The Man Who Remembered the Moon

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In my quest to read different things, I happened across this title at work. I don’t remember ever purposefully reading a novella, but I might end up making a habit of it. The cool cover and title drew me in, but I found good substance within.

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The Man Who Remembered the Moon was an interesting little tale.

“Daniel Hale will not be released from a mental institution until he renounces his belief in a celestial body he calls the moon.”

This story was exactly as advertised. One day, Daniel Hale realizes the moon is missing. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who notices. In fact, the rest of the world is completely oblivious to the fact that the moon ever existed. All references to the moon have disappeared along with the celestial body itself.

This novella was really cool. For the majority of the story, it was a rather frightening exploration of what life would be like if everyone was convinced you were crazy. What would life be if you were surrounded by so much doubt that you actively started to doubt your own sanity? The story was fascinating, and I read the whole thing in one go.

Though I admit that I was hoping for a sci-fi solution or ending, the actual conclusion to the story was totally unexpected. After mulling it over, it was pretty brilliant. This is certainly a novella that will make you think, and the main character’s stream of consciousness was very entertaining.

This was a well-written thought experiment that I definitely enjoyed.

I’ll be checking out move of David Hull’s work, and I suggest you do the same!

Do you have any novellas to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

*(Fanfic Feature Friday will be back next week, never fear.)*

The Vegetarian

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Occasionally, an award-winning novel has so much hype that I feel I absolutely have to read it. That’s even more the case if the general Goodreads population concurs with critics in saying it’s a transcendent work of fiction. I used to feel as if maybe I wasn’t intelligent enough to understand some of these novels, as I didn’t enjoy them at all. Was I missing something? What was the huge draw that made people heap praise upon those pages?

I found a beautiful copy of The Vegetarian at work, and was determined to find out.

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I’ve been hearing about this book for ages. I’ve seen it pop up on my Goodreads updates feed, I’ve seen it critically reviewed and praised, I’ve seen people reading it on the TTC, and it won the Man Booker International Prize last year as well. I’ve had friends and employers recommend it. So it was with equal parts apprehension and excitement that I cracked open the first page of this book.

First, the prose was undeniably beautiful. Simple, but written with turns of phrase that made it a quick and thoughtful feeling read. My praise to both Han Kang and her translator, Deborah Smith.

The narrative being divided into three parts worked well for me. I found the narrators in the first and second parts to be rather reprehensible people. I wondered as I was reading if I was enjoying myself or not. Why was I seeing events transpire from their point of view? Should I even keep reading? It was only when I came to the last part of the story that I understood the author’s decision to divide the narrative in such a way.

While I later learned that the author wrote this as an allegorical tale, I think it works very well at face value. Though I resent the use of rape as a plot device, the story (sans allegory) was a fragile and disturbing tale of falling further into a madness that has never really been apparent until events begin to escalate.

My favourite perspective was In-hye’s. Through her we learn more of Yeong-hye’s childhood, and of her sister’s similarity to her own husband. In-hye’s narrative was one that made me think the most. It was the most human to me, as she was a likeable character who struggled with her choices and responsibilities, and even resented her sister for lifting the shackles of a life that she couldn’t bring herself to abandon. She drew parallels between events and characters that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

I loved the last part of the novel. Had the entire thing been from In-hye’s perspective, this would have been a five star review. The touches of bizarre and mystical elements also worked well for me.

As it is, I walked away feeling appeased rather than truly satisfied.

Will you enjoy this book? Hard to say. But it’s under 200 pages, and well-worth checking out for the beautiful writing alone. I’ll certainly be reading more of Han Kang’s work.

Have you read The Vegetarian? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Company Town

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To my regret, it’s been a long while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy, as I now have three jobs so I’m always on the go! (Two bookstores, and a paper store. Living the dream.) Still, things have settled a bit and I’m getting into a routine so I’m back now. I’m hoping to be able to get back to more regular posts once more, so stay tuned.

After being on hold at the library for more than a month, I’ve finally received more of this year’s Canada Reads finalists. It’s with great pleasure that I bring you today’s review.

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Company Town was the Canada Reads candidate I was most eager to read this year. I love sci-fi, and especially more speculative stuff. Throw in the fact that Madeline Ashby is also a ‘strategic foresight consultant’, and I was chomping at the bit to get to this title.

I raced through this novel at lightning speed, reading whenever I could squeeze in the time.

The narrative follows Go Jung-Hwa, a young woman living and working in New Arcadia – an oil rig city off the coast of Newfoundland. As an organic human in a society where most choose to augment themselves with machines and drugs, she is a rarity. She is also ‘stained’ by a birthmark that spans an entire side of her body, due to her rare seizure disorder.

Hwa works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada union members at the opening of the book. That right there made me fall in love with this story.

The legalization of sex work has been a hot button issue in Canada recently, especially in light of the Bedford case (2009-2013). Hwa’s friends, students, and mother are all sex workers. It was amazing to read about sex work in this context, as it was neither vilified nor exalted. The reader does get to see the different attitudes people hold towards the profession, which gives a lot of insight into those characters.

When New Arcadia is bought by the Lynch company, Hwa is thrust into a new corporate position. As she struggles to adjust to her new routine, her friends begin to die gruesomely. With a burning need to bring the killer to justice, Hwa uses all of the resources at her disposal and risks her own safety to see it done.

Reading about such a self-made and competent woman was brilliant. She can take down scary drugged up dudes twice her size, but still isn’t a paragon of perfection. At times she lacks confidence, which is revealed to be a rather serious flaw of hers. Her relationships with others are intricate and genuine. Even shunned by her loved ones, she works her hardest to do what she believes is the right thing. Even pushing others away, she recognizes that she could be pulling them closer. The romance that builds slowly in the novel didn’t feel out of place at all, despite the murder and mayhem sandwiching it.

Though set in the future, Company Town feels like it isn’t that far off from our current state of affairs. Clean energy solutions are still a thing of dreams and prototypes. Women are still treated in ways that should make you weep – illustrated by some disturbing conversations, and more graphic threats of rape, as well as physical violence. Corporations are entities whose machinations affect many lives, often for the worse. These things really helped ground this book for me – it seemed like a plausible situation, even when the technology came into play.

Cue cybernetic enhancement, self-replicating nanobots, artificial intelligence, and crossing timelines.

Boom.

These things were so perfectly entrenched in the world that Ashby created that I totally believed them. Though it got a bit confusing near the end, there was never that moment you sometimes get in sci-fi books when you’ve read some clearly bogus pseudoscience and it catapults you out of the story before you can roll your eyes. I stayed entrenched in the book the whole way through, and after re-reading a specific section things clicked for me and I knew exactly what was going on.

This was my favourite Canada Reads book so far, and I only have two left to go now. I certainly intend to pick up a copy of Company Town, and Madeline Ashby’s other books. And I can always hope that as a Toronto native, she visits my bookstore one day so that I can tell her in person how much I loved this. Hopers gotta hope.

Have you picked up Company Town yet? Did you love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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As you know if you’ve kept up with my posts for any length of time, I love reading YA. Lately, I’ve been trying to broaden my book horizons so I don’t limit my exposure to different kinds of literature. I’ve been browsing the Toronto Public Library’s Overdrive collection, and I came across this gem of a title.

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As far as memoirs go, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is certainly one of the most unusual that I’ve read. It details a young woman’s first forays into work at a crematorium and into the North American funeral industry.

Caitlin Doughty speaks in a frank and appealing way about her work and her evolving thoughts about death and the way it’s viewed in our society. The narrative is peppered with incidents that are morbid and hilarious – sometimes both at once. It’s a fascinating look into an industry that keeps civilians at a distance, often to their detriment.

The narrative is linear, and the reader follows Doughty as she goes from a rather naïve death idealist, to a realist seeking to promote a healthier understanding of death and all it entails.

She meets many interesting people, as you would expect from those who deal with the dead on a regular basis. Their insights added a lot to her evolving journey, as did the glimpses of the different ways that people dealt with their dead loved ones.

Peppered throughout the narrative were glimpses of the death rituals of various peoples all over the world, during various time periods. The reader also learns of the origins of the modern rituals we currently practice in North America. It was honestly fascinating, and I’m curious to learn more about many of the things I learned.

I loved this book.

Death is something I’ve thought about in a vague way, but Doughty encourages the reader to really examine it. She encourages you to talk to your friends and family about it, and to make plans for what will happen to your body once you’ve died.

Another great mark for this book is the bibliography in the back that lists all the sources quoted by the author within. There’s also a reading group guide in the back written by the author, along with resources for death and end-of-life choices.

I would absolutely recommend this book to everyone. We’re all going to die. We should all be able to face our own mortality with a sense of calm that few seem able to do. So read this book, think about life and death, and laugh at the ridiculous situations the author has witnessed and found herself in.

Have you read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes? What did you think? Can you recommend any other unusual memoirs? Let me know in the comments below!

Brother’s Ruin

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Sometimes I’ll search NetGalley for the names of authors I’ve read for something new and familiar at once. I recently came across Emma Newman’s new novella, Brother’s Ruin, and I decided to give it a shot.

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The last thing I read of Newman’s was Planetfall, a sci-fi that was a character focus on someone with a rather debilitating mental illness. With that experience, I was expecting this new novel, though in a different genre, to also be quite character focused.

Arguably, it was. And that was the problem.

Set in a Victorian London which prizes magic and others magic users, I was expecting stronger world-building. As it is, the reader is thrown right into the thick of it with it and I rather felt as if I had started reading at the second chapter, having missed some information. Plus, the synopsis of the book is actually quite misleading.

For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

Totally not what’s going on. I understand not wanting to spoil the events of the book, but they’ve completely manufactured motivations there that don’t exist in the text itself.

The bulk of what bothered me is that I didn’t care at all for Charlotte past the opening sequence with the baker. Considering the narrative was so focused on her, it clearly became an issue. Though this was a short read, I wasn’t compelled at all to keep reading. Charlotte is the only character that’s really fleshed out, and she makes stupid choices. She takes it upon herself to take responsibility for other people’s errors without even discussing things with them.

She does it, of course, because she cares about them.

Because going behind someone’s back to solve their problems in secret is definitely what you should do when you love someone. Also, lying to the man you want to marry is acceptable. Of course.

This was a fast-paced story that I think I would have enjoyed better had it been novel-length and had time to really explore more of the world and the side characters.

As it is, I’m keen to pass – on fluttery feelings for a stranger, side characters who make dumb decisions, and a main character that looks like she’s going to be a magical prodigy. How many tropes can you fit into less than 200 pages?

It’s not likely that I’ll give the second volume a chance, but I won’t give up on reading Newman’s other work.

Have you read Brother’s Ruin? Any of Emma Newman’s other work? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Canada Reads 2017: Day One

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So today I wanted to talk about what happened during this first day of Canada Reads.

I was fortunate to be in the studio audience for this first day, and I’ll be there for the next two days as well. There was a lot of waiting in line, but it was well worth it to experience this cool Canadian literary event first hand. Please note that I’m going to talk about the eliminated book in this post, so if you’re waiting for the TV spot that will be on later, please be aware of the large spoiler that lays ahead! I’m also going to be talking about some of the moments from the debate that I agreed or disagreed with, so other book and debate spoilers will also come up.

You can watch the Day One replay here.

I haven’t yet been able to read all of this year’s contenders as I’ve been on the library waiting list for ages, but I certainly intend to get to all of them. I’ve read Fifteen Dogs and Nostalgia so far, and though I probably shouldn’t judge before I finish the others, I don’t think that either of them answers this years’ question.

The question is, of course “What is the one book that Canadians need now?”

I enjoyed reading Fifteen Dogs, but I don’t think it should be the winner. All respect to Andre Alexis, and to Humble the Poet as well. Humble’s concise and well-spoken argument for this book saved it in this first round. He stated that the human condition is at the root of all of humanity’s issues, and that we must thus examine what it means to be human in order to solve those issues. It was a rather inspired argument, and I hope to see him expand upon it in the days to come. Still, as mentioned by Measha, this book has already won the Giller Prize. It’s being read and thought about already, and perhaps we should be giving another read the chance to come forth and shine..

In contrast, I didn’t enjoy Nostalgia, nor did I think that Jody Mitic’s argument for it was strong. He argued that in order to move forward we must examine our past – which, fair enough. I agree. However, that wasn’t the strongest point I would take away from the novel. Humble brought up the struggle for young people to find their place in society, and Measha the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the young woman who does what she has to in order to get by. I think that Jody moved closer to an urgent point when he brought up the refugee crisis in the novel, but he lost me by the end when he said that the main character had ‘run from his past’. Did we read the same novel, Jody? The main character was erased by a government he was at war with – that could have been an interesting point to bring up itself.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person taken aback at Chantal Kreviazuk’s vehement defense of The Right to Be Cold, at the expense of fellow defender Jody Mitic. Surely a concession that perhaps the book is not an easy read, but is still an important one, would have been kinder than saying “we don’t need you then”.  Yikes, Chantal. Still, it’s important to note that she wasn’t able to be there in person because her son is currently hospitalized in Los Angeles. So perhaps emotions were running high there. I do think that her arguments weren’t very strong either. Yes, climate change is an important issue that Canadians (and the world) need to be thinking of. What makes The Right to Be Cold the book that will unite us as a nation? That focus will be far more important moving forward in the competition.

I’m curious to read Companytown, especially after Measha Brueggergosman’s defense of it. A world in which everyone is enhanced, there is no exclusion of any race, and where sex work is decriminalized? Yes please. I also thought it was interesting she mentioned that it’s a book that shows that one person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia. Candy’s argument that she found issue with the main character being ‘strong’ by displaying masculine traits rather rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think it’s right to think as physical strength or muscular definition as being typically feminine or masculine traits. Don’t build a fence around your definition of femininity, Candy – I am surprised at you. Still, though Companytown sounds like a story I will be more than happy to get my hands on, I don’t know that it is the book that Canadians need now.

Now we come to the impassioned defense of The Break by Candy Palmater. Unfortunately, Candy was sitting with her back to my section, so I couldn’t see her facial expressions as she defended the novel – I could see the reactions of her fellow defenders though. I think that colonialism does still have effects that are deeply felt in our indigenous communities today, and I was really hoping this book would make it further in the competition. When Measha said she was uncomfortable that there was a lack of male representation in the book, I was very surprised. Jody’s concurrence that the fact that men seemed to be demonized, and that all of the male characters made him feel uncomfortable seemed to seal the fate of The Break. He mentions a part of the book in which something is said about ‘the way that white men say goodbye’ and that he didn’t realise that they said goodbye any differently. He felt uncomfortable, demonized – and othered. Measha wondered where the good example of men were in this book, because they aren’t all irredeemable people. (Not all men – sound familiar?)

What I have to say to you is this: I am shocked that The Break was eliminated for what seems to be essentially a lack of non-indigenous and male representation. As Candy said, she spoke to many people for whom this book was the experience of their lives. There are women in this country, and in this world, who don’t know any kind men. Not their fathers, brothers, husbands, or friends. Candy spoke of the relation between this book, our indigenous communities, and the fact that colonization has affected them so deeply in a manner that has yet to ever be addressed in any substantial way.

You feel uncomfortable reading this, Jody? Measha? Good. You were supposed to. If a book doesn’t make you uncomfortable, if it doesn’t make you think, or question your perception of the world, or your country, is it important enough to win this competition? Is it important or urgent enough to be read by all Canadians now?

Candy, my heart breaks for you, as I know how invested you were in your defense of The Break.

The avoidance of hard truths is a hard pill to swallow. The discomfort of Canadians with the thought of sexual violence, battery, and colonization is strong. Often, people dismiss it in favour of thinking there are systems in place to help already, and that indigenous people are simply too lazy to do anything about their situations. Wake up, people. Educate yourselves about the conditions so many in our own country are facing today, and the reasons behind them.

What did you think of this first day of Canada Reads? Do you agree or disagree with my points? Let’s have a debate in the comments below!

Author Spotlight: MaryRoyale

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Welcome to another edition of Fanfic Feature Friday! It’s been a while, but I thought I’d try something new today with my first Fanfic Author Spotlight. Sometimes I’ll stumble across a fantastic story, and when I check out the author’s body of work I have the good fortune of discovering that the bulk of it is equally wonderful.

In this author spotlight, I intend to bring to you the authors I know that I can rely on for a good read no matter the length, fandom, or focus. They’re the writers that have made me seek out specific characters, fandoms, and pairings, and who have set their own fanfiction trends purely by virtue of their storytelling skill and originality.

This week, the Author Spotlight is on MaryRoyale.

Found on fanfiction.net, her focus is mainly on Harry Potter fics. Her stories depart from standard monogamous and heteronormative standards, most of them featuring relationships with multiple partners and genders. They’re easily readable, both the one-shots and the novel-length work. Aside from the great writing, her fics appeal to me as she writes mostly AU (alternate universe) stuff, and also plays around with tropes like time travel and soul bonds.

Waiting for her unfinished works to update is super difficult, but always worth it when a new chapter is posted. Most of her fics are Hermione-centric, which works well because of the characterization given in each story.

Behold, some of my favourite fics of hers!

Arx Domus Nigrae (AU, novel-length – incomplete)

There are legends among the pureblood families about Keepers-special witches who have the power to restore a fallen House. If any House needed a Keeper, it’s the Ancient and Noble House of Black. Hermione/Multi (Cygnus, Orion, Sirius AND Regulus). Polyandry.

Really cool wizarding/pureblood lore. Features interesting relationship dynamics and a lot of Hermione learning new things.

The Lost Lupin (AU, novel-length – complete)

The Lupins fear Greyback’s revenge will not stop with Remus, but might spread to his little sister Hermione. They make an unorthodox decision to protect their daughter without telling their son. Remus has been looking for his sister ever since. Time travel, AU, EWE, NON-CANON SHIPS (underline this bit 8,000 times), etc. Please see warnings.

Essentially the Potter-centric teen drama you didn’t know you wanted, with some more serious undertones.

Desperate Measures (AU, novel-length – incomplete)

Cassiopeia Black wasn’t the sort who was willing to just sit idly by while her House fell down around her. When Cassiopeia is given a Muggleborn witch orphaned by Death Eaters, she uses magical adoption to make the baby a true Black. Pureblood!Hermione. Slytherin!Hermione.

One of my favourite incarnations of Pureblood Hermione ever. Pureblood lore and interesting connections between the Blacks, the Malfoys, the Potters, and the Longbottoms.

That’s all for now, be sure to pop by and leave MaryRoyale a review if you check out her stories!

Who are your favourite fanfic authors? Let me know in the comments below!