Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: No Relation by Terry Fallis

Publisher: Random House of Canada
Pages: 416
Received: Received a copy from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: May 20, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /

Goodreads Synopsis:

In his fourth novel, winner of the 2011 Canada Reads competition and "CanLit's crowned king of chuckles" (Telegraph-Journal) Terry Fallis's sharp, funny wit takes readers into the world of identity, inheritance, and belonging, begging the question: What's in a name? 

This is the story of a young copywriter in New York City. He's worked at the same agency for fifteen years, and with a recent promotion under his belt, life is good. Then, one morning this copywriter finds himself unceremoniously fired from his job, and after he catches his live-in girlfriend moving out of their apartment a couple hours later, he's also single. Believe it or not, these aren't the biggest problems in this copywriter's life. There's something bigger, something that has been haunting him his whole life, something that he'll never be able to shake. Meet Earnest Hemmingway.

What's in a name? Well, if you share your moniker with the likes of some of the most revered, infamous, and sometimes dreaded names in history, plenty. This is Earnest's lifelong plight, but something more recent is on his plate: His father is pressuring him to come home and play an active role in running the family clothing business. And as a complex familial battle plays out, Earnest's inherited name leads him in unexpected directions. Wry, clever, and utterly engaging, No Relation is Terry Fallis at the top of his form.

My Review:

Oh gosh, what to say about this book. This was my first Terry Fallis book but I can guarantee it will not be my last! I remember hearing about this book a little while ago from Lindsey, and she is one that when a book is recommended to me I take that and run with it! I am really glad that I listened, because this book was so much fun to read. This story really brings up the question of "What is in a name?"

The main character of the book is Earnest Hemmingway, not to be confused with the author (his name has an "A" and an extra "M" to make the distinction). He has a very difficult time in life because people are always making jokes about his name, and add to that he wants to be a writer, growing up was not the easiest. Now he finds himself in a very tough situation, just having lost his job and his girlfriend has broken up with him (in the same day), he is really trying to get his life back together and be happy.

This was such a fun book, the journey Earnest takes to really find himself amidst all his family problems and the trouble he runs into along the way, are funny and heartwarming. The secondary characters are absolutely amazing, and there would be no story without them. Earnest really finds help in this support group that he makes up for people with the same name as famous people. I have to say my favourite was Mahatma Gandhi, he added so much humour with his outbursts and yet he was such a sweetheart who would do anything for those around him.

The family aspect of the book was interesting as well, Earnest is years older than his sister and they have a very awkward relationship, but you can see over the course of the novel the growth. These two really come to understand one another better and begin to work through their problems and rely on one another through difficult times.

The best part of the book though was the journey that Earnest takes to try to help clear his writer's block, the things he learns along the way not only about himself but about Ernest Hemingway really make this story what it is. I cannot wait to start giving this book out to people and see their reactions because I just wanted more of all these characters. Definitely a book that will be brought out time and time again.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: The Break Up Artist by Philip Siegel

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 336
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley

Release Date: April 29, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples.

After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she'll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

My Review:

This book has such a different concept, a girl who makes money by breaking up couples at her high school. Becca has a very skewed view on relationships after watching her sister get left at the alter, also she is someone who has lost her best friend to a relationship. This is the one thing that really got her into this line of work. There were some things about this story that were fun and had me laughing, but there were a lot of things that made this a hard story to get through.

The biggest thing that bugged me about this story was how all the female characters could only talk about boys and how life was nothing if they weren't in a relationship. I just felt that it was over-the-top and no girl in high school is truly like that. There is so much more to life than being in a relationship and the only thing any girl would talk about is boys and relationships, it was too much for one book.

This book also makes girls seem desperate and will do anything to get a boyfriend, on the other end you have the guys who really take advantage of that. Everything about that was just too much and really unrealistic. Now the actual part where Becca is attempting to break up couples, that was amusing, and she has a great snark about her that adds some good humour to the story.

Becca is a very dark person, but you understand why she despises those in relationships, everything she has seen and been told has given her a very dark perspective, especially having an older sister having problems. When the one person who gives you advice has a skewed perspective it is all you know, and that is how Becca has been taught. I do like how Becca grows and begins to understand that not everything is as it seems. She sees that even though she helped break these couples up, that shows that if it could be that easy than maybe it was not as perfect as it seemed. There is a great sibling relationship with Becca and her sister but I would have loved to see that developed a little more.

There are definitely some great parts to the story, with a lot of snarky humour, but all in all it just was not the book for me. The way the characters acted really made it difficult to get through and I wanted a bit more substance to the book rather than just how much people want to be in a relationship. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: The Confabulist by Steven Galloway

Publisher: Knopf Canada
Pages: 320
Received: Received a copy from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: April 29, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the beloved, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, a beautiful, suspense-filled novel that uses the life and sudden death of Harry Houdini to weave a magical tale of intrigue, love and illusion.

The Confabulist weaves together the life, loves and murder of the world's greatest magician, Harry Houdini, with the story of the man who killed him (twice): Martin Strauss, an everyday man whose fate was tied to the magician's in unforeseen ways. A cast of memorable characters spins around Houdini's celebrity-driven life, as they did in his time: from the Romanov family soon to be assassinated, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the powerful heads of Scotland Yard, and the Spiritualists who would use whoever they could to establish their religion. A brilliant novel about fame and ambition, reality and illusion, and the ways that love, grief and imagination can alter what we perceive and believe.

My Review:

When reading that this story was about Harry Houdini, I jumped at the chance to be able to check it out. This story switches between two different stories, one of Harry Houdini and the other of Martin Strauss, who is coming to terms with killing Houdini and finally telling the story. Steven Galloway weaves these two characters and their stories together in such an intriguing way that you can't help but immerse yourself in the book.

Honestly, I had a lot of fun with this book, it definitely takes some dark turns at points, but the story is so intriguing. I really enjoyed learning about Houdini's life and I really loved how a lot of the story revolves around this mystery of Martin Strauss. There is so much to this story, and it really isn't all that long of a book. There are some great people that add to this story, I really loved the interactions between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini the most. The ideas that come up in this book are so astounding and yet they really make this book as magical as it is.

It's interesting to see how many of the magical tricks Houdini does are explained, showing readers that he truly is just a regular person and not some magical creature with special abilities. His life revolves around so much fame and ambition, taking him too far at times. This book also shows how grief can alter how we perceive things around us and can completely change the situation. Houdini proves this time and again in his parts.

Martin's story is something completely different, he is led to believe that he has killed Houdini and he travels around to find out more about his history. I think Martin's part of the story was confusing, yet was such a great mystery that kept me coming back to the story. There is too much to talk about and give away, this is the type of book that has such beautiful writing and keeps you reading. I definitely want to read his other book now that I have experienced what his writing style is like. The fact that this book was all about Harry Houdini and his life really made it that much more amazing. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: Then and Always by Dani Atkins

Publisher: Penguin Canada
Pages: 320
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley as part of a blog tour

Release Date: May 20, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

Absorbing, surprising, and heart-rending, Dani Atkins’s debut novel follows a young woman who, after an accident, gets a second chance at life … just not the one she remembers.

Rachel Wiltshire has everything she’s ever wanted: a close group of friends, a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to the journalism program at a top-choice college. But one fateful evening, tragedy tears her world apart. Five years later, Rachel returns home for the first time to celebrate her best friend’s wedding. Still coping with grief, she can’t stop thinking about the bright future she almost had, if only that one night had gone differently. But when a sudden fall lands her in the hospital, Rachel wakes to find that her life has completely changed. Now she has her dream job as a writer and a stylish apartment, but the people she loves most are not the way she remembers them. Unable to trust her own recollections, Rachel tries to piece together what really happened, and not even she can predict the astonishing truth.

My Review:

Seeing this book compared to One Day really captured my attention with it, I really loved the idea of a woman who gets a second chance with things, but everything she remembers is completely different. I really loved how Atkins brings out this story of trying to bring together what Rachel believes she knows happened over the last five years to what everyone around her is saying happened. I can say that this story really kept me intrigued, trying to figure out what is happening to Rachel, and I love being on her side and finding things out along with her.

This was such a beautiful story, there are so many amazing characters that really keep you invested and rooting for Rachel to truly get her happy ending that she deserves, though what that is no one truly knows. Reading through this and trying to imagine the emotions running through Rachel, especially waking up to find that the person you believed to be dead for the past 5 years is standing there with you. Dani Atkins really hits the emotions in her writing, pulling you into every thought and feeling Rachel has. It is a book that is so heart-wrenching you don't want it to end.

This is a very hard book to write a true review for because it is one that people need to experience for themselves and not have anything given away or it will ruin the story. But I will say it is a beautiful story about rediscovering yourself and how things could be on one side or the other. The only small thing I am still thinking on after having finished this book a few days ago is the ending. I am still at a loss as to if I believe that ending was good or if it was bad. I feel that by that time there were so many emotions running around in my head, that I was crying and a large part of me believes it is a beautiful end to a great love story. But it is one of those that the more I think, my thoughts always change.

Honestly, I do believe I truly loved the book and how Rachel really fought to understand her situation. I think this was such a beautiful story and Dani Atkins really has such beautiful writing, making you fall in love with a story and making it impossible to put down because you want to solve this mystery with Rachel, and see that she finds happiness. I am really happy to have had a chance to read this book and I hope many other readers pick this one up as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 336
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss

Release Date: April 8, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the author of Balancing Acts and Saving Ruth comes the funny, heartwarming, and utterly relatable story of three women, each facing her own transitional moment, and all grappling with the idea of motherhood...

When Sarah and her husband trade in a crowded commute, cramped apartment, and high stress New York City jobs for life the slow lane in Farmwood, VA, the pressure is on to have a baby. At thirty-six Sarah knows it's time to get started, but the urgency motivating her to reach this pinnacle of self-fulfillment looms large. Meanwhile, her best friend Mona, a single and successful editor who's always wanted children, is diagnosed with cervical cancer. At the same time, Sarah's younger and seemingly perfect sister-in-law has just given birth to her son, Franklin. When Sarah uproots her new life with her husband in Virginia to return to New York and care for Mona, the three women will help each other navigate their new realities.

My Review:

This was an interesting story about finding yourself during some tough times. Sadly, a small part of me felt like something was missing in this story that I just couldn't quite figure out. I really enjoyed how Zoe Fishman has this story about three women dealing with different issues in their life, and really all helping one another in many ways. I really enjoyed how these three women can be in transition with their life in such different ways.

The main character of the story is Sarah, she is moving out of the big city to a very small town with her husband, and this is mainly her story of how the women around her really help her through the biggest transition of her life. The one thing that really had me wanting more from this story was the way the friendships were portrayed throughout. Each of the three women are coming to terms with the idea of motherhood in one way or another and it is a big issue in the story, Sarah is beginning to consider starting a family and she sees her sister-in-law dealing with her first-born, and then on the other end, her best friend is dealing with cancer and the most likely situation of never having children. Sarah is the one who seems to be helping out the other two while learning her own lesson that there is more to life than what she first believed.

I felt like this book went by quickly and that there could have been some more depth to a couple of the characters. I think that some things were not fully developed, especially the relationship between Sarah and her sister-in-law, though it was a good relationship by the end of the book and they begin to understand each other better, I was still missing something from those two. I think the best part of the book for me was following Sarah, as she navigates a new and completely different home and really finding her true calling in this small area. I found it funny that the story in a way follows Sarah as she learns how to drive again (since she hasn't driven in years and is very anxious in a car). I felt that this added some interesting humour to the story and in a way shows readers that sometimes adults need to grow up and start their lives over as well.

This is a cute and engaging book, though in the end something small was missing from the story to have me really love it and come back to it again years from now. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Publisher: Riverhead 
Pages: 304
Received: Received a copy from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: May 29, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

My Review:

This was actually a very cute and fun book for me. I had not heard about it until it was recommended to me, and I have to say I am glad that I took the recommendation. This is a great story about family in the middle of change and how they cope with so many things. What caught my attention with this story was the way it is described, the idea of a family going on vacation with all these secrets and slowly things are revealed.

The story is one of a family working through many issues, all while on vacation together. They are stuck in a small place for two weeks, and slowly things are revealed about each of the characters that changes their view on life and family. The story is told in third person perspective, as we follow each of the characters on this vacation and see how they deal with the fallout of their actions.

I adored the family dynamic in this book, it's a very real family that have their issues and try to hide them from others. But what really got me interested in this book was seeing if and how these characters would work through their issues. They are all very eccentric, and stubborn in the way they deal with problems, this is a family that just wants to sweep things under the rug rather than deal with it head on. But in the end, each person comes out different and stronger in many ways.

I did have a couple of issues with the story, the main one that made this book difficult was how the story jumped between the characters. There were a few times where I was confused as to what was happening because there were so many important players in the story, and there were quite a lot of subplots happening at once. It felt at times that there was too much going on in the short amount of time, and too many people to follow along with.

I do think this is a great book about family and learning to forgive and work through things. It's also about growing up, Emma Straub really shows that even adults still can be childish at times, but that in the end family bonds are truly strong and most people can get through even the biggest of hurdles. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 352
Received: Received a copy from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: April 10, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

My Review:

The cover of this book just completely caught my attention, and this is one that I will have facing out on my shelf just because it is so beautiful and captivating. But this cover does not give away what the story truly focuses on, yes dance is a huge part of the main character's life, but there is so much more to the story that you can't let go of.

Theo has been through so much, and she is finally getting better after everything, she is eating properly (for the most part) and is on her way to the life she has dreamed of. All of a sudden, everything is turned on it's head when her best friend who disappeared four years ago returns home. The problem is he is not talking about anything, and Theo believes she may be able to help. This book deals with a lot of heavy emotions, and yet it is such a beautiful story.

Being a dancer myself I really loved how Theo's life revolved around this one activity. I could really understand some of the things Theo dealt with in that part of her life. Dance means everything to Theo, and it is almost as if her entire life revolves around it, she works so hard to be the best, and for me it was amazing to read about this part of her life, it took me back to some amazing times in my life. Dance is a way to get away from your life and you really view that for Theo.

What I absolutely loved about this story is how, as a reader, you really see how Theo struggles with the revelations of the case and how it affects her in such a massive way. And also how she handles herself through everything. This is a girl that has had problems in the past and you see how keeping a secret that could harm people brings up some issues. But I really loved how Theo learned to open up and she learns that sometimes how one person sees things may come out differently.

At times, I felt like Theo's friends weren't completely there f.or her because they were in their own world, but you think back to yourself at that time and I can understand. Especially with the fact that Theo seems to close herself off from people, which is where many of her problems stem from. I absolutely loved this book and would go back to read it again.

I think Brandy Colbert has brought about a beautiful story about learning to open up, and how talking about some things can bring about a different perspective. This story really shows how some secrets can hold us back. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 384
Received: Received a copy from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: April 29, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the author of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared comes a picaresque tale of how one person's actions can have far-reaching-even global-consequences

On June 14, 2007, the king and the prime minister of Sweden went missing from a gala banquet at the royal castle. Later it was said that both had fallen ill, but the truth is different. The real story starts much earlier, in 1961, with the birth of Nombeko Mayeki in a shack in Soweto. Nombeko was fated to grow up fast and die early in her poverty-stricken township, be it from drugs, alcohol, or just plain despair. But Nombeko takes a different path. She finds work as a housecleaner and eventually makes her way up to the position of chief advisor, at the helm of one of the world's most secret projects.

Here is where the tale merges with then diverges from reality. South Africa developed six nuclear missiles in the 1980s, then voluntarily dismantled them in 1994. This is the story of the seventh missile, the one that was never supposed to have existed. Nombeko Mayeki knows too much about it, and now she's on the run from both the South African justice system and the most terrifying secret service in the world. The fate of the planet now lies in Nombeko's hands.

Jonasson introduces us to a cast of eccentrics: a nerve-damaged American Vietnam deserter, twin brothers who are officially only one person, three careless Chinese girls, an angry young woman, a potato-growing baroness, the Swedish king and the prime minister. Quirky and utterly unique, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is a charming and humorous account of one young woman's unlikely adventure.

My Review:

I had heard so much about Jonasson's book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared when I heard he had a new book coming out I knew I needed to read it. I have to say this was such a fun and unique story, Jonas's characters will capture readers and the story is so over the top that you can't stop until you know what happens next!

The story is the type that follows the paths of many different people, but it is how all these people come together to make the story that really keep the reader invested. Nombeko was such an intriguing character, I loved her growth over the course of the book (which for the record takes place over a large amount of years). I really adored Nombeko's smarts and how she is able to get herself out of such precarious situations. For someone who is uneducated, she has a lot of smarts and knows how to formulate a plan (though it never seems to work for the long-term).

And as much as I loved Nombeko's character, the story would not be what it is without the multitude of secondary characters that Nombeko meets over the years. Everyone has their own quirks that add to everything, and I think if Nombeko never met any of these characters the story would not take the turn it does. From the drunken engineer who is in charge of the missiles, to the group of people that she ends with, you love every person you meet. Each of the quirks everyone has adds such a comedic undertone to the book that I was giggling through the entire book even at some of the more "intense" moments (if you could call them that).

Everything about this book is so over-the-top and that is what makes it so enjoyable. Jonas Jonasson creates a story with a cast of characters that will keep you hooked and laughing at all the little things, from one bad situation to the next, they all come with a side of comedy. I want more from Jonasson, his stories are the reason I read so much, escape reality for a little while, and this story is so charming and eccentric that I always wanted to pick it up after a long day!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 304
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley

Release Date: January 28, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

My Review:

I really wanted to like this book, the whole controversial issue of keeping someone breathing so that you can deliver the baby was what caught my attention in the beginning. I have been slowly getting into contemporary books, and I thought that this one would be a great story, but I think the characters turned me off at times.

I understand that Emma is upset, she has lost her mother and was not part of the decision in keeping her breathing so that the baby can live. I went into this expecting more of a family dynamic with a little romance thrown in, and a lot of growth. But what I found was that Emma has a lot of anger (understandably), but it becomes too much at times. The way she treats people around her started to get on my nerves and I wanted her to actually grow up and attempt to talk to someone instead of sulking the entire time.

I did enjoy the way that Caleb helps Emma through things, and their relationship makes sense in a way, and yet at the same time, I felt like it became very intense very quickly. I enjoyed the fact that she was able to find someone who in a way could understand her pain, but I think it takes too long for Emma to grow and actually try to understand what her step-father is going through.

I think that Elizabeth Scott hits it on the head with the grief Emma feels and how her entire life changes after her mother's death, especially being that they were close. That was actually a huge part of the book that really kept me going, I loved reading about Emma's memories and the relationship between her and her mom. I also enjoyed the relationship Emma has with her best friend, Olivia (someone who refuses to use technology, which I found difficult to believe). Olivia attempts to be there for Emma, and she is really Emma's connection to reality, otherwise anger would destroy her.

I enjoyed the book at times, but for the most part I just had problems really connecting with the characters and the story. I just had trouble getting behind Emma's actions sometimes and I just wanted to yell at her to actually try talking things out instead of letting everything stew. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Publisher: Harper
Pages: 256
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss

Release Date: March 4, 2014
Buy From / Buy From /
Buy From

Goodreads Synopsis:

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.

"This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do."

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

My Review:

I think I am going to have a hard time talking about this book, it was such a beautiful story, but written in way that makes it difficult to read at times. The way the story is written is emotional and you really feel the emotions and how scary a place this can be. I absolutely loved the lyrical style of this book, that honestly just took my breath away and had me devour the book in one sitting.

Rene Denfeld brings beauty to such a broken and lonely place through her characters and the way the character gets by. The story is told from the perspective of a man on death row and of his feelings of what he observes of those around him. The character escapes this dark reality by reading books and he lives in his own imagination, as he makes a story about those that he spends every day with.

I thought this was going to be a fantasy type book but even though it's not what I expected it was still such a beautiful story. This is a story that really shows us hope for those that truly have no hope left, and I think it also gives readers a look on the death penalty and makes you wonder about it. There are many different characters that we follow that have such an impact on the lives of these prisoners, there is the priest, and the Lady, who tries to help many of the inmates before they go for execution.

This is such a raw and powerful novel, that really delves into the lives of some of these characters. I would have liked a little more of the Lady's past and that of the warden as well. We do get to see a small glimpse of the Lady's past and learn her own secrets as she digs into York's past. I think this helps show a contrast of how people can both be from a dark place and yet work to turn out differently. The Lady is a perfect example of someone who is in both places, she knows the dark world and yet is also a sign of hope for those who are currently there.

Honestly, this is such a magical book, the writing is beautiful and pulls at your heart. It is a story of love and compassion in the darkest places. Please pick up this book and check it out for yourself, because my review will never do justice to the beauty this story is. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview with Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange

I was so lucky to have the opportunity to interview Alena Graedon, the author of The Word Exchange. This was such an amazing book that is very insightful on how technology has taken over. You can check out my review here. It was so much fun to sit down and talk to her, and she was great, especially since I was so nervous, never actually having sat down with an author one-on-one before. Below you will find a brief version of the interview.

Me: The Word Exchange is your first book, being a debut author what was the most difficult part of the publishing process for you?

Alena: I used to work in publishing, and give people the advice to wait until they had something to sell before you get an agent, you have less control when you start collaborating with someone about your project. Though I had trouble taking my own advice, especially once I had made the decision to quit my job (working at PEN American Center).

I sent off samples to different artist colonies (a jury decides to invite you to stay, and they pay room and board, a way to meet other writers/artists and a way to spend a lot of time on your own work) and was accepted to several places, that's when the pressure was really on. I still made myself wait until the end of that process, and another draft before sending it off to agents.

From there it went rather quickly because I fought my inclinations and actually waited until I had something concrete.

M: I really loved the whole thought of this story, what brought about the idea of the death of language for a story?

A: I had the idea years before I actually started writing the book (around 10 or 11 years ago). In some ways I think the idea was kind of born with me because I am of the generation that is the last one to really engage with print media in a real and unsentimental way (wrote letters to each other when we went to camp, and wrote notes by hand instead of on laptops in university). I've watched this shift from print to digital media with a lot of interest but also ambivalence. I saw first hand how vulnerable and fragile the digital media structure could be.

I went abroad right around the time that email was first introduced and it was great to have a way to communicate with my family but there were times when I could write a long email and press send and have it disappear. There were certain websites that we couldn't access and things would disappear over night, we knew there was a potential that we were being monitored and what we wrote could be deleted.

Because of those reasons I had this sense that cyberspace, which is so convenient and easy to do things, it made me apprehensive of how much we would rely on it. Also studying abroad and learning a new language, I was thinking about how language connects people across space and time and really started thinking about what might happen if those ties were cut.

A couple years after I had a crazy experience that really was the genesis for this book... I was involved in a house fire. Fortunately no one was home, but we lost everything, I lost all my books and my laptop, I had printed out pages of my thesis (which was due the next day). Luckily I had been emailing it to myself so it wasn't lost and I was happy that digital media exists, but it got me thinking that a house fire is very isolated but if something happens in cyberspace, the potential for it to be a more widespread problem is there.

I had the foundation for these questions then, and have been carrying them around with me. I got a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and noticed that they had these encyclopedia entries of people and it gave me an idea of what if one of those entries vanished from the book. That idea stayed with me for 11 years and really sustained me in the writing of this book (that is how the book begins). At the time it was very fantastical, but by the time I started writing, the idea of text vanishing from a book was not so weird. (Like the situation with Amazon selling a copy of 1984 on Kindle they did not have the rights to, and they just deleted it from people's Kindles, and the news article of not owning the books you bought from Amazon for your ereader.)

M: The characters in your book are very eccentric, are they based off anyone you know in particular?

A: I would say yes and no. I believe we all write from life even when we are writing incredibly fantastical things. I think in some ways all of the characters have pieces of myself in them, and I actually think Bart is my alter ego in some ways. I also took snatches of dialogue and things characters say were formed by people that I know, friends and relatives. But no one is truly based off anyone in my own life.

The closest might be that Doug has some resemblance to my father (not physically). Throughout my childhood I always thought my dad was a bit eccentric, he writes about medicine (with my mother) and he always warned us about potential environmental hazards. And years later everything he warned us about happened.

M: So you are from a family of writers, must be fun!

A: Books and writing have been a huge part of my life, my grandfather worked in publishing (a sales representative), and then found his calling as a used and rare book dealer. His books ended up overflowing to our house, and that was the really one of the only things of large value that we had. The only two things I own of any value are original editions of Lewis Carrol's Alice`s Adventures Underground and a book by the British lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

M: And both of those books make large appearances in your story. So on this topic, which books have really influenced you the most in the writing of this book?

A: I never know how to truly answer that question... I did all kinds of research for this book, including interviewing lexicographers, and went to the OED in Oxford and talked to the editor there and showed me their digital dictionary. I met with an editor of the OED in New York, who read parts of my book and helped me out a lot. As well as interviewing a lot of scientists for the devices in the book and the virus, and also consulted a lot of other people including a Hegel scholar.

But in terms of books, I read a lot of lexicography books for my research but I also read A Clockwork Orangeby Anthony Burgess which plays with language, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, he does such an amazing job of showing us how this character's cognitive ability increases and then decreases again. And I read some case studies by Oliver Saks about the man who mistook his wife for a hat. I was interested in looking at books that had a wide cast of characters and multiple narrators. I read Nicole Kraus' book The History of Love and her husband's Everything is Illuminated.

In terms of influences I could offer up a whole dissertation, but I was a little focused on trying to sit down and construct the world for this book. I`m sure I was influenced by lots of things I'm not even aware of.

M: With the book being the death of language through electronics, what is your take on the ebook vs. print debate?

A: I have both, somebody gave me a Kindle as a gift as I was writing this book, and I do read some things on it. Though I haven't got used to reading that way, it's a personal preference thing I think. I think people reading is great, and actually it's funny to hear from people who read this book on e-readers, it's helpful because they can look up the meanings to words (which is eerily similar to The Word Exchange). But it's also frustrating because there are footnotes which are more difficult to transfer over to some electronic devices.

In terms of shifting over to digital, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with it. I think people will always read, I don't think the things in my book will happen. People will always buy books, like there are people out there who still buy records. Part of the reason I wanted to set the book in the near future was because I wanted to bring a little more insight into our current reality and that it might help add to this ongoing conversation we have about the way technology has started to infiltrate our lives and that we have become more integrated with our devices (for better and worse). I was hoping the story would help us think more about the trajectory we are on, it's happening, but that we can have some control over the direction that it unfolds.

M: I loved the words throughout and how you added in all these random words to really bring out the idea of the word flu more, did you have fun making up all these words for the book?

A: I did! I think the language in the book is interesting, some readers really respond and some feel a little alienated by the language, which is understandable because I was hoping to get across the idea that language is this incredible communal resource and it only works if we are all a part of the process. If we share in the process of learning it and updating it is when it works. But it doesn't work when someone tries to co-opt it and make their own private language, that really separates people. I wanted to offer a suggestion of the alienation the characters were feeling if they catch the word when they were interacting with someone who has the flu. I wanted to show what we lose when we lose the meaning of words, and what we lose not only for ourselves but as a community. It was tricky and the language virus evolves over the course of the book, but it was definitely fun. Writing about language really makes you self conscious about your own language. It was a challenge, but an interesting one.

M: Thank you so much for your time! It was so great to meet and chat with you. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...