The Conjoined

The ConjoinedThe Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
Published by ECW on September 13th 2016
Goodreads

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

I read The Conjoined last year, as I was so kindly given a review copy from ECW Press (thanks guys!). Unfortunately, since I was silly enough to let my hosting lapse, that review is no longer up. Why past Mackenzie, why?! Luckily for me I really loved this book and still have my notes.

Going into The Conjoined, I assumed it was going to be some sort of psychological thriller. You know from the synopsis that Jessica finds two bodies in her mom’s freezer when she’s sorting through her mom’s belongings after her funeral. You read that and you’re like but why?! That’s certainly something I wanted to know! I’d be curious as hell if I found evidence to what I can only assume is my mother murdering two people.

The thing is, this book is more than just a thriller. It’s a heart-wrencher. It’s less so about figuring out who did it, and more about finding out what lead up to Casey and Jamie ending up in that freezer. It’s quite a sad story. The atmosphere surrounding these two kids is HEAVY. I wanted to reach through the pages and fix their lives, to tell the people surrounding them what was going on and save them the fate they end up with. I so badly didn’t want them to end up the way they did, but I was absolutely powerless to stop it. And that just made it worse.

Although we shift between different timelines, stories, and characters, it’s all done with ease. Not once did I forget who was who, or what I’d read about them previously. Jen did a wonderful job of weaving everything together, and I never once got bored.

I didn’t get the ending I wanted, but I’m okay with that. I think it was better that way.

Thanks again ECW Press! You’ve published a great book.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

By Gaslight

By GaslightBy Gaslight by Steven Price
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 23rd 2016
Pages: 731
Goodreads

London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

I dnf’d it.

If you’re wondering, earlier this month (last week? Time is a thing I can no longer keep track of) I didn’t know if I should continue By Gaslight or not.

Reasoning: pacing was slow, writing style (no quotations and a TON of run on sentences) were annoying the poop out of me.

Funny thing is, I actually continued reading it after I posted. I’d rented it from the library, so why not?

A couple of days before it was set to go back from the library, I went to renew it online and found out I couldn’t. I looked at the book, looked back at the notice saying I couldn’t renew it, looked at how many pages I had left, and then flipped to the end of the book and read the ending.

It seemed like an okay book, but again, had it been half the length, it probably would have been much better.

Oh well. Moving on.

-M

Slaughterhouse 5

Slaughterhouse 5Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Published by Vintage Classics on January 1st 1970
Pages: 177
Goodreads

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller - these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

Oh man. I don’t know, entirely, what I was expecting when I went into Slaughterhouse 5. I can’t quite tell you if I had any expectations whatsoever.

What I came out of with, though, was a great appreciation for Mr. Vonnegut. Man, can he write. I’ve never read something so pointless and so entertaining all at once.

But, I gather that’s the point.

I love that there is no backstory, no trying to explain events, no fluff. You’re simply reading about a man who comes unstuck in time. You don’t even question it, because…well, I’m not entirely sure why. Just because. Because that’s the way it was written and don’t try to go figuring it out. Just enjoy the ride while you’re on it.

It was a great departure for me. I tend to read a lot of fantasy, where half the book is spent explaining the who and the what of a scenario, so you can understand everything that is going on. Sometimes I don’t need to know all that. It just needs to be written in a way that allows me to lean in and enjoy it.

It’s also helped me realize that there are great novels out there like this. When I write, I don’t explain a lot of my backstory. It just is. It’s good to know it can work that way.

I will read more Vonnegut.

Poo-tee-weet.

 

Y

YY by Marjorie Celona
Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada ( A H C ) on August 1st 2012
Pages: 350
Goodreads

"Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? . . . My life begins at the Y."

So opens Marjorie Celona's highly acclaimed and exquisitely rendered debut about a wise-beyond-her-years foster child abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of the local YMCA. Swaddled in a dirty gray sweatshirt with nothing but a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet, little Shannon is discovered by a man who catches only a glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. That morning, all three lives are forever changed. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures abuse and neglect until she finally finds stability with Miranda, a kind but no-nonsense single mother with a free-spirited daughter of her own. Yet Shannon defines life on her own terms, refusing to settle down, and never stops longing to uncover her roots — especially the stubborn question of why her mother would abandon her on the day she was born.

Brilliantly and hauntingly interwoven with Shannon's story is the tale of her mother, Yula, a girl herself who is facing a desperate fate in the hours and days leading up to Shannon's birth. As past and present converge, Y tells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Celona's ravishingly beautiful novel offers a deeply affecting look at the choices we make and what it means to be a family, and it marks the debut of a magnificent new voice in contemporary fiction.

I don’t think I have ever been so sad to see a book end. It caught me by surprise and I must have stared at the last page for 5 minutes before I finally closed the book. It was like saying goodbye to a friend that you don’t want to lose. I grew so attached to the main character that I almost cried.

One of my favourite things about this book is the way it was written. The narrative is beautiful and 150% suits how you imagine Shannon would think if she was an actual human being. She doesn’t always describe what’s going on in full sentences, but when you think about it, when does anyone in real life think to themselves in full sentences when something is going on? I sure don’t. In my opinion the narrative is pretty much what made this book exceptional.

I loved how not one character in this book was perfect. Their flaws don’t get pointed out blatantly, but you know that they have them and you know what they are for the most part. It’s like you’ve been talking to this character for a bit and you notice they have a tick or something. Their flaws are slipped in just like that. And it makes them so much more vivid and life like.

Last but not least, the plot. I only have one word for this: phenomenal. I seriously can’t explain it any other way. If I had the time and I thought someone would actually read it, I’d write two pages on just the plot alone. It flowed so smoothly and weaved together so wonderfully that I didn’t even feel like I was reading a book. No questions were left unanswered, and yet there was still a hint of mystery at the end. But I was left satisfied instead of upset with that.

I would, and have already, recommend this book to everyone I meet. Strangers walking down the street might even be told to read this book. I loved it that much.