A lacklustre sci-fi cliché: A review of the movie Divergent

Divergent the movie

Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Kate Winslet

There was a fair amount of excitement surrounding the release of Divergent as a movie. It was supposed to be the next Hunger Games. I didn’t hold any high hopes for the film to begin with but besides the sexy casting of Theo James as the moody and mysterious character Four, the movie fell short of any expectations I could have raised to begin with.

Tris vs. KatnissShailene Woodley, however, did live up to my expectations. My first experience with Woodley’s acting skills was in The Secret Life of an American Teenager. I was willing to blame the script, but watching Divergent confirmed for me that Woodley still has a long way to go before she impresses me. She is very wooden in her portrayal of Tris. Even her soliloquies were cliché and dry to the very end, pointing out the obvious, which is highly aggravating. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss succeeds where Shaileen fails. Lawrence as Katniss evokes a response from the audience. You grow with her, feel with her. That connection never happens with Tris. Overall, I failed to see Tris develop as a character in the same way that she does in the book, and this is mainly due to Woodley’s limited supply of emotions (I will add that Woodley’s acting is heading in the right direction now since her role in the film The Fault in Our Stars).

Tris and FourThere is also a lack of chemistry visible between Tris and Four. Theo James and Woodley just don’t have the same on-screen presence that Katniss has with Peeta or Gale. You can feel the tension, the confusion, the desire. In Divergent, these emotions look forced and muted between Tris and Four, and any effect their relationship could have on the audience is lost. Frankly, I just wanted Theo James to myself, as I can’t root for a romance I don’t believe in.

However, Woodley wasn’t the main issue with the movie Divergent. While changes that were made in The Hunger Games movie worked well, the changes made in Divergent were to its detriment. For example, the plot felt very much staged when Tris’ mom came to visit her. Instead of coming on “visiting day” like she does in the book, she shows up randomly and is somehow not spotted by the Dauntless guards who are EVERYWHERE. And I’m sorry, but that ending was not worthy of a twenty-first century film. It resembled more of the old movie endings we giggle at with its very pointed heroic quips that shouldn’t be said aloud, especially not these days. Needless to say, there were a lot of unbelievable moments for me in the movie.

Divergent ending

Usually I will fight tooth and nail to support a movie my boyfriend dislikes and I have forced him to watch, but this time I agreed with him. I’d rather reread the book (and I rarely reread anything due to my large stacks of unread books waiting for me) then watch Divergent for a second time. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the sequel.

On a happier note, who’s excited for Catching Fire this November? ME!!!!!

Jennifer Lawrence

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.

“I love the losers.” – Book launch for The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman book launch

Before I jumped into the world of Canadian publishing, I didn’t know who Andrew Kaufman was. That was a mistake I hope none of you will make, as he is a delightful author on paper and in person, and my life has been a little richer since reading one of his books.

My first encounter with Kaufman’s work was his first and most well-known book All My Friends are Superheroes (you can read my review of the book here, if you’re interested). I was immediately charmed by his simplistic yet jammed-packed-full-of-metaphor way of writing. A lot of people have the misguided assumption that writing short stories or novellas is easier than writing a full-length novel, but they are wrong (Alice Munro will agree). To be able to say a lot in few words is quite the feat, and Kaufman has the art down to a tee.

The Tiny WifeThe Tiny Wife, while it is his most recent book in Canada, was originally published in 2010 by Madras Press in the United States and in 2011 by HarperCollins’ imprint The Friday Project in the United Kingdom. Given a new look and a new audience, The Tiny Wife has been brought back to life by Cormorant Books, a small Canadian publisher dedicated to publishing the best new work in the area of literary fiction and creative non-fiction for the adult market.

The book is about a robbery, and not just any robbery, a very unusual kind of robbery. Thirteen people in a bank, instead of losing their money, are asked to surrender that which is most valuable to them: a calculator, a cheap watch, photographs of children, a copy of Camus’s The Stranger, etc. It is after this incident that these thirteen individuals begin to experience strange and, quite honestly, impossible occurrences. One woman begins to shrink, giving the book its title and another is terrorized by her own tattoo, which has miraculously come to life. Everything is in chaos, and these poor souls must figure out what exactly was taken from them in the robbery to put a stop to these insane happenings before they literally lose themselves completely.

Although I haven’t read the book yet, I am thoroughly intrigued by its content, and it is no doubt another delightful read that Kaufman has delivered to his audience.

Andrew Kaufman The Tiny Wife Book LaunchOn July 17, 2014, I attended the official book launch for The Tiny Wife, held at the now-infamous Ben McNally Books. With a fairly great turnout, the event began a little after 6 PM. The main event of the launch was a Q + A hosted by Globe and Mail Books Editor Jared Bland.

Once the launch began, there was a lively discussion between Bland and Kaufman, which was more often than not comical, with jokes surrounding the book’s strange plot line and Kaufman’s writing method. A particularly funny moment was when Bland asked Kaufman about how he comes up with theses ideas and starts writing about them. Kaufman’s response: “When I come up with a book idea, I often do whatever I can do avoid writing the book at all.” He sounds like a publisher’s nightmare, but perhaps his procrastination lends something to his eventual genius. Every writer has a style that is purely his/her own. Who knows what would happen to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series if he was rushed to finish a book (He’s certainly feeling the pressure now with the hit HBO-TV series)…maybe he needs those 5+ years to get it right. It’s unfortunate but true.

Andrew KaufmanWe found out another interesting fact about Kaufman: He loves the losers. This is a fairly obvious observation if you’ve read anything he’s ever written, and there is definitely something about the “loser” in fiction. Losers are far more relateable and a lot more fun. There’s no such thing as perfection in real life, so why should there be in the stories we read? Kaufman is also very aware of the reader when writing about his “loser” characters. When asked about his eccentric plot choices, he said, “I’m very careful not to bore the reader.” Well he has not failed in that regard. His stories are packed with meaningful nuances throughout, but they are expressed in an entertaining and light-hearted fashions, and as a result the reader is certainly never bored.

Near the end of the interview, Kaufman also admitted he doesn’t actually like his first book All My Friends are Superheroes anymore. As much as I enjoyed the book, I can understand where he’s coming from. Just like in any job, writers gradually develop their individual style and when they write their first book, this “style” might not be fully developed yet. Of course, we are welcome to love the book (and BUY it), Kaufman said jokingly afterward.

A final revelation from Kaufman was his desire to actually write one of those big books with swooping revelations—War and Peace material. An intriguing wish for a man who has perfected the art of the novella. Will he do it and will he be good at it? Time will only tell.

P.S. Cormorant was also having a contest in which attendees were allowed to submit their questions for Kaufman prior to the book launch. Jared Bland would then choose the question he liked best and that person would receive a free signed copy of The Tiny Wife. Who was the lucky winner that evening? Your truly. However, I still can’t make out fully what Kaufman’s personalized message was to me…any guesses?

The Tiny Wife signed by author

Wrapped up in the classics: Literary apparel & accessories for your bookish life by Storiarts

Storiarts logo

If you’re a book lover and haven’t heard of Storiarts by now then you are living under a rock, because their popularity is skyrocketing.

I noticed the small company when I found their online Etsy store, which still exists alongside their regular website now, and fell in love with their literary scarves product line. They have significantly expanded since then, offering winter and summer versions of their scarves, gloves, headbands, t-shirts, and even pillow covers. A husband-and-wife team, there is a lot of dedication that goes into making these stylish accessories that are an ode to classic literature. If you want to see how it is done, you can click here, where the crew behind the magic demonstrate how they make these amazing scarves, transferring the words we love into wearable items.

Storiarts Persuasion ScarfMy one issue with Storiarts: choosing what to purchase! There is so much to love, and when you’re a fan of the classics, the choice becomes even more of a dilemma. Finally, during one of their first-time-ever sales, I took the plunge and made a decision. I bought the light-weight summer scarf featuring a passage from Jane Austen’s last novel, and my favourite, Persuasion. You can see the scarf here and the passage it has written on it (the most beautiful words a man has ever written when professing his love, in my opinion). The best part is I can wear it all year round and with practically anything. It is the perfect accessory to my wardrobe, whether I’m dressing up or down for the day. I especially find it flattering when combined with a summer dress.

Having received quite the compliments, I am now greedily eyeing the gloves and headband options. The t-shirt line, while only having the option of Pride and Prejudice at the moment, is also very eye-catching, featuring Darcy and Elizabeth strolling down a path, but not just any path—a path made up of words from the book itself. You can see my dilemma of wanting to immediately discard my strict budget and go wild. It is quite the mental battle! I love reading and I love the books I read, so I definitely like the idea of flaunting it around my neck, head, and hands.

Storiarts literary apparelRefined and absolutely gorgeous to behold, I definitely recommend checking Storiarts out if you haven’t already done so. Made to look like the book itself with its creamy hue and its stark black calligraphy, you will not be disappointed by the package you receive in the mail.

After all, who doesn’t want to look good while reading?

You can find their website here.

An upside down Chicago: A review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

“One Choice Transforms You”

Divergent by Veronica Roth

 Yes, I am little late to the party, but I have only recently been given the time to read for pleasure…so, yes, I am playing catch-up.

Not only has the trilogy finished, a film has been released, and there is now a special edition titled Four that just came out this month. So behind or not, the Divergent series is still alive and kicking with popularity.

Divergent, the first book in the dystopian series, has been accused more than once of being a rip off of The Hunger Games. I can definitely see it. All Divergent lacks is the more pronounced love triangle (I mean, there is a short-lived one, but nothing to get excited about) and the games where young kids kill each other for the amusement of others (although, kids are still killing kids in Divergent, just not in a controlled setting). If we are all being honest, whether we like one series more than the other, they both revolve around a similar plot line.

A quick recap on what Divergent is about: It is based in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago divided into five different factions. The whole of society is based on these societal divisions, which classify citizens based on their dominant personality type. The factions are Dauntless (basically wildly brave and daring), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent [or full of themselves, really]), Abnegation (the selfless and caring), and Candor (the crazily honest). On an appointed day of every year, the newly turned sixteen-year-olds take a placement test which ultimately decides which faction you are best suited for. The candidate must then choose whether to remain with their family’s faction or join another. Those who do not complete initiation into their new faction become “Factionless” and are forced to live in poverty on the streets of this very upside down Chicago.

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior is born into an Abnegation family, however, she never feels like she truly belongs to Abnegation due to her inability to wholly embody selflessness. She can’t understand why it comes so easy for her brother, who is always looking at her disapprovingly when she screws up. It isn’t until Choosing Day that Beatrice comes to understand that she is even more different than she had ever realized. When her results come back inconclusive, her tester warns her that she is divergent and if she wants to live, she can tell no one. With her results giving her a range of options (Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless), Beatrice must make a choice. In the end her admiration of the fearless faction, compels her to join Dauntless, where she is put to the ultimate test of endurance and bravery Abnegation had never required of her. Fully adopting her new identity as Dauntless, Beatrice is the first to make the jump into her new faction’s headquarters and changes her name to Tris. She also meets Four, her initiation instructor who has a dangerous secret of his own to protect.

But trying to pass the Dauntless initiation ritual is the least of Tris’ worries when she discovers that her society of five factions isn’t as stable as it has always appeared to be. She catches wind of a plot that will not only reveal her as divergent but will unravel any semblance of peace that remains among all of the factions.

*

 I love quick-and-easy reads, and young adult books are a great go-to when that is what you’re looking for. A well-written book, Divergent offers a fast-paced, easy-to-follow plot line that keeps you hooked without any of those annoying lulls in action that make a reader struggle to the finish line. The action continuously progresses with jolts of violence and romantic attachment. Roth also sets her story in a familiar landscape—modern day Chicago. The well-known landmarks are mentioned from the Pier to the Bean, which vividly bring this new world order to life. Having just visited Chicago for the first time this past winter, I felt even more involved in the book, because I was able to pick out features of the city Roth would mention in passing during Tris’ training.

I also really enjoyed the main character, Tris. She is not the archetype heroine. Instead, she is clumsy, initially weak, and she often fails to make the right choice. However, these qualities make her human. We see her grow and, in some instances, forced to grow as she faces new and unexpected challenges as part of the Dauntless faction. She is the every girl instead of just the girl. Despite the fact that she is an upside down world and literally battling a revolution, readers can easily connect with Tris as she tries to make friends and survive initiation, which isn’t that much different from trying to survive high school.

The one thing I wish the book was more informative on was why Chicago has become this divided city. Is the rest of the world like this? Who started the war and why? And how long have these factions been in place? These are all important questions that were glossed over, and while this didn’t hinder the engrossing storyline, I still felt cheated of an explanation. Hopefully, the second and third book are prepared to tell me a bit more.

 All in all, despite following a dominant trend, Divergent is a well-imagined story that makes the impossible plausible . It also does a great job at recognizing just how blended and different our personalities are. We are not one or other like Roth’s made-up world has tried to be…we are all divergent.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

Divergent by Veronica Roth, published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada © 2011

Available at Amazon, Chapters, and independent bookstores everywhere.