May + June Wrap-Up Post

tumblr_o94xrqi3dh1sefywro1_1280I didn’t have a chance to blog about what I read in May so I’m combining it with June’s wrap-up post. I read a lot in May, but it was all novellas – no full-length novels so I’m a bit bummed about that. That made me determined to read more novels in June, which I did but not a lot. I did finish ACOMAF which is basically three books in one, so that’s got to count for something. 🙂

 

 

May:

The Black Knife by Jodi Meadows

The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

The Siren by Kiera Cass – unfortunately this one was a DNF

The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster

Vampire Knight Volumes 7-10 by Matsuri Hino

June:

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Queen Song by Victoria Aveyard

I loved ACOMAF! It’s definitely my favourite Maas book to date and one of my favourite reads of 2016. It’s the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses and I totally recommend it.

How did everyone do with their reading last month? Any good books to recommend?

So I was looking at my Goodreads Currently Reading shelf and noticed I have 10 books on there. 10! I’ve also started a couple other books that I haven’t added onto there, so I am determined to finish a couple of those this month. I’m also planning to finally start some books that have been sitting on my shelf for almost a year. Anyone else have the same problem?

ICYMI:

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

Review of Rabbit Ears + Interview with Maggie de Vries

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Book Review (Spoilers): A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This review will contain spoilers – they’re more about certain characters and their actions than plot spoilers but read at your own risk.


17927395A Court of Mist and Fury (sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses)

Sarah J. Maas

4/5 stars

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads: 

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Review:

A Court of Mist and Fury was absolutely phenomenal! It has to be my favourite Maas book to date and one of my favourite books of 2016. The writing is just gorgeous and I’m amazed at how far Maas has come since Throne of Glass #1. I liked Throne of Glass enough to continue the series but I wasn’t into it until Heir of Fire. I’ve fallen in love with this series a lot faster and I think that’s a testament to how much Maas has grown when it comes to her writing. ACOMAF is huge and for good reason. There’s so much good character development! I’m also a huge fan of the Fae and faerie courts, so that was a plus.

Before I really get into my review there’s something I want to address – I’ve seen it mentioned in a lot of reviews, so I can’t not talk about it here. This book is New Adult. When the ACOTAR series was first announced, Maas said herself (somewhere) it is New Adult. She’s never tried to claim it as YA. Now, there’s something you need to understand about NA. There are varying opinions on this so I might get it wrong, but NA was born, and then died very quickly in traditional publishing. Most NA authors self-publish – and a lot of the time NA books will get sold as Adult Contemporary Romance. So there’s no specific section in a bookstore for NA – I’m sure a lot of people don’t even know what NA is. Maas is a big name in YA so I think this is why the series has been lumped in the YA section. If you’re uncomfortable with sexual content and coarse language and don’t want to read that, that’s totally fine. I’m not judging your likes/dislikes, but don’t take your anger out on Maas. If you need someone to complain to, talk to the bookstore or publisher for putting it in the YA section. I personally think the content is fine for YA readers – these are thinks I’ve heard teenagers say and experience. But for the love of God, don’t try to say this is erotica. If you want to know what erotica is there’s an entire book industry devoted to it. Again, I’m sorry if I got anything wrong when it comes to NA.

Anyways, back to my review.

This book is big and I love how in-depth we get with the characters – so much more than ACOTAR. The beginning I would say is very much “setting the scene”. Feyre has been traumatized by the events of the last book. She has PTSD, maybe even depression – she doesn’t have an appetite, she has nightmares and she’s not coping well. I love how Maas is able to bring us really close to Feyre’s character and understand why she is not alright. It feels a bit slow because as readers we’re usually used to getting thrown right into the action, but this is important. Tedious, but important. We also get to see how Tamlin’s been affected by those same events. I won’t lie, if you love Tamlin you might have a hard time with this book. These events and even the trauma of his parents deaths have had a very negative influence on him, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. It’s always hard seeing the good guy turn bad. Even though I believe that people can just snap, I think I’d have to reread ACOTAR and really analyze Tamlin’s character. I can believe that he could snap just from those events (Under the Mountain) alone, but again it’s really hard trying to decide if this was the right choice for his character.

Most of the book is set in the Night Court and there were some gorgeous, incredible scenes. When Feyre would explore the city with Rhys or by herself or with friends it was truly enchanting. It’s definitely a place I’d like to visit. Another great thing about this book, Maas decided to incorporate the Cauldron into the plot. The Cauldron is a creation myth so its significance is huge in Prythian. Feyre needs to find some artifacts hidden in both Prythian and the mortal realms, and destroy the Cauldron (which is in the King of Hybern’s possession). Feyre travels to different courts, among them the Summer Court which was beautiful! I imagine it looks like Greece or someplace around the Mediterranean. The world-building never fails to impress me.

Rhys. I loved Rhys! Maas showed us this deeply sensitive character, and how well a person can wear a mask. I was instantly intrigued by Rhys when we first met him in ACOTAR. I really liked this dark, trickster-like character, but I hadn’t been entirely sold on Rhys + Feyre. There were a couple moments in ACOTAR that I personally found abusive. Sorry, that’s my honest opinion. When Rhys and Feyre made that bargain, I got a Hades and Persephone vibe so I knew there’d be a lot of him in ACOMAF – and I was a little worried about how the romance would play out. This book is really good at selling you Rhys + Feyre. The romance between the two was well done. There’d be moments when Feyre could take the next step but she stops herself because she’s not ready or feels guilty, thinking it’s too soon – these are natural moments in dating. The development between the two was realistic and believable. As well, there are a couple scenes I’d been dying to read since starting the book and let me tell you, they live up to your expectations. In the beginning I was a little taken back at how charming Rhys was – a little too much compared to the character we met in ACOTAR. However, as I continued to read I really grew to like him – Maas is really good at unveiling his mask. I don’t have a problem when the MC finds or falls in love with a new guy/girl – I mean, that’s life. We fall in and out of love all the time. As well, Feyre and Tamlin didn’t know each other for that long – what they went through can bring a couple closer together, but it doesn’t stop the falling out of love part. I only wish Tamlin hadn’t been turned into the abusive villain, which helped this new romance seem like the better/only choice. Make Tamlin the villain, but not the abusive one. Again, this is one of those was-this-the-right-choice-for-this-character questions.

My dislikes are mostly general but there is a specific one. This is a quote from page 296:

“I had done everything-everything for that love. I had ripped myself to shreds, I had killed innocents and debased myself, and he had sat beside Amarantha on the throne. And he couldn’t do anything, hadn’t risked it-hadn’t risked being caught until there was one night left, and all he’d wanted to do wasn’t free me, but fuck me, and-
Again, again, again. One-two; one-two; one-two-
And when Amarantha had broken me, when she had snapped my bones and made my blood boil in its veins, he’d just knelt and begged her. He hadn’t tried to killed her, hadn’t crawled for me. Yes he’s fought for me-but I’d fought harder for him. ”

I don’t like the assumption that Tamlin’s actions equal he doesn’t really care or didn’t fight as hard. Everyone reacts differently to things – I’ve personally experienced this myself, where people thought I didn’t care about something because of how I reacted. I’m not debating whether or not Tamlin fought as hard as Feyre, but the assumption that he didn’t because of his reaction.

All in love I really loved this book and can’t wait for the third one. I hope Maas continues on the fantastic world-building and takes us to some of the other courts in the next book. I know there’ll be some great action scenes because of how ACOMAF ended.

Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

21524446A Thousand Nights

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: October 6, 2015

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Review:

A gorgeous, magical story! Johnston’s words are beautiful and powerful, and in that respect similar to her protagonist – her storytelling becomes her power. There were some lines that were so poetic, in that I could see so much in just one sentence.

Although confusing at first, I liked that the reader wasn’t privy to the majority of the characters’ names, except for Lo-Melkhiin and a couple secondary characters (though I think the reader was given their titles, not their actual names). It made me think of when legends and stories are passed down through generations, and told far and wide, the names change but the stories remain the same (just look up the similarities of Mesopotamian myths to biblical stories). Adding to that, this is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, and while Johnston keeps the essence of the story the same, she brings to life her own characters.

The lack of names also creates a sense of mystery – this could be our world but it could also be some other fantasy world, one that only Johnston knows and can share all of its mysteries and secrets. The reader is given a small glimpse of this world – we know there’s something beyond the horizon, but the possibilities are limitless.

There’s not a lot of romance, but I didn’t mind that. The protagonist marries the king to save her sister – and she’s really a prisoner, trying to find some power to defeat the demon that is the king. Adding romance to that wouldn’t work and I couldn’t see that being published in the YA section.

One of my only dislikes was that sometimes I would drift off and get bored. At times the plot moved too slow for me and had me wondering if the author had enough room to wrap everything up. Although enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what I’d imagined.

The ending was really beautiful and completely satisfying! I’ve heard there’s a companion novel to this book and am looking forward to reading that. Johnston is a talented writer and so far I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by her.

February Wrap-Up Post

IMG_9587Unfortunately I only got to read three books in February, but hopefully I’ll get to read more in March and get up-to-date with my Goodreads challenge. Here are the books I read.

Category Two: Books added to my TBR pile in 2015 – it’s so easy clicking that “Want to Read” button on Goodreads.

  • All The Rage by Courtney Summers
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
  • Vampire Knight Vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

All The Rage is one of the best books I’ve read this year! I’m a huge fan of Summers and this book just blew me away. I recommend you read this because it’s really important and will leave a deep impact. I’ll be posting a detailed review later this month along with an interview I got to do with the author, so I’m very excited about that. 🙂

The Hero’s Walk was also another favourite and the second book I read on the Canada Reads Longlist. I felt the author created a beautiful story with characters that are real and flawed – I could imagine some of their personalities in myself and people I know. I was really satisfied with the ending, so anther great book to check out. Detailed review to come.

So how did everyone do last month reading-wise?

Review: All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

CBCbooks-CanadaReads-2016-longlist

One of my goals for 2016 is to read the entire Canada Reads 2016 Longlist and with this post, I’m sharing my thoughts on the first one: All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, what is Canada Reads? It’s basically an annual “battle of the books” competition, organized and broadcast by CBC. Five Canadian panellists champion novels based on a specific theme. This year’s theme is ‘starting over’ and you can read more about that and the panellists here.

I’d also love to invite you to read one, some or all of the books, from either the shortlist or longlist. It’d be great discussing these books with others and deciding which one deserves to win Canada Reads 2016!

2016 Shortlist (top 5 books that will be part of the debate):

shortlist
Birdie | Bone and Bread | Minister Without Portfolio | The Hero’s Walk | The Illegal

2016 Longlist:

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson & Kelly Mellings

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson

All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Buying on Time by Antanas Sileika

Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Niko by Dimitri Nasrallah

Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Sweetland by Michael Crummey

The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj

The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill


17834903All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer | 4/5 stars

Release Date: January 14, 2014

Publisher: Random House CA

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

A novel of exceptional heart and imagination about the ties that bind us to each other, broken and whole, from one of the most exciting voices in Canadian fiction.

September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.

One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.

All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.

Review:

I think Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a fantastic storyteller; her writing has a very lyrical aspect to it. She’s able to combine several important issues without overwhelming the reader. When it comes to All The Broken Things, everything is connected and flows really well. Kuitenbrouwer brings out a very emotional response from the reader and presents two ways of looking at things.

I instantly liked Bo and thought the author did a very good job of pushing the reader to be sympathetic towards him. Fourteen year old Bo is a very lonely person – he deals with bullying and prejudice on a daily basis, so his home life is mainly made up of his four year old sister, Orange, when their mother is at work. Orange was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War. The reader witnesses what seems like Bo’s most confusing time of his life and being in his head, reading what he’s observing, is very fascinating. For one, Bo is extremely frustrated at his mother. She’s not home a lot and is trying to adopt a Canadian lifestyle. Bo doesn’t recognize it, but his mother seems to have depression. When she came to Canada, she didn’t expect for her husband to die on the journey and for Orange to be born disfigured – for her, this is shameful to live with. Ultimately, she doesn’t have a positive outlet. This pushes Bo to accept a job in the bear wrestling circuit – if his mother can be home with Orange, all the better for his family.

There was one thing I disliked about Bo: he’s a bit juvenile for his age and I don’t think the author has a complete picture of how a teenager acts. Bo is portrayed as smart and observant; even when he doesn’t understand something, he still gets a good or bad feeling from it. This is an adult book with a fourteen year old protagonist and the one reason it wouldn’t work as a YA book is because the author doesn’t fully believe in Bo the teenager. There were moments when Bo didn’t understand something that I feel a teenager would. Make no mistake, I loved Bo and thought he was a great character, but I question the author’s idea of a teenager.

Kuitenbrouwer illustrates important issues of 1983 Toronto and I found myself in disbelief at the sort of things that were happening. When you learn new things like this, it paints a whole new perspective. There were issues ranging from discrimination and animal abuse re: circus/entertainment to poverty and suicide. The only thing I disliked about this was the author never seemed to focus on just one. When there are issues like these, I feel the author should create a solid discussion and not rely on the reader to start it. I also found troubling the lack of police action and the author doesn’t make clear if this was common in the 80’s.

I loved the relationship between Bo and his bear, Bear. It’s one of those things where you end up wishing for the same (yet different) deeply, connected bond with an animal. Even better, it makes me want to write about such a bond between human and animal (Life of Pi), or animal and animal (Two Brothers, The Lion King). Adding to that, the plot is fantastic and never fails to draw you in. I think I came off more harsh than my rating would suggest, but I really enjoyed this novel. I whole-heartidly believe you can both love a book and question it. Kuitenbrouwer is a beautiful writer and I definitely recommend this book!

January Wrap-Up Post

IMG_9400I can’t believe it’s already February! I read a total of seven books last month and according to Goodreads I’m one book ahead of schedule 🙂 so January was a great reading month. As I explained in my 2016 Goals & Resolutions post, I’m trying to stick to four different categories. Here are the books I read:

Category Two: Books added to my TBR pile in 2015 – it’s so easy clicking that “Want to Read” button on Goodreads.

 

  • Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel Shane
  • The Burning Hand by Jodi Meadows
  • Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries
  • All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Vampire Knight Vol. 2 by Matsuri Hino

Category Three: Books added to my TBR pile before 2015 – I seriously have so many!

  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas => I finished the first two novellas in December and only had to read the last three

What books did you get to last month? Did you meet or exceed your expectations?

Book Jar Recs: Winter

Book Jar Recs is a weekly feature where I recommend three books based on an idea, theme, or random word. Each theme has been randomly pulled out of a jar (inspired by a TBR jar). If you have any ideas you’d like me to put in the jar, feel free to share them in the comments below. You can also read my introduction post on this feature here.

This week’s theme is ‘winter’. Here are some of my favourite books based around that.

 


tumblr_nq9dt92m0Y1sefywro1_400I unexpectedly fell in love with Snow Like Ashes last year. When a novel has been on your TBR for so long you worry it won’t live up to your expectations. I was originally wary of kingdoms named after seasons, but Raasch makes it work. The protagonist, Meira comes from the county of Winter, which has been enslaved by Spring – and so Meira’s small band of survivors are determined to save their people. I usually find ‘winter’ or ‘cold’ the antagonist in stories so I loved that things were switched up here. Raasch is an incredibly, talented writer, particularly when it comes to first POV; everything Meira sees and feels is written down. This fantasy debut truly embodies ‘a hero in the making’. My full review of this title is here.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

 


61-Trapped-In-IceTrapped in Ice by Eric Walters is a childhood favourite of mine. I immediately fell in love with the main character, Helen and the author’s writing. It’s really a fantastic adventure; a mix of fact and imagination. With the recent death of her father, Helen’s mother is hard pressed to find work, and is forced to take up a job on Karluk, a ship headed on an Arctic expedition. When the ship is unexpectedly trapped in ice, the crew and Helen’s family need to decide on a course of action – stay or leave.

I definitely recommend this for the usual middle grade reader, but also feel whatever your age, this makes for a fast, enjoyable read. Walters bases his story on true events [Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913] and people, and found he does a great job of imagining personalities. It’s all the more intriguing having a story told in the POV of Helen, someone with little to no experience in this type of situation and I loved that she wasn’t afraid of asking critical questions. Walters novels are either a hit or miss for me, so I’m glad it was the former.

Buy: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

 


15850937Frozen by Melissa De La Cruz and Michael Johnston is set in a post-apocalyptic world frozen by ice. What really sold me was the mix of magic and dystopian themes. Set in New Vegas, Natasha Kestal is a blackjack dealer trying to earn enough for passage to “the Blue”, a mythical land free of cold and snow. Nat has a deep, dark secret and when trying to run from it, meets up with Wes who agrees to take her to the Blue, or as close as possible. Together, Nat, Wes, and his crew start on an adventure full of secrets while battling terrible creatures, rotten from the misuse of magic. I love myths so having the authors include some of my favourite ones as the basis of their world-building was awesome! If you’re afraid of getting stuck with a stereotypical, dystopia novel, fear not, De La Cruz and Johnston blend fantasy and post-apocalyptic themes in an ingenious way.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Book Review: Rise by Amanda Sun

25214707Rise (The Paper Gods #2.5)

Read my review of Shadow (The Paper Gods #0.5) & Rain (The Paper Gods #2).

Amanda Sun

5/5 Stars

Release Date: May 1, 2015

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Purchase: This eNovella is free on Kobo, Chapters/Indigo.ca, iTunes, B&N & Kindle

Synopsis on Goodreads: 

A long, long time ago, before the world was as we know it, Izanami and Izanagi came into being. Two of the first of the ancient gods of Japan, they crafted the world from ink and their own imaginations. Izanagi wants, more than anything, to be with Izanami—but one moment of pride could tear them apart forever.

Yuki and Tanaka have been friends for as long as they can remember, but lately deeper feelings have been bubbling beneath the surface. How do they navigate the transition from friendship to true love without destroying the powerful bond between them?

Set a millennia apart, can these two couples, living parallel love stories, find their happily-ever-afters?

Review:

RISE by Amanda Sun is a great companion read to THE PAPER GODS series & an insiders look on secondary and minor characters. The chapters alternate between the Izanami/Izanagi story and the Yuki/Tanaka story and the transition is very smooth. Both stories are connected so alternating them was the only logical choice, in my opinion. Sun does it well enough that you still want to know what happens next, but not on such a huge cliffhanger so as to feel like you’re being thrown into this entirely, different story.

The author explores strong emotions like jealousy, envy and self-doubt & shows how keeping these emotions deep inside can cause destruction and chaos. This was one of the things that connected the two stories and had you wondering if Yuki and Tanaka’s story would have the same ending as Izanami and Izanagi. I went into this slightly familiar with Japanese mythology so I did predict one of the endings, but Sun was still able to surprise me with her own interpretation.

I especially loved the Izanami/Izanagi story. I like when an author shows us the mythology of their book world, and the writing is so beautifully done. The reader saw something like this in RAIN, but Sun is able to focus entirely on the lore by making Izanami and Izanagi the main characters. I’ve heard briefly about these two deities before, but Sun provides a new perspective on them. I’m very excited to read STORM, the last book in the series!

Interview with Rajia Hassib | In the Language of Miracles

inthelanguageofmiraclesToday on the blog I’m sharing an interview I did with Rajia Hassib, author of In the Language of Miracles. I read and reviewed this book back in September and absolutely loved it! I definitely recommend it and you can read my detailed review here. Thank you Rajia for joining me today!


AZ: For the readers, can you share a bit about your debut novel?

RH: The novel is about the aftermath of a crime that the oldest son of an Egyptian-American family, the Al-Menshawys, commits. Set a year after the tragedy that leaves the son of the Al-Menshawys as well as the daughter of their next-door neighbors dead, the novel follows the lives of the family members as they negotiate their grief, guilt, and their place in a community that blames them for their son’s crime. In doing so, the novel tackles themes of identity, immigration, guilt by association, and religion, among other issues.

AZ: What was your inspiration behind the novel? Why did you feel the Al-Menshawy’s story needed to be told?

RH: The novel was a result of years of reflection on the cultural position of Muslims in the U.S. post 9/11. After Islam was used to justify such heinous terrorist attacks, I longed for Muslims to do something to rectify what I felt was a huge injustice done to my religion, but it was not until the Ground Zero Mosque controversy of 2010 that I realized how complex any attempt at redemption was. By then, I had become preoccupied with the idea of a public apology for something that one has not committed, so I decided to create a microcosm for that situation in the story of Al-Menshawys. I felt their story needed to be told because, on some level, it is the story of every American Muslim: how does it feel like when one’s own society starts viewing one with distrust and misgiving. As such, it was both a story that I longed to explore and that, in my opinion, was timely and much needed.

AZ: In your novel, you’ve split the POV’s between Samir, Nagla, and Khaled. Why did you choose not to do one or more with Ehsan, the grandmother or Khaled’s sister, Fatima? Did you feel they had already found their miracle?

RH: I love how you view Fatima and Ehsan as ones who have already “found their miracle.” In a sense, yes: both those characters were relatively static, and, as such, did not undergo enough character development or experience enough internal struggle for me to feel that they need their own points of view. Fatima had found her peace in religion and in her friend, and she was certainly under less stress than Khaled was just because of how gender expectations and stereotypes make him an easier target for people’s suspicion. As for Ehsan—who, by the way, was one of the characters I enjoyed writing the most and, as such, one who has, in fact, tempted me to give her a point of view of her own—I didn’t feel her character experienced enough in the tight five-day period of the novel to justify giving her a separate point of view. She would have had a wonderful voice, I think, but her voice was not needed to move the plot forward, nor would it have given any insight that her presence in the separate section of Khaled and his parents did not already provide. At the end of the day, I did not feel the novel would have benefited from more than three points of view.

AZ: I felt a sense of closure with the characters at the end, though different from what I think they were originally seeking. Do you think you’ll ever revisit these characters again? Has their story been told for now?

RH: I’m glad to know you felt a sense of closure! I loved the time I spent with these characters, and I will confess that Ehsan in particular is a character I would have loved to write more about, but I do believe their story has been told. As interesting as I believe they are as individuals, I think their particular struggles are so closely tied to the tragedy of the son’s crime that revisiting them would shift the focus away from that and, in the process, dilute the intensity of their situation. If we were to compress their story in a sound bite, they would be the family who had to deal with the aftermath of dead son’s crime, and they need to remain mainly that. Besides, there are so many more stories to tell, so why keep on going back to the same characters? I’d rather leave readers wanting more than feel that my characters have overstayed their welcome.

AZ: I loved reading the epigraphs in your novel. What was the idea behind this?

RH: The epigraphs did not find their way to the novel until the second or third revision. I remember working on separate chapters and thinking about sayings or quotes that would go well with them, particularly because, in dialogue, Egyptians do quite often use sayings to comment on the ongoing situation. In some parts of the novel, I would imagine Ehsan uttering those sayings, and as I thought of the English translation to some of them, I started to realize that the exact same sayings do exist in the English language, either as an identical version or, in some cases, as a version only slightly different. I thought the similarities were just as telling as the differences were. I particularly loved the juxtapositions the sayings offer between Arabic and English and, by extension, between the cultures that each language represents. So I started including them as chapter heading both to offer commentary on the chapters and to underscore the various themes the novel deals with.

AZ: You completed a BA in Architecture before getting a degree in English a decade later. What prompted this decision? Did an early draft or an idea for In the Language of Miracles exist around this time?

RH: I had always wanted to study English literature. In fact, I had decided on majoring in English at some point in high school. Once I had to choose my major, however, I went with architecture (which I also loved but which was always second to English) because it was the more practical field of study for someone living in Egypt and, to be honest, because my father talked me into it. I was eighteen and a very obedient daughter! In hindsight, I’m glad things happened the way they did, because missing out on studying English that first time was the main reason I was so determined to do it once I moved to the U.S. So I went back to school, earned a B.A. in English and then an M.A. in English with a creative writing emphasis, both from Marshall University. In the Language of Miracles first started as an idea for a short story during my last semester as an undergraduate student at Marshall, and I completed the first couple of drafts of the novel during my graduate studies. An earlier version of the novel was my creative thesis for the M.A. in English. So that particular novel did not exist before that, but the urge and need to write dates back to my childhood years. I distinctly remember walking up to my parents at some point during the summer between first and second grade and announcing that I would become a writer. It took me three decades to get there, but better late than never!

AZ: Can you tell us about your experience with publishing In the Language of Miracles? Any advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?

RH: I can honestly say that I had an extremely positive experience with publishing In the Language of Miracles, but I would also have to say that I got very, very lucky. Through a series of events too elaborate to narrate here, I ended up being represented by Lynn Nesbit, a powerhouse of a literary agent who represents, among others, writers such as Ann Beattie, Joan Didion, and Jeffery Eugenides, and then the novel got picked up by Allison Lorentzen, a well-respected senior editor at Viking and the force behind a breathtakingly impressive list of books. I had never before given much thought to the publishing business—I was too busy learning how to write a novel to have time for that—but I now know that the publishing experience is quite emotional and personal, especially for a first time author. As such, I feel blessed to be working with an agent and an editor for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, and, more importantly, with whom I’m quite comfortable. They are the reason I view my publishing experience in such positive light.

As for advice for aspiring writers, I only have this to offer: read a lot, write a lot, and treat your writing—and your future readers—with respect. Put in the time and effort required to make your draft as good as you can possibly make it. That way, if you get as lucky as I did and find your draft in the hands of the agent and editor of your dreams, the work will hopefully show and you will prove yourself professional enough to be worthy of their time and attention.

AZ: Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on?

RH: I’m currently working on a novel set partly in Egypt and partly in the U.S. The novel takes places in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and it follows the lives of three different characters as their paths intertwine and finally merge. I hesitate to talk in detail about a work in progress, but I can share this: There is a marriage on the brink, the found diary of a long-dead mother, and a young man who yields the destructive power of one who has lost all hope. It is an intimate, complex, and passionate story, one that I’m enjoying writing very much and that I hope readers will enjoy, too.


About the Author:

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I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, before moving to the US at age twenty-three. A decade later, I returned to college to study English Writing and Literature and to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a writer. I hold a BA and an MA in English, both from Marshall University. After graduation, I worked briefly as a part-time Instructor of English at Marshall University, teaching an Introduction to Creative Writing class as well as a class on Postcolonial Literature. I live in Charleston, WV with my husband and two children. Visit her website.

Some additional, potentially interesting facts:

  • I hold a BA in Architecture from the University of Alexandria, Egypt.
  • While I was earning my BA in English from Marshall University, I lived 88 miles away from campus and commuted two to three times per week in order to finish the required coursework.
  • While I was earning my MA, I moved to Charleston, WV, and my commute got shortened to 55 miles.
  • I learned German before I learned English, and was, during my teenage years, more fluent in German than English. Not any more, though.
  • Speaking of German: I went to a school run by German nuns from Pre-K until I graduated high school. I give full credit to the nuns for instilling a compulsive sense of discipline in me, which, unfortunately, only extends to the professional aspects of my life. Everywhere else, chaos reigns.
  • I have half a shelf in my office dedicated to discarded versions of In the Language of Miracles, all of which I wrote while I was earning my MA and working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. And yes, I’m so proud of this fact that it earned its own bullet point on this list.

Buy In the Language of Miracles: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

23398763Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng

5/5 Stars

Release Date: June 26, 2014

Publisher: Penguin Books

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

Review:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is an emotionally-gripping debut. Absolutely breathtaking! I haven’t read so much emotion in a book since Saint Anything (read in May 2015). Interestingly enough, both books are similar in the theme of teens not having their voices heard, but still very different in the story told. Ng makes the smooth transition from present to past to present; the same is true for the changing POV’s. She brings out empathy in the reader and I found myself appreciating the privilege I have.

I want to share a quote from the first line of the first chapter which really stood out to me:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning…” (page 1)

I found myself asking why did the author decide to start the novel in this way? From the summary this isn’t a spoiler, the reader for the most part goes into the novel knowing Lydia is dead (though not how or why). Still, the reader doesn’t find out  about this death like the Lee family. I came to the conclusion that perhaps Ng wants the reader to focus on how the family got to this point. How and why did this happen; could it have been prevented? As I progressed into the novel, I found that Lydia’s death was the climatic point of this family’s story, even though the reader only knows their story from the point of her death onwards. Lydia is the centre of her family’s universe, holding them together as well as shouldering a great burden.

The POV’s change between Marilyn, James, Nath, Hannah, and briefly Lydia. The reader lives through the summer of 1977 as well as past memories of the Lee family. This also made Lydia’s death the pivotal point that much more certain to me.

Marilyn has always wanted to be a doctor but ends up a homemaker, the thing her mother felt most important to achieve and something Marilyn hated the most. James grew up without friends, never fitting in anywhere. Both parents try to live their dreams through Lydia – becoming a doctor and being popular in school. Nath loves space but finds it frustrating to get the attention away from Lydia and onto him. He’s counting down the minutes until he leaves for college in the fall. Lydia dreads this moment; she feels like Nath is the only one who truly understands her feelings. Hannah is a ghost, the child always forgotten, but also someone who notices everything.

From my impression of the synopsis I expected Lydia to actually be popular with lots of friends, which wasn’t the case here. She’s surrounded by loneliness; the frustration of not being heard is slowly building up. I would have liked more POV’s with Hannah, something I expected going into this novel. In a way, this fits with that ghostly image of Hannah, but I did think this novel would centre around her – the forgotten child.

Something interesting to add, I found the writing would talk about a character/place/action as if the reader were a small child looking in on a family of dolls in a dollhouse (the Lee family being the dolls). An out-of-body experience. I find Ng’s writing extraordinary in that matter. Sometimes I even felt like a ghost embodied the pages – perhaps Lydia, who while not physically present in summer 1977, remains as a ghostly presence till the story’s end.

There are so many messages that can be taken from Everything I Never Told You: empathy, damaging stereotypes, suicide, teens not being heard, grief. Whether this is a book you might or might not usually read, Ng has the ability to draw you in. A powerfully moving story. It’s so enthralling that just thinking about the ending while writing this review brings back those emotions.