Sunday, July 31, 2011

Down From Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams

Down From Cascom Mountain is the emotional first novel by Ann Joslin Williams, set in the same fictional area surrounding Cascom Mountain that mirrors her own hometown and where her father, Thomas Williams, once set his own stories. Although I have not read anything by Thomas Williams, it is clear his daughter inherited the literary talent of her National Book Award winning father. In Down From Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall has just moved to the rural New Hampshire town with her husband, back into the house where her parents- both now dead- once lived. However, not long after they begin to settle in, her husband takes a fatal fall of a cliff, leaving Mary lost in her grief. As Mary deals with her grief, feeling completely alone in the world, she has memories of what it was like growing up and finds herself connecting with teenagers Callie and Tobin, as well as the new fire watchman, Ben. Each of these people have their own kind of brokenness to deal with, but maybe together they can help each other navigate their way home.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Down From Cascom Mountain, as the novel has an extremely gloomy premise, but as soon as I began reading it I was hooked. Although depressing, the story is beautifully told in a way that is subtle yet incredibly powerful. Williams' writing is lyrical and romantic, and she is perfectly able to capture both the folly of youth and the passion and lost of a more mature love. Each of the characters is emotionally complex and faced with their own kind of struggles, but they are connected by the mountain on which they live, a mountain which through Williams' skill develops into a rich character of its own. This is a story about guilt and self-blame, and each character has their own burden and kind of loss to overcome.

Although the novel does have a bit of a plot, in particular Callie's storyline has a few twists involved, it is not what keeps you turning the page. The story itself is interesting, but this is definitely a book where it is the writing that makes it so wonderful, and although this is Williams' first novel she already has a collection of linked short stories, The Woman in the Woods, that I am eager to pick up next. From the first haunting page you will find yourself immersed in Down From Cascom Mountain, an incredible novel from Ann Joslin Williams filled with characters that are truly human, flawed and troubled, bound together by their pain, yet sustained by the kind of broken hope that is far from fictional.

Release Date: June 7th, 2011
Pages: 336
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.

Summer Giveaway Hop: Breaking Up With God

Welcome to Summer Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room.
I'm offering one copy of Breaking Up With God by Sarah Sentilles.
"I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours.

Sarah Sentilles's relationship with God was not casual. When it began to unravel she was in the ordination process to become an Episcopal priest, a youth minister at a church, and a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. You might say they were engaged and that the wedding was all planned. Calling it off would be more than a little awkward. But in the studying of the religion she'd been raised on and believed wholeheartedly, one day she woke up and realized . . . it was over.

In this powerful memoir of faith, Sentilles reveals how deep our ties to God can be, and how devastating they can be to break. Without God to mold herself to and without religion as her script, who was she and what was her purpose? Her relationship with God had been connected to everything—her family, her friends, her vocation, the places she frequented, the language she used, and her way of being in the world.

Not unlike after a divorce, she had to reorient her life and face a future that felt darkly unfamiliar. But this beautiful, brave book is surprisingly filled with hope, a coming-out story that lets others know it's safe to come out too, and that there's light on the other side."
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 your favourite summer read so far.  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 August 7th EST.

Click here to visit the rest of the stops on this giveaway hop

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In My Mailbox (July 24th-30th 2011)

It was a good week for my mailbox, a few surprises and my boyfriend was able to pick up a couple that had been waiting for me before I went on vacation that I look forward to delving into.

{For Review}
Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn (Unsolicited) (William Morrow)
The Accident by Linwood Barclay (Unsolicited) (Random House Canada)
Ripple by Mandy Hubbard (Penguin Canada)
Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray (Little Brown, Books for Younger Readers)
Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams (Little Brown, Books for Younger Readers)

I admit the title I'm most excited about is Ripple, I haven't gotten in on the mermaid trend yet but between receiving both Ripple and The Lost Voices recently it looks like I'll be experiencing the dark side of sirens soon. I'm also looking forward to Falling for Hamlet but I think I'll hold off and read the play first, I'm sure it's not necessary but I tend to prefer it when it comes to books inspired by classic literature.

What was in your mailbox this week? Anything in particular you're looking forward to jumping into?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward

Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Lauren, a woman who is about thirty and has spent over two decades haunted by the night her father killed her mother, while she and her brother Alex were asleep in a treehouse in the backyard. Although their father was sentenced to life in prison, Alex has always believed he was innocent. Years later Lauren remains afraid of love and what it can turn into, refusing to marry her longterm boyfriend, and only really opening herself up to her brother. When Alex leaves for Doctors Without Borders in Iraq, Lauren feels completely abandoned, and when the unthinkable happens Lauren begins to examine her life and try to figure out what really happened the night that changed everything.

From the second I read the synopsis Close Your Eyes had my attention. It has a thrilling and mysterious premise and the novel itself lives up to the suspense the summary promises. I really enjoyed Lauren's voice which felt genuine, how she is conflicted over the man she wants to be with and her inability to truly feel safe in a relationship. Most people don't have the same dark history that Lauren does, but I think many fear what true commitment can mean when it comes to the potential to leave you brokenhearted. Lauren's boyfriend, a man who runs a blog about being cheap, was an entertaining minor character and added some lightness to the narrative.

Although I didn't realize it until partway into the novel, Close Your Eyes is actually divided into sections, and some of those sections focus on the story of Sylvia, a forty year old pregnant woman on the run who may have the answers Lauren is looking for. I didn't find Sylvia to be nearly as rich and engaging a character as Lauren was, and I did wish she had been a bit more developed. Sylvia spends many years in an unhappy relationship and I never quite understood why. That said, when Sylvia gets to New York and spends more time interacting with her old friend, I enjoyed it more. I felt like the flashbacks of Sylvia as a young girl were a lot more authentic and interesting than she is in present.
The story does go back to Lauren and it was her portion that stuck with me the most. I did find that there was possibly too much information about Lauren's real estate career, on what it is like to show houses, etc that didn't relate to the plot and wasn't really that interesting to me.

The best thing about Close Your Eyes is that even though Ward has written an engaging murder mystery, most of her characters remain strong and three dimensional in a way that reminds me of I'd know you anywhere by Laura Lippman. The storyline itself is loosely inspired by true events but has many surprises  you won't expect. Overall, Close Your Eyes has a rich and engaging plot and although I didn't connect with one of major characters I found a lot to enjoy and definitely plan to read more by Amanda Eyre Ward in the future.

Release Date: March 3rd, 2011
Pages: 272
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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Breaking Up With God by Sarah Sentilles

Breaking Up With God by Sarah Sentilles begins with probably the most interesting prologue I've read, setting the stage for the story of one woman's loss of faith and how it changed her life and her perspective on the world. The memoir begins:
"I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours. It was like waking up in an empty bed in an empty house. It was like someone I loved died."
Sentilles' was on her way to becoming an Episcopal priest, she was a doctoral student in theology, when she realized that the God she was in a relationship with contradicted everything she believed. When she left God, it changed her whole life, she had find new friends, a new career, figure out what life meant to her without God in it. The relationship analogy referred to in the title is maintained throughout the memoir, and I found it to be a very interesting way of looking at things. Sentilles' writing is lovely and there are moments in the book that made me catch my breath. At one point, she writes:
"In that moment between knowing the relationship must end and doubting you will ever find someone else, you have to believe you are enough. You have to be willing to stand in that empty house and love yourself.
Ending things requires faith."
In Breaking Up With God Sentilles realizes that her whole life her belief in God was something she felt like she was obligated to have, an arranged marriage of sorts, and when she finally thought about what she truly wanted it was something very different. However, as much as I fell in love with the memoir from the first page, there are aspects I struggled with. Throughout Breaking Up With God there are these tiny little essays, and I never really understood the point of them or why they were written in a childlike voice. Also, as much as I enjoyed reading about Sentilles' journey, I realized when I came to the end of the book I wasn't even sure that she really had ended her relationship with God, as parts of the story are a bit unclear and often it seemed like it was the Church, not God, that she had her issues with and obviously a Christian perspective of God isn't the only one that exists. My biggest problem with the book however, comes with the ending. Suddenly Breaking Up With God switches from the story of a spiritual journey to a manifesto about eating local and vegetarian, with scary facts and descriptions about the meat industry. Honestly, I'm still not sure what that portion of the book was doing there, but maybe I am missing something.

What I loved most about Breaking Up With God was Sentilles' writing, it is creative and imaginative and she looks at God in a way the reader may not agree with, but will definitely make you think. Although this memoir is flawed, it is also unlike anything else I have ever read and that is reason enough to make me glad that I picked it up.

Release Date: June 7th, 2011
Pages: 256
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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

After loving Jennifer McMahon's debut Promise Not To Tell, and enjoying her follow-up The Island of Lost Girls, I was definitely excited to pick up her fourth, and most recent, adult novel Don't Breathe a Word- her third book, Dismantled, is definitely on my To Read list. Like her previous novels, this is a book told in chapters which alternate between the past and present, two mysteries entangled together by one female protagonist. In Don't Breathe a Word, Phoebe, a woman in her thirties, is in love with a much younger man, Sam, a sensible good man who helps her keep the demons of her past at bay. After a troubled childhood, Phoebe can't believe her good fortune, but soon odd, unexplained events begin happening to the couple reminding Phoebe of the first time she saw Sam. That first time, was fifteen years ago when Sam's older sister Lisa disappeared into the woods behind her house and was never seen again. Before Lisa left, she told Sam she was going to meet the King of the Faeries and become his queen. Now, Phoebe and Sam are forced to question their reality as a terrible promise Sam made years ago comes back to haunt them, a promise that may destroy them all.

From the start, Don't Breathe a Word is a wonderful kind of mysterious and creepy that McMahon does so wonderfully well. It also has a tint of fantasy of the kind that appeared in Promise Not to Tell but was absent in The Island of Lost Girls, where events get twisted around and the reader isn't quite sure what is real and what is not. This time though, the fantasy element is the strongest it has been in the books by McMahon I've read, and I'm not sure I was entirely in love with it. The ending of the novel reminded me a bit of an M. Night Shyamalan movie and was perhaps a bit too ambiguous for my liking. The conclusion also felt rushed in comparison to the rest of the book, McMahon spends so much time developing the characters and the story that I wanted things to wrap up a little slower and more completely. That said, I found most of the novel absolutely riveting and McMahon is incredibly skilled at developing page-turning and unexpected mystery.

I really enjoy McMahon's writing style and her ability to create lush rural settings and this book was no exception. The parts of the story that took place in the forest felt vibrant and alive, and she is really able to get into the mind of a child believably. Out of the three books by McMahon I have read so far, her debut Promise Not to Tell remains my favourite but Don't Breathe a Word comes in second. I definitely plan to read Dismantled as well, the only adult novel of hers I haven't picked up yet. If you are looking for a mystery with a fantastical twist and smooth, page-turning prose I definitely recommend delving into McMahon's most recent offering, Don't Breathe a Word- it's just as creepy as the cover would leave you to believe.

Release Date: May 17th, 2011
Pages: 464
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, July 25, 2011

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin instantly intrigued me with its premise, which is quite literally what the title says- a look into the secret lives of four wives of the same man. I admit, I watched Big Love, and the polygamist lifestyle is definitely something that can make for exciting and interesting literature. Shoneyin has a particularly interesting spin on this controversial topic because she sets the book in Nigeria, and makes the fourth and most recent wife a University graduate, Bolanle, two decades younger than her new husband Baba Segi. Bolanle is hiding from her past, and finds a perfect escape in the unhappy marriage, while Baba Segi can't wait to have more children and continue to pass his legacy on. Two years later, Bolanle is still childless and the object of resentment and jealousy for all the other wives. Baba Segi begins to wonder what is wrong with Bolanle, and from there the rest of the mystery unravels.

Shoneyin has a smooth and fluid writing style that is really enjoyable to read. Different chapters are told from the perspectives of various important characters, including all four wives, and although the voices feel similar it was an interesting way to give insight into what each was thinking and their history (and secrets!). The big mystery itself was extremely predictable, and I actually felt that way about the novel as a whole. That said, even despite being pretty certain about how events would unfold, I was able to enjoy reading The Secret Lives of the Four Wives. Shoneyin has created a very interesting dynamic between four very different women, and the reasons each of them came to be a part of the marriage and what each was looking for (and whether they found it). The majority of the characters are unlikable, but at times you can't help but feel bad for them, especially when their actions backfire. Most unlikable for me was Baba Segi himself, and it was hard to imagine that without his money he would have attracted one wife, let alone four. He also seemed pretty ignorant and oblivious at times, but as the story progresses he does develop a little and become more sympathetic.

I found the novel to be a lot easier to read than I expected, and not quite as thought-provoking as I would have assumed. At times, it can be fairly graphic although it all makes sense in context, I wasn't expecting that. I think this is definitely a case where I went into the book thinking it would be one way and found something very different, but definitely enjoyable all the same. Overall, The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is a page turner of a very unexpected sort, despite being set in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar conventions Shoneyin manages to create a story about relationships and secrets that is universal applicable. 

Also Published As: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives 
Release Date: April 8th, 2010
Pages: 304
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. 

In My Mailbox (July 3rd-30th 2011)

From postal strike to two weeks on vacation, I've definitely had the opportunity for many books to pile up. They all look great and will certainly keep me busy reading!

{For Review}
Centuries of June by Keith Donoghue (TLC Tours)
Insatiable by Meg Cabot (Harper Collins)
Overbite by Meg Cabot (Unsolicited) (Harper Collins)
Killer Move by Michael Marshall (Unsolicited) (Harper Collins)
Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance (Unsolicited) (Harper Collins)
Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank (Unsolicited) (Harper Collins)
The Devil Colony by James Rollins (Unsolicited) (Harper Collins)
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache (Harper Collins)
Lost Voices by Sarah Porter (Thomas Allen & Sons)
The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy (TLC Tours)
Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy (TLC Tours)
Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy (TLC Tours)
The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (TLC Tours)
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (ARC) (Unsolicited) (Simon and Schuster Canada)
In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault (Harper Collins)
Love Lies Bleeding by Jess McConkey (Harper Collins)
My Favourite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek (Thomas Allen & Sons)
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (ARC) (Unsolicited) (Scholastic Canada)

Stay by Allie Larkin (No idea where this one came from but it sounds cute)
Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy (Gift from my best buddy Laala)
Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris (Signed) (Won)

Anyway now that I'm done playing mailbox catchup, I should be back on track for In My Mailbox as well as my reviews, after reading over a dozen books on vacation I have quite a backlog to start writing!

How has your mailbox been treating you lately?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Imaginary Logic by Rodney Jones

Imaginary Logic, the most recent collection of poetry by Rodney Jones, was a book that for me was filled with ups and downs- poems, or even parts of poems which I loved, followed by a stanza that bored me or a poem stifling in its obscure references. For example, "The Ante" comes across, at least for the first half of the poem, more as a list of poets and other things than as a poem itself. By the ending, it seemed that Jones had gotten away from the constricted format and practical lists and instead let the loose beauty of his writing flow, ending with the lines "That was the beauty of it. You could sing. / No one would hear. You could say anything."

This was my main problem with some of Jones' poetry, that the things he references occasionally overwhelm the simplicity of his own writing. In the next poem, "Confidential Advice" he begins with the same sort of list of people,
"Jesus was full of it,
and Muhammad and the Buddha and Marx
(both Groucho and Karl)
and Mao Zedong and his fourth wife, Jiang Qing,"
And although sure, what he is saying is true, I also felt like it was unnecessary and that the longer the list becomes the more irrelevant it is. What I craved was a snap judgment, a single metaphor.

In reality, "Confidential Advice" was less of a problem than other poems where not only does Jones list people, but they are often references so obscure that I had no idea who these people were. For example, in "Starstruck" he talks about celebrities but his examples include Leonard Nimoy and Joey Lauren Adams. True, these are actors of relative fame, but I had to google them. Honestly, maybe I am just ignorant when it comes to celebrities but I'm not sure how many people who read poetry will also know who Jean Skelton is- and even after googling I'm still not 100% sure who Jones meant. If the focus of the poem is about being starstruck and meeting famous people, the power is lost when the names aren't recognizable.

I realize that is a lot of criticism about the collection, but the reason I was so upset about these aspects is that outside of them Jones shows true talent. In "The End of Practice" Jones captures the sweat and the strength of this "male dream" where, "If I did not rise above the field, I would be eaten.", the poem vibrates with the intensity of the sport so powerfully that I almost didn't mind the references it contained, to more people who's names I don't recognize and even Google is unclear on (Charles Sandlin, Richard Foot, Jerry Reeder) leaving me wondering if I'm just really unaware or if they are as obscure as they seem.

Then again, maybe this is completely my problem and other less left-brained individuals wouldn't mind it so much since Jones himself is already a well-established poet having been named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for a previous collection, Elegy for the Southern Drawl (1999) and as winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry award for Salvation Blues (2006), which was also shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. I would definitely consider picking up a second collection by him to see how it compares to Imaginary Logic stylistically.   

Some of the most interesting poems in Imaginary Logic, are the ones in which Jones deals with religion, but not just traditional dusty Christianity, but what it means in a modern and technologically advancing world such as in "The Competition of Prayers" which includes the lines "bandstand for heavy Christian music/ and widescreen Christian karaoke."

The poems I particularly enjoyed were the ones which seemed more personal to Jones, such as "Winning" where he discusses how his sister was always the one getting the prizes, and the only time he won anything was a H-4 club sack race where he may, or may not, have cheated. I also loved "Metaphors for Trance" about playfighting with his dog, which captures perfectly the image of a canine and boy intertwined, ending with the stanza:
"We had played this game often- no bruising ever, never blood,
though it would prove tricky in the endgame to regain control:
I would have to draw him like a large key through a small hole." 
Later in the collection, "Deathly" appears, a poem inspired by the Aimee Mann song of the same name. Since I've been a huge Aimee Mann fan for about a decade, this was a reference I certainly both understood and appreciated. The poem itself perfectly captured the bleak romance of Mann's song as well as the feeling of driving "a late-model car through a big city late a night: / the ordinary nostalgia, with its useless long / and then the clearer nostalgia for what never happened".

Another memorable portion of the book is a series of poems entitled "The Previous Tenants" which speaks of those who lived there before the narrator, all the people that used to be. It is about age and decay, a haunting story in which one stanza begins "Most of us who live here do not come from here / and seem to somewhere else when we talk" which sums up well the sensation of the poems, it is almost like Jones is telling a ghost story, a series of histories. At one point he writes:
"We know them from the colors they left more than their words.
We know them more from the marks they left on the wood
than the pulses that quickened when they entered rooms.
We know four flower beds. We do not know their love.
We know all that went unrepaired and fell apart.
We know them from others more than they told us themselves."
In the end I was left conflicted over my feelings for Imaginary Logic, a collection of poetry that can be at times brilliant and at times frustrating. Ultimately, although I didn't relate to or understand much of the name-dropping or enjoy the lengthy lists sometimes contained in Imaginary Logic, when Jones dealt with what appear to be personal incidents or memories in his poetry he caught my attention in a powerful and undeniable way.

Release Date: October 27th, 2011
Pages: 96
: Netgalley
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Monday, July 11, 2011

Long Drive Home: A Novel by Will Allison

Long Drive Home: A Novel by Will Allison is a short but fervently emotional novel, written in the form of a confessional letter from a father to his daughter, telling her about the day he will regret for the rest of his life, telling her the full truth he suspects she already knows but which he has tried to deny. When the book begins Glen's daughter Sara is only eight years old, but she was six at the time her world changed forever. Glen made a mistake, let his rage get the best of him, and by the end of the day of a teenager was dead. As a narrator, Glen is frank and honest about the events that day, as well as his reaction to them and what happened in the two years afterwards. Long Drive Home as much about coming clean as it is an apology for the role that Glen forced Sara to play in covering up his mistake. It is about one moment, and how it can change everything.

From the first page, Long Drive Home is an intense novel, one which brings up powerful moral questions: what if you felt responsible for a death, but nobody else knew? Who would you tell? What would you do? These are the heavy questions Glen is left to face, and his response to them sends his life into the kind of tailspin from which it may never recover. Everyone who reads this book may have a different reaction to Glen, at many times he comes across as a coward, and yet, he does what anyone would be tempted to do and the longer he keeps quiet the easier it is to pretend things didn't happen... until he can't anymore.

Although this story is fictional, when reading Long Drive Home it is easy to forget that the author is not Glen, that this didn't really happen. The writing is so raw and emotional, the narrator so authentic, human and flawed. The language makes this an easy book to read, but the content does not. Allison will have you question your own morals, your own version of right and wrong, at least for an instance. The writing style is suitable for the form of a confessional letter, it comes across a bit like an internal monologue, but it was what Allison was saying, not how he was saying it, that makes the novel interesting.

Long Drive Home is not a book I ever see myself rereading, it is one of those cases were the story is so unpleasant and the message so strong I do not think I would ever feel the desire to pick it up again. In the end, I'm not sure if I really want to recommend this book, fiction may serve as an escape but in this case the reader is visiting a terrible and depressing world. Still, ultimately, Long Drive Home is a memorable and powerful reminder of how easy our lives can change when we let anger and denial get the best of us and it is a message that will stick with the reader long after the book is over. 

Release Date: May 17th, 2011
Pages: 224
: Simon and Schuster Galley Grab

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Giveaway Winners

Canada Day Giveaway of Ashes, Ashes:

Freedom Giveaway of Down from Cascom Mountain:

Thanks to everyone who entered. Winners have been contacted and have 48 hours to claim their prize. However I'm leaving tonight on vacation for 2 weeks, so it is better if you are able to e-mail me today so it can hopefully be sent earlier.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Taken two years ago, this is the beach I'll be at. It's pristine, warm, and absolutely gorgeous!

I'll be at the beach in Nova Scotia soaking up sunshine and literature from July 9th the 23rd. We fly out of Calgary tomorrow night, and I suspect there will not be any posting before then. I have a couple posts (two at the moment...) scheduled for while I am away, and I may get another one or two written tonight. But I won't be responding to comments or e-mails or posting regularly til July 25th. I hope you'll all stick around for when I'm back, I may have to host a contest or two to celebrate, and I will have many more reviews to do when I return as I plan to read tons!

I'm packing almost all ARCs so that I don't have to worry about reading them near the water, they are lighter to pack and I'm willing to share/give them away if they interest somebody else, plus I'm pretty behind on my review reading. I'm taking adult and YA so I'll have something to read no matter my mood. Here's a selection of what's in my suitcase (at least at the moment, I may have to remove a couple in order to have space for, you know, clothing):
  • What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
  • Blood & Flowers by Penny Blubaugh
  • Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
  • The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow
  • Subject Seven by James A. Moore
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
  • Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward
  • The London Train by Tessa Hadley
  • Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman
  • Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson
  • Want To Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  • Graveminder by Melissa Marr
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
And of course I'm taking my Kobo ereader loaded with egalleys, and my iPod which has a bunch of new audiobooks on it. What would you pack for two weeks at the beach? There's not internet, just sunshine and water.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and I'll see you in a few weeks, take care! Do you have any plans for the summer?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne

Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne beings, unsurprisingly, with young Noah Barleywater running away from home. Noah heads into the forest, on an unknown path, walking away from his problems. He is eight years old and ready for adventure. Noah ends up at an extraordinary toyshop with a very unusual toymaker, and that's when things begin to get strange. Both Noah and the toymaker have stories to tell, and as they travel with each other on the journeys that lead them to meet, each may have a valuable lesson to teach the other.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a whimsical novel, and this time, unlike when Boyne dabbled in historical fiction with his bestselling (but not well received by me) novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, it really suits the story. Although both books have moments of happiness mixed with sadness, in this instance it felt natural instead of contrived and melodramatic.

Although I initially mistook Noah Barleywater Runs Away for YA, this is definitely a children's novel that an adult with a longing for magic can enjoy as well. There are also a few pictures throughout the book and I thought they were cute and suited the story well. This is the kind of book you could read out loud to a child, or if they were a bit older they could begin to read themselves. The language and the story are not complex, but Boyne's writing is rich and filled hidden magic that brings it to life. As a note, at times it can be a little dark, and so it may not be appropriate for very young children, that is something a parent would have to read and decide. 

I loved how Boyne made everything come to life in Noah Barleywater Runs Away, from the one door that the toymaker can afford that is forced to run up and down the stairs when it is needed, to the floorboards that move when a person walks across them, this book is full of ordinary and mysterious magic. Noah felt like a believable eight year old boy, and although his story was an unfortunate one, it is far too common and there are many children who are bound to relate. Running away from our problems is a longing many people have no matter how old and so in that way Noah Barleywater Runs Away is universal in its simplicity and message.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a twist on an old fairytale, and although hints are dropped throughout it is still wonderful when Boyne finally reveals the inspiration and the pieces come together. The story is told like a fable, and so the style is slightly traditional, but I thought Boyne's language and description was perfect for it. On the surface, Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a children's fairytale, but beneath that there are layers of metaphor that an older reader can uncover and appreciate as well, resulting in magical story tinged with sadness and redemption.

Release Date: September 30th, 2010
Pages: 240
: Publisher

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

The Violets of March is the debut by Sarah Jio, a talented lady who already has a second novel, The Bungalow, on the way in 2012 and a mysterious third one in the works. Don't let her prolific nature fool you though, this is a well-crafted story with a thoughtful plot, profound characters and a smooth, lyrical writing style. I was instantly intrigued by the storyline of The Violets of March, and began lusting over it as soon as I heard of it. In the book, Emily Wilson is the luckiest girl in the world, ten years later. The author of a bestselling debut she has been unable to follow up, and a handsome husband who has left her, Emily knows it is time for a change. When her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend March on Bainbridge Island, it is just what Emily needs. On the Island, Emily meets a whole new world of people, and discovers a different time when she finds a diary from 1943, telling a story that has shocking connections to her own life.

In the novel, Jio tells two separate, yet connected stories in a way that reminded me slightly of Jennifer McMahon although her style has less of a thriller aspect and the mystery is lighter and more literary in nature as well as description. However, like McMahon, Jio's writing is unpretentious and her story moves along quickly and is easy to read. Still, there is nothing simplistic about The Violets of March, a complex love story with unique characters and an original mystery. This is the kind of book you want to read in one sitting, because you will not be able to think about anything else until you finish the last page (and possibly even longer). It flows easily from the beginning, and it is perfectly paced so that you gain just little details about the characters and their quirks, as well as the luscious setting, without being bogged down. 

Usually, when I review a book I find both positives and negatives about it. I try to give balanced opinions of what worked and what didn't work for me, and although people don't always agree, at least I have shown a little bit of both sides. In this case, the only thing I can say about The Violets of March is that some components of the way it concluded were fairly convenient. That said, the novel itself had a tint of fairytale to it, and there was magic to Bainbridge Island, so just like in a Sarah Addison Allen novel I was willing to let the coincidental outcome sweep me away.

Although this is Jio's debut, her years of journalism and natural talent mean that there is nothing about this book that is amateur. So don't let the month in the title fool you, The Violets of March is a perfect read no matter the day- it'll warm you up in the cold months and offer a cool ocean breeze during the summer. I expect by the time The Bungalow is released next March, my copy of The Violets of March will be well worn from sharing with the many people I know who are certain to love it as well.

Release Date: April 26th, 2011
Pages: 304
: Author

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Abandon by Meg Cabot

As insanely popular as Meg Cabot is, I honestly can't remember ever reading a book by her (with the exception of a short story in Prom Nights From Hell, which I enjoyed) although I did love the Princess Diaries movie. I was finally able to remedy that gap in my life with Abandon, Cabot's most recent release and the first novel in a trilogy which is a contemporary retelling of the Greek myth Persephone. I was particularly excited to begin Abandon because Persephone is probably my favourite myth, so I instantly curious as to what Cabot would do with the classic tale. 

Abandon begins after Pierce has moved to a new town, ready to begin a new life following her accident, living in the wealthy place where her mother grew up. Still even here, reminders of what happened to her lurk, and as the story of what happened is told through flashbacks, the reader quickly realizes one thing: Pierce have been to the Underworld, and the Underworld wants her back.

Although the premise attracted me, the actual storytelling of Abandon disappointed me. I loved Cabot's details and characters and the glimmers of the worlds she created, but all of that exterior falls flat when the storyline itself creeps along. Most of the actual action in the novel happens in flashbacks, so it is clear that Pierce survives otherwise how would she be telling this story? And that ruined a lot of the suspense for me. It also means that Pierce and the leading man, John, get very little time actually interacting (even less in the present) but the reader is supposed to be convinced by their romance, and honestly, I wasn't. My last complaint is pretty minor, but, honestly, "John"? Not the most enticing name for somebody who is supposed to be swoon-worthy, especially since Cabot was very creative in naming her main character Pierce, it just didn't fit well in my mind. There's technically nothing wrong with the name, it's just not a very exciting choice.

In addition to the original details of the story, I did find Cabot's writing smooth and easy to read. Although slow-moving, Abandon was still entertaining and I really loved Pierce as a main character and thought she was fantastically written and easy to relate to. Cabot is clearly a seasoned writer with a style that gets just the right amount of information in without overwhelming the reader, resulting in writing that is crisp and clean.

An interesting aspect that I'm still unsure how I feel about, is the fact that Pierce is actually quite familiar with the Persephone myth. I realize the novel is set in contemporary times, but it felt a little odd for her to be so aware of the story that inspired her own. I guess I'll find out if it's mentioned again and how far Cabot diverged from the original in her sequel, Underworld, which I'll certainly be picking up when it is released in 2012. With the next book in this trilogy, I can't help hoping to get one continuous story instead of alternating with flashbacks. While I don't feel Abandon was the best introduction to Cabot, it definitely offered bites of personality and creativity which I hope to see more of next time I pick up a novel by her.

Release Date: April 26th, 2011
Pages: 304
: ARC from Publisher

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

In My Mailbox (June 19th-July 2nd 2011)

So after a few weeks of sporadic mail and Canada Post not delivering, we finally got our mail back this Tuesday! Unfortunately it was a short week, with Canada Day meaning no mail on Friday, but I did get a few books I'd been looking forward to.

{For Review}
The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin (TLC Tours)
Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson (ARC) (TLC Tours)
What Language Is by John McWhorter (TLC Tours)

Three books for upcoming book tours, including a novel, a memoir and a non-fiction. They all sound interesting I am looking forward to reading and reviewing them soon.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

I really enjoy novels in verse, after first discovering the amazing Ellen Hopkins last year, and Schroeder has been mentioned quite a few times as another author who writes YA in verse to watch. When I purchased this I had an egalley of Schroeder's latest book, The Day Before, which I have since read and enjoyed (review coming) although it wasn't my favourite, but Chasing Brooklyn has a supernatural tint and has had rave reviews so I am definitely looking forward to it.

What was in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares (Part 3)

Note: These are my thoughts on the entire series, so the discussion of each subsequent book contains spoilers for those previous but not the novel itself. This is a review of book 5, which may provide spoilers of the previous 4 books but will not contain any for the novel itself.  For reviews of books 1 and 2, click here. For reviews of books 3 and 4, click here. 
My entire reason for picking up the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares after nearly a decade apart was the release of a fifth and final book in the series, set ten years after book four, Sisterhood Everlasting. Although the first four books in the series are young adult novels, as the four girls are 15 to 18 years old, this one picks up when they are 29 and is therefore considered an adult novel. While the story is more mature in the issues it address, Brashares' writing is just as accessible as it was previously, meaning that Sisterhood Everlasting fits well with the other novels and would still be easy to read for young adults, providing that they are prepared for the emotional story. What I love about this book, is that in a way I grew up with the sisters, having been a young teen when the first novel was released and now being in my early twenties, in a way I feel as if I have grown up with Tibby, Carmen, Lena and Bee.

When Sisterhood Everlasting begins, the four girls who had reaffirmed their friendship and commitment to each other at the end of Forever in Blue, have grown apart. Carmen lives in New York as an actress, and is engaged to a much older fiance. Bridget is in California and still refusing to settle down with her long term boyfriend Eric, constantly moving and giving away their belongings as her itch to not stay in one place grows stronger. Finally, Lena is working as an art teacher in Rhode Island, and although she has a quiet and content life, she still dreams of Kostos and the path she didn't take. Then Tibby, the most absent of the four, having moved to Australia, reaches out to the other girls and sends them all plane tickets for a reunion in Greece. What the girls find when they get there will surprise and shock both them and the reader. As they attempt to bridge the space, not just a physical distance but an emotional one, that has formed between them, we learn what the last ten years have meant for the Sisterhood and that way lies ahead may not be what anyone expected.

Picking up Sisterhood Everlasting, I admit that I was longing for a happy ending. When a tragic event occurs early on in the novel, I realized that what I was going to get was something far more powerful, a realistic and heartbreaking story about growing up and growing apart. Tibby, Carmen, Lena and Bridget all feel like good friends to the reader, and like good friends, you only want the best for them. What Brashares provides isn't a fairytale, but a perceptive and touching story that fits the personalities of the characters, and the fact that things rarely turn out how we expected. That said, I had two main complaints about the novel which didn't quite coincide with reality. The first was that the majority of people do not end up with the first person they dated or fell in love with, especially if they met this person when they were only fifteen. I know introducing a whole slew of new characters in the final book in a series doesn't really make sense though, so I could forgive the fact that so many of the girls end up with characters from previous books, even if I didn't quite believe it. The second point is a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book skip over the next sentence (highlight it to read it). There is a huge flaw in the scientific basis of Tibby's illness, because it is a genetic disease which is a dominant allele, her having it would require that at least one of her parents have it as well, a point that is totally ignored (unless she had a random mutation in the exact right place for the disease to occur which would be very very very rare). Also, her requiring hospice care at such a young age seems a bit extreme, symptoms tend not to manifest badly until the person is in their mid-thirties or forties. Unfortunately, as a grad student in biology, this scientific mistake really bothered me, especially because it plays such an important role in the story. However, perhaps it would not even be noticed by the average reader.

In a way, it's not necessary to read Sisterhood Everlasting, the fourth book in the series ties things up quite nicely, ending on a happier note than this new book does. That said, I'm glad to have had this opportunity to see how life has turned out for the girls, and to get the chance to meet up with them one last time. As a whole, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series provides an insightful and wonderful look into the lives of four beautiful and unique teenage girls- but what Brashares adds to the series with Sisterhood Everlasting is a reminder that although we don't always get our Happily Ever After, if we remember who are friends are, and who we are, then maybe we can get something even more meaningful.

Release Date: June 14th, 2011
Pages: 349
: Publisher

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Friday, July 01, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares (Part 2)

Note: These are my thoughts on the entire series, so the discussion of each subsequent book contains spoilers for those previous but not the novel itself. For example, a review of book 3 may spoil parts of book 2, but will not provide any spoilers of the novel itself.  If you have not yet read any of these books or wish to begin with the first books in the series, click here to read part 1 of my reviews.

When I left off my last review, I had just finished discussing the second novel in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series, so it's time to dive into the third, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood. This was the first book in the series I was picking up not as a reread, but as a brand new experience, so I was eager to see how Brashares writing would stand up when the book itself didn't have any particular nostalgia attached to it. In Girls in Pants, Carmen, Tibby, Bridget and Lena are about to begin their last summer before heading off to four different colleges. This summer, Carmen is working as a caretaker for Lena's grumpy grandmother who has been forced to come to the US after her husband died, and on Carmen's repeated visits to the hospital she keeps running into the same mysterious boy, handsome and intriguing but who Carmen feels is completely missing out on her selfish and angry side. Meanwhile, Lena takes a figure drawing class during the summer with a teacher who may change the way she views art, and herself, that is if her father doesn't get in the way. Bridget is finally her old self, and that includes spending the summer working at a soccer camp, only to realize that perhaps she hasn't left the past behind as well as she thinks she has. Finally, Tibby has to learn to have the same trust in herself that her friends do when an opportunity arises to take a friendship to the next level, only to cause Tibby to feel responsible for a serious injury to her sister.

At first, I found myself disappointed. Girls in Pants begins very slowly, and there is a lot of focus on characters who had mainly been on the sidelines in previous books- for example Tibby's younger siblings, Lena's grandmother and Bridget's friend Diana- or absent all together, like Carmen's love interest. Although I appreciate that Brashares was trying to round out the images we have of the girls, I felt like at times these side plots took away from the intimate connection I was used to feeling with the main characters, as four main characters is plenty as it is. I also didn't really enjoy the storylines in Girls in Pants quite as much as the previous two books, I felt like Carmen still had way too much growing up to do in order to be thinking about a serious relationship, and Tibby's insecurity seemed a bit over the top, as did some of the events with Bee at camp.

About halfway into Girls In Pants the pace of the story picked up and it managed to keep my interest til the end, but I admit I wasn't nearly as captivated as I had expected to be. I don't think that had anything to do with the memories I attached to the previous books, but rather that as a whole this is definitely the weakest of the bunch. My love of the characters kept me reading, but in the end Girls in Pants disappointed me, and many of the main events, especially the way things worked out for Lena, Tibby and Bridget, felt contrived.

Still, my feelings about the lacklustre third book certainly didn't prevent me from picking up the fourth, and was long considered to be the final, book in the series, Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood. This book was unique in that not only all the girls college students, having just finished their first year, but at eighteen, nearly nineteen, they are finally starting to feel like grown up, which means their problems are more grown up too. From the first page of Forever in Blue Carmen is conspicuously missing from her home town, not even being around when the girls try to have their annual summer friendship ceremony. Everyone wonders if, having been used year round, the pants are beginning to lose some of their magic and ability to hold the four girls together, as they seem to have drifted apart over the year.

This summer, Carmen is in Vermont working on a theatre production with her new friend Julia. College hasn't treated Carmen well, and she's become a shell of the outgoing, vibrant, person she used to be. Still, she's thankful she has Julia, a girl who seems far too perfect to be friends with her. Julia has been with Carmen through her terrible year, but will she still be there if for once, Carmen is happy? Meanwhile, Bridget has run off to Turkey when Eric tells her he's spending the summer in Mexico. Working an archaeological dig, Bee has her eye on a handsome young professor, and the fact that she has barely seen Eric over the last year means that her feelings of abandonment and longing are in full swing. Lena is in Rhode Island taking a summer art course, but the only thing more surprising than finding herself attracted to one of the other students, is when Kostos unexpectedly shows up. Lastly, Tibby is taking a film class at NYU and working at a local movie store, and with Brian planning to transfer to be closer to her, and her life would seem to be perfect. That is, until they take their relationship to the next level and the consequences of that action are more than Tibby bargained for.

The issues that Brashares takes on in Forever in Blue certainly felt both mature and realistic, and it was a welcome return to level of perception that I had grown to expect and love in this series. I had a few issues, but they were pretty minor. For what was such a big storyline in the previous book, Win is barely mentioned in this novel except for Carmen to say they went out a few times. That said, I wasn't very entranced by him so his absence was not particularly missed. He was replaced instead by Julia, who seems like an amazing friend to Carmen until the reader realizes just how imbalanced their relationship really is. I really loved this storyline for Carmen, I loved watching her come out of the shell she has created for herself after moving away from home, and seeing how she came to realize the truth about the relationships in her life, both with her friends and her family.

I appreciated how Brashares discussed the ramifications that having sex can have on a relationship through Tibby, as it is certainly an issue that increasingly younger girls seem to be facing. Bee's storyline felt perfect for her, I loved the acceptance she came to and how she tried to share some of her sunshine with her family, secondary characters who had been mostly neglected so far in the series. I always wondered how her twin brother Perry must feel with such a star for a sister, and Brashares definitely gives insight into what life is like for him. The last storyline belonged to Lena, and to be honest it felt a bit repetitive and whiny at times, but that is also my general feeling about Lena throughout the novels. Like Carmen, Lena comes out of her shell in Forever in Blue, but in a way that felt forced and like a huge change from her previous personality.

Overall, I was so glad that I decided to dive back into the world of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for the first time in nearly a decade. Though there were moments of disappointment, particularly in the third book, these are easy and remarkably perceptive books on the teenage experience. Still, even though the series wrapped up smoothly, I was definitely excited to see where ten years later would find the girls, in the fifth book in the series, the recently released Sisterhood Everlasting.

Click here for Part 3 of my reviews.

Freedom Giveaway Hop: Down From Cascom Mountain

 Welcome to Freedom Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room.

I'm offering one copy of Down From Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams
"In Down From Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships--with Callie and Tobin, teenagers who live and work on the mountain, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and the unknowable, and loves lost and found."
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 where you consider home to be. 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 July 7th EST.
Click here to visit the rest of the stops on this giveaway hop

Canadian Book Challenge 2011-2012

Last year I joined the Fourth Canadian Book Challenge. Although I was terrible at updating my list of Canadian books read (an understatement) I recently checked and I read at least twenty five last year. Click here to see my mostly full list.

I can't promise to be any better at keeping track of books this year, but I decided to join again anyway.

The goal of this challenge is to read at least 13 Canadian books between July 1st 2011 and July 1st 2012. I'm confident I'll complete this challenge, but I figure it is a nice way to keep some of my Canadian reviews together for those looking to pick up some of our fine country's literature.

To learn more about the challenge visit its homepage. 

Books Read:
  1. Addicted: Notes From the Belly of the Beast- edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane 
  2. Vital Signs- Tessa McWatt
  3. Irma Voth- Miriam Toews 
  4. Swing Low- Miriam Toews 
  5. Half Blood Blues- Esi Edugyan
  6. --
  7. --
Tentative Reading List:
  1. Alone in the Classroom- Elizabeth Hay
  2. Annabel- Kathleen Winter
  3. Every Time We Say Goodbye- Jamie Zeppa
  4. The Mistress of Nothing- Kate Pullinger
  5. This Cake Is For The Party- Sarah Selecky 
  6. Touch- Alexi Zentner
  7. The Return- Dany Laferrière (translation, David Homel)
  8. Dogs at the Perimeter- Madeleine Thien
  9. The Better Mother- Jen Sookfong Lee
  10. The Thirteen- Susie Moloney