Volunteer Reader Review

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

This book is part mythology; part wonderful story-telling, with allusions to King Lear. It is based on the lobster industry and narrated by a strong female character. Zentner manages to evoke the realities of life on the ocean while moving the story forward in an interesting and enticing manner. Like the albatross in the Ancient Mariner, the mythology tied to the Kings family runs throughout the story and often appears to direct events. The story of King Lear hovers in the background and creates, in the reader, an anticipation of things to come.

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

I assume the author was combining two distinct literary genres, fantasy and reality, using each to clarify the other. I think this approach works very well. Each side of the narrative evolves as the novel progresses and provides a richer story as a result. My sense is that people who work on the ocean have a very high regard for its power and use beliefs such as those described in the book to help deal with events over which they have no control. Zentner not only provides an interesting technique but also enables the reader to understand the characters’ need for a belief in creatures that might otherwise seem outlandish in a different setting.

I feel that Zentner has written this book for anyone who enjoys a good story, beautiful writing, realistic description, an interest in parallel stories and strong characters. I believe his audience would be wide and varied but I do not think a committed reader of fantasy would necessarily appreciate it – though it might provide a nice transition into this genre.

Reviewed by: Trish Biggs

 

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Volunteer Reader Review

Below is a review of The Kings Dragon by Scott Chantler and reviewed by Cameron.

The King's Dragon by Scott Chantler

The King’s Dragon by Scott Chantler

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Volunteer Reader Review

In Between Dreams by Iman Verjee

Iman Verjee gets full points for bravery. She chooses to tackle an extraordinarily difficult – if not impossible – topic for her debut novel: a romantic and physical affair between a young teenage girl and her father. Once this topic is revealed in the book’s opening chapters (of course, it’s nowhere to be found on the jacket copy), I felt an immediate

In Between Dreams by Iman Verjee

In Between Dreams by Iman Verjee

sense of revulsion – but also intrigue, to see how the author would pull it off. So I found the book oddly compelling and read it very quickly.

It’s a brave book. Verjee’s topic is so taboo, and I imagine that in writing she aimed to begin a public discourse – so that those who had similar experiences, being abused as children by their parents, might be able to come forward without shame, to speak about what they silently endured. Which is a worthy and important goal.

Unfortunately, I found that the execution of the book was lacking. I was hoping for some serious psychological insight from the daughter’s perspective in particular, but instead felt curiously removed from the story. Verjee takes care to present both perspectives, creating a father character who we almost feel pity for, even as we (the audience) abhor his actions. But we’re held at arms length from James and from his daughter, Frances.

I most noticed the book’s lack of polish in its dialogue, which often falls flat. A sample conversation, from when France’s biological mother is leaving James:

She paused and he saw a glimmer of something at the edges of her eyes but it went away just as quickly. “I owe it to myself to go and try out for this part. ‘I’m still young – I have my whole life ahead of me.’ When that explanation didn’t suffice, she continued, ‘I just need some [sic] to sort things out, to get myself back to normal, then I’ll come back and we can figure this all out.’ But they both knew that once she walked out of the door, she was never coming back. ‘Besides, she’s your daughter too’.

‘So you’re just going to run off? Become an actress?’ He had to laugh. ‘You know that’s not going to happen. Especially with the way you look like right now.’

In short: the characters over explain, all speak in the same tone, and there’s little subtlety. Similarly, I found France’s development as the book progressed lacking. There is a fantastic moment where she chooses not to act on a crush she feels on a man at her boarding school who has a wife and family of his own, to not wreck it, in some sort of wonderfully subtly recognition of what appropriate boundaries are and that she might not actually know and how her actions could destroy others. I wanted more of that.

I’m afraid this book has a very small audience. It’s subject matter will disqualify it from many readers automatically, I think, and those that are willing to read about a father and daughter and their coercive physical relationship need it to be a truly remarkable book in order to make that journey worth it. Or I did, at least. And while I found it to be compelling, I didn’t find it to be remarkable. I was asking a lot of it, I know, but I also think that the subject matter demands a lot.

Reviewed by Kelsey Attard

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Volunteer Reader Review

Below is a wonderful review of The Boundless by 11 year-old Emma Jarek-Simard:

boundless-new

 

And another great review by 11 year old Anthony Trotta:

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Volunteer Reader Review

A MAN CAME OUT OF A DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN - by Adrianne Harun

A MAN CAME OUT OF A DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN is the kind of book that you may need to read twice, or maybe even three times to appreciate its complexity. Adrianne Harun’s dark story bounces between the abstract and tangible, fantasy and reality, making it feel like you are riding a roller coaster.

A MAN CAME OUT OF A DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN by Adrianne Harun

A MAN CAME OUT OF A DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN by Adrianne Harun

Chief narrator, seventeen year old Leo Kreutzer lives with his mother and dying uncle in a godforsaken, northern BC town near the infamous and factual ‘Highway of Tears’. The type of evil that travels the highway also penetrates the community where Leo and his four childhood friends cope with the daily challenges of poverty, addiction, neglect and desolation. We see the devil’s imprint within the souls of the menacing and violent Nagel brothers as well as the abusive meth cooker, Gerald Flacker. Adding to the roster of losers are two newcomers, Hana Swann and Keven Seven, who in their own twisted way leave an indelible mark on the lives of these teenagers.

Yet there’s more. Uncle Lud is a storyteller, and through his tales Leo becomes absorbed in the myths and folklore, which ultimately become an integral part of the plot. Leo even manages unwittingly to foretell the future.

“…I guess we both must have known then that trouble was not on its way; it was already here. Although how could we have known how many forms that trouble would take?”

Adrianne Harun’s brilliance in telling this story is that you cannot tie it up neatly with a bow and be done with it. It stays with you and keeps you thinking, very much like peeling back the layers of the proverbial onion.

Reviewd by Kiara Fruncillo

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Volunteer Reader Review

Paddlenorth: Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild by Jennifer Kingsley

Jennifer Kingsley proves herself to be a keenly observant, sensitive, and intelligent writer with her debut book Paddlenorth: Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild. Jennifer’s memoir is about the 50-day canoe trip she took with 4 friends across the 1000-kilometre Back River of Nunavut. Her experience as a guide and naturalist sharpens every detail she shares, from the rationed belongings and food she could pack for the trip, to her sublime surroundings–not just how tundra looks, but how it smells; how it tastes.

Paddlenorth by Jennifer Kingsley

Paddlenorth by Jennifer Kingsley

She renders the landscape she is writing about scientifically, accurately, and with loving detail. Astutely, she states on page 167, “working as a guide separates me somewhat from the mysteries of the land because I have to interpret what I see.”Gripped by her abounding knowledge and fascination for the environment she navigates, I imagine I had an experience not unlike those she leads on expeditions (in addition to being a wilderness guide, Jennifer is an accomplished radio broadcaster and environmental educator). An avid keeper of logs and journals, she diligently documents daily discoveries, mistakes, the weather, and the wildlife. As she candidly shares her own foibles and failures, as well as the vulnerabilities of her determined, but tested, companions, the truth only endears us to her more as an adventure-seeking woman rather than a romanticized hero; the latter, appropriately, is also featured throughout the book, as Jennifer alternates her own story with histories of the explorers who first mapped the Canadian north, battling exposure, starvation, madness, and each other.

Paddlenorth: Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild will be published by Greystone Books this fall 2014. 
Reviewed by Robyn Read

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High Clear Bell of Morning by Ann Eriksson

High Clear Bell of Morning is a moving portrayal of a family’s experience with a mentally ill family member and the environmental dangers facing sea animals, especially killer whales.

Glen, a marine biologist, has been charting the incidence of young killer whales’ deaths in the Salish Sea off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State. At the same time, his teenage daughter, Ruby, begins to exhibit startling symptoms which include hearing voices, abusing her parents and brother in various ways and behaving bizzarely. Despite her parents’ best efforts to find help for her she ends up on the street, with a drug-addicted boyfriend and becomes addicted herself. Glen, in an attempt to understand her behaviour, takes her medications and is completely incapacitated for a period of time.

High Clear Bell of Morning by Ann Eriksson

High Clear Bell of Morning by Ann Eriksson

He continues his studies of the dead killer whales, finding that they are full of toxic pollutants and tries to find parallels between them and Ruby’s situation. Eventually, Ruby is rescued from her drug filled residence and is admitted to a treatment centre where she finds a new life. Glen is incarcerated for the murder of Ruby’s boyfriend, and his wife leaves him and takes the children East.

The story is told from two points of view: Glen and Ruby. In Glen, we see the anguish of the family as they try to help their daughter, and the toll mental illness takes on a family. With Ruby, the reader has a glimpse into the hell of mental illness when the sufferer is overtaken by forces beyond her control.

The author has done much research in telling the story and it shows. For the most part, the reader sympathizes with the characters, even though they can behave in maddening ways.

Reviewed by Hilary Munro

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