Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fool For Books Giveaway Hop: The Uncoupling

Welcome to Fool for Books Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room. I'm offering one copy of The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer.
Summary from Goodreads:
When the elliptical new drama teacher at Stellar Plains High School chooses for the school play Lysistrata-the comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war-a strange spell seems to be cast over the school. Or, at least, over the women. One by one throughout the high school community, perfectly healthy, normal women and teenage girls turn away from their husbands and boyfriends in the bedroom, for reasons they don't really understand. As the women worry over their loss of passion, and the men become by turns unhappy, offended, and above all, confused, both sides are forced to look at their shared history, and at their sexual selves in a new light.

As she did to such acclaim with the New York Times bestseller The Ten-Year Nap, Wolitzer tackles an issue that has deep ramifications for women's lives, in a way that makes it funny, riveting, and totally fresh-allowing us to see our own lives through her insightful lens.
You must be a follower to enter this giveaway. If your GFC name is different than the one that shows up when you comment, let me know. To enter leave a comment letting me know what your favourite play is. Make sure you include your e-mail address so I have a way to contact you. The winner will be randomly selected using random and will have 48 hours to reply to my e-mail. It is open the US and Canada only, no PO Boxes. This giveaway will close when the giveaway hop ends at 11:59 PM on April 2nd EST.

Click here to return to the Fool For Books Giveaway Hop homepage and visit the rest of the awesome stops. 

Coming Soon: National Poetry Month

In the United States and Canada, April is designated as "National Poetry Month". Poetry is really close to my heart and I think it is often over-looked or viewed as inaccessible. In celebration of National Poetry Month I've been busy devouring all the collections of poetry I can get my hands on and I have decided to focus on poetry reviews for the upcoming month. There will still be plenty of other reviews as I am participating in quite a few blog tours and also have already committed to posting certain reviews in the month of their release, but I am making a conscious effort to bring some attention to a genre which is often forgotten. At the end of the month I'll do a round up of the poetry reviews I have posted. I hope you'll also consider reading a book of poetry this month, even if it's not something you usually read. Happy National Poetry Month everybody!

10% Off The Book Depository This Weekend!

The Book Depository is my favourite site for buying books online so I had to share this information. They have the cheapest prices I can find and ship using normal mail which is a lot more convenient for me than courier. And it's free shipping almost everywhere in the world!

This weekend you can save 10% off your orders, as many times as you want. What that means is you can only save 10% per order, but you can make as many orders as you want and get the savings each time! Which is awesome if you are as indecisive as I am.

The promotion ends April 5th, 2011 at 5pm.

In order to have the option to enter a coupon you have to visit the site via this link.

That's right, click here!

The page it brings you to will give you all the information you need, but the promotion code is FACE3104

I'm already excitedly filling my (virtual) basket. What do you plan to buy?

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa begins when quiet seventeen-year-old Mari who works at the front desk of her mother's hotel witnesses a middle-aged man and a prostitute being expelled from Hotel Iris. Mari is drawn in by the man's voice and when she runs into the man in town she continues to be seduced by him. The man is a translator living on a small island of the coast, he is a widower who may have murdered his wife, and Mari begins to visit him she finds an escape from her controlling mother into a dark world of pain and pleasure.

Hotel Iris instantly draws the reader into Mari's quiet and controlled world, which is disrupted when the translator visits the hotel. From the moment she hears him speak, Mari says:
"I was confused and afraid, and yet somewhere deep inside I was praying that voice would someday give me an order, too."
As the relationship between Mari and the translator develops I admit that I found the book pretty shocking because although the beginning feels like a quiet novel it suddenly turned into graphic and violent interactions between Mari and the translator. When Mari thinks about the relationship she has with the translator who is several decades older, she says:
"But I wanted this body I worshiped to be ugly- only then could I taste my disgrace. Only when I was brutalized, reduced to a sack of flesh, could I know pure pleasure."
Throughout Hotel Iris Mari maintains a voice that is cool and detached, even as she describes her experiences with the translator. Ogawa's writing is smooth and sparse, and it is a testament to her skill that I was mostly able to appreciate a book even as it made me uncomfortable with Mari's desire to be shamed and abused. That said, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Hotel Iris is a tortured complex story about a girl growing up and recognizing herself through humiliation. She is a girl who doesn't know what love really feels like, who believes she is ugly. Her mother insists on getting compliments about Mari from the guests and as well as obsessively brushing her hair, but this only makes things worse.
"If Mother is so intent on paying me compliments, it might be because she doesn’t really love me very much. In fact, the more she tells me how pretty I am, the uglier I feel. To be honest, I have never once thought of myself as pretty."
The ugliness Mari feels on the inside seems to correspond directly with the pleasure she feels when the translator degrades her. Even though Mari says this is what she wants and appears to enjoy it, I couldn't help but feel pity and sadness for her and repulsion towards the much older man who so willingly abuses her. Hotel Iris has definitely convinced me to pick up another book by Ogawa in the future, probably her most famous novel The Housekeeper and the Professor which has a much less shocking storyline. Ogawa's writing allows the reader to flow through the story smoothly without any clear plot although I was disappointed by the twist near the end which seemed an easy way of wrapping things up. Overall, Hotel Iris is odd and disturbing, but you can't help but be intrigued. 

Translated By: Stephen Snyder
Release Date: March 30th, 2010 (First Published in Japanese in 1996)
Pages: 164
: Publisher

Buy the Book

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen begins when Jessica wakes up in the hospital after having her leg amputated below the knee following a car accident on the way home from a tournament. This would be devastating for any teenager, but it is particularly horrific for Jessica, a girl whose life revolves around running. If she can't run anymore, she think she would have been better off dying in the accident like another member of her track team did. It doesn't matter that she'll be able to walk again with the help of a prosthetic leg, walking doesn't matter when your whole life is running. As Jessica learns to adjust to life without her leg, she finds herself but ignored and the center of attention at the same time. One person who knows how she feels is Rosa, a girl with CP in her math class who's helping her with all the math she missed. Maybe with some help form her family, friends, coach and teammates Jessica can cross finish lines again- and maybe she can take Rosa with her.

I have read Van Draanen before, both Flipped and at least one Sammy Keyes book I believe, but it hasn't been since I was in elementary school I believe. So how does she stack up a decade later? Better than I remember actually. Although I do remember Flipped being a cute book, in The Running Dream Van Draanen tackles a big issue when she makes her main character a teenage girl who has lost their leg, and she does it with strength and inspiration.

Jessica is an incredibly realistic main character and she's also a great role model but she's not perfect. She's strong and inspiring but she also gets grumpy and bitter, and Van Draanen makes it clear what an important role supporting friends and family play in Jessica's recovery. The fact that Jessica has a best friend, Fiona, who is there with her, pushing her but also supporting her, was something I found refreshing. I find quite often main characters going through a tragedy in YA literature are completely abandoned by their friends and it was nice to read a book where the characters had a true, strong, friendship with a great girl who was a positive influence on her. I also felt many of the other secondary characters, in particular Jessica's family, were really authentic. Her younger sister was frustrated with Jessica's moodiness but also also really proud of her accomplishments, while her dad and mom struggle both financially and emotionally while always supporting Jessica but trying to be realistic.

Although I appreciated the theme in The Running Dream of seeing a person and not their disability I did feel that at times Van Draanen pushed the Rosa storyline too far and wished for a little more subtlety in that regard. Rosa is clearly an inspiration, but portions of the book involving her sometimes were a bit heavy-handed, veering dangerously into motivational speech territory, especially when it comes to the ending. I also wasn't sold on Jessica's relationship with her long-time crush, they were cute but I never really felt a true connection between them. There were also two loose ends, both involving money storylines, that were left unresolved at the end of the novel when I had hoped for a little more closure.

As a whole, Van Draanen has done a fantastic job with The Running Dream. The book begins with short chapters, and although they become longer later I felt it did a really good job of representing the ups and downs that Jessica felt. Unsurprisingly, it was also a very emotional read, there is one scene where Jessica gives herself a shower that really stuck with me in particular- a strong reminder of the things that so many people take forgranted. Ultimately, The Running Dream is successful because of authentic characters, clear writing, and the uplifting way in which Van Draanen tackles a serious and important topic.

Release Date: January 11th, 2011
Pages: 336
: Publisher

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Waiting on Wednesday: Alone in the Classroom

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.

I've been trying to read more Canadian literature over the last year and one upcoming Canadian novel I am very much looking forward to is Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay.
In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later, on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent end. These are only two of the mysteries in the life of the narrator's charismatic aunt, Connie Flood. As the narrator Anne pieces together her aunt's lifelong attachment to her former student Michael Graves, and her obsession with Parley Burns, the inscrutable principal implicated in the assault of Michael's younger sister. Her own story becomes connected with that of the past, and the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles -- aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter -- until a sudden, capsizing love changes Anne's life. Alone in the Classroom is Hay's most tense, intricate, and seductive novel yet.

Alone in the Classroom will be published on April 26th 2011 by McClelland & Stewart.

Do you try to read books written by authors from your native country? Any other Canadian author recommendations? What are you waiting on this Wednesday? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

"But perhaps the politics of a time determine the disposition of a man; perhaps a revolutionary is only a revolutionary in revolutionary times."
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb takes place in contemporary Vietnam at a time when the country is undergoing huge changes. Tu is a young tour guide, but he can't help thinking that what people are interested in seeing is not the real Vietnam at all. He meets Maggie, Vietnamese by birth but having been raised mostly in America, who has come to learn what she can of her mysterious father and his disappearance. Connecting them is Old Man Hung, a man who has been cooking pho for decades and now lives in a shantytown next door to the woman he has loved but not spoken to in decade and whose restaurant once housed a generation of artist revolutionaries including Tu's grandfather.

The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a story told quietly but effectively, with smooth language which flows and fits the reserved nature of the characters extremely well. Each character shows a different perspective into contemporary Vietnam, but my favourite was definitely Old Man Hung with his refusal to give up his integrity even when it could benefit him. He is wise and kind, and through him Gibb shows the reader how family can mean more than blood. The novel also provides insight into the complex differences between cultures, specifically Vietnamese and American, and how even though Maggie was born in Vietnam she is seen as an outsider for her accent and modern-thinking.

It took me awhile to get into The Beauty of Humanity Movement but once I did it completely captured my heart. It's not that the book picks up pace, in fact the whole thing is told quite slowly, but rather that Gibb's storytelling is steady and consistent and after awhile I became completely drawn in and involved in the novel so that the details and background at the beginning became reward for a rich and deep story. I also fully recommend reading the book on a full stomach, much of the story centres around food and Old Man Hung's pho and Gibb's description of the food is incredibly realistic and tempting. I'm always excited to find another Canadian author I enjoy and although this is the first novel I've read by Gibb, but it has encouraged me to pick up another book by her, probably Sweetness in the Belly, at some time in the future. Overall, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a steady and emotional story with incredible attention to detail and elegant, smooth writing with which Gibb lets the reader into a complex and unfamiliar world.

Release Date: April 6th, 2010
Pages: 320
Buy the Book

This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez is the story of four teenagers and their sexual identities. There's Lance, and although he knows he's gay he's never had a boyfriend. Sergio might be Lance's first chance, but he's bisexual and his only real relationship was with a girl and Lance doesn't even believe bisexuality exists. When they meet they each bring along their own female best friend. Allie is Lance's best friend and she's been in the same relationship with a guy for two years, but then she starts having weird feelings for Kimiko, Sergio's friend and a lesbian who can't believe that Allie would ever be interested in a girl like her. All four of them certainly have a lot to figure out if their relationships are ever going to work.

Sanchez has taken on a few interesting issues in Boyfriends with Girlfriends, in particular the fluidity of sexual identity and the negative feelings towards bisexuality many gay individuals have, believing that bisexuals are still have closeted gays. The fact that the characters are all teenagers is important because of the fact that many teens do struggle with sexual identity and I feel as if Sanchez did a good job addressing that. All the characters in the novel felt authentic, as well as three dimensional, from Kimiko's insecurity to Sergio's love of dancing, Sanchez really brought them to life. Boyfriends with Girlfriends alternates in the perspective it is being told from, which helps let the reader into each character's mind but at times I found this was happening too much, even within one paragraph, which occasionally made it feel a bit disjointed and jumpy. 

Dialogue plays a huge role in the novel, and although I am fairly certain it is realistic dialogue there were a few moments when it felt abrupt. Personally, I am more interested in getting to know what is going on inside the character's mind and I found that was lacking at times because so much was going on out-loud and not internally. I think this may have contributed to the fact that some decisions or resolutions felt rushed, because there wasn't quite enough time to let what was happening soak in before a new conversation had begun. I also don't feel the need to know exactly what is going on in every conversation, but overly dialogue-driven stories may just be something I have a slight bias against.

The other issue I had with Boyfriends with Girlfriends is that it got a little too cheesy or heavy-handed at times when it was clear what Sanchez was trying to say but he was doing it so overtly when I think a little subtlety would have helped tell the story more effectively. These are important messages that Sanchez is trying to bring across: that not everyone fits into the perfect "gay" and "straight" boxes and that life is about giving ourselves the opportunity to determine who exactly we are and not letting others define us. Overall, Boyfriends with Girlfriends has authentic main characters and a worthwhile message, there were just occasional flaws in the storytelling which distracted me from them.

Release Date: April 19th, 2011
Pages: 224
: E-galley from Publisher

Buy the Book

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

"Loves are like empires: when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away."
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is the complex story of a womanizing man married to a woman with a dog, who still maintains his mistress, who also happens to have her own lover. The novel takes place in Prague during the Soviet occupation of the 1960s. It is the fourth book I have read by Kundera, all in the last year, following Ignorance, Life is Elsewhere and Identity. I will say that in terms of clear storyline and ability to follow the novel chronologically, I think The Unbearable Lightness of Being is fairly consistent with Kundera's other works, and if anything I found it easier to follow. That said, it's certainly not straightforward.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is incredibly interesting from a philosophical perspective. Kundera talks to his readers, he doesn't deny that this is fiction,
"As I have pointed out before, characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about. But isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?"
The novel is full of contemplations on life and death, love and sex. It is incredibly quotable. However the odd thing is that considering I wrote down nearly every second sentence as something that I wanted to remember, I didn't actually fall in love with the book. Kundera as a writer is somebody whose work I find more interesting intellectually than I do emotionally, and this was definitely the case in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where not a single character, except maybe the dog, was likable. It also may have been the specific mindframe I was in when reading the novel, but I could never really find myself invested in the story and it took me about a month to finish. It was actually surprising to me that it took this long because I devoured the first two of seven parts but at that point I became a little tired of the whole thing. A bit tired of the philosophical rambling and a bit tired of constantly being reminded that this is an exercise rather than a story when I just wanted to loose myself in the world Kundera kept reminded me it didn't exist.

I will definitely be picking up Kundera again in the future, I just have to give him a break and make sure I am in the right state of mind for his specific type of writing. Because when he's good, as he was in Identity, he's really good. And I know there are different, probably better, ways to look at this novel than I am but the mood we are in when we read something has such an important role in our response to it and in this case it seemed no matter when picked up the book, I just wasn't in the mood for it. I really do love the way Kundera words things, the way he captures and crystallizes human motivations and desires so clearly but as a novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being just didn't quite work for me.

Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Pages: 272
: Ebook/Personal Copy
Buy the Book

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In My Mailbox (March 20th-26th 2011)

A slightly slower than usual week in my mailbox but a very happy one all the same. It was a great week for YA though which is a nice change from the usual literary fiction I read a lot of.

{For Review}
Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell (Thomas Allen & Sons)
Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Thomas Allen & Sons)
The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem (Thomas Allen & Sons)
The Vespertine by Shaundra Mitchell (Thomas Allen & Sons)
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (Random House Canada)

I'm looking forward to all of these books, but I was particularly excited to get The Vespertine in the mail, a finished copy which looks absolutely gorgeous, I'm a bit of a sucker for the metallic writing. I've also been reading a lot of adult historical fiction, so a young adult historical fiction novel will be a different change. Annexed is also historical fiction, which I already owned so now I definitely need to read it! The other highlight was The Running Dream, which I actually already read- it was really inspirational, so expect a review in the near future. 

How was your mailbox this week?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Interview with Ellen Meister

Ellen Meister's third novel The Other Life was recently released and after I had the chance to read and review the book, she was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for In The Next Room.

The Other Life is your third novel, but the first two seem to be categorized more as "chick-lit" from what I've seen- how do you feel about this label? Is the genre something you intentionally moved away from in your recent book?

I wasn't thinking about genre when I wrote any of my books. I was just writing the stories that moved me most at that time. With Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, that meant a friendship story about three women who conspire to get a George Clooney movie filmed in their children's schoolyard. With The Smart One, that meant a sister story in which the discovery of a body in an industrial drum serves as a catalyst to their relationship.

So while The Other Life does indeed seem to be some kind of major shift—with a darker landscape, a higher concept and deeper emotional waters—it still has a female relationship at its core, as it explores the power of the love between my protagonist and her mother. So in that sense its heart in the same place as my other books.

I just read that The Other Life has been optioned by HBO as a TV series. First of all, congratulations, that's awesome! I was wondering if you had the ability to cast anyone in the major roles of the book, who would they be? Did you have anyone in mind when you were writing the book?

Thanks! I'm a huge HBO fan and this was the most thrilling career news I ever got.

As far as casting, that wasn't on my mind while writing the book. But after it was finished and a Hollywood agent took it on, I allowed myself the indulgence of wondering about it, trying to match actresses who could play my thirty-something protagonist with actresses who could play her mother. It became almost a game, and I came up with just about every combination imaginable. It was a lot of fun, but what it taught me is that there's no single casting answer. If the HBO series gets produced, the key will be finding actors with the right chemistry.

A huge portion of The Other Life revolves around Quinn learning that the child she is carrying has a disability, as a mother yourself what was it like writing about such an emotional topic? Do you have any advice for women who are going through something like what Quinn experiences?

I had to navigate some rough emotional waters to write about Quinn's situation. But, as the mom of a kid with special needs, I knew that her love for this kid would be as profound and life-changing as anything a person could experience. To moms out there just beginning the journey of raising such a kid, know that there will be moments of joy that will fill you.

Where did the inspiration for The Other Life come from?

The Other Life grew out of a fleeting thought I had when sitting down to write. I was contemplating the notion that each day, when my husband left for work and the children left for school, I got to escape into this fantasy world I was creating with my fiction. That got me wondering what would happen if a married woman like me had the ultimate escape … the ability to slip through a portal to the life she would have had if she had made completely different choices.

But of course, I understood that it would take something monumental for a happily married woman with children to consider leaving her family, even temporarily. I lived with the idea for quite a while before it all started coming together. However, it wasn’t until I realized that her mother was dead in one life and alive in the other that I knew I had a book.

Do you have one book you think everyone must read? Who are some of your favourite authors?

Yes, The Other Life!

Seriously, I think everyone should read the books that move them and deliver some kind of joy. Despite what our English teachers tried to tell us in school, novels are not medicine.

My favorite authors are those who explore the relationships between people in new and surprising ways, and whose affection for their characters—despite their flaws—goes directly from the page to my heart. It's a long, ever-changing list, but some constants include Richard Russo, Richard Yates, Dorothy Parker, Elinor Lipman, Steve Almond, Wally Lamb, Susan Isaacs, Harper Lee, Maya Angelou, Alice Hoffman, John Irving, Mary Gordon, E.L. Doctorow, Jane Austen, Jonathan Franzen, Joshilyn Jackson and J.D. Salinger.

What are you working on next?

I'm working on a novel about a timid woman movie critic whose life is changed in all kinds of unexpected ways when she is visited by the ghost of her idol, Dorothy Parker. The working title is Farewell, Dorothy Parker. It will be released sometime in 2012.

Ellen Meister is the author of three novels, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam, 2/11), THE SMART ONE (Avon A, 8/08) and SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA (Morrow/Avon, 8/06),Ellen Meister as well as numerous short stories. In addition to writing, she served as editor for a literary magazine, runs an online mentoring group for women authors, and curates for DimeStories, a literary radio program. Ellen does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. She is working on her fourth novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER.

Thanks so much to Ellen Meister for her time, and I fully recommend the mesmerizing The Other Life. Click here to read a review of the novel on In The Next Room. To learn more about Ellen's books visit the website

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Giveaway Winners

The winner of The Postmistress is:
The winner of The Dream of Perpetual Motion is:
The winner of Anyone Can Die is:

The winners all have 48 hours to respond to my e-mail or a new one will be chosen. Congrats everyone and don't forget my ongoing giveaway for Ape House. I also have a couple more coming up at the beginning of April to look forward to :) Thanks for stopping by!

As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman

As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman flows Martha, a girl from Cat Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario who is forcefully taken away to a residential school at the age of six. At the school, she is not allowed to speak her native language and is physically abused and punished. The worst part is the sexual abuse inflicted on her for six years by the school's priest, a man with an attraction to little girls. When Martha finally returns to her reserve, she finds herself an outcast, barely able to speak her native language, not knowing how to live in the wilderness, and haunted by the memories of her abuse. Unprepared for parenthood, she gives birth to a boy named Spider only to have him taken away by Children's Aid to Toronto. As Martha begins to heal and eventually gives birth to a second child, Raven, she leaves her daughter with her mother when she decides she must head to Toronto to find Spider and bring him home so that the three of them can finally be a family.

Novels about the unique Native experience is something that is sorely lacking not only from my own reading but from literature in general. However after appreciating the insight into Native American culture that was present in Shadow Tag by Lousie Erdrich which I read quite recently, I jumped at the opportunity to read As Long as the Rivers Flow both to help eliminate some of my own ignorance and because as a book the topic was extremely interesting. The novel is a horrifying but important reminder of what the Canadian government did, the residential school system was a way to force assimilation of the Native population and the consequences of them are still present not only in the survivors but in their children. As Long as the Rivers Flow shows the transgenerational impact that such terrible experiences and abuse can have. Martha was never shown affection or told I love you, so she doesn't know how to do it for her own children. Raven and her friends live in households where they feel like an outsider and a burden, and Bartleman helps to explain why the suicide rates among Native teens is so high.

From a literary perspective, I did find a lot of the dialogue in the novel awkward to read. A lot of the story is also told in a very straight-forward manner and because of the large time span to be covered at times areas of the story are a bit rushed or neglected. I think that there is so much story in As Long as the Rivers Flow that Bartleman could have drawn it out slightly longer. There is also a very important coincidence in the story which seemed like a bit of a lazy way to draw the story to resolution. The ending itself felt slightly rushed and a bit too optimistic considering all the damage that had been done, but it does have an important message about hope and healing.

Despite these flaws, As Long as the Rivers Flow is a powerful and important story. Bartleman shows not only how large the impact of abuse can be but also how in a situation like Martha's, as well as the unfortunate reality for some of the children who attended such schools, it is not just one person who is responsible. One nun in particular knowingly leads Martha to be abused again and again and is disappointed when she responds poorly to it. Bartleman doesn't go into detail of the abuse itself, but it lurks like a dark demon throughout the story and Martha's life, something that will be there forever. Ultimately, As Long as the Rivers Flow isn't flawless as a novel, but it is part of an important dialogue about what happened to the children who attended these residential schools, as well as what can happen to their children if the abuse and horror is pushed aside and forgotten.

Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Pages: 272
: ARC From Publisher
Buy the Book

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Compulsion

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
I'm particularly interested in books which deal with different forms of mental illness, or "issue" books. One of my favourite young adult novels is definitely Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe seems to take on obsessive compulsive disorder, which I also found interesting to read about in Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann.
Saturday will be the third state soccer championship in a row for Jake Martin. Three. A good number. Prime. Carson High can’t lose because Jake has the magic: a self-created protection generated by his obsession with prime numbers. It’s the magic that has every top soccer university recruiting Jake, the magic that keeps his family safe, and the magic that suppresses his anxiety attacks. But the magic is Jake’s prison, because sustaining it means his compulsions take over nearly every aspect of his life.

Jake’s convinced the magic will be permanent after Saturday, the perfect day, when every prime has converged. Once the game is over, he won’t have to rely on his sister, Kasey, to concoct excuses for his odd rituals. His dad will stop treating him like he is some freak. Maybe he’ll even make a friend other than Luc.

But what if the magic doesn’t stay? What if the numbers never leave?
Compulsion will be published May 1st 2011 by Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins).

How do you feel about novels that deal with mental illness, or other "issue" books? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

"It doesn’t matter how much his mother loves him; love is not enough to keep any of us alive."
Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a dystopia young adult novel set in the future where as a consequence of genetic engineering males only live to be twenty-five years old, and women only live to twenty. Afraid that the population will vanish if it is not quickly replenished, young women are kidnapped and forced in polygamous marriages. One such woman in Rhine, a sixteen-year-old girl taken as a bride to Linden, a twenty-one-year-old man who's first wife and love is dying and who's father has replaced her with three new brides for him. Rhine soon realizes that Linden really does care for her, and she also begins to form a friendship with her two sister wives, but that doesn't stop her from her one true goal: to escape, and go home to her twin brother who has no idea where she has disappeared to. In order to be free again, Rhine will have to contend with Linden's dangerous father who grows even more suspicious as Rhine's attachment to her servant Gabriel grows stronger...

One of the first things that drew me to this book, bad self, is the gorgeous cover. But once I had finished reading it I did have a complaint or two about its accuracy. For one, I do wish that Rhine's eyes were open. One of the most unique things about the girl is the fact that she is heterochromatic- one blue eye, one brown- and I think it would have been a subtle but interesting trait to have in the picture.  I also don't quite understand why there is a bird, I understand that like Rhine the bird is "caged", and the circle around her hand with her wedding ring on it indicates perhaps that she is trapped by her marriage, but it seems a bit silly and forced. That said, it may have been the cover which initially attracted me, but it was the story and writing that keep me turning the page.

Wither is certainly a dystopia, but like Lauren Oliver in Delirium, DeStefano deals with real feelings even if the context is imaginary.  The world Rhine is living in is incredibly different than the ones teens face today but DeStefano manages to capture her essence in a way that is completely relatable. Some of my favourite parts of the book had nothing at all to do with the plot or potential romance, but rather focused on the loss of innocence and nostalgia Rhine, like all teens, faces as she grows up. Of course in her case it is at an exponentially faster rate because she will die so young, but it is so beautiful the way DeStefano has her look back on her past, reflecting:
"Life is much different from the days when there were lilies in my mother’s garden, and all my secrets fit into a paper cup."
When it comes to the world-building aspect of Wither, I felt DeStefano was pretty successful. The idea of a perfect generation followed by diseased offspring fated to die young was original and certainly captures some of the current fears regarding genetic engineering particularly when it comes to humans. The only issue I had was that I occasionally found some of the details vague, and wished DeStefano had elaborated more on exactly what was happening to the people who were dying, which sounds a bit like tuberculosis because she has them coughing up blood, but was an area of the story I wished had been clarified. Another question I was left with was wondering why the rest of the kidnapped girls were killed when they weren't selected as brides- if wombs are so valuable, wouldn't any womb do? And even if they weren't wanted as brides, why did they need to be killed? Although I understand the killing of the girls as a motivation for Rhine to want to escape Linden's mansion, within the broader context of the world she created I didn't think DeStefano addressed this aspect very well.

The characters in Wither were all interesting and believable, and I particularly enjoyed the relationships between Rhine and her sister wives. There was a darkness and defeat in her older sister wife Jenna that was both complex and heartbreaking, in strong contrast to her young sister wife Cecila who is bent on being Linden's favourite even if it means turning her body into a baby factory. The young servants that served the women were painful to read about, as they clearly showed how even a prison can become a home. The only character I had a major problem with was Linden, who felt terribly clueless about pretty much everything.

In general, it was the romantic storylines- Rhine's relationship with both Linden and Gabriel- that I found less interesting than her personal struggles. DeStefano also included a decent number of plot twists that kept me quickly turning the page. Wither is definitely an engaging debut novel, and as the first in a trilogy I am eager to find out exactly what Linden's father is hiding in the basement. Overall, interesting characters and a clear, smooth writing style are what make Wither a memorable debut from DeStefano and although there are aspects I wish would have been fleshed out further I look forward to seeing what happens in the next book. 

Release Date: March 22nd, 2011
Pages: 356
: 4/5

Source: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab
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Monday, March 21, 2011

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

"I marvel how a single glance from my mother can feel like a shiny, protective shell all around me, as strong as the number 45 sunscreen I slather on my fair skin, the kind that won’t let any of the bad stuff in."
This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas is written from the perspective of Olivia Peters, a Catholic high school student who is incredibly excited when she wins a writing contest held by the successful novelist and local priest Mark Brendan who then offers to become her mentor. Things quickly escalate though, and it begins to seem as if Father Mark is interested in more than just Olivia's writing. Olivia is confused and afraid, wondering what kind of game Father Mark is playing and what his intentions really are.

I tend to shy away from books with religious undertones, and once I realized how Catholic Olivia and her family were- her sister refuses to kiss a boy until she is engaged, she attends a school with nuns- I was worried that This Gorgeous Game wouldn't have the same appeal for Non-Christians that it may for Christians. That I would feel distanced from the story or that it would be overwhelmed with religious agenda. This is completely not the case. Despite her religion, Olivia could be any teenage girl, and despite his affiliation, Father Mark could be any authority figure looking to take advantage of somebody who admires them. I loved Olivia's teenage writer voice, and how she seems to be talking directly to the reader, reflecting on her experiences. At one point she says:
"I think how if this were a scene in a story it would be the moment when the protagonist feels the world is made entirely and perfectly of love."
Already hinting at the darkness which is lurking as the novel progresses. That said, I did wish that the book had been slightly longer to give Freitas just a bit more time to develop the creepiness and fear that was beginning to permeate the story. I felt that compared to how time was spent on the introductory part of the novel, letting the reader get to know Olivia, that the ending was a bit rushed and I wasn't completely sold that Olivia had become so scared so quickly, and the time between her becoming scared and what she does next felt a bit too short for me.

I do feel Freitas dealt with an important but not regularly discussed issue which is what happens when an authority figure takes things too far- and where exactly that "too far" line is. The abuse of power that Olivia faces is an extremely important theme and it was great to read about it in a young adult novel. This Gorgeous Game was also very well-written, I found that Olivia was easy to relate to especially when it came to her feelings towards Father Mark. On one hand, she feels so lucky to have his attention, but on the other, she is creeped out by it. There were other characters that I wish I had been fleshed out a little more, such as Olivia's sister and friends as well as her mother, but as a main character Olivia was extremely strong in personality. The only thing I question about her is the fact that she is so perfect- she is beautiful, intelligent and a talented writer- and it just felt as if she needed a few flaws to make her more human.

Once you pick up This Gorgeous Game you won't be able to put it down. At only about 200 pages I read the entire thing in one sitting, captivated by Freitas' prose and ability to suck the reader into the story, paranoid about what is going to happen next. Freitas' talent means that you feel on edge the whole time you are reading the book, fearful of Father Mark and easily relating to Olivia's feelings about his attention. Although there were instances where I wished for more depth, This Gorgeous Game is a riveting read on an important subject in which Freitas tells a powerful and believable story.

Release Date: May 25th, 2010
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood is a part of the Cannongate Myth Series, of which I'd previously read Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson in which contemporary writers reinvent ancient myths. Atwood draws from Homer's The Odyssey, in which Odysseus' wife, Penelope, the daughter of King Icarus, is the quintessential faithful wife. Not so in The Penelopiad, which alternates between the perspective of Penelope and her twelve hanged maids, telling their story from the Underworld in modern times. 

Okay, so the first thing to know about this review is that I don't like Margaret Atwood. As a Canadian, I feel almost treasonous saying such a thing, but it's true. However I loved the concept of the Myth Series so much, and completely loved Weight, and the basic premise of the book sounded interesting, plus the book is insanely short in comparison to most works by Atwood, that I decided to give it a try anyway. Bad idea.

The retelling in The Penelopiad does not work well at all. Penelope has a knowledge of current events and what has gone on since her death, but these pop culture references do not add anything at all to the actual storyline, neither does any of the discussion regarding the lives Odysseus or Penelope's cousin Helen of Troy have lived since their original incarnations, so I never really understood the purpose of telling the story this way. Also, as interesting as I found the feminist imagining, most of the book came across as unfortunately whiny and the portions told from the perspective of the maids were awkwardly inserted and told in a variety of formats like a contemporary courtroom scene which seemed random and also didn't add anything to the story as a whole. Oftentimes it seemed more like Atwood was attempting to be clever than focusing on doing a good job telling the story.

I listened to The Penelopiad on audiobook, read by Laural Merlington, who did an ordinary though occasionally overly dramatic job as Penelope which worked alright for me as a reader. Unfortunately, listening to the book made the scenes featuring the chorus of maids singing together even more annoying than they would have been in print. 

The Penelopiad contains Atwood's signature verbose writing style, which flows smoothly in the portions where Penelope is speaking and occasionally contains some really beautiful phrases. The poetic prose was a reeming factor of the novel for me but there were simply too many flaws in what the writing was actually saying for me to enjoy it most of the time. The conflicting stories of Penelope and her maids were also interesting as it made the reader think about the concept of history in general; how different history may be depending on who you are hearing it from. Overall, The Penelopiad was not for me as a reader, but it offers a different take on a traditional myth that would likely be appreciated by those who usually enjoy Atwood's writing or who are particularly interested in mythology.

Read By: Laura Merlington 
Release Date: October 5th, 2005
Pages: 192 (3h 21m)
: 1.5/5

Source: Audio book
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

In My Mailbox (March 13th-19th 2011)

Well last week might have been a bit light on the books but this week sure was busy. I'm going to need a new bookshelf and another day in the week if this keeps up.

{For Review}
Separate Kingdoms: Stories by Valerie Laken (ARC) (TLC Tours)
The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones (TLC Tours)
A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer (TLC Tours)
The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack (TLC Tours)
Wrecker by Summer Wood (TLC Tours)
Just when I was starting to worry I wouldn't have enough time to read books before their tour dates, a whole batch arrived. I've already ready The Hunchback which is very different from the YA Sones is associated with but it is also written in verse which I enjoyed. A Fierce Radiance is a huge novel, which sometimes intimidates me especially when I am reading on a deadline, but the topic- a historical novel set during a time when penicillin is just being invented- was too interesting to turn down. Wrecker also looks wonderful, Wood was inspired by her experiences fostering children, and The Pun Also Rises (a non-fiction about language) and Separate Kingdoms (short stories) should also be great.
Nice Recovery by Susan Juby (Penguin Canada)
What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (ARC) (Penguin Canada)
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives: Stories by Zsuzsi Gartner (ARC) (Penguin Canada)
Mockingbird by Kathryn Eksine (Penguin Canada)
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Penguin Canada)
Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar (ARC) (Penguin Canada)

I got a wonderful batch from Penguin Canada, four in the young adult department and they all look great especially Nice Recovery which is actually a memoir, and Mockingbird which won the National Book Award. I've only read one Dessen before so I am definitely curious to read this one. The other two are for upcoming Penguin Canada book tours and they both look really interesting as well.
Origami Dove by Susan Musgrave (Random House Canada)
Folk by Jacob McArthur Mooney (Random House Canada)
Small Mechanics by Lorna Crozier (Random House Canada) 
Is by Anne Simpson (Random House Canada)
Huntress by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Younger Readers)
The Poetry of Rilke Translated by Edward Snow (D&M Publishers Inc)
Violets of March by Sarah Jio (Author)

Four books of poetry from Random House Canada that I'm really excited to feature during April for National Poetry Month, including Is which I read the day it arrived. One thing I realized when the books arrived is that I actually also just received Small Beneath The Sky, Crozier's memoir, about two weeks ago. I also got a fifth book of poetry, the biggest collection to date of poetry by Rilke who is one of my favourites. It's cool because it features the original text on the left side and the translation on the right. Jio asked me about reviewing her upcoming debut Violets of March and it sounded lovely so I said yes, but that was a couple months ago and I basically forgot until the gorgeous book arrived in the mail which was a happy surprise. Huntress is a novel I am definitely curious about, I liked certain aspects of Ash, Lo's debut, better than others, so I'm hoping that in this companion novel Lo focuses on her strengths.

In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

After loving The Raising by Kasischke I decided to spurge- okay it was a great deal- on her second most recent novel. I look forward to picking it up soon. The Oscar Wilde is a classic clothbound from Penguin as a thank you for appearing in their most recent Canadian newsletter. It was pretty cool to be their featured blogger, but also exciting to have the opportunity to pick any book published by them to receive as a thank you. Well thank you Penguin Canada, as Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books ever and even though I already own my copy is battered from lending it and I love having this gorgeous edition to hold onto permanently.

Overall, a very busy week but one filled with exciting and wonderful books I can't wait to read. How was your mailbox this week? Also, how do you like my new format for dividing up and talking about the books? I rambled a bit more than usual this week but I thought it would be a nice way to give a preview of the wonderful books I'll be reading soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Celebrating The Paperback Release of Ape House (Review + Giveaway)

I was lucky enough to read Ape House, the most recent novel by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) when it was first released in hardback last September. It was a wonderful experience that I loved even more than Water for Elephants. With the trade paperback release published by Random House Canada occurring on April 5th, I have the opportunity to share two brand new copies with two lucky Canadian readers.
Here's my review of the novel from when it was first published:
Ape House is Sara Gruen's fourth novel, and her follow up to the massive success Water for Elephants which I read in August. In Ape House a university language research lab which focuses on communicating with six Bonobo apes who can understand English and speak using American Sign Language is bombed. Researcher Isabel is in the lab when eco-terrorists bomb it and as a result Isabel is gravely injured and the university sells the apes who latter turn up on a reality TV show called Ape House. The same day as the bombing, John a journalist from the Philadelphia inquirer was visiting to interview about the research going on. He quickly becomes interested in the subsequent events only to have the story stolen from him by a colleague- a fact which doesn't stop John from pursuing the truth. As sidelines to the ape story, Gruen also tells the story of John and his writer wife as well as Isabel's relationship with her boss. However what really connects both main characters is the fact that although they may have different motives both Isabel and John are determined to find out who is responsible for the bombing and how to get the apes back- whatever it takes.

Despite enjoying Water for Elephants, somehow I still was surprised by how much I loved Ape House. This probably stemmed from the fact that the two novels are extremely different. By really focusing on the apes Gruen tells a tender and realistic story which may not result in many literary accolades, it is not quite as dense or vivid as Water for Elephants, but certainly is a worthwhile read. The plot basis for Ape House was extremely different than Water for Elephants- I definitely didn't expect a criminal storyline, but it is something Gruen handles with remarkable ease. The characters sometimes veer towards caricatures (though not nearly as much as they did in Water for Elephants) especially John's wife who is a female trying to fit into Hollywood through use of botox and going blonde. The strongest characters in Ape House are definitely the apes- each of whom have distinct and adorable personalities. Gruen was able to visit the Great Ape Trust who inspired the research lab in the novel, and her ability to incorporate true stories and details like she once did with circus life, are what make the book truly unique and interesting.

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of the book better than Water for Elephants, but the ending wrapped up a little too well making it slightly unrealistic and my least favourite portion of the novel. The final pages also began to veer on educational and preachy in comparison to the rest of the book. However Ape House is definitely a book with mass appeal- it has something in it for animal lovers, for people who enjoy a mystery, and even a little relationship drama. But most importantly Ape House leaves the the reader with the feeling that not only are the Bonobos Isabel's family, by the end of the book they feel like your family too.
And now your opportunity to win your own copy of the novel:

In order to enter to win a copy of Ape House you must be a follower and leave a comment letting me know if there has ever been an animal in your life you considered family like Isabel treats the apes. Make sure to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win, after which you will have 48 hours to claim the prize. You can spread the word for a second entry, just make sure to leave a separate comment with a link. This giveaway will run until April 5th 2011 at 11:59 MST and is open to Canada, no PO boxes. Remember there will be TWO winners. Enjoy!

The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence

"It was only after something broke into its individual parts that you saw how miraculous the whole had been, how fragile. He should have known this from all the sketches he’d made of dead things that had once been living."
The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence begins with an explosion, a fireworks factory goes up in flames in a seaside town during 1937 creating a bang that is heard all around. Clayton Poole hears it while in school and rushes to make sure his older sister Nancy is okay. When the explosion happens Nancy's horse spooked but she is soon more interested in the stranger she meets when she goes to see her aunt Mavis than returning home. But the explosion itself is just the beginning, as everything begins to change for Clayton and Nancy, two orphans who have been taken in by their aunt, uncle and grandfather. When Nancy leaves their house on Salt Hay Road for Boston and her marriage, Clayton decides not to follow. But if they thought the fireworks explosion or Nancy's marriage turned their world upside down it is nothing compared to what nature has in store for them the following year.

For a book that begins with an explosion, The House on Salt Hay Road is best categorized by its quiet strength. Clevidence manages to poetically capture the essence of the small town in the years leading up to World War II, as well as the youthfulness of her main characters. As real and strong as Nancy and Clayton are, their aunt Mavis, uncle Roy and grandfather Scudder are equally powerfully drawn. As they reflect on their youth and the passing years, the readers gets to know them one anecdote at a time. The story itself is told fairly slowly, building like a wave until it eventually boils over with a powerful and heartbreaking climax.

The House on Salt Hay Road is not a book you can rush reading, and it took me quite a bit longer than I thought it would considering it is under 300 pages. Clevidence pulls you into the story and you want to linger on each sentence, slowly digesting it. It is honestly one of those novels where I could not find a single word out of place, it is clear that each one was thoughtfully chosen and edited with the result being smooth, crisp, and beautiful prose. The only criticism I can make is that I occasionally found there were too many names used in the novel, particularly when the character didn't reappear later it seemed unnecessary.

Talented writing aside, there are also some interesting discussions which go on in The House on Salt Hay Road, particularly when it comes to God, and especially with regards to the character of Mavis whose faith is unshattered despite the struggles she has gone through. At one point she says:
"It seemed to her that God intended to peel the earth back like a scab. As if, beneath its hardness, something tender and new had been forming all this time."
Scudder also goes into detail with a tragic story of how he lost his faith. Scudder's fear at losing his granddaughter Nancy to a marriage that feels sudden, as well as his grief at the death of Nancy and Clayton's mother who was also his daughter, was absolutely heart-breaking to read about. I am in awe of how well Clevidence managed to capture characters on both ends of the age spectrum, and my only wish was that there had been more of Scudder and his best friend the Captain, who mostly vanish about two thirds through the novel. Although the reasons for their disappearance are both understandable and crucial to the story development, I definitely missed them. There were so many moments that touched my heart in this book, Clayton's adventures capturing bugs and feeding the birds at the local museum in particular come to mind. Overall, I completely recommend The House on Salt Hay Road, a powerful yet quiet debut from Clevidence, who's next novel I will certainly be picking up.

Release Date: May 25th, 2010 
Pages: 285
Source: Publisher 
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

"Every story—love or war—is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right."
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake tells the story of several women during World War II, including Iris, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town in Cape Code, as well as American radio reporter Frankie who is stationed in England, and Emma, a young woman who arrives in Franklin to be with her new husband, the local doctor.  It is a story about secrets and letters, about accidents and fate. 

There were many things I enjoyed about the novel but one of my disappointments with The Postmistress is the fact that Blake uses technology at a time that doesn't exist, specifically the recording device that Frankie takes with her to interview people. Although Blake explains her reasoning for this at the back of the book, specifically that it is only off by a couple years and she felt it was important for the story, for something that plays such a huge role in the book I was let down when I learned it was inaccurate.

I also didn't care for the the postmistress herself, and I was pretty happy when she turned out to not to be the main focus of the novel. Particularly, at the beginning of the book she goes to get a certificate to prove her virginity to the man she is interested in dating, an event which seemed completely odd and out of place within the context of the rest of the novel. Iris's inexperience was already clear and having her go and be examined just felt strange and could probably have been edited out without being missed. Also, the novel begins with Frankie beginning to tell the story about a postmistress who didn't deliver a letter yet the reason for this flashforward was never quite clear and didn't really add anything to the story as a whole.

The most significant thing I loved about The Postmistress was Blake's writing, which results in a novel that is not just enjoyable as historical fiction, but adds depth and dimension to the story. I loved the way that she talked about the concept of telling a story, something that Frankie, as a reporter, thinks about a lot. She brings the idea of storytelling alive with such statements as: 
"Some stories don’t get told. Some stories you hold on to. To stand and watch and hold it in your arms was not cowardice. To look straight at the beast and feel its breath on your flanks and not to turn—one could carry the world that way."
Blake sweeps the reader into her world, and I particularly loved the portions of the novel that focused on Frankie, a character with plenty of passion and confusion in her heart. The storyline which dealt with reporting during a war reminded me slightly of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, which also featured a strong independent woman at the core of a war-torn country. Like Soli, Blake manages to vividly capture the feeling of war and my favourite parts of the book were those which took place in underground bomb-shelters or after a bombing. It was in those moments that Blake truly captivates the reader.

The Postmistress is a beautifully written book. The problem with it is either that it takes on too much or at the very least, too much of what it covers failed to entrance me in the same way that the scenes which had to do with the war did. Even those portions loosely connected to the war- Emma coping while her husband is away, Frankie dealing with her experiences after she returns to the United States- had a power to them that I found lacking when the focus was more ordinary. Ultimately, I loved the language of The Postmistress even if I didn't always love what it was saying.

Release Date: February 9th 2010
Pages: 371
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop: The Postmistress

Welcome to Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room. I'm offering one copy of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.
Summary from Goodreads:
Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.
On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter. In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.
The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right.
You must be a follower to enter this giveaway. To enter leave a comment letting me know about a meaningful piece of mail you have received. Make sure you include your e-mail address so I have a way to contact you. The winner will be randomly selected using random and will have 48 hours to reply to my e-mail. It is open the US and Canada only, no PO Boxes. This giveaway will close when the giveaway hop ends at 11:59 PM on March 20th EST.

Click here to return to the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop homepage and visit the rest of the awesome stops. 

I also have two other giveaways going on right now, The Dream of Perpetual Motion and Anyone Can Die. Feel free to enter those as well.

The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross

The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is a memoir centering around the fact that as a young child Ross was repeatedly abused by her stepfather- the man she called Dad since her biological father had passed away when she was only seven months old. Ross loved the new man in her life who filled out her family and did wonderful things like taking them camping in the wilderness. That all changed when she was first sexually abused at only eight years old on a camping trip. It was the first of dozens of attacks, and as Ross finally had the courage to come forward and stop the abuse, she had to deal with the fact that her family didn't believe her and her stepfather was unapologetic. After decades of hidden emotional struggles, she finally confronts her attacker, the man she still calls dad, on a camping trip to the same place where the cycle began. The Source of All Things is Ross' story of how abuse impacted her life, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave for her own children.

The first thing I want to say about this book should be obvious, but I just want to make sure: I am reviewing this as a work of literature. Ross is an incredibly strong woman to have overcome all she has gone through, and it goes without saying that it must have taken incredible bravery to write this memoir in the first place. That said, as inspiring as it is for her to reflect on her abuse and how she was able to move past it, I did have serious issues with the book itself. Ross does a great job at letting the reader know what it is like in the mind of somebody who has been abused, how it lead to a cycle of bad behaviours including an abusive relationship with a man named Colin. Reflecting on one of their very first dates, Ross writes:
"It took a long time for Colin to calm himself enough to accept my apology. I stared past him, wishing I could resume dancing. But when someone tells you how wounded he is- partially on account of your actions- a pair of shackles materializes out of the air and binds you together. I knew I'd crossed a line. I also knew there was no retracting."
Despite knowing instantly that Colin is bad news, Ross doesn't know how to escape his grip on her life. It is devastating to read about her putting herself in harm's way after finally having gotten away from her childhood abuse.  Behaviours such as this are unfortunate but understandable, and from what I gathered in the book, quite unsurprising for victims of abuse which can severely damage their self-esteem. Still, too often I found myself knowing what Ross was doing but not quite understanding the why, I wished she would have elaborating more on what she was thinking when she made particular decisions.

Often, I found Ross' actions very conflicting and confusing. She wants to be independent of her mother and stepfather, but continues to accept money from them. She lets them pay for the wedding, but then refuses to let her stepfather walk her down the aisle. She seems to sway back and forth in so many of her decisions, wanting to have it both ways. At times, the reason for this seems clear- that she doesn't want to make a hassle- but then she does something that directly conflicts with her previous actions and as a reader I became confused again.

Ross also allows her stepfather to spend a lot of time with her children, even though he has never really come clean about how he abused her. Then, when he finally does, she decides he's not allowed to see them anymore (or at least very rarely). It is hard for me to fathom in what kind of situation a mother would allow her abuser access to her own children, and it is also something that Ross appears to struggle with. That said, Ross' decision that because her stepfather has finally been honest with her, he should no longer be able to see her children, doesn't really make sense to me as a reader. That's not to say it's wrong- but I read this book to get insight into her situation and the lack of explanation about her actions often left me puzzled and wanting more. 

The other problem I had with The Source of All Things is the extensive detail about all of Ross' wilderness adventures like living in Alaska. These sorts of experiences may be interesting to some people, but I was expecting a memoir, not a travel journal, and oftentimes the book got bogged down and distracted by all of this unrelated information. The memoir itself is based on an article Ross wrote, and I can't help but wonder if when she went to elaborate she got quite off-topic in the process. The part of the book that did touch me especially was when Ross talks about what she wants her legacy to be for her own sons, children she never imagined she would have because she felt so damaged by her own childhood. Writing about them, she says:
"One day, when they are old enough to finally read this, I’ll want my sons to know they rescued me. That even though I was terrified by their raw, needy bodies, I loved them the second I touched the silky hairs covering their rice-paper skin. Ever since they were born, they have forced me out of the darkness and into a bigger, happier world."
The Source of All Things definitely shows what the impact of abuse can be long-term on a person and it is an incredibly brave book, and portions of it were quite successful, but I found it too often was off-topic and unclear to be completely successful as a memoir.

Release Date: March 8th, 2011
Pages: 304
: 2/5

Source: Egalley from Publisher
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Waiting on Wednesday: 1Q84

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
I'm still a novice when it comes to Haruki Murakami, having only read four of his books and none of his most famous ones. However I was still excited to learn that an English translation of 1Q84 will be released later this year, as Murakami has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I don't know much about this book but that's the way Murakami wanted it so I'm going to stick to a blurb which explains the title of the novel.
Prior to the 1Q84's publication, Murakami stated that he would not reveal anything about the book, following criticism that leaks had diminished his previous books' novelty. 1Q84 was noted for heavy advance orders despite this secrecy. The title is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of the year 1984. The letter Q and the Japanese number 9 (typically romanized as "kyū," but as "kew" on the book's Japanese cover) are homophones, which are often used in Japanese wordplay. This is a reference to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
This book originally was published in 2008 in Japanese, so the translation has been awhile in progress. Unlike in Japan where 1Q84 was released in three volumes, in North America the novel will be published by Knopf in a single volume, released on October 25th, 2011. The book will be approximately 1,000 pages, so it will definitely be enough Murakami to dig into for awhile!

Have you ever had to deal with a long wait for a book you're anticipating to come out in your language? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

"Her poor husband has misguidedly hoarded his pennies, when the only currency they spent that had ever counted was time."
When So Much for That by Lionel Shriver begins, Shep Knacker is packing his suitcase, preparing to tell his wife, Glynis he is leaving for The Afterlife, a retreat into a Third World country where his nest egg can last forever. Having sold his home repair business a decade earlier and having since been forced to work for the incompetent man who bought the company, Shep has been dreaming of his moment his whole life but Glynis keeps putting it off. Finally Shep decides he is going, with or without her. Unfortunately, plans fall apart when it turns out she has news of her own- she has cancer, and she needs his health insurance. At first, Shep believes that his health insurance will cover the cost of her treatment and he'll still have the money he spent his whole life saving, but he soon realizes that their policy will only cover a small portion of Glynis' bills and as nest egg evaporates Shep is forced to wonder, how much is a human life really worth?  

So Much For Tha
t was a book I really appreciated while not necessarily enjoying. What I mean by that is, Shriver's writing is great, but the book was often so depressing I almost dreaded picking it up because it would mean another turn of events for the worse. I do feel it has an important story to tell when it comes to the current American system of health care, and even though I am fortunate to live in a country with socialized health care it definitely provided a good reminder of why I am so grateful we have that system in place. I actually found the main storyline of Shep's dying wife less bleak than some of the other medical subplots, in particular a botched surgery which has terrible consequences and whose gruesome imagery I had a very hard time getting out of my mind.

Shriver is clearly a very talented writer, how else would she be able to depress me so thoroughly? At times I even found myself skipping ahead and hoping that if I knew what happened, I would be less depressed when it did, a method that only had limited success. Still, I guess I am glutton for punishment because although I will not be rereading So Much For That I had previously purchased an earlier novel of hers, The Post-Birthday World, and I plan to read it some day when I need a reminder that the world really isn't a bright and sunny place.

That said, there were a few portions of So Much For That which seemed to be there more to make a political statement about health care than to actually add to the story as a whole. Specifically, some of the discussions between Shep and his best friend Jackson, as well as Jackson's constant ranting about pretty much everything, tended to lose my interest and seemed more like a lecture than a novel. It also took me almost a hundred pages to get involved in the book, and if I was one of those people with a rule about giving up after fifty pages I would have missed out on a memorable book. Overall, if you are willing to trudge through some of the slower portions of the book, So Much For That will leave you with important and powerfully worded message.

Release Date: March 1st, 2010
Pages: 448
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.