Monday, November 30, 2015

Month In Review

November was a great month for reading for me. It started off slow but picked up toward the end of the month and I read a lot of great books that I just could not put down.  I did realize that if I want to make my goal of reading 105 books this year, I need to put things into overdrive.  I'm sure I can hit 100 this year, let's see if I can do 105.


Diversity on the Shelf (3), Canadian Book Challenge (3)

What I'm Looking Forward to in December

 Reading, reading, reading!  Trying to press toward my goal.  There are a couple of books that I'm looking forward to reading. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is one of them and I was also given a copy of The Widow by Fiona Barton (next year's The Girl on the Train) and I can't wait to read that one!  

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, November 27, 2015

"Slammed" by Colleen Hoover

Eighteen-year-old Layken has been through the toughest time of her life.  After the sudden passing of her father, she’s had to move across the country with her mother and nine-year-old brother.  She’s not happy to be in a new town where she knows no one, but she knows that she has to be the rock for her family.  She’s just not sure how she’ll hold it all together.

Then she meets Will Cooper, her 21-year-old neighbour who is cute, intriguing, and more than interested in her.  They can’t fight the connection they immediately make and after Will introduces her to the world of slam poetry, Layken begins to think that the move may not be so bad.

Until they make a discovery that quickly puts an end to their relationship.  But they still have to see each other on a daily basis which both Layken and Will find difficult to do.  And when Layken receives devastating news, it becomes almost impossible to stay away from each other.

Slammed is the first book in a young adult series by Colleen Hoover.  Romantic, heart-breaking, and poetic, this is an incredible book that moved me to tears.

I picked up this book based on the recommendation of a total stranger who had nothing but good things to say about Colleen Hoover’s work, of which I have read none.  She suggested that I start with this one and I’m so glad that I did.  The best way to describe this book is a roller coaster of emotions.

There is just so much to this book.  Both Layken and Will have dealt with a lot of turmoil and heartbreak in their short lives but yet there is so much hope.  Their relationship develops so easily and as a reader you are thrilled to see it happen this way.  But the fact that they can’t be together, after already experiencing so much heart-ache, absolutely pulls on your heart-strings.  

The use of slam poetry in the book is incredible.  Will is a participant and he introduces Layken and her friends to the genre.  I really enjoyed the use of the poetry throughout the book, it is a poignant way to express your emotions and so fitting with this story.  

So yes, I will admit that I cried during this book.  In fact, I didn’t read the book on transit or at work because I knew that at any moment it would have me crying and no one needed to see that.  I am one of those people who is quick to cry but this wasn’t just a little bit of tears, it was full out running down my face.  This may be a young adult novel but I believe that it will move people of all ages. 

So, to the stranger who recommended this book to me, I hope that we meet again so I can gush over this book to you as much as you when we met. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Just the Way You Are" by Lynsey James

Ava Clements has never been lucky in love.  The only time she ever felt true love in her life was six years ago when a secret admirer began sending her letters.  She was supposed to meet up with the mystery man but he never showed and the letters stopped.  Her best friends Max and Gwen were there to pick her up but she has never been the same.

Thankfully, she has been able to throw herself into her work writing for a magazine.  She lost out on the opportunity to write the dating column to the office bitch. But she has an idea of how to win back her position and it involves reuniting two lovers separated fifty years earlier.  With everything going on, she doesn’t have much time for love.  

But now, the letters have started again.  And as much as she wants to forget him, she can’t. Ava is determined this time around to make sure she finds out who he is.  Because he is the only man she has ever loved.

Just the Way You Are, by Lynsey James, is a sweet, fun novel full of love and heartbreak.  It’s a classic “will they, won’t they” story that is very enjoyable.

I was drawn to this book because I knew that it would be a sweet story that I could sit down with and enjoy without too much effort.  And it met my expectations there.  At first, I wasn’t sure if the storyline would carry through the entire book (especially since I felt like I had figured out the mystery writer was very early on) but there was enough “extra” story to keep the book going.  

The storyline of the Ivy and Leo, the people that Ava was trying to reunite was a nice addition to the book. The love lives of Max and Gwen also fit in well rather than feeling like add-ons.  And the story of Maddie was also just right - enough to move the story along but not enough that it takes over or feels like filler.

There were a few things toward the end of book that got on my nerves.  I wish Ava would have stood up for herself more.  And I wish that it didn’t take so long for the big resolve.  The “will they/won’t they” aspect drew out a little too long for me.  I felt like the characters made very silly decisions and at times, I questioned the maturity of the characters (as in, do people their age really behave this way?)

For a debut book, this one is very well written.  Sometimes when a book has an element of “writing” - blogs, columns, and in this case, letters - that element takes over the novel and you find that you are mostly reading that rather than the story.  But that did not happen with this book.  There is enough of the letters to keep you wanting more and not enough to make you sick of the thread.  This is a lovely book to curl up with and I look forward to seeing future books from Lynsey James.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Falling in Love with Hominids" by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is known for her fantastic, vivid, and stunning works of fantasy fiction.  One can only imagine how incredible it is to possess her imagination.  From Brown Girl in the Ring to Skin Folk, Hopkinson is at the top of the class when it comes to fantasy.  Her mix of modern speculative fiction with Afro-Caribbean folklore makes for incredibly inventive stories.  

Falling In Love with Hominids is a new collection of short stories written by Nalo Hopkinson, most of which are unavailable anywhere else in print.  These eighteen stories were written over the past dozen years and cover a wide variety of themes.

Fantasy and Speculative Fiction aren’t genres I read much of, in fact I’m not familiar with them enough to even know if there is supposed to be a difference between the two.  But whenever I hear people discussing the genres, I hear Nalo Hopkinson’s name come up.  Brown Girl in the Ring is often held up as one of the best. I have not read that one yet but I did read The Chaos and was immediately drawn into world she created.  Which is why I decided to pick this book up.

Short stories in this genre are new to me completely.  And I must admit, I don’t think I liked it very much.  My reason for this is that I found myself wanting so much more.  With an imagination like Hopkinson’s, I felt like I needed more of the worlds she was creating.  I think it’s just a problem of myself and the genre though.  I needed time to build up the worlds I was inhabiting through the pages.

But I don’t think this should stop anyone from reading this collection.  Hopkinson is an incredible writer and has a master touch at creating alternate worlds.  A few of my favourite stories from the collection include:

Old Habits - ghosts who passed away in a shopping mall must live out their lives in the mall and relive their deaths each and every day.

The Smile on the Face - a teenage girl goes to a party with her friends, where a party game takes an unexpected turn.

Message in a Bottle - a man babysits his friends child, one who has a rare disorder that holds the secret of time travel.

Some of the stories in this collection were stellar for me while others couldn't hold my attention.  I think this comes down to my lack of familiarity with the genre more than the writing.  I'm sure that anyone who is a reader of this genre will absolutely enjoy this collection. What I like most about Hopkinson’s writing is the way she includes the folklore of her Caribbean heritage in her works and these stories are no different. The worlds that she creates are absolutely incredible and shouldn’t be missed.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald

Sara has always been a girl that keeps to herself, preferring the company of books rather than people.  But when the bookshop she works at in her home country of Sweden closes down, she isn’t sure what to do next.  So when her elderly pen pal Amy invites her to stay at her home in Broken Wheel, Iowa, she goes against everything she’s known herself to be and takes Amy up on her offer.

But when Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, she discovers that Amy has died.  In fact, Sara arrives on the day of the funeral.  Now she will be staying in the dead woman’s house for the next two months, in a very small town in a foreign country.

Broken Wheel isn’t known for anything really and Sara quickly discovers that.  As she gets to know the people of the community, she realizes that the town is desperately in need of a pick-me-up.  And Sara knows just what to do - she opens a bookshop.  It takes a bit of convincing to get the townspeople on board with the idea but once it all falls into place, the town becomes filled with friendship, romance, and quite a bit of adventure.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald is a sweet, lovely novel about how much books can change lives. Filled with warmth, love, and humour, this is a must-read for any book lover.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  I knew I wanted to read it because I really enjoy books about books and of course, what book lover doesn’t dream of owning their own book shop?  I thought it would be a cute read, one of those “fill some time” books but it ended up being much more than that.  I fell in love with the town, it’s inhabitants, and the book shop (and of course, I can relate Sara wanting to spend time with books over people.)

The characters in this book are absolutely charming, even the ones that give a “don’t bother me” vibe for much of the book.  I’m not familiar with small-town life but I imagine that Bivald has gotten it pretty right.  You don’t have to worry about being well-read to enjoy the way the characters talk about books.  In this one, people are reading everything from Proust to Bridget Jones to gay erotica.  There is a book for everyone in this novel.  And what is lovely about this novel is that it can actually be for everyone.  Readers of all ages and walks of life will enjoy this book, I believe.  Because books have that power to bring us all together.  

This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, rainy day or to take to the beach with you.  It’s perfect for reading on a commute or when you just want to escape for a little bit.  It is delightful and heartwarming, and is a gem of a novel.  I’ll be recommending this one to lots of people.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Aya" by Marguerite Abouet

1978 is a golden time in Ivory Coast, a time of stability and affluence.  In working-class Yopougan, also known as Yop City, the open-air bars and discos are thriving, the holidays are soon to come, and everyone is upbeat.  But this time may not last forever.

Nineteen-year-old Aya is a studious girl, determined to make good in life.  Along with her friends Adjoua and Bintou, she navigates Yop City with joy and laughter, trying to stay out of the gaze of nosy relatives and neighbours.  At night, young adults gather in the market square for clandestine meetings with secret lovers.  But for one young couple, what happens at the square will quickly become known by everyone and relationships and friendships will be tested.

Aya is a beautiful graphic novel written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by ClĂ©ment Oubrerie.  The story of a girl making her way in the world, and along with her friends enjoying the typical teenage life.

About Aya, Marguerite Abouet said, “…I wanted to show in Aya: an Africa without the…war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on.”  This has been achieved.  This is a stunning graphic novel that could take place anywhere in the world and Aya, Adjoua, and Bintou could be growing up anywhere.  This is a story about everyday life in an urban setting, with people who are working hard and having fun, struggling and succeeding.  The book is also beautiful to look at.  It is warm and vibrant and the colours make the illustrations jump off of the page.

This book breaks the mould of books set in Africa that we often see in the West, and there needs to be more of that.  As I mentioned before, this could be set anywhere.  It’s a story we see and time and again, of teenage girls, of first loves, of relationship and family troubles but the Ivorian culture and the beautiful illustrations elevate this book.  The glossary of terms at the end, along with recipes and other cultural information is an asset and such a wonderful addition to the book.

You’ll laugh with this book and you will become attached to the characters.  This is actually the first in the series and you will find yourself at the end of it wanting the next one right away.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Daydreams of Angels" by Heather O'Neill

Fairy tales for grown-ups, that is exactly how Heather O’Neill’s first collection of short stories can be described. Daydreams of Angels is an incredible and descriptive collection of short stories, designed to stretch your imagination and take you on a journey that is touching and full of wonder. 

O’Neill’s novels are ones of great creativity.  She has an incredible way with words and the rich descriptiveness of her writing jumps off the page.  Often when I read short story collections I read one story and then take a break but with this book I just wanted to keep going to the next story.  I couldn’t wait to see what else her mind could come up with.  

Two of my favourite stories include:

Swan Lake For Beginners - an experiment is undertaken to clone Rudolph Nureyev but each generation is never quite right and soon a town in Quebec is heavily populated with the clones.

Dear Piglet- a teenage girl who became part of a cult is writing a letter which explains the motivation of the crimes that they committed.

The stories in this book also include gypsy violinists, infants that wash up on the seashore, a boy raised by wolves, neglected dolls, and so much more.

Most of the stories take place in Montreal, or elsewhere in Quebec and there is a definite Canadian flavour to all of them.  But what these stories should be known for are the inventiveness of them all.  There are no limits in O’Neill’s writing, no boundaries which mean the stories all take some imagination to enjoy them.  But there are no difficulties in finding that imagination, these are fairy tales that make you want to believe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Month In Review

After a few slow months of reading, October gave me a boost.  My usual task of working through the Giller Prize longlist was responsible for it and once again I very much enjoyed reading so much CanLit.  Here is what I read in October, with my GoodReads ratings:

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates *****
The Illegal - Lawrence Hill *****
Daydreams of Angels - Heather O'Neill ****
All Inclusive - Farzana Doctor ****
Boundless - Bryan Bishop ****
Martin John - Anakana Schofield ****
Outline - Rachel Cusk ****
Confidence - Russell Smith ****
How to be a Grown-up - Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus ***


Diversity on the Shelf (3), Canadian Book Challenge (6)

What I'm Looking Forward to in November

In October I was able to make a dent in my Netgalley list and once I finish the last few on my list, I plan to reward myself with some fun Christmas chick lit.