meghan rose allen

Review of A Separation by Katie Kitamura

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Ah, rich people problems. To have a flat in London, sitting unoccupied. To jet off to Greece at the behest of a relative, and on a moment's notice, because work, what's that? To stay in a fancy Greek hotel, eating out at restaurants, and sure, it's the off-season, but really? Come on.

And here we are, trapped inside the head of our nameless narrator, who, separated from her husband, still goes to Greece at her mother-in-law's order, to find him. Her thoughts are banal because, like most people, her thoughts are banal and not in need of having every single on detailed. Her husband is rich and a playboy, and they separated because of his numerous infidelities, and I have used banal twice already but it is so banal and we have two hundred pages plus of this banality of our cipher narrator searching after her cipher husband with cipher locals poking about and there is absolutely nothing there. I can tell you nothing about the narrator or her personality or her likes and dislikes. Ditto everyone else in the book. Ditto why this woman would undertake this task. Ditto why this book got such accolades (amazon tells me Named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, Refinery29, Town & Country, Harper's Bazaar, NYLON, BookRiot.). Obviously, there are far worse written books out there, but this is just a flat, monotone where I don't care about anything, at all, ever.

A Separation by Katie Kitamura went on sale March 23, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Fugue States by Pasha Malla

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So this is a huh of a book. Definitely not a huh? (with a question mark) what the heck did I just read? sort of book, but a book you finish and go huh or any other of your non-committal sounds of choice. His dad dies. He may or may not have lost his job as a radio host. He may or may not be in love with his radio producer. His sister may or may not be getting a divorce. His best friend may or may not be unhinged. His friend may or may not be a rapist. So, sure, let's go take his father's ashes to Kashmir, his father's homeland. And go skiing. And yes, there is a fugue state. And a death, and I always think of music fugues as death-y, so there's that. But in the end, it's just one of those books where

  1. lots of stuff happens, and yet
  2. I can't shake the feeling that absolutely nothing has happened at all.

No one seems wiser or smarter or even changed by the end. Except I guess the dad, who is dead. But maybe he's the same in death, so who knows?

Fugue States by Pasha Malla went on sale May 30, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The Strays by Emily Bitto

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I've never been completely convinced Australia exists. I've met many Australians, I've know non-Australians who have been to Australia, I watched a lot of Heartbreak High when it aired on Showcase in the 90s. So, rationally, I know Australia exists, but if Australia were to suddenly be like "Psych!", I could totally see where that was coming from.

All this to say that The Strays is set in Australia. But it doesn't feel like Australia. It feels like the setting could be anywhere. Like rationally knowing Australia exists, I rationally know that books from Australia don't all need to feature kangaroos and Ned Kelly, but then I read a book set in Australia with nary one mention of a koala and I'm like "Hmmm...are we sure this is in Australia? Just because the book references Melbourne and Sydney and says a few times that they are in Australia, do I really believe this book is set in Australia?" So, again, if The Strays were to suddenly be like "Psych!", I could totally see where that was coming from.

(And, I mean, for goodness' sake, I'm Canadian, I read plenty of Can-Lit, and I hardly expect every book set in Canada that I read to feature igloos and polar bears and poutine. I feel I am somehow mentally deficient in all things Aussie. Do I need to eat more some (because I've never managed to put even a little near my mouth) Vegemite? Why can't my brain comprehend Australia? Australia, why are you so difficult?)

Framing this in a more positive light, The Strays transcends Australia and isn't regional literature. It's a compelling read of a colony of artists in the 1930s, but, unfortunately, has all the things I don't like about first novels: an outsider narrator (the reader is already the outsider; I don't need another removal for me to see through two steps removed) looking back (why not set it simply in that time frame, rather than use a flashback framing device) who views the rest of her life as somewhat inconsequential (so, again, why bother with the flashback and the little bits of her life after that? Just stay in the time frame if that was so important) with a somewhat deus ex-machina reason for getting the gang back together in the present time so that our narrator can reflect (seriously, just set it in the 1930s and be done with it) on the brilliant men surrounded by their supporting/adoring women (blehhhhhhhhh). I do not like these things. I think they weaken the novel. Luckily, the novel, especially the pretty writing, is strong enough (even with the lack of platypuses/platypii/platypodes) that the things I dislike serve as annoyances rather than deal-breakers, and, at times, the novel reads like a painting, with colour and slashes and visible brush strokes that I love. But still, I'm conflicted: did I need to read another flashback book about brilliant, abusive men who don't really get their comeuppance, no matter how lyrical the writing is and how well I could see how everything looks even though Australia is imaginary I have never been to Australia? I guess I did since I did.

Plus the font was large, and the margins wide, so I did read it quickly. Yay.

Obligatory picture of my favourite Australian book:

Yeah, it's completely unrelated, but Sometimes I Like To Curl Up In A Ball is a very cute book that I enjoy a lot.

The Strays by Emily Bitto went on sale January 3, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of 150 Years of Stats Canada! by Andrew Bondy, Julia Davidovich, Sam Montgomery and Thomas Eric Taylor

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Yay! A silly book where my home province of New Brunswick is run by a sinister cabal of feudalistic light house keepers and where all mentions of Fabricland must be followed by a more forceful shout of Fabricland! And, while Canada is indeed in the top three of non-Caribbean North American countries, having all these giggles and snark in one place can be somewhat overwhelming. A tweet now-and-then is less overwhelming. There's a lot in this listicley book -- and thankfully not too much about hockey since I know nothing about hockey (for example, I thought hockey had a half-time until I was twenty-six).

It's cute, but I don't know what you'd do with this book after you read it once. Maybe flip through now and then when the moose and polar bears outside your summer igloo want to steal your double-double and the barbaric cultural practices phone line doesn't seem to be working to help cheer your Soviet Cannuckistan self up.

150 Years of Stats Canada! by Andrew Bondy, Julia Davidovich, Sam Montgomery and Thomas Eric Taylor went on sale June 6, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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There are many spoilers for Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine in this review. Also there is cussing. Proceed at your own risk.

 
 
 
 
 

This book made me cry. Eleanor gets sad, super sad, depressed, and I know that feeling. I am that feeling. So I cried and cried and cried along with Eleanor. Between this and that BoJack Horseman episode, it'll be hard for me to say that I'm all alone in the world. So yay, I guess, for all the other people out there that have moments when that voice in the back of your head telling you you are worthless is so loud that it's impossible to drown it out.

So at that point, in the middle of the novel, I started to forgive it for the standard tropes earlier along -- Eleanor starts off dowdy, but she gets a makeover, she gets her nails done, she buys some stylish clothes, because her life fixes itself she's still sad and depressed and lonely and that voice is louder than ever. The love interest fails her (not that he ever even knows who she is) and the secondary love interest, the nice guy who was there all along, is still a nice guy and they don't hook up, and all these standard chick-lit tropes are falling apart, and it quiets that little voice for a bit, in between my crying bouts for Eleanor because she is feeling sad, and so I feel sad too.

And then fuck this, in the last ten pages or so, one of the characters is revealed to be a hallucination. F-Uhhhhhhhhhhh-C-K. Every piece of goodwill squandered. I could handle one bait-and-switch (look, this is going to be a standard maekover and smile and get the guy chick-lit novel, oh nope it's not, it's a meditation on depressed and loneliness), but two, especially the second one being so stupid. So I'm mad at this book because what the fuck? I can't even rate this book because the last ten pages suck whereas the earlier ones aren't that bad. In fact, they're pretty good. And then this. I'm going to add a few more fucks here: fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

At least I still have BoJack Horseman.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman went on sale May 9, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The Gulf by Tucky Fussell

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It's a picture book where I think there's a car accident and someone goes and teaches in Kuwait maybe? I wrote Kuwait down, so I'm going to say Kuwait. There are some recurring images,
and no words, and lots of orange and yellow, and I didn't really know a lot of what was happening, but maybe not a lot happened and I got it all? I don't know. MAybe it's one of those books that if I had a few courses in Islamic Art under my belt, I'd appreciate more. But I don't, so I probably didn't appreciate the book the way it was meant to be appreciated.

The Gulf by Tucky Fussell went on sale August 3, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite

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I requested this book because I thought it was another book I may have dreamed up because I can't find anything about it on the internet (it was about buying a house in France with a husband soon-to-be divorced from, having already been divorced once or twice before). This is a New York divorce book, so no France, and no buying a house, and really not what I was thinking it was going to be at all. But that's okay -- sometimes we can surprise ourselves with our late night clicking on Netgalley where we must get ALL. THE. FREE. BOOKS!

Or sometimes we get a meh. Guess which one I got here?

I feel to say anything too critical about A Beautiful, Terrible Thing is somehow like me discounting Waite's experience: she got married to who she thought was the perfect guy. In the end, he cheated on her and had some psychopathic tendencies and the marriage fell apart. The psychopathic tendencies weren't of the mutilating-small-animals-and/or-humans kind, just more of the mundane, every-day-life psychopathic ones (lying, blaming, manipulating, etc.). The whole thing is so mundane and Waite so overwrought such that, even though she is the victim here, she isn't that great a protagonist. But I've never been bound by marriage to someone so deceitful, and, perhaps I don't even have the same deep well of feelings at Waite (I've often thought I'm just a shallow puddle of emotion rather than a deep, swimming hole quarry of them), and maybe if I found myself, like Jen, with a newborn and a cheating husband, I'd melt down just as much and then rescind my assessment of overwrought, but until then, nope: too much emotion for me.

And she has a kid. Her ex-husband does not come off looking great in this memoir. What will her kid think of all this when she is older? Obviously, good on Waite for rebuilding her life,
but I guess along with being unfeeling, I'm also pretty private. Hopefully though, writing and sharing this helped Waite recover, and hopefully, her daughter will understand someday.

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite went on sale July 11, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of The Cat in the Box by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin

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Is it strange that a book about experiments is titled after Schrödinger's Cat? I guess that's a thought experiment, but it was a thought experiment meant to illustrate the ridiculousness of a scientific theory, so in a book that's all about scientific thingies (and yes, that is the scientific term), is that an odd choice for a title? The Gribbins (I assume they are related somehow) even mention that Schrödinger's Cat was supposed to be somewhat in jest. So is it a paradox? Am I spending too much time wondering about the title of this book? Hmm...

So it's a list of experiments, with a little write-up about each one. All the big names are there: Newton, Curie, Einstein. As always, reading these books I get sad by how few women and POC were able to contribute to science because of sexism and racism and intersections of all that. As always, there's some Feynman, who creeps me out, and a lot of astrophysics since people like stars. I like math personally, but math books may be a harder sell. Also, experiments in math are a bit more sitting down with a pencil and proving things on paper, so definitely lacks some of the *glam*.

So it's a coffee table book of experiments. Lots of glossy pictures and I kept getting frustrated because I couldn't always understand exactly the science behind some of the thingies (see, I used it twice so it is totally a valid scientific word), but then there was a glossy picture and I moved on. I don't have to understand the nitty gritty of everything, right? Instead I'll stare at the Feynman diagrams and feel sort of slimy inside.

The Cat in the Box by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin went on sale September 1, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

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Okay -- it says right there in the description of the book meghan: ghosts. There are talking ghosts in this book. You hate random additions of ghosts, or aliens, or multiple personalities, or bunny coke-orgies, and yet you requested I'll Take You There from Netgalley and this is why you cannot have nice things.

Setting aside the ghosts for a second (ghosts! really?), we have a narrative about a guy being told/shown about women. Apparently this makes it,
according to some other blurbs and reviews, a feminist novel. Can we all just stop and appreciate for a moment that a guy learning about what some women went through (anorexia, unplanned pregnancy, pregnancy complications, same-sex relationships) is somehow considered a feminist novel? Has patriarchy set the bar so low that merely having a man realize that women can have complex lives and stories is somehow groundbreaking? Why even have Felix, our protagonist, anyway? Why not cut out the ghosts and just tell the story of the women? That's the interesting part of the book, not Felix's ramblings about this-and-that, telling (and who's he talking to anyway) us that no one's going to remember Bieber in fifty years. Felix is likeable, in a sort of tolerable, rambling-great-uncle way. He seems like a nice enough guy, but why make the book about him learning about some women in his life. If I was feeling mean-spirited, I would say that the whole narrative structure is set up to reinforce that without being viewed through a masculine lens, women's lives are meaningless. But I'm not that mean-spirited. I honestly think that Lamb's framing device is ingrained, not-mean-spirited, patriarchal structures at work.

Now setting aside both ghosts and gender politics, it's a Wally Lamb book. So it's easy to read and somewhat endearing, but it's also mild pablum, and probably the most forgettable of any of Lamb's books.

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb went on sale November 24, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of Taproot by Keezy Young

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(in which my hetero-normativeness is reinforced)

Okay -- so I totally thought the ghost was a girl until it was explicitly stated the ghost was a guy. Then I went back and re-read up to that point and realized, nope, nothing said hey, I'm a girl, so good on Taproot for making me stop and realize how ingrained my hetero-normativity is.

So that's the good. The bad: Taproot is a good idea too lightly applied. A gardener and a ghost fall in love, there's a evil spirit/menacing spirit forest, then a brief story about another ghostly presence. Each of these should be a full comic/novel in their own right, not smushed up and run through as quickly as possible. Stories shouldn't be a race to the finish and Taproot goes by so fast that everything ends up a muddle and the ideas and the artwork are not appreciated.

Maybe Taproot is the first of a series and the pace will even out later?

Maybe Taproot is more for shorter-attention span people than for me?

Maybe Taproot just needs a re-release under a tough-love editor who says Slow the heck down!

I'm always angry when good ideas are wasted. So I'm angry at all that Taproot could have been. I wanted a meal and got a pack of airplane peanuts instead.

Taproot by Keezy Young went on sale September 26, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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