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Book Review: The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton

I read a book last month that I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. It is a great book. A super fun read!

A little under a year ago I stumbled across a completely wonderful member of the Twitterverse, an aspiring author with a heart of gold: @InkMuse, Rebecca Hamilton to those of you still refusing to reduce your thoughts to 140 characters or less.  After a few mentions and one or two direct messages to each other, Ms. Hamilton excitedly offered to send me the first two chapters of her upcoming book to take a look at.  I admit, though excited to read her work (I am always curious and up for reading new and virtually unknown writing), I took this with a dash of salt.  An unpublished author querying a complete stranger via social media?  I knew better than to get my hopes up.  Of course, it would turn out that I was completely off base and that I would wind up in thrall and so, so eager for the actual book.  It did take me a little longer than I would have liked to get a hold of the book, as I was holding out for an actual print copy that I could order from my local independent store – but when I had it I was hooked!

Hamilton’s The Forever Girl is an outstanding first offering from a promising new author, and just what the Urban Fantasy realm needed.  In this coming-of-age tale we meet Sophia Parsons, a twenty-two year old Wiccan waitress with religious prejudice and a difficult family life looming overhead.  As if that weren’t enough, Miss Parsons also suffers a mysterious and not-entirely-natural affliction.  Then we meet Charles, a smouldering centuries-old shape-shifter with sharp tongue and rock-hard abs. Could Sophia’s life get any more challenging?  Why yes, of course it could.

One of The Forever Girl‘s most striking attributes is the language found within it.  Hamilton’s mastery of language, especially descriptive language, is nothing short of impressive.  From the “wasping” sound of Sophia’s supernatural disability to the “dawn’s russet sky – a shepherd’s warning, some said” that Sophia awoke to on page ninety-one, Hamilton treats her readers to a bright, intelligent and altogether fun narrative.  A personal favourite quote comes from Sophia’s love interest Charles as he discusses his long life with her (on page one-sixty-nine): “You must understand: immortality is not an escape from death.  It’s an accumulation of loss.”  Poignant.

Another huge boon is the story’s mythology.  While The Forever Girl certainly contains shades of vampires and shifters, it is a story with a new perspective entirely.  Hamilton took traditional myths and legends, popped them into the blender and hit purée.  This new take on a somewhat tired subject is hugely refreshing and the addition of Hamilton’s title focus, the forever girl, helps to make this a can’t-put-it-down read.

Particularly endearing, an absence of glitter-free fanged creatures notwithstanding, is the care and respect Hamilton has taken in her creation of a Wiccan protagonist.  Not Wiccan herself, Hamilton did a great deal of research to ensure the validity of Sophia’s spiritual voice.  From all accounts – testimonies from Wiccan readers – Hamilton hit the nail on the head with the utmost consideration to the religion and its followers.

There are, however, two discernible downsides to this novel: Sophia and Mrs. Franklin.  Hamilton’s protagonist is a phenomenal character; she’s intricately woven, dynamic, fun, challenging and unbelievably insecure.  While a very common trait, especially in young women, hyper-insecurity in literature needs to stop.  Hamilton did redeem Sophia by feeding her challenges to overcome that would help to build her waning self-confidence and gave her a cheering section that was not solely populated by dark, dangerous and lip-bitingly handsome Charles – that was lovely to read, as so often we are confronted by a strong, formidable woman who withers to a shade of her former self when not near her (supernatural) counterpart.  Hamilton allowed Sophia some weak(-in-the-knees) moments, but was, for the most part, consistent in providing a fierce, independent, introspective role-model for her readers.

The Mrs. Franklin storyline also left me wanting more.  This was a secondary plot, something extra to help build more depth to the new, supernatural world Sophia is discovering in The Forever Girl.  It is also the point of antagonism I prefer and would have loved to read more into.  This could easily have been a novel unto itself.

Fans of romantic Urban Fantasy will love The Forever Girl.  It’s vibrant, it’s refreshingly different and our boy Charles is just too wonderful to pass up – you will develop a crush, there’s simply no avoiding it.  Fans of good writing will love The Forever Girl.  It is wonderful to see a book this well written in a genre that is beginning to become dishearteningly sloppy.  With authors like Hamilton at the helm, there is hope yet!

Happy reading, ladies and gents!

Santana – Black Magic Woman

UNT

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This post brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Kim “G-Unit” G: former Books & Co. bookster, current UNBC bookster and constant reader.
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Book Review: The Taste of Ashes by Sheila Peters

Sheila Peters’s novel, The Taste of Ashes, does not feel like a first novel.  It’s carefully crafted, multi-layered family narrative is complex and lyrical in a way that reveals Peters’s history as a poet and short-story writer.  The three primary narratives, that follow Isabel, Álvaro and Janna’s individual stories, are interwoven in such a way that even a few convenient coincidences – which could have seemed contrived and artificial – feel genuinely spontaneous and natural.

Each of the three main characters, Isabel, Álvaro and Janna, is flawed and complicated, but ultimately sympathetic.  Isabel, the heart of the novel, is a study in duality.  Her sensuous – in the most literal sense of the word – nature makes her an excellent mother when she is present, but also causes her to frequently fall off the rails and into the arms of random men.  Because we meet her after she’s sobered up and calmed down, her rift with Janna seems unfair and undeserved, but as we learn what ultimately precipitated their separation, Isabel becomes a more complete, if not more likeable character.

Álvero’s history is the most complex and his broken psyche and body, the result of brutal torture at the hands of Guatemalan authorities, are what bring The Taste of Ashes out of the realm of the ordinary.  Peters’s masterful description of the aftermath of torture, the anger and shame and fear that Álvero still feels creates a character that readers will find both frustrating and sympathetic.  His interactions with the other priests in his brotherhood, his questions about faith and God’s role in his life and the stages of his healing are fascinating and have an air of authenticity.

The third story, Janna’s thread in this narrative tapestry, is just as complex as Isabel and Álero’s and her character is just as flawed.  Peters wonderfully captures the voice of a very young woman with Janna’s aggravatingly know-it-all stubbornness.  Readers will be exasperated by her self-reliance, even when what she really needs is help and care, but that’s what gives her such verisimilitude.  We know women, particularly young women, who take the hardest path simply because help, especially from their mothers, makes them feel as if they failed.  Janna is not particularly likable but she is ultimately sympathetic and it’s refreshing that Peters does not have her change dramatically when the three stories are brought together.

Place plays a very important role in The Taste of Ashes and where the characters are from is as important as the characters themselves.  Peters intertwines small town northern British Columbia – which every northern reader will recognize as Smithers, BC– with the Vancouver of UBC students, the Vancouver of oblate priests, and exotic and turbulent Guatemala into a detailed and complex web.  Where the characters are from shapes them in subtle and significant ways and their individual histories in each place, especially the small northern town creates a narrative depth and beauty that few debut novels can achieve.

The Taste of Ashes, isn’t just the complicated history of one small town family, it’s a lyrical, richly detailed saga that draws the reader into the complexity of family relationships and ultimately reveals that redemption and healing are always possible.  The Taste of Ashes is a novel to savor.

Nicole Larson

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Book Review: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

Justin Halpern is funny.  It’s that simple.  And fans of Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says will be happy to have another book in the same vein.  I Suck at Girls is a self-deprecating memoir of his experience with women from the first girl he liked – and tormented – at age seven to the day he proposed to his wife Amanda.

Unlike Sh*t My Dad Says, I Suck at Girls focuses solely on Justin, and only includes a few of his Dad’s classic bon mots (“do you realize I’m a crazy son of bitch who owns a shotgun and hates shadowy figures walking around in his fucking house?”) but that shouldn’t dissuade readers.  In fact, the longer, more in depth recollections are hilarious and touching and give an insight into one man’s struggle to understand women and his relationship to them, which until he met Amanda was usually terrible.  I Suck at Girls makes it clear that Halpern does not need to rely on his father’s one liners to get a laugh and that his own life, and his willingness to expose its most embarrassing elements, is enough to keep readers entertained.

I Suck at Girls is not high art.  It’s not going to go down in history as one of the classics of English literature, but not every book needs to be an emotionally complex, angst filled literary masterpiece.  It’s funny, really funny and that’s enough to make it one of the best books in the Humour Section here at Books & Company and one of the funniest memoirs in the Biography Section.

Nicole Larson

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