Category Archives: SharaLee Reads

‘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.

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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


Book Review – Palawan Story by Caroline Vu

Palawan Story

Yesterday marked my 1-year anniversary blogging on WordPress (yay, go me, and thank you all for reading and following along my book journey!), and today marks the first book review written in my new home in the Northwest Territories.

Today’s book is called Palawan Story, and it’s about the raw and tumultuous life of Vietnamese refugee Kim Nguyen, who escaped the aftermath of the Soviet takeover of Hue at the end of the Vietnam War to forge a new identity in the United States, and eventually, Canada. Palawan is the Filipino refugee camp where that identity is forged, and where her heart blossoms into what she will someday become. It is also about the lies we tell ourselves and one another, just to survive, whether with our very lives, or merely in society. It is a story of forgiveness. Boiled down, Palawan Story is in some ways, everyone’s story. No one is fully innocent, no one is fully guilty. We are what we choose to make of ourselves, and for Kim that sometimes means being more practical than ethical. The story of society in one turbulent nutshell.

I found this book intriguing, hard to put down, and entirely believable. It was very true to the human consciousness – willing or not, we often choose to forget the things that have harmed us, or choose to ignore the fact that our choices may hurt someone else. In some ways, Kim’s success through all she’s been through can be seen as a triumph, in some ways she reminds me of the ruthlessness humanity can lend itself to in its less than shining moments. As a protagonist, Kim is in every way human, for better or for worse, entirely relatable, and endearing despite her flaws.

For excellent realism, good research, and accurate exploration of the many differing cultures connected to the Vietnam War, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.


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

theessentialelizabethmontgomery

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


‘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

❤ ❤ ❤


‘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.


Amazon Package! (February 12, 2015)

What could it be??? Watch and see!
(Yes, she has a terrible haircut, but she was 14 months old and I did it myself. So there you go.)


A Look At My Books (February 17, 2015)

Reposted from my YouTube channel, ‘SharaLee Reads’:

(A sort of home video featuring strange noises, book shelves, and my first time recording with an iPad…)