Category Archives: Books

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.


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.

 

 


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

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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


Book Review – The Cosmic Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

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There are a lot of people who are either on one side of the spectrum or the other when it comes to this book, with not a lot of middle ground to spare. Some people love it because they love both science fiction and C.S. Lewis. Some people despise it because they feel his apologetics in this book are a tad lacking (especially compared to his non-fiction apologetics like Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain) or that his prose and character development are a bit flat. I actually agree with both sides, and find it very difficult to say I do or do not like this book.
While I am not completely one way or the other when it comes to this book, I have actually read the entire trilogy, and compared to the other two (Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), this one is at the bottom of the list in clarity, elegance, function, and in just plain storytelling.  Lewis’ description is eloquent, and the introduction of other races is mildly interesting, but I felt as if I were reading an essay, or perhaps an article form of a rough draft idea for a sci-fi novel instead of that tying together of story and philosophy and theology that I so enjoy about everything else Lewis has written.

In this first volume of the trilogy, Ransom makes his way from Earth to Mars (or Malacandra) as a sort of crash-test dummy after he is captured on a walk by an old academic rival (Weston). They both end up on Malacandra together and we get to experience the consequences of men who choose to exploit and conquer versus those who choose to learn and love. We learn about Oyarsa (a Christ-like figure who, according to this trilogy, is in all worlds, but in different forms), and we learn that Oyarsa has a plan for Ransom’s future, even after he returns to Earth (or what the Malacandrans call Thulcandra) – enter the second book, Perelandra, which will be discussed in a future post.

The story stands on its own, which is very important in a series or a trilogy, but when all three books are read, the encompassing story arc tells us of our past, our present (or Lewis’ present, anyway – the second World War was on while he wrote most of these) and our future, not only here in the corporeal realm, or even in our own atmosphere, but in the spiritual realms and in all other realms as well. As a book, I give this volume 3 stars out of 5, but I have a much higher opinion of the trilogy as a whole. I would recommend familiarizing oneself with the Bible or some sort of basic level of Christian theology and end-of-days prophecy (especially closer to the end of the trilogy) as you read this, so you can really grasp the full extent of the allegory here, but the books as a set are also worth the read. Perhaps start with borrowing these from the library before you spend money on them, though. They’re not for everyone, though for those who enjoy them, they are certainly worth every penny and more.

Have you read anything by C.S. Lewis? What did you think of it? Happy reading, and be wary of trespassing on mad scientist academic rivals! (The consequences could be out of this world! 😉 )


My Psych Shelf

So, as many of you know, I deal with some mental health issues, including Bipolar Affective Disorder: Type I and Borderline Personality Disorder. I try not to let them run my life, though I concede that they do greatly affect it. I try to learn as much as I can so I can learn to deal with these things the best I can so I can make the most out of the times I am well and better handle the times I am unwell (that part has more to do with bipolar than with BPD, but I digress). All of this, and my very curious mind has led to what I have come to dub my ‘Psych Shelf’. It’s basically a collection of books, some non-fiction, some fiction, some for necessity, some for pure interest that I have collected, all of which have something to do with the psychology of the human mind (usually abnormal psychology but sometimes social and environmental psychology too). I thought I’d share it with you! Here it is:

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Here they are, from left to right:

– New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder by Jan Fawcett, M.D., Bernard Golden, Ph.D., and Nancy Rosenfeld

– Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

– Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris by Asti Hustvedt

– Silent to the Bone by e.l. konigsburg

– Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia by Barbara G. Markway, Ph.D., Cheryl N. Carmin, Ph.D., C. Alec Pollard, Ph.D., Teresa Flynn, Ph.D.

– Bedlam by Greg Hollingshead

– Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay

– Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

– Eutopia by David Nickle

– Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change by Sharon Anthony Bower and Gordon H. Bower

– An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

– Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

– Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

– The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

– The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon

– Broken Glass by Tabitha Freeman

– The Case of the Constant Suicides by John Dickson Carr

– Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

– Mind Games by William Deverell

– Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg

– Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers by Harry Bruce

– The Secret Language of Eating Disorders  by Peggy Claude-Pierre

– The Anorexia Diaries by Linda M. Rio and Tara M. Rio

– History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky

– Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele, Onno Van Der Hart

– Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

Not pictured on this shelf, but mentally included by me are:

– Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Psychology: First Canadian Edition by David G. Myers

– The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

Have you read any of these? Do you recommend any more? Have you got a specifically themed shelf at home? Let me know in the comments, keep your brains sharp and happy reading!


20 Years Later, Elizabeth Montgomery Fans Are Still ‘Bewitched’

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It is currently 9:56 pm on Sunday night, May 17th, 2015 and tomorrow  marks the 20th year after actress Elizabeth Montgomery’s passing. When Founder/Executive Director of the Classic TV Preservation Society Herbie J. Pilato sent me some books about her to review (links to where you can purchase them will be below, and full reviews of each will be posted as they are completed), I really didn’t know what to expect. I had watched very few episodes of Bewitched in my life, but was aware of them somewhat in passing. I didn’t know her name, I simply knew her as the ‘witch with a twitch’ (referring to her Bewitched character Samantha’s habit of twitching her nose when she’s doing magic). That all changed when I picked up Pilato’s The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery. I became enchanted with the interesting and confident and gutsy life she lived, and fell in love with the characters I read about her playing. I came to deeply respect and admire a person who had such fame and used it to prove a point or to open eyes or to break down barriers. Ms. Montgomery was an intelligent, empowered woman, and the world needs more people like her. She passed away of cancer at her home in Beverly Hills in 1995, but her political activism and charity work are still remembered. Rest in peace, Elizabeth. Rest in peace.

Who is your favourite starlet of Classic TV? Mine would have to be Lucille Ball (which is interesting, since William Asher, who directed both ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘Bewitched’ was also at one point Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband):

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For the Elizabeth Montgomery fan, or for someone who just wants to know about her filmography, check out this book: The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery – Herbie J. Pilato (the one I’m currently enjoying)

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For the Elizabeth Montgomery diehard who wants an in-depth look at Elizabeth’s life and career: Twitch Upon a Star – Herbie J. Pilato

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For any lover of the women of Classic television: Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door – Herbie J. Pilato

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