October 17, 2017

Everything I Never Told You: A Rambling Review (Adult)

18693763Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng 

I found this to be a really fascinating look at a family that slowly disintegrates into strangers. From a psychological perspective, watching these interpersonal relationships fall apart was compelling, but from a story standpoint it was also depressing (I mean, you know right from the start that one of the daughters has died, it's literally the first sentence). You just watch as things get worse and worse and the characters all make such poor choices and you want them to do better. And communicate – they all needed to learn how to communicate with each other! Nevertheless, their faults felt very human. The theme of parents trying to live vicariously through their children and pinning all their past hopes and dreams on them was so true to life.

The writing was simple – no overwritten, purple prose here — but powerful. The choice to jump back and forth between past and present, while occasionally confusing, was a smart one; the jumping around between characters' heads in 3rd-person worked to let the reader in on what each character's mindset was (although I will confess I sometimes briefly got confused about which person's head I was in now).

My biggest quibble was with a scene towards the end (I guess, kind of the climactic scene?) in which a character behaved in a way that didn't seem all that realistic. Spoiler, highlight to read: Lydia jumping into the water and thinking she could "save" herself. I mean, I get that she was thinking symbolically, and that it was tied to this memory, but still. She knew she couldn't swim. Surely she'd have a better sense of self-preservation than that? Especially given that she'd made up her mind to stop letting her mom decide what she was going to do in life, and figure it out for herself.

I also found that the beginning was pretty slow-moving, and I was itching for things to happen in the present-day storyline, instead of flashing back to the past. But soon enough I became used to the format and all the drama started happening (past and present!) which kept me engaged.

Overall, a realistic look at the perils of keeping feelings boxed inside — just be prepared for everything to keep getting worse for the family before it gets better.


4 shooting stars.  



 

September 27, 2017

Text, Don't Call: A Rambling Review

Text, Don't Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life by

33154874I don't typically review non-fiction books, so this is a bit of a change for me! However, I am unapologetically an introvert, so when I was offered the chance to review this book by the publisher, of course I said yes.

The online personality of INFJoe and his cartoons were totally new to me. I think the artwork itself is simple but gets the point across very effectively -- a minimalist sort of approach to cartooning. The humour isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it's often enjoyable in an "oh man, I can sure relate to that" kind of way. There were a couple aspects of the cartoons that I found questionable, though. One is that the introverts are always portrayed wearing glasses; I realize that this is so it is always clear which individual is intended to be the introvert, but it does perpetuate a bit of a stereotype about introverts being bookish, nerdy people. (Sure, plenty of introverts are, but I'm sure it's a generalization!). The other element was a metaphor of introverts being like computers/appliances -- needing to "recharge," or be "dimmed," which I feel paints a picture of introverts as emotionless robots. I know it's a metaphor that's intended to communicate an aspect of an introverted personality, but I feel like it plays on stereotypes that already exist about introverts rather than representing them in a more accurate way.

The cartoons in this book are really the star of the show; the text that accompanies them provides basic information about handling being introverted in an extrovert-appreciative world, but it wasn't anything I hadn't read before. Other books about introversion, such as Quiet, go into far more detail. That said, I thought the cartoons did a good job at capturing moments of introverted life — particularly snippets of internal monologue — that felt familiar to me (and likely to many introverts). It was nice to feel like someone else "got" it.

3 shooting stars.



Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.

September 10, 2017

The Book Lode (26)

Yep, it's time for another book haul! This one is a mix of a few books for review, a Book Outlet order, and the results of a surprisingly fruitful perusal of the Chapters clearance section.



Books for review:

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso (my review here)

Shoebox Funeral: Stories from Wolf Creek by Elisabeth Voltz

Text, Don't Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life by INFJoe

You're Weird by Kate Peterson

Surprise Yourself by Lisa Currie

Thanks to Hachette Book Group, Penguin Random House, and Orange PRM (PR for Elisabeth Voltz) for the review copies!

Books bought: 

Wrong About the Guy by Claire LaZebnik

And Again by Jessica Chiarella

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

Stray by Elissa Sussman

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

The Other Me by Saskia Sarginson

Her by Harriet Lane

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones

A Beauty by Connie Gault

Oblivion by Kelly Creagh

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl


September 4, 2017

The Tethered Mage: A Panoramic Review (Adult)


34219880"In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled -- taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.  

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.
" (from Goodreads)

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

My reaction: I struggled to get into the first half of this book, I have to say, which felt rather sluggish and dense. There was a lot going on in terms of characters being introduced, and I had trouble keeping straight who was who. I really wish a character list had been provided! The first half also consisted of a lot of complex conversation — involving political intrigue and "war room"-style talk — and I kept getting confused and having to reread. 


Nevertheless, I plowed through and was rewarded by the second half of the book! The pace really picked up in the last third and it was definitely more riveting. There weren't very many new characters being introduced at that point, so I was becoming more familiar with the characters involved. There were some suspenseful "what's going to happen?" sorts of scenes in the climactic part of the story, and a twist I didn't see coming (spoiler, highlight to read: somehow I did not guess that her uncle was the Raverran contact).


Best aspect: the world-building. It was a cool premise to have magic workers as the Empire's army, with their power being controlled by magic-less individuals. Also, the author really fleshes out the different players/groups and the interests they are representing (unfortunately, this means that the plot in the first half suffers due to all of this world-building). Plus, there is a map!

I also thought the characters were well drawn, in particular Amalia and Zaira. Zaira has a spitfire personality, and is a bit of a wild card, and Amalia is a relatable and sympathetic narrator who demonstrates some growth throughout the story. The dynamic between the two of them was really interesting, as they started out with some animosity (particularly on Zaira's side, since she does not take kindly to having her magic controlled), and then progressed into more of a frenemy-ship. Although they are very different characters, I liked them both, so I was rooting for them to become friends!


If I could change something... I'd cut out some of the description and detail, particularly in the first half. I felt like the story sometimes gave up momentum in order to provide more detail in a scene. The writing felt generally overwritten, as though the author felt the need to select more exotic words one might find in the thesaurus rather than more commonplace ones. (I'm not opposed to using less common descriptive words in order to bring a scene to life, but in moderation!)  

I'd also bring a little more spark to the romance, as I was pretty lukewarm about it. I thought it was sweet (and it wasn't a huge part of the plot, so it wasn't a big issue), but I just wasn't super invested in that relationship. It was kinda take-it-or-leave-it for me.

If you haven't read it: and you like traditional-style fantasies with loads of political intrigue and maneuvering, as well as detailed world-building, this will be right up your alley. 

If you have read it: how do you think the Prince Ruven storyline is going to develop in book 2?

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: there was a sticky spot I thought Amalia got out of way too easily (spoiler: when Prince Ruven is threatening to kill her, and she just tells him she represents the Empire, and he backs off). 

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. If you're getting discouraged by the slow pace of the first half, but are enjoying the characters and world-building, I recommend persevering!




Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC for review from the publisher. 

August 22, 2017

God Is In The Pancakes: A Rambling Review

7447005God Is In The Pancakes by Robin Epstein

This book ended up being more intense than I was expecting. The quandary that Grace faces is one I can imagine being extremely gut-wrenching, with no easy answers. It brought home to me how important it is that in Canada physician-assisted dying is now legal (with strict criteria that must be met).

I really liked the main character Grace; she was a thoughtful, independent teen girl who strove to (usually) do the right thing – and yet she wasn't perfect. Her reflections on everything going on in her life felt very realistic and I could often relate to her mindset, even if I did not always agree with her choices.

Her relationship with Mr. Sands really stood out as unique in a YA novel; often we see peer friendships and romances being explored, but it's rare to see an inter-generational relationship. Having candystriped for a year in high school, this was a personal touch for me. There was one particular gentleman who was my favourite patient – just as Mr. Sands was for Grace – and who was such a lot of fun to spend time with. There is so much about a hospital setting that is depressing, but this story definitely highlighted that building a connection with a patient there can brighten it.

Sidenote, but: the speech-language pathologist in me was wondering why they didn't try some augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) methods with Mr. Sands as his ALS progressed to affecting his speech. There are technologies available nowadays that can operate voice output devices with eye movement only, for instance. Instead it seemed like he just wasn't given any means to communicate anymore!


4 shooting stars. 


 
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