Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – ‘The Dragonfly Saga: Book I: Empress of Canton’ by Juliann Troi

 

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Kathryn Hopewell is the wealthy daughter of William Hopewell, the head of the powerful Hopewell Trading house in Canton in the early 1900s. She has just stepped off the docks after completing business studies at Harvard University in America, and is off to a good start in what she believes will be her position of taking her father’s place as head of the trading empire. Alas, alack, gasp! An unforeseen circumstance has appeared! It turns out Kathryn’s father only sent her to Harvard because he had the money to burn and thought real university would knock that idea out of her silly little head. He has engaged her to a useless Australian named Collin McNeal, who will be the one taking over Kathryn’s hopes and dreams and who is apparently completely devoted to her, even though he has never met her.

There is unrest in China during this period. Warlords and generals vie for provinces and citizens are caught in the crossfire. Kathryn and her friend Lucy go shopping for one fateful day in a district outside their safe zone, and are captured.

Lucy, who is British, is (of course) snuffed out (in fact, anything not American is looked upon as slightly inferior in this cloying melodrama), but General Cheng Jiong’s nephew Wang Ti-wei (who is acceptable as a secondary character because he, too, has gone to school in America and has Americanized his name to Ty Wang before returning to China and getting embroiled in family and national politics) has fallen in love with Kathryn and protects her by offering to lead her to General Cheng’s home in the north where they will be free to escape and he can return her to her father.

Like Disney’s version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, within three days, they have declared their undying love for one another, and become married in the peasant fashion (eat a meal and sleep in the same room together – which makes me wonder how many people I can claim as spouses today: all interested, come forth into my fold!)

The book ends with their arrival at General Cheng’s home of Shaoguan, which it turns out is actually Wang Ti-wei’s childhood home that was appropriated from him after his mother died. There they complete their final act of marriage, all in a rosy glow of prayer and Bible reading and endless repetitions every five seconds of his ‘sable’ eyes and her ‘teal’ ones.

This book attempts to produce a strong female character, and Kathryn is indeed feisty, but only through an arranged marriage can she receive her inheritance, even though she is more qualified, and the romanticization of the role Westernization played changing China forever, the fact that Ty has to be somewhat Western to be equal to Kathryn, is for lack of a better word, appalling, as though he could not have been legitimate without her as his wife, or she could not somehow have survived without a husband. The image below illustrates how I feel Troi uses Kathryn: she idolizes her – this ‘Chinaman’ is lucky to have her, and his many ninja-esque exploits only serve to feed into the fascination of the exotic that this book only uses as though to say, ‘What a fascinating time before they finally caught up with our American society’.

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I give this book 2 stars out of 5, because the writing isn’t entirely terrible, but nothing more than that, for not only being sexist and racist and very ‘Murican, I could not believe the amount of times ‘sable’ was used to describe Ty’s eyes. There is such a thing as a thesaurus. His eyes could also have been ‘black’, ‘dark’, ‘ebony’, ‘jet’, ‘jetty’, ‘raven’, ‘dusky’ or ‘dusty’, but no, ‘sable’ was the only adjective used to describe them, and that was enough to lose at least one star. Don’t even get me started on the many other adjectives she could have used instead of ‘teal’.


‘Hawthorne Cottage’ by R.L. McCallum

Hawthorne Cottage

I shall broach unto thee a dark farewell

If not ye heed this ghastly knell –

Henceforth beware where time is keeping

The dead abroad who are not sleeping…

Summary

Thus begins R.L. McCallum’s Victorian gothic tale of Professor Alexander Greystone, a writer from London who moves to a haunted cottage in Hampshire, England for a more peaceful, simple life. Little does he suspect the terror that awaits there in the form of the seven Hawthorne sisters, former tenants of the cottage who haunt the house and whose contact with the living is rife with terror and violence. The novel follows Greystone’s investigations into the root of paranormal activities at Hawthorne Cottage, bringing the reader through a gamut of close calls, near-death and (full-death!) experiences, a haunted painting, and ignorant curious bystanders until it comes to its conclusion and the reader finds out whodunit.

The plot was imaginative and enjoyable, the perfect story for a rainy day, and I finished this book in less than a week, which is always a good thing. It holds the attention of the reader in most places, but I did find it to drag too slowly in several instances. The author claimed to have purposely used Victorian vernacular in writing this piece, but I found a few anachronisms, and  at times the character voices were not very distinguishable from one another, especially those of Professor Greystone and Constable Kingsley. Other than that, however, the description was excellent and the dialogue between Greystone and Woodruff was especially good.

Plot

I enjoyed the classic elements of the gothic novel, the rain, the ruined cottage, the hauntings, a few deaths. I was slightly disappointed that the nature of Mrs. Parmby’s relationship to the Hawthorne sisters was not further explored, and I felt Miss Farnsworth was not prominent enough a character to be included as she is in the synopsis of the book. I also wondered why, if Anastasia Hawthorne were pregnant when she died, was there no baby among the hauntings at Hawthorne Cottage? The conclusion had promise, and then fell short. The mystery of the killer of the Hawthorne sisters was solved, but Abigail Hawthorne had not been helped to the other side, nor did Greystone discover where she had been laid to rest. The reader, however, is told in what feels like an aside, of how Abigail is brought to peace and where her body had been hidden all along. It felt untrue to Alexander’s character that he would muscle through so many near-death escapes at Hawthorne Cottage to get to the bottom of the mystery, all for the sake of writing his book, which is a very strong motive, and then not give himself the satisfaction of tying up the loose ends for himself and his readers, especially when the other spirits were no longer causing trouble in the house to distract him. I also felt that the death of Cora McKenna was unnecessary, unless the trend of women dying in whom Alexander is interested is to continue in further Professor Greystone novels, as was hinted at in several places throughout the book.

‘The Gothic’ – Check out this link for an explanation of the genre of gothic literature

Grammar & Punctuation

I found there to be several small grammar and punctuation errors, but nothing that hindered the actual progression of the book, and all in all I quite enjoyed this spooky story.

Star Rating

For an excellent ghost story (but because of a few too many hitches) I give this book a resounding 3.5 stars out of 5 and recommend it as a satisfying read for a rainy day or a weekend at the cabin.

Further Reading

R.L. McCallum has a great voice and other works by him can be found on Amazon or at his website.


Book Review – *Picaflor* by Jessica Talbot

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This book was truly a pleasure to read. Talbot has a way of using simplicity to approach the most complex of emotional subjects, including the wake of a suicide, a complicated childhood, the wonder and fear of starting fresh in a new place, the guilt and nostalgia of homesickness, and the satisfying though tentative steps one takes from desolation to confidence, healing and self-actualization. Based on the author’s own life, this book rings true without being trite or bitter or overdramatic. Talbot is succinct and graceful in her use of description, private yet open when sharing her inner thoughts. Picaflor is a gem to come across, a breath of fresh air, depicting the hummingbird in each of us, trying to find home. 5 out of 5 stars.


Book Review – Cycling to Asylum by Su J. Sokol

I have just spent a few months finishing up reading Cycling to Asylum by Su J. Sokol, and today I finally finished it. I have to say, the title seemed to provoke more interest and intrigue than the content provided. I enjoyed the character of Laek, a free-thinking teacher from New York in what could conceivably be called a near-future dystopian period, but I absolutely disliked his wife and his two children, basically because Sokol stops at crucial junctions in the story to do a chapter on every single person in the family and their point of view on the same event, which could have been consolidated instead of making the reader read laboriously through the same event four times. If each character was to have his or her own chapter, I would have preferred for that chapter to carry the story a little further, but in this book that just simply didn’t happen. The parents moved much of the story along, the sister a little bit, and the youngest child’s chapters were all completely unnecessary.

That said, I do enjoy a certain sense of national pride when I read this book – that Canada is where people go to find hope and a new life (this publishing house publishes several Canadian-based works, so I expected nothing less from them). They leave New York to get away from violence and terrorist groups to find a new life and hope in Montreal. I enjoyed Sokol’s accurate use of the intermix of English and French that characterizes much Canadian speech, especially in Quebec, and I thought the mood of a Canadian city in winter was captured best of all. Also, I enjoyed the sexual/relational freedom Laek and his wife Janie enjoy in their marriage, as their relationship with Philip seems to represent a bridge between the bad parts of the U.S. they are leaving behind and the good memories they made there.

All in all, I give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars, for an interesting storyline, but no more than 3, for taking too long to reach a climax and the staunch formulaic nature of the manuscript.


Husband/Wife Book Reviews – I Review ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

I just recently finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and I highly HIGHLY recommend it. My friend Kyla once described it to me as ‘The perfect novel’, so I immediately bought it from Chapters (I tend to do such things from time to time). Years later, my husband Graham challenged me to read it (I also tend to buy several books that I don’t end up reading – hence the Husband/Wife Book Reviews, where Graham chooses a book for me to read off our shelves and I for him). It will be difficult for me to review this without giving away too many spoilers, so I will try to be as generic as possible while still including the things that made an impression on me.

I am finally done reading it, and it was quite a ride. Mitchell masterfully weaves the theme (continuity, birth and rebirth)  of the entire piece throughout various time periods (past, present and future), not only stylistically in that each story section is a different form of storytelling (from journal to letters to a novel to a screenplay to an interview to an orison), but also in the different spellings of words throughout time and especially in the future.

Vast doesn’t even begin to describe the scope of this novel. I feel I could read it eight times over and only just scratch the surface of everything it addresses. Racism, the fight for supremacy, all manner of government systems, belonging to a tribe of some sort. All of these things are woven throughout the various plots and ingeniously incorporated into each story.

I would include quotes, but I feel they could be spoilers, so I will just apologize for the short review and say, I highly recommend this book. It gets a well deserved 4.5 stars out of 5.cloudatlas


Happy New Year!

Happy 2016, dear Readers! I have so much to tell you!

First of all, my New Year’s Resolutions (which are very simple, so that they are attainable are):

– Read all the books on my Goodreads ‘To-Read’ list (therefore getting me 10 closer to my 25-book reading goal for the year: I like to keep the goal low so I can at least get close to surpassing it). A list of my own personal books I want to read can be found here on my Goodreads ‘To-Read’ list.

– Learn more about herbs and their properties (some major financial setbacks from 2015 have made correspondence to complete my Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Winnipeg, as well as completion of a program in Homeopathy from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada both impossible at this point in time, so I have enrolled in the wonderful Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (on the Muggle Net of course) to refresh both my knowledge of the World of Harry Potter and also, of course, to learn some things about plants and stars and other such interesting and useful topics.

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Required essays for my courses (like my upcoming Astronomy one on my favourite constellation) are going to make great blog posts, so I hope you’ll join me for the ride as I learn a bit about the magical side of things. Also, just so none of you witches or wizards out there are too concerned, I’m over 17, so the Ministry of Magic can’t have a Trace put on me if I share some of what I learn, and the School has obtained a special exception from the Ministry that I may practice what I learn in my own home, so this is all legal and above board. 🙂

Also, I have finished Cloud Atlas and intend to have a book review ready by tomorrow (had planned on adding it to this entry but it just doesn’t seem to fit). I’ve kind of been putting off writing the entry because I really enjoyed it, and there is so much to say about it, but so many spoilers I don’t want to give away. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend, like I wrote in one of my recent entries.

As you can see, my depression has lifted for the time being, and I am back to my productive, nightwalking self again. Did Astronomy, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology today. Tomorrow will do History of Magic, Potions, and Transfiguration. And of course my book review.

I might be nerdy, but at least I’m not a Muggle. ;*

Love you all and have a great night/morning.

 

 


Husband/Wife Book Reviews – Graham Reviews ‘The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner’ by Stephenie Meyer

  

We are very busy preparing for our Big Move on Monday, but Graham did manage to fit in some time to write his review of Stephenie Meyer’s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Without further ado, here it is: 

Jammed between the breathless action of Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer decided to put in a near-200-page tangent for me on my quest to complete the Twilight Saga.
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner describes exactly that. Bree is made into a vampire in Seattle and is destroyed by the Volturi. All this we knew from Eclipse, so it did kinda bore those who were hoping for some new developments in the Bella-Edward story arc. The novella focuses on those newborns who wreak havoc in Seattle and the very different life experiences by these non-Cullen vampires. All the while, Bree falls for another newborn named Diego. They figure out the suicidal plans of their mistress, Victoria, only to have Diego be destroyed by Victoria, and Bree and her friends destroyed by the Cullens and the werewolves.
This novella gets criticized for some of the reasons noted above: it’s boring, it feels pointless, it’s just a cash grab by Meyer who knows she has a hooked audience willing to pay. I think those criticisms are a bit unfair, however, as the novella does have its upsides. I found Riley’s tormented character to be an interesting study, as well as seeing the life of these newborns and the very different experiences of vampire life they have compared to the Cullens. Unfortunately, that’s really it for this book. Such a short work unfortunately also lacks character development, the plot is pre-determined, and we know from the start that things are going to be ending badly for Bree. Bree herself lacks much uniqueness and I easily could have placed Bella in place of Bree and seen things through her eyes without much of a difference in character or personality.

I give this novella a 2 out of 5.


Book Review – ‘Gethsemane: A Story of Us’ by R. Douglas Jacobs

Gethsemane

This was an especially difficult review to write, mainly because over the course of time, I have come to deeply appreciate Jacobs’ friendship and the style of his prose writing, via letters and emails. He has a poetic elegance that is woven through everything he has written me, and I have found his correspondence delightful.  Perhaps that is why I was a bit disappointed by his poetry.

According to the blurb on the back of the book, Gethsemane (a book written in the style of an epic poem consisting of 148 stanzas that are each constructed similar to a sonnet, with no repeated rhymes) is touted as ‘the kind of book that maybe comes around once in a lifetime’, and as ‘a literary innovation destined to be a cultural artifact’. Now, I have read and truly come to appreciate other examples of epic poetry that actually are cultural artifacts, like Beowulf and The Song of Roland, and while I think the premise behind this poem is truly sweeping and vast, I do not think epic poetry was the kind of medium that could truly have done Jacobs’ story justice. I find the emotions and ideas and connections in the work to be intriguing, but I would not put it in the same category as the previously mentioned epics.

I really enjoyed Act I of this book, as it seemed the most promising, and did live up to the vastness of the idea originally presented (which is Lucifer’s story in parallel to ours as a human race). The notion of seeing things from Lucifer’s perspective was dark, yet interesting, though it took me a while to distinguish between the various ‘hes’ since God is ‘He’ but every angelic being is ‘he’, yet each verse begins with a capital letter, so sometimes it seemed as though the honorific ‘He’ had been given to an angel instead of to God.

Act II covered the fall of Lucifer and other angels who were his followers from Heaven to Earth, and how they possessed men and slept with human women, creating a race of monstrous giants called Nephilim that roamed the Earth. The concept has always fascinated me (and its source can be found in Genesis 6 in the Bible), but I found the retelling to fall somewhat short in style and technique than I had hoped, considering Jacobs’ prose style. The poetry was poorly worded and contrived, with little flow. It was difficult to follow on a rhythmic level, and the word choices (like ‘pizzazz’) were often anachronistic and fell short of the grandeur of what Jacobs was trying to achieve.

As for Act III, it seemed completely out of place and disjointed from the rest of the poem. The other two Acts are sweeping and vast, while the last one reads like a cheap paperback, not in content, but in style. Lucifer (who is now calling himself ‘the Gent’) falls in love with a personal trainer named Celeste (the significance of whose heavenly moniker was not lost on me), then discovers her in the act of cheating on him with another man. He feels so betrayed, he possesses the man’s body, essentially rapes Celeste, then kills her and sets the world on fire (clearly what the author believes Lucifer truly does wish to do to anyone or anything associated with Heaven). The content could have been better handled. I felt that the stanzas had been rushed near the end of this poem, the words chosen to describe the events were poor, and not much time was taken to truly explore the depth of the story that was presented. Though he prides himself on the fact that no rhyme was used twice in this epic, I found that in some places, it would have served the story better if that had been the case.

A truly talented writer with big ideas, R. Douglas Jacobs would be best served concentrating his poetic vision into some aspect of the prosaic world, where it could truly be brought to life. Immense effort was clearly put into the creation of this work, but it would have benefited from 2 or 3 more drafts to smooth it out and bring it to its full potential.

2 stars out of 5.


Book Review – ‘The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide to Her Magical Performances’ by Herbie J Pilato

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Well, it is finally done. I have FINALLY gotten through every single page of The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide to Her Magical Performances by Herbie J Pilato. And it was an excellent read! I truly enjoyed reading this book, though the information came provided in bulleted clusters of facts. I had honestly never even heard her name before I received this book for review, and though I had heard of Bewitched (the TV show she was most popular for), I had also never seen it. This book changed all that.

I am naturally interested in film history or the acting career of actors I like, so once I found out more about Elizabeth Montgomery, through Pilato’s respectful and positive portrayal of her, and after doing some research of my own, I truly grew to like her. I became interested in her career choices and in the roles she sought after (as well as those she actively turned down – I almost feel bad mentioning that Bewitched is what she is best remembered for, since she did so much other work that had so much more depth as well, and I think she would want to be remembered for that more than anything else). I even downloaded a few seasons of Bewitched, and I am truly enjoying it. What I loved about this book was how Pilato managed to take a stylistic format that would make any other subject seem dry, and turn each section on each episode or movie into an incredibly interesting morsel that left me wanting to experience her work for myself. I was also impressed with the thoughtful way the work as a whole was presented – like a play, in acts: Act I being her ‘Stage Presence’ (ie. her work in the theatre) – with each successive chapter or ‘act’ covering every genre of acting she was ever involved in, like awards ceremonies, game shows and even ‘Intermission’ sections including photographs of Montgomery throughout her career, and even a few that were previously unpublished. There was so much thought and every piece of work she did was carefully interpreted, with connections being made to her personal life, as well as roles she had played in the past or would play in the future. This book felt like a masterpiece, woven together artfully, and it was a pleasure to read.

The only negative feedback I have to give is that after so many carefully pieced-together analyses of her movies or episodes, one or two of them seemed rushed and inconclusive, and there were unfortunately quite a few typos, especially in the last quarter of the book. A great piece of work for Herbie J. Pilato, and I look forward to reading his companion book about Montgomery’s personal life, Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery.

4.5 stars out of 5


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

I have it on good authority that the following review was written during a bubble bath, so it comes from the heart and a place of innermost zen. 😉 Enjoy, everyone. – SharaLee ❤

Three books down, one and a half to go!  I’ve recently completed Eclipse, and it has done a lot to convince me that Stephenie Meyer has a curious sense of what love is.

Eclipse picks up where New Moon left off with Bella and Edward happily together and the imposing prospect of Bella becoming a vampire and (gasp) graduation approaching. Bella, however, is torn between her love for Edward and her lingering feelings for Jacob – her werewolf companion from New Moon. Jacob makes things difficult by basically following Bella around and having pretty much everyone she knows save the Cullens wonder why she’s not with him. A love triangle ensues with Bella spending time with them both.

The actual conflict stems from trouble in Seattle where newborn vampires are causing havoc until finally (surprise) the pieces come together and, in fact, these wild newborns are coming to get Bella. Why? Because Victoria the jilted ex-lover of James from Twilight (remember?) still wants to get her revenge on Edward. To stop this a vampire-werewolf alliance comes together and after an awkward camping trip featuring some cringe-inducing scenes with Jacob, Bella watches Edward kill Victoria and the rest of the newborn vampires are destroyed. Jacob is injured but he heals, and Bella graduates and prepares for her wedding with Edward. Jacob says he’s waiting to get Bella for himself. Happy Ending? Ummm…maybe.

I wrote in my previous review how much I found Edward and Bella to be harsh towards the pitiable figure of Jacob, but after reading Eclipse, I have a hard time having anything but contempt for the three of them. If anything, Edward comes out of Eclipse looking honourable, while Jacob comes across as a creepy stalker guy who can’t take no for an answer. The scene in the tent with Jacob ‘keeping Bella warm’ while talking to Edward (who’s watching the whole thing) is weird, and Bella convincing herself she’s dreaming is almost laughable. Also, the long-anticipated showdown with Victoria is anti-climactic, since the Weird Tent Scene has almost double the book time given to it than the battle that I had spent over half the book looking forward to.

I could write a whole article on Bella, and in fact, it’s rather tempting. There is so much not to like about her character, so I’ll sum up for now: Girls, please don’t expect guys to be like Edward or Jacob. Real guys would realize how much of a two-timer you were being and dump you!

In reality, Eclipse gives me an unsettling idea of love that I worry Meyer is pushing on her readers. This idea is that love is one of obsession – and not just the usual sense of being enamoured with someone that comes with a crush or a lover – but one of possessiveness and objectification. Jacob wants Bella and he refuses her saying ‘no’ several times and gets what he wants. (A kiss and some time with Bella, not ‘that’). Bella responds to this assault (and that’s what it is) by relenting! What is Meyer trying to tell us? More confusing are Edward’s traditional views of no sex until marriage. So Meyer presents us with a couple strange choices: let a man take it from you or let the man make you marry him first. Removed from this is Bella’s own choice – in fact, it’s been made for her by her men! Add to that the fact that Bella obliviously plays them both. It just sends readers weirder messages about women, like should a man control a woman? If not, she might mess with you like Bella!

This book was a particular struggle to review because there was so much to dislike about it and so little to like. I liked Jasper’s story. He has a fascinating history. But that’s about it.

I give Eclipse 1.5 stars out of 5

– Graham Podolecki

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