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Book Tuesday: Homer’s Oddessey, by Gwen Cooper

homers-odyssey

Resume: Gwen Cooper is 24 years old, she recently broke up with the man she thought she was going to marry, she has temporary living arrangements with a friend she hasn’t known for that long, the salary she pull as a non-profit organization worker will never be enough to allow her to afford a place of her own in South Beach, Florida, and she already has two cats. The last thing she needs is the “special needs” kitten that her vet is talking up to her. She takes him in anyway, calling the eyeless black kitten Homer after the Greek blind poet because Homer (the cat) is going to be the writer of his own story. The book follows Gwen and Homer (and Scarlett and Vashti, the other two cats) for a period of eleven years, through professionals ups and downs, a move to New York in late 2000-early 2001, and meeting the love of Gwen’s love.

As I was reading the book, I frequently turned to the inside cover and read the author bio. The more I was getting attached to crazy little Homer, the more I needed the reminder that the book didn’t end with him dying, that he was still alive at the time of publication. That reassurance was especially useful in the second to last chapter, which recounts a couple of days when Homer got really sick and stopped eating. Considering what my own experience had been with a cat who got sick and stopped eating (Goddamned FIP!) I was especially nervous, and relieved to hear that he recovered and lived to the last chapter. Isn’t it nice, to read a pet biography that doesn’t end with the end of the animal’s life?

But what struck me the most about this book is that, once I finished reading it, almost all I could think about was: “the Montreal sibling should read this.” The Montreal sibling is Gwen Cooper at age 24, more or less, and I know how useful and important it has been for me to recognize myself in book characters. Not because I was looking for a life manual; because it felt so good to know that I’m not alone to struggle with what I struggle with, to know that someone else knows what it feels like to be me. I found a copy in French at the library and got it to my sibling (who doesn’t read in English), and here’s to hoping that this book gives that sibling what other books gave me. I’ve also been told that the sibling is already acquainted with Homer’s story, which I was not when I picked up the book, and is looking forward to having some time to read it.

 

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, by Molly Harper

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf

Resume: Mo Weinstein moves to Grundy, Alaska, because she needs space from her family, and being from the American south, you can’t get much further then Alaska, short of getting a different citizenship. She gets along well with most of the town, though some of them are well-guarded around the “outsider” who thinks she can make it out up north. Among those well-guarded neighbors is Cooper Graham, whom Mo finds very attractive, so to bad he’s such a jerk to her. And then, one fine evening, Cooper shows up on Mo’s doorstep, naked, with his foot trapped in a bear trap, begging her not to call 911 and not to freak out, and then passes out.

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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, by Joanne Fluke

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Resume: Hannah Swensen is the owner and head baker of The Cookie Jar, in the ficitional small town of Lake Eden. Her life is complicated enough by her interesting family dynamics, and it becomes even more so when she stumbles onto a dead body. The victim was a well-liked former football star and delivery person, there were no witnesses, and no trace of the weapon. Hannah has no idea what she gets herself into when she agrees to help her brother-in-law, first officer on the scene, to solve the case so he can get a big promotion.

I’ve been in a cozy mystery mood recently, and I decide to try this book, which had been given to me as part of a gigantic ebook bundle. (5000 books gigantic, and no I didn’t keep them all, and I haven’t read all the ones I’ve kept yet. It was one of the best gifts of my life.) I was reasonable confidant I would like it, because my mom had recommended this series to me once. A solid love of cozies is one of the things we have in common, and since our reading tastes are pretty similar, I figured I might like it.

I did, too, so kudos mom! I really enjoyed this story. There was a lot of repetition, and the characterization could probably have been more solid, but there was a lot of humor, and the mystery was well built and well-paced: I began to suspect who the killer was a few pages before the big reveal, in other words: at exactly the right time.

I was a little confused about the pacing at one point, because my ereader can’t tell the difference between what is actually the novel and what is the short story that came attached to this edition of the novel. (Excerpt from my inner monologue: “If that the reveal of the killer, or another red herring? It’s the reveal?! But we’re only 80% through the book, how … Oh. Now I get it.”) The short story, a Christmas mystery where the plot revolves not around murder but discovering the identity of a teen-aged runaway, was also funny and well paced, and adorable to boot.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: The Baby Sitters Club, by Ann M Martin and Raina Telgemeier

Synopsis if you need it: four 13 years old friends decide to pool their resources and form a babysitting club, and have many adventures along the way.

Book one

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Book two

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Book three

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Book four and final

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The original BSC books played a very important part of my childhood,  ever since my mother bought me the first one when I was in kindergarten. I remember joining the official fan club when I was nine, and a year later, I remember going with my dad to a tiny theater that felt like it was on the other side of the world (I think it might have been in Aylmer) because it was the only place around that showed the movie. When a friend told me that there were comics of the BSC, and that yhey were pretty good,  I owed it to elementary school me to check them out.

I have to agree with my friend. Those comics were excellent adaptations of the original novels,  and I am pretty sure that elementary school me would have loved them. (There is the possibility that elementary school me would have been in a snobbish phase and not wanting to read comics. That phase didn’t last long, though.)

However,  I must note that I (30 years old me) am not the intended audience for these comics, or for the original novels. The characters are 13 years old, they are written like 13 years old and that means that they sometimes show a lack of maturity that 30 years old me finds irritating. The enjoyment I got from reading these books cames from the nostalgia more then from the stories themselves.   With that said, I would throw the book at any little girl who likes to read, even just a little bit.  It makes you want to read more of the series.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen

at the water's edge

(boy, it’s been a while since I made one of those!)

In 1942, three Philadelphia socialites make their way to a remote Scottish village, with the intention of proving the existence of the Loch Ness monster once and for all. Maddie Hyde, the wife of Ellis Hyde, accompanies Ellis and his best friend Hank on their quest mostly out of a sense of obligation, and is quickly left behind while the two men are gone, sometime for days at a time. She befriends the locals who work at the inn where they have taken rooms, and she learns a lot about herself, and about the true nature of monsters.

A lot of the publicity strategy for this book was to emphasize the connection with Water for Elephants, which makes sense. Water for Elephant has been adapted into a successful movie. (It made enough money to earn back it’s production costs and it got enough good reviews to earn a “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so that is successful to me.) There is also some comparison to be made between the two stories: they are both historical novel, set in the early part of the 20th century, and they both focus on the personal growth of their respective main characters. Of course, I may be missing some other similarity or subtle references: it has been four years since I read Water for Elephants. And this review is about At the Water’s Edge, anyway.

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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

I picked up this book because it’s sequel (Off the Page) had been popping on my Goodreads feed with some frequency during the month of June, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I clicked on the handy-dandy Goodreads link, found that the book popping on my feed was the second of a series (a duology, at the very least) and that the first book would arrive from the library quicker anyway, so I started with that one.

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Resume: Once upon a time, there was a fairy tale prince named Oliver, who knew that he was a fairy tale prince. He relived his life over and over again, every time someone opens the book which contains his story, and is only free to live what independent life he can manage when the covers are closed. Until one day, Delilah picks up the book. She’s a fifteen years old who lives with her single mother, seems cursed with unpopularity, and is the first person ever to notice that sometimes, when the characters are not careful, the book changes.

It is a perfectly lovely book, and a quick read: I finished it off in one sitting. I am a sucker for the teenage fantasy love drama, however predictable it is in many ways. I am also a sucker for stories where the fictional characters know that they are fictional and strive to enter “the real world” and escape their fictional destinies. To top it all off, there were beautiful, full-page colour illustrations, by Yvonne Gilbert, and very cute black silhouette art by Scott M Fisher throughout the book. I haven’t read a lot of illustrated novels in my life, I think the last one was The Graveyard Book, and that was six years ago. I don’t know if I’m going to go out and look for more, because the surprise is part of what makes the illustrations fun, as is the rarity.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Secrets, by Danielle Steel

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Now that book, I did read as a teenager. I remembered enough of the story during this re-read o be sure of that.I also watched the movie, starring Christopher Plummer and Stephanie Beacham. I spent days tracking a copy of the movie, to give it a serious re-watch. I’m going to be talking about the movie on Friday, but for now, here is what I thought of the novel.

I think the book is best approached as a loosely connected collection of character vignettes. As a single narrative unit, it leaves a lot to be desired. There is no one story here, and that is the simple fact. There are six stories here, the story of five actors who star in a new primetime soap called Manhattan, and the story of it’s producer.

Of the six stories, those of the lead actor, Zach Taylor, and the producer, Mel Weschler, are the least developed: they have a lot of backstory, which is exposed in a few pages, and they have their romantic relationships: Zach with second lady Jane Adams and Mel with leading lady Sabina Quarles. I especially wished that the character development of Zach had been better explored. On the other hand, his story is one that could very easily become insulting to a lot of people if not properly handled. The 80’s romance novels field being what it was, it’s probably best that the author didn’t delve too much into it.

The stories of Jane Adams and ingenue Gabby Smith are more detailed, but they are wrapped up early in the story, leaving little room for the characters to evolve, other then in their romances, Jane with Zach and Gabby with the brooding new sex symbol Bill Warwick. Sabina Quarles’s story is also wrapped quickly, but the effect is disguised by the fact that Sabina is the first character we are introduced to, and her story is the last one exposed and resolved.

The only real narrative arc that really lasts for the length of the novel is that of Bill Warwick. His problem, his secret, is introduced on chapter 3 and is wrapped by chapter 32 (of 39, the next four chapters are when Sabina’s story finally unfolds, and the last three are pure fluff) and with every appearance his story moves along one careful step at a time. If all the stories were set up that carefully, the book would likely be much better for it.

Then there are the little quirks that bugged me, like the endless repetition of certain plot points (any editor worth it’s salary should have caught those!) and the plot bunny that is the fake tv show. The characters are all presenting this Manhattan thing as something brand new, unlike anything anyone has seen before. The book was written in 1985, and nothing about the setting indicates that the story is set in the past. Primetime soaps weren’t new by 1985. Dallas existed, and so did Dynasty, and probably others that I just can’t think up right now.

Far from the best book I’ve read. There are many ways of improving that story, and the movie actually does improve on some level. But it’s not essentially a bad book: it is entertaining, and the nostalgia factor boosts the rating to 5.5 out of ten.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Jewels, by Danielle Steel

jewels

(all the page number I use are from my personal edition of the book)

I used to read a lot of Danielle Steel as a teenager (and by that, I mean when I was thirteen or fourteen, maybe fifteen) but it had been years, and besides I didn’t understand English at that age, so I was really reading the translations. I think it’s worth my time to re-read those I already read, or to give a go at some of her books I haven’t read.

I’m pretty sure that Jewels falls in the second category. I have no memory of having read it, at the very least. It’s possible that I’ve obliterated the memory, that it was simply not consequential enough, but I doubt it. I’m sure that something would have sounded familiar in the 470 pages paperback.

Anyway, the resume: Sarah, the dowager duchess of Whitfield, is preparing to attend her 75th birthday party, and on this momentous occasion, she remembers her life. That is literally all that the book is, and anything else that I could say would be spoiling details of the story. Not that the editors and/or the marketing team seem to mind, but I’ll get to that in a second.

First, I want to say that I did like the book, and that the proof of this statement lies in the fact that I finished it, despite all challenges it presented me with.

There is the obvious one: from the very first chapter, we know that the heroine will live to be 75, that she is a widow, that she has four children and many grandchildren, that she lives in a castle. She is nearing the end of a very long, very good life, and telling the reader as much right up front robs the narrative of all its tension.

It goes something like this:

BOOK: Oh, no! The heroine is in danger!

ME: It’s fine, she lives to be seventy-five.

BOOK: Oh, no! The hero is in danger!

ME: He’s not going to die just now, they haven’t had their four children yet.

BOOK: The heroine is considering an abortion.

ME: It’s the fourth kid from chapter one, she’s not aborting anything.

And so on and so forth.

The back cover is even worse. It gives up something like 80% of the story. From reading that cover, we learn that the heroine is a Stater (my personal name of Americans, when I remember the use it: America isn’t just the US, people!) who lived in the ’30’s, who gets divorced and is dragged through Europe by her parents, where she meets the hero. We learn that the hero is a distant heir to the crown and that he gives up his place in the line of succession to marry the heroine. We learn that they buy the chateau in France as newlyweds, and that they are separated by World War Two, with the heroine already having one child and being pregnant with a second. We learn that after the war, they begin to buy jewels from war survivors who need the money more then the stones, and that from there they open up a jewelry store in Paris, before expending in London and Rome. We learn the names of their four children, and that they are all connected to the family business in their own way. The fourth kid is born on page 357 (of 471, 75% of the way through). The store in Rome opens on page 422 (89% of the way through), for crying out loud! Anyone who pays the smallest bit of attention will have no surprises whatsoever.

Then there is the fact that the book feels like a history lesson in disguise, like the characters were chosen to be the type who would reflect those events to the reader the best. (A Stater divorcee and an heir to the British throne, anyone? Lady Author isn’t even pretending to be subtle: Edward VII and Wallis Simpson are not only referred to specifically, they are characters in the book and they interact with our heroes.) Now, a history lesson in disguise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to do that, try to be more discreet. There is also the fact that the years 1935 to 1949 are covered in the pages 1 to 314, leaving only 157 pages to cover the years 1950 to 1991. Almost thrice as much time in half the space; a lot of stuff gets skipped over in that last third of a book. Unfortunately, that’s the part with the life story of all the children, so they feel really shallow as a result. And then there are the sentence structures, which were sometimes genuinely terrible and distracting from the story. I don’t want to have to re-read the same sentence three times just to figure out what the author was saying, and I shouldn’t have to.

I’m griping a lot, I know. I really did like the story. I found the hero and the heroine attaching, I loved reading about their courtship and their marriage. This book is a solid six out of ten.

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: To This Day, by Shane Koyczan

To_This_Day_cover

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing people rave about it on Goodreads. But even once I had it, it took me some time to work up the courage to actually read it. My relationship with bullying is… complicated, and one that I believe would take much longer to explore then what I have to give in this post, which is supposed to be a book review.

However, leaving those personal elements out means that there isn’t much to talk about. It is a very short book, an illustrated poem, a collaboration between Mr Koyczan and 30 artists from all over the world. Some of the illustration appealed to my personal sense of aesthetic more then others, but they were all wonderful, and they made a text that was already powerful even more so.

I wish I could think of a way to talk about this book, without delving into the deeply personal I’d rather leave aside for now. But I think that’s part of the point. This kind of work should bring a personal reaction out of you: that is why it’s so powerful.

A different play on those same words, by different artists, can be found on Youtube.

The video already has 16 million views, but a few more won’t hurt.

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

agent-to-the-stars

I’ll be completely honest, I don’t read a lot of science fiction. What I have read in the past tends to fall in two categories: dystopian YA and stuff written by John Scalzi. (The two circles of this specific Venn Diagram are not connected, but I think the result of such a connection would be very interesting.) I should probably make more of an effort to expand my science-fiction horizons, but that’s a discussion for another time. Today, it’s all about Scalzi.

Agent to the Stars was the third Scalzi book I’ve ever read, after Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream. (In the nine years since, I’ve read all of his published novels, and a few of his short stories, too.) It follows a Hollywood agent named Tom Stein, who gets the client of a lifetime: a group of friendly but offensive-to-the-senses Yherajk (yee-heer-aahg-k). He needs to find a way to introduce the Yherajks to humanity in a way that won’t start an intergalactic war, hide from a pesky tabloid journalist, and keep his other clients happy. The first part of the job might just be the easier one.

The first thing I loved about this book was the cover. Not the one I’ve pasted on top of the page (from the trade paperback, the copy I own). The one from the limited edition hard cover that I borrowed from the public library. Look at that:

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So pulpy! I love it. I matches the story perfectly well. A little kitch, but so much fun and so happy. I love all the Hollywood references, and how Scalzi updated them with the 2008 edition, because Hollywood has changed a little in the 10 or eleven years since he first published the book. I also love that Tom solves all of his problems, and all of the Yherajk’s as well, with a little bit of cleverness, a lot of really good connections in his friends/family/coworkers, and a shit-load of good luck. That’s sort of a recurring thing in Scalzi novels, and I really like it.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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