Tag Archives: book reviews

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.

 

 


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 – ‘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


Book Review – ‘Gothic Art Now’ compiled by Jasmine Becket-Griffith

As the name suggests, Gothic Art Now (published in 2008), brings together several genres of current Gothic art in a book full of death and decay, melancholia and madness – for those who love every minute of it. To be honest, I felt the works represented seemed somewhat limited (I felt there should have been a wider variety of artists represented – too many of them had more than three entries in the anthology, and anyone who has ever been on DeviantArt will tell you that there is no shortage of artists just as, if not even more, talented as those represented in the book, even in 2008). I also felt the heavy heavy reliance on Adobe Photoshop in nearly every single one of the pieces was a tad disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I understand Photoshop takes great skill to master and to create with, but a bit more variety in methods of creating would have been nice. Categories were divided into eight different kinds of new Gothic art: Femmes Fatales, Men in Black, Gothic Elegance, Industrial Goth, Lurking Horror, Dark Fantasy, Creepy Creations, and Grim Comics. The cover photo (‘Autumn Has Come’ by Natalia Peirandrei, done with markers and watercolours on watercolour paper), was one of my favourites, as well as the pieces showcased below. Overall, some very great thought-provoking pieces, and interesting read, and I give it a hearty 3 out of 5 stars.

Some of my Faves

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‘Semaphore’ by Steven Kenny, done in oil on linen.

I think she looks a little like breelark here with her long braid.

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‘Black Roses and Bite Marks’ by Tom Lavelle, done in pencil, digitally painted.

Like a mix of Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe if they ever became vampiresses!

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‘Stick Girl’ by Gus Fink, using mixed media.

I love the weird additions to an already slightly-creepy vintage photograph. Reminded me very much of the weird photographs in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.

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‘Marco’ by Jessica Joslin, sculpture.

Because let’s face it, organ-grinder monkeys kind of look like this anyway. And this one won’t steal your money. ;P

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‘Trick’ by Krisgoat, a digital painting.

And last but not least, the adorable Trick, who has a sweeter sister (not included in the book) named Treat – she can be found here.

So there you have it! This was a great find at Value Village, and a lot of fun to look through. Recommended library reading or used-book purchase, if you’re interested in the darker side of art. If you are looking to buy something, however, I would recommend going to your local Indigo/Chapters/Coles outlet (or for those of you in the States, something like Barnes & Noble) and finding something with a bit more variety and more of an exploration of technique, etc.

Peace out and stay creepy! >^.^<


Book Review – ‘The Cosmic Trilogy: Voyage to Venus’ by C.S. Lewis

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Voyage to Venus (originally published as Perelandra) is the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy. Compared to the other two in the trilogy, this one best fits the mold of a ‘proper’ allegory. Ransom’s journey to Perelandra (known to us as the planet Venus), his subsequent enmity with the creature animating the body of his old rival, Weston, and their fight to either preserve (in Ransom’s case) or corrupt (in ‘Weston’s’) the integrity of the Green Lady, (Queen of Perelandra) during the absence of her husband the King is clearly tied to the struggle outlined in the Biblical book of Genesis between Eve and the Serpent. However, in this book, the idea is that the people of Earth (or Thulcandra) fell to the powers of the Evil One, but on Perelandra another planet’s Mother is given a chance at succeeding against temptation where she of Earth did not, as well as the results of that success. The idea carries through with a great deal of philosophical and theological dialogue back and forth. The dialogue between Ransom and the Evil One reads almost like a treatise in conversational form, and that between the King and Queen of Perelandra, the god Mars, the goddess Venus, and Ransom is clearly rooted in the tradition of Greek chorus. With its dense content and fine print, this book is a more difficult one to get through. It is not a light read. It is a fine piece of intellectual science fiction, especially for those interested in allegory or classical themes, but those looking for a novel will be searching in the wrong place. The next book in this trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is my favourite of the three, however, as it is allegorical like the first two, but also reads like a fantasy novel. It is easy when reading the third book to remember that this is the same man who gave the world The Chronicles of Narnia. The first two books in this trilogy, however, are more reminiscent of the Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce side of Lewis. More character development and description in this second book was nice. I can’t wait to reread the third. 🙂

3.5 stars out of 5


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

So as many of you already know, my husband (Graham) and I like to challenge each other to read certain books that we think would be interesting for the other to review.  Graham usually chooses engaging or thought-provoking books for me to read. I respond in kind (as any good wife would) with sparkly vampire romances. Here is his review of New Moon, and I must say, I actually agreed with him when I read this as well. Enjoy!

Well, I’m back to keep you (my enthralled audience) informed on my adventures through The Twilight Saga. This time I’m taking on the second installment: New Moon.

Picking up where Twilight leaves off, New Moon chronicles Bella and Edward’s relationship after they become ‘official’, with problems quickly arising. Edward fears that the nature of his family will ultimately doom Bella to death – or worse, becoming a vampire. He decides to make a clean break, leaving Forks with the Cullens, and our protagonist is left in a state of über hopelessness. The middle part of New Moon explores Bella’s friendship with Jacob Black, and Bella’s slow understanding that he, like Edward, hides a secret. Jacob disappears and returns a different person, and Bella discovers that Jacob, like many in his native tribe, has become a werewolf. With Edward gone, Bella is conflicted and on the verge of falling for Jacob when the Cullens return, needing Bella’s help. The final part of New Moon describes Bella saving Edward from the Volturi, an old, powerful vampire family in Italy. To save Bella from the Volturi, the Cullens promise to turn Bella into a vampire. The book ends with Bella and Edward reunited, a dejected Jacob looking on, and Bella awaiting being turned into a vampire.

Reading New Moon, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but I found this work tended to feel like cereal that has sat in milk a little too long. It still has the flavour, and the look of the initial cereal, but the texture and consistency are off. Meyer carries the story on in a satisfying direction, the vampire world is expanded, the world around Forks is dug into more deeply, and we get to know more about Jacob, the fascinating outlier character in Twilight. The writing flows well, there is a good use of humour and like in Twilight, I enjoyed the buildup to the climactic scene with the bizarre and creepy Volturi.

The big problem I have with New Moon (and I think it really is dangerous when writing) is that Meyer has made her main two characters difficult to like. I could not get over the sense at the end of this book that Bella and Edward were just being cruel to Jacob, and acting completely oblivious to those around them just for their love. Edward had just gone on an angst-ridden trip to Italy, and put everyone in grave danger for what? Hearing a rumour that Bella was dead! What about going and checking yourself, Edward?! Edward’s breakup with Bella is terribly childish in how he acts, as well as really cruel. And Bella, her entire ‘relationship’ with Jacob was based on her getting some feeble reminder of Edward! She is totally using him! Jacob has to go through trying to see if Bella likes him, getting suddenly transformed into a werewolf, then seeing Bella ditch him for her jerk ex-boyfriend. I really feel sorry for Jacob.

And inevitably this makes me dislike Meyer’s main characters, and what’s the point of reading a book where I don’t like the main characters?

My wife challenged me, and I have no choice, so stay tuned for my next review, that of Eclipse. I give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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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