Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Couple Next Door

Author: Shari Lapena
Genre: Suspense
Type: Paperback
Pages: 308
Source: Publisher
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: August 23, 2016
First Line: "Anne can feel the acid churning in her stomach and creeping up her throat; her head is swimming."

Book Description from GoodReadsHow well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?  

People are capable of almost anything. . .
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they've kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.
 


My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

My Review: This book is a fast-paced, twist-filled thriller that had me repeatedly questioning the identity of the culprit.  Lapena includes the points of view of a few of her characters which gives readers brief glimpses into their personalities, insecurities, fears and motivations.  She then slowly unveils different aspects of these characters and the secrets they've been hiding that will cause readers to question if their earlier predictions were correct.  What really happened?  Who is lying? No one is as they seem and with twists sprinkled liberally throughout I was eager to find out the identity of the culprit.

The only criticisms that I'd have for this book is that some of the characters could have had more depth, some of their actions/responses were questionably believable and the ending felt a little expected (I think I was expecting one big, final twist).  But overall I quite enjoyed being along for this suspenseful ride. 

The Couple Next Door is a very impressive and well thought out psychological thriller.  It is a highly entertaining, hard-to-put down, 'nothing-is-getting-done-until-I-know-whodunnit' kind of read. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to DoubleDay Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Serial Monogamy


Author: Kate Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 342
Source: Publisher
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada (Random House Canada)
First Published: August 23, 2016
First Line: "These pages are for you."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen Sharon learns that her husband, Al, is having an affair with one of his students, her life is sent into turmoil, and the couple decides to split. But when Sharon is diagnosed with cancer, she and Al are brought together once again. Will they find a way to repair their relationship under the most trying and unlikely circumstance?


Meanwhile, in an interwoven thread, we meet Nelly, a young, beautiful 19th century woman with ties to the theatre. Magnetized toward the incomparable Charles Dickens, Nelly becomes his secret mistress. But soon, she will learn the cost of her captivity and the limits she has placed on her own life.
This complex, wending and surprising dual narrative circles around the mysteries of fidelity and marriage, love and passion, creativity and the secrets at the heart of domestic life. It asks deep questions about biography and infamy, and what really makes up the story of a life. 

My Rating: 2.5/5

My Review: Victorian England. Modern day Toronto. Charles Dickens. Adultery. A cancer diagnosis.  This isn't a huge book but there's a lot going on with several diverse characters, different eras and emotional issues that ultimately highlight that the complexities of relationships haven't change all that much over the centuries.

The premise of this book was interesting but there were a few issues that lowered my rating.  First, I don't think Taylor had enough page time to delve deeply enough into the relationships or sensitive topics. This resulted in a lack of emotional depth and prevented me from having a connection to her characters.  Finally, there is a fair amount of jumping back and forth between time periods, which was to be expected, but sometimes it was hard to initially figure out who was 'talking'. 

I found this book easy to read but not as compelling as I had hoped.  It had bursts that grabbed me (mainly Sharon's story line) and while the author had an interesting premise and good intentions this book ultimately wasn't as strong of a read as I was hoping.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to DoubleDay Canada for providing me with a complimentary paper copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

By Gaslight

Author: Steven Price
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 731

Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart (Random House Canada)
First Published: August 23, 2016 (Canada), October 4, 2016 (USA)
First Line: "He was the oldest son."

Book Description from GoodReadsA literary tour de force of a detective's ceaseless hunt for an elusive criminal.

London, 1885. Three years before the Whitechapel killings, London is a city of fog and darkness. A severed head is dredged from the Thames; ten miles away, a woman's body is discovered on Edgeware Road. The famed American detective William Pinkerton is summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate. The dead woman fits the description of a grifter Pinkerton had been pursuing for a long time--someone he believed would lead him to a man he has been hunting since his father's death.

Edward Shade is an industrialist without a past, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures--he seems a ghost, a man of smoke. The obsessive hunt for him that began in the last days of the Civil War becomes Pinkerton's inheritance. What follows is an epic journey of secrets, deceit, and betrayals. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Shade, the one criminal he cannot outwit.

Steven Price's By Gaslight is a riveting, atmospheric portrait of a man on the brink. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, the novel is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our better selves.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  By Gaslight is a historical fiction mystery that includes scenes from South Africa, Victorian London and the American Civil War.  We are introduced to its two protagonists - William Pinkerton, a well known American detective and son of the famous Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a high brow criminal with a gaggle of interesting cohorts whose past is quite sketchy.  Those aspects, as well as the beautifully eerie Victorian cover, made me eager to pick up this impressive book.  

I found Price's writing to be wonderfully vivid as he pulls his readers into the underbelly of Victorian London and the ruthlessness of the American Civil War.  His prose is quite compelling making it easy to see that he is originally a poet by trade.  Price starts off his lengthy tome very strong with the murder of a woman and the mysterious Edward Shade character who Pinkerton is attempting to capture.

Unfortunately, while I found the beginning of the book quite strong (as well as the ending) the bulk of the book had a very slow pace.  I'm a fast reader but it took me two weeks to read this book because I kept having to put it down when my interest waned.  There was a lot of detail in the side stories which took away from the two plots that I was interested in - the murder of the young woman and the identity of the elusive Mr Shade. I think the book could have been scaled back considerably with more focus on the suspense and less on the intricate details of the minor plots and the continuous jumping between eras.

Another reason for my lackluster feel towards this book, and the one I found most surprising, is the fact that Price used very limited punctuation and no quotation marks to indicate when a character is speaking.  An odd choice and a frustrating experience for the reader. 

I gave this book three stars because Price had a great premise, excels at describing scenes for his readers and has an interesting array of characters (Molly was the most interesting of all).  I was also a fan of the occasional snippets of humorous banter sprinkled throughout. Overall, this was a mighty undertaking of a book and while it wasn't a hit for me, others who enjoy lengthy Historical Fiction with a side of mystery should enjoy this large read.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Basement Renovation - Part Nine - Fireplace - To Gas or Plug In? That is the question.

It has been a loooong time since I updated you all on our basement renovations.  That's mainly because life got in the way and we've been enjoying this sunny summer using our basement for watching Toronto Blue Jays games and movies with our awesome surround sound! 

Today I'm talking about fireplaces.  They add a focal point and give heat and style to a room. One of the things Brad and I are both in agreement on for the basement is the need for it to feel cozy.  A place we want to spend a lot of time with family and friends.  One of the ways to help with that cozy feel is to have a fireplace.  We have a gas fireplace in our main floor family room but since it has a vaulted ceiling and is open to the bedroom level all of the heat whips upstairs so we don't get that cozy feel.

In the basement we knew that we wanted a big entertainment unit and that it would, most likely, have to be custom made based on our needs and the sheer size of it.  We opted to put it against one entire wall with a gas fireplace, our 60-inch TV mounted above it and bookshelves/lower cabinets on either side of that.  We had a plan so we were half way there. (you can see my post about these custom cabinets HERE)

Then fate stepped in and derailed some things.

We wanted a gas fireplace (which, as luck would have it, would be directly below the gas fireplace we have in the family room upstairs).  Perfect, right?  Just tie into the exhaust from the upstairs gas fireplace and voila!  New fireplace.  Um, no said the Fireplace Guy.  Apparently it's not legal in Canada to tie into another fireplace's exhaust.  Didn't know that.  *sigh*

If we wanted a gas fireplace in the basement we still had a few options:

A) install an exhaust for the new fireplace by drilling up through our exposed aggregate concrete patio in our backyard.  Um, no.

B) Drill up through our hardwood in our family room upstairs, beside its fireplace, add a cabinet on either side of that fireplace to hide the fact that we have a hole in our floor (and to balance it on both sides) and go out through the wall for the exhaust.  Um, hell no.

C) Put a huge bulkhead through the basement bathroom so that they could vent the fireplace on that side of the house but we'd have to destroy my vegetable garden in the process (and our bathroom would be one big bulkhead). *banging head against wall*

I do not like these choices.  Not ... at ... all.  Try again.

Those were the only options for us to have a fireplace in the basement. Or were they?

The other option, which I really hadn't loved, was an electric fireplace.  Perhaps I was a little snobby when it came to electric fireplaces and saw them as not as good as gas.  I wanted gas.  But Fireplace Guy said that electric fireplaces have come a long way in style and have some good options.  When I thought of all of the cost and destruction it would take to put in an already very costly gas fireplace I was willing to listen to the Fireplace Guy as he gave me the benefits of an electric fireplace. 

Hallelujah, I have seen the light about the benefits electric fireplaces. 

A) they're waaaay cheaper.  I'm talking less than a 1/3 of the price of gas fireplaces
B) they don't take a lot of power to run them
C) they can easily be removed/moved
D) there are many different style options for fire/stones etc
E) the can have multiple settings. Ours has three settings -- just light, low heat or high heat and let me tell you, on high it can pump out quite a bit of heat.  Even though it's a big space the basement will heat up with this little baby so it's nice to be able to shut off the heat option and just have the flames.  I honestly think we'd bake if we had a gas fireplace down there.

We had to change things around a bit to incorporate an electric fireplace because we were not only going to have a big TV to power but now we had an electric fireplace too. That's a lot of pull on one wee receptacle so we added another receptacle so we could successfully power our big TV and the fireplace at the same time.  It was a relatively easy fix and put our minds at ease.

In the end we went with a five foot long fireplace.  Brad built a box frame for the fireplace and to hold the custom mantle.  He also added the cement boards to hold the stone veneer that we plan to add to the front of the fireplace in the (God willing) near future.



Fireplace is in ... just needs the mantle back in place
Looks great and will look amazing with some stone veneer!
Hint, hint Brad!



The fireplace came with little glass chips to sprinkle along the bottom.  I immediately wasn't a fan and promptly opted to use small rocks that we had picked up on our trips to the beach or hiking. That gives it a personal feel, they look great and add to that rustic feel we're going for.

The final touch will be to add a stone veneer on the front and will wrap ever so slightly around the sides.  I'm thinking it will be something along the lines of these two.  

Initial thoughts for the stone veneer.




I'd prefer to go with larger stones but we're talking about a very small, narrow area so that's not going to work.  I'll post pictures of the veneer once it's up. Perhaps I can convince Brad to get his tool belt out this Fall.

We've now been using this fireplace for several months and simply love it. It gives the room a warm and cozy feel that we were going for and once we get the stone veneer on it will look stellar and add so much to the room.  In the end I guess I owe fate a high five because we saved money and are more than happy with our decision to get an electric fireplace.



Note: For more blog posts about our basement transformation please click on the Our Home Renovations tab along the top of the blog, just under the Baking Bookworm heading.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


Authors: J.K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Genre: Supernatural, Children
Type: Hardcover, Screenplay
Pages: 336
Series: #8 in the Harry Potter series
Publisher: Scholastic Inc
First Published: July 31, 2016
First Line: "A busy and crowded station."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.  The play will receive its world premiere in London's West End on July 30, 2016.


It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.  As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: I had mixed emotions about this book. First, I am a huge Potterhead.  I loved the first seven books in the series and was more than a little eager to jump back into Rowling's magical world.  But part of me hesitated with this book because A) it was written as a screenplay and B) while the plot was Rowling's idea, this screenplay was written by two other authors.  Would they get the feel right?  Would it fit in well with the first seven books?  Part of me wanted to know and part of me wanted to leave my knowledge of HP to the first seven books because they were perfection.

My curiosity won out.  I waited a whole .... day.  Yes, my internal dilemma lasted 24 hours.  I waited until August 1st to order a copy and it arrived the next day in all it's HP glory.  A big reason I bought it was that I didn't want to hear chatter about the book that would give away plot points. I had to read it for myself and what HP collection would be complete without the final book?

What I liked about this book:
- I got to revisit some of the characters that I loved from the first book and see what happened to them after the Battle of Hogwarts
- the time travel aspect was an interesting way to include certain characters
- the authors got Rowling's sense of humour right
- I adored Albus and Scorpius's characters and how they related to each other and their parents
- I surprised myself by adoring Draco and Scorpius more than other characters
- there were some great suspenseful scenes and a good twist
- you get to see a very different side to Harry, various characters and their relationships in a new light and even how a certain character regretted some of their past decisions

What I wasn't fond of in this book:
- there was a lot of jumping around with time travel which made it a little convoluted at times
- My biggest peeve, by far, was that I was not a fan of reading a screen play.  I did not like it.  Not one bit.  It felt awkward and didn't flow well. And I think by using this format the reader misses out on Rowling's immense talent of pulling her readers into her world with her vivid descriptions (that is IF she had written this book herself).  I would have much preferred for her to write a novel and if she wanted to publish the screenplay then do so as a separate publication.  But she apparently doesn't require my two cents before publication. ;)

- Now I'm going to show what a serious HP geek I am and sound a lot like Hermione.  If I'm not mistaken, some of the charms in the book were wrong.  
  • In Part One Albus uses an Expelliarmus charm on another person's wand and the books says that the wand "is summoned to Albus' hand".  Um, I believe you meant to use Expelliarmus (disarming) AND the Accio (summoning) charm.  Expelliarmus only disarms or releases whatever the person has in their hands, it doesn't give it to the other person. {I'm such a geek}
  • Also, in Part Two they talk about whipping up some Polyjuice Potion to use that day.  If I'm correct, Polyjuice potion is a complex and very time consuming potion and when they made it in Books 2 and 4 it took weeks and time was of the essence in this current scene {Waving my Geek Flag high!!}
Overall, this is a good addition to the Potter universe but as I read my rating wavered all over the place.  I admit that it took me awhile to get into this book with my favourite parts clearly being the second half of the book (the first half had a very 3 star feel).  The last half is when the action picks up and wonderful secrets are revealed.  Oooo, right?

I consider this Harry Potter: The Next Generation.  An epilogue to the original seven book series.  While it does have its place in the Potter universe, the form that Rowling chose to reveal her latest work, via screenplay written by other authors, greatly diminished my ability to immerse myself into her world again.  Overall, I enjoyed the ride and I liked seeing how things turned out for my favourite characters.  I recommend it for fellow Potterheads and if the play ever comes to Toronto you know who will be there in all her geeky glory. 

Favourite Quotes 

Note: The following quotes will mention certain characters that appear in the book.  If you don't want a heads up skip this part of my review.




::: spoiler alert :::

Harry: I need your help.  I need your advice.  Bane says Albus is in danger.  How do I protect my son, Dumbledore?

Dumbledore: You ask me, of all people, how to protect a boy in terrible danger?  We cannot protect the young from harm.  Pain must and will come.

Harry: So I'm supposed to stand and watch?

Dumbeldore: No.  You're supposed to teach him how to meet life.

                   --------------------------------------------------------------------

Dumbledore: Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world.  Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic.  In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again.  Be honest to those you love, show your pain.  To suffer is as human as to breathe."

Dumbledore: Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry.  There are things that death cannot touch.  Pain .. and memory ... and love.


Friday, 5 August 2016

I Promised Not To Tell: Raising a Transgender Child

Author: Cheryl B Evans
Genre: Non-Fiction, Canadian
Type: e-book
Source: Author
Publisher: SmashWords Edition
First Published: July 15, 2016
First Line: "Imagine that you have just had a beautiful, healthy baby."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the beginning, transgenderism was not even on Mom’s radar. There was a so much to learn. She went from knowing nothing at all about the subject to becoming significantly more knowledgeable. She partook in a journey of learning that evolved into one of self discovery for her as much as for her transgender child. There were valuable lessons and gifted blessings along the way. There were also times of great heartache and pain. Mom was strengthened, she was tested, she wept and she prayed and in the end, she survived as did her transgender child.

The journey this family took is spelled out in the pages of this book in the hope that it offers encouragement, support and wisdom to others who may have found themselves on a similar path. Mom shares many of the resources she used along her own family’s journey and extends to you a friendship that goes far beyond the pages of this book.

This is a uniquely written and thought provoking true story which transitions beautifully between the family’s personal journey and some of the larger societal issues that face the transgender community today.


My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

My Review: I agreed to review this book because, while I'm not a mother of a transgender child, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to understand. There has been so much in the media about transgenderism in the last few years but it was often relayed with a very slanted and sensational purpose.  My knowledge thus far had been to see some transgender celebrities on TV and read Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt a couple of months ago. My knowledge base was meager to say the least.

With I Promised Not To Tell, Evans has shone a bright light on the emotional, social and personal implications of someone struggling to be their authentic gender.  This is Evans' personal story as a mother of a transgender child and how her family helped her daughter Jordan transition from female to male within the Canadian health, educational and legal systems.  Her writing style is quite casual and has an easy-going conversational feel and yet she has provided a great resource for parents of transgender children as well as the general public to get a better idea about the struggles for those who are transgender.

This is a story about family and two parents whose only desire is for their two children to be happy.  This fact is proven time and again in the book as Evans details how they educated themselves about transgenderism and became staunch advocates for Jordan as he transitioned from female to male as he went into puberty.  Evans admits her family's mistakes during the process and details their struggles to come to terms with the reality that their child/sister is transgender.  There was a lot of adjustment to expectations and it seemed that their older daughter Mariah struggled the most.  Evans touches on how Mariah was influenced by people with strong religious convictions (who deem transgender people being 'not of God') and while Mariah is said to be someone who doesn't want to be in the spotlight, it would have been interesting to get her personal, and no doubt, emotional take on the changes her sister went through.  I respect the fact that Evans has changed the names of her family and hidden her own identity to honour her son and his desire to remain anonymous.

This is a great book for the general public to get an idea of what transgender means but ultimately it is a wonderfully detailed resource for parents of transgender children with a very personal feel.  It is a guide to help parents understand and be able to navigate the educational, health care and legal systems as their child transitions to their rightful gender.  For a small book, Evans packs a lot of information about gender dysphoria (gender identity disorder) and issues affecting transgender people including the washroom debate, dating, others thinking that transgenderism can be 'fixed', the risk of entrusting the knowledge of your transgenderism to a romantic partner, gender affirming surgery (commonly referred to as gender reassignment surgery) etc.  She also outlines the importance of being able to change the gender on passports, birth certificates, driver's license, health cards etc - something I had never given much thought to - and how being denied the right to change that little F to an M or visa versa can impact a person's need to be considered their correct gender in every aspect, including legally.

At the end of the book Evans provides her readers with many resources for further information.  Evans has done the leg work and successfully raised a confident and much happier son which will hopefully aid other parents in similar situations.  Through this book I hope that Evans is able to open some minds, provide some clarity to gender dysphoria and dispel myths and misinformation surrounding transgenderism.  Evans has proven that love for one's child is a very strong motivator and I applaud her for bringing her family's story forward to help others.  If you or someone you know is struggling with gender dysphoria I highly recommend this valuable resource.

Favourite Quotes

"Everyone's life matters and everyone deserves to be happy but not everyone is in a place where they think, or even believe, happiness is possible."

"The most basic thing about transgender people is they truly believe they're the gender they identify with! Transgender women do not think of themselves as men wearing women's clothing, they ARE women."

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary ebook copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Damaged

Author: Lisa Scottoline
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #4 in the Rosato and DiNunzio series
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: August 16, 2016
First Line: "Mary DiNunzio hurried down the pavement, late to work because she had to stop by their new caterer and try crabmeat dumplings with Asian pears."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the New York Times bestselling author comes the much-anticipated fourth book in the Rosato and DiNunzio thriller series.

Damaged finds Mary DiNunzio, partner at the all-female law firm of Rosato and DiNunzio, embroiled in one of her most heartbreaking cases yet. Suing the Philadelphia school district to get help for a middle school boy with emotional issues, Mary ends up becoming the guardian ad litem of her minor client. As she goes up against Nick Machiavelli, her opposing counsel and the dark prince of South Philly lawyers who will use any means necessary to defeat her, she becomes more and more invested in the case—and puts everything, including her engagement to her longtime boyfriend, on the line.



My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: If you're like me and went into this book expecting a suspenseful, nail-biter of a read you may get a different kind of book than you were expecting. Instead, the suspense aspect plays second fiddle to Mary's personal life and her deep and sudden desire to foster a ten-year-old boy (whom she's known for a matter of days) a mere two weeks before her wedding.  

What I appreciated about this book was the great information (without feeling preachy or teachy) that Scottoline provides about learning disabilities - specifically dyslexia and all its implications.  As a mother of a teenage son with ADD I appreciated that she incorporated IEP (Individual Education Plan) into her story line and how a child can be helped within the educational system if given the opportunity.  She also highlights the challenges some special needs children face as well as the complexities of the foster care system and some of the legal implications involving youth without guardians.

This is my first time meeting Mary DiNunzio and although she has a heart of gold I found her surprisingly bland and naive.  She has this sudden desire to become an interim foster parent for a boy she barely knows which I found hard to believe.  They didn't have enough time to forum such a deep and realistic attachment to each other and readers aren't given a clear idea of why Mary wants this child so badly.   

For a smart women with a law degree Mary was also naive about some aspects of the legal system (what lawyer has to have a Chinese wall explained to them?).  On the other end of the character spectrum we have Bennie Rosato, Mary's legal partner, who was a breath of fresh air.  And even though she was barely in the book, I loved her 'tell it like it is' demeanor and wish she had been used more in the plot.  

While the focus isn't on suspense as much as I would have liked, Scottoline supplies a few good red herrings to spice things up.  Readers will wonder if young Patrick is as innocent as he appears to be or if he's the manipulative, sinister child some people peg him for. Overall, I'd still consider this book a page turner and quite an easy read but it definitely had a different focus than I was expecting from Scottoline.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Boy Named Queen

Author: Sara Cassidy
Genre: Children (Middle School)
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Anansi Groundwood
First Published: August 9, 2016
First Line: "Evelyn has forgotten how to fold up the lawn chair."

Book Description from GoodReadsEvelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things. She takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don’t seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment. She even finds Queen irritating at times. Why doesn’t he just shut up and stop attracting so much attention to himself?

Yet he is the most interesting person she has ever met. So when she receives a last-minute invitation to his birthday party, she knows she must somehow persuade her mother to let her go, even if it means ignoring the No Gifts request and shopping for what her mother considers to be an appropriate gift, appropriately wrapped with “boy” wrapping paper.

Her visit to Queen’s house opens Evelyn’s eyes to a whole new world, including an unconventional goody bag (leftover potato latkes wrapped in waxed paper and a pair of barely used red sneakers). And when it comes time for her to take something to school for Hype and Share, Evelyn suddenly looks at her chosen offering — her mother’s antique cream jug — and sees new and marvelous possibilities.


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  This book was short and sweet with a good message about being yourself and accepting of others.  Geared towards the middle school age group it takes a look at the effects of peer pressure and the feeling that one needs to conform with what everyone else is doing.

I actually picked up this book because, based on the book description, I thought it would broach the subject of a child being transgendered.  This subject is only faintly hinted at but the book is a good starting point for parents to discuss peer pressure and being true to oneself no matter what others think.  Queen teaches Evelyn to be happy with who she is and that she doesn't have to conform to the group mentality to be happy.  The book never has a preachy tone which younger audiences will enjoy. 

Overall, this was a good middle school read. And while I found the ending to be more abrupt than I would have liked, I applaud the author for showing her young readers that being yourself and embracing your differences is okay. You should be proud of who you are and not base your self worth on what others think.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Groundwood Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Night

Author: Elie Wiesel
Genre: Biography
Type: e-audiobook
NarratorJeffrey Rosenblatt
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Audio Bookshelf
First Published: February 1, 2000
First Line: "They called him Moshe the Beadle, as though he had never had a surname in his life."

Book Description from GoodReadsNight is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver.

Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank,Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.
 


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: After his death on July 2, 2016 at the age of 87 I finally decided it was time to read/listen to Night.  Wiesel was an inspirational man and his life work was so much more than the books he wrote and also included teaching and political activism.  He was an inspiring speaker, man, leader, father, Nobel laureate, teacher ....

I had been putting off reading Night for years because, whenever I'd think of picking it up, I didn't feel like I was in the right frame of mind to read an autobiography of a Holocaust survivor.  There was something about the fact that this book was based on what he saw and experienced first hand that made it automatically feel like it would be a gut wrenching, emotional read.

It's hard to rate a book based on someone's life experiences.  I, in no way, mean to demean his experiences but I think I held this book in such high esteem that the reality was not as well written nor as emotional as I was expecting.  It still had its haunting and sad moments as he describes some of the horrifying things he witnessed and experienced in concentration camps.  But I think my expectation going into this book, as well as the large number of other Holocaust books that I've read, influenced my enjoyment of Night.

My slightly lower rating is not meant to discount, nor disrespect Wiesel or the other victims of the Holocaust and the horrors that they were forced to endure. But I felt like there was some disconnect between Wiesel's writing and his emotional response to his words.  Perhaps the only way he could relay his experiences was to slightly detach and tell the story as if he wasn't describing his own experiences.  Were there sections that were emotional?  Yes, but they were far fewer than I had expected. I went into this book preparing to be a sobbing mess and finished it without shedding a single tear.  That was unexpected.

I think part of my feelings towards this book stem from the narrator.  I wasn't a fan of Rosenblatt's occasional screaming at the listener in an attempt to relay the story.  It was abrupt, harsh and not nice to listen to.  I think that the emotion involved in those scenes could have been portrayed without screaming.

While this wasn't as strong of a read as I was hoping I still recommend it be included as part of a must-read book list for people who are interested in learning more about the Holocaust. Through Night Wiesel puts a face to the victims of the Holocaust and I give him the utmost respect for reliving the horrors he witnessed and experienced as a concentration camp survivor.  This was his reality and the reality of six million other Jews who suffered indescribably horrors at the hands of their captors and shows how easily and quickly tyranny can escalate if we don't stand up to it.  I thought that this book would change me after reading it and, while it reminds of us of how low the human race can go, I was left wishing this book had had a greater effect on me.

My Favourite Quotes by Elie Wiesel:

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” 
― Elie WieselNight


“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” 
― Elie Wiesel


“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 
― Elie Wiesel


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E Schwab
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #1 in the Shades of Magic series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: February 24, 2015
First Line: "Kell wore a very peculiar coat."

Book Description from GoodReadsKell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.



My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: V.E Schwab has written a unique historical fantasy read set within the YA genre. There's action, magic and even a want-to-be pirate.  She gives her readers strong characters, an interesting premise with some great twists all within fantastically unique settings.

In this world there are four different London's existing in parallel universes, each with their own degree of magic which has affected each city in significantly different ways.  Grey London which is quite similar to our own world, has no magic and is unaware of any of the other Londons.  White London has a darker kind of magic with constant power struggles where the weak are held in check by the powerful.  Red London is well-to-do and uses magic to benefit its people.  They realize there are other magical realms but since they live lavishly and safely they have no need to bother with worlds outside their own.  Finally, there was Black London which succumbed to darker magic leading the other London's to seal all gateways to it and assume that Black London destroyed itself.

Only a select few, called Antari, can travel between the different worlds.  This is where Kell comes in.  He is an Antari and uses his ability to relay messages from royalty between the different realms ... as well as smuggle, what he deems as innocent, artifacts between the Londons.  When one of his smuggling missions puts him in danger he is forced to rely on Lila, a thief from Grey London whose only goals are to survive and find adventure.  Unfortunately, Kell and Lila have many enemies who are out to get them and Lila may get more adventure than she bargained for.

This book started off quite strong.  Schwab clearly describes her unique setting with the various Londons and I was really drawn to Kell and, even more so, Lila. She's feisty, doesn't put up with a lot of guff and plays by her own set of rules.  Kell is quite powerful in his own right and struggles to find where he truly fits in.  He makes mistakes and finds himself relying on Lila, a common street thief.  There are some decent twists and I enjoyed that no one is who they seem - except maybe the villains who were evil-to-the-core nasties who didn't appear to have any redeeming qualities.

I'd give the first half of the book a solid 4 stars but my rating of the second half faltered to a three when my attention started to wain about two-thirds through.  The ending seemed a bit rushed and felt like it fell into place a little too easily.  I also wasn't fond that I was left with quite a few unanswered questions.

This book is all about brilliant world building with unique characters and ruthless villains. And while the ending was a little lackluster after all of the build up I can't help but think that things will be explained better in the second installment of this series, A Gathering of Shadows (Feb 2015).  Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

Favourite Quotes

"I'm not going to die," she said. "Not till I've seen it."
"Seen what?"
Her smile widened. "Everything."

"You know so little of war. Battles may be fought from the outside in, but wars are won from the inside out."

"I'm not afraid of dying.  But I am afraid of dying here." She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city.  
"I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."

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