Monthly Archives: April 2015

Love ‘Bewitched’? Love Elizabeth Montgomery? Check This Out!

So I was contacted by Mr. Herbie J. Pilato to review some books he wrote about Elizabeth Montgomery (star of the original Bewitched show of classic TV fame), in honour of the 20th anniversary of her passing coming up this May 18. Any fans of classic TV or of Bewitched specifically are going to want to see this video or pick up these books. Below is my ‘Package-Opening Video’ of the material he sent me (I’m currently reading The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery, and immensely enjoying it). Do you have a favourite TV series from your childhood? What is it? My favourites were always ArthurBill Nye the Science Guy, Kratt’s Kreatures and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? As a teenager, my favourites were CSI: Las Vegas and MacGyver. Now, with the rise of Netflix, my favourites are so many to name that I could literally make a list as long as my arm. Right now, I am enjoying GrimmPenny DreadfulPuella Magi Madoka MagicaOnce Upon a TimeDownton Abbey, and as always, Doctor Who.

So in honour of Ms. Montgomery, watch some Bewitched reruns and check out this video below!

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle

I first heard about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time via Meg Cabot`s The Princess Diaries series, in which Mia cites it as one of the favourite books of her childhood. Then, it appeared in a book I still question myself for purchasing (but which I simply cannot seem to bring myself to get rid of): 501 Must-Read Books, published by Bounty Books, in the ‘Children’s Fiction’ portion of the anthology. So, when I came across A Wrinkle in Time in a used-book store for only $4.00, I knew it was time to give it a go.

For all its critical acclaim and all the ideas packed inside this story, it turned out to be much shorter than I had anticipated. Then again, it was originally written as a Young Adult book in 1962 (a different time with different standards for the lengths of Young Adult fiction), and there is definitely much more to it than at first appears. It is a coming-of-age story with all the deep and painful and awkward and confusing emotions that go along with being thirteen as I remember it (the age of the protagonist, Meg Murry). However, it has the added complexity of science, good-versus-evil, poetry, tesseracts, love, compassion, and aims to teach readers to see past the façade of appearances to the true substance underneath. My favourite passage illustrating this is a scene is between Aunt Beast and Meg on the planet Ixchel:

Perplexity came to her from the beast. ‘What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too. They say that it is night now on our planet, and that they cannot see. They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes. We do not understand what this means, to see.’

‘Well, it’s what things look like,’ Meg said helplessly.

‘We do not know what things look like, as you say,’ the beast said. ‘We know what things are like. It must be a very limited thing, this seeing.’

Below is an example of how to tesser (how to travel via a ‘wrinkle in time’):

tesseract

If there had not been more to the story I would have been very disappointed, since the beginning of the plot takes a lot longer to get going than the rest of the book (I’d say about 60% of the book takes too long to get going, and while it is philosophically interesting, I have a hard time thinking the young adults of today would really get into it straight from page 1), but since there are several subsequent books in this series, which I am very interested in reading, and since this particular book offers a good strong ending in its own right and doesn’t rely on those books to complete itself fully, I was satisfied.

A good (dare I say ‘timeless’?) book for younger readers (though not at all like the YA books sold at Chapters/Coles/Indigo today), this would probably be more currently suitable for an Intermediate but mature age group of 8 to 11 years old , and for older ones  too (even 25-year-olds like me).

3.5 stars out of 5


‘Armor of Glass’ by R.M.A. Spears

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It was immensely difficult for me to decide how to properly write this review – how to address things in it that I strongly disliked while still praising its many merits? First of all, I would like to say that the extent of Spears’ writing skill is highly impressive to me, considering how well the book was written and how much I enjoyed sitting down to read it, DESPITE the fact that I could not stand the protagonist or anything he stood for. That, to me, was a huge testament of good writing. When I read a book, I don’t just look for books that are within a certain field I am interested in, though on my own time and money, of course that’s what I gravitate to – I look for and enjoy reading books that can draw me in and make me care, despite the subject matter, and that’s just what R.M.A. Spears has done with this work.

It seems to be quite autobiographical, so respecting the lens of personal experience (not to mention the fact that Spears, like Brick, his protagonist – is a Marine veteran, and I’d hate to have someone like that holding a grudge against me!), I have decided to do what I would myself prefer: to share what I didn’t like and save what I did like for the end of my review.

There are several things I did not like about this book, namely Brick’s terrible bigoted attitude towards anyone different from himself, especially homosexuals, women, ethnic groups outside his own, religious groups, and anyone on the left-leaning side of the political spectrum. I could list quote after quote of Brick condemning all of these groups, but the most prevalent throughout is his vilification of women. Right off the bat, he refers to his current wife as ‘the next ex-Mrs. Me’ (red flag right there), and then continues as he describes his life, offhandedly mentioning the ‘rant of the women’s movement’ (23), and later that ‘We men are knuckleheads but women are crazy’ (57). After he describes a fellow train passenger in very negative terms without even knowing anything about her, a passage I read to my husband aloud, who actually nicknamed this book Douchebag’s Guide to Life, I was not surprised how several of his marriages fell apart later on, since he was not treating women like people but like objects, things he could use for his own gratification. This was the quote (which wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been compounded by so many other quotes like it regarding issues like race and sexual orientation throughout the book) : ‘All her other superficial stuff, a big purse and ten-gallon open-top luggable, full of her essential girl-crap, magnified her elevated stature, one that deserved a whole seat for her whole bitch self’ (8-9). Whoa. Keep in mind that he doesn’t actually know anything about her. A bit of cynicism towards life, and a nice helping of resentment, no?

Well, as it turns out, actually, yes, and a lot of it. We learn throughout various memories of his life that Brick has while riding the train that he was sexually assaulted as a young boy by his baseball coach, he is a Vietnam war veteran, his second wife cheats on him and when he allows himself an affair, she tears his life apart to get back at him, and that despite all his time and money spent on joining the military he just never seems to catch a break after Vietnam and spends most of his time in dead-end jobs, so to me he has pretty good reason if anyone does for holding on to some anger and resentment.

But I do have to say this: GOING THROUGH TRAUMATIC AND DISAPPOINTING EVENTS DOES NOT GIVE YOU LICENSE TO BE AN ASS (although I will agree that it teaches you how to be a better one than most people).

However, having said all of that, I highly praise Spears for his excellent writing style. It’s very descriptive and very engaging. The memories-while-on-a-train device was skilfully used, and the fresh sense of urgency and being in the present at the end of the book lent strength to the idea that though Brick had felt like only a passenger in his own life for most of it, he was finally in control and getting off at the right stop, if you will. I kept coming back to the book wanting to read more.

Hell of a protagonist (I’d probably punch him if I met him) but excellent writing.

3 stars out of 5


Live Your Own Life – A Rant

Recently, I have been feeling that everyone else in my life thinks they know exactly how I should live it, and has no problem telling me. On a regular basis. This becomes a problem when all these opinions, shoulds and shouldn’ts, collide. That problem is further compounded when, as every human being, the owner of the life in question (me) has questions about life, wonders what to do next, or is afraid of trying something new (doing book reviews, for example) but does it anyway.

Some people seem to smell naïveté and uncertainty, and instead of respecting that I am just trying my wings, they think it is their duty to hone in on me, throw advice at me until I choke on it, then get upset when I choose to do what I think is best if it doesn’t follow their advice. (Although, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’d be singing my praises if I agreed with any of their advice and followed it).

There are many past examples of how people seem to be unhappy with how I live my life or choices I have made, but a recent one that has to do with literature I thought would be helpful to share and to possibly inspire other people who are feeling frustrated with their current place on the timeline to their goals. I am a member of LinkedIn, where many people often contact me to send me their books for review. A recent message I got started out sounding like a compliment, because the man who wrote it had clearly read my profile and was using flattery about my writing style to make his point. However, the more I thought about his message, the more insulted I became, because his entire reason for contacting me was to tell me that he thought my goal of getting paid to write book reviews should be secondary to writing other things (mainly because he didn’t like book reviewers – my guess is he has had a few bad reviews in his life – and because, according to him, he preferred a readership that could think for themselves).

What really bothered me about his message was that without even getting to know why I do book reviews (to learn for and support other writers, to stop being afraid of sharing my voice, and to keep in practice writing about literature as I continue my academic pursuit of literature over time), he had already taken something that makes me happy, something that makes me feel useful and that I am good at, something that other people like (I have proof of that by all the followers and likes on this blog – thank you all very much!) and tried to cross it out and replace it with what HE is doing with his life. He wasn’t respecting me or what I do, he wasn’t even asking or caring why I do it.

But you know what? I am so sick and tired of being told by other people what I should or should not be doing with my life, and I refuse to stop doing what makes me happy. I am going to keep writing book reviews, and doing it my own way, thank you very much. I have been through a lot in my life and have experienced many wonderful and terrible things, and through it all, reading books and talking about them have always made me happy. They are my therapy. I’m not going to let anybody take that away from me. And whatever current things any of you out there do that make you happy, make you feel useful, make you feel even a little more like there is a place in this world just for you, you keep on doing them too! Hold on to other goals if you like, but don’t let anyone steal your happiness, and don’t give up on the things that make your life worthwhile.

Love you all and peace out,

SharaLee Podolecki

❤ ❤ ❤


Husband/Wife Book Reviews: ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore, illustrated by David Lloyd

After challenging me to read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, (a book of 1,462 pages) my husband thought he’d give me a break and get me to read a graphic novel. So he gave me his copy of V for Vendetta. *shakes head* Husbands…

Ah, graphic novels: where dialogue and art give birth to new twists on old fables. Where complex ideas can be boiled down to a single panel. Where a symbol becomes a story, lines and colour the in-between-the-lines. I have only recently in the past year and a half started my love affair with comic books and graphic novels, and this was the first time I had ever read one so politically charged as V for Vendetta, written by the same Alan Moore who gave us Batman: The Killing Joke (one of my favourite Batman graphic novels and probably with the deepest exploration of Batman’s dark side of any graphic novel or comic book I have ever read – highly recommended). It was illustrated by David Lloyd, and while I’m not familiar with much of his other work, I know after having attempted to work on a graphic novel with an artist myself, how difficult it must be to translate all of Moore’s ideas into a single visual panel box, especially since Moore and Lloyd wanted this book to be more about the visuals and with less sound effects and unnecessary dialogue than most graphic literature had in the early eighties, so I take my hat off to him for that.

Since this graphic novel was made into a movie as recently as 2005, I was genuinely surprised that its creation was begun in the summer of 1981, and truly impressed how far ahead of its time it was as far as politics and symbolism in graphic literature goes. Many of the comic books in the ‘80s and ‘90s are very blatant, in-your-face and extreme, but usually only in the way of sound effects, big explosions, fight scenes, and often expounding upon very basic plot points and themes. People like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman (check out his version of the Sandman comics if you want to see tons of symbolism) changed this a lot, and things are much more symbolized and have deeper meaning and are more daring in the comic book/graphic novel world today because of them.

The concept of anarchy was explained artistically and with a romanticism that undermines the cold nihilistic nature of pure destruction. As V tells Eve, ‘Anarchy wears two faces, both creator and destroyer; thus destroyers topple empires, make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world.’ Allusions to various films, songs, and books, (especially Confessions du Révolutionnaire by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – available on Amazon, I checked!) or other literary works by William Shakespeare or Thomas Pynchon are peppered throughout, and all the reader has to do is follow the rabbit trail to his or her own education/enlightenment. As a reader, I found this fascinating, and must admit that the concept of self-government and working as an independent state unto myself is most appealing.

I love the way V speaks, so poetic and courteous, in a world where all is cold and art is gone and machines watch your every move (doesn’t sound too far off sometimes, to be honest). Here is my favourite example of his eloquence:

vforvendettaeloquence V: THE PIECES CAN’T PERCEIVE AS WE THE MISCHIEF THEIR ARRANGEMENT TEMPTS: THOSE STOLID, LAW-ABIDING QUEUES, PREGNANT WITH CATASTROPHE. INSENSIBLE BEFORE THE WAVE SO SOON RELEASED BY CALLOUS FATE. AFFECTED MOST, THEY UNDERSTAND THE LEAST…

Personally, however, I cannot subscribe to the fact that the destroyer (V) does things like blow up the Parliament buildings to clean the slate of society, not because I’m all that attached to symbols of power, but because of the little people and my belief in the power of free choice. There are hundreds of people who work in those buildings, many of them most likely night staff. How many innocent people had to die so V could continue his vendetta, without a choice, without knowing why they died, what good it would do anybody, what their families were supposed to do next, how they were supposed to survive without those lost? How many Mrs. Almonds were there out there, not because of the fascists, but because of V? Dying for a cause you believe in is one thing. Dying to further someone else’s cause that you know nothing about is another. Also, since I have been a member of the human race for a while and have had many experiences that have shown me its seedy underbelly, I think that while the concept of anarchy is appealing, the practice of it is impossible, because of its reliance on human conscience and on respecting the boundaries of others, which I have no confidence in any person for maintaining for very long when it means they can’t get what they want.

Over all, I give this work 4 stars out of 5, and highly recommend it.

England Prevails.

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Husband/Wife Book Reviews: ‘The Twilight Saga: Twilight’ by Stephenie Meyer

My wife delighted in challenging me to read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, and despite my many delays I completed it nearly a year after being challenged. (An over-the-weekend reader I am not).
For those of you living in a cave and came out to read my review (a fine choice) Twilight is the love story of Forks, Washington exile Bella Swan and with the both unbelievably handsome and strange Edward Cullen. Through a variety of odd events/rescues, Bella finds out that Edward and his family are vampires. Drawn to one another, despite their differences, Bella soon finds herself in the world of the fascinating and dangerous world of the Cullens. With all its risks, Bella is left to decide whether or not a life with Edward is possible, and Meyer’s work ends happily with the two together.
While widely criticized (particularly the simplified movie version) for having a predictable storyline, a variety of romantic and high-school cliches, and at times groan-inducing/creepy acts of love (Edward watching Bella sleep every night comes to mind) Twilight does have some redeeming and enjoyable parts to it.
One of the things I noticed reading this work was Meyer’s naturalistic feel to the whole work. Forks, Washington really comes alive, and the idea of the dark, damp brooding forest surrounding the characters really helps add to the books feel of strangeness and beauty. Likewise, Meyer writes in an easy-going, at times quite humorous, style that instantly connects the reader with the mind and world of a high school student. Bella, despite how odd she believes she is, is a very easy person to understand and relate to. Certain relationships, like the one between Bella and her father Charlie are charming in both their distance and closeness. Even with all the supernatural things happening in Twilight, the characters and the environment are very real.
Meyer’s use of tension, especially when Bella is in Port Angeles, or dealing with the Tracker in Phoenix is very effective, and even had me an out-and-out critic of Twilight, really into it. Despite my best efforts, I actually did enjoy reading this book.
Now, only 3 books left to see if this will hold up.

3 stars out of 5

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‘Someone To Call My Own’ by Bianca Harrison

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It has been said not to judge a book by its cover. This one, however, is just as strange and confusing and loosely tied together as the cover would suggest. First off, it begins with the main antagonist, Camille Young, having a dream (a foreshadowing dream, at that), which automatically puts it straight on my cheese shelf. Before I knew it, and without attaching me as a reader in any way to the characters in this book,  I was catapulted into Harrison’s world of interwoven extramarital affairs, kidnapped newborn babies, stabbings, shootings (it’s amazing how many people can apparently get stabbed or shot but not die in this book, except Nikki, whose injuries didn’t even seem bad enough to cause the damage that killed her), and one-dimensional Detectives named Floyd and Ball (who is actually described as being both short and round. I half expected Detective Floyd to be called Detective Chain instead, but since that might actually have been a good idea and we are apparently supposed to take this book seriously, it was not to be). As a mother, the part about the kidnapped newborn was extremely upsetting and difficult to read as it was not handled properly. The baby in question was put in several disturbing and life-threatening situations, the severity of which were not treated with the proper restect, and having the concept of kidnapping a child that young merely for revenge treated so cavalierly was very off-putting. It was like being forced to read 48 chapters of all the worst parts of The Young and the Restless.

It did not seem to me that any serious research had been done at all for this book. Greg Langston, the married man who is cheating on his pregnant wife (mother of previously mentioned kidnapped newborn baby), is a lawyer, and there is a lot of TV legal drama lingo used when trying to find his kidnapped son, all of it vague and none of it effective or truly making sense. The police force is also misrepresented, as in the scene where Detective Ball and Detective Floyd find Greg at Camille’s house. He has gone there to question her regarding the disappearance of Greg, Jr. (yet another original name), and has found baby items. He tells the detectives he suspects Camille of having stolen his son, but decides to HIDE THE EVIDENCE HE HAS JUST FOUND IN CASE SHE HAS NOT DONE IT. And instead of attempting to get a search warrant for her house, they take him to the police station for questioning for TWO HOURS, since he is a person of interest in the case, and he doesn’t even tell them about the baby items!!! No parent in their right mind would do that, and the police would normally have interviewed both Greg AND Camille, would they not?

ALSO (and this is one of my biggest beefs about this book): when it is discovered that Camille is… shall we say….”troubled” (have I mentioned that she poisoned her first husband because HE was divorcing her for another woman?), it comes out that in the previous State she lived in, she was seeing a therapist and that she has been diagnosed with ‘a bipolar disorder’. AND THIS APPARENTLY EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. Um, bloody hell it does. I happen to live with Bipolar Disorder myself and nothing about Camille or her behaviour is indicative of that particular mental illness. I’d believe that she’s a sociopath or a psychopath, in the truest clinical meanings of those words, but bipolar? If she is, her behaviour is too calculated (she plans for MONTHS to kidnap Greg, Jr. and even has a special soundproof closet built into her OWN closet so no one will hear him crying) and does not line up with what I know of the disorder (and believe me, I’ve been through and know a lot of people who have experienced a lot in regards to that disorder and done many things, but none of them like the things she did to Greg Langston and his family). Harrison shows an attitude of ignorance and disrespect to people with mental health issues that simply cannot be ignored. I just can’t believe there are still people out there who actually think all criminals are crazy or vice versa or who even use the terms ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ to refer to people with mental health issues.

To put icing on this lovely little cake, there is an actual STUDY GUIDE AT THE BACK to examine the moral dilemmas presented in this book, with such peerless gems as “Do you really think Camille was insane or using that as an escape to not go to jail? Why or why not?”, “Was Michelle wrong for sleeping with Detective Floyd?”, and “Who do you think kissed who first (Michelle or Ed)?”. I’m supposed to read all of that and then take it seriously and try to learn from it, too?

An absolutely jaw-clenching, terrible read. 0 stars out of 5.