When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearin...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I opened this small grey book a few days ago I had no idea what to expect. I had been hearing some buzz about this title and how great the writing was but didn’t really know what it was about. And the gold horses combined with the blurb from Erin Morgenstern made me think I was in for some sort of magical circus story. In case you were under the same impression let me set the record straight – that is not at all what this book is about. In actuality The Enchanted is a dark yet gorgeous novel about life, hope, and the death penalty.
The story opens on Death Row. Our narrator has been in the “dudgeon” for some time now. He doesn’t speak, he simply observes. But the world he observes is much different then the one you or I might see should we visit that same place. Everything he sees and hears is affected by his belief that the prison is an enchanted place, and that gives his words a magical quality. He is particularly focused on the comings and goings of “the warden,” “the priest” and perhaps most importantly, “the lady” – a death penalty investigator who is on the case of the inmate in the cell next to him. All the characters are interesting but “the lady” was the one that stood out for me above all the others. She had a foot in both worlds – in the darkness of the prison and in the light of hope and humanity.
Before reading this novel I had no idea that “death penalty investigator” was even a job and I was fascinated by the lady’s process and the information she discovered. She looks into the childhood of one of the inmates and some of the things she discovers are incredibly disturbing. It’s not that her efforts are trying to excuse the crime but simply better understand it. I think through her eyes the reader is given a very balanced look at both perpetrator and the consequences of his actions.
In addition, The Enchanted provides a bit of an inside look into the correctional system. It’s a very honest and at times difficult account of what that life is like. This takes place in the United States, so of course there are a number of differences from our own system. But there are a lot of similarities as well. I have a number of family members who work in corrections and from listening to them I can attest that there are definitely some issues in this book that pop up in the Canadian system as well. Things like food, corruption, contraband, rape etc. Denfeld doesn’t sugar coat anything, but rather lays out the truth for you to draw your own opinions and tap into your own humanity.
What really amazes me about this book is how Denfeld uses such beautiful prose to describe such horrific things. Her writing is lyrical and poetic and I dog eared so many pages of my copy because I knew there were passages I would want to come back to over and over again. The way this book touches on hope, on love, on compassion – even in the midst of all the darkness and despair – is a beautiful thing. There is magic inside this book, just not in the way I expected. The magic is in the prose, in the characters and in the story. Trust me when I say this book will defy your expectations and blow you away.(less)
As the title suggests What We Hide is a book about secrets. Not just about keeping secrets and th...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
As the title suggests What We Hide is a book about secrets. Not just about keeping secrets and the dangers of keeping the wrong secrets but also about the motivations behind it. Why do we hide parts of who we are? What makes us distrust those around us?
The story opens on an American girl named Jenny, who has just come over from America with her draft-dodging brother. She’s attending an English boarding school and sees this as an opportunity to reinvent herself. No one knows her at this school she could say anything and they would believe it. This sets the tone for the entire novel. Though it opens on Jenny and her new version of herself this theme is reflected in every other character you meet as well. They all have a way they wish to be perceived and they all mold the truth to try and reflect that.
But in addition to secrets this is a book about perspective. About how the same world can look different depending on who’s looking at it. Even in such a small sampling of the world the reader is treated to the perspectives of eight different students who all see their surroundings in completely different ways. This point is emphasized during a particular discussion between the characters Nico and Jasper.
“Who is telling this story?…The story of the English lesson on Friday morning in a shabby ex-stable that hasn’t had the windows washed in a hundred years. We have-” he looked around- “Sixteen stories in here right? And all of them are true, right? According to the narrators.”
I think this is a great point to keep in mind, not just when you’re reading but in real life as well. You never know what someone else’s story looks like. What’s true to you isn’t always true to others.
I think the most compelling examples of this truth are Robbie and Luke. What We Hide takes place in 1970s in a small town. Being gay and openly dating another guy was absolutely unthinkable. And yet somehow Robbie and Luke found one another and had a real connection. When reading chapters from their perspective the world looks very different from that of Jenny, Nico, Oona or Brenda. (Which is not to say that they all didn’t face their own challenges.) But what made it really interesting was how it looked different from one another. Even though they were keeping the same secret it still affected their perspective differently.
Juggling eight unique perspectives is challenging. Juggling eight perspectives with their own set of secrets and lies is even more so, but Marthe Jocelyn makes it look easy. In under 300 pages she has created a rich and layered world within the walls of Ill Hall. Though there are some characters I could relate to better than others, I wouldn’t be able to pick out a single one I didn’t love reading about. What We Hide has a simple premise but it doesn’t take long to suck you into its complex world.(less)
There are three kinds of stories in One More Thing – the ones that made me laugh, the ones that m...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
There are three kinds of stories in One More Thing – the ones that made me laugh, the ones that made me think and the ones that really stood out. I thought for this review I would break down each kind.
The ones that made me laugh
This title is applicable to the majority of stories in this collection. Novak’s stories are short and sweet but also quite charming and many left me with a smile The following were some of the highlights. Stories like “All You Have to Do,” ”No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg” and “Chris Hansen at the Justin Bieber Concert” flowed smoothly, used charming language and were just all around easy to read. Other stories like “Great Writer’s Steal” were simple and straight forward but would always have one line (in this case: ”they misunderstood literature on an unusually fundamental level”) that stood out and really brought the story together.
Of all the ‘stories that made me laugh’ there were three that stood out in particular. The first was “Closure.” Partially because it was just a fun story with a great twist. But also because I listened to the audiobook sample (read by Mindy Kaling and B J Novak) and it reminded me so much of Kelly and Ryan from The Office. Then there was “Julie and the Warlord” which physically made me spit out my coffee when I got to the discussion questions at the end. And last but certainly not least “The Something by John Grisham.” I went through a HUGE John Grisham phase when I was in high school and I loved how perfectly this story captured some of his more common tropes.
The ones that made me think
There are less stories in the ‘ones that made me think’ category but that makes them no less meaningful. What really stood out about this stories was that it was often only one line that really grabbed you and worked its way into your head. For example in “The Best Thing in the World Awards” - ”the fun isn’t whether love is going to win the fun is seeing how.” Or “If You Love Something” - ”If you love something let it go. If you don’t love something definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.” And perhaps best of all “J C Audetat, translator of Don Quixote” – ”Have you heard this song? It’s like poetry…Have you read this book? It’s poetry. Oh no thank you”
The ones that really stood out
There are really only two stories in this category – “Sophia” and “Kellogs.” I don’t want to say too much about them because I think part of the reason they were so great is that you truly had no idea where the story was headed when you started reading. “Sophia” got much more serious than I expected and I loved when the narrator talks about the nicks and dents that happen every time you get your hopes up and are disappointed. “Kellogs” has so many twists and surprises but was ultimately a great story about family, values and potential. What both of these stories had in common was their length – they were both on the longer side, which really allowed B J Novak’s true story telling ability to shine through.
Even if you don’t normally read short stories I would recommend this collection. They’re not all fantastic offerings but more often then not you’ll find yourself chuckling along or wanting to highlight a certain passage so you can come back to it. If you like humour, witty dialogue and great twists, One More Thing is for you.(less)
I reviewed this is in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but the short version is that I absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for fans of C J Redwine...moreI reviewed this is in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but the short version is that I absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for fans of C J Redwine, Sarah J Maas and Robin LaFevers. (less)
My first love is fantasy. There is no contest. I love the word building, I love the magic, I love...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
My first love is fantasy. There is no contest. I love the word building, I love the magic, I love the politics. I love it all. And I have high expectations for my fantasy books. Seriously. I want the book to be rich in detail but still have a compelling and dynamic plot. I want the characters – particularly female characters - to be three-dimensional AND experience real growth. And I want the tension to be so thick that I won’t want to put the book down because I HAVE to find out what happens next. See? I told you – high expectations.
The Queen of the Tearling met every one of them.
First let’s talk about the world building. The Tearling has some familiar high fantasy markers but it still managed to surprise me. On the surface it looks like your standard medieval, European set up. There is a monarchy and a Queen’s guard, women wear long gowns, books are rare, medicine is not at its highest standard etc. But there are some elements of modernity woven throughout as well. At first I found this a little strange but as the story continued I really got into it. It was like our society never really hit the Industrial Age but was still progressing just at a much slower pace.
My favourite thing about The Queen of the Tearling however was Kelsea – the heroine of our story. Kelsea has been raised in isolation. When she was still an infant her mother sent her away, afraid for her safety. She was raised by an intelligent couple that taught her everything they could about running a kingdom. It was a great education but now thrown into a deadly political game, Kelsea realizes that she has no practical experience being a ruler. A lesser person might hesitate, or run away, or panic. But not her. She’s rises to the occasion and then some.
I liked that we got to see her decision-making process as it happens. Kelsea was raised with a very clear idea of what is “right” and what is “wrong” but was also raised to be a thinking queen so she doesn’t take any situation lightly. Every move she makes has rewards and consequences. There are people who want her to succeed and people who want her to fail. This kind of high stakes political plot makes for exactly the kind of story I can’t put down. The marketing copy compares this book to Game of Thrones and while there are some major differences story-wise I think there are some similar themes and you will be just as obsessed with how the characters are going to survive.
There are many things to love about The Queen of the Tearling but I will say this – if you primarily read young adult fantasy you may find this book a bit slow. It takes a little while for Johansen to set everything up and for the real action to start. And it is a very different feel from the more fast pace YA fantasy books like Shadow and Bone and Throne of Glass. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort I think the pay off is well worth it. I really appreciated the extra time to get acquainted with Kelsea and how she viewed the world, before all the drama began.
High fantasy fans mark your calendars. You won’t want to miss this.(less)
With the release of volume 2 of Inaccurate Realities (a.k.a the Time Travel issue) I went on a bi...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
With the release of volume 2 of Inaccurate Realities (a.k.a the Time Travel issue) I went on a bit of a time travel bender. Yesterday has been on my shelf forever and seemed like the perfect fit. I loved the premise of this story – people sent back in time because humans have messed up the planet so badly in the future. Despite the fact that time travel doesn’t exist this seemed incredibly plausible. We already know when it comes to the planet we don’t have good long term planning skills -it felt like exactly the kind of band-aid solution some governments would come up with.
I also really enjoyed the way Martin split the chapters between the 1980s and the future. I found both settings interesting, but I think I preferred the 1980s chapters overall. Partially because I thought you got a better sense of the characters in those parts and partially because it takes place in Toronto and I recognized so many of the places they went to. It’s always fun to read a book set in the place where you live.
Overall I think Yesterday is an exciting, well paced adventure that provides an interesting look at the environment, politics and friendship.(less)
From the very first line – “Alek stared at the menu suspiciously. He smelled marinara sauce and a...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
From the very first line – “Alek stared at the menu suspiciously. He smelled marinara sauce and a trap.” - I knew I was going to love One Man Guy.
It’s narrated by an intelligent, kind of nerdy, very sarcastic Armenian boy named Alek and it is impossible not to fall completely in love with him. At the beginning of the novel his parents inform him he’s going to summer school – not because he’s failing any classes. But because his grades aren’t quite high enough to be on Honour Track. This opening scene is perfection – its establishes Alek’s quick wit and the pressure he faces from his family. But it also demonstrates that even though Alek is the protagonist, his family is going to play a central role in his story, and you are going to love them just as much as him.
Though Alek hates the idea of summer school – what kid wouldn’t? – he has to go. And it ends up being a life changing event because it is at summer school that Alek meets Ethan. In many ways Ethan is everything that Alek isn’t. He’s out and proud, he’s adventurous and bold, he goes into New York whenever he feels like it. And yet somehow they are drawn together in what is arguably one of the sweetest, most adorable love stories you’ll ever read. When Alek tells his best friend, Becky, that ““It’s like all my life I’ve been eating frozen yogurt. And kissing boys is ice cream.” I audibly “awwed” even though I was sitting in the middle of a busy coffee shop.
One Man Guy is a novel about falling in love for the first time and but it’s also about finding yourself. Before Ethan, Alek had never had a boyfriend. He had barely even considered the fact that he was gay. But that’s not the only thing he learns about himself. As you’ve probably gathered, his parents are rather strict and he’s always lived life by their rules. As the novel continues Alek gains more courage to try new things – like food and clothing. He gains the freedom to develop his own tastes and interests, making this an excellent “coming-of-age” story in addition to a “coming-out” story. In fact, in this case, they are one in the same.
I have to admit I didn’t know very much about Armenian culture before this novel but Baravika fills it with so many rich details, including a recipe for stuffed grape leaves at the back. There is a lot of scenes that revolve around meal times so beware this book will make you hungry! But there is also a lot of information about the Armenian genocide – a significant historic event that is often forgotten about by non-Armenians. I liked that even though Alek was trying to figure out his place in the world, he was still very connected to his culture and history. His choosing to be more independent was not a rejection of his family and that’s an important message for readers of all ages.
One Man Guy is an absolutely lovely story about relationships, friendship, family and New York City. Alek, Ethan, Becky and the whole Khederian family feel more like friends than simply characters on the page. It’s a short read, the pages will fly by much faster than you want them to. But thankfully this is the kind of book you can read over and over again. Highly recommended.(less)
The Art of Lainey initially grabbed my attention because of its fantastic premise – a girl trying...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Art of Lainey initially grabbed my attention because of its fantastic premise – a girl trying to win back her ex-boyfriend using The Art of War? Now that was something I hadn’t read before! But once I started reading I realized this book was so much more than a great concept.
First off there was the character development. I absolutely love when characters really grow throughout a novel – when they’re pushed and challenged and come out the other side a more well-rounded individual. Which is exactly what happens in the case of Lainey. At the beginning, Lainey is a bit selfish and shallow. She doesn’t pay much attention to the people around her – from her co-workers, to her family and even her friends. And she’s very focused on how everything will “look.” Is she tanned enough? Does she have the right clothes? Hang out with the right people? But the more you keep reading the more Lainey’s true personality will begin to show.
I felt like I could relate to Lainey on a very personal level. I know exactly how it feels to have your identity centred around being “so and so’s girlfriend.” My high school boyfriend and I were together roughly the same amount of time as Lainey and Jason and when he broke up with me I felt all the things Lainey did. My whole identity felt like had been turned upside down and inside out and all the plans we had been making disappeared in a puff of smoke. So much of me was tied up in him. I couldn’t imagine my life without him and didn’t want to try to. I’ll admit there was a period where I tried to get him back. It failed and I am extremely grateful for that because it allowed me to grow into my own person. I got to experience new things that he would have hated (re: most of the extremely nerdy things I LOVE now) and I am extremely happy with the way things turned out. Paula Stokes perfectly captured every emotion I felt back then. I may not have been a soccer star or worked at a coffee shop but I could easily see myself in Lainey’s shoes. And I don’t think I’ll be the only one. Anyone who has ever suffered an unexpected break up or the ending of a long-term relationship will be able to relate.
Enough personal stuff though! More about the book!
In addition to the great plot and character development there is also a terrific set of secondary characters – particularly Bianca. Bianca is Lainey’s best friend and a better friend you could not wish for! She’s supportive and thoughtful and always ready to listen. But I also appreciated that she wasn’t constantly at Lainey’s beck and call. She had her own life and was sometimes too busy to come running. This made her feel more like a real person then a generic best friend trope.
And then of course there’s Micah. Micah is definitely going on my list of YA crushes. If you like Guyliner from Victoria Schwab’s The Archived you are going to love Micah. Though he was a little edgy – tattoos, mohwak, the whole deal – he was a genuinely good person who really cares about the people in his life. I appreciated that he was going through his own issues as well. He was a big part of Lainey embracing the wide world around her, but I like to think she did the same for him. He helped show her a world that was a little less shallow and she showed him a world that was a little less dark. They initially team up to ‘fake date’ and make their exes jealous but the chemistry between them in undeniable and they make every scene sizzle.
Oh and have I mentioned that this book is just good plain fun? Lainey, Micah and their friends get up to some hilarious hijinks and the dialogue is razor-sharp and witty. I loved imagining Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and pancakes) and what the TV show Undead Academy would look like (for the record I would totally watch that). It’s hard not to smile at least once while reading.
So this post got away from me a bit. You know when you watch movies like Clueless, Mean Girls and Easy A and they’re funny and entertaining but the more you think about them the more you realize how smart they are? That was this book for me. On the surface it’s a simple book about a girl trying to win back her boyfriend. But dig a little deeper you’ll find a fantastic novel about relationships, love, finding yourself and embracing new possibilities. I highly recommend everyone read this book over the summer and then promptly go out and try one thing you’ve never done before.(less)
Natural disasters are not uncommon occurrences. It seems like every time you turn around there’s...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Natural disasters are not uncommon occurrences. It seems like every time you turn around there’s been a tsunami, or tornado, or earthquake or hurricane. We see the damage done on television, we read the numbers – homes destroyed, people injured or killed. And we know it’s devastating but sometimes I feel like we’ve become a little too desensitized. After some time passes the news moves on to the next big story and we forget that there are people still trying to cope with the aftermath of the disaster, still trying to survive after they’ve lost everything.
“what the news crews couldn’t show was the real damage Elizabeth’s monster tornado had left behind. How do you record the wreckage left in someone’s heart?”
Torn Away brings the reader right into the heart of the disaster itself as well as it’s aftermath. The tornado strikes right at the start of the novel and Jennifer Brown does an amazing job setting the tone and the atmosphere for it. Jersey finds herself alone when the storm touches down and her fear feels so real. It comes through in every paragraph. But that’s only the beginning of the story. What really impressed me throughout the novel was how well Jennifer Brown described what Jersey’s world looked like after she lost everything – from the half-destroyed buildings, to the injuries her neighbours suffered, to the lists of missing people, I felt like I was walking the wreckage right alongside her.
In addition to the tornado, Torn Away is also a book about family. The storm not only took away Jersey’s house but it also took her mother and sister who weren’t able to make it to safety. Her step-father is unable to cope with his grief and sends her off to live with her father’s family, whom she has never met before. If this was a different kind of novel, they may have welcomed her with open arms – a long-lost daughter/sister/granddaughter finally come home. But Torn Away is not that kind of book. Through Jersey’s struggles Brown shows that ‘family’ isn’t something that comes automatically with blood relation. It’s something that requires effort and co-operation and there may be some obstacles that people are unwilling to tackle. It’s a tough message but it’s one that makes the reader appreciate their own family that much more.
My one complaint is that her father’s family – grandparents, her alcoholic father and step-mother and her half sisters – were so cruel and so unrelenting that at times it was almost too much. They were perfect stereotypes of white trash, so much so they became a little cartoonish in nature. This diminished the severity of her situation a touch, but was only one piece of the overall story. It wasn’t my favourite part but I don’t think it took away from the overall strength of the work.
Torn Away is tough, somber and unflinchingly honest story about loss and what it means to be a family. It demands to be devoured in a single sitting and will manage to both make you cry and warm your heart.(less)
My full review for Half Bad will be appearing in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but short version is I really enjoyed it. Particularly the way Sally...moreMy full review for Half Bad will be appearing in Volume 3 of Inaccurate Realities but short version is I really enjoyed it. Particularly the way Sally Green examined the idea of nature veruss nurture. Are we born bad? Or does society shape us?(less)
Grasshopper Jungle is an incredibly weird book. If not one of the weirdest. But that weirdness is...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Grasshopper Jungle is an incredibly weird book. If not one of the weirdest. But that weirdness is part of its charm.
It’s the story of Austin, an incredibly confused, hormones-charged teenager. He’s in love with his girlfriend Shan and he’s also in love with his best friend Robbie. This of course leads to some…complications. Trying to figure out how you feel is enough of a challenge but unfortunately for Austin that’s only the beginning. After finding a collection of strange object’s in his boss’s office, Austin (and Robbie) accidentally unleash a plague onto their small Iowan city. This plague turns people into giant praying mantises (yes you read that right) who only want to do two things (yes you read that right too). Once the plague is unleashed the book goes from strange to stranger as Austin, Robbie and Shan discover an underground bunker in Shan’s backyard, Austin struggles with his libido, and they try to save the town.
Bizarre plot aside I really liked the way Smith handled Austin’s sexual ambiguity. Yes Austin is attracted to both a boy and a girl but I don’t know if bisexual is really the right word for him, at least not at this point in his life. He’s still figuring it all out and I’m happy Smith left it vague. Not everyone has that epiphany moment. Love is not logical, you can’t plan it and you can’t help who you love.
Another big theme of Grasshopper Jungle is history – how we remember it, how we talk about it, how it intersects. Austin is obsessed with history and making connections between seemingly unconnected things. Austin also looks to historical precedent when dealing with current events. I liked this idea of him constantly looking to history for the right answers, as one of the big reasons we study history is so we can learn from it and try not to repeat past mistakes. Austin is just doing that on an individual scale. At the same time, however, he recognizes history’s (as we know it) limitations. I thought one of the most profound quotes of the book was
“”You could never get everything in a book. Good books are always about everything.”
I’m still thinking over the implication of those two little lines.
Though Grasshopper Jungle is a unique and clever read, it wasn’t always for me. There is a limit to how many times I want to read about sperm in one book. But I do think it’s important to read books that push you out of your comfort zone and to force yourself to see the world from a different perspective. So in that sense I really enjoyed the experience of this book. Though I think many people of all ages can appreciate this book, the group that is going to get the most out of it are teen boys with questions about sexuality. And perhaps the parents of those teens. Grasshopper Jungle is the kind of book that encourages conversation and tells teens that it’s ok to still be figuring it all out. And there are definitely some people who need a book like that.
Crazy, surreal, bananas. These are all words that could be used to describe Grasshopper Jungle. But insightful, thoughtful and humorous all work as well. If you’re looking for a truly unique read you need to look no further – Grasshopper Jungle is like nothing you’ve ever read before.(less)
The Martian is one of those books that once you get into it it is impossible to put it down. Ever...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Martian is one of those books that once you get into it it is impossible to put it down. Everything else will seem less important than this question – “What is going to happen to Mark Watney?”
It is one intense read. Mark Watney has been (accidentally) left behind on Mars. The very first line of the book is “I’m pretty much fucked” and I can’t imagine a more accurate description of his situation. But despite the initial hopelessness of his situation Mark Watney keeps fighting to survive, keeps fighting to beat the odds. Watney was the ship’s botanist and engineer and those skills come in handy. He’s quite clever and he’s able to employ quite a bit of “back of the napkin” math to solve problems I couldn’t even begin to process. And every time I let your guard down even a little bit and allowed myself to believe he might make it, Mars would throw a new curve ball his way.
Part of the reason why you become so obsessed with what happens to this poor astronaut is Mark Watney himself. Personally, if I was stuck on Mars, I would probably curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out. But Mark Watney rises to the occasion. It’s impossible not to cheer for him. He’s clever – able to think up bizarre solutions to even the most intense problems. Think of him as a kind of space MacGyver. But he also has a great sense of humour. He is able to make jokes about his situation as easily as he makes them about his colleagues’ taste in music and television. The Martian is not the story of any old astronaut in space, it is Watney’s story and he is a very likeable guy.
Also it needs to be stated that I am not a science person. Not in the slightest. I even worked the system in high school so I could sub out Grade 11 science for “Hospitality” because it technically counts as a technology credit. My point is that I could have cared less about physics, biology and most of all chemistry. But The Martian made me care. There is a lot of science in this book – from rocket science to growing potatoes on Mars – but it was presented clearly and made me want to learn more. If there had been books like this on my shelf in high school I probably would have stayed in science.
The Martian is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Andy Weir has clearly done his research. Even though we haven’t reached this level of space exploration it seemed completely plausible. And he balances all this detail with so many twists and turns it will keep your heart racing. “Suspenseful” doesn’t even begin to describe it. (less)
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy bender lately. I’ve read some good books, some alright books and...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy bender lately. I’ve read some good books, some alright books and some real standouts. Stolen Songbird definitely falls into the latter category. I sat down one evening while dinner was in the oven to read it. Next thing I knew it was 3 AM and I was finished. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that obsessed with a novel.
But once you read it you’ll understand why.
I have to admit that when I first read the synopsis of Stolen Songbird I was sceptical. Trolls aren’t usually a huge draw for me but these aren’t your ordinary trolls. They’re not little green, wart covered monsters who live under a bridge. Instead they’re much more human-like – except they possess some pretty powerful magic and they have been cursed to remain under the mountain. I loved this take on a character I had previously only associated with a Don Bluth movie from my childhood. Jensen has taken an underused and often forgotten character and breathed new life into it.
As I mentioned the trolls live in a very human-like society and it is every bit as complicated as you would expect. Their politics in particular. Tristan (Cécile’s prince) belongs to the current ruling family of Trollus. But others are not always happy with the way things are run. Especially those trolls with less magic who are treated like servants or slaves. Though Cécile is an outsider she soon finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous, potentially fatal, political tug of war. I really enjoyed the way Jensen used the politics of Trollus to touch upon more universal themes like equality, freedom and standing up for what you believe in.
There are a lot of great characters in Stolen Songbird and they all have great character arcs. When I started reading this book I was like Cécile – I knew nothing about the people under the mountain. And like her I formed a lot of first impressions but so many of the characters ended up surprising me – sometimes more than once. But my favourite two by far were Cécile and Tristan. They’re so similar in that they are both incredibly stubborn. Which equals a lot of fighting as they get to know each other. But through all that fighting is this surprising and fantastic slow burn romance. I went from not liking them together at all to biting my nails wondering what was going to happen to them.
Stolen Songbird is one of those books that reminds me why I love fantasy. It was layered with great characters and an exciting magical system, which meant that anything could happen. I may have stayed up way too late reading this book but it was completely worth it.(less)
When I was younger my family had a cottage out near Westport Ontario. On the road to the cottage...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I was younger my family had a cottage out near Westport Ontario. On the road to the cottage there was a house that had a large cage out in it’s side yard. My mom used to regale us with stories of the bear they kept there. His name was Tony and they used to stop by in the summer to see him and feed him treats. I was too young to have ever met Tony the Bear but I’ve heard so many stories I feel like he was a part of my life too. So all throughout reading All the Broken Things I secretly imagined “Bear,” the young cub Bo trains, was inspired by Tony, which made me fall even more in love with the book then I would have anyway.
But even if you don’t have a random pet bear story from your childhood I think you’ll love this book. It’s a heart warming story about a boy trying to survive despite the odds. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Bo. When he was younger he came over to Canada with his parents from Vietnam, unfortunately his father didn’t make the trip. Now in Canada he has to balance the regular pressures of being a kid with an alcoholic (and slightly agoraphobic) mother and his little sister, Orange, who was born with some pretty serious birth defects because of Agent Orange. His coping mechanism for all these? To get into almost daily fights with another boy from school.
Bo is a fighter both literally and figuratively. He does what he needs to in order to survive. When a local carnival man, Gerry, see’s him fight he asks Bo to come wrestle bears for him. Now I think most kids would run in the opposite direction from an offer like that, but Bo see’s it for the opportunity it is – not just to make money, but also to have a place where he belongs. His situation gets a lot worse before it gets better but he keeps fighting all the way through. And you’re sure to become one of the many fans cheering him on from the stands.
I think most readers will also adore Bear. Throughout the course of the novel you see her grow from a cub to her full size, but no matter her size she will charm the pants off you. It was occasionally easy to forget it wasn’t a dog Bo was leading around Toronto. She was so loyal and obedient it was amazing. But she was more than just a pet. She had a strong personality of her own and that could make her unpredictable. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time – half worried something horrible was going to happen to Bear and half worried she was going to do something horrible. You’ll just have to read for yourself to find out if either scenario came true.
I had a few small issues with the novel. I thought the choice of Orange for the sister’s name felt a little off. Early on the reader is told that it is short for Orange Blossom. A nice name but given that her deformities were caused by Agent Orange it seemed a little too on the nose for me. I also struggled a bit with “Teacher” – Bo’s teacher and one of the church members who sponsored their immigration. At times she seemed super involved with their lives and at other times she became incredibly distant. Of all the characters she was the only one who felt inconsistent.
Small nit picky things aside All the Broken Things is a beautiful, unique and slightly bizarre book. It tackles a lot of issues – from family, to freedom and survival, to the effects of Agent Orange and the roll Canada played in it. It’s an interesting and thought provoking novel that I think would work great for book clubs. The story is quite layered so there would be a lot of pick a part and discuss (and if you’re not in a book club feel free to tweet me and we can discuss!) All the Broken Things is an original coming of age story about a boy and his bear against the world and I highly recommend you check it out.(less)
The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet Minturn, a half Chinese, half American girl living...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet Minturn, a half Chinese, half American girl living in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. The story follows her from when she was a small girl in her mother’s courtesan house, to becoming a courtesan herself, to married life and beyond. It is a rich and detailed tale and is really a testament to Amy Tan’s skill as a storyteller.
From the first few pages I felt transported into the world of Chinese courtesans. It’s a snippet of history I know very little about but it is definitely a fascinating one. Though at first glance many may dismiss their profession as high class prostitution, it was also interesting to see the ways these women wielded some power over men. Especially in a time when women had almost no power at all. No matter how bad Violet’s situation got she carried on. All the women in this book did. The men on the other hand were a different story. There were times I become enraged by their actions in the story and I had to remind myself they were a) from a different time period and b) fictional to keep myself from throwing the book across the room. (The exception to this being Edward who I will adore forever).
Though the setting is beautifully articulated it is the characters who really make this story shine. Not just major characters like Violet and her mother Lulu, but minor ones as well like her mother’s business partner Golden Dove and an old friend named Danner. I found myself growing attached to so many of the characters and didn’t want to stop reading because I missed them when I was away from the book.
A lot of coverage of this book (including the synopsis above) focuses in on the relationship between mothers and daughters. That is a huge theme throughout the story. Both the relationship between Violet and her mother, Lulu and Violet and her own child. They have a challenging relationship. But what I found myself focusing on the most was the tumultuous relationship Violet has with her father. His lack of presence from a young age is something that shapes Violet’s personal identity right from the get go and as pieces of him keep popping up throughout her life she is constantly forced to revisit her feelings towards this man she barely knows and who didn’t want her because she was a girl.
Be warned, however, this is a long book. If you’re the kind of person that wants to know every detail of a story, you will love The Valley of Amazement. But if you’re the kind of reader that prefers fast paced, plot driven novels, you may find this a bit too dry.
I personally found The Valley of Amazement to be a fascinating, rich novel about a period of history that isn’t often talked about. The story will shock, surprise and amaze you as you follow Violet and Lulu’s struggles to survive on their own and be a stronger person than they were before. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha or family sagas like The Pillars of the Earth and the House of the Spirits, The Valley of Amazement will appeal to you.(less)
The Good Luck of Right Now is the newest novel from superstar author, Matthew Quick. Like his oth...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Good Luck of Right Now is the newest novel from superstar author, Matthew Quick. Like his other novels it is both funny and thoughtful, quirky and beautiful.
This novel is told in the form of letters. Specifically letters from regular guy, Bartholomew Neil to super star actor and activist, Richard Gere. I really enjoyed the letter format. In this format Bartholomew is able to be at his most honest and shares details with Richard Gere that he may not share with someone he knows and has to see on a daily basis. It gives us real insight into Bartholomew’s character while simultaneously making some very interesting points about the power of celebrity and their influence over us.
The humour in this book was spot on. It often caused me to erupt into giggles in the middle of a crowded subway. From Bartholomew’s observations of the world around him to Max’s colourful language this book will have you in stitches. But there are also some brilliant bits of wisdom woven into that humour. I often found myself reading passages twice – once to laugh and the second time to appreciate how beautiful the sentiment was.
Another element I really appreciated was the way religion was presented. Primarily because it wasn’t presented as an oppressive, negative force. I think The Good Luck of Right Now shows all the different ways people find comfort in their faith – from the traditional to the bizarre. I also liked that there was an intersection of religions – specifically Catholicism and Buddhism. Both have doctrines and philosophies that Bartholomew draws on throughout the course of the novel and I liked that Quick didn’t present it as an either-or situation. Bartholomew wasn’t less Catholic because he chose to embody some Buddhist teachings. If anything the two religions enhanced one another and I think that could lead to some really interesting discussions.
And perhaps best of all Canada makes an appearance! (Ok not best of all but still pretty awesome). As the novel progresses Bartholomew makes a number of friends – a defrocked priest, an extreme cat lover and a girl who has been abducted by aliens. So naturally the four of them go on a road trip! A trip to Montreal and Ottawa to be precise. I love road trips in novels – especially the way the characters interact with one another as time goes by.
The Good Luck of Right Now is a beautiful and insightful novel about faith, grief, and learning to find the little things in life that make you happy – whether they be cats, having a beer with an age-appropriate friend or Richard Gere movies. Ultimately I think Quick’s previous novel, Silver Linings Playbook, is a stronger book but I would still highly recommend The Good Luck of Right Now – especially for fans of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and The Universe vs Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.(less)
My review of this book is really more of a story. I don’t come from a family of readers. Sure the...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
My review of this book is really more of a story. I don’t come from a family of readers. Sure they pick up the odd book to flip through before bed or when they’re on vacation but they are never as excited about books as I am. The Midwife of Venice may have changed all that. In just over a month it feels like every member of my family has read and loved this book and I get weekly requests for the sequel.
It’s not a huge surprise – it’s an incredibly captivating tale and once you start reading it, you have a hard time putting it down. It is the story of Hannah Levi a midwife in the Jewish ghetto in 1575. It’s a dangerous time to be Jewish, always being considered second class in a Christian dominated system. But when a rich Christan man comes to her, desperate for someone to help deliver his child, she cant resist. Even if it could be disastrous for her entire ghetto. Though I flew through this book I grew so attached to Hannah during the time I spent reading. I admired her spirit and her ability to keep going, even when things are looking desperate/hopeless. Even though her main motivation was to earn enough money to free her husband, that doesn’t detract from her bravery and selflessness. She puts herself in harms way over and over to help a poor woman in labour and to protect a child that isn’t even her own.
Just like the rest of my family I am eager to read the sequel – The Harem Midwife – I can’t wait to see what Hannah and her husband do next.(less)
The Ring and the Crown takes place in an alternate version of England. An version where magic has...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Ring and the Crown takes place in an alternate version of England. An version where magic has reigned supreme over technology and America lost the revolution and remained a colony. It’s a world of royals and social climbing and dark magic.
Melissa de la Cruz has a knack for amazing world building. I felt so immersed in this world even though it looked nothing like the world we live in today. It’s obvious how much thought and research went into the writing of this novel – from the clothes, to the food, to the castle and its defences. But most impressive was the complex politics that were the focus on much of the conflict. To say the politics of European royalty are complicated would be an understatement. And The Ring and the Crown reflects that. Alliances are made and broken and you’re never 100% sure which characters are trustworthy. As a result there are some excellent twists and surprises.
I also really like that none of the characters are “good” or “evil.” It was all very shades of grey. The story rotates through a number of points of view and each character has their own motivations. And that doesn’t always make them the most compassionate individuals but it also helps you understand why they do the things they do. I definitely prefer books with well rounded characters. No one is just one thing and the characters of The Ring and the Crown prove it.
However the sheer number of characters and POVs also worked against the overall quality of the story. They may be well rounded but as the reader you don’t get to spend a lot of time with any of them. Their individual subplots are spread a bit thin. Especially the romantic relationships. Couple are thrown together or broken apart so quickly there was never anytime to get attached to them, which lessened their emotional impact.
Overall I really enjoyed The Ring and the Crown. I thought it was detailed and compelling – a little bit Game of Thrones, a little bit Gossip Girl. I liked the anticipation of wondering who would come out on top. The ending is a bit rushed but I’m hoping the subsequent books will spread the action out a bit more and allow for further character development. If you like your high fantasy heavy on the drama and scandal then this book is for you.(less)
Laurie Halse Anderson has a reputation for writing books about tough subjects. And it’s well earn...moreThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Laurie Halse Anderson has a reputation for writing books about tough subjects. And it’s well earned. Her books have always been raw, emotional and above all honest. The Impossible Knife of Memory is no exception.
This is the story of Hayley Kincaid. A young girl living with her father. Her father, an army veteran, is suffering from pretty severe post-traumatic stress disorder and as a result has a whole host of other problems as well (unemployment, alcoholism etc.) The book explores Hayley’s attempts to balance taking care of her father with having a normal life – high school, friends, boyfriend the whole deal.
I absolutely adored Hayley. She reminded me a lot of the kind of female character Courtney Summers is known for. Complicated, often quite sarcastic and not at all the perfect model of beauty and intelligence that we often see in Young Adult. Hayley is quite intelligent but she hates school, in fact she’s flunking quite a few of her classes. She’s surly and sometimes down right rude. But as you get to know her, you realize that she underneath her defensive barrier she’s actually fiercely loyal and even a little sentimental. She’s a complicated character and because of those complications it feels like she’s a real person. Like someone I would want to get to know if she would let me.
I blogged months ago about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and how it was the book that changed my life. I read Speak back in high school and I found so much of myself within the pages. Now years later, reading The Impossible Knife of Memory I found myself transported right back to how Speak made me feel. I could relate to so much of what Hayley was thinking and the motivation behind her actions. And I don’t think I will be the only one – anyone who has ever lived with someone suffering from not only PTSD, but any sort of addiction is sure to feel a sense of camaraderie with Hayley.
I think Laurie Halse Anderson has conveyed something important here about how hard it is to give up on someone – not because you’re scared, or weak or threatened but because you don’t want to give up on them. Because they’re someone you love and want the best for and you can see how their demons (be they memories from the war, alcoholism, depression or whatever) are tearing them apart from the inside despite their best efforts. But I think that this book also conveys how important it is to ask for help. That no one should have to face this kind of situation alone. I liked how Laurie Halse Anderson developed Hayley’s relationship with Finn, and to a lesser extent her step mother Trish. Originally they were people Hayley tried to push away, but as she grew as a character she learned that it was ok to lean on them when she needed to.
The Impossible Knife of Memory sheds light on the reality that is PTSD and it is important topic to discuss, especially with ongoing conflict in the Middle East. But this novel also touches on family, bravery, love and growing up. There is a dark comedic edge as well that made me smile consistently, despite it’s serious themes. It’s a layered and important novel that will appeal to new and old Laurie Halse Anderson fans alike.(less)