I love a good mystery. But I often have a hard time with the genre because of how it treats its fThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I love a good mystery. But I often have a hard time with the genre because of how it treats its female characters. Women in mysteries and thrillers are often caricatures of real people. They’re either extremely uptight and controlling, or they’re “sluts.” They’re rarely fully realized characters, in the end they seem to primarily exist to be difficult. I makes me nervous to try out new authors, if I don’t know whether or not they subscribe to these particular tropes.
Which was why I originally hesitated when considering Where They Found Her. I hadn’t read Kimberly McCreight ‘s earlier work. But I had heard amazing things about her novel, Reconstructing Amelia. So I decided to give her a shot – and I am so glad I did. Where They Found Her is a dark, compelling mystery that will grab you from the first page. But it is also a story of complicated, layered women.
This novel is filled to the brim with different kinds of women. Including three point-of-view characters. There’s Molly Sanderson, just getting back on her feet after her baby was stillborn. There’s Sandy Mendelson, who lives in the run down part of town and is trying to both pay bills and get her GED. There’s Barbara, an over protective mother who is constantly worrying about the fate of her children. And they’re only the tip of the iceberg. From point of view characters, to secondary characters, this book is just as much about the experiences of women – particularly mothers and daughters – as it is about the mystery of who left the baby down by the stream.
I’m not going to say much else about the story – I don’t want to risk giving anything away. I will admit that I guessed pretty early on who the mother of the baby was, but in no way did that detract for my enjoyment of the book as a whole. There is just so much going on and so many complicated relationships to distract yourself with, the mother of the baby feels like only one piece in a larger puzzle.
I highly recommend this book to those looking for a new mystery to consume. But be careful. Once you start reading you’re going to have a very hard time putting the book down again. Probably best if you don’t make any plans until you’re done reading....more
The very first Christopher Moore book I ever read was Fool. And just like that I was hooked. ForThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The very first Christopher Moore book I ever read was Fool. And just like that I was hooked. For starters it was a re-telling of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays (King Lear) and it was hilarious. Like laugh out loud in public and read your favourite bits to your friends funny.
So when I heard there was going to be a new book featuring my favourite inappropriate court jester, Pocket, I couldn’t resist.
The Serpent of Venice is an entirely brand new adventure, that stands alone. You don’t need to read Fool to understand what’s happening in this novel. Although I highly recommend you do as it is a) very funny and b) there are some other crossover characters and it would make them that much more interesting if you already knew a little about them.
As you may have guessed from the title, The Serpent of Venice is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (with a little Othello mixed in for good measure) and all the players are here! Shylock, Jessica, Antonio, Lorenzo…with the added addition of Pocket! And where Pocket goes, trouble follows. This book is every bit as inappropriately funny as his other books and it’s near impossible to keep from giggling. Need some examples?
“Fine, as the tailor said to the broke and naked knight, suit yourself.”
”Shag a virgin, five shillings. Sail you off the edge of the world* for six,” she called by routine, bored. *It’s AD 1299. “Around the World” hasn’t been invented yet.”
I especially enjoyed the chorus and the other’s character’s interactions with them:
CHORUS: Fear did twist the jester’s tiny mind–stretch it past the limits of sanity until it snapped–and shivering and pale, he went mad.
CHORUS: You’re shouting at a disembodied voice in the dark.
Oh fuckstockings. Good point. Well, a bit knackered, perhaps, but not bloody mad.
I did, however, find that the pacing of The Serpent of Venice, didn’t quite have the same snap as Fool and I had a hard time getting as invested in the characters. This could very well be because I’ve never really enjoyed the source material. I read The Merchant of Venice back in Grade 9 and it never jumped out at me the way others, like King Lear or The Tempest did. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book, I really did. But if someone were to ask me what Shakespeare work I would have liked to see Moore tackle next, The Merchant of Venice wouldn’t have been my top choice.
But all in all Christopher Moore is still doing a damn fine job as he continues to expand this crazy Shakespearean universe. I hope there are even more books starring Pocket in our future....more
So far, 2015 has been the year of the reading slump.
We’re more than half way through February and I’ve barely finished anything. I’ve started a lot of books but nothing has really held my interest. There’s a stack beside my bed of perfectly good, half-finished or even quarter-finished books. It’s tragic – there’s nothing worse than wanting to read a book but not actually wanting to read (fellow book-lovers I’m sure you understand this dilemma).
The Long and Faraway Gone broke my reading slump. When a book opens on the mass shooting of a bunch of movie theatre employees it’s impossible to put said book down again.
The story of The Long and Faraway Gone is actually two stories running parallel to one another. The first belongs to Wyatt. Wyatt was the only survivor of the movie theatre murders in 1968. He has since moved away from his home town of Oklahoma City, and is now a private investigator in Las Vegas. But circumstances and fate intervene, and eventually he finds himself saddled with a case that requires him to return to O.C. Once there he can’t help but deal with the question that has been haunting him for years – “Why was I spared?”
Julianna’s story is a bit different but there are some significant parallels. She is also struggling with something that happened in Oklahoma City in the summer of 1968. One cool evening, her older sister had taken her to the fair and then unexpectedly vanished. She was never found, and many people believe she simply ran off, but Julianna has never stopped looking.
These two character arcs were one of my favourite parts of the book. Wyatt and Julianna are both survivors and as such they both suffer from some severe survivor’s guilt. They’re also both on a quest for answers – Why wasn’t Wyatt killed too? Why was Julianna’s sister taken and not her? But despite the similarities between them, they both deal with their situation in very different ways. By the end of the novel I truly felt like I had gone on a journey with these people.
However, I do feel as though more time was spent with Wyatt than with Julianna. This is likely because Wyatt’s chapters need to deal with two major events – the mass murder he survived, and the case he’s been hired to work on now. I never felt as though I was getting too much of Wyatt. He’s an interesting character and his employer Candace – a woman who has recently inherited a bar – is hilarious and spunky. But I also really liked Julianna and wish we had a little more time to explore her and what her life has been like.
But this is a mystery, so it’s not all about the characters. The Long and Faraway Gone is suspenseful, but not in the way I’ve come to expect from the mystery genre. I was never really worried about the novel trying to shock and surprise me in gruesome/disturbing ways. It’s not that kind of mystery – the central crimes happen very quickly in the opening chapters. What makes this book so suspenseful is the waiting to see how everything that Berney has set up is going to play out. It came from knowing a piece of information was significant but not knowing which clues would end up belonging to which mystery – the movie theatre, the missing girl or the present day case Wyatt is looking in to.
The Long and Faraway Gone is a complex book. Lou Berney has a lot of balls up in the air throughout it, but he never dropped one. Not even once. It’s a solid mystery for long time fans of the genre, but also welcoming enough for those more casual mystery readers. Or those who almost never read mysteries and just want to curl up with some really interesting characters....more
Everyone in this story has lost something – Mrs. FeatThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Of Things Gone Astray is a novel about loss.
Everyone in this story has lost something – Mrs. Featherby has lost the side of her house, Jake has lost his mother, Robert has lost his job (literally the whole building), Delia has lost her sense of direction…and so on. And none of them know quite how they lost it.
I initially struggled with this novel. There are quite a few characters and the chapters are so short. Most range between 2-3 pages, but some are only a few paragraphs. I normally love books with multiple perspectives but I need time to get to know who I’m reading about. With only a few pages at a time, and so many other POVs between, it was hard to grab onto a reason to care.
But then the stories started to intersect and everything began to fall into place. Character arcs bridged over into other character arcs and the story no longer felt like fragmented pieces, it felt like one united whole. It was when these pieces started coming together that I really sat back and began to enjoy Of Things Gone Astray. When I stopped working so hard to try and understand the characters I could let myself be carried away by Janina Matthewson’s beautiful prose and the emotional beats of the novel.
It’s an interesting theme loss. Everybody has, at one time or another, lost something. Some losses are big, others are small. But Of Things Gone Astray reminds us that no matter what it is that’s been lost, it has an effect. It changes who we are and how we see the world, it makes us shift our perspective. I was struck by how similar all of the character’s reacted to their loss. Shock, confusion, frustration…there are a number of emotions every reader is sure to recognize.
Of Things Gone Astray is a thought provoking read. Though I initially struggled with it, I will definitely be thinking about it for some time to come. It’s at time fantastical (it is magical realism after all) but in the end if felt so honest and authentic I would have believed anything the characters told me....more
A Reunion of Ghosts is the story of three sisters – Vee, Lady and Delph. They’ve always been closThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
A Reunion of Ghosts is the story of three sisters – Vee, Lady and Delph. They’ve always been close. Maybe a little too close. But as far as they were concerned, they were all each other had. When Vee got cancer, when Lady tried to commit suicide and when Delph wanted to hide away from the world they turn to each other.
It’s not entirely their own fault that they shut themselves off from the world. They’re burdened by what they believe to be the family curse. They believe their great grandfather did something so horrible that his sins are trickling down all the way to the fourth generation. Just like the Kennedys. But instead of assassinations and plane crashes, their family is constantly done in by suicides. Delph’s even made them a handy chart to keep track.
So when Vee’s cancer returns with a vengeance, they decide there’s only one thing for them to do. They’ll die together. They have no heirs. They’re the last generation – the curse will end with them. But before they go, they’re going to write a note – a note detailing their family history and what led them to this final destination. And that note is this book.
A Reunion of Ghosts is a challenging read – and not just because it’s a giant suicide note. That’s actually the least of it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that’s what these three sisters are writing it for. It’s challenging because the history involved, the format of the novel and the voice. And none of that is a bad thing, it just meant I had to adjust my expectations as I was reading.
Let’s start with the history, because for these three sisters, history is everything. (The history is also closely tied into the format.) Their great grandfather, Lenz Alter was a scientist. Technically, so was their great grandmother – she was the first woman in Germany to attend university and receive her PhD. Although her dreams of working alongside her husband in the lab were never realized. But the curse begins with Lenz, not because he kept his wife out of the lab, but because of what he invented in there. It was called the “manna project” and it was a fertilizer intended to save the world. However, when war broke out they realized it could be put to other uses as well, and behold! chemical warfare was born.
The novel jumps back and forth quite frequently between the girls in the present, and their ancestors before them. At times, when it jumped back to tell the story from the perspective of one of these ancestors it could be difficult to keep everyone and all the events straight. It felt a little like I was being ping-ponged throughout history. Their fictional history was fascinating however, and it’s easy to understand why they might think they were cursed. Though at times it took me a minute to get my bearings, I ultimately think having the history interspersed throughout the text, worked better for Vee, Lady and Delph’s character development than had Judith Claire Mitchell chosen a more linear style. Immediately after you read about an important event in their family history, you were able to understand what the trickle down effect was for the rest of the family.
The interwoven history and characters isn’t the only thing that makes A Reunion of Ghosts unique – there’s also the voice. A Reunion of Ghosts is written in first person plural. Instead of “I” statements, everything is written in “we” statements. It is in every way Vee, Lady, and Delph’s shared story, they are three parts of one whole. The only other book I’ve ever read in this format is Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters. It’s a style that seems to lend itself perfectly to stories about siblings – different people, forever linked by their shared history and blood.
At times A Reunion of Ghosts can be frustrating. It can be frustrating to read about this deeply flawed family and their deeply flawed decisions over the years. It can also be frustrating to play witness to the sisters’s fatalist attitude when there are other options in front of them every step of the way. But it’s frustrating in a good way. It’s frustrating because in every other way you love these characters. They’re quirky, weird and they love puns (girls after my own heart). They’re the kind of people I would want to hang around with if they hadn’t decided to avoid all other human contact. It doesn’t matter that this book is complicated and frustrating, in the end it’s impossible to put down....more
Further Out Than You Thought is the story of twenty-five year old Gwendolyn Griffin. Life has notThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Further Out Than You Thought is the story of twenty-five year old Gwendolyn Griffin. Life has not been easy for her recently. In order to put herself through grad school she started stripping. It was only supposed to be temporary, but with her boyfriend out of work and bills piling up it’s gone on longer than expected. To make matters worse she’s just found out she’s pregnant and the LA riots have broken out. It’s a tumultuous time and Gwen isn’t entirely sure how she’s going to make it through it all.
There are three main characters of significance throughout this novel, Gwen (or Stevie Smith when she’s on stage), Leo her boyfriend and their depressed, gay best friend Count Valiant. Though they are all important to the story, the real focus is Gwen herself. In addition to being a grad student, she’s an aspiring poet, and it shows. She will take every opportunity to wax poetic, whether she’s watching the other strippers, fighting the roaches in her apartment, or witnessing the city aflame. At first I really enjoyed the lyrical writing style, it was an interesting perspective to view Gwen’s world through. But after awhile the overuse of metaphors grew tiresome.
There also wasn’t as much about the riots as I expected. Though they are taking place over the course of the novel. and though they influence Gwen, Leo and Valiant, they are not the focus. At first I was a little disappointed. I was pretty young when the riots actually happened and I was curious to learn more about them. But as the book went on I was so wrapped up in the drama of the characters I didn’t mind as much. Further Out Than You Thought is a character driven novel. It is about the trials and obstacles they face and the growth they experience along the way. If you’re a fan of character-driven stories you’ll really enjoy it, there is plenty to dissect and examine.
Further Out Than You Thought is a gritty, emotionally raw novel that explores the intertwined lives of three troubled people. It’s a fascinating read, if not a little verbose, and one that I would recommend to more adventurous book clubs. It’s dark but it will leave you will a lot to talk about....more
I am a typography nerd. I also work in the production wing of publishing so I love learning aboutThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I am a typography nerd. I also work in the production wing of publishing so I love learning about different paper types, binding etc. But even if I didn’t love all of those things the importance of Gutenberg’s printing press wouldn’t be lost of me. In the list of inventions that have changed the world it’s near the top.
The printing press changed everything. It gave everyone access to literature, to education, it eased the strangle hold the church had on the population. It opened the door to a whole new world. The same way the internet has done for us in the modern day.
But despite knowing all of that, I was previously unaware of how the press actually came into being. Which seems like a huge historical gap to have. And now that I’ve read Gutenberg’s Apprentice I feel even worse about it because I know it was such a fascinating history I was missing all these years. I had always assumed the Church gave them a hard time about the press and the printing of the Bible but I never imagined just how difficult it actually was. It wasn’t just the Church that was resistant to change. It was everyone. The guilds, the scribes, everyday people. Being a scribe was a blessed job – you worked with holy texts, which brought you closer to God. Many saw replacing scribes with a machine to be the work of the devil.
I loved how much detail Christie went into about the stages of the invention. She really explored the how and why of every choice and new improvement. For example the adjusting of space between lines (now known as leading) and the creation of metal moulds for the letters rather than the jeweller’s sand they had started with.
The only part of this novel I wasn’t fascinated by was Peter Schoeffer, the narrator and one of the central players in the creation of the press and the printing of the Bible. His role was an important one, there’s no doubt about that. But his presence on the page fell a bit flat. It didn’t feel as dynamic as some of the other characters and I felt little to no emotional connection with him, despite spending the majority of the novel with him. I did like that his feelings towards the project and Gutenberg developed and changed throughout the novel but I ultimately I feel like more could have been done with his character.
If you are at all interested in the history of the printing press and the written word you will be fascinated by the contents of this book. It has a bit of a slow start and Peter is not the most engaging narrator but it doesn’t matter. The actual historical details are what will hook you. This is a book for readers who have an appreciation for physical books. Gutenberg’s Apprentice will give you a whole new set of reasons to love that printed book in your hand....more
One night, Douglas Petersen’s wife wakes him up to tell him that she thinks their marriage has ruThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
One night, Douglas Petersen’s wife wakes him up to tell him that she thinks their marriage has run its course, and that they should go their separate ways. But she also thinks they should wait to separate until their son, Albie, goes to college at the end of the summer. Which means the three of them should still go on the “Grand Tour” of Europe they have planned.
From here, Us actually breaks off into two stories – the story of Douglas, Connie and Albie on their vacation, and the story of Douglas and Connie’s relationship. I find I’m coming across this “two stories, one novel” approach more and more these days, and I’m becoming less and less convinced that it works for me. I usually find myself preferring one of the stories over the other, and ultimately wishing that the author had chosen to focus more thoroughly on the “better” story, rather than try to tell both of them.
In the case of Us, I thoroughly enjoyed their Grand Tour. The strained relationship between the family members was evident, and since they were forced to spend time in such close quarters with one another, those tensions often became arguments and those arguments could become quite heated. In particular, I liked the way Us explored the complicated relationship between a father and his son. Families are full of complex layers and emotions and this novel felt very true to that.
The story of Douglas and Connie was a different matter entirely. Douglas may have been the narrator of this sad tale, but Connie was the primary focus. And yet in spite of that, her character fell completely flat. She fell victim to the all-too-common manic pixie dream girl trope – she burst into Douglas’ life in a whirlwind, she was funny and cool and liked things “ironically,” and she gave him the new perspective he needed on life. But despite the reader being told (frequently) how artsy/inspirational/amazing she was, it felt like she had no substance whatsoever. If you’ve ever seen the movie 500 Days of Summer, think of Us like the marriage-length version of that.
It didn’t help that while Douglas was an interesting and dynamic character in relation to Albie, in relation to his wife he became a self-pitying “nice guy.” His reflections on the early days of his marriage/parenthood came off a little clichéd and repetitive. I actually had a similar problem earlier this year with another British novel, The Crane Wife. It’s just not a character that works for me personally.
However, despite some flaws, this was an interesting book. I really enjoyed Douglas and Albie’s relationship and how it changed and developed throughout the novel. Anyone who has children – especially teenage or adult children – will find a lot that they can relate to. And there are a number of humorous moments as well. Douglas is an awkward, stumbling sort, and this leads to some great comedic scenes (knocking over the bikes in Amsterdam comes to mind). Some elements of Us really didn’t click with me, but maybe another one of Nicholls’s novels would be a better fit....more
I’ll admit that when I first heard about this book I had my doubts. It was back in May and CaitliThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I’ll admit that when I first heard about this book I had my doubts. It was back in May and Caitlin Moran had made some comments about her upcoming book, How to Build a Girl, and YA novels as a whole. In an interview with The Bookseller she stated “I think it’s really important which sexy books you read — particularly when you’re a girl… These form your sexual imagination and I wanted to get in there before anyone else and talk about sex.” and then later “You don’t see teenage girls anywhere unless they’re being bitten by vampires so I wanted to write about a funny, weird teenage girl having adventures, particularly sex adventures.”
Of course the idea that there aren’t already authors tackling these issues is completely untrue. There are plenty of authors writing about girls and their sex lives. Courtney Summers, A S King and Emily M Danforth come to mind. And funny weird teenage girls having adventures? That describes a good chunk of the young adult books I’ve read this year.
But then Caitlin Moran’s name kept popping up. And I read more of what she had to say. Not about the book but about feminism and sexuality in general. She is incredibly smart, funny and unapologetic in her opinions. I decided I needed to read How to Build a Girl because there was a very good chance those traits would translate into her writing.
And they did.
How to Build a Girl is a clever, hilarious, daring novel that I simply couldn’t put down. Johanna Morrigan is the kind of protagonist you instantly relate to. She’s funny, awkward and self-conscious. You want her to succeed and you want to laugh at her antics along the way.
True to her word Caitlin Moran has written a book about a funny, weird, teenage girl having adventures – particularly sex adventures. How to Build a Girl is fantastically frank about topics like masturbation, sex and promiscuity. In her quest to become a music journalist, Johanna decides to “fake it” until she “makes it” and creates the persona of Dolly Wilde for herself – a crazy, Goth Lady Sex Adventurer. As Dolly, Johanna is not only able to lose her virginity, she finds the power to seek out sex. Does she always make good choices? No. But do any of us? And because of that I think it will be easy for readers (especially female readers) to find pieces of themselves in Johanna.
How to Build a Girl is as much about music as it is about sexuality. Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde is a music journalist and as such the reader is given a pretty extensive look at the 1990s music scene in England. If you’re a big music fan you’ll easily be transported into the world of music journalism – the gigs, the interviews, the drunken antics. But I liked the emphasis on music for a more…personal reason. I am tired of teen female protagonists who love the Smiths. There are so many other bands than the Smiths. And I don’t even like their music, but every time a character goes on and on about them I have to hear their songs playing in my head. But they only pop up once in passing in How to Build a Girl. Instead bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Pet Shop Boys and U2 get featured throughout the novel. It was a refreshing change to see some of the bands I loved as a teen get featured instead of the same old, tried and true choices.
But it’s not all sex and rock n’ roll. How to Build a Girl also tackles poverty and the challenges faced by working class families. Johanna lives in British council housing and her family struggles financially. There was one quote in particular that stood out for me:
“When the middle class gets passionate about politics, they’re arguing about their treats – their tax breaks and investments. When the poor get passionate about politics, they’re fighting for their lives.”
The Morrigan family proves just how true that is over and over throughout the novel. And it is an important part of who Johanna is, impacting not only how she views the world but how she exists within it.
How to Build a Girl is a brilliant and insightful coming of age novel that perfectly captures how confusing and difficult it is to find yourself and carve out a place for the person you want to be in the world. It’s funny and poignant and I highly recommend it to all, especially to those of us who were trying to build themselves in the 1990s....more
It was so easy to slide back into the dark and dangerous world of Tula Bane and her life on the YThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
It was so easy to slide back into the dark and dangerous world of Tula Bane and her life on the Yertina Feray.
In Tin Star, the first book in this series, Tula was struggling to survive. Left for dead she was alone, with absolutely nothing on a strange hunk of metal in the sky. A hunk of metal which wasn’t particularly friendly towards humans. But survive she did. In fact she did more than survive – she thrived. She moved up through the social hierarchies of the Yertina Feray and bided her time, collecting favours and information, so that one day she would be able to take down her nemesis, Brother Blue.
I really admire Tula Bane. She’s not “the chosen one” or anything fancy like that. She’s just a girl. But she has personality, drive and a will to survive and something tells me that might count for more in the long run than if you happened to be the chosen one. And I find her easy to sympathize with, because when it comes to difficult decisions, she doesn’t always know what to do. She can be indecisive, or stubborn or simply confused. Simply put, she’s human. Which makes her the most compelling thing in this novel, despite being surrounded by aliens and spaceships. (This is a huge compliment since I love to read about aliens and spaceships.)
I don’t want to say too much about the plot of Stone in the Sky, partially because it’s the second book in the series, but also because I think it’s best to go into this story knowing as little as possible. Castellucci has worked her magic once again and created a brilliant, intricately layered story and the best experience is traveling through it, not knowing what’s behind the corner up ahead. And this story is wrapped up in the haunting prose I gushed over in my review of Tin Star. Castellucci’s writing is poetic and haunting. It’s full of the kind of quotes that make you stop reading and pause for a moment, just so you can truly appreciate them. If you’re the kind of person who marks up their books – have your highlighters and sticky notes ready!
If you’re a science fiction fan I can’t recommend the Tin Star series enough. It’s beautiful and captivating and full of adventure. This is one sequel that doesn’t disappoint....more
Based on a traditional Japanese ghost story, The Girl from the Well is the extremely creepy storyThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Based on a traditional Japanese ghost story, The Girl from the Well is the extremely creepy story of a young girl who was murdered centuries ago. Now she walks the earth in a threadbare shift and long, black matted hair. She has one purpose – vengeance. She looks for men who have other dead children tied to their backs and she sets those children free. She moves from city to city, country to country, leaving a string of inexplicable murders in her wake.
Until she meets Tark, a teenage boy covered with strange tattoos. And he’s being possessed by his own ghost. She doesn’t know exactly why she is drawn to him and his cousin, but she decides to stick with them and watches as Tark struggles with his possession.
I really enjoyed the narrative style of this novel. It’s told from the girl’s point of view and she has a unique voice. She’s invested in and curious about what’s happening but she’s also a little unstable and emotionally blank. She observes but she doesn’t really comment, leaving you to draw your own conclusions about Tark, his cousin and his mother (the person who gave him the tattoos). I enjoyed the freedom of making up my own mind about these characters, rather than having the narrator’s opinions thrust upon me.
Though I liked all the characters in this novel, Tark was easily my favourite. Despite is dire circumstances he was always quick with a joke or a bit of sarcasm. For example, “Dad says there are more than three thousand letters in the Japanese alphabet, which could pose a problem. There are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, and I get into enough trouble with them as it is.” This attitude helped lighten up some of the darker parts of the novel. The Girl from the Well can be quite gruesome at times, so I enjoyed these brief interludes.
In addition to a rather unique narrator the writing style itself is unlike most YA books you’ll find today. It was very atmospheric and lyrical in nature. There is a rhythm to the text, which would probably make an excellent audiobook. It’s a short book but you’ll still lose yourself in the story. It’s so suspenseful and since the “monsters” are ghosts/demons they were extremely unpredictable. I wanted the best for all of these characters, but always feared for the worst.
If you like horror movies like The Ring or The Grudge or just regular dark and suspenseful tales, I recommend The Girl from the Well....more
Sloane has one dream – to make films. Specifically documentary films. It’s something she’s been wThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Sloane has one dream – to make films. Specifically documentary films. It’s something she’s been working towards for a long time and it takes precedence over everything else. So when an opportunity to apply for a prestigious film school scholarship arises, she’s ready to give it everything she’s got.
Unfortunately her body has other plans. She’s developed a condition known as alopecia areata. It’s an autoimmune disease but its not life threatening. It will simply cause her to loose some (or possibly all) of her hair. In the grand scheme of things it could be a lot worse, but when you’re a teenager working on a documentary film about laughter of all things, it’s hard to keep your cool.
Right from the beginning it was clear this was going to be an interesting novel with a strong morel centre. Sloane’s character arc was particularly well constructed. I had never heard of alopecia areata before but I think it was a good choice for this book. It wasn’t physically painful or debilitating for Sloane, but it was something that she really struggled with. Especially since at the beginning of the novel she didn’t really care about her looks. She wore baggy pants and combat boots and hardly any make-up. But that all changed when she started to lose her hair, something that she had always taken for granted. Some may think this was a little shallow of her, but her main concern wasn’t that she wouldn’t be “pretty” is was fear over what other high school students might think/say. And I think that’s a fair fear. High school students can be cruel, and her panic over her hair loss felt more like survival instincts than anything else.
In fact all the character arcs were well done. The Art of Getting Stared At is all about breaking down judgements based on people’s appearances. After Sloane the most obvious examples are her camera man, Isaac and her stepmother, Kim. She assumes both of them are shallow, obsessed with their looks and the image they project to the world. But as the story goes on and she spends more and more time with them, she begins to understand that by clinging to her initial impressions she wasn’t able to see the full person in front of her.
Though I think the message of this novel is an important one I often felt like I was being hit over the head with it. Sloane is guilty of judging a lot of people, of assuming that because they are concerned with make-up/clothes they must be shallow. Often this point is spelled out to her exactly by other characters in the novel but I think it would have had more of an impact if it was more subtle. It was a little like reading an after-school special.
The Art of Getting Stared At is a thought provoking novel about one girl learning there’s always more to people than what meets the eye. I loved that it communicated the message that people are more than just one thing. At times it felt a little morally simplistic, and there were a few things that went unaddressed (like Sloane’s step-mother giving her MUCH younger sister make-up) but it would also make it great for classroom discussions....more
The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a puzzling story. It’s described as “a darkly comic, starkly origThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a puzzling story. It’s described as “a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale” and I’m not quite sure that’s what it is. It’s definitely about a man with a superpower. After Dale Sampson survives a horrific shooting in high school he discovers he has the ability to regenerate parts of his body. Everything from skin to fingers to organs and, at one point, even his corneas. Regeneration may not be a common superpower, or one of the most wished for superpowers, but it definitely counts as one.
But what sets Dale apart is he isn’t really a superhero. That same shooting that led to the discovery of his powers, also damaged his best friend’s arm (no more major leagues for him) and killed the girl he was in (unrequited) love with. To make matters even worse, not long after, his mother dies of cancer. This has left Dale with extreme survivor’s guilt mixed with some PTSD. He’s alone, broke, unmotivated, and has no intention of living his life any differently than that. All of which makes him an extremely interesting character but definitely not your typical superhero.
He’s finally spurned into action when he discovers the twin sister of his high school crush still lives in town and is married to an abusive husband. This is his chance to do things over again. He couldn’t save the first twin but maybe he can save this one. One thing leads to another and he ends up starring in a reality TV show called The Samaritan, where he donates body parts to those in need. From the outside he looks like a hero – he’s saving lives, keeping people alive when they would have otherwise died waiting for a transplant. But the reader is privy to his more selfish motivations. He’s not giving away body parts out of a genuine desire to help people, in fact he’s quite cold and distant from the people he’s helping. He’s doing it to try and draw a girl he loves away from her husband and to him. But at the end of the day what matters more? His intentions? Or the effect of The Samaritan? Not only does he save lives on the show but organ and blood donation go up across the country causing even more lives to be saved.
The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a difficult novel to read. Between the shooting, the abuse and the surgeries it’s quite graphic and violent. It should come with a big “trigger warning” sticker on the cover. But if you’re able to look past that, it’s a thought provoking novel on survival, charity and what it means to be a hero – whether you want the title or not. Dale Sampson is a difficult and frustrating character, but it’s those exact characteristics that make him so interesting to read about....more
Where to begin when talking about One Night in Winter? It is a dark and intriguing tale of secretThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Where to begin when talking about One Night in Winter? It is a dark and intriguing tale of secrets, paranoia and love all stemming from a single event – the death of two teenagers during the Victory Parade. Had these been the children of lesser known families their deaths may have been unremarkable. But instead they were the children of some of the most well known and important people in 1945 Moscow. The investigation into their death – ‘The Children’s Case’ – quickly escalates into an even more suspenseful case of suspected political sabotage, secrets, lies and forbidden love affairs.
It is obvious that One Night in Winter is written by a historian. This novel is so rich in historical detail I truly felt as though I had been transported back to Soviet Russia. Many of the characters are real historical figures – including Stalin himself – and I loved getting this little (albeit fictional) glance into what their lives were like. When I was in university I read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin but it was very factual and took a long time to get through. This book was the perfect comprise. I got to learn all about a fascinating period of history wrapped up in a high stakes novel of political intrigue.
The theme of paranoia is built into every scene, every character, every bit of dialogue. At one point well reading I remarked that “Soviet Russians must make the best chess players because they’re always thinking five moves ahead just to stay alive.” Every seemingly innocent or helpful statement can be misconstrued. It’s easy to talk about paranoia abstractly but One Night Winter illustrates how fast it can get away from you and what the costs of that paranoia can be. One character compares secrets to mine fields. You never know when one is going to blow up on you. I can not think of a more perfect way to sum up the fate of the teenagers in this novel.
My one complaint about this novel is that I didn’t quite find it as emotionally stirring as I had expected. While the first half of this novel focuses on the teenagers (and their creation of the Fatal Romantics club) the second half focuses on more specific love affairs. They are just as gripping as the interrogations and produce some fantastic lines, such as “Every love story is a requiem.” and “Heartbreak is an agonizing disease that you’re delighted to have.” But nevertheless I never felt emotionally invested in what was going to happen to them. I wanted to feel more for these characters then I did. It’s possible this was done on purpose (emotions being a bourgeois sentiment and all) but it didn’t quite work for me. It’s something I would love to discuss in a book club setting.
Overall, One Night in Winter is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Soviet Russia and the difficulties that people faced on a day to day basis. It’s an unpredictable story, so despite its somewhat cold sentiments you can’t help but keep turning the pages, wondering what spin Stalin and his officers can come up with next....more
One of the first review copies I ever got when I started blogging was Jessica Martinez’s debut, VThis book originally reviewed at More Than Just Magic
One of the first review copies I ever got when I started blogging was Jessica Martinez’s debut, Virtuosity. It wasn’t my usual kind of read but within a few pages I was hooked. Kiss Kill Vanish is a much different book from Virtuosity but ultimately I was just as hooked as I was before.
It immediately grabbed me because most of the novel takes place in Montreal. I love anytime a book takes place in Canada but, but you get bonus points for Montreal. Maybe it’s the French Canadian in me. Our protagonist, Valentina, flees to Montreal after witnessing her boyfriend and her father kill someone. Her main priority is survival – which usually breaks down to money and food. She is not in Montreal as a tourist, nor is she in a financial position to really take in all the advantages of the city. Yet despite those factors, Martinez still manages to capture the ambience of Montreal. Especially the cold.
In my opinion Valentina had good reasons for running away from home. But that’s not her whole story. She is a complex character with a lot of conflicting emotions. She is the embodiment of the idea that we can feel a lot of different things at the same time. She feels anger towards her family and boyfriend, she feels betrayed that she never knew about her father’s drug business, she feels disgusted because she used to live in a mansion and now she shares a dumpy apartment, and she feels desperate as she tries to make ends meet without a work visa. And that’s just the beginning. Things aren’t easier for her but ultimately she keeps going, no matter how tired, hungry and cold she gets. I imagine a few readers won’t take to her – she’s a little cold to other people, and there’s a good dose of self pity – but I kind of love her determined nature.
While in Montreal she finds work sitting for paintings. When her employer, Lucien, dies she forms an unlikely bond with his brother Marcel. Marcel is every bit as layered as Valentina. He starts off as a drunk, drug addict loser who only exists to torture and mock the main character. But as Valentina gets to know him so does the reader and before you know it you’ll go from hating him to loving him. I don’t want to go into too much detail about his character arc, for fear of spoilers, but trust me, it’s a good one.
The pacing in this novel was very deliberate. You would think with the murders, drug cartels and lying boyfriends it would move at break neck speed. But it takes it time to get going and the action kind of sneaks up on you. It starts slow but then before you know it you’re staying up until the wee hours to finish it (this is a true story of what actually happened to me). Kiss Kill Vanish is more about building suspense than story that will make your pulse race. Throughout the entire novel you never know who Valentina can trust. Anyone could betray her and there could be a horrible surprise waiting around every corner.
Kiss Kill Vanish was not my first Jessica Martinez novel and it certainly won’t be my last. She’s written yet another novel with great characters you can’t help but become invested in. I loved the way this novel was constantly surprising me and I can’t wait to see what unique story Martinez will come up with next....more
Archetype starts out with Emma waking up. She doesn’t know who she is or where she is but it’s okThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Archetype starts out with Emma waking up. She doesn’t know who she is or where she is but it’s ok because her husband, Declan, is there to help her through it. But as she starts to recover something doesn’t seem quite right…Archetype is intense and suspenseful right from the get go and once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.
I loved the world building, partially because it was reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is one of my favourite books of all time. It will disturb you but unfortunately will not surprise you. In the future imagined by Waters fertility is way, way down. Which makes fertile women a rare commodity. And the world proceeds to treat them as such – property to be bought and sold. Girls are raised in what are essentially work camps and rich men can bid on them. It’s disgusting and disturbing but I have no doubt that if this fertility situation were to arise a similar set-up wouldn’t be far behind. Maybe not so extreme but enough for Emma’s society to give you the shivers.
The way Emma is set in this world was really interesting. We get two different versions of the same character at the same time. Who she is when the story starts – a confused, disoriented, shell who believes everything her husband tells her and who she was before her “accident.” Her previous self speaks to her both mentally and through dreams and helps her rebuild her memory bit by bit. In the beginning it is difficult to become attached to her because she is so one dimensional, but you got tiny glimpses of who she could be, which was awesome and made you want to learn more.
The only thing I couldn’t really get into was the love story element. I liked it and it did add an interesting dimension to the story but ultimately I thought both of her potential love interests were wrong for her. It’s hard not to be immediately suspicious of Declan and I’m not impressed with how Noah treated Emma for part of this novel. However, that being said I found both Declan and Noah to be very interesting characters overall. They both had some very complex motivations, which resulted in a number of surprising plot twists.
Overall Archetype is a very intense read that is a mixture of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and S J Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. It’s an incredibly addictive read that will leave you begging for more – especially after that ending. And the best news? We don’t have to wait long for the sequel, Prototype, because it will be out this July!...more
The Star Thief is an action packed thrill ride right from the first few pages. I start reading itThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Star Thief is an action packed thrill ride right from the first few pages. I start reading it one evening before bed and next thing I knew it was way past my bedtime and I was almost finished the book. The story moves along at a break-neck speed and there are some really great twists that will keep you turning the pages.
I really liked how Renna was written. She a mercenary and she’s had to survive on her own for a long time. And her personality reflects that. She’s gutsy and tough and she’s not afraid to make the hard choices. She’s also bold, in your face and at times a little bit rude. I was happy that Grey didn’t make her exceedingly polite or virtuous just because she was a girl. She swears, she drinks, she’s in control of her sexuality. She’s gritty and realistic and I loved it.
This is a good science fiction book for those who may not be too familiar with the genre. It takes place in space and there is a lot of great technology but it’s accessible and easy to read. There’s not a lot of jargon or overly long technical descriptions. The focus is on the adventure and the characters instead. And there is a bit of a romance to help break up the action and build some tension. And by some I mean a lot – Renna and Finn reminded me of Eliot and Kai in For Darkness Shows the Stars. There was so much chemistry between them you were dying for them to kiss already!
My one complaint about The Star Thief is that it does end on a bit of a cliff hanger, so if that kind of thing bothers you it’s probably best to wait until the next book is out and then binge read them both....more
The Art of Lainey initially grabbed my attention because of its fantastic premise – a girl tryingThis 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....more
The Red Phone Box story cycle is one of the most imaginative and unique stories I have read in aThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Red Phone Box story cycle is one of the most imaginative and unique stories I have read in a long time.
I can only begin to imagine how much time and hard work went into assembling this collection. I’ve had some experience with anthologies myself and I know how difficult it can be to organize a project around so many different contributor’s – each with their own schedule and deadlines. But what Salomé Jones has done with Red Phone Box is on a whole different level. This isn’t just a random selection of stories. Instead this book is made up of various pieces of a larger puzzle. And each piece carries the distinct style of it’s author. Jones has arranged the stories in such a way that the story unfolds slowly for the reader, the mystery building bit by bit.
Some of the stories were incredibly interesting. I particularly enjoyed the story of Amber, Stuart and Jon and how each installment left you wondering what was real and what was imaginary. And I liked how the characters Amber/Stuart/Jon interacted with would pop up in other stories. It kept me alert, constantly looking for clues or hints dropped by the various contributors. You never knew exactly where each story was going to take you – only that the mysterious Red Phone Box was going to show up at some point.
However, while some of the stories were fascinating, others left me wanting more. The characters would come out of nowhere, or the plot would be jerky or just plain confusing and sometimes the style itself just didn’t work for me. I found myself either loving a story or wanting to skim through it. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground, which made some parts of the anthology feel disjointed. Had some of the rogher stories been smoothed out a bit more I think this collection could have been truly great, but ultimately it fell just a little short of that goal.
At it’s heart Red Phone Box is a very atmospheric and dark story. Image Doctor Who and the TARDIS but much darker and more disturbing. It’s a great concept and will keep you on your toes. If you’re looking for a more unusal read or one that will allow you to flex your puzzle solving skills, this is the book for you. But if you prefer more straightforward narratives you may want to pass....more
Solving for Ex is the story about a girl named Ashley. She’s got a semi-intense case of social anThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Solving for Ex is the story about a girl named Ashley. She’s got a semi-intense case of social anxiety but her more pressing concern is the mega-crush she has on her best friend and next door neighbour, Brendan. Unfortunately as far as she can tell he see’s her as nothing more then a friend. It’s a classic story. So classic in fact that it’s a modern re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I haven’t read Mansfield Park myself but it wasn’t a problem. Solving For Ex has a nice flow and structure all its own. So if you haven’t read the original either–not to worry! However that being said I’m sure familiarity with Mansfield Park will only enhance the Solving for Ex experience.
It should also be known that I’m not a math person. Not by a long shot. But I was a member of Reach for the Top in High School (that’s competitive trivia for those not in Canada) so I wave my nerd flag high and proud. And that’s one of the great things about this novel – it’s written for nerds. Not just math-based ones. These kids like school. They like learning and getting good grades and there is respect for that in their school. I wish my school had been like that! And though I’m not a math person I still loved all the math based jokes scattered through out this novel.
Nerdiness aside what I really appreciated about Solving for Ex was Ashley’s character arc. She starts off very timid and held back by her social anxiety. But as the novel progresses Ashley really comes into her own. She learns to stand on her own two feet and fight back against her own anxiety. That’s not to say she was all shiny and perfect by the end, but you could see her adapt and grow and that is definitely something I look for in a character. Related to this - I liked that LeighAnn Kopans didn’t equate social anxiety with shyness (one of my biggest pet peeves).
And because I liked Ashley I found myself very critical of both her love interests. I couldn’t find it in myself to cheer for either one. Though Brendan was a good friend at first, as soon as the new girl, Sofia, came around he became a pretty horrible friend. Ignoring her, choosing Sofia’s side over hers. I became incredibly angry with him more than a few times. Vincent didn’t make me angry but he did seem pretty phoney and clingy right from the get go. If some guy hovered over me that much I’d go crazy. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I thought Ashley deserved better than both of them. But I’m not generally a romance reader so that might have had some influence over my opinion.
My primary criticism of this novel is that the dialogue felt a bit off. This might sound a bit strange but it was almost too teen. The slang felt exaggerated and at times the content of the dialogue felt a little dumbed down. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by too many YA books where the characters are “wise beyond their years,” but I found it a little distracting.
Overall Solving for Ex is a fun and funny story that will inevitably leave you with a smile on your face. If you’re not into romance (or you’re overly cynical) then it’s probably not for you. But if you’re an Austen fan and like a good old fashioned “fall in love with the boy next door” story be sure to check it out....more
There has been this mini-trend lately of Norse mythology. I don’t know if it’s because of Thor, oThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
There has been this mini-trend lately of Norse mythology. I don’t know if it’s because of Thor, or simply because it’s long overdue. But whatever the reason I like it. Stories which adapt or incorporate Norse mythology and Viking culture, introduce the reader to adventurous and terrifying new worlds. Other settings have grown stale and boring from over use, but not these. They make the reader want to jump right in and fight the Viking invaders, sail the high seas and take on the wild, free world. And Doctor Who: Dark Horizons is no exception.
On a quest to find a good chess partner, the Doctor finds himself in a small village, on the eve of a Viking raid. But upon closer inspection it appears the Vikings are not invading but instead are being attacked themselves, by a mysterious fire that burns on top of the water. In true Doctor fashion he jumps in, ready to face all sorts of danger and madness on behalf of people he has never met. The Doctor’s love for the people of Earth is always astounding and humbling.
Because that love for humanity is such a core part of who the Doctor is, a good Doctor Who story will have a stellar cast of supporting characters. Sometimes so good, they steal the spotlight from the man himself. And this is exactly the case with Doctor Who: Dark Horizons. His main two temporary companions in this story are Henrik and Freydis. Henrik, a brave farm boy turned Viking, who believes in the impossible. He’s one of those pure hearted, honourable people who you’re immediately drawn to. The opposite of Freydis – a spoiled princess who is being shipped off to marry a neighbouring king. In the beginning she really grated on my nerves but she really grows throughout the book and she ended up one of my favourite characters. Oh and then there’s Luag. An adorable and bright child who brings out the best in the Doctor – as children so often do.
Doctor Who: Dark Horizons has everything that we’ve come to expect and love from a Doctor Who story but with some new twists. The alien monster is scary, the stakes are high and the Doctor is fabulous but there are new characters to get to know and a fresh setting.
Recommendation: Jenny T Colgan did a fantastic job bringing the Doctor to life in the pages of Dark Horizon. New and old fans alike will enjoy this glimpse into what the Doctor gets up to when he’s travelling alone....more
This book combined two of my favourite story elements – magic and a Victorian setting.
The magic in this story is so seamlessly integrated into everyday society. Rose doesn’t discover there’s a secret world hidden from everyday folk. Instead magic is a regular occurrence (if you have enough money that is). I think I’m drawn to this kind of story, because it’s the kind of world I wish we actually lived in. One where magic is just around the corner.
The Victorian setting only adds to this. There’s just something about that time period that lends itself to magical ideas and/or settings. I loved the way the characters talked, I loved imagining what Mr. Fountain’s house was liked and, as a Downton Abbey fan, I loved the whole front of house-back of house drama. Rose is a new servant in a moderately big house, and she has to navigate the tough waters of her new job, gossip among the staff and an unlikely alliance with one of the household members. I found the premise fascinating and was easily able to picture Roses’s world in my head.
The characters in this story are all quite lively, full of strong emotions and opinions. I liked that even though their master was a magician, the household staff had varying degrees of tolerance for the craft. This made things a lot more interesting for Rose, as she tried to figure out what was going on with her. However at times, I found these secondary characters even more interesting than Rose herself and that’s where the book would sometimes lose me. Rose is very plain. She’s always very earnest and means well. She seems to have no real character flaws. She got a long with everyone, she was brave, she was clever – without even realizing it – she was tidy etc. I would have liked a little more depth to her character since she is our heroine, but maybe that comes in later books.
Overall Rose is a magical and mysterious story with a fun cast and a solid, if not slightly predictable mystery. It would be a good book for lower middle grade readers – specifically those who would like something like Harry Potter but aren’t quite at that reading level yet....more
The scientists of the Lazarus Project have done the unthinkable. After finding a man frozen in icThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The scientists of the Lazarus Project have done the unthinkable. After finding a man frozen in ice, they were able to shock him back to life. His name is Jeremiah Rice and he had been dead since 1906. This act has drawn attention from the entire world – other scientists who wish to recreate the experiments, journalists and bloggers hoping to cover the story, protestors who believe the project is ‘playing God’ and regular people, fascinated by the very idea of Jeremiah and everything he stands for.
the curiosity Canadian Cover The story is shared by four main characters. Erastus Carthage, the egotistical scientist in charge of the Lazarus Project, Dr. Kate Philo, the only female member of the team, Daniel Dixon, the reporter who has been given exclusive access to the project and the ice man himself, Jeremiah Rice. Of them all Jeremiah is my favourite. As a man with one foot in 1906, one foot in the present, his observations of life, death, consumerism, and humanity in general were the most interesting. He was a unique perspective to view our current world through. In particular there was a scene where he accompanies Kate to the supermarket and buys an orange. In his previous life an orange was something reserved for special occasions so he is initially excited to see them so readily available. But when he goes to eat it he finds it watery and tasteless. A poor substitute for the oranges he enjoyed as a child. It begs the question – is it better to have subpar oranges available 365 days a year or to have better quality oranges available for a limited time? Do we prioritize quantity and accessibility? Or quality and taste?
The questions raised by the orange is only one example of the issues The Curiosity touches upon. The book starts out incredibly scientific, as the scientists of the Lazarus Project explain the basics of hard ice, reanimation and cryogenics. But as the novel progresses it the theological and metaphysical implications of The Lazarus Project that really take centre stage. Is the project ethical? Is this different than restarting a heart during surgery? Is it enough that the heart wants to beat? What are the downfalls of our modern world? The list goes on. I appreciated that it successfully walked the line between thoughtful and preachy. The Curiosity doesn’t seek to answer any of these questions. Instead it asks the reader to consider them and draw their own conclusions.
Though I really liked Jeremiah there are definitely some characters I wish had been explored more thoroughly. Carthage for one. I wish he had been more than just a generic mean character who led greed get the better of him. Gerber, one of the scientists that worked closely with Kate, was also someone I found interesting throughout the story but we never really got to know. And Thomas, Carthage’s right hand man who was clearly important, but his exact role was only revealed in a throw away paragraph near the end. A paragraph which actually made him less realistic than he was before. Other than Jeremiah, none of the characters are very complex – they’re all based on common archetypes in fiction and don’t stray far beyond that. But it is Jeremiah’s story that keeps you turning the pages not theirs.
The Curiosity is a detailed, thought provoking novel, about science, humanity and life after death. If you’re looking for a story that ponders all the big questions this one is for you....more
After reading, and loving, The Gypsy King earlier this year I couldn’t wait to get my hands on AThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
After reading, and loving, The Gypsy King earlier this year I couldn’t wait to get my hands on A Fool’s Errand and continue the adventure.
I am a sucker for the quest-style fantasy novel – Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland. All of them. I love the journey. Particularly the way characters grow throughout. But I also think this style of fantasy novel provides a broader view of the world and the people in it. Authors spend so much time world building in this genre it’s a shame when they can’t show it off and let the reader explore as well. A Fool’s Errand is so rich with detail you can tell just how much thought and planning Fergus has put in it. It’s not just a city or village you’re immersed in. It’s an entire kingdom.
Another huge draw for this series is the romance between Persephone and Azriel. It doesn’t distract from the central plot but is still totally swoon worthy. I love the kind of relationship where the couple is so similar they’re constantly butting heads. It makes for more than a few laughs. I also loved that no matter what they were going through, no matter how many doubts they had at the romantic side of the partnership, they could always depend on one another. They weren’t just in love, they were friends and comrades. They shared a common goal and they respected each other. This kind of healthy partnership is one I would like to see more often in Young Adult novels.
My one real complaint about The Gypsy King was that we didn’t know anything substantial about the Regent or his motivations. Just that he was a gigantic, evil creep. But the Fool’s Errand definitely expanded his character. Chapters would alternate between Persephone and Azriel’s voyage, and the Regent’s evil plans back at the castle. His conversations with an imprisoned servant really helped draw out some of the intricacies of his character and if anything made him even more terrifying.
The characters continue to be the strongest elements of this series. Everyone has such large, beautiful personalities, good and bad. I was extremely happy to find that we got more time with Rachel and the Gypsies. Out of all the groups we meet along the way, they remain my favourites. But I also loved that we got to know Finn better as well. Though he’s physically weak, he is such a strong, beautiful person and I found myself getting very attached to him.
A Fool’s Errand is an action packed, funny and addictive read. It draws you in from the first page and keeps you hanging on with every twist and turn. Fantasy fans – you need to read this series!...more
I have to admit I’m not overly familiar with the 6th Doctor. I know he was played by Colin BakerThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I have to admit I’m not overly familiar with the 6th Doctor. I know he was played by Colin Baker and had a tendency to wear brightly coloured coats, and that he’s not the most popular of the Doctors. But I still jumped into Players by Terrance Dicks head first, and thankfully like many good Doctor Who stories it had lots to enjoy for new and old fans alike.
The description on the back of the book (and the one you see above) does not do this story justice. The Doctor and his American companion, Peri don’t just go to the Boer War. They travel throughout time meeting Winston Churchill at different points of his life. I know a lot about Winston Churchill during World War II but nothing really about his life before that. For instance, I had no idea he was once a war correspondent. It was really interesting to get this overview of his life. Kind of a Doctor Who style biography.
The villians themselves – The Players, were interesting as well. An alien race that plays with the future of humanity as if it were nothing more than an ordinary board game. They reminded me a lot of that Star Trek episode The Gamesters of Triskelion (20 quatloos!). I thought this was a great idea and the use of Churchill as a “piece” in the game gave the story a strong focus. I would have liked to know more about them and would have enjoyed more interaction between them and The Doctor. Some of my favourite moments in Doctor Who are when he goes head to head with whatever alien is currently threatening Earth. There wasn’t very much of that here and I found I missed it.
I liked the change of an American companion. Two Americans if you count the body guard the Doctor hires to protect them in England – Dekker. I wouldn’t want them all the time, but they were still fun. Especially Dekker. I loved his attitude, bravery and back and forth with the Doctor. I understand that he pops up in some other adventures as well and I am definitely interested in checking them out.
I found Peri a little inconsistent. In the beginning she’s annoyed/distressed that they never travel anywhere nice and/or elegant. Then in the middle of the novel she become a huge American stereotype – right down to the blue jeans, hamburger and Coke. But by the end she was everything you expect to see in a companion – brave, a fighter and determined. I’d like to think it was just character development, but it felt more like changing the character to whatever fit the scene better. I loved her by the end but it took a long time for me to warm up to her.
Players is heavily tied in with another Terrance Dicks work – The War Games. A Doctor Who plot arc from the second Doctor’s era. I haven’t seen these episodes, but it didn’t keep me from understanding what’s going on. I do think I would have appreciated more of the continuity references and throwbacks if I had seen The War Games. Not a huge problem, but if you are planning on reading, and you have access to The War Games, you may want to give it a watch first.
Recommendation: Players is a fun adventure story that would be great for Doctor Who fans and World War II buffs....more
Save Yourself is the incredibly dramatic story of four lost, lonely individuals – Layla, Verna, PThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Save Yourself is the incredibly dramatic story of four lost, lonely individuals – Layla, Verna, Patrick and Caro.
Layla the seventeen year old, jaded, goth daughter of the town’s minister, has rebelled against her parent’s beliefs and settled herself in with a new crowd. But something is not quite right and she begins to persue Patrick, a twenty six year who works the night shift at the gas station. Her sister Verna, has just started ninth grade after being homeschooled for most of her life. She quickly finds that her family’s reputation (as the family that got sex-ed removed from the school) proceeds them – and it is not a popular one. Vulnerable and alone she begins to take up with her sisters friends and finds her beliefs and identity constantly coming into question.
On the other side of the coin we have Patrick. Years earlier his alcholic father hit a child with his car and drove off. Patrick and his brother Mike, sat with him over night until eventually the guilt was too much and Patrick called the police. Now their father is in jail and Patrick lives a paycheque to paycheque lifestyle with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend Caro. Oh but there’s one more hitch. He’s actually in love with Caro…and it looks like she may sort of feel the same way.
Got all that straight? There’s a lot going on in this book and it’s really not that long. At times it could be a little hard to follow, especially when time overlaps, but overall Kelly Braffet did an excellent job weaving it all together.
I enjoyed Layla’s spunk even though she sometimes annoyed me. But at the end of the day I felt nothing but pity for her and I thought there should have been more. And I found Caro’s story was not very well fleshed out. I still have so many questions about her and the sub-plot about her mother which was abandoned at some point.
Of them all I found Verna and Patrick to be the most interesting and compelling characters. Verna was struggling with a lot of issues many of us are familiar with. The internal battle between who you are at home and who you are out in the world, questioning the religious beliefs she had been raised with and last but definitey not least, bullying – particularly cyberbullying. Verna really has a hard time in Save Yourself and there are so many people ready to take advantage of her vulnerability. Your heart really goes out to her.
With Patrick I could have cared less about his love life – both with Layla and Caro. What really interested me was the famly dynamic. Both the father-son angle and the brother-brother angle. Patrick made the very difficult decision to call the cops, knowing that his father would go to jail, whereas his brother Mike thought they could just pretend it never happened. It raised questions of responsibility – where does it lie? To your family? To the community? To justice? And when does one kind of responsibility supercede another? Also the idea of guilt. Patrick did the right thing, but there were still consequences for his actions. I think when it comes to Patrick’s storyline there’s a lot of great things to discuss.
As you may have guessed by now this is a very character driven novel. The action itself can get a little disturbing at time, but it kind of fades to the background as you wait to see how it will change the people involved. At times this book may anger you or disgust you but at other times it will break your heart. It’s a complicated book full of complicated people.
Recommendation: Great for those who enjoy character driven novels or those who like to explore the family dynamic. Trigger warnings for bullying, sexual assault and cutting....more
This review is kind of hard to write because my personal feelings on this book are mixed but theThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
This review is kind of hard to write because my personal feelings on this book are mixed but the writing and quality of story telling itself were extremely well put together.
Let’s start with the writing. The entire novel is written in Old English – right down to the capitalization of the nouns. It took a little bit of getting used to. I mean how many of us read that style of writing on a regular basis really? But once I did adjust I began to really enjoy the rhythm of the story telling. It had a very lyrical quality to it, and I read quite a few passages out loud just to get a sense of how they would feel and how they would sound.
These beautiful words all came together to weave this incredibly complex and intriguing tale. Taking place in the midst of the Enlightenment, this story is constantly in flux, trying to find a place between the wonders of science and call of the unknown. Tristan Hart is the personification of this conundrum. From an early age he has dedicated himself to the pursuit of knowledge, particularly medical knowledge. He builds his own lab, reads every book he gets his hands on and eventually goes to study under another Doctor. But there’s another version of him. One that’s actually quite mad. He see’s goblins and invented conspiracies. And eventually it gets to the point where you begin to question every single scene that takes place. What’s really happening? Is this person actually in the room with him? What’s up with his friend Nathaniel? I really enjoy the unreliable narrator technique when it is done right and this is a good example of one of those times.
However, the reason I feel personally conflicted about The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bone is that I had a hard time with the personality traits of Tristan himself. I mentioned earlier that Tristan is obsessed with the pursuit of medical knowledge. In particular he is interested in pain. How to stop it and how to cause it. I found his actions incredibly disturbing and often hard to read about. It started with vivisections on small animals (which was bad enough) but then moved onto the torture and down right abuse of women. And it goes into these scenes in incredible detail. I read a lot of this book on the subway and I’m sure people wondered why my face paled so suddenly. A couple of times I even felt a little nauseous over what was happening on the page. Please note this is not a reflection on the writing. In fact it was because of the writing that these qualities seemed so real – and therefore even more disturbing. But I do think that it’s a legitimate concern to adress because I’m sure there are other people, like myself, who would have a hard time with some of the scenes in this book.
Recommendation: A good book for those who want to be challenged on questions of knowledge vs faith and maddness vs sanity. It’s a book that could stand up to study and interpretation and I think would be enjoyed by those who look for well constructed plots....more
A Canadian novel, named after a Radiohead song with fantastic and incredibly realistic charactersThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
A Canadian novel, named after a Radiohead song with fantastic and incredibly realistic characters? What’s not to love about Creeps?
Creeps is the story of Wayne Pumphrey – fifteen years old, a bit small for his age and more than a little self conscious. Unfortunately for Wayne, being different doesn’t win you any favours in high school and he is targeted by a group of particularly nasty bullies.
I thought Darren Hynes’s depection of being bullied was incredibly realistic. Bullying comes in a lot of varieities and Wayne experiences quite a few of them – from emotional to physical. Some parts were difficult to read – such as any of the more violent episodes – but I appreciated that Hynes didn’t shy away from those scenes. These things DO happen and Creeps is honest about it.
Thankfully there’s Marjorie. A quirky, fascinating girl who – though often bullied herself – sticks up for Wayne one day. From there they form an unlikely but fantastic friendship. It was a difficult friendship and at times you didn’t think it would last but they are both incredibly strong and admirable people. I loved that Marjorie was quirky and out there, but didn’t fall into the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl archtype. She was a fully developed character who was just as flawed and complicated as Wayne. I also liked that she gave Wayne hope. That she was a ray of light that he didn’t have to wait for. So many YA books about bullying seem to subcribe to the “it gets better” message. And while that is important, I believe it’s just important to show that there can be amazing things DURING your teen years as well.
I also think Hynes did a good job depicting how adults and other students react to bullying. From Wayne’s father thinking he could just talk it out with the bully’s parents to the oblivious high school principal. The principal in particular really angered me. I think a lot of the time teachers/principals don’t want to believe bullying is happening in their school. Or that certain kids are actually bullies. And that kind of behaviour can make a horrible situation even more desperate. And because of this I think Creeps is also a great book for adults to read – particularly parents or those who work with teens on a regular basis. I think it could be a bit of an eye opener.
Finally, I loved the setting of this book. Set in Labrador it’s hard to imagine a more remote location. If we’re being honest I don’t know that much about the area so it was nice to get a glimpse into life there. There aren’t enough books set in Northern Canada and I think that’s something that really sets Creeps apart.
Recommendation: Creeps is an authentic and emotional look at what it’s like to be bullied. This is a book that a lot of people are going to be able to relate to, even if they weren’t bullied as heavily as Wayne. Definitely an essential read for high schoolers and those who work with teens....more
When I was first contacted about The Planet Thieves I was told it was “Star Trek meets Rick RiordThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I was first contacted about The Planet Thieves I was told it was “Star Trek meets Rick Riordan.” I didn’t need to read any further to know this was a book I needed to read. And it was exactly as described. The Planet Thieves is without a doubt, very similar to Star Trek. Remember that Star Trek episode, “The Game” guest staring Ashley Judd? Where all the adults are incapacitated so Wesley saves the day? Combine that with one of Kirk’s crazier adventures, throw in a inter planetary war and you have this book.
The Planet Thieves is an incredibly action packed read. Things happen fast but I never felt like I was struggling to keep up. Krokos kept the pacing steady and smooth. So even though there was a constant sense of urgency to the events unfolding on page, everything was always very clear. This book has already been optioned for a movie by Warner Brothers and HeyDay Films and I can’t wait to see some of the action sequenes on the big screen!
But it wasn’t just the action that made The Planet Thieves enjoyable. It was also the characters. In particular Mason Stark. Mason is just a cadet. A young kid, barely trained, but some heavy responsibility falls on his shoulders. And he bears it well. But I liked that he struggled, and I liked that he second guessed himself. He was amazing but he was also just a regular thirteen year old boy. I also really liked Tom. In the beginning he’s very serious and rule oriented. He clashed with Mason a lot, as they had very differemt personalities. But they had to overcome those differences and learn to work together and I found that aspect of the story especially encouraging.
I think older readers of this series, who also happen to be Star Trek fans (like me) may be a little irked by some of the blatant similarities between The Planet Thieves and Star Trek. For example the enemy warrior race – The Tremist fly a ship called a Hawk which is even described as “a bird circling her prey.” Sounds an awful lot like Klingons and their ship, a Bird of Prey. But that being said, I don’t think this will be a problem for the target audience of this novel – middle grade readers. I think it’s a safe bet they will be more focused on the action and adventure of this novel instead of similiarities to a show their parents may or may not have watched.
Recommendation: A thrilling, exciting start to a new series. Great for fans of Star Trek, Ender’s Game and Star Wars: Clone Wars....more