Son of Escobar by Roberto Sendoya Escobar

“…say this story is true, the calibre of writing in this book isn’t worth enduring.”

1/5 stars.
ebook, 184 pages.
Read from December 26, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

This book was a selection for my book club. Normally, the beauty of book clubs is reading books that you wouldn’t have read and most of the time that’s a good thing, this time, however, it was not.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know the name, Pablo Escobar. You know, the biggest drug lord in history? The guy has a whole Netflix series (Narcos) about him. The premise of this book is that the author claims that he is Escobar’s firstborn son. In 1965, MI6 operatives raid and shoot up a safe house that results in the death of a young mother with one of the operatives deciding to save her newborn baby (the author). The operative put the child in an orphanage only to adopt him later. The operative learns whose child it is and massive amounts of effort are gone into protecting the child as well as using him to coerce a friendly relationship with Pablo himself. The book details all of the events that happened to the author as he grew up in this strange environment. From kidnappings, shootouts, murder, and more, all while not knowing who his real father is and thinking that having armed guards is a normal part of childhood. Strange meetings were made with Pablo Escobar as the author grew but he was never given an explanation of who Pablo was or the relevance of the meetings. As an adult, the author does eventually learn that Pablo Escobar is his father, apparently, and at the end of his adoptive father’s life, he is given a code that is supposed to be the location of Pablo Escobar’s missing fortune after he was taken down and his property destroyed. The code is published within this book hoping someone will figure out its encrypted location.

If this sounds far fetched to you, you’re not alone. The author has been called out for misinformation and lies since this book’s publication. It makes no difference to me if this story is real or not as people can write whatever they please, however, the writing quality in this book was dire and I didn’t find it all that entertaining. Well, I suppose it was interesting to discuss these points in a book club setting but the book was still a disappointing read. I would not recommend this book as I think it’s likely a money grab and a publicity stunt. Outside of that, say this story is true, the calibre of writing in this book isn’t worth enduring.

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

“To seek vengeance and power instead of cowering when the world punishes you. That’s what they think evil is, do they not?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from March 2, 2021 to March 4, 2021

My final read of the five Canada Reads 2021 selections. I managed to read all the books in time but I’ve been very behind on my reviews of late, apologies. In the CBC Canada Reads Facebook group, a lot of people didn’t jive with this book but it managed to make it to day three in the debates which, I thought was a good run for this book.

The title of this book is quite literal in that it’s about the henchmen and women that help out supervillains. While the plot sounds like a cheesy comic book this story was anything but. If you have watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, this book is placed in a very similar world with similar dark tones and humour, especially as both plots both look at how the heroes are not always the good guys.

Anna works as a Hench and at first, it isn’t because she wants to but because she has to. She is barely scraping by and paying her bills, living in a ramshackle apartment. Often scrambling and fighting for temp work through agencies, Anna’s skill set is on data and organization. It’s often tedious and underpaid work but she’s pretty damn good at it. She is meant to work behind the scenes but one of her temp jobs accidentally puts her in front line danger she is nearly killed by a superhero, becoming just another piece of collateral damage in the fight between superheroes and villains. After the incident, Anna has months of recovery to get through and a permanent limp, and what does she get for it all? She gets laid off. With no money and no home, a friend takes her in. She spends her immobile recovery time looking into the data about how many others have been injured or have died as a result of a superhero, after all, data is what she is good at. What she finds is staggering and she plans to use this new data she has found. Her research eventually gets her hired by one of the most notorious supervillains in the world. Driven by anger, she becomes the absolutely best in using this data to manipulate heroes and the media, earning her top-ranking respect from her employer. She also starts to incur her own fame within the villain circle. She may be working for a supervillain but her work may also be able to finally right some wrongs.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s smart, witty, dark, and full of sarcasm. It’s an anti-hero story done right and is a refreshing take on the old superhero tropes. All the characters are immensely relatable and the writing is well organized and a pleasure to read. I suppose if you’re not into anything comic or superhero-related this book may not have spoken to you but I think that the character work made this story highly accessible to most readers. I’m not overly into superheroes but I enjoy a good fantasy novel so this story ticked quite a few boxes for me. SPOILER WARNING: I think one of the best-executed parts of this story was the unsaid romance Anna had with her supervillain employer. As a reader, you spend more than half the novel wondering if she has feelings for him as it’s not explicitly brought up for a long time and nothing physical ever happens between them. Anna’s boss is one of the most elusive characters in the book and this strategy really helped build up the tension of their relationship and was a pleasure to read: END OF SPOILER.

In terms of the theme for Canada Reads 2021, “One Book to Transport You”, I definitely felt transported. While it may not have been a world I wanted to live in, per se, I sure loved Anna and her crew and was very much invested in her story. I feel that in comparison to the other books in the debates that it was voted off appropriately on the third day as it was about where I ranked it as well.

Overall, a well organized story that was a lot of fun to read. Highly recommend this read for superhero, comic, and fantasy-lovers.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from February 24, 2021 to March 1, 2021

I don’t even know how many reviews I’m behind on now. A lot. Working full-time while doing schooling full-time isn’t conducive to spare writing time.

This book was the fourth book I read out of the five Canada Reads 2021 contenders. While I was able to read all the books before the debates I wasn’t able to get them all reviewed in time. You can read how I ranked this year’s contenders here and check out how the debates went and its winner here.

When I saw that this book was selected as one of the finalists for the debates this year I will admit, I was less than thrilled, and wasn’t looking forward to reading it. At first glance, this book looked like a tacky YA novel that had no place within a literary debate (I will admit a bit of book snobbery here). I will happily admit that I was wrong about this book and will do my best to stop judging a book by its description. This book was an enjoyable and easy read that I think would speak to a lot of young women. The best way I can describe this book is to picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos or to think of Jane Austen but on LSD.

Beatrice is coming to an age of marriage as she enters her first bargaining season but Beatrice has no plans for marriage, in fact, she is actively looking for the one way she can find her independence and that’s through magic. Women are not allowed to become magus’, in fact, married women who can bear children are forced to wear a collar that restricts any magic so that their children are not inhabited spirits before their born and any child born this way is executed. So it’s understandable that Beatrice is obsessed with finding a specific grimoire book that will help become a magus to escape the repressive fate of so many women in her society. Unfortunately, she is so involved in escaping marriage that she hasn’t noticed that her family is in serious financial disrepair and that if she isn’t successfully married her family will lose everything. In her search for the grimoire, she encounters the Lavan siblings, the handsome Ianthe and the beautiful Ysbeta. Ysbeta manages to con the grimoire from Beatrice right when it was within her grasp so she invokes a minor spirit of luck, named Nadi, to help her retrieve it. Spirits like Nadi are anxious to embody physical forms and experience the living world. Beatrice slowly builds a friendship with Nadi as well as the Lavan siblings. Beatrice soon learns that Ysbeta, like her, is even more desperate to escape the fate of marriage.

As Beatrice attempts to avoid the entrapment of marriage things become more complicated for her as she begins to develop feelings for Ianthe, who also happens to be the most wanted bachelor of the bargaining season. It also becomes complicated with Ysbeta with the struggle to keep their ongoings secretive and as Ysbeta becomes more frantic and inpatient to avoid her marriage fate, despite her not being ready to perform the magic required. As time runs out, the friends find themselves in more than a few predicaments that will tear the fragments of their society apart and leave Beatrice with an immensely difficult decision to make.

I expected to hate every aspect of this book but I found myself happily transported in a fun world that made for a nice getaway from daily life. I especially loved the aspects and relationship that Beatrice had with Nadi, I don’t think the book would have been the same without this relationship. Further, the book offers a feminist-leaning that’s accessible to everyone. The ending is especially satisfying in this sense.

This book was exactly what I needed to read during a stressful time. A comfortable read that transported me to a different world, unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep it in the Canada Reads debate standings. I actually predicted that this book would win Canada Reads just because it met the theme so well, One Book to Transport Us, and especially with the way the last few debates have gone, but this year was exceptional and it was nice to see a return to a respectful debate.

I would recommend this book to YA lovers, girls, or for those who would be interested in a Jane Austen setting with a fun twist, or just want something easy and enjoyable to read.