Books and resolutions for 2016

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Where does the time go?

To say I’ve neglected this site over the year would be an understatement. I had every intention of keeping up with my reviews, but it just didn’t happen. Work, life, everything seemed to have gotten in the way. I did manage to read quite a few books for 2015, completing my goal of 50, but I want to make a resolution to post more often in 2016. I know I can do it if I just set aside some time each week. I love books in all of their forms and it was important to me to be able to share that love in my little corner of the internet. I suppose on some levels I have been discouraged, I see so many larger sites receiving books to review and I know I can’t compete. I don’t like to spoil books for others so my reviews are lacking a lot of details. Perhaps I should focus more on those details and not so much on keeping things spoiler free.

I’m not sure what my goal will be yet when it comes to writing here, but I’m hoping that at least bi-weekly will be something I can manage. Even if it’s not a book I have finished reading, but rather a generic article about the subject. Most of the writing here isn’t for anyone in particular but is for my own pleasure, but I do want to have at least something to show for it.

Here’s to a new year. What did I read in 2015? You can find the list below, in the order that I’ve read them (newest read books are at the top of the list)

  1. Mark of the Mage, by R.K. Ryals
  2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  3. The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision, by James Redfield
  4. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  5. Bear, by Marian Engel
  6. The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo
  7. Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke
  8. Moth and Spark, by Anne Leonard
  9. Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan, by Richard Hittleman
  10. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  11. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  12. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
  13. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
  14. Three Souls, by Janie Chang
  15. Loving, by Henry Green
  16. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
  17. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer
  18. Chestnut Street, by Maeve Binchy
  19. Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb
  20. The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer
  21. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
  22. The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
  23. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  24. Knight’s Shadow, by Sebastien de Castell
  25. Taking Charge of your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
  26. Ru, by Kim Thuy
  27. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
  28. The Summoner, by Gail Z. Martin
  29. The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks
  30. Beau Geste, by P.C. Wren
  31. Prince of Fools, by Mark Lawrence
  32. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  33. Killashandra, by Anne McCaffrey
  34. When I found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  35. The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield
  36. At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen
  37. Throne of Darkness, by Douglas Nicholas
  38. Longbourn, by Jo Baker
  39. The Pirate’s Bed, by Nicola Winstanley
  40. A Blight of Mages, by Karen Miller
  41. The Highest Number in the World, by Roy MacGregor
  42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
  43. The Scandal of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton
  44. The Harem Midwife, by Roberta Rich
  45. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  46. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  47. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  48. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  49. Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb
  50. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
  51. Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier

What is next on my to-read list? I haven’t quite decided. I think I’d like to write a few reviews of some of my 2015 choices that I’ve neglected to write about and then we’ll just have to see where I end up. Some books surprised me a great deal, and were nothing like what I expected. I want to be able to share those thoughts with everyone. Happy reading – here’s to 2016!

Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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I read this book back in February and am only getting around to finishing up my review now. Bad, I know. I wanted to like it. I wanted to love it. I read reviews and saw people promoting it everywhere. Thing is, I’m just not a fan of the genre. The book begins with the end of the world. The georgia flu kills 99% of the population and changes everything about the world as we know it. The book swaps between the past and present, Kirsten (present) is touring the wasteland with a group of musicians and actors, bringing entertainment to scattered settlements, and Arthur Leander (past) is playing a part in King Lear on stage in Toronto. Well, he is at least until he has a heart attack and dies on stage.

The book’s main motto is “survival is insufficient” – a tattooed immortalized line from Star Trek. Of course the book has a prophet, there has to be some turmoil besides the survival of mankind. The characters are detailed and driven, and that was the one redeeming fact I found. Despite the fact that it was well written, detailed, colourful and depicted humanism in a very frank and lovely way – I just couldn’t get into this book. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t captivated by the story. I do not think this is at all the fault of the author, but some books we find interesting and others we simply don’t.

Longbourn – by Jo Baker

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I picked up this book not quite sure what I was expecting. It tells the story of the servant’s point of view of “Pride and Prejudice” and I suppose I was looking for a book that actually emulated Jane Austen’s writing style. On that level, Longbourn failed to deliver. I found the story incredibly dull and boring, the author spends a lot of time going into minute detail about things that just don’t matter (like foliage) and I kept waiting for something to happen or improve or get better – only it never did.

The book is incredibly dark and sad, and the servants assume their lives are an endless misery. To quote someone else’s review, “it starts out bleak, it continues dire, and it crosses the finish line with a vague “so that turned out okay, I guess.“”. The writing itself was well done if you can look past the fact that the narrative is all over the place. It gets confusing but that’s not a deal breaker for me.

It wasn’t the book I was hoping it would be, and that’s a shame. I just didn’t enjoy it.

2/5 stars

 

The Pirate’s Bed – by Nocola Winstanley

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I won a copy of this book from a blog contest that was hosted a few months back, and I’ve been horrible about posting it, I know. After reading the Children’s hockey book I had high hopes that unfortunately fell flat where this story was concerned.

First thing that came to mind is that this book is way too advanced for the age group. I get that it’s important for kids to learn and they should be expanding their vocabulary, but for a picture book bed time story it just went too far over the top. Words like raucous. Unencumbered. Sensible. Words that I don’t even want to read at 34 before I go to bed let alone read to a small child (and then of course have to explain what those words mean to the child). The pictures were alright, and the story was OK but it all felt quite overshadowed by the vocabulary.

The story is about the bed and how it gets separated from the pirate. The bed complains about stinky pirate feet, but by the end all it wants is those smelly feet back. Eventually the bed washes ashore and gets restored and presented to a young pirate loving boy. It is a short sweet tale with a happy ending. The artwork wasn’t really my style but it was bright and colourful which should appeal to a good selection of readers even if it wasn’t for me.

3/5 stars

 

At the Water’s Edge – by Sara Gruen

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The year is 1942, and Maddie and Ellis Hyde are out enjoying themselves at a New Year’s Eve party. Unfortunately neither one conducts themselves very well, and somehow through a weird series of incidents, they end up being financially cut off from their family, and headed to Scotland in the middle of a war to prove that the Loch Ness monster is a thing.

What?

Maddie and Ellis (married) are friends with Hank (who is also very wealthy) and all three head to Scotland on a ship in the middle of a war. Of course that’s not how we’re introduced to the book. First we learn of a mysterious woman who has just found out that her husband was killed, and their child has just died, and she is heartbroken so she kills herself by drowning in the lake that the Loch Ness monster lives in. If you think this book is a story about the Loch Ness monster, you would be incorrect. While this is the main theme played up in the beginning of the book, it becomes the background story and then resurfaces again near the end. Instead this book is about spoiled adults who treat each other poorly, and secret romances where in the end it’s all tied up neatly in a ‘too good to be true’ formula. Ellis is entitled, rude, and just plain mean. He treats Maddie poorly throughout the entire book and there’s never a redeeming quality about him in any chapter. He’s constantly drunk and making snide remarks about social standings. The reader is very obviously supposed to dislike him, but it comes across as being a bit too much. Especially near the end of the book where he completely loses it in a number of ways that I just couldn’t believe. Hank starts off as being exactly like Ellis, but then as we reach the end of the book we feel like we should forgive him because he has seen the error of his ways. I also didn’t quite believe this. Finally there’s Maddie, who is treated poorly but never stands up for herself, even though she talks about doing it often. She follows along to Scotland, begs her Dad for help, has her world fall apart, falls in love with another man while still being married, excuses her unfaithful behaviour by the reasoning that her own husband is horrid (which he is, but is that a reason to cheat?), has her father die, and yet still manages to ‘win it all’ by the end.

Honestly the best part of this book was the story of the widower, and we weren’t given enough information at all about his circumstances or enough details about the Lock Ness. Instead it just seemed like a cheap attempt at pulling at heartstrings (which worked) until everything all worked out at the last possible second. It’s too easy to feel happy about this outcome when the main character experiences nothing but hardship throughout the entire book (whether it is because of her own doing or otherwise).

An easy read and probably a good one for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but not highly recommended.

3 / 5 stars.

 

A Blight of Mages – by Karen Miller

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Wow. It had been so long since I had a good fantasy book pull me in the way A Blight of Mages did.  I wasn’t even expecting it, which was the best part. I had the book in my to-read pile for quite some time, having read other books by Karen Miller (the Innocent Mage, the Awakened Mage, etc) and had just sort of forgotten about it. I’m incredibly glad that I finally got around to reading this one. Things started out a little slow for my liking. You’re introduced to Barl, who is an opinionated woman working at a job she doesn’t want to be in. She wants more out of life, as do we all. You learn about the relationship with her brother and the problems she has gotten into in the past. She is a low-born mage, and she isn’t allowed to progress the way she’d like, the way she knows she deserves. She wants to attend the mage college in Elvado, the capital city of Dorana, but she is denied. She is frustrated by this, and acts out a bit like a spoiled brat.

Things drag on for a bit until through a series of events, Barl meets Morgan. Morgan is broken, and Barl is his redemption. His first love is dead, his father is dying and begging for an heir. From here things get incredibly intense, and they move fast. Barl and Morgan fall in love. They start working together, creating together. It’s fast paced, and it’s passionate. The outside world becomes a blur as they wrap themselves up within each other and their project.

As a reader it was easy for me to become wrapped up in their affections as well. It was easy to miss the signs that not all was right. Suddenly faced with the realization that things are very wrong, it was like a splash of cold water to the face. I couldn’t believe it, I had been that wrapped up in the story. The book can get quite violent, but I felt that within the story it worked and it wasn’t out of place.

The book does a fantastic job at pulling at your emotions. Starting with indifference towards the characters, becoming wrapped up in their romance and happiness and then sudden horror and shock and sadness when the pieces finally slide together by the end.

Highly recommended.

5 / 5 stars

Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

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For some reason, unlike many of my friends, I did not read this book growing up. In fact I hadn’t even heard of it until someone mentioned the movie was coming out a while ago, and then I saw it in the book store and decided it was well past time I gave it a read (I have no interest in watching the movie at all, it just happened to come up in discussion).

It an easy read describing the day to day life of one Jonas. He talks about his community. He talks about how everyone is assigned a role. There’s no war. No fear. No choice. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they’re trained to do exactly that. Jonas gets a very special role in his community, he is to be taught by ‘The Giver’. This is supposed to be high praise for him, that he has been selected and chosen. As he begins his teachings, he realizes that something is not right. That things are not as they seem. He begins learning and experiencing things that no one else has to go through. He begins to see both literally and figuratively.

This book is powerful. I know the opinions on it are varied and that’s part of the charm about it, but to me it spoke on a very personal level. It’s also one of those books where you don’t want to discuss what the ‘big thing’ is that happens in the book for fear of giving away the story. I know reviews like to talk about all the details, but honestly some things are better off left as surprises.

The Giver made me think. It made me consider things about life in a different light than what I had considered them with previously. It made me sad to think that what Jonas was living through could be considered normal. That he was the only one who slowly discovered that it wasn’t normal at all. It made me realize how privileged I am. How lucky. I came away from the book with so many thoughts and ideas that it took me a bit to work through everything and to collect my thoughts.

My only ‘issue’ with the book if it can be called that is the unsatisfying ending that leaves everything hanging. Of course that’s the point, the point is that the reader should imagine at that time what happens next, what path Jonas was headed down. I can hardly fault a book for that. In the end, if you’re looking for a laid back dystopian read and for some reason you haven’t picked up The Giver yet, I would suggest you give it a try.

4/5 stars

Review: The Highest Number in the World

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This book was provided to me free of charge from TundraBooks in exchange for an honest review.

I signed up to review children’s books a while ago, but this is the first time I was actually selected. I was very excited. I love books for all ages, and reading out of my ‘usual’ age group lets me learn about what others are reading and also helps me promote books to friends and family with children in that age group. Reading is reading, after all.

This book is beautiful, and resonated with me as a Canadian and of course a lover of hockey. Not just one Canadian team either, there are references throughout the book to many Canadian hockey teams and players. Hockey is something we should be proud of, and something we should learn about. I feel that this book opened up some great discussion topics about the sport in general, while also touching on some more serious topics.

Gabe (Gabriella) Murray is a young 9 year old girl, and she loves hockey. All of her life she has wanted to be just like her hero, Hayley Wickenheiser. That’s where the interest starts. Haley Wickenheiser isn’t just a made up character, she’s a real person, the first woman to play full-time professional hockey in a position other than goalie. She wears the number 22. Gabe ends up getting a different number, and she isn’t too pleased by that. She wants to quit and give up – but her grandmother comes along and shows Gabe all of the wonderful things about being the number 9, and explains the significance of numbers that have been retired.

The entire book is a lovely learning experience wrapped inside of a happy story about a young girl. The illustrations were detailed but not overpowering, I loved spending time on each page to make sure that I saw everything.

Perfect for children ages 6-10 (boy or girl), this book is a must-read for any fan of hockey or potential future fan.

4/5 stars

Review: The Harem Midwife

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I enjoyed reading the first book by Roberta Rich, The Midwife of Venice, but I ended up having much of the same issues. Unlike many series, the reader will want to read the first book before reading this one. The story will make much more sense that way. My problem of course is the ending. Again.

We meet up with Hannah and her husband Isaac, this time they’re living in Constantinople, with the baby that Hannah stole and brought with her. She starts up her midwife business again, and do to her amazing skills, she falls into good graces with the Sultan’s Harem. Aside from the story of Hannah and Isaac, there are two new characters brought into the fold. The stories of these two new characters blend with Hannah and Isaac, and much drama ensues. About half way into the book the reader is almost overwhelmed with all of the drama and negativity that is going on. It looks like there is absolutely no way that the families involved can get away unscathed – and yet – in true Roberta Rich fashion, in the last 15% of the book, everything magically comes together and works out.

This. Frustrates. Me.

It frustrated me in the previous book, and it frustrates me again now. The books themselves are incredibly detailed, beautiful, well written works that I enjoy on such an enormous level – but the endings constantly leave me shaking my head sadly and wondering “Wow. Did I really just read the entire thing to have it end like THAT?”.

It is so incredibly disheartening.

3/5 stars

Review: Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier

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This is one book that I really wanted to give 5/5 stars to, because everyone else who suggested I read it, did. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted to. The characters and the world came across as flat and predictable. It begins with Blackthorn, who is imprisoned. She manages to make a deal with a mysterious man who promises her freedom IF she travels to Dalriada. Once there, she is to set up as the local healer, and help anyone who needs it. Her companion, Grim, who she meets in prison, follows after her. Because she worries about breaking her vow (helping anyone who needs it) she eventually decides to let him work with her, and they form a comfortable friendship (though they each keep their own secrets).

Meanwhile, Oran, who is the prince of Dalriada, is waiting for his future bride, Lady Flidais. He feels like he knows her intimately, though they have never met. When she finally arrives, tragedy strikes, and the lady is shaken from head to toe. From there the story changes. Lady Flidais is nothing like how Oran imagined her to be. She doesn’t act anything like her letters, and as time goes on the mystery only deepens.

Blackthorn raises her standing with the locals as a healer, and eventually Oran hears about her gift for solving problems. He approaches her for help, and together her, Grim, and Oran must all work together, or much more than just a marriage will be in jeopardy.

I think one of the main reasons I didn’t enjoy reading it was because I had already ‘solved’ the mystery before it was even presented. Once I knew what the mystery was, I just wanted them to move along at a faster pace to solve it. The writer, however, had a different idea, and things moved very slowly through the first portion of the book. It was not until the last 25% or so that things then seemed to move at a frantic pace, almost too fast. The book also seemed to imply a lot of sex shaming, which I didn’t enjoy reading. To take a quote from another reviewer who said it better than I could: “I find it regrettable that the only consensual sex featured in this book full of rape and pervasive abuse of female characters (which in Blackthorn’s and the village girl’s cases lead nearly to their deaths), is used as a primary basis for establishing the antagonist’s character as nefarious, manipulative and dangerous.” Now the comments to that do go on to say that for the time period the story took place in that this would have been considered inappropriate behaviour, but my thoughts still stay the same.

Still, the book WAS an enjoyable read, overall. It didn’t quite live up to the hype of what I was expecting, but I have read far worse books over the years.

4/5 stars