Southern charm and spirits: A review of Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu

Cauchemar

“the veil between worlds is thinner here.”

This review has been a long time in the making, and unfortunately due to life it was delayed. So apologies to ECW Press for being tardy.

Alexandra GrigorescuCauchemar is Alexandra Grigorescu’s debut novel, and it revolves around a barely 20-year-old girl named Hannah. The book doesn’t waste much time in announcing that all hell is going to break loose for this character as her sole guardian suddenly dies by means that are mysteriously fishy…and also never quite explained. Alone and living in the Louisiana swamp, Hannah is left adrift. Her prospects look bleak considering that up to this point, she has been home-schooled, she has no friends, and the Louisiana community she lives in have no particular liking for her because of her estranged mother, Christobelle, who has a sinister reputation as a “voodoo Queen,” collecting men like flies who then seem to wilt and wither away in her care—Not exactly the type of woman you introduce as your mother.

louisiana swampsHannah finds some solace when she meets Callum, an easy-going (and apparently easy-to-fall-in-love-with) boat captain and part-time musician. But just when it seems Hannah might be okay in her present situation, the plot barrels into motion. The swamp becomes “the safest, and the most dangerous” place for Hannah to be. But it is when her mother comes back into her life that Hannah has to start facing what she has been sheltered from and denying her whole life: that her nightmares might be more than just nightmares, that the things we imagine going bump in the night actually DO go bump, and that strange phenomenons in nature might just have a supernatural reason behind them. The truth Hannah can’t seem to swallow is just how much of Christobelle and her mysterious ways already reside in her.

albino alligatorI wanted to love this book. The cover, the content, the setting, even the Francophone title that hints at what nightmarish content may be in store for the reader… I was prepared to enjoy it, however, I felt that Cauchemar was a rushed attempt at a first book. The concept was great. I love deep-south superstition, and this book excelled the most when it entered that dreamworld of creepy spirits and elusive white alligators. I was honestly captivated in these moments, chilled by what Hannah saw in her peripheral vision. But it was only in these moments that the plot gained its strength and immediately ended when we rejoined Hannah in the waking world.

Hannah is a very passé character. For being the main protagonist, her agency is lacking. A LOT happens to this poor girl as we find out, but that is the problem. Action is done to Hannah rather than her taking any. While the reader should obviously care what happens to her, I was more intrigued by Sarah Anne, Hannah’s estranged childhood friend. Her character certainly packed a bigger punch than Hannah’s.

As I mentioned, Grigorescu’s gothic storytelling successfully creeped me out at times, and I congratulate her on that her ability to write in a subtle and haunting manner. It is truly hard to make a reader’s skin crawl in a world as desensitized as ours. But the characters and the overall plot was all very two-dimensional. The one thing I take issue with the most is I didn’t believe in Callum and Hannah’s love. Once again, Grigorescu rushed things here. It was too fast! Even before the supernatural started to impact their relationship, their love for each other felt like a piece of flimsy cardboard, and even their love-making felt forced. I love a good love story (there’s A LOT of ‘loves’ going on in this paragraph, sorry), so if I’m not convinced, a book can be easily ruined for me.

In the end, Cauchemar is a bit of a mystery to me. It left too many questions that shouldn’t have to wait for a sequel to be answered, but with the ambiguous twist at the end, readers can likely expect there to be one—I just hope it also includes some plot development.

2 out of 5 book thumbs up

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Advanced Readers copy provided to me by ECW Press.

Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu  © 2015.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere March, 2015.

History. For Real: An evening with Erik Larson at the Appel Salon

Erik Larson - appel salon

“She was very good to me,” Erik Larson said in speaking about his character Martha in In the Garden of Beasts and the plethora of contemporary evidence she left for him in her journal writing. “She was also very good to many people,” he finished, and the audience chuckled knowingly.

Erik Larson interviewAt the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon on a Monday evening, Linden MacIntyre, a journalist and bestselling author himself interviewed, interviewed bestselling author Erik Larson about his books and his writing. At one point he specifically asked about how Erik can take an event of non-fiction and tell a story without making it partially fiction as a result. Because how can you possibly know what people were doing at that precise moment or what the weather was like that day? It’s impossible. How could you know that man was pacing on that day at that time?  Erik Larson amusingly responded, “But I do know. He told me.”

This is how Erik Larson brings history to life, through the personal items people left behind and the detailed historical records that were kept.

I have yet to read one of Erik Larson’s bestsellers, all of which would be fascinating for a history graduate such as myself. Duty calls for many books, however, I do own and will be reading his book The Devil in the White City. I purchased it after my first trip to the illustrious Windy City. I fell in love with Chicago and its vibrant history, so who wouldn’t enjoy reading a book in which its past is brought back to life?

Not surprisingly, unlike most major bestsellers of that day such as The Hunger Games, Erik Larson’s appearance drew a mixed crowd of old and young. Although I was surprised how quickly older women could turn into young fan girls. I can’t really blame them — for an older gentleman, Erik Larson has aged quite well and has an Ernest Hemingway-esque look to him (Ironically, Erik claimed to be an admirer of the infamous author later that evening).

Truly enamored with his own work, it was a pleasure to listen to Erik Larson talk about his work, researching and writing history. It is quite the undertaking and an exciting one. History holds many secrets and most of these are often not taught in the school curriculum, as he pointed out. He didn’t learn half of what he knows now about the sinking of the Lusitania and the politics behind it since he published his most recently successful book Dead Wake.

Erik LarsonAfter the talk, Erik Larson graciously signed books for a very long line of fans. He was quite the gentleman, shaking my hand as I presented my copy of The Devil in the White City to be autographed.

I do wish I had had the chance to read one of his books before he arrived, however, his talk certainly inspired me to want to read more than just the one book I currently own.

Come back to Toronto soon, Mr. Erik Larson. After reading, I’m sure I’ll have a couple questions that the history books can’t answer.

If you missed Erik Larson’s visit to Ontario’s metropolitan centre then you can watch the Toronto Reference Library’s recording of the talk below. While lacking the in-person effect of his charismatic personality, it is certainly worth watching for the first time or reliving for a second.

An eco-friendly haunting: A review of A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A sudden light by garth stein

“My peace I give unto you”

Old houses are broken down and creepy, and ghosts are scary, usually out for revenge…or so one is meant to believe. A Sudden Light by Garth Stein breaks all of these rules, however. The narrator, Trevor Riddell, is only fourteen years old and completely in the dark about his family history on his dad’s side. But the past suddenly starts melding with the present after tragedy strikes the family, bankrupting his dad’s business and putting his parents’ marriage in troubled waters. It is after his parents begin a trial separation that Trevor’s summer break becomes anything but regular. While his mother heads to England, Trevor and his father return to where his father grew up — Riddell House and its timber legacy. Their goal? To join forces with Trevor’s aunt Serena, put Grandpa Samuel in a nursing home, sell off the decaying house and its property for development, divide the profit, and make everything right in the world again. But Trevor discovers that this house has secrets and that this grand master plan for Riddell House may not be what everyone living there wants — at least those not entirely alive, anyway. A certain ghost has promises that need to be kept and Trevor may be the only one willing to listen.

Setting the scene if often considered the “boring” part of writing and reading, however, A Sudden Light imbues the setting with more importance than is the usual practice. But this was hardly a drawback for the book. Stein is extremely visual and when reading you can sense the time he took to describe every detail, literally making the words breath on the page and bringing nature to life. Nature in this book is very much its own character. The reader can easily picture the towering ancient trees standing tall and ominous around the decaying mansion that is the Riddell Legacy. This mansion is also quite alive in its own right, housing long forgotten secrets and hidden passageways. But while Stein comes across as meticulous when it comes to trees and old houses, he seems less so inclined to pay the same attention to his human characters. Trevor is very young to be telling this story, and although he is recollecting the events as an adult, there is a limited sense of growth. The reader only really sees this naive boy who can’t quite figure everything out. He doesn’t seem to really grow from his experiences. I expected him to have deeper reactions to what was going on around him. Instead his feelings came across as superficial and half-hearted. Some more depth to Trevor’s character would probably have given the story that extra boost it needed.

The same problem I had with Trevor transfers to the other characters as well. Stilted conversations was very much a problem for this book. It didn’t flow or feel natural. I honestly felt like Stein gave all his energy to the setting and left none to complicate the characters. They were all very two-dimensional. The truth behind Serena’s character, while not completely evident, could be more than partially deciphered even before the book’s mid-point. It became quite obvious to me that I had figured her out long before Trevor had. While this method works in other books, giving the reader that foreshadowing head start, it felt more like Trevor was just being oblivious to the obvious, which instead of making me root for him made me negatively judge him instead.

Finally, Stein’s ending… It was very tidy, and while there was an attempt to create some drama and apprehension, it ended up feeling anti-climatic. It was basically saying “well this happened, but it’s all okay now.” Not exactly the ending I was anticipating for what started out with a very interesting premise. Combining together the present day, the timelessness of nature, generational history, and old society’s timber tycoons…it was a writer’s recipe that could have done so much more than it accomplished here.

Despite its setbacks I did enjoy reading A Sudden Light  — it was haunting and a very interesting idea. Sadly it could have been a little richer in its character development. But if you don’t mind the cookie-cutter characters, it is worth reading, if only for the view.

 3 out of 5 book thumbs up

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First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Simon and Schuster Canada.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein, Simon and Schuster Canada © 2014.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere September 30, 2014.

Tumbling the building blocks: A review of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl

Cover of How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

“So what do you do when you build yourself—only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things?”

How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

 It is 1990 and Johanna Morrigan is fourteen years old, living in Wolverhampton, a city in the English West Midlands, with her unemployed rock-star-wannabe father, depressed mother, two brothers, and twin babies. Johanna has more childcare duties and financial worries than any teenage girl should have to deal with and she ultimately dreams of finding a way out.

In order to make this happen, Johanna reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde–fast talking, hard drinking Lady Sex Adventurer and freelance music journalist. Johanna is determined to build herself in the best way she knows how: on the fly. As Johanna navigates her way through this adult world as a working class girl, her notes are as follows:

How to Build a Girl

By sixteen, Johanna is living the life of lots of sex, lots of drug, and lots of rock ‘n’ roll all in an attempt to build herself, but she soon wonders if during all these wild adventures whether she has gone about this whole “building herself business” in all the wrong ways, and can she change it?

How to Build a Girl is a fast- paced tale of a working class girl whose brains and way with words ensure that her everyday actions will lead to wild parties and unexpected opportunities that allow her to escape the drudgery that is Wolverhampton and somehow find success in the most round-about manner feasible.

This new book reads very much like Moran’s semi-autobiography; she also grew up in a large working class family and became a successful music journalist at a young age (although Moran declares it is pure fiction). Whatever the truth is, Moran has created an authentic teenage voice through her character Johanna. Moran puts the pubescent roller coaster on full display from the exaggerated emotional response to ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to the self-conscious body image moments in front of the mirror.

While Johanna is often over the top and highly excitable in all that she does, it is a very true-to-life portayal. Everyone as a teenager has had moments of exclaiming that it is the end of the world as he or she knows it because this or that happened etc. I believe I said this more than once while growing up…I sometimes still say it on occasion.

How to Build a Girl is also very frank about sex, specifically female sexuality. Moran does not shy away from the subject, but places it front and centre with a wank (specifically, Johanna masturbating in the dead of night next to her sleeping brother with a pillow between them for privacy, because, yes, young girls have urges too and those urges need to be satisfied). Aside from the occasional wank, Johanna also goes out and has lots of sex with lots of different people because, as Moran puts it, “it is what young teenage girls will do. It’s what I did. It’s what my friends did.” Moran said her intention behind this book and the character Johanna is to reclaim the word “slag” and “slut” from society’s shaming culture and renaming it fun names, such as “lady sex pirate” or “swash fuckler.” It’s not about shaming but experiencing. When I attended Moran’s launch at the Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon, she described the teenage girl’s life in the perfect fashion: “It is about going out and having amazing experiences and awful experiences, which later turn into amazing anecdotes.” And she’s right, you know. After all, how many of us have gone out for drinks talking about our latest adventure in bed or otherwise, both good and bad? All of us, I would think.

While the reader may not be able to relate to everything Johanna goes through in the book, it is all honest and it is all written in a hilarious fashion that only Caitlin Moran is capable of. You may not always be able to say, “I’ve done that,” but you don’t mind going along for the ride with this fun and easy read.

Essentially, How to Build a Girl is about class, social privilege, feminism, and building yourself and rebuilding yourself as you go through life. Johanna may think she has the right building blocks at first, but she soon learns there is no right or easy way to build yourself. Johanna Morrigan is a beautiful work in progress and Caitlin Moran’s book ends with a promise that we haven’t seen the last of this spunky teenage girl.

5 out of 5 book thumbs up

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How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada, © 2014

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

Is the uprising over yet? — A review of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay Cover

“You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real?” he whispers.

“Real.” I answer. “Because that’s what you and I do, protect each other.”

*Some SPOILERS, but very minimal*

Panem is in chaos. After the Quarter Quell Hunger Games is interrupted by Katniss’ planned rescue from the arena, the uprising is in full swing. Those who were safely rescued alongside Katniss and anyone from District 12 before its nuclear destruction have been relocated to District 13’s underground encampment. By design, Katniss has unknowingly been made the symbol of this revolution started by District 13 as a ploy to take over the Capitol and restore it as a republic. Now that she has survived, it is expected that Katniss become the rebels’ pawn as their Mockingjay, however, she’s not so sure she wants all the responsibility the position requires of her. While her family may be safe, Katniss’ list of casualties that she blames herself for keeps growing and she constantly fears Peeta being made an addition the longer he remains in the Capitol’s hands. Consumed by her desire to kill President Snow and save Peeta but forever distrustful of District 13’s true motives, Katniss faces quite the emotional battlefield aside from the battle going on in Panem itself.

Before reading Mockingjay, I had been told by others that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations and that the final book failed where the first two succeeded. I remained skeptical; I mean, how bad could it be?

They were right.

Mockingjay is the definition of a final book quickly written to fulfill reader demand due to the series’ sudden claim-to-fame. For the majority of the book, there is an extreme lack of action or plot development. Katniss is barely part of the revolution and is seen mainly wandering around District 13, loopy on medication, and either doing or not doing what people tell her to. In the first two books, Katniss is in the thick of the action from preparing for the Hunger Games to surviving the Hunger Games. Everything slows down to an aggravating pace in Mockingjay. Most of what we hear is through hearsay or propaganda campaign face-offs between the rebels and Snow while Katniss awkwardly stands by, virtually useless and just a face.

Katniss is barely involved in the revolution and when she does go to one of the battlegrounds, her involvement is limited and it is only by pure accident that she gets any action when Capitol forces take them by surprise. The strong young woman who inspired this revolution to begin with is no where to be seen in this third and final book. Instead, every time Katniss gets any action, she is surrounded by a full team of body guards. When we do finally get to the Capitol and Katniss is in the midst of it, everything still feels very much told. I would almost compare Katniss to a block of wood at this point. Yes, the whole is to show Katniss as a generally closed off and conflicted individual, but we are supposed to be inside her head, right? But the reader does not feel the danger or urgency of the situation simply because Katniss’ reactions come across as staged and not genuine. Honestly, I no longer feared for her well being as I had in the previous books. Even when Katniss wasn’t on medication for a wound or her emotional hysterics, she still felt like a drugged character going through the motions.

The only one who kept the plot interesting was Peeta and his dramatic transformation into a danger not only to Katniss but to himself. The Capitol’s mind games and torture methods have destroyed him and turned him into a monster, a reality he soon realizes once he is rescued and detained in District 13’s medical ward. Peeta’s struggle to remember what is real and what isn’t is heart wrenching, targeting the reader’s empathy. It is only after having Peeta return to the plot action that Mockingjay begins to pick up the pace, if only slightly. The love triangle is reignited between Peeta, Katniss, and Gale, so while the revolution still feels distant at least there is an evident struggle in the limelight of Katniss’ often tiresome soliloquies.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. Mockingjay felt like a cop out. A quick, not-so-dirty finish to a series that started of great and then came to a lame finish. The ending felt waaaaaaaay too simple and easy for a trilogy that started off with kids killing kids for the entertainment of a sadistic government.

I hate to say it, but my money is on the movie (Part 1 is coming out this November). For once, Hollywood has a chance to make the book better. Good luck!

2 out of 5 book thumbs up

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Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, published in Canada by Scholastic Canada © 2010.

Available at The Scholastic Store, Amazon, Indigo, and independent bookstores everywhere.

Cambions, demons, and distals, oh my! — A review of Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Servants of the Storm book cover

“…the whole reason I got out of the fog was to go back to the Paper Moon Coffee Shop and look for signs of Carly. When I saw her last week, I was on my pills. Without them what will I see tonight?”

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Since Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah Georgia, life hasn’t been the same. Leaving behind nothing but death and destruction, there is little brightness to the lives of Savannah residents, especially for Dovey after witnessing her best friend, Carly, being swept away in the torrential swamp waters. Since then Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything and everyone around her…that is until the day she sees Carly at their favourite café. Dovey begins to think that she is seeing things that can’t be real and, determined to know the difference between what is real and what is fake, she stops taking her pills. Suddenly Dovey is seeing the real Savannah, the darker Savannah full of fear-feeding demons. She learns that the storm that took Carly away from her was no act of mother nature but a demon takeover that hasn’t ended yet but is about to.

Desperate to save her friend, Carly, Dovey teams up with an alluring stranger named Isaac, who is also wrapped up in this demon infestation. However, as Dovey continues to search for Carly in the shadowy corners of Savannah where nightmares are real, she begins to realize that this hunt she is on may be a dangerous trap that she had always been meant to fall into.

At the beginning of the book, I was hooked. Dawson gave you little time to ease into the story with the sudden arrival of Hurricane Josephine that leaves Dovey’s life torn asunder. The reader is immediately caught up in the action, also swept away by the hurricane. You feel the emptiness Dovey is left with in the aftermath, and you also feel her sudden rise in hope when she catches a glimpse of Carly leaving their favourite café in the same outfit she last saw her in. Through the majority of the book, the action continues to happen at this fast and invigorating pace. I found myself always tensing at the turn of every page and the beginning of each chapter, unsure of what dark and ghoulish being Dawson would pull from the childhood closet next.

The one up-side to this suspenseful structure is that it leaves the reader little time to notice the flaws. While this book was full of excitement and intrigue, the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional. The only character with some actual depth is Isaac, and this is because he has an interesting and mysterious background that is revealed to us in only small tidbits at a time. In comparison, Dovey and her friend Baker are very superficial. Baker is the cute dork who grew up to be a handsome dork who has fallen (unprecedentedly) in love with Dovey, and Dovey is the once-drugged-now-seeing-demons girl who won’t give up on Carly. That about sums it up. However, you can happily ignore the limitations of these characters simply by being caught up in the pure creativity of this plot line. I mean, how did Dawson come up with the whole phenomena of demons eating the tips of people’s pinkie fingers (i.e. distals) thereby making them distal servants now and in death to that said demon? Pretty creepy stuff, and fascinating!

Unfortunately the action started to slow down in the latter half of the book and suddenly the details, or lack there of, became more obvious. Due to the consistent lack of character development, I had trouble becoming wholly invested in Dovey’s story apart from her search for Carly. Her conflicted emotions regarding Baker and Isaac felt irrelevant and unsubstantiated. Dovey also has a very dull way of reacting to all the crazy shit that goes down in this book. I mean, the amount of fear and disbelief Dovey displayed paled in comparison to my own. I felt like Dovey needed to take some lessons from the reader, because she obviously wasn’t seeing what I was reading.

Also, not to spoil anything, but the ending was very unexpected. It was a sad attempt at the unresolved literary ending that instead became one of those cliché endings in horror films (you know the ones I’m talking about). Upon closing the book, I kind of just sat there with my lips pursed thinking, “Yup…that happened. Alrighty then.”

While Servants of the Storm has its faults, I will admit that I did initially get caught up in the story. It was an unusual read for me, a southern Gothic, which is what made it enjoyable. I still responded to the book’s content, therefore, the book was never an entire loss for me. While it may not have been a challenging read, it is definitely of the young adult genre and something any demon-loving, science-fiction fan would enjoy.

3 out of 5 book thumbs up

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First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Simon and Schuster Canada.

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson, Simon and Schuster Canada © 2014.

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere August 5, 2014.

What truly matters: A review of The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

the tiny wife book

“…the vast majority of you, if you even believe you have a soul, believe it sits inside you like a brick of gold….nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

After attending the book launch for The Tiny Wife, I was intrigued by the book’s imaginative content, and I had to experience it for myself. Being a short book, it only took me a one-way train ride home to finish it. I experienced a whole range of emotions while reading it, from the humorous chuckle to the perplexed mumble.

I won’t bother giving the usual quick summary in this review, as that can already be found on the blog via the book launch post from earlier (link provided above).

illustration in the tiny wifeMetaphorical and witty, The Tiny Wife is a joy to read. While its language is simple, its meanings are complex and full of wisdom. After being robbed, strange events start to happen for all of those involved, many of which are not plausible. But all of these happenings are significant.

The woman who is chased by her lion tattoo is being chased for a reason. Her name is Dawn, and the lion tattoo represented the moment she finally got the courage to break up with her boyfriend. Now this very tattoo has come to life and is chasing her all over the city non-stop. It is not until Dawn finally stops to look at the lion that she realizes she has nothing to fear at all. The lion’s features are not menacing but quizzical. As a result, Dawn is able to send it after the robber instead, who she randomly runs into in the market. The meaning I took from this scenario is that running from your problems does not solve them in the long run, and one moment of courage isn’t enough. Dawn needed to embody that courage fully, which meant more than just physically representing it through the tattoo. There are a couple other scenarios I enjoyed, such as the man who has carried around a refused engagement ring for months. His metaphorical awakening is just as powerful, involving the woman he thought he loved, a broken heart, and a moving vehicle. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

However, because the book was so short, I do feel that a lot was missed out on. I was still very curious about what happened to all the other characters who had something of emotional value taken from them. What did they give to the robber? Did they save their souls? Or did they all wink out of existence instead? The book left me wanting more, but that is often the nature of a novella.

I also found that some metaphors alluded me, such as the man who gave the robber a wedding picture of his wife’s parents. What does tying his shoes, suddenly declaring he is leaving his wife, only to find she is already gone actually mean? I can’t figure it out for the life of me. Perhaps I am the only one with this problem, but these small unknowns left me puzzled and fearful that I was missing out on something that was supposed to be evident but wasn’t. This power of subtlety, while frustrating on occasion, is also the genius of Kaufman’s writing, and I’m just sorry that I’m missing out on some of it. This is also why Kaufman’s ending is so satisfying, as you will find out when you read the book yourself. In regards to Kaufman’s main characters, you can understand the metaphorical growth that happens between Stacey and her husband, David during this whole odd experience of  her shrinking bit by bit each day—it is, ironically, a growth that is gradual and natural, that which easily resonates with everyday people and everyday life.

Stacey’s husband, David is also the narrator, which is an interesting feature in The Tiny Wife. Obviously, because David wasn’t physically there, he is telling the story based purely on what Stacey has told him. Some of the holes in the story make sense due to this limited point of view. It is also interesting because, like David, we are outsiders to these events.We arrive at the same conclusions and experience the same epiphanies alongside David, unless he gives us a peak at information he was given at a later point in time. I think this was a great stylistic choice on Kaufman’s part, as it gives the story a different dimension. We aren’t privy to Stacey’s deepest thoughts and emotions, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation instead of just being told the facts. It is a less heavy-handed approach I sometimes enjoy.

Now, I can completely understand Kaufman’s personal message in my copy now: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Well, I will definitely not be letting this happen to me, but if I come close, I can always be reminded to cherish what is most important in life by reserving an hour to reread The Tiny Wife.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, published in Canada by Cormorant Books © 2014

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

 

 

And the wheel stops turning… – A review of A Memory of Light, Book 14: The Final Volume by Robert Jordan

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan

“All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.”

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

*Some Spoilers…but not many.”

I don’t think I can give a decent review of this book, simply because I have been reading the books for a span of twelve years (as I’m sure most of Robert Jordan’s fans have — He is similar to George R.R. Martin in that way). Naturally, I have forgotten some important features of the series and I have also lost my intimate knowledge of the characters. However, this lapse of memory will not deter me from writing a simple review and final farewell to the first-ever colossal series I started as a young adult.

A Memory of Light is the third and final contribution Brian Sanderson has made to the series while filling in for Robert Jordan (The man did as he promised and wrote until they nailed his coffin shut). Throughout this giant book, standard size in the series, we witness all the events leading up to and that are a part of the Last Battle. It is a harrowing struggle between the Light and the Dark, however, the battle seems quite sour with Egwene’s and Elayne’s armies being overwhelmed by Shadowspawn. The Dark One seems to have an endless supply of Trollocs to throw in their direction. Sticking together, the armies of the Light bond together in support of Rand and the single objective of defeating the Dark One before he can take full grasp of the world. However, it takes every effort to hold on long enough in the hope that Rand will emerge victorious before their strength wanes entirely.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan coverLike I said, it has been while since I’ve read the series, so my memory of each book is foggy at best. But, in regards to the series overall, I found this book not so dragged out with extended events that disengaged the main characters, like Matt and Perrin, from the main storyline. Previous books usually had them gallivanting off in different directions. It was refreshing to see all the characters united in a single cause yet still independent from one another. Matt is still adorable in his quirky and humorous mannerisms, but he also becomes more responsible—a leader. Perrin is still that pillar of silent strength and endurance, but in the same way that Matt develops, we see Perrin finally accept himself as both man and wolf rather than constantly battle between the two. This acceptance makes him suddenly a formidable force that Slayer can’t possible compete with in the end. I especially enjoyed Egwene’s transformation. She truly became a magnificent Amyrlin Seat, unsurpassed by all who came before her and likely all who came after. She leads the battle until she is spent and she doesn’t break even when she experiences the greatest loss an Aes Sedai can experience.

Everyone seemed to solidify as individuals by the end of the book, making sacrifices and decisions that defined them. I was still unsatisfied with Rand, though. He seems to lose his three-dimensional aspects and became very simple in his characterization: I must say goodbye, defeat the Dark One, and die. Okay, Rand, that’s great and all, but who are you, really? I wasn’t convinced I knew him in the same way I got to know all the other principal characters by the end of the book. A lot of people in the series talk about liking Rand before he was the Dragon Reborn, and I can’t help feeling the same way. He was a lot more complicated and colourful in his characterization and becoming the Dragon Reborn should have only amplified that rather than dim it completely.

The Last Battle is where all the action happens, and it takes up a good chunk of the book (The chapter is over 100 pages long!!!). I didn’t mind the chapter’s length, however, as much as I minded the repetition beforehand: “Last Battle this” and “Last Battle that.” The redundancy of those two words became exhausting, and the importance of this event was gradually eroded away. A little variance in the gravity of the situation would have been appreciated.

The Last Battle lived up to its name. There was chaos. There was death (some heart wrenching). It was a magnanimous struggle. I was thoroughly enthralled with the battle on all sides. The intensity was catching as the armies dealt with heavy losses, traitors in their midst, and the Forsaken trying to undermine them at every turn. Alas, there is another “but.” Purely caught up in the battle raging outside Shayol Ghul, I was severely disappointed that the same intensity was not developed in the battle between Rand and the Dark One. Instead of this grand final fight between the two, there was only “mind games,” creating imagined worlds based on who won. The plot slowed down horribly whenever Sanderson focused on Rand. I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a lot of “raised eyebrow” looks for these scenes. For all the hype generated for this battle and what it would mean if they lost, I wasn’t convinced. The battle was very figurative and abstract, which failed to keep me interested when so much more exciting action was happening elsewhere, and that elsewhere was where I felt the most investment in the storyline.

I did enjoy A Memory of Light, despite its flaws. It was the end of the series and, for the most part, a fitting one. We saw where everyone ended up, and we were left with a bit of mystery to play with (after all, “all-wrapped up nicely” endings are old school these days).

Wheel of Time series quote

Farewell, Wheel of Time, it has been a pleasure going on this twelve-year journey with you.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson published in the USA by TOR Fantasy © 2013

Available at TOR, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

 

Saying hello to being twelve again: A review of Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland

something wiki

“…I put all my ideas and feelings out there online, everything I’m thinking and wondering about, and then some other geek in some other corner of cyberspace a million miles away sees what I’ve done and deletes it.”

Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland

When we’re young and impressionable preteens, we are always ready to think the world is out to get us (frankly, I don’t think it changes all that much when you’re an adult). We struggle with fitting in, with making friends, and with keeping those friends. Suzanne Sutherland’s second book Something Wiki is all about that childhood drama we all go through at one point or another, maybe more than once (speaking from experience).

Jo Waller is a geeky twelve years old, who has a cool older brother named Z (at least according to her), three friends, a bad complexion, and wears over-sized hand-me-down band t-shirts her brother left behind in his room. She also has a secret: She edits Wikipedia. However, she doesn’t just edit it, she makes it her own online journal of random scrawls on different pages, which also immediately get deleted, or sometimes even responded to, although in a rude manner (Three friends is plenty, Jo. Ignore the cyber troll). Being twelve is rough, and Jo thinks she has the worst luck when everything goes from normal to all wrong in a small span of time. Her friend list shortens to one, her brother comes back home to live with his pregnant girlfriend in the basement, and Jo’s face won’t cooperate with her hormones. Jo can’t seem to see a silver lining in all the drama, or if she can survive it.

I probably could have read this book a lot faster than I did, but I received the ARC from Net Galley, and I don’t have an e-reading device. I also stupidly opened it on Adobe Digital Editions at work without realizing that that was where it would stay until I finished it. Needless to say, due to these lovely limitations, I was reading Something Wiki on my 30-minute lunch breaks (when time allowed).

If I was a decade younger, I would have given this book five out of five book thumbs up. It is a simple and easy read for someone my age, which is why it is a young adult/children’s book . This book is absolutely relevant for that younger demographic. I know I sure could have used a book like this growing up, as Jo goes through many of the same problems I experienced myself with problematic friends, troublesome hormones, and the whole unrequited crush-thing. It is no picnic going through this alone, and if you’re reading about Jo’s life, you might not have to (fictional or not, it’s relevant).

Jo is a very believable character. Sutherland’s characterization is spot on. Writing from a younger person’s perspective is a difficult task, but Sutherland does it with ease, and a bit of personal “dorky” flair. Besides identifying with Jo on basically EVERYTHING she goes through, I found myself chuckling at her quirky behaviour and her honest responses to the topics of sex and pregnancy.

The layout of the book was a great style choice as well. Having Wikipedia entries at the start of every chapter not only highlighted the book’s title, it also gave us an in-depth look at how Jo expresses herself. Humorous and upfront, she says what she feels without sugarcoating it.

If you want to meet your twelve-year-old self again, I definitely recommend giving this quick-and-easy read a chance. Or, if you have someone you know currently occupying that difficult age, perhaps suggest Something Wiki to them, because deep down, we are all insecure and unsure at that age, at all ages really, but we are also unique, incomparable beings — our own brand of dork.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

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e-Galley provided to me by Dundurn via NetGalley

Something Wiki by Suzanne Sutherland, published in Canada by Dundurn © 2015

Available at Dundurn, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere January 3, 2015.

 

Before Peter belonged to Wendy: A review of Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily book by Jodi Lynn Anderson

“Peter walked across her heart, and left his footprints there.”

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

*Some spoilers*

Reading Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily is a reintroduction to your childhood experience Neverland without the rose-coloured glasses of Disney’s animation. While there are still pirates, mermaids, and fairies to keep the fantasy alive, Anderson’s Neverland is gritty and dark, laced with the same pitfalls, heartaches, and dangers we all know about or have faced as young pubescent adults.

The book is written from Tinkerbell’s point of view, and in this story she is Tiger Lily’s before she is ever Peter’s (If you can really call her anyone’s, Tinkerbell is more of a tiny stalker who becomes too fascinated with Tiger Lily to leave her side). Tiger Lily is fifteen years old at the start of the book. Her only family is her adopted father, Tik Tok and her friends Pine Sap and Moon Eye. Otherwise, Tiger Lily is quite the loner and anything but fragile. Preferring hunting to sitting still and sewing, Tiger Lily is definitely out of place when it comes to the rest of the women in the Skyeater Tribe.

But Tiger Lily’s quest for solitude comes to an abrupt halt the moment she comes, somewhat roughly, into contact with Peter Pan. Unlike in Disney, the Tribe fears Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, viewing them as savage barbarians that will prey on those who go to their side of the woods. However, Tiger Lily’s curiosity overpowers any sense of immediate fear, and she begins to visit Peter and the Lost Boys drawn to them and their reckless ways. She especially begins to fall for Peter, developing a back-and-forth relationship with him that can only be defined as young, unruly love.

tigerlily1Little love spats aren’t the only conflict Tiger Lily encounters. Back home, she is suddenly betrothed to another man, Giant, a distasteful and large boy who is cruel and lusts after poor Moon Eye. There is also the arrival of New Englanders on the island to contend with. At first, there is just a single ship-wrecked victim named Phillip who Tiger Lily nurses back to health, however, another ship arrives later on with more of them, a ship that also happens to be carrying Wendy.

Unlike Tiger Lily, who carefully guards her emotions, Wendy is girly and very open with her affections. Soon the Lost Boys and Peter become very attached to her, and Tiger Lily is at a loss as Peter drifts away and the New Englander’s invade her tribe and enforce new foreign customs upon them. Suddenly nothing is simple and Neverland is anything but a happy fantasy land where no one grows up.

tigerlily2Anderson has created a Neverland that is far more believable than the one nestled in the First Star to the Right. She has pictured it as an undiscovered tropical island, untouched by modernity, where faeries and mermaids still exist simply because they haven’t been found yet. It is especially magnificent the way she captures the problems of colonialism as the New Englanders once again invade what was once unknown and try to assimilate it to themselves. We become first-hand witnesses through Tinkerbell’s eyes as the Skyeater Tribe falls apart when forced to change their beliefs. Tik Tok especially represents this when he is forced to cut his hair and stop wearing dresses, which highlights the problems of the present, and not just the past, as society is introduced those who define themselves as transgender or homosexual. Anderson goes even further by including, subtly, a rape scene between Moon Eye and the lustful Giant. The brief scene is agonizing as we are all too aware that Moon Eye is too small and too fragile to defend herself against the gigantic mass that is Giant. Neverland is both sad and destructive, but this is what makes it plausible, and as a result Neverland has never been darker or more real.

But, Tiger Lily is also about the difficulties of adolescence and first loves. I think just about everyone can relate to Tiger Lily and her struggle to fit in, and everyone can also understand the struggle of loving a boy at that age. It is exhausting, all the questions we have when we do, and Tiger Lily asks the same ones in her own fashion: Does he love me? Do I love him? What does he mean when he says this or that? In the end, no one says what they mean and everyone ends up getting hurt. Isn’t that the way of it though? We’ve all been there.

Simple and endearing, Tiger Lily will bring you back to your own version of teenage angst and reveal a boy and girl who never grow up that are just the same as you or me. Because in true-to-life fashion, Tiger Lily loves, loses, but she eventually will find that someone who loves her for exactly who she is and doesn’t want her to change. Be true to yourself: It is a simple message transmitted through one of Neverland’s strongest female characters who Disney just brushed over, but who Anderson saw fit to illuminate.