A Quick Review In Disguise: Emberton by Peter Norman

Author: Peter Norman
Title: Emberton
Format/Source: Paperback/library 
Published: March 2014
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
Length: 295 pages
Genre:Um, some sort of literary (see below)
Why I Read: Reviewed in local paper; “comic gothic thriller for lovers of books and language”!!
Read If You’re: Looking for a strange mystery, interested in the power of language
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReadsIndieBound Chapters | Book Depository 
I finished this book just before I left for Japan (end of July). I started to outline a review because I really enjoyed this book and I think it could use a signal boost, but I ran out of time!Although this looks like a full review, it’s really just a bits and pieces one…I had all the formatting done before I left Japan, though, so I’ve left it in 😛

I loved the noir atmosphere of this book, even if it got a bit twisted towards the end (see next paragraph). I loved the mystery of an old school dictionary company going out of their way to hire an illiterate man. What’s the catch?! I enjoyed the writing style and wish I had a copy of the book still so I could post a quote or two. I think this is a good debut novel and I will be intrigued by what Norman publishes next.

The ending of the book felt a bit slow and drawn out. I did like the strangeness of it all, but it gave me a weird feeling. It unsettled me? It was an odd feeling, one I haven’t really encountered while reading. I like the idea of how everything played out, but it was definitely a bit odd and maybe even creepy for me. The last forty or fifty pages took a shift in mood that made me feel off. The unique mix of mystery, language, humour and horror really comes to a head in the book’s ending. Ack, hard to describe…

I really liked Lance (the main character) as a person. I don’t usually think that about characters – how  much I like or dislike them – but with Lance, I did think “Wow, he is a really likeable character!” I would like to be friends with Lance. I thought Norman portrayed Lance’s illiteracy very well, in a manner that broke my heart to realize what being illiterate means for many people. Some of the other characters are less interesting (Elena failed to really capture my interest) but I think Lance makes up for that.

The Bottom Line: If you love reading or language and have an interest in something a little strange, give this book a go.

Elsewhere:

Quick Review: Into Another Life

These two books I read gave insight into lives very different from my own, set in different times and countries. Read at the end of July.

  • Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis
    • Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide
    • I read some of Ellis’ books when I was a lot younger (probably around the target age, maybe a bit younger) but I didn’t really understand them because I had no context in which to place the stories. I perhaps vaguely knew there was a place called the Middle East, but I knew nothing about it so her stories mostly confused me. I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) believe that they were based in reality, that the stories probably did happen to someone.
      • Because of these confused early encounter, I wasn’t interested in Ellis’ work but the premise of this one was very intriguing and I knew it would at least be a quick read so I gave it a shot.
    • As I thought, a quick and intense read.
    • I think this would be a good educational read for middle grade. The romance is sweet and simple, as the political and geographical settings takes the centre stage. Some might criticize this book for being just another story about ‘tragic gays’, but I think the focus is really more on the political regime of the time (which resulted in tragic gays).
    • However, I found the ending very brutal. Realistic, perhaps, but tough to swallow. Books like this are important, because I think they can shake readers awake to some of the atrocities happening around the world, but how do you do that without scaring the reader too badly? I feel a bit petty thinking this, because whatever uncomfortable feeling you get from reading about something is far less than if you had actually experienced what you’re reading about, but I think there should be some offer of hope if the reader is to be motivated to act against the issues they’ve just read about. I’m not sure there’s enough of that in this book, though Ellis does included resources for those who want to learn further.
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
    •  Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide]
    • It had been awhile since I read any Murakami! I wanted to read one before heading to Japan, so I went for one of his most popular books.
    • I’m not sure why this one is popular, though. Maybe because it’s more accessible than something like Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? Personally, I prefer the magical realism found in most of Murakami’s novels, but that’s nowhere to be in this one.  For me those touches of magic are what set his work apart and give it a distinct flavour. 
    • That being said, the Murakami prose I’ve grown to love is ever present. That’s the key to his works for me – I can read anything he wishes to write about, as long as it’s done in his signature style. That’s how I made it through 1Q84 😛 
    • Overall, I still enjoyed the story. It was a very nice read during a quiet weekend at the lake. It just isn’t the Murakami novel I’d champion above all others.

Quick Review: Breezy Summer Reads

I read each of these books – one young adult and one middle grade – in one sitting. 

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide
    • The second book I ever purchased solely due to hype
    • I really liked the narrative style – without it, this would have been a one or two star book.
      • Some people don’t like broken lines in their prose novels. To me it’s either annoying if done intrusively, or it creates a rhythm that suits certain characters’ personalities. I think the use of broken lines suits Candace’s dramatic, whimsical personality, and I don’t think they’re overused.
    • Not sure how I feel about the characters. I guess they felt realistic but they didn’t really compel me.
      • I was not expecting this book to be so much about racism or inter-generational family conflicts.
      • But really it’s all about rich people problems so if you’re not into that, stay away.
    • The big twist was something of a disappointment (as it pretty much was bound to be after all the hype), but especially because it was very similar to what I had just read in another book.
        • SPOILERS (highlight to see):
        • I thought there would still be more after the fire reveal, about when she hit her head…but then it just turned out to be she was so traumatized she blacked everything out. I thought maybe the big twist

        • I wonder how the twist would stand up on a re-read, i.e. how obvious the clues would be. The fact that her friends were dead was not a huge shocker, but the fire and how it came about was interesting (if I hadn’t read that ending in another book just a few weeks earlier, I might have enjoyed the twist a lot more.
  • Doll Bones by Holly Black
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide
    • This is a good story about growing up but a not-so-good creepy adventure story. The three kids read as tweens, not as teens or adults in small bodies. I was expecting something akin to Coraline and was greatly disappointed in that area. However, there were some really poignant moments (such as when Alice reveals why she’s so adverse to Poppy’s ghost hunt). I think this book would have been much stronger without the doll story line, which admittedly is the main focus and probably what draws kids to the book.

Quick Review: Non-fiction

Today’s quick review is of two non-fiction books I recently picked up from the library.

  • Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy by Sudhir Venkatesh
    • Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide
    • Venkatesh focuses his exploration on the sex trade in NYC and the connections formed in an underground economy, crossing dividing lines such as class and race. I liked the informal tone and the variety of people Venkatesh meets. I’m not usually too interested in books about the sex trade but I enjoyed this one because it’s a lot more about community, relationships, and a different system of economics than the actual in-and-outs of the sex industry. 
    • I was surprised at the negative reviews of this book. It seems most reviewers didn’t realize what form this book was going to take The author’s note appearing at the very end of the book would have better served the reader if it had been at the beginning. In the note, Venkatesh describes the circumstances and time period that gave rise to this book, that it is a memoir and not appropriate for academic publications, and that identities and time frames have been altered to preserve the privacy of individuals. These were all things I wondered about while reading the book. Placing the author’s note at the beginning would give the reader better context for the story ahead.
    • I’m not sure the self-exploration parts of this book are very convincing. They seemed unnecessary to me, like Venkatesh felt this was the sort of story where he should learn something about himself and not just about the people he studied, so he added some reflective passages. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them. He does state that this is a memoir not suitable for academic publication,  yet at times it feels like a superficial memoir – like, since this isn’t an academic book he crafted it instead into a memoir rather than just leaving it as a ‘popular non-fiction’ book. 
      • This GoodReads review does a great job of outlining what’s great about this book (lives explored) and what’s not so great (author inserted as character).
    • Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen
      • Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide
      • Good introduction for beginners who think they may have an interest in practising Buddhism (AKA not a scholarly book)
      • For me, the first part of the book was a good recap while the second and third parts had some great writing on the practice and morality of Buddhism.
      • The book is further divided into 12 chapters, with many small, manageable passages.
      • I noted a few sentences as good reminders. I particularly liked the passage about a leaf falling from a tree.

    Have you read any good non-fiction recently?

    Quick Review: Ambivalent

     These reviews are part of the Summer Library Challenge Week 6 Activity – Reviewing Library Books.

    These books I read all the way through, but I’m not sure how I feel about them. Because of that, these books are difficult to review. I still wanted to document my thoughts so here are a few odd notes on each.

    • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
      • Rating: ★★-★★★½?  [ratings guide
      • I picked this book up because of the gorgeous cover, book description and four star reviews from a few bloggers I follow.
      • I thought the book had great atmosphere, moody and dark and solitary (reminded me of when I was running around with sheep in Ireland).
      • I kept waiting for something to happen in the present story-line but I found it extremely disappointing. I think I may have ~missed something~ there. A lot of somethings did happen in the past story-line but somehow it never really grasped me. 
      • I did not really like Jake, but I guess I liked reading about her?
      • The book felt empty to me, yet I read the whole thing quickly and without feeling like i should stop. So I must have liked something about it? I’m not too sure what else to say. I have confusing feelings about this book! I think I felt a bit let down by the book’s description – it’s not nearly as mysterious or fantastical as its made out to be.
    •  I Forgot to Remember by Su Meck and Daniel de Vise
      • Rating: ★★-★★★? [ratings guide
      • I find this book extremely hard to evaluate because I would essentially be evaluating someone’s life. You have to keep in mind that Meck lost all her memories, she has no knowledge of the first part of her life, she had to be completely re-educated, including how to read and write. I found a lot of parts of this memoir uncomfortable to read. It was not the sort of story I was expecting. I can’t believe how many years it took for people to start to realize what she really lost when the accident happened. I want to keep my concerns about this memoir to myself, since it’s a fresh story and because who I am to judge how someone’s life play out? Meck’s choice to tell her story in such a no-holds-barred manner is admiring, at the very least. I don’t think you can find many memoirs like this, where the author’s husband (to whome she is still married) is so thoroughly exposed. (Suffice to say, the husband’s behaviour is mostly terrible. But then, given the situation – like I said, it’s not my place to judge!)
      • The writing style is nothing impressive, but again – she had to learn to write again as an adult. That she can write this memoir at all is truly incredible.
      • My uncertainity over this book comes from the fact that the subject matter is undoubtedly interesting, but the how Meck’s life actually unfolds was not at all what I was expecting. Perhaps it’s a bit terrible of me to say this, but it wasn’t the story I wanted to read! That’s certainly not Meck’s fault, though, and her story is still fascinating. If the book’s description sounds interesting to you, I recommend you give it a shot. Maybe then my ramblings here will make a bit of sense… 

    If you’ve read either of these books, I would love to hear what you think! Maybe reading other peoples’ opinions will help me sort out mine 😉