book and being able to read it in an empty house all by yourself at night? I did, and I lived to tell the tale, so take a chance and read it!

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Book Review: Bark by Lorrie Moore

A woman who is so obsessed with Michael Jackson she roasts her chicken on the ‘clean’ setting of her oven because she’s distracted by listening to his music, a man who wears a t-shirt that says “Thank you for Having Me” at a wedding, a married couple who met at a peace movement but have grown to hate each other so much they both believe in nuclear weapons by the time they divorce: this is just a tiny selection of the quirky characters you will be introduced to in Lorrie Moore’s story collection Bark.

Moore is an American writer, and a quick google search of her will reveal uncontested praise of her books. The word ‘brilliant’ gets tossed around a lot when describing her stories. Her cover photo looks like a writer would and should: shy and unassuming, but painfully intelligent, someone who is obviously adept at observing people, and turning these observations into witty situations and dialogue. Lorrie Moore

The copy of Bark that I received is a trade paperback, and across the front of the cover are the words “National Bestseller” in capitals. Typically these words don’t mean much in publishing, essentially anyone can call themselves a bestselling author because there is no definition for bestseller. Someone’s book can appear once a local book store’s bestseller list, and suddenly that author has decided to call themselves a bestseller. Sad, but true. However, in this case, I’m pretty sure we can assume Bark has sold lots of copies. The first few pages of the book are filled with complimentary quotes about the book, and it’s published by the behemoth Random House, which is a feat in itself, because most short story collections are hard to sell, therefore not picked up by major publishers.

I’m aware that BarkI repeat myself over and over again when I discuss a particular genre of book, but I do want to stress that one of the highlights of a short story collection, especially Bark, is when the stories and characters are all very different. For instance: “Subject to Search” is about a man who works in international intelligence, meeting his new girlfriend in the city of France for a quick romantic rendez-vous; “The Juniper Tree” is about a group of woman saying goodbye to their recently deceased friend through their artistic talents; and “Foes” is about a middle-aged couple struggling to make their way through a stuffy fundraiser in Washington D.C., coming across a prickly lobbyist who seems to have an opinion on everything. How is that for variety?

There are many laugh out loud moments to this book, mainly found in the internal dialogue of Moore’s characters, who I can unashamedly announce are ‘brilliant’ in their own right. My favourite was Ira, the middle-aged man attempting to get back into the dating pool after his divorce, finding himself in love with a woman named Zora, who has a creepily close relationship to her son who of course hates Ira with a passion. That short description doesn’t do the story any justice, and yet I’m sure you can see how hilarity would easily ensue in this situation. So there you have it, Bark is a work of genius, and I highly recommend it.

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Book Review: Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for a few months now, so I apologize this review is so late. It was originally published in India in 2012, and the lovely Calgary-based Freehand Books released it in the fall of 2014. If I had known that the book was so good (and such a quick read!), I would have pushed myself to pick it up weeks ago.

Between Clay and Dust tells the story of two  characters: an aged wrestler who’s struggling with the passing down of his title to his brother, and a beautiful prostitute with a prestigious past, both living in a small city in Pakistan, both coming to terms with the slow decay of their power. Their urban environment is reflective of their lives: both are crumbling.Between-Clay-and-Dust-cover-June-27

As I’m thinking back to the narrative itself, I realize that this book can come across as quite depressing to some, because not a lot of positive things happen in it. However, the novel is so short and precise that you don’t come away from it feeling unhappy, it’s meant to teach us a lesson, much like a fable does for children. Farooqi’s writing is simple, and easy to follow, even though he throws in terms specific to wresting or courtesans that youindex wouldn’t understand unless you looked them up. His sentences don’t contain more than what is absolutely necessary, and that is a skill that so many writers (and bloggers like myself) struggle with these days.

One of the review quotes on the back of the book states: “Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s new novel is the literary equivalent of an artfully executed miniature painting” (Outlook India). I couldn’t agree more! I’ve only found a few books like this in my reading travels:short yet very affecting. A book doesn’t have to be an epic tome that takes place over centuries to leave a lasting impression on the reader. In fact, I find the shorter the book, the more it resonates, because it leaves the reader with that breathing space once they’ve turned the last page to reflect on what they’ve read.

I should also mention that this book was a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, which is a prestigious international award, so I’m not the only who thinks is a worthwhile read!

So pick up Between Clay and Dust if you have a free afternoon and you want to read something in its entirety. You’ll have time to spare, but lots to think about when you go to bed that evening.

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Book Review: A Crack in the Wall by Betty Jane Hegerat

I’ve always enjoyed stories about ‘regular people, doing regular things’. They hold a certain fascination for me, simply because I can relate to those kinds of characters more than others, my life being pretty uneventful in general. I definitely like a good cozy mystery or thriller every once in a while, but family dramas, introspective plot lines and emotionally-driven narratives are my reading comfort zone. For many, this sounds boring, but I’ve always been honest about the fact that I don’t enjoy fantasy novels-in fact, I’m probably one of the few bookworms who can say they’ve never finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy; I tried reading it, but had to put it down after a few pages, I found it boring.a-crack-in-the-wall-small

This is all to say that I’ve found yet another book of short stories that I enjoy, mainly because it deals with the mundane occurrences that most people experience from day-to-day. A Crack in the Wall by Betty Jane Hegerat is a great example of how masterful a simple story can be. Nothing earth shattering happens in these stories, mainly the protagonists come to particular realizations about themselves or someone close to them. Still, after I finished each story, I found myself looking up from the book and pausing for a few seconds, letting everything sink in. In my mind, this is a sign of a brilliant writer.

The fact that Hegerat is from Alberta is just another reason for me to read and love this book. Some of the stories take place in Calgary, others in distant parts of Canada, but there is always a sense of familiarity with the writing: probably because the characters are so relatable.ReadAlbertaBooks_Banner_Wheat_484x300

On another note, I took this book out from the library, and I was shocked to see it had been signed by the author herself. I’m curious how this happened-not because Hegerat is difficult to find in Calgary (quite the opposite in fact, she’s a fixture of our literary scene here), but because I’ve never come across a library book with an autograph before. I’m curious if other readers get a small thrill in discovering the book they’re reading has been signed by the author; I no longer do because I’ve worked with authors for so long, but I’m hoping that this is still a (somewhat rare) phenomenon that appeals to other readers.

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Books Ive Read in 2014

Well here it is again, my annual list of what i’ve read in the past year. You will notice I read 61 books in 2014: 4 less than I did last year. I shudder to think how little I’m going to read in 2015…

For many people, reading 61 books in a year seems like a strange (and quite possibly boring) task, but for me this is a disappointing number, because in 2013 and 2012 I read 80 books each year. 80 seems like a much more impressive number, no? Reading is by far my favourite pastime, so I hate seeing my numbers go down each year, but this is what happens when life gets in the way of your hobbies.ecde7721063e2c7fb6e48956f2daf116

A quick explanation for those of you who are new to my year-end list: I state the book title first, and then the author. I hyperlink to my reviews of the books, if I wrote one. Just because I didn’t write a review, doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, I probably just ran out of time! You’ll also notice that some books I’ve just left spaces for, because I’m currently a jury member for a book prize, so I’m not allowed to state what the prize is, who the authors are, or what the books are. Just trust me that I’ve read the books, and I’ll post the reviews for them in the spring once the winner has been announced.

Enjoy this list, and if you see any books that you’d like to read, feel free to message me and I can see if I still have it lying around to send to you.

  1. Road Ends by Mary Lawson
  2. A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks
  3. Whiskey Creek by Dave Hugelschaffer
  4. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
  5. Double Happiness by Tony Brasunas
  6. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
  7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  8. All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
  9. That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay
  10. Innocence by Dean Koontz
  11. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  12. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
  13. You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  14. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  15. Dead Brilliant by Christopher Ward
  16. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  17. The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich
  18. Boundary Problems by Greg Bechtel
  19. The Age by Nancy Lee
  20. Gin and Daggers by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
  21. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
  22. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  23. Blessings by Elise Juska
  24. The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
  25. The White House by JaQuavis Coleman
  26. The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
  27. To Rise Again at at Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  28. The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston
  29. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  30. The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
  31. The Fever by Megan Abbott
  32. All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
  33. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  34. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
  35. No Relation by Terry Fallis
  36. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  37. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  38. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
  39. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  40. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
  41. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor
  42. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
  43. California by Edan Lepucki
  44. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  45. Riel Street by Colette Maitland
  46. The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy
  47. Leaving Tomorrow by David Bergen
  48. The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter
  49. Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
  50. Serpents Rising by David A. Poulson
  51. Reunion by Hannah Pittard
  52. The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips
  53. World War Z by Max Brooks
  54. *****
  55. *****
  56. Abattoir Blues by Peter Robinson
  57. ****
  58. Bear by Marian Engel
  59. ****
  60. ****
  61. ****

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Book Review: Bear by Marian Engel

Some may already be familiar with this book; it was first published in 1976, and at the time, it was considered very controversial, although it still won the Governor General’s award for fiction that same year. It has been re-released by Penguin/Random House Canada in 2014, and although not as shocking as it was in the 1970’s, it’s still raising a few eyebrows even today. You’re probably dying to know what all the fuss is about. Very few topics are still considered taboo these days, but this novel deals with something that most find very uncomfortable (rightly so!): bestiality.9780771030130

Essentially, Bear tells the story of Lou, a young woman who is sent on a field mission in Northern Ontario to catalogue the library of a wealthy, long-dead colonel. The isolated island estate she is staying on is mostly abandoned, except for a pet bear that remains tied up in a woodshed out back. Apparently he’s been there for many years, and is quite tame, but of course a wild animal still, so he remains secured by a leash. Eventually, Lou finds herself quite lonely, and begins to assign human qualities to this bear, striking up a friendship with him, letting him off his leash to walk him like a dog, etc. This friendship takes a turn about halfway through the book, and she begins a sexual relationship with the animal.

Ok I know what you’re thinking-“whoa there, this just got really weird”. Yes, I must admit I felt the same thing, and many people have this exact reaction. If you are indeed interested in reading Bear, my best advice is to familiarize yourself with other, similar books from the same time period by other female authors to help you understand the context of this book. I recommend reading Survival by Margaret Atwood, because similar to Bear, Survival deals with the idea of ‘what is Canadian’ by looking at ourselves through the lens of nature, and the rugged environment we inhabit (but frequently forget about) here in the north.

I won’t disagree that this book is strange, and at times, certainly unbelievable. However, I didn’t read this book literally, and I’m sure it’s meant to be taken as a metaphor or symbol, rather than literally, because there’s more to it than just freaky run-ins with a bear. Lou is an interesting character, and it’s obvious that she struggles in her relationships with men. She hints at being taken advantage of by a superior at her job, and a man forces himself on her later in the book because he felt he deserved some ‘gratitude’ from her for all his assistance up until that point. Clearly, her romantic encounters are fraught with aggression, and her connection with the bear is one of the first examples of her empowerment in the book.workaholics-meme-its-friday-lets-get-weird

So, yes this book is weird, and I don’t blame friends of mine for resenting being forced to read this as a ‘can lit’ classic back in school. However, if you approach this novel with an open mind and read between the lines, you’ll find it’s deserving of at least half of the praise it has received over the years.

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Book Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

A beautiful, short book about getting trapped in a library; what more could a girl ask for? Books, mystery, illustrations and a small word count-it’s perfect for me! Quite clearly, The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami is right up my alley.

The book is gorgeous-as many Murakami fans are aware, only Chip Kidd is allowed to design Murakami’s books for Random House (or something like that), and he’s done another exceptional job in this case (see photos below, featuring Pearl). Murakami has a strange obsession with cats, so I thought it was only fitting that I include one of mIMG_20141221_165722858y own in a photo with his book. Not only do the illustrations add the ‘extra touch’ to the novella, the cover flaps of the book also act as a built-in bookmark, which sounds useful at first, but really unnecessary because you’ll easily read this in one sitting. IMG_20141221_165857124

The story begins with a young boy in a library, looking for information on how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire (an admittedly obscure and strange topic). He’s directed to a basement room in which a strange old man forces him into a reading room to look at the books that feature this topic, quickly discovering he is now a prisoner in a labyrinth below the city library. While there, he meets some haunting characters, some who may or may not be real, but is also treated to delicious meals, including homemade fried donuts, made by a man in a sheep costume. I know what you’re thinking: “what drugs is Murakami on, and how do I get some?”. Sorry to get your hopes up, but this is typical for his style of writing: odd, non-linear, and frequently crossing into a world of fantasy.

Something else to note is that Murakami’s works are typically quite long, so the fact that this piece is so short must be the reason that illustrations were included, and extra care was taken with the design of the book. Murakami’s website calls The Strange Library a novel, which I disagree with; it’s way too short to be a novel! Anyway, this is sure to be a collector’s item, so I’ll be lending out this book selectively in the new year.

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Book Review: Abattoir Blues by Peter Robinson

Just to be clear, this is NOT a cozy mystery. There is blood and guts in this book, and even a few animal slaughterhouses thrown in for good measure, so don’t pick up Abattoir Blues by Peter Robinson if you are at all squeamish.  I don’t feel bad about starting off my review that way, because Robinson has a lot of fans, so if you want to read his latest Inspector Banks novel (the 22nd in the series), the gore won’t put you off. It’s a typical Robinson mystery: lots of inner character conflict, a wide cast of police figures, and a complicated mystery that unravels slowly but masterfully as you turn the pages.9780771076435

Abattoir Blues begins with two different crime scenes: a stolen tractor at a hobby farm and an abandoned hanger with human blood in it. There are no clues at the beginning that they are at all connected, although as the story develops it becomes clear that there is more than meets the eye. The majority of the narrative is police interviews, which are a great example of Robinson’s adept characterization skills. Some people are not what they seem, and others are described so chillingly you can easily (but unfortunately) imagine exactly what they look like. The vivid descriptions of Robinson’s writing is one of the reasons his famous protagonist now has a television show of his own in the UK.

You’re probably wondering where abattoirs come in (abattoir is another word for slaughterhouse). The majority of the novel takes place on remote farms,  so the topic of livestock quickly leads the investigation into these terrible settings which make vegetarians shudder with distaste and horror. Another interesting side topic is also touched upon in this book; apparently many people that work in that industry can suffer from PTSD, as killing living creatures over and over again takes quite a toll upon the human psyche. I don’t mean to get too sentimental here, but learning about these experiences is an important thing because it reminds us of the sacrifice that comes before we pick up the plastic-wrapped protein from the supermarket.

I don’t read a ton of Peter Robinson books, so I can’t give a definitive ranking of how Abattoir Blues stacks up to the other Banks novels. What I can say is that Robinson is a talented mystery writer, so you won’t be disappointed if you decide to give his police procedurals a try. If you like watching CSI, learning more about the necessary clues to make an arrest and eavesdropping on intimate details of a policeman’s life, you’ll enjoy this book and the others that Robinson has to offer.

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Book Review: You have to F**king Eat by Adam Mansbach, Illustrated by Owen Brozman

Although this book is illustrated, it is in fact meant for adults. Perhaps the expletive in the title makes it obvious enough, but it thought I’d mention it, just in case. You may already be familiar with the similarly named Go the F**k to Sleep book, which as you probably guessed is also meant for adults, so this new installment in the series which addresses the dreaded ‘mealtime’ is a logical next step for the author.

YouHavetoFuckingEat-800x600You Have to F**king Eat has gotten an enormous amount of attention, as did it’s predecessor. You’ll find multiple TV interviews with Mansbach about the book, which as my publishing friends will know, is extremely rare for any kind of book that doesn’t have the words “Harry Potter” or the “Hunger Games” in the title. One of my favourite clips is below, which includes a portion of the book being narrated by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame.

What’s great about this book is the juxtaposition between the profane text and the idyllic illustrations. For example, there is an adorable picture of bunnies munching on carrots and happy looking baby lambs frolicking in a meadow, while above it, the following line appears:

“The bunnies are munching on carrots, the lambs nibble grasses and bleat. I know you’re too hungry to reason with but you have to fucking eat. “

So technically, you could read this to your child before they reach the age of understanding meaning behind words (whatever age that is, I clearly have no idea) just because the pictures are so cute, and you’ll get a real kick of reading this out loud.  But as my common sense prevails, this book is probably best left on your own nightstand, so you and your partner can chuckle at it together after a particularly difficult day of trying to force-feed your children vegetables.

I also like this little gem because it’s published by the small and mighty Akashic Books, based out of the United States. Yay independent publishing! If this review convinces you to purchase the book (fingers crossed), please do so on their website here.

And don’t worry, this isn’t the beginning of an influx of parenting book reviews on this blog, I promise to remain true to my adult-book focus regardless of the status of my personal life.

More importantly, this is the 100th post on ivreadthis.com, so the first person to comment on this post will receive a special gift from me. Thank you for following me and reading my reviews!!!

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Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z by Max Brooks: the book about the zombies. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a strange pick for me. Zombie apocalypses don’t typically fit in with my literary explorations of the human soul, but I’ve decided to go out on a limb here and try reading a book I wouldn’t normally pick up. I have my friend Jenny to thank for this; she lent me this book with a glowing recommendation, and she has great taste, so I was eager to give this a go.

I saw the movie that was based on this book when it came out with my husband. Again, not a movie I would typically jump at the chance to see, but he likes action movies, and I like Brad Pitt so I reluctantly agreed. The film  was (not surprisingly), gruesome and disturbing, but kept me interested, which is really all I can expect from a Hollywood flick these days anyway.

The book is entirely different from the movie. In fact, I couldn’t even determine which character in the book was supposed to be the Brad Pitt character in the movie (perhaps there wasn’t one) because clearly the author’s original premise was the only thing that actually made it into the movie. World War Z (the novel) is essentially a compilation of interviews. The narrative of the book is structured as a report put out by the UN to summarize the apocalypse once it had mostly ended. Essentially, the interviewee travels around the world to listen to people’s stories in an attempt to understand how the outbreak happened, how it was fought in each country, and how the clean-up is going.

book_cover_wwzThe apocalypse is kicked off by a virus that turns people into zombies once they are bitten by someone who is infected. So, the world’s population is slowly taken over by the ‘undead’. The only way to kill these zombies is to destroy or puncture their brain. Thus, there are many gory scenes in the book. However, many political issues are also addressed, which is what makes this story not only well-written, but interesting as well. Topics include: what happens in the middle eastern conflict zones when there is an entirely different war that needs to fought, how the open ocean becomes a place that people ‘escape’ to, the strange disappearance of all North Koreans during the conflict , etc.

This novel also does a great job of answering that burning question that would be on everyone’s mind, mainly: what would happen if the world was thrust into a war that involved every single human that lasted years on end? Brooks’s predictions are fascinating. He even addresses the problem of animals and ignored pets; the remaining population trains sniffer dogs that can detect the undead before the virus becomes visible, and all abandoned dogs are put to use on canine teams to aid the greater fight against the zombies. Another interesting point that is addressed are the people who are not actually infected, but begin to act as though they are infected, and bite other people needlessly. Basically, some people have psychotic breaks that make them believe they are zombies anyway, and these groups are a threat of their own. Soldiers are advised to avoid killing them if possible, because the government believes they can be rehabilitated. All of these smaller side effects of this huge war are explored in ‘mini chapters’ throughout the book, which kept me reading late into the night.

I’m not sure this could be called a dystopian novel, because  (spoiler alert!) it seems as though human life continues as it did before the outbreak, although the population is severely decimated, and PTSD is at an all-time high. But the world of World War Z seems much like our own, which is what makes it so scary. With the Ebola scare fresh in everyone’s minds, I can understand if people would avoid reading a book like this right now, but it is a very good, and dare I say, educational read.

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