Monday, February 28, 2011

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

The Other Life by Ellen Meister is the story of Quinn, a woman in her thirties with a haunting secret: somehow, her life contains portals which allow her to slip into another world, an alternative reality for major life decisions like leaving the man she was with for her husband. So far, Quinn has avoided leaving for her other life but that doesn't mean she hasn't been tempted. When she learns the second child she is carrying in her womb suffers from a major and potentially life-ending disability, Quinn, still longing for the mother she lost to suicide years earlier, begins to visit her other life where she stayed with her boyfriend and the two are still together, although unmarried and childless. Most important though, in her other life, Quinn's mother is still alive.

In The Other Life Meister tackles questions everyone has, the big What If, that follows our major life choices. Although the basic premise of the book is slightly science fiction- this ability that Quinn has to move between worlds- it really just a way for Meister to tell a story about the choices we make and the lure of the path not taken. I found myself devouring The Other Life, the book unquestionably hooks the reader into the story, and I was unable to put down the novel once I picked it up until I finished it. The book is compelling and enjoyable, the plot itself is fairly simple but the way that Meister tells the story makes it one that readers will easily connect with.

The other major theme Meister addresses in her novel is the mourning of a parent- Quinn's other life would not have tempted her so much if it didn't include the mother she never really said goodbye to. It poses some interesting questions, because as much as Quinn wants her mother, in order to achieve that she will have to leave her own son motherless. Quinn also has to decide if she wants to carry her child to term despite its disability. These sorts of dilemmas that Quinn faces are extremely interesting and morally ambiguous, and I think that they would help make The Other Life a fantastic book club choice as there is certainly a lot that can be discussed about the novel.

Overall, The Other Life is a mesmerizing and heart-breaking story. The characters are believable and well-written, and the choices Quinn faces are both thought-provoking and realistic. The concept of the book is perhaps not incredibly original, and admittedly I found the plot very predictable, but ultimately what makes the novel so worthwhile is the fantastic storytelling by Meister.  The Other Life begins with a question- what if you could take the other path- and the way that Meister answers that question is powerfully and beautifully written.

Release Date: February 17th, 2011
Pages: 320
Overall: 4/5
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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. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Giveaway: The Dream of Perpetual Motion

In combination with my review of The Dream of Perpetual Motion I have the opportunity to give away a copy of this intelligent and exciting steampunk book. Click here to read my review of the novel.

The summary of the book from Goodreads is:
Imprisoned for life aboard a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis, the greeting-card writer Harold Winslow pens his memoirs. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent, the only woman he has ever loved, and the cryogenically frozen body of her father Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate who drove her insane.

The tale of Harold’s life is also one of an alternate reality, a lucid waking dream in which the well-heeled have mechanical men for servants, where the realms of fairy tales can be built from scratch, where replicas of deserted islands exist within skyscrapers.. As Harold’s childhood infatuation with Miranda changes over twenty years to love and then to obsession, the visionary inventions of her father also change Harold’s entire world, transforming it from a place of music and miracles to one of machines and noise. And as Harold heads toward a last desperate confrontation with Prospero to save Miranda’s life, he finds himself an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all: the perpetual motion machine.

Beautifully written, stunningly imagined, and wickedly funny, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a heartfelt meditation on the place of love in a world dominated by technology.
In order to enter to win a copy of The Dream of Perpetual Motion leave a comment about what your heart's desire is. 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 have a second entry for being a follower, just make sure you leave a second comment or it won't be counted. This giveaway will run until March 20th 2011 at 11:59 MST and is open to Canada and the US, no PO boxes. Enjoy!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

"Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder."
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is the classic story of an orphan, Oliver Twist, who becomes involved with a gang of criminals in Victorian London after he runs away from an abusive situation. These criminals include Fagin who runs the organization of young pickpocketers, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sikes.

Before discussing the novel as a classic work of literature, I wanted to note something that really bothered me from a personal standpoint. I was extremely offended by Dickens' totally anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews through the character of Fagin. Fagin cheats others and gets them to steal for him while he hoards away his wealth, and is constantly referred not by his name but rather as "the Jew", implying he is a representation of all Jews. I realize Oliver Twist was written almost two centuries ago but I don't think that is an excuse for the stereotype and close-mindedness it portrays. Reading books like this only serve as a powerful reminder of the persecution Jews have faced, which certainly wasn't helped by novels that normalized it.

Bigotry aside, one aspect of Oliver Twist I particularly enjoyed was the narration voice of the story. The narrator is omniscient and omnipresent, strategically letting  the reader in on certain situations while keeping particular information, like what one person whispers to another, secret. In general, I was surprised by how easy to read this novel was as I have previously attempted Dickens' David Copperfield and enjoyed it about as much as pulling teeth. Although the story is more fully developed, I think Oliver Twist is more akin to A Christmas Carol, the only other book by Dickens I have completed, than some of his other works. 

The story was quite different from what I can remember of the musical adaptation which was nice because I could still be surprised by how events turned out and managed to read the book without too many songs going through my head. As a villain I thought that Bill Sikes, the man who leads Oliver in an attempt to rob a house, was particularly well done and his ultimate fate was deliciously dramatic. I found myself most heartbroken over the outcome of his dog. Overall, I thought the novel provided interesting commentary on 19th century London as Fagin attempts to corrupt Oliver:
"Having prepared his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, he was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue forever."
Oliver Twist contains a lot of evil characters who do not seek redemption for their actions and end the book just as corrupted as when they started which surprised me slightly in the sense that there wasn't a lot of character growth going on. Characters who started the book evil like Fagin, mostly stayed evil and those who began the book good, like Oliver, didn't really show temptation to change either.  There was one or two minor characters who didn't fit this norm, but overall it was the case. Ultimately Oliver Twist was a thrilling and exciting book to read because of the adventure that goes on, but lacked the emotional connection I craved because so many of the characters showed no growth throughout the novel.

Release Date: 1837
Pages: 554
: 3.5/5

Source: Ebook (Free Online)
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

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

This week my mailbox wasn't exceptionally busy but it was kinda nice to read more books than I received- maybe I'll finally make a dent in my TBR pile.
{For Review}
The Divinity Gene by Matthew J. Trafford (D&M Publishers)
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso (D&M Publishers)
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Grimms' Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm 
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

All three gift books came from my wonderful buddy Laala. The Pessoa is one of her most favourite books and she has been insisted I read it for awhile but the library doesn't have it- her solution was to order me a copy from the book depo! I'm not complaining though. The other two were ones she had doubles of that I was lusting over, especially Even The Dogs as I loved the first McGregor I read. The book itself has an interesting fabric type cover, I'm not sure I've ever seen on American books (this is the UK edition).

Both review books look wonderful and I love a good memoir, after all I was just lusting over Tiger, Tiger so my wish was fulfilled. The short story collection should also be really good.

How was your mailbox this week?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Desktop Vs Laptop

So ever since I've been blogging it's always been on my laptop, I haven't actually owned a desktop computer since I moved away from home over five years ago. My laptop of the last two and a half years is a trusty MacBook which I use a purple case for. What having a laptop means though is I don't have a designated computer area.

What about you, do you have a laptop or a desktop? Does you have a specific area where you always keep your computer, or does it end up anywhere in the apartment you feel like (mine certainly does)? 

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

"Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.

Before and after—and during, a moment no bigger or longer than an edge."
Delirium is the second book by young adult author Lauren Oliver, the story of a dystopian world where love is a disease and a cure has been developed. Lena Holoway lost her mother to love, after three attempts at treatment she was still suffering from the deliria and ended up killing herself as an escape. Lena lives with her aunt and two cousins who are also orphans because their parents were sympathizers- people who believed that love is a good thing. Counting down the days til her eighteenth birthday when she will finally be free to live a safe life, cured, everything changes when Lena meets Alex and only a couple months before her treatment falls in love.

Although I love dystopia trend permeating young adult literature, I am always a little skeptical when a book receives a lot of hype and so going into Delirium I was hesitant about having my expectations too high. I needn't have worried. Delirium is an excellent and original novel, captivating the reader immediately. Oliver uses her dystopian world to tell a powerful story about falling in love for the first time, and the emotions that Lena has are completely believable. Lena is a really interesting main character, as she repeatedly describes herself as being someone ordinary, ordinary brown hair and brown eyes, nothing remarkable or special about her. But when Lena falls in love, she forgets she is ordinary, the feelings she has make her feel beautiful. It was an extremely realistic portrayal of what falling in love is like, and I loved the edge of danger given to the story due to the fact that what Alex and Lena are doing- falling in love- is illegal.

Another aspect I really enjoyed about Delirium was the world that Oliver created. She begins each chapter of the novel with a quote from some of the government propaganda, and although some of the things are quite similar to contemporary times- Romeo and Juliet is still being taught in schools for example- the messages they give is quite different, as the Shakespeare play is seen as a cautionary tale for what can happen when you get infected. I also found it interesting, though logical, that things such as poetry and most forms of music no longer existed. Instead of the Bible, people have the Book of Shh, which includes such proverbs as "The most dangerous sicknesses are those which make us believe we are well.", referring of course, to deliria.

Delirium is an extremely exciting and captivating story, filled with unique and interesting characters including Lena's best friend, as well as her sister and cousins. I found it really easy to understand the world Oliver had created, and it was also totally believable how it could come into existence- as well as scary- making it a very successful dystopia. Oliver's writing was also excellent, and I am already excited to pick up her debut, Before I Fall, in the near future. Delirium is the first of a trilogy, and unfortunately like most such books it ends on a cliffhanger, and so the only complaint I have about the book is that I'll have to wait till 2012 to read the sequel, Pandemonium, and believe me, my expectations are certainly raised for that novel.

Release Date: February 1st, 2011
Pages: 441
: 5/5

Source: Publisher
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Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday

The blog hop is hosted by Jen from Crazy for Books.
This weeks question is: Do you ever wish you would have named your blog something different?

Not really, my blog name was pretty random and it's not specifically book-related but it's something I'm fairly happy with and I don't see myself switching to a new blog or name anytime in the future.

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee

This week's question: Share your current fav television show! Tell us a bit about it...

My favourite TV show is probably House, it an unconventional medical drama that also has its share of comedy and I love Dr. House's sarcastic sense of humour. I also happen to really enjoy a ton of terrible reality TV, especially cooking related shows like Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef and Masterchef Australia. 

Thanks for stopping by and make sure to leave a link in the comments so I can follow back!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

"The Talmud asks, “Why are scholars compared to a nut?” The answer given is that even though the outside may be dirty and scuffed, the inside is still valuable. But I could think of other reasons for the comparison."
The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia is a complex historical fiction murder mystery, taking place in 1592 in Prague where Jews take refuge within the gated walls of a ghetto in one of the few places they are actually allowed to live. All that may be forced to change when the body of a young Christian girl with her throat slashed is found in a Jewish shop on the eve of Passover. The shopkeeper and his family are arrested, but more is at stake than just their freedom as the Christians may use this as an excuse to destroy the Jews. With less than three days to find the real killer, Talmudic scholar Benyamin is left to try to solve the crime. 

In The Fifth Servant, Wishnia does a great job of combining the historical with his murder mystery plot line, although I do think the historical aspects work much better than the mystery part, as it is waded down by all the details and more characters than I could easily keep straight. It's also not Wishnia's fault but when everyone goes by Rabbi or Reb I get easily confused trying to recall who has done what and sometimes the novel became too complicated for me. This wasn't helped by constantly throwing in interesting, but often irrelevant, historical facts and philosophical debates. In particular, I think the first 150 pages could have been trimmed down slightly as it took quite awhile to actually get into the story. Once I had settled into the book, I was able to enjoy the story even if it went occasionally off-topic. 

The novel contains a lot of words in other languages, particularly Yiddish and Hebrew, and although there is a small glossary at the back I really think footnotes would have been beneficial in this case. It really interrupts the flow of the book to constantly be flipping around, especially since the glossary isn't even completely at the back at the book but actually precedes a bonus chapter about what happened to one of the characters. One aspect I appreciated about The Fifth Servant was the surprising sense of humour, particularly when it came to jokes about faith and religion between the various Rabbis and other individuals. However when it came to actual character development there were simply too many people in the story for all of them to feel dimensional and many came across as caricatures, for example the prostitute with the heart of gold or the friendly giant with mental disabilities.

The Fifth Servant offers so much to the reader, insight on everything from history to religion, that at times it becomes overwhelming and difficult to follow. I wanted to understand what was going on, but at times the story simply became too complex and with too much random information for it to really be clear in my head. There is a lot about the book that is interesting and well-written, but ultimately Wishnia simply overreaches and the result is that The Fifth Servant is an intelligent but overly confusing novel that is heavy on the historical and light on the actual mystery component.

Release Date: February 1st, 2010
Pages: 400
Overall: 3/5
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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, February 23, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

"Not everyone believed in marriage then. To marry was to say you believe in the future and in the past, too- that history and tradition and hope could stay knit together to hold you up. But the war had come and stolen all the fine men and our faith, too. There was only today to throw yourself into without thinking about tomorrow, let alone forever."
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is the story of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley, beginning when she first meets him and following their courtship, ultimately resulting in marriage before they move to Paris together. The basic premise of the novel reminded me of Colum McCann, for example Dancer, in the sense that McLain takes historical individuals and writes her own biography of them, which while not entirely true does have a strong basis in fact. When The Paris Wife first caught my eye, I was immediately hooked although slightly concerned about the possibility of overwhelming historical details that sometimes plague historical fiction based on real people. In this case, I found the book wavered in its success of avoiding such a complaint.

I found the beginning of The Paris Wife seemed much more poetically written than the following chapters and I was immediately hooked into by Hadley's intelligent voice, especially when she said such things as:
"Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris."
As I continued reading however, McLain's prose began to let me down, oftentimes making The Paris Wife feel like a biography with dialogue. Although the premise was initially interesting, I am personally not at all familiar with Hemingway's work, I haven't even read a single book by him to be honest, so I was more interested in the emotions involved with living through the twenties as well as being the wife of a man on the precipice of great recognition at a time when women where mainly pushed into the background. Hadley often contemplates the fact that she is forced to talk with the other wives, excluded from the "artist's world", restricted to talking about fashion and other "womanly" things. I wished McLain had delved deeper into Hadley's feelings about her role as a wife and her longing to assert herself, which appears in wisps only to disappear leaving a female character who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her husband.

One of the more entertaining aspects of The Paris Wife are the encounters Hadley and Ernest have with other famous writers of the time such as Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I loved the scenes involving their parties and some of Zelda Fitzegerald's famous antics. The behind the scenes look into the lives of these Modernist writers was interesting, but didn't provide enough substance to carry the novel either as they were only brief glimpses. There were a few powerful moments, such as when Hadley loses all of Ernest's writing and the subsequent search to see if it will be recovered. Overall, though, the novel lacked the life I expected from a work of fiction and came across too straightforward. Possibly, my expectations of the book were simply too high, especially with such a wonderful beginning, and despite initially drawing me into the world Hadley occupied the book didn't truly let me into her mind and heart. Overall, The Paris Wife was not the vibrant and emotional portrait I was hoping for and although I liked it, I didn't fall in love, and so I would restrict my recommendation of the book mainly to individuals who are already interested in learning more about Hemingway or other literary figures who existed during the 1920s in Paris.

Release Date: February 22nd, 2011
Pages: 352
: 3/5

Source: ARC from Publisher
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Waiting on Wednesday: Tiger, Tiger

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
I love reading memoirs and Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso is an upcoming one that looks extremely interesting and creepy.
One summer day, Margaux Fragoso swam up to Peter Curran at a public swimming pool and asked him to play. She was seven; he was fifty-one. When Curran invited her and her mom to see his house, the little girl found a child’s dream world, full of odd pets and books and music and magical toys. Margaux’s mother was devoted, but beset by mental illness and frightened of her abusive husband; she was only too ready to take advantage of an escape for the daughter she felt incapable of taking care of on her own. Soon Margaux was spending all her time with Peter.

In time, he insidiously took on the role of Margaux’s playmate, father, lover, and captor. Charming and repulsive, warm and violent, loving and manipulative, Peter burrowed into every aspect of Margaux’s life and transformed her from a girl fizzing with imagination and affection into a deadened, young-old woman on the brink of suicide. But when she was twenty-two, it was Peter—ill, and terrified at the thought of losing her—who killed himself, at the age of sixty-six.

With lyricism and mesmerizing clarity, Margaux Fragoso has unflinchingly explored the darkest episodes of her life, helping us see how pedophiles work hidden away in the open to steal childhood. In writing Tiger, Tiger, she has healed herself of a wound that was fourteen years in the making. This extraordinary memoir is an unprecedented glimpse into the heart and mind of a monster; but more than this, it illustrates the power of memory and truth-telling to mend.
Tiger, Tiger will be published March 5th 2011 by Douglas & McIntyre in Canada, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States.

How do you feel about memoirs, are there any you are looking forward to? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

"Write down what you think happened, or what you believe happened, or something like what might have happened. All of these are better in the end than writing down nothing at all; all are true, in their own way."
The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer is written from the perspective of Harold Winslow, a greeting-card writer imprisoned aboard a zeppelin that floats above a city with a motor run by a perpetual motion machine designed by Prospero. Harold was in love with Prospero's daughter, Miranda, and his only company aboard the zeppelin is her voice which he can hear but not find, as well as Prospero's frozen body. The Dream of Perpetual Motion is written in chapters alternating from Harold's memoirs of his life before the zeppelin as well as short chapters of what life is like in the air and how his daily routine goes.

When I first picked this up I didn't realize it drew on The Tempest by William Shakespeare, but about twenty pages in I learned that when I went to add the book on Goodreads, which is when I decided that I would put it down and pick up the play instead since I hadn't read it yet. Although I do not think knowledge of the play is necessary in order to enjoy The Dream of Perpetual Motion, it certainly enhanced my understanding of some of the themes involved in the novel as Palmer plays on the relationships between Miranda, Prospero and Caliban. That said, Palmer has developed a unique and rich story all on his own. The book itself belongs to the genre of steampunk, one I had not previously experienced, and which basically means science fiction taking place at a time when steam power was the dominant form. The world Palmer has created is both eerily familiar, and completely different, as Prospero's inventions often verge on the magical and include increasingly lifelike robots as technology continues to replace humans. Although this is my first experience with steam punk, I did not get the impression that Palmer's world was particularly unique or revelatory, but I did appreciate the way he made it come to life. 

The story of The Dream of Perpetual Motion begins when Harold ends up with an invitation to Miranda's birthday party. Prospero and Miranda never leave their tower, and he has decided to bring children to her so that she may become better socialized. At the end of the evening, Prospero tells the children that he be following their lives from now on and eventually they will receive their heart's desire. Harold doesn't take this offer seriously, but as the events of the novel unfold he realizes just how far Prospero will go to fulfill his promise.
“Oh, I promised you your heart’s desire all those years ago,” Prospero said. “I didn’t say I’d give you what you wanted.”
The Dream of Perpetual Motion is richly written novel, and I think it moves beyond the genre of steam punk into the realm of literary fiction because of its strong character development and language. It was also exceedingly strange at time, in a weird yet enjoyable way. The aspect of the novel I wished for more development of was the relationship between Harold and his father and sister, Astrid, who play an important role in the first half of the book but seem to mostly disappear from Harold's mind about half way through. There was also a few scenes that verged on silly, such as when Palmer included himself as a minor character in the novel, especially considering this is his debut, as well as an incident involving throwing acid

Despite some flaws, perhaps growing pains expected in a first novel, the most notable thing about The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the language, which results in a dream-like world at times as Palmer takes the reader strange and wonderful places. There is a dark tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that occasionally appears throughout the book, and although it didn't always work (see acid incident), when it did I loved it. The book also contained many vivid images that stuck with me after reading it, in particular the scene involving Astrid's artwork. There are also a lot of philosophical layers and illusions to the book, so that I think it will stand up well to repeated readings which is always something I appreciate, and I plan to pick it up again in the future...perhaps when I'm a bit smarter!

Ultimately, The Dream of Perpetual Motion was a well-rendered, richly creative novel and although it has some flaws, Palmer somehow manages to combine adventure and philosophy into one dark and intelligent book.

Release Date
: March 2nd, 2010 (February 1st, 2011 in Paperback)

Pages: 368
Overall: 4/5
Source: Publisher
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

"History is two things, after all. To have meaning, history must consist of both occurrence and narrative. If she never told, if he never told, if the two of them never talked about it, there was no narrative. So the act, though ti had occurred, was meaningless."
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich begins when Irene America discovers that her husband, a famous artist named Gil who's work is exclusively portraits of Irene, has been reading her diary. Instead of confronting him, Irene begins to keep a secret diary, the Blue Notebook, as well as continuing her Red Diary, hidden where Gil can read it and purposefully written to manipulate him. Shadow Tag alternates from excerpts of these two diaries to a third person narrative of the impact they have on the lives and marriage of Gil and Irene. Despite their relationship being on shaky ground they try to keep up appearances for their three young children. Irene relies more and more on alcohol to numb the pain of her marriage, which she wants to end, if only Gil will let her go. Maybe she can use the Red Diary to her advantage after all...

From the start, I loved the basic premise of Shadow Tag the instant I heard it, so wonderfully manipulative. In addition to the universal relationship issues Erdrich addresses, I found it interesting how she dealt with some uniquely Native American dilemmas, such as Gil's attempt not to be characterized solely as a Native American artist, but rather just an Artist. Shadow Tag is a dark and complex novel, and the characters, especially Gil and Irene, were equally so. As a reader, I didn't particularly like or connect to any of the characters, but Erdrich develops them so richly that I never doubted their existence and was completely intrigued to see what they would do next. The book deals with some interesting moral and emotional questions. That said, I do wish that Shadow Tag had revolved more around the diaries- they play a key role at the start and ending of the book, but seem to be somewhat forgotten in the middle- as I found that premise the most interesting.

Ultimately, Erdrich has written an intensely dark story with extremely complex characters. Although I found the middle of the book weaker than the beginning and ending, Erdrich definitely hooked me and I found myself both surprised and heartbroken how the novel finished. The book itself was depressing enough that I do not imagine myself rereading it, as it leads the reader to a pretty dark place, but as that was clearly the intent Erdrich has definitely succeeded. Despite that, I did find myself wishing that there were at least a few light moments to contrast all the dark. There are also some interesting observations when it comes to Native American culture, which is something I don't often read about and appreciated. Although the middle portion of the novel lacked the suspense present at the beginning of Shadow Tag it is well-written story with an intriguing premise and complex but dark characters- just don't read it with any expectation of redemption.

Release Date: February 1st, 2010
Pages: 288
Overall: 3.5/5
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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. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

"like one
Who having into truth, by telling of it,
Made such a sinner of his memory
To credit his own lie—he did believe"
The Tempest by William Shakespeare is just one of the many classic plays I know the basic premise of but have never actually read. When it turned out a book I was planning read, The Dream of Perpetual Motion, drew inspiration from The Tempest, I knew it was the excuse I'd been waiting for. For those unfamiliar with what is thought to have been Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest is the story of a powerful magician, Prospero, who is abandoned on an island with his beautiful daughter Miranda when his brother, Antonio, takes over his rightful place as Duke of Milan. When a ship carrying his brother, as well as his complicit Alonso, King of Naples, is traveling nearby Prospero has the perfect opportunity to regain his rightful place. Prospero creates a storm, resulting in his enemies arriving shipwrecked at the island where Prospero uses his magic to manipulate them. Helping Prospero with his plan is Ariel, a spirit, and Caliban, a man enslaved to Prospero after his witch mother gave birth to him on the island.

Although I have never seen a live performance of The Tempest, I found myself enjoying the play a surprising amount. The storyline was easy to follow, and the magical tint worked perfectly. I also found myself really involved with the characters, in particular Ariel who Prospero has promised to free if only he will perform these last tasks on his behalf. Prospero himself felt larger than life, and I had vivid images of him as I was reading. Overall, I felt I was really able to get into the play and enjoy it, with some help translating some of what was being said using "No Fear Shakespeare" of course. Like many of Shakespeares' plays, The Tempest also features a couple quickly falling in love when they are basically still strangers, but somehow it worked better for me in this instance than it has in the past (for example, Romeo and Juliet). I think that is mostly due to the sweet and naive exchanges between Miranda and Ferdinand, who is the son of Alonso, which felt charming rather than creepy.

Probably the weakest character of the play for me was Caliban, whose motivations I never really quite understand and who sometimes came across evil, for example trying to rape Miranda, but other times really just felt like a confused and abandoned child. Prospero was so cruel to Caliban, I felt difficulty hating him even if he was a bad person, and in the end I was unsure how I really felt about him.

Although the play itself is not a comedy, there were certainly a few comedic moments, especially when it came to exchanges between the shipcrew. For example:
ANTONIO: He misses not much.
SEBASTIAN: No; he doth but mistake the truth totally.
Conversations like that made me laugh, but overall it was the dark aspects of the play that stuck with me the most. I'm pretty sure The Tempest is the first Shakespeare I have read since graduating highschool almost half a decade ago, and I was honestly surprised how easy a read it was. Perhaps I've gotten a little smarter, but I think the key was just sitting down and enjoying the play without having to worry about over-analyzing every sentence. I'm sure there are plenty of subtleties I didn't pick up on, but I'm not getting graded on this and it didn't bother me. In the end I just relaxed and enjoyed The Tempest, a great piece of classic drama filled with Shakespeare's dark magic and a sensational story. 

Release Date: 1609
Pages: 218
: 5/5

Source: Online Ebook
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Film Feature: Beastly

Beastly by Alex Flinn is one of those books which sounded interesting, and which I have been meaning to read for ages, but never picked up. When I learned that it was being adapted into a film I knew that the countdown had begun and I was recently sent a copy which I just read in time to see the movie!
Beastly is the retold fairytale of Beauty and Beast, set in modern times and featuring the cocky and good looking Kyle Kingsbury who gets transformed into a beast so that others can see how ugly he is on the inside. He only has two years to get a kiss from a girl that he loves, and that loves him, if he wants to be changed back. In the movie this is altered into one year.
The film Beastly features Alex Pettyfer as Kyle, Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra the witch, and Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle's tutor, Will. The girl Kyle begins to notice when he is no longer so focused on looks is Lindy, played by Vanessa Hudgens, who gives him his chance to prove that "love is never ugly". Personally, I'm not too familiar with any of these actors, except Harris, who I love in How I Met Your Mother. Pettyfer is also staring in the book to movie adaptation I Am Number Four, and he looks perfect for Beastly. I'm unconvinced about Hudgens- Lindy is a redhead with crooked teeth in the book- but hopefully she does an okay job.
Even though I enjoyed the book, I actually think Beastly is one of those cases where the film might be better, or at least more believable. The most significant difference between the two is that in the book Kyle really is beast-like, an animal covered in hair, whereas in the film his ugliness is more subtle. I appreciate this because I don't think a live-action version of involving a very hairy man with claws would have had quite the same impact. It does feel like the movie, at least from the trailer, maintains the romance and supernatural twist that Flinn's book is so well known for.
Of course, to go along with the upcoming film release there is a new edition, Movie-Tie In of the novel featuring a cover from the film poster.
Here's the film trailer:

Have you read Beastly? Are you planning to see the film or read the book?  If you have read the book, are you looking forward to the movie adaption?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

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

A slightly slower week in my mailbox than I have been having recently but I still got a great batch of books and perhaps it'll give me some more time to catch up on all the reading I want to be doing.

{For Review} 
The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke (ARC) (TLC Tours)
Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton (ARC) (Harper Collins Canada)
So Much For That by Lionel Shriver (TLC Tours)
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb (TLC Tours)

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Thanks Claire!)

Black Dust Mambo by Adrian Phoenix (Thanks to Black Nailed Reviews)

I've already read Under the Mercy Trees and it's fantastic. I'm really looking forward to the rest of my review books and was pleased to swap my copy of XVI by Julia Karr for Peeps, which looks awesome.

How did your mailbox treat you this week?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton is the YA debut from the author previously published as Kelly Gay in adult urban fantasy. Darkness Becomes Her is paranormal meets mythology set a decade in the future in New 2, the place left behind after hurricanes have ravaged New Orleans which has subsequently been rebuilt by nine ancient families who privately purchased the city. Strange occurrences and danger are known to lurk in New 2, but that doesn't stop Ari from entering the city in search of answers about her past. Seventeen year old Ari has never belonged, she has teal eyes and silver hair that won't be cut or dyed, and after a lifetime growing up in foster care she finally learns that the person she wants answers from- her mother- killed herself right after she gave Ari up. Ari receives a box of her mother's belongings and with them comes a note, a simple message, Run. That's when she knows she has no choice but to go to New 2 and find the hospital where she was born, hopefully finding out who she really is and who is after her. 

I was initially really excited by Darkness Becomes Her which manages to combine traditional paranormal characters like vampires with more unexpected Greek mythology. I also really loved the idea of this hardcore main character, Ari, who has silver hair and works part time as a bail bondsman for her foster parents and is not afraid of using a gun. Unfortunately there are many major issues with the actual novel. Most of the characters are poorly developed, and there is a rushed romance between Ari and a boy she meets in New 2, Sebastian. Keaton take time to develop tension between Ari and Sebastian, rather she has them immediately making out for unclear reasons beyond the fact that Sebastian smells good. 

There is also a lot of swearing in Darkness Becomes Her, and although I don't mind profanity I don't think it's great at letting the reader know a lot about a character and in this case felt like lazy writing. For example, Ari is up against the goddess Athena, but repeatedly having Ari call her a bitch didn't make me hate her anymore, just like writing "fuck" is a terribly obvious way to let the reader know Ari's pissed off. I wish Keaton had relied slightly more on description and slightly less on profanity when telling her story, perhaps it would have resulted in richer character development which was sorely lacking.

Darkness Becomes Her is based on the intriguing premise of throwing paranormal and mythological creatures together, and although I found that concept interesting it was very poorly executed. Ari goes from living in a normal world to battling it out with the goddess Athena and she doesn't even seem that surprised that her world has been turned upside down. The biggest issue however, is that there is simply too much story for this one small book. There are too many different characters and too many plot lines. As soon as I found something I was enjoying in Darkness Becomes Her- for example, Ari's relationship with the young Violet, a girl with fangs and a pet alligator who is my favourite character by far- I was immediately tossed into another scene featuring a vampire orgy. Granted, Darkness Becomes Her is the first book in the "Gods & Monsters" series, but it felt like Keaton was trying to fit so much back story into this one novel it overwhelmed the reader, with the result being that the aspects I did enjoy didn't get the attention I felt they deserved. Ultimately, Darkness Becomes Her fails because it takes on too much, so even though it has an original concept the rushed romance and poorly developed characters mean I am unlikely to pick up the next book in this series.

Release Date: February 22nd, 2011
Pages: 288
Overall: 2/5
Source: E-galley from publisher
Buy the Book

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Early to Death, Early to Rise by Kim Harrison

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Early to Death, Early to Rise, but does contain spoilers of the previous book in the series, Once Dead, Twice Shy which I recommend you begin the series with. A review of Once Dead, Twice Shy can be found here.
Madison Avery is seventeen years old and dead, after the Dark Timekeeper killed her on her Prom Night to keep her from taking his place. When Early to Death, Early to Rise by Kim Harrison, the sequel to Once Dead, Twice Shy, picks up, Madison has accepted the job of Dark Timekeeper, even though she doesn't believe in fate which is what the dark side is responsible for, as opposed to the light side which upholds human choice. Initially, Madison agreed to do the job so she could maintain the illusion of a human body, just until she could find her real body and regain her human life.  Like the first book, this one takes place almost entirely over twenty four hours, during which Madison goes on an adventure to help prove that it is possible to stop a person from doing evil, by letting them know what the consequences of their actions will be, and therefore eliminating the need to kill them prematurely in order to save their soul- something that dark reapers have been doing for millennia.  

On her journey to save a soul without taking a life, Madison has some help in the form of Dark Reaper Nakita and Light Reaper gone rogue Barnabas. In order to complete her mission, Madison won't only have to figure out who exactly the mark (or intended target of the reap) is, but also prevent Ron, the Light Timekeeper from putting a guardian angel on the mark before she saves his soul. All of this, and she's somehow supposed to keep up a normal teenage life too? It's a good thing Madison doesn't need to sleep anymore. 

Even though I had a lot of issues with the Madison Avery series, I decided to give it another try when I discovered Early to Death, Early to Rise was also available on audiobook as it is just the kind of light read I enjoy listening to when I am also doing something else. Although I honestly don't think the novel would have kept my attention if it had been my sole focus, I did enjoy Mandy Siegfried as the returning narrator who has a cheerful and youthful voice. The book itself has similar issues to Once Dead, Twice Shy, notably the annoying fake swearing and repeated reference to Madison's purple tipped hair, but I found myself better able to enjoy it because I was already introduced to the complex world and had to spend less time figuring out who was who and what exactly was going on. I also thought the storyline in this novel was a bit better and the plot itself had a better pace than the first one, although I could predict the plot "twist" as soon as the characters were introduced.

The novel is an extremely clean read when it comes to swearing, violence and sex, with the most scandalous parts including a chaste kiss and Madison being embarrassed when her shirt is ripped, so I think it is a book I'd be more likely to recommend to a younger audience interested in the paranormal genre. Overall, Early to Death, Early to Rise is a cute but not entirely memorable little book with an enjoyable narrator and a premise best suited to a young teen audience.

Release Date: May 11th, 2010
Pages: 240 (5 h 55 min)
: 2.5/5

Source: Audio book
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Layout!

I did a lot of work on a new layout all by myself that I am very happy with, so if you are readings this from an RSS feed you should definitely come by and check out the new look at the blog.

Sneak peek:

Now I just need to learn better how to make blog buttons and whatnot, I've deleted my old one for now because I wasn't very happy with it, hopefully I'll have a new one up soon.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

"Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough."
The Lover's Dictionary is the first adult novel by David Levithan, the author behind young adult books such as Boy Meets Boy and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, which I'd previously enjoyed. The novel is a completely unique concept- a love story told through dictionary entries- and it is one I had been greatly looking forward to. The first entry of the book involves the nameless male narrator meeting his genderless love for the first time, but after that the entries are alphabetical but not chronological. On one page he may be deeply falling in love, while on the next he discovers his lover has cheated. In this way Levithan perfectly captures the ups and down of love. Each entry is it's perfect little story, two of my favourite examples are:
autonomy, n.
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

corrode, v.
I spent all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.
The Lover's Dictionary is fairly short, especially when you consider that there is quite a bit of blank space on many of the pages, and yet it poignantly captures not only the feelings of falling in love, but what exactly comes after. Levithan deals with issues such as alcoholism and infidelity and the role they can play in a relationship. The love Levithan is writing about does not restrict itself to a specific gender or person, which is part of the reason I appreciated that both main characters remained nameless, and although the narrator was male his lover was not mentioned by gender, in this way the universal nature of The Lover's Dictionary is made clear.

The Lover's Dictionary is such a perfect little powerful book. The concept itself is extremely creative, but it never comes across as gimmicky, as the reader is so taken into the love story that Levithan has written. Many of the words used are ones I actually had to look up in the dictionary, only to be in awe of how well the descriptions used in this book captured them. I figure it is only appropriate to end this review with a definition of my own: 

The Lover's Dictionary, book.
A wistful and poetic short novel on a universal topic by David Levithan, easily recommended to anyone who knows what it is like to fall in love. Worth reading, worth sharing. 

Release Date: January 4th, 2011
Pages: 224
: 5/5

Source: Publisher
Buy the Book

Waiting on Wednesday: The Uncoupling

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases.
For this week's Waiting on Wednesday I have decided to feature The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, a novel with a very interesting premise inspired by the play Lysistrata where the women stop having sex with the men. I haven't actually read the play, but maybe I will before I pick up the book although I don't think it will be necessary in order to enjoy it.
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.
The Uncoupling will be published April 5th 2011 by Riverhead Hardcover.

There are some classics which seem to have a few too many modern versions, mostly Pride and Prejudice comes to mind, but in general it seems like a cool way to pay credit to the greats while showing how relevant the books can still be.

How do you feel about books inspired by classic literature? What are you waiting on Wednesday?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giveaway Winners: Beatrice and Virgil, Reality is Broken

Two giveaways recently ended and so I have a couple lucky winners to announce.

For Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel the winner is:

For Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal the winner is:
Winners have been contacted and have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address before a new winner is selected.

Congrats Katy and Lori and I hope you both enjoy the books.

History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky

"The most mysterious part of grief is that you think you can will it away."
History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life is Jill Bialosky's reflection on her sister's life, a girl who killed herself when she was only twenty two and who's family has mourned her for decades. Bialosky tells her own personal story including her struggle with miscarriages and accepting her sister's death, but also delves into the life of her sister, Kim, and what events may have lead up to her suicide. In addition, Bialosky reflects on suicide in general, talking to specialists in the field and referencing writing on the topic.

When I read An Exclusive Love by Johanna Adorjan, I felt the author was too far detached from her grandparents to have the intended impact when discussing their suicide. I was really surprised then, when History of a Suicide did not leave me with the same feeling. I think the difference is that in this book, Bialosky deals not only with the events leading up to her sister's death, but also how it impacted her own life, looking at suicide from a more general context and allowing her to reflect on the impact it has on those it leaves behind, as well as attempting to answer why people choose to commit suicide at all. Bialosky doesn't pretend to have any answers, but what she does offer is a beautifully written testament to the legacy her sister Kim left behind, both the happy and the sad memories.

The most powerful aspect of History of a Suicide is the writing, such crystal clear beauty that I was not surprised when I learned that Bialosky is also a poet. Although I had not heard of her before she does include several relevant poems of hers in the book which share the same stark imagery although tend be more abstract. Many of her phrases weaved their way into my mind, especially when she talked about why she was writing this book at all. The book includes powerful descriptions such as:
"The page has been my container, my ship; my words my compass; my memory my harpoon in my desire to wrest coherence from the unwieldy material of personal truth."
Some of my favourite excerpts come from Bialosky's writing on writing, including:
"Formulating our own words about our lives translates our interior hieroglyphics into the stories we tell ourselves to make events from our pasts more understandable, give them shape and meaning, organize the chaos of the unconscious where we most often dwell."
History of a Suicide is also littered with poems and excerpts from famous works on suicide, Bialosky references everything from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath to a nature documentary she once watched. In this way, the message that suicide is everywhere, it is a universal pain that cannot be truly understood until it is experience, is re-enforced with startling clarity. By the time Bialosky shares her sister's suicide note the book is almost over. I had been waiting for it, anxiously, perhaps wanting to see if it shared a clue into why she killed herself. When the reader finally reaches it, it is instead absolutely heartbreaking and tragic, simple and short, she sounds so much still like a little girl. A little girl who never had the chance to grow up. 

Ultimately, History of a Suicide is completely unique in that it contains memoir of Bialosky's life including the years she spent with her sister, as well hypothesis on the events leading up to Kim's death. Also included are excerpts from Kim's diary and schoolwork, as well as lists of things such as what was in her closet when she died. In addition, Bialosky reflects on suicide in literature as well as including discussion on the science behind suicide and what a person can do when they think somebody is at risk: ask. The end result of History of a Suicide is both incredibly personal and universal, leaving the reader with the powerfully true message, that despite all Bialosky has written, "the dialogue we have with the dead is never ending."

Release Date: February 15th, 2011
Pages: 272
: 4/5

Source: E-galley from publisher
Buy the Book

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

"But what she really wanted to know was why this girl was so carefree in a world full of nothing if not care."
I was first drawn to Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez because of the unique and interesting topic- it is the story of several slave women during the 1850s who are taken to a resort each summer as their masters' sexual mistresses. The historical novel focuses on Lizzie, who lives in Tennessee where her master begins to visit her room when she is only thirteen years old, teaching her to read and bringing her small gifts only to finally claim what he most desires- Lizzie's body. She bears him his first two children, a girl and a boy, and she is moved into the house despite the fact that he is married. Isolated from the other slaves by her privileges, Lizzie longs for the summer retreats when her master's wife stays home and she gets him all to herself. Lizzie also looks forward to meeting up with other slaves in similar positions who can relate to her unique situation, including Sweet and Reenie.

The resort where the men and their slaves stay is actually in Ohio, where Lizzie has her first encounters with free blacks. Everything changes one summer when the three women are joined by Mawu, a rebellious and independent woman who has "fixed" herself so that she cannot give her master anymore children having already been heartbroken when he has sold them in the past. Although Wench begins with the summer that the four women first meet, Perkins-Valdez then flashes back in time to the 1840s and tells the story of what life was like for Lizzie, and the experiences she has had as a mistresses, especially when it comes to giving children to a man who's wife could not. The novel then returns to the subsequent summers, as the readers learn the fate of Sweet, Reenie, Lizzie and Mawu.

The storytelling in Wench is smooth and rich, and despite being a historical novel Perkins-Valdez gives the reader a clear impression of the time and setting. Despite being a fairly quick read, Wench manages an intense emotional story from a unique perspective. The one complaint I had with the novel was that I wished Perkins-Valdez had delved further into the lives of the other women the way she did with Lizzie. Although the other women do share small bits of their stories, such an incredible job is done telling Lizzie's story that I wished for slightly more when it came to the other women. I was also left undecided about the ending, particularly when it came to Mawu's actions, as I had not been entirely convinced of the relationship on which they were based. I also felt slightly discontent about the ending in general, as I did not think it had the strength and clarity of the rest of the novel and was perhaps a bit rushed.

Overall, the novel offers an unusual and powerful perspective on slavery from a viewpoint I had not previously encountered. In Wench, Perkins-Valdez created four unique and interesting women, and I was just hoping for the chance to learn more about three of them.

Release Date: January 1st, 2010
Pages: 293
Overall: 3/5
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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.