Sin Eater

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There are a lot of nice things about being in a book club. For starters, because my book club is small (there are only three of us, and we’ve known each other since we were 15), it’s a great opportunity for us to have a good catch-up on each others’ lives every few weeks. In the past year, we’ve celebrated family milestones (Courtney’s daughter’s first trip to Disneyland), new relationships (me) and a baby-to-be (Monique). It’s great to see how far we’ve come and so exciting to look forward to everything that’s going to happen next!

The other great thing about being in a book club is that because we take it in turns to pick our next read, we’re often exposed to titles that we may not have chosen for ourselves. It’s because of my book club that I’ve not only found the spectacular young adult novel Eleanor & Park, but also Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Divergent.

This month, however, we decided to do something completely different. Courtney’s mom Dee Van Dyk is a writer, and so we agreed to give the manuscript of her teen-horror novel Sin Eater (a working title) a try. This is the first time I’ve ever been involved with a book that hasn’t been published yet – and the first time I’ve ever been asked for feedback – so it was a pretty cool experience.

I popped the PDF manuscript onto my Kindle and polished it off in a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning reading extravaganza so it would be fresh in my mind for book club. I wouldn’t say that horror is a genre that I’m naturally drawn to, and there’s no denying that Dee’s subject matter is a little darker than I would normally choose for myself, but I had such a great experience reading Sin Eater. It was a really pleasant surprise! Dee’s clearly done her research when it comes to mythology and she’s managed to weave together a compelling tale that explores the themes of good and evil in both present-day and historic settings.

There’s a reporter who plays a crucial part in the plot of Sin Eater and I happen to have some experience in this area, so my main feedback points for Dee were suggestions about how to develop him more fully. I think it would be really cool to insert some more of his ‘voice’ into the story by including some of his newspaper articles, which would also provide additional context for some of the other events that take place as the plot moves forward.

I don’t want to say much more, because this is a work in progress, but I’m so thrilled that Courtney and Dee felt comfortable sharing this book with our group (I know both of you read this blog – thank you). Book club is going to take a short hiatus for a few months while Monique enjoys being a new mama, but rest assured, we’ll be back. And in the meantime, I’m not going anywhere!

Perfect

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Perfect (Photo: Random House Canada)I read Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry last year and really enjoyed it. It was a hand-me-down from my mom’s book club, which can go either way (some of their choices, like Gone Girl and The Husband’s Secret, have been brilliant, while others, like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, have not been so great).

So when Val, who I work with at the bookstore, chose Rachel Joyce’s new novel, Perfect, as one of her staff picks, I figured it was worth a read. I’ve been craving a little taste of the UK and there’s something about British books that I just love. Perfect is quite different than Harold Fry (this is good, because who wants to read the same thing over and over again?). The story alternates between Jim, who is in his 50s, suffers from OCD and lives in  Cranham Village, and flashbacks to the summer of 1972 when best friends James and Byron unwittingly set off a series of unlikely and catastrophic events when they realize that two seconds will be added to the world clock.

The Guardian did a really nice and accurate review of Perfect, which it called “more ambitious, darker and more honest” than Harold Fry. I’d be inclined to agree. It’s not entirely a happy book, although I was thoroughly entertained by it (and who says all books have to be happy, anyway?). Perfect is a story of friendship, but it’s also a story of family love, manipulation, good and evil – and it’s also a bit of a mystery with a twist ending I genuinely didn’t see coming.

I’ve been plugging away at this in the evenings (alternating with an amazing piece of nonfiction that I’ll probably finish up on the weekend) since classes began in mid-January, and I would say that it’s a pretty quick and easy read. I probably could have polished it off in a night or two if this pesky little thing called homework would stop getting in the way! I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary British fiction, gentle mysteries and books with lots of talking points.

Room

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Room (Photo: HarperCollins)I’ve been working my way through two books simultaneously since classes wrapped up on Friday – one fiction and one nonfiction. Both are great reads and I’m enjoying them thoroughly for different reasons (reviews to follow!) but I spotted Room at the bookstore where I work and stopped to read the back and flip through the first couple of pages.

Maybe it’s because I’m still kind of freaked out from reading Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life earlier this year, or maybe it’s because I couldn’t turn away from all the Cleveland kidnapping stories, even though that made me so upset that I actually couldn’t sleep for a few days back in mid-May. But the concept of Room just completely floored me – especially when I noticed it was published in 2011 (that’s post-Elizabeth Smart, Elisabeth Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard, but pre-Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus. Jeez, come to think of it, I read a lot of news about kidnappings. That’s kind of messed up.)

The story is told from the perspective of Jack, a boy who has never known any life other than inside Room, where he lives with Ma, his mother. It is only when Jack turns five and starts inquiring about the other ‘planets’ he sees on TV that the truth comes out – Outside is a very real place and his mother, who has been held captive by a stranger known only as Old Nick in Room for the past 7 years and is now 26, is desperate to escape and return to her old life.

Holy Moses. I started reading this book on my coffee break and got so worked up over whether Jack was going to be OK that I just had to buy it, bring it home and finish it all in one sitting. It was so compelling that I put off doing a couple of hours of freelance work (which means a potentially late night tomorrow, but it was worth it) and just sat in my big dish chair under a blanket and read and read.

It’s similar in some ways to Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend in that the narrator is unconventional and child-like, but the subject matter is even darker. There are elements of the story that are very, very uncomfortable, but the most powerful scenes are hopeful and resilient. Normally, I don’t tend to choose dark books (A Stolen Life was the last really dark thing I read), but this one had me from the first page. What really got me with Room, though, was the creative storytelling. I’ve never read much Emma Donoghue (who lives in London, ON – just like my brother!), but she’s masterfully created a suspenseful, thoughtful, emotional novel that kept me reading all day.

There’s a really cool website for Room, which I recommend you check out (if you click on the TV, you get a sort of video trailer).

On an unrelated note – although I guess it is sort of related, because Room would be a brilliant pick for any book club as there’s so much to talk about – I know my mom passed around a link to this blog at her book club last week. Hello new readers (and a special hi to Rhonda, who I met by chance at the bookstore today)! If you’re interested in subscribing, there’s a little grey plus sign at the bottom right of the main page of the blog – just pop in your email address and you’ll get automatic updates every time there’s a new post.

A Great Op-Ed and ‘The Hungry Games’

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I’ve been quiet this week because it’s the last stretch of final projects before the fall semester breaks up, and unfortunately, school > blog. But to tide you over for a couple of days until I can post for real, I encourage you to check out a couple of Hunger Games-related things as I come down from my Catching Fire euphoria from last weekend.

The first is a brilliant and insightful op-ed from the November 25 edition of the LA Times, which highlights the fact that the latest Hunger Games tie-in products do more to harm the agenda of the trilogy than help it. I thought it was poignant and smart and well-articulated – the Capitol Couture line really bothers me because it’s so anti-Katniss – and completely goes against the anti-classist message hammered home in all three Hunger Games novels.

On a much lighter note, please also check out this amazing Catching Fire parody they did on Sesame Street – The Hungry Games: Catching Fur. The pita gets me every time.

The Husband’s Secret

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The Husband's Secret (Photo credit: Penguin US)At first, I wasn’t sure about The Husband’s Secret, which came into my hands after my mom’s book club read it last month and she passed it on to me.

“What’s the husband’s secret?” asked Matt when he saw it on my coffee table. “I bet he’s having an affair.” That was my exact thought too. Oh no. Not another book where someone has an affair. As you might remember from back when I read Petite Anglaise, affairs – even literary ones – are not cool in my books. I kind of feel like they’ve been done to death (with the notable exception of the affairs in Gillian Flynn’s excellent Gone Girl, which I read at the end of 2012 and I thought was full of fascinating and necessary plot twists, including affairs. It also helped that both of the main characters were so intriguingly repulsive and removed from reality that I didn’t really care what they got up to).

But fortunately, The Husband’s Secret is not that he is having an affair, but a different sort of secret altogether. And while the cover of this book is very floral, its contents are decidedly not. Without spoiling the surprises in the story, I can see why this is such a popular book club pick. There’s a lot going on in The Husband’s Secret, including three very strong female lead characters who have plenty of personality and some great younger girl characters with authentic, individual voices that I liked very much.

I also loved that the majority of this book is set in Sydney’s northern suburbs and beaches, where I lived for close to two years from early 2011 to late 2012. At one point, a couple of characters end up at Dee Why Beach, which is an absolutely lovely place – especially if you like Thai food served family style with oceanfront views (are there any people in the world who do not like this? If so, I don’t really care to meet them).

It’s a pretty quick read (I polished it off in two evenings) and kept my brain ticking the day after I read the last page. All in all, I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a good twisty marriage-related mystery in the style of SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, fiction set in Australia or a thriller that’s still gentle enough to read at bedtime.