House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker | Review & Playlist | Blog Tour

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The House of One Thousand Eyes

Michelle Barker

Release Date
September 11th, 2018

354 Pages


Sent to me for review by Annick Press

Where to Preorder

Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth? Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite. But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. 
Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences. This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems. 

When Annick Press reached out to me to be apart of this blog tour, I immediately accepted because I had never heard about The House of One Thousand Eyes, or any YA book set in East Berlin, for that matter. I was really interested in the ways in which a historical society would be presented, and how the story would pan out. And as I read this book, I totally got sucked in to the world, the story, and the lives of these characters.

One of my favourite things in books is when information is not only concealed from the reader, but also from the protagonist. I don't know why, but I love finding things out along with the main characters, and that's exactly what happens here. Lena, our main character, is just as in the dark on the big matters as the audience is. When her uncle goes missing, and everyone around her begins acting like he never existed, there are more questions that answers, and no answer is to be trusted. The suspense is built up so beautifully, and it made the page fly by.

I want to talk about Lena as a character. First of all, if any person ever hurts her again, I will fight them. She is a precious bean who must be protected and cared for.

An actual image of me, protecting Lena

I also loved her dedication to her family, and her desire to always see the best in people. Whenever possible, it seemed like she was giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when it sometimes meant undermining her own autonomy. I really loved the community that surrounded her. But my god, is she put through the ringer here. She's not only the victim of a destructive mental health system, but also a target of the secret police, as well as (**spoilers**) a victim of sexual violence.

I found her, and her mental state, so interesting. In the novel, the death of Lena's parents takes a huge toll on her, and after spending time in a mental facility/hospital/ward (whatever you want to call it), she has built up some interesting coping techniques. One of them being building a metaphorical wall in her mind. The duality between the wall in her mind and the wall that split Berlin in half is obvious, but in the way that it's written, it comes across as nuanced and a really striking grieving and coping mechanism.

The side characters were also really interesting. From her colleagues, to her family members, to her love interest Max, every character, from the moment they stepped into the story, felt fully realised. The small subplots, which did so much to add to the realities of the world and society they were living in, never distracted from the main story and felt necessary, as well.

The plot was also so interesting, filled with twists and turns and secret police and communism galore. I had never read anything set during this time period, or based in East Berlin, but the vivid ways in which Michelle Barker wrote about the society was so engaging. I found myself holding my breath at moments, as I was really in Lena's shoes: scared, and confused.

Lastly, I want to talk about how much I loved and appreciated the ending of the book. No spoilers, obviously, but at one point it looks like the story could potentially be wrapped up in a neat little bow. When I saw this possibility, I got super frustrated because, honestly? That felt like the easy way out. But what I will say on the ending, is that it's both satisfying, and truly what is necessary. I loved every minute of this book from beginning to end, and especially the end.

If you're a fan of historical fiction, really powerful storytelling, and great characters, The House of One Thousand Eyes is a story for you. I had a blast reading this, and I can't get Lena out of my thoughts. This book is sticking with me, and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it. 5 stars!

Also, as part of the blog tour, I've created a playlist inspired by the book! This playlist includes music from the era of the story, as well as music from the GDR, songs about revolution, and secrecy. I've linked the Spotify playlist below, and also listed the tracks, as well as why I've included them!

1. Tear me Down - Hedwig and the Angry Inch
     "Don't you know me? I'm the new Berlin wall, baby." 
An iconic start. This is a song all about the setting the tone.

2. Things We Lost in the Fire (Acoustic) - Bastille
     "All that we've amassed, sits before us. Shattered into ash"
     A song about Lena and her parents.

3. Electric Stars and Satellites - Callie Moore
     "This radio static, it may not mean a thing. But it's the sound of possibility, the waves are all around us"
     This is both a song about connection to those we can't see and grief. Both about Lena's family, and the role of the radio in the book

4. Alt wie ein Baum - The Puhdys
     "Old as a tree"
     The Puhdys were one of the most popular bands in the GDR, and this is one of their most popular songs

5. This is War - Thirty Seconds to Mars
     "I do believe in the light, raise your hands up to the sky"
     This song reminds me of all the characters in the book who are fighting for this brave new world. For Erich. For Max.

6. Karma Chameleon - Culture Club
     "Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams"
     One of my favourite songs from the 80's. Meant to juxtapose the story with the happenings in the West

7. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
     "Are you happy, are you satisfied? How long can you stand the heat?"
     Another huge 80s hit. But also sinister. This is here to represent those 500 people behind the thousand eyes.

8. Über sieben Brücken musst du gehn - Karat
     "You have to go over seven bridges. Seven dark years, survive. Seven times you will be the ashes But also the bright glow" (Translated from German)
Karat was another huge band in the GDR, and this is by far their most popular song. It's a beautiful haunting story of survival

9. Heroes - David Bowie
     "I, I can remember standing by the wall. And the guns, shot above our heads. And we kissed, as though nothing could fall"
     I mean, we needed one love song on here. And this song was written in Bowie's Berlin period about love by the wall. For Lena and Max 

10. Everybody Talks - Neon Trees

     "Never thought I'd live to see the day when everybody's words got in the way"
     Secrecy in the novel is key. Which kinda sucks when everyone is in everyone else's business.

11. I've Had the Time of My Life - Dirty Dancing
     "I've finally found someone to stand by me. We saw the writing on the wall, and we felt this magical fantasy"
     When the Berlin Wall fell, Dirty Dancing was playing in many cinemas on the West. Many believe that this could have been the first piece of Western culture that many Berliners experienced.

Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments! Thanks for sticking around, and don't forget to head on over to all the other blog tour spots! Let me know if you pick up a copy for yourself, and happy reading!

Event Recap | #FrenzyPresent Fall 2018

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

It's been a hot minute since I've been to a #FrenzyPresents event, and now that I'm back in Toronto, I was super excited to be invited to attend! I love bookish events, and getting to see all my friends from the blogger community. I also loved hearing about all the upcoming releases -- Those I knew about and those that were totally surprises to me.

So let's get down to it.

The Social

While I arrived on my own, I very quickly found some friends, and we got situated. And then I got to meet some folks who I had never met before, but who I had Twitter stalked Insta-stalked online for a while. It was so great to put names and faces to online handles! It was also nice to meet some people who I had never met before.

After the event, I went for drinks and dinner with some fellow bloggers and bookish-folk alike, which made for a super great Post-Frenzy and Pre-Birthday dinner for me!

The Covers

Here are all the book covers that the team at HCC Frenzy showed us!


The Books I'm Excited For

Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Out September 18th

A retelling of Pride and Prejudice, featuring an Afro-Latina protagonist, and set in Brooklyn! 

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
Out October 2nd

A Prince. A Dragon. A Damsel in Distress. Or is she? Pitched as a deconstruction of the patriarchy through fairytales, and filled with horrible people, I'm surprisingly really excited for this

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godberson
Out October 2nd

Historical fiction about a great love triangle, and the great fire of Chicago in the late 1800s. I love high society drama, and while I'm not a huge fan of love triangles, I think this one might be interesting 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Out October 16th

One of my most anticipated for the year! Set in a post 9/11 america, it follows a Muslim teenage breakdancer, and her life, love, and the world around her

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth
Out October 23rd

Pitched as a Post-Narnia-esque story, this follows two sisters, and their lives, after they return from a fantasy world and enter into a post War era.

A Conclusion

I had such a great time at this event, and getting to see the new Harper offices! Thanks to the team at HCC Frenzy for inviting me, and let me know in the comments: Which books are you most excited about?

I leave you with some pictures of my swag bag, and some other pictures of the offices!

Happy Reading!

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram | Blog Tour

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Adib Khorram

Release Date
August 28th, 2018

320 Pages


Sent to me for review by PenguinTeen Canada

Goodreads Link

Where to Preorder
Amazon CA | Book Depository | ChaptersIndigo

Darius doesn't think he'll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming--especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush--the original Persian version of his name--and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

To start this off, let me say this: I love Darius. I want to be his friend and make him feel loved, and make him tea. His character was both light hearted, and also heartbreaking at the same time. Adib Khorram did such an amazing job exploring the feelings associated with Darius' depression, and the fact that he truly felt like he was always on the outside, without making him seem one sided or like a caricature of a person with mental health issues.  The intricacies of depression, and the way it impacts his life, his relationships with his family, and even his relationship with Sohrab, were so well written. I loved the candid discussions of mental illness, and also how the story didn't end with him being 'cured'. 

Speaking of cures, I have a big issue with the concept of the Geographic Cure, which is the idea that when people travel, their problems are left behind in the place they are leaving. I loved how Darius' travels to Iran focused on the beauty and the amazing elements of travel -- meeting family, seeing cultures in different ways, exploring new places -- but also showed the realism of being in these new places. The way that Darius interacted with his grandparents made for some really thought provoking moments for me. Even though they are flesh and blood, there is still so much distance between them. I was also really interested in the intricacies and details about Iranian and Persian culture!

The pacing in this book was something I really appreciated. I think I always talk about wanting something fast paced, but I loved the slow steady nature of it. While the beginning was a bit difficult to get into, about 60-80 pages in, I really felt like the story flew past. The plot doesn't move quickly, but I just became so invested in the characters, and in their lives, that I barely realised how quickly I was reading it.

This can't be a review without talking about Darius and Sohrab. Their relationship was the highlight of the book for me. I love new friendships, and I loved getting to see how their friendship built. I want another book where Sohrab comes to America and they stay best friends.

There's something about this book, that when the last page was turned, and the story was over, I knew that I had read something special. It was a mix of the culture infused in the book, the beautiful and fully realized characters, and the discussions surrounding mental health, but this book was something special. And something that I think a lot of people will love and enjoy. 4.5 Stars. 

Thanks so much to Penguin Teen Canada for having me on as a part of the blog tour! Check out all the other stops below!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all enjoy Darius!

The Josephine Knot by Meg Bram | Play Review

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Book: The Josephine Knot

Authors: Meg Braem

Publisher: Playwright's Canada Press

Pages: 64 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Sent to me for review by PCP

After Samantha’s baba dies, her fractured family is summoned to pick through the house full of belongings and trash, leaving taped notes on whatever they want to take. Between old napkins, a closet full of ketchup packets, and a freezer full of rotting meat are gems like a grandfather clock and plastic deer statuettes that hold more sentiment. While her father David sifts through his own memories, all Samantha wants is to find a simple object that could represent her place in the family. When other family members arrive, tug of wars and passive-aggressive conversations commence. In a house full of junk and sadness, it comes down to Samantha and David to find a new way to fit together.

This was a play that I had high hopes for, and while I enjoyed reading it, and while I think it was well written, I didn't get what I wanted out of it. I felt really intrigued by the premise, and the language used throughout was really stark and striking, but I felt like I was missing something. It felt almost incomplete.

First I'll start with the characters. Samantha and her father are the two main characters, and while the actors play all the different characters, Sam and her dad are the two mains. Sam felt oddly unexplored, and her father the same. This might sound like the stupidest thing I've ever said, but it felt like this was a play meant to be staged. Almost like something is missing in the written record of it. One of the best things about this play was the dynamic between Sam and her dad in their scenes together. They have this beautiful, dynamic relationship that is one of the few things that translates onto the page.

There were a couple moments that I also felt like the play was under developed. I felt like every situation fell a bit flat, but also that a lot of relationship building happened in between the lines. The lines felt like they relied a lot on the actors playing these parts to fill in the situations with tone, and very specific, dynamic choices. I felt like this play could be three hours long, with half of it done in utter silence, and I would be captivated. 

I thought the writing of it was beautiful. I thought it was smart, emotional, striking, and I think that Meg Braem does a great job as a playwright, but I also think she wrote a piece that relies heavily on actors and directors. She built a beautiful skeleton, but it needs to be built up before it can move about.

But as soon as I finished this, I had made so many choices as to how to direct it. I saw gaps and immediately started to thing about how to fill them in, how to do justice to the story and the writing while rounding out the story. And, I mean, isn't that what a good playwright should do? 

Overall, I enjoyed this story, but it's what happened after I put it down that was the best. Meg Braem created a story with so many possibilities and exploring those is what makes this story come alive. She's created a beautiful skeleton of a piece, in my opinion, and while the actual text left me wanting a lot more, imagining what it looks like as a fully fleshed out person is what makes it worth the read.

3 Stars.

Happy Reading!