Tag Archives: SharaLee Podolecki

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’.


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


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.


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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‘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’):

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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


‘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.


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…)


What I’m Reading – January 23rd, 2015

The first post on my YouTube channel, SharaLee Reads! (and yes I know my camera skills are terrible. Any hints would be most welcome!)