Arts and Culture Culture

Iron Flame: A Concordian’s Book Review

Fight or fly? Discover the sequel of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros.

“The first year is when some of us lose our lives. The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity.” — Xaden Riorson

Iron Flame is the second book of the adored fantasy The Empyrean series. I think it is rare when the second book of a series is as good or better as the first, which is the case for this series. 

Rebecca Yarros left us on a cliffhanger in Fourth Wing (May 2023) for months before releasing the anticipated Iron Flame (November 2023). It is a high fantasy series about a war college with magic, dragons, mystery, and adventure. If you are a fan of A Court of Thorns and Roses, Caraval, Fable, or Throne of Glass, you will also love this series.

After surviving her first year at Basgiath War College, main character Violet Sorrengail is ready to fight her way to graduation. Whether it’s the new vice commander determined to diminish Violet’s power or the consequences of learning the truth her government hid for centuries, Violet has obstacles to face—or risk her life and her lover’s. Violet uses her wits and friends to navigate these challenges, but it might not be enough.

Violet is described in the book as living with a physical disability. She gets injured much more easily than everyone else, and although it is not explicitly said in the book, Yarros said in an interview that Violet’s physical disability greatly resembles a chronic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which affects the body’s connective tissue.

The Empyrean series is a great fantasy series because it draws the reader into its world and makes them escape their reality. It has an intricate magic system and world-building while still keeping it relatively simple for readers who are not familiar with fantasy. The characters are well-rounded and driven, adding to the story’s depth. 

Finally, the series includes inner conflict experienced by Violet, small-scale conflicts with other characters, and larger-scale conflicts against a magical, powerful group. The plots and conflicts are layered ideally one after the other to keep the readers interested and engrossed in the story, which is helpful if you usually find fantasy to be long and heavy. 

Iron Flame covers critical themes such as resilience, betrayal, and ethical dilemmas. The main characters are at war against their government, fighting their lies and dark magic wielders. It also conveys the repercussions of betrayal, from a mother’s love to keep her children safe amidst the chaos to a prude friend who doesn’t question the rules. It shows great bravery and resilience to stand against someone who was supposed to protect you.

In Iron Flame, what struck me the most was the character development. Violet becomes more confident in her abilities; she is confident in her knowledge and her power. She does not shrink away from her power but embodies it and becomes one with it. The author sews multilayered characters that could not be categorized as simply evil or good—every character’s story explains their morally grey decisions. 

Usually, the second book of a series lacks movement and is relatively slow, but in Iron Flame, every chapter and every scene flows. Every word contains hidden meaning or foreshadows answers. The plot leaves us on the edge of our seats; from one moment to the next, unexpected things happen, a discovery, an unexpected attack, or a gruesome death. The complex plot with its multiple subplots keeps the story fluid and engaging. 

Since its release, the series has been compared to A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Mass because of its exceptional narrative and storytelling. Like in Maas’ books, the characters are so compelling and relatable that you will easily find yourself deeply invested in their fate. The love interests in both series are also very similar—mysterious, almost identical powers, and morally grey. 

Since Iron Flame is very popular and its reviews are diverse, it might be hard to decide whether it is worth it or not. It is an easy book for fantasy beginners because it doesn’t have complicated world-building or a complex magic system. It is, however, supposed to be a five-book series, so that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I was reluctant to finish this book because it meant parting ways with an enchanting world and characters I consider home. The Empyrean series has secured its place among my favorites. Yarros’ incredible storytelling has captivated my heart and soul.

Rating: 5/5 stars


Note to Shelf: Our Women on the Ground

Growing up in Lebanon, my sole sources of inspiration concerning the journalistic world were movies like Almost Famous and Runaway Bride.

Mostly because my proficiency in the Arabic language was not fluent enough to read a newspaper — that, and the fact that all news in Lebanon is politically affiliated with a party, and my parents always shielded me from that.

I was never interested in politics in general, but rather what politics inspires people to do — from wars, to art, to literature. I also didn’t see a future for me in journalism, because I didn’t have any female journalists to look up to in Lebanon. I erroneously thought female news anchors were a joke. In my opinion, they cared more about showcasing their newest plastic surgery fail and maintaining their perfectly blown hair, eventually making fools of themselves in political debates. At least that’s what I grew up watching — not knowing there was an entire world out there where female journalists were fearless, brave, and dying for their causes on battlegrounds.

In comes Zahra Hankir, a London-based British-Lebanese journalist, with a book that would school my judgmental, uneducated behind with Our Women on the Ground.

The book is a collection of essays written by not only women journalists, but Arab women, edited by Hankir with a foreword by the one and only Christiane Amanpour. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Amanpour, she’s been a badass journalist for the past three decades, and CNN’s chief international anchor. She’s also of Iranian origin.

To put it bluntly, as I always do, there is only one version of the Middle East everyone gets, be it from Hollywood, or good ol’ classic literature — and that is the repetitive narrative of thrill-seeking Western journalist demanding justice, who then gets kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, tortured or whatnot, released, and what do you know? A beautiful story about self-discovery is born.

And people wonder why I refused to watch the movie Beirut, but let’s not get into that again.

Sufficient to say, after growing up with countless Western testimonies about the Middle East, and its wonderful paradox, Our Women on the Ground was a breath of the freshest air.

Because I wasn’t reading about strangers judging, and depicting my land. I wasn’t rolling my eyes at how a Western man smelled the heavenly smell of man’oushe, while hiding from the incessant bombing. I wasn’t reading about a fabricated, fetishized (yes, fetishized) Middle East. I was reading about my people by my people. I was reading raw, unedited, unfiltered emotions. I was reading about all the women I wish I had met growing up — because I knew they existed. I just didn’t know where to look.

So you see, we Arabs are classified into two categories: the fun-loving, shisha-smoking belly dancers, and the Islamic suicide bombers. Both columns oppress their women. The exceptions in between always seem so eager to shed their Arab skin, that the world doesn’t have time to place them in either of those columns.

Our Women on the Ground is brilliant because it breaks those classifications completely. It does not fit in either one, and most of all, does not feed into the West’s demonization of the region. 



Note to Shelf: My Jane Austen Experience

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an alarmingly high number of readers have gone through at least one of Jane Austen’s novels. 

In fact, it is a moral imperative to read at least one of her books in your lifetime.

Austen is known as one of the most revolutionary writers of English literature, not only for being one of the few female authors of her time, but for exposing the many struggles women face in society. Despite all her stories ending in matrimony, she makes sure to focus on the importance of romance, understanding, and a person’s good nature in any relationship.

I honestly feel like a fraud writing about Jane Austen, when I’ve only read two of her novels, and gagged through the other four, but hey, it’s my column *kid shrug.*

I have been a book-devourer for the past 10 years, and have only read Northanger Abbey, and the ever-coveted Pride and Prejudice

How monstrous do I have to be to gag through Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion? I’ll tell you why: I started with her best-seller.

Reading Pride and Prejudice at 14 was a bit of a hassle — but then again, every book I read at that age was tough to get through. I wanted to improve my vocabulary by reading classics, and hone my English skills. Thing is, by doing so, I missed out on actually enjoying the story and characters, and ended up hating the novel.

Two years later, it was assigned as a reading  for a class, and by then I was actually excited to read it again — and it did not disappoint. From the obvious dream-boat that is Mr. Darcy, to the ever-so-popular, snarky, tenacious, and spirited Elizabeth Bennet, this book easily became one of my favourite classics to date. I find myself reading it over and over again every year, because nothing compares to the fluttering butterflies that Austen’s descriptive passages incite in me — from Darcy’s enamoured gazes, to his devoted and loving words.

Having enjoyed this novel so much the second time around, I decided to broaden my Jane Austen library and purchase all of her books. Unfortunately, none of them had the same effect. Northanger Abbey came pretty close, in spite of Austen’s blatant criticism of gothic literature, an unsurprisingly favourite genre of mine, but the other four were a nightmare.

Persuasion was too confusing, Mansfield Park a dreaded bore, I didn’t even make it past the first chapter of Sense and Sensibility, and Emma really infuriated me. 

As cliché and untruthful as this might sound, I think my downfall was starting at the top of the pyramid instead of working my way up. What do I mean by that? Pride and Prejudice is known for putting Austen on the map as one of the most renowned authors in English literature. This is why it is present in most school curriculums. Although it isn’t her last book, it is, in my opinion, her finest work. Some would disagree with me, claiming Pride and Prejudice to be overrated and basic. Perhaps they’re right, and I’m wrong, but again, it’s my column, so *hush.*

Word of advice to ye who chooseth to venture into the realm of Jane the Austen: maybe leave Mr. Darcy for last.


Photo by Laurence B.D.

Student Life

A reader’s delight

Exploring the triumphs of love, relationships and hopelessness with Colleen Hoover’s novels

Colleen Hoover is a bestselling author, with 11 novels and five novellas making The New York Times bestsellers list. Her stories are characterized as young adult or women’s fiction. Hoover goes into great detail when writing each character’s inner thoughts. Her descriptions are so relatable the reader becomes fully immersed in the plot and lives of the characters.


By Eleni Probonas, Contributor

Hoover’s 2012 novel is the first of the Hopeless series, preceding Losing Hope and Finding Cinderella. It is a captivating story that explores fear, pain and love in the most vulnerable way. It’s a real page-turner. Sky was homeschooled by her adoptive parents until deciding she wanted to experience high school like everyone else her age. Entering this new environment, she meets Dean Holder, who isn’t the person he claims to be. Holder is irresistibly drawn to Sky’s mysterious and blurred past. The two teenagers experience a beautiful and difficult romance. With Holder, Sky can love for the first time, and his presence jogs memories of a past she has repressed.

Hopeless explores the rocky journey Sky and Holder experience together. It also draws the reader in with an intense revelation about Sky’s past and the people around her. The plot is heavy, unexpected, heartbreaking and beautiful. The book’s title, Hopeless, which is also a tattoo on Holder’s arm, refers to more than just a lack of hope. It’s a sentimental part of the revelation.






Ugly Love

By Mia Anhoury, Assistant Life Editor

The novel Ugly Love (2014) is the perfect blend of attraction, intensity, beauty and ugliness. Hoover’s unique and incredibly well-written plot line brings together two characters who are far from perfect for each other. Miles is a broken-hearted pilot, with a past he doesn’t want to share and a future he doesn’t want to plan. Tate is a nurse without any time on her hands. Physical attraction and sex are the only things that keep Miles and Tate going back for more, despite all the complications. Hoover develops the characters’ storylines brilliantly. It’s a dual narrative; the chapters alternate between each characters’ perspective, and move from past to present and back again. This makes the characters perfectly three dimensional. Ugly Love is an emotional rollercoaster that will make you laugh and cry as you fall in love with the characters. It’s a gut-wrenching book in a good way, and every page is filled with emotion.








Maybe Someday Series

By Mia Anhoury and Eleni Probonas

In Maybe Someday, Sydney’s picture-perfect world shatters when she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend, who is also her roommate. She ends up homeless, until her mysterious neighbour, Ridge, whom she only knows because he plays guitar on his balcony every night, takes her in. They begin writing songs together, and she becomes his muse. The writing takes Sydney’s mind off her breakup. Falling for each other isn’t an option, because Ridge has a girlfriend, Maggie, whom he has sworn he will never leave. With twist after twist and Hoover’s compelling writing, the plot steers away from what the reader expects.

If the story wasn’t captivating enough already, singer Griffin Peterson recorded the emotional songs written by Ridge and Sydney so readers can listen to them as they read. This immerses readers deeper in the plot, as they can audibly experience what the protagonists have created together.

Following the release of her 2014 novel, Hoover wrote a novella, Maybe Not, with a plot set at the same time as Maybe Someday. It tells the story of Ridge and Sydney’s roommates, Warren and Bridgette. Bridgette is a 20-something girl who is angry at the world. Warren theorizes that, if she’s capable of hating with so much passion, then loving with the same amount of passion isn’t impossible.

Hoover then wrote Maybe Now, the sequel to Maybe Someday, which includes the perspectives of not only Ridge and Sydney, but Maggie, Warren and Bridgette as well. This story is also accompanied by Peterson’s soundtrack.


All Our Wrong Todays looks at what is and what could be

Debut novel from Concordia alumnus explores technology, the future and storytelling

What if today wasn’t the today we were supposed to have? What if the present was supposed to be the future that was dreamed of in the 50s and 60s—with flying cars, teleportation and jet packs? What if we somehow ended up with the wrong today?

That’s the premise of Elan Mastai’s debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays. The book has a solid core of science fiction, but with a lot of dark humour and a sprinkle of heartfelt romance, wrapped into one futuristic story that hops between what could be and what actually is.

All Our Wrong Todays centres around Tom. Tom lives in a world where teleportation and space travel are passé. Family vacations to the moon are mundane. The world runs on sustainable, renewable energy. It is the perfect future, but today, in 2016.

As the son of a prominent scientist, Tom is frequently overshadowed by his father and his incredible work involving the newest frontier: time travel. After the sudden death of his mother, Tom grudgingly helps his father with his time travel pet project. Except it doesn’t take long before things go horribly wrong.

Mastai’s film, The F Word, received critical acclaim.

What was supposed to be a great discovery soon spirals into a disaster of monstrous proportions after Tom sends himself back in time, accidentally altering the timeline and completely changing the future. Suddenly, Tom finds himself in our today. No renewable energy, no flying cars, no jetpacks. Now, Tom must find a way to fix his mistake without screwing things up even more.

Though this is Mastai’s first novel, he is no stranger to storytelling. The Concordia communications graduate has been writing screenplays since he was in high school. His most recent film is The F Word, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan and Adam Driver. The film was nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Picture, and won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Mastai’s interest in science fiction started when he was a child. His grandfather, a chemist by trade, had a whole bookshelf full of science fiction novels. Mastai would peruse them, admiring the artwork. But something became very obvious very quickly: “even as a kid, I knew there was some kind of disconnect going on, because the future that was imagined by these writers and artists in the 50s and 60s did not turn out the way everyone had imagined it,” Mastai said. “I did not get a jetpack for my ninth birthday.”

That interest in technology and the past’s perception of the future followed him throughout university. At Concordia, he had the opportunity to think about it differently through the different theories in his Communications classes.

“I was interested in technology and futurism and where technology was going. [I was] looking at historical examples of how technology influences society, to think about how new technology moves us forward,” Mastai said. “My time here was a time when I was taking that stuff that was a childhood fascination and thinking about it more critically.”

When Mastai was thinking about his story, he knew it needed to be told through a book. But transitioning from writing screenplays to writing a novel had its challenges. Screenplays follow a format—no matter the genre, tone or length, the style remains the same. The writing is lean and visually dynamic, and screenplays are always written in the third person and in the present tense.

Working on the novel gave Mastai complete creative freedom of expression—a freedom that doesn’t exist with screenplays, which is a more collaborative medium.

“That was the big change. As a novelist, I needed to figure out what type of book this was,” Mastai said. “Something as simple as ‘are you telling it from the first person or the third person?’ ‘How much authority are you going to have in terms of the main character’s psychology?’ ‘What is the tone?’”

Mastai has already sold the rights to Paramount, and begun work on adapting the book into a screenplay. Just as learning how to write a novel posed its challenges, the same goes for the process of adaptation.

“When I was writing this story as a book, I wanted to embrace all the literary techniques that work in a book,” Mastai said. “Likewise, when turning this into a movie, you want to embrace all the cinematic things that can work in a movie.”

All Our Wrong Todays is the amalgamation of the topics and ideas Mastai studied during his degree at Concordia, wrapped in a veil of narrative storytelling. Though technology is the cornerstone of the book, the story is told through the decisions the characters make.

“There are always unintended consequences of technology. Fundamentally, technology doesn’t solve any problems,” Mastai said. “Technology is the tool, the sort of material manifestation of human ingenuity, and a lot of the mess in our world is because of human ingenuity. But it’s also what’s going to save us.”


Shoshaku Jushaku’s book is a sporadic treasure

The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook, set in Montreal, tackles alcoholism and drug addiction

In his novella The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook, Shoshaku Jushaku treats his readers to a glimpse into the life of an alcoholic drug addict who just can’t seem to get anything right. The story begins in our very own Montreal and follows the narrator, Acky, through his journey to become an author.

This, coupled with his struggle as an addict, makes for a confusing and sombre yet wildly interesting read. We also get a glimpse into his love life, catching the tail end of one relationship and witnessing him dive headfirst into another. The storyline jumps around quite a bit, but only in order to keep up with Acky’s sporadic nature.

You could easily read through this book in one sitting without feeling like you’ve rushed through it. If you’re someone who needs to have all of your questions answered by the end of your read, I could not suggest a book more contrary than this. If, on the other hand, you like being left more in the dark than when you first picked the book up, this one’s for you! The best books are the ones that shake you up a little and make you ask yourself all kinds of questions  that you most likely never would have asked otherwise. This is undoubtedly one of those books.

Worthy of mention is the way in which the chapters are separated within the novella. Each is accompanied by a quote that ties in absolutely perfectly with that chapter. Finding a book that uses quotations and references philosophers in a humorous, yet accurate way is a rare treasure and adds a lot to this story.

In my mind, this novella will stick with you in a strange way. You’ll remember little snippets of it and they won’t seem to make any sense, but I think that is how Jushaku is so successful at putting you into the scene. Anyone can relate to Acky’s scattered mind because of its honesty and how well it reflects human nature. Acky knows that he quite literally never makes the right choice and the easy solution, as a reader, would be to remain frustrated with him for being so blatantly idiotic. The story is centered on addiction, and I think Jushaku might have been trying to show what being so deeply addicted can do to someone who otherwise has the potential to be great. You can tell how intelligent Acky is, but he just cannot function properly in society. The reason it speaks to human nature, as a whole, is how everyone has demons they will simply never be able to overcome.

This novella is nothing short of a great little piece of work, and has so much depth packed into only 112 pages. It’s a great example of fiction writing in which the main character is developed in such a short timeframe, allowing the reader to form a strong opinion on him. I think the text merits at least two reads in order to mull over Acky’s jumpy narrative, but it is a book definitely worth carving some time out to read.


Break-ups, family tension and trying to deal with it

Christopher DiRaddo about universal emotional torments in The Geography of Pluto

After working on this book for 14 years, Christopher DiRaddo’s debut novel, The Geography of Pluto, tells the story of 28-year-old high school teacher Will Ambrose and his desperate attempt to hold on to something lasting as his world rapidly begins to change.

Will, born and raised in Montreal, is trying to figure out how to move on from his ex-boyfriend and come to terms with his mother’s colon cancer.

The book opens on Will returning home from a night out, drinking to forget his ex. He turns on the lights in the apartment, and everything is “exactly as [he] had left it earlier that evening.” Even though his apartment remains the same throughout the duration of the book, it highlights that the familiarity Will is looking for doesn’t come from his physical possessions. He craves his boyfriend and he wants to return to a time before his mother had cancer, but despite being in the same surroundings as back then, all they do is serve as a reminder of how much he misses a time when things were going well in his life. This is brought up several times in the book, reminding us how something as simple as a pillow or a kitchen table can evoke memories that have stuck with us over the years.

The book draws heavily on the city, which allows Montreal readers to feel truly immersed in this novel. While this book takes place in the ‘90s and the nightlife scene has changed quite a bit since then, all Montrealers can relate to going out on cold, snowy nights.

Will’s life in this novel is centred around three different people — his ex boyfriend Max, his mother, and his best friend Angie. Although Max broke up with him, Will is finding it impossible to move on. He tries to go out and meet new men, but through bad luck (and sometimes self-sabotage) he doesn’t connect with them the same way he did with his ex. This is another aspect of this novel that readers can quickly connect to — we either have gone through this ourselves, or have seen someone close to us go through this. We can also connect to having someone close to us with an illness as serious as cancer. His mother’s silence on the subject of her cancer, much like her silence about his sexuality, creates tension between the two. And Angie, his best friend for years, acts as both a motivator to move on with his life and a reminder of a time and lifestyle that Will has tried to leave behind, highlighting the complexity of dealing with changes in both your own being and the world around you.

This book was an emotional read, with a few steamy sex scenes thrown in. DiRaddo’s writing has you sympathizing with Will’s struggles right off the bat, and he creates many avenues by which readers can connect to the character. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found its portrayal honest and genuine, I found it lacked a certain something to keep me hooked; even though I wanted to know what happened, I felt no urgency to rush through the pages.

Rating: 8/10


Girls’ Lena Dunham wants you to learn from her mistakes

Not That Kind of Girl explores life, sex and death

Last week, Lena Dunham’s much anticipated first book Not that Kind of Girl arrived in stores. With it, the 28-year-old creator, writer and producer of the HBO series Girls delivered an inspiring memoir.

Not That Kind of Girl contains a collection of essays, all sewn together by different leading topics. With vivid details and very colourful words she recounts her stories, some going back to her childhood.

This book was born from her desire to share her missteps and the lessons she acquired. As the subtitle of the book reads: “a young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned.’” As the carefully used quotations marks suggest, she doesn’t pretend to be an expert on anything.

Dunham gets her creative side from her parents, who are both artists. She recalls the frustration she felt as a third grade student, when she wished she could spend time with them in their studios instead of going to school. There’s no doubt that she had a wild imagination as a child—enough to think about disease and death, which terrified her at a young age. Dunham was also inspired to write and create a world of her own.

Today, she doesn’t hesitate to share on paper the weird, awkward, funny and sad moments that have influenced her. She addresses topics such as sex, body image, her mental health issues, her struggles in Hollywood as a woman and what it is like to search  for and find love nowadays.

As always, Dunham’s honesty is brutal. But maybe this is exactly what people need in a time when picture-perfect lives are painted on big and small screens. When given the chance to make Girls, she decided to address this issue head-on: she had always been irritated by the way sex was presented in movies and television.

“Everything I saw as a child, from 90210 to The Bridges of Madison County, had led me to believe that sex was a cringey, warmly lit event where two smooth-skinned, gooey-eyed losers achieved mutual orgasm by breathing on each other’s faces,” she writes in her book. “Between porn and studio romantic comedies, we get the message loud and clear that we are doing something wrong. Our bedsheets aren’t right. Our moves aren’t right. Our bodies aren’t right.”

Girls fans will certainly recognize her unsettling yet ever so funny sense of humour. Even people—perhaps a more feminine audience—who have never watched a single episode will relate to her book, with Dunham’s words reflecting their choices as human beings, students, daughters, sisters and women. This book is a glimpse inside Dunham’s world;  a glimpse definitely worth taking.

For more information on Not that Kind of Girl, visit


History has never been sexier

Book cover for Kit Brennan’s Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards

When browsing for the perfect book, many favour a specific genre. Some like mysteries, while others prefer romance novels or biographies and, once in a blue moon, someone will get their kicks cracking open a history textbook.

Kit Brennan’s Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards, encompasses a little bit of everything. The novel recounts the many adventures of a passionate, sometimes reckless 22-year-old named Lola Montez as she travels throughout England, France and Spain during the year 1842.

The book combines the perfect amount of fiction and reality, telling the story of what could have happened during a trip the real-life Montez made to Spain that summer. Montez was a dancer in the 19th century, and travelled everywhere from the United States to Australia. To this day, no one knows what really happened during her voyage.

The journey starts off in England, in 1843, where Lola is being interrogated about her true identity. She then shares memories of the past year, inviting the reader into her captivating tale of adventure and romance. It’s impossible not to be intrigued as she relates how it is she became a spy for the exiled Queen of Spain and planned to seduce the repugnant man tutoring the two Spanish princesses. While on her mission, she meets the captivating General Diego de Léon, also working for the Queen. Lola rapidly and dangerously falls in love with him. Her mission soon takes a drastic turn, and she and her team decide to plan a kidnapping. Things take a turn for the worst, when Diego is captured and Lola is chased across Spain by an unknown enemy.

This novel is the perfect blend of history, romance, action and mystery. The intriguing characters, many of which really existed, like Alexandre Dumas, for example, add even more life to the book. The story is written from Lola’s point of view, but her thoughts are written in a very modern fashion. This makes the text, written in a more time-appropriate way, easier to read. The dialogue is also full of expressions in different languages, including French, English and, of course, Spanish.

All of the characters are seen through Lola’s passionate and witty eyes, which makes the descriptions sensational. The tutor she must seduce, for example, is described as having “fur which extended all the way up the backs of his hands, fluffing out around his cuffs, and no doubt getting thicker and hairier all the way up (and down, ¡mierda!).”

Unlike most romance novels, the characters in this book are not perfect. Lola, for example, is rather vain, impulsive and has a weakness for men. Diego is not the classic love interest either, for he is actually shorter than Lola, and has a small, lithe build. This makes the story more believable, and the characters that much more endearing.

Brennan’s novel shows a woman’s transformation from the lost and regretful Eliza Rosanna Gilbert to the courageous and reckless Lola Montez. This page-turner, full of mysterious attacks and assassinations, will keep you guessing until the very end.

The author, Kit Brennan, currently teaches writing and storytelling at Concordia and is a nationally produced, award-winning playwright. Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards, which was released on Feb. 1, is her first novel, but there will soon be a second book in the Whip Smart series entitled Lola Montez and the Poisoned Nom de Plume.


Where do I go from here?

Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? by Nick Miller

Do you ever wake up and think “what the hell am I doing here?” For anyone who has ever felt disillusioned or disconnected with life, if you have ever worried that your English major will be worthless in four years, or that your life is not going quite as planned, this book will speak to you.

Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? is a quintessential coming of age story by author Nick Miller. Not since Salinger has a writer captured the tribulation, angst, imperfection and sacredness of living like Miller has for our millennial generation.

Set in Los Angeles, Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? follows Jake Reed, fresh out of university and armed with his liberal arts degree. Jake quickly realizes that his dreams of being a writer are much further away than he ever thought. Momentarily discouraged and pushed by his parents, he settles down to grind out his days at an uninspiring desk job. But when his grandmother dies, leaving him her condo and a $50,000 inheritance, Jake promptly quits his job and moves out of his small apartment in search of inspiration and himself.

Bouncing between small-town hotel rooms while trying to write, Jake finds himself becoming deeply troubled. He distracts himself by rooming in a west-Hollywood mansion, spending his days and nights lost in a world of drugs and sex. Only after innumerable blackouts does Jake decide that he needs to get out of the downward spiral he is in. Haunted by depression, plagued by a constant feeling of inadequacy and frustrated with what he feels is a severe lack of real human connection in this world of social media and instant messaging, he reaches out to a kindred lost soul but ultimately finds the savior he has been looking for in himself.

Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? is not your typical edited and polished novel. There are imperfections in the writing such as an overuse of a metaphor here and the abuse of the comma there that normally an editor would have cut out on the first draft. But it is an imperfect story for an imperfect time and is far from detracting from the writing. The bumps on the page only serve to allow the sincerity of the story to be truly felt by the reader. You are sitting with Jake in the lonely hotel rooms he frequents. You are there with him as he falls down and builds himself back up again.

Miller has painted a shockingly real picture of life in a world that does not shelter anyone. The people who inhabit Jake Reed’s world serve as a reflection of our society. While showcasing the hardest tribulations of life, the author has also captured the most simple truth of growing up; that we can take solace in the fact that even though life does not go as planned, it can still be beautiful or at least it is pretty to think so.


Plug in your headphones and put on your reading glasses

The Deadly Snakes: Real Rock and Roll Tonight by J.B. Staniforth

Author J.B. Staniforth takes you on tour with The Deadly Snakes in his new novel, The Deadly Snakes: Real Rock and Roll Tonight. Download some of their tunes, roll up the book, slip it in your bag or back pocket and become a groupie as you follow one of Canada’s most unique bands from their early beginnings as high school friends to their break-up.

The Deadly Snakes was a garage-rock and indie band from Toronto that formed in 1996. The group began as “The Boys Night Out Band”, playing in a basement in their early teens. But all that changed when they were dared to perform at a friend’s birthday party, which took place in a laundromat. However, in order to do so, they needed a legitimate name. That’s when The Deadly Snakes was born.

“The joke was that we had to be, like, a band, with a real band name. Then the band went on and we were stuck with it,” band leader Max McCabe-Lokos was quoting as saying in the book.

Little did they know that this gig would set their music career on fire. Young, talented, wild and loud, The Deadly Snakes can hardly be contained in a book nor could their music be hushed. It is a cacophony of vocals, guitars, trumpet, bass, mandolin, saxophone and percussion. Their energy and peppery music was instantly recognized and admired.

“You were supposed to bump into people, knock things over, break stuff, get someone’s drink down your shirt and wear it all with a grin—because it sounds that good,” writes Staniforth.

The novel is full of memorable real-life characters; McCabe-Lokos is the fiery band leader who takes his pants off mid-song or stands on his organ during their performances with “fidgety double-espresso energy.” André Ethier on the other hand is the quiet and mature band member who wrote songs with the “placid ease of an old-timer in a spaghetti western.”

Their boldness is what distinguished them from any other band at the time. They did not hide their youth and spirit, but let it explode on stage.

“If you respect youth, you give them their space to be young. You behave like your age and be true to your age,” said Ethier. “Something that’s incredibly uninteresting is hearing people trying to artificially recreate youth when that isn’t their lives.”

Staniforth does not only recall the peak moments of The Deadly Snakes, but also their downfalls. The immediacy of his writing heightens the thrill of touring internationally and throughout Canada, as well as the disappointments that arose as tensions grew between the band members. It is quite remarkable how Staniforth is able to translate real outbursts of jealousy, bickering and fist-fights into words. With its ups and downs and rock and roll drama, this book is sure to intrigue both fans and those who have yet to hear the band.


Language is everything

Noah Richler’s What We Talk About When We Talk About War was nominated for a 2012 Governor General’s literary award. Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

For Canadian writer and journalist Noah Richler, maintaining a critical view of your country and its politics is paramount.

Born in Montreal, Richler studied classics and archeology at McGill and then moved on to study politics and economics at Balliol College at Oxford University in England. Subsequently, he worked for BBC Radio and then returned to Canada in 1998 to work at the National Post as the paper’s books editor. Richler’s first book, This Is My Country, What’s Yours, won the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2007.

Although Richler has lived a great part of his life in England, he still feels very attached to his home country of Canada. “Going back and forth between Canada and Britain affected my outlook a lot,” he said, “because I feel very Canadian.”

Richler is no stranger to the Canadian literary world. His father, Mordecai Richler, Concordia’s most famous dropout, is one of Montreal and Canada’s most celebrated writers. Unlike his father, Richler sticks to non-fiction when it comes to his writing. “I think of myself as an essayist,” he said.

Like every other writer, Richler dedicates a lot of himself to his work. “I try to work at least five days a week,” he said. “I try to write everyday to remind myself that that’s what I do.”

When asked about his writing process Richler said, “when you find a book, or a book finds you, it determines its own rhythm. You work like mad and everything you see in the world around you has to do with the idea that you’ve chosen.”

Mainly preoccupied with Canadian identity Richler’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, which was nominated for this year’s Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction, takes a critical look at the country Canada has become after multiple international wars.

Richler says he was inspired to write the book when he saw an interview between CBC’s Shelagh Rogers and Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, a soldier who was wounded in the Afghan war. In the interview, Franklin’s wife said that if Canada had pulled out of the war, her husband would have lost his legs for nothing. “That’s true,” said Richler, “but it’s also not an argument for staying.”

Richler addresses many issues in his new book, like the way politicians and the military use language to convince Canadians that we are a warrior nation.

“I was very upset at the language that was being used,” he said. When asked about the impact he would like his book to have on his readers, Richler said, “My book will be successful if it brings people’s attentions to the way we use language to permit different things.”

Richler often speaks in high schools because he understands the importance of reading. “I like speaking at schools,” he said, “it’s a very good discipline for me.” Richler recounts what it was like as a child to pick up a book, not like it and feel guilty about it. “You don’t like a book, don’t worry about it,” he said, “It’s not your fault. Just don’t stop reading because of it.”

Writing a book on war is a sombre topic and Richler hopes that his book will incite readers to take a more serious outlook on war. “When we go to war,” he said, “we should do it with gravity and lament. It’s a serious thing. We should really regret having to do it.”

With the recent success of What We Talk About When We Talk About War, which was published last April, one would expect Richler to sit back and enjoy the attention. However, writers are restless souls and he is already planning a new book.

What We Talk About When We Talk About War retails for $24.95 and is available from Chapters Indigo and

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