Monthly Archives: March 2014

Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

So full disclosure here: I’ve seen the Hunger Games movies, but I haven’t actually read the books (gasp!). Why would a book-lover like me not read the books if I enjoyed the movies? Well, dystopian sci-fi isn’t really my thing, so I figured watching the movies was good enough for the Hunger Games franchise. Besides, Suzanne Collins has enough readers, she’s not missing me. That’s all to say that I’m the exact opposite of an expert in this genre, and I have my own biases when reading it.index1

Red Rising by Pierce Brown is meant for a YA (young adult) audience, as far as I can tell. That being said, it’s quite violent, and would appeal to an adult audience just the same. It’s well written, and the plot moves quickly enough. Those are about all the nice things I can say about it. I didn’t hate the book, but quite honestly, I felt like I had read/seen it before; it was essentially a cross between the Hunger Games and the Harry Potter franchises, with a couple of clever ideas mixed in.

Pierce Brown: the hot author of Red Rising

Pierce Brown: the hot author of Red Rising

The dystopian world that the main character Darrow finds himself in is essentially a caste system. This handly little graphic on the book’s website demonstrates it quite well. So, obviously Darrow finds himself at the very bottom (as many YA protagonists do) and he has to don a new persona and body to move his way up the ranks and destroy the system from within. Sounding a bit familiar to anyone? Maybe the fact that he has to participate in a war-like game that pits teenagers against each other who end up fighting to the death may also sound familiar. And they have Proctors (aka sponsors / teachers) to help them strategize and offer them gifts of support every once in a while; again is this sounding familiar to anyone?

I could be missing the point entirely on this one-perhaps all dystopian fiction for young adults is similar, and I’m picking apart a plot that doesn’t deserve this kind of scrutiny. However, I’m going to give authors of that genre the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re much more creative than that.

I don’t blame Random House for putting this out-why wouldn’t they? Scholastic has the Hunger Games, and HarperCollins has Divergent, so why shouldn’t they get in on all the fun? And it’s obvious that Random House had high hopes for this book-the commercial that was produced for it is at the end of this post. Yes, that’s right, a commercial!!!! Talk about dolla dolla bills: a select few marketing budgets for books can barely cover a paid newspaper advertisement, let alone a television commercial.

But back to the book. If you liked Hunger Games and you don’t mind reading books that are eerily similar, you will probably like Red Rising. But if you’re like me and enjoy reading a wide variety of books, you’ll most likely get frustrated with this novel, the first of three I might add (again, sound familiar?). Take my advice-there are way too many amazing books in this world to waste your time on something that you’ve read before.

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James Franco wrote a book! And he does other stuff too…

There are a few reasons why I love this video. The first is that it’s a featured clip from the Jimmy Fallon show, which is, as you all know, awesome. And, Jimmy obviously doesn’t have poets on his show on a very regular basis, so you can tell he’s a bit ‘out of his element’ trying to come up with speaking points to discuss with James. But the best part of this clip? It’s giving a POETRY book a feature on a highly sought-after time slot, and exposing many non-readers to the joy of writing and reading. Is it a bit snobbish to assume that people who watch late-night t.v. also don’t read? I’m not saying that assumption applies to everyone, but if you’re a hard core reader (i.e. one of the enlightened), you’re using that precious time to catch up on your latest novel, not staying up late to watch t.v.. So how am I even aware of the Jimmy Fallon show if I don’t actually stay up late to watch television? I watch clips of it on facebook, obviously.

Oh yah, James Franco is pretty cool too, but I have never looked at him the same way after Spring Breakers. If you’ve seen that movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Awards-Shortlist Announced!

So living in Alberta has led me to develop a fierce loyalty to AB authors and their books. I’m also aware that prairie literature doesn’t get the attention it deserves, as Ontario and BC authors are typically on Can-Lit’s radar more than the remaining provinces. This isn’t really a fair observation to make, but it’s one that I’m going to allow myself to do here, especially because I grew up in Ontario, and worked in the publishing industry in Toronto for a short time.

Why don’t we hear about Alberta authors more often? The most obvious of reasons is that there are simply more authors in the more heavily populated provinces so it makes logical sense that we would hear more about them. However, another big part of this is due to the fact that Alberta doesn’t have many publishers either, so the publishing ‘epi-centre’ of Canada is focused  mainly in Toronto. This is all to say that when an award for an Alberta author is created or distributed I take notice.

Some may be aware that the Alberta writer and poet Robert Kroetsch died tragically in 2011 in a car accident. He was a great man with an amazing writing legacy that is sure to live on for many years, so in some ways, we can still look to his name as a beacon of hope in the Alberta writing community. The City of Edmonton Book Award was created in 1995 by Edmonton city council, well before Kroetsch’s passing, and was re-named in his honour shortly after he died. The prize is $10,000, which would be a nice addition to anyone’s annual income, especially a writer’s!The Great Robert Kroetsch

The winning book must be written by an Edmonton author, or deal with the city in some form or fashion. As you can see the restrictions are quite loose, but this lends itself to a varied and exciting list of nominated books, so it’s smart to create an award this way. The next winner will be announced on April 28 in (duh) Edmonton.

The 2014 nominees are as follows: Tim Bowling (Selected Poems, Nightwood Editions), Nellie Carlson, Kathleen Steinhauer, Linda Goyette (Disinherited Generations: Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and their Descendants, University of Alberta Press), and Lynn Coady (Hellgoing, House of Anansi Press). You can learn more about the award and other Alberta authors on the Writers Guild of Alberta website.

If you’re interested in reading some more books by Alberta authors, I’ve got reviews here, here and here to get you started.  If you’re an Alberta author and would like me to review your book, please get in contact with me; I walk the walk and talk the talk!

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Book Review: You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I read this book really fast, fitting in quick little reading sessions as often as I could because I enjoyed this book so much. Although You Should Have Known was fairly lengthy, I raced through its pages, reading it in less than a week. It’s a thriller for sure, and although in my last post I promised not to read a book with a gory murder in it, this book does include one, although it’s not the crux of the story. What’s so fascinating is not the way the crime unravels in this story, but the way a character does. Grace Reinhart Sachs is a successful mother, therapist, and wife. She lives an upper middle class life that would be the envy of many American mothers, and is in the midst of publicizing her upcoming book when we meet her.index1 However, this idyllic life does not last long (dum dum dummmmmm).

You Should Have Known is not only the title of this book, it’s the title of the book that Grace is about to release in the story, also called You Should Have Known, but with the subtitle: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives are Telling Them. Doesn’t her book just sound like a book that’s just waiting to be disapproved and criticized? Although Grace doesn’t come across as self-righteous in the beginning, it’s this belief that the woman can somehow be blamed for not marrying the right man that ultimately leads to the downfall that Grace experiences. Not because she herself marries the wrong man, but because she has the belief that you can somehow ‘know’ a person, and that if you’ve been married to someone for 20 plus years, they can no longer surprise you. She spends a good portion of the book in denial, quite frankly.

Not surprisingly, things are not what they seem in this book, and information that you and Grace take as fact later turn out to be just one version of a story with many perspectives. Very similar to the novels Gone Girl and Mother Mother, the twists in this book are spectacular, and although this a very literary book with a significant amount of introspection and soul-searching, it’s a page-turner nonetheless.

In my mind, the most interesting aspect to this book was the exploration of single woman, and that moment when a woman decides they have found ‘the one’. As a therapist, Grace warns her female patients that women frequently look past their potential mate’s weaknesses to convince themselves that their man is actually ‘husband material’. The saying “Love is blind” comes to mind quite a bit throughout this book.

I doubt I’m the first one to draw this connection, but the advice that Grace extolls in her therapy sessions reminds me of the book He’s Just Not that Into You, which was published in 2006 and received rave reviews everywhere. Anyone else remember this book? Anyone???? It was given to me as a gift, and I remember promising myself to never become one of those sad women who waits by the phone for their date to call them back. But I want to draw the connection between these two books because they focus on the mistakes that women make, and the lies they tell themselves to ensure their relationships lasts, or that they even have a relationship at all. Interestingly enough, one book was written by a man, and the other a woman, so go figure!remember this?

Women’s roles have been on my mind quite a bit lately-I’ve probably been watching too many Upworthy videos, but still, it’s something I found quite striking in this book, mainly because it has such real-life implications. I didn’t mean for that to sound quite so ominous, but there you have it.

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A Reason to Rant

I don’t typically use this blog to rant, although I like to ridicule many things offline so it was only a matter of time.  This article came up on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago because one of my contacts had shared it on his wall. For those of you who don’t want to click through and read through the entire thing, I’ll offer a quick summary. This ‘book marketing coach’ has suggested that authors befriend people who have purchased and read their book (which is creepy, right?), and then offer to draft a book review of their own book that the reader can then edit and post on Amazon. So essentially, the author would interview the reader about their own book, type up a review, and ask the reader to post it as if they had written the review themselves.

Ummmmmm ok, there are so many things wrong with this article, I have to start at the beginning. Firstly, what the hell is a book marketing coach? Is this another word for publicist with no media contacts? If so, I could have awarded myself that title after graduating from my Humber publishing program. Of course, maybe this is an extremely lucrative career move that I have ignored all this time? (my voice is registering a higher pitch at the end of this sentence, because I’m seriously doubting this logic).

Secondly, his line “writing an Amazon review is a mentally taxing task” is laughable at best, offensive at worst. Isn’t reading the actual book a mentally taxing task? And to call slapping a few sentences in a comment box a “mentally taxing task” is a bit of an overstatement, considering people do this every day, sometimes all day. Shockingly, some people even do this for a living! There’s a difference between writing formal book reviews (regardless of the medium), and writing an amazon review. One is difficult, the other is not, I’ll leave it to you to guess which is the more taxing.

I’d also like to say how annoying I find all the underlined words in this article. Stupidly, I thought they were hyperlinks, but when I realized this man doesn’t understand how to make use of online mediums (consequently forcing me to question his marketing skills even further) I became even more irate, because I realized the underlining is simply acting as emphasis, which is obviously annoying.

Do I even have to address the real crux of the problem here? Typing up reviews of your own book, and asking people to pretend those words are their own? Can you imagine anything more depressing for a writer? So desperate for reviews that they’re willing to coerce them out of people? If anything, I should feel validated by this article, because it makes it seem like what I do here (reviewing books, because I enjoy it) is some sort of feat that few others are even loath to attempt. When in reality, many online bloggers like myself enjoy relationships with publishing houses who send them books regularly, in return for HONEST reviews (that the bloggers have written themselves, go figure).

Please, if any authors read this blog, do yourself a favour and forget this was ever suggested to you. Keep on writing books, and writing reviews of books that you’ve read and feel deserve a review. If no one wants to review your book, it’s not a sign that you need to start bribing people to write reviews,  instead it’s a sign that you need to write better books. I know, that’s harsh. This entire post has been very harsh, but it needed to be said. Yes, yes it did. Now, this article has gotten me so worked up that I need to listen to some Chris Isaak to calm me down.

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Book Review: Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

So first off, I know I’m technically writing Jo Nesbo’s name wrong. He’s from Norway, so he’s got this cross symbol in the ‘o’ of Nesbo (you know the one). I highly doubt WordPress has any way of inserting this symbol easily into a post, so I’m just going to let it go. But I am aware of what I’m missing, and I feel bad about it, really, I dØ.

Oh look! Random House didn't write his name properly on the cover of his book either. Now I don't feel so bad.

Oh look! Random House didn’t write his name properly on the cover of his book either. Now I don’t feel so bad.

This is the first Jo Nesbo book I’ve ever read, although I’ve heard about him enough times that I had a general idea of what I was getting into. His books are dark, and creepy crime novels,  but because he’s a Scandanavian writer, there’s something extra weird about his stories. He is constantly compared to writers like Stieg Larsson, simply because they come from the same place, but also because many crime writers from that part of the world seem to have a penchant for psychological criminals and their deepest, darkest secrets. Jussi Adler-Olsen is another example of this kind of writer, and surprise-he’s Danish. Many people joke that because these author’s countries are so far north and cold all the time, that they’re bound to keep writing about these horrific crimes because everyone goes crazy being forced indoors for that long. However, being Canadian, I’m reluctant to make that conclusion for obvious reasons.

Jo Nesbo, the rockstar of the cold crime writing world.

Jo Nesbo, the rock star of the cold crime writing world, and not so bad-looking either.

Enough talk of this depressing cold! Cockroaches actually takes place mainly in Thailand. So, (thankfully) oppressive heat plays a big role in the storyline. However, that’s where the fun ends, because a lot of people die in this book, in many different and gruesome ways. Harry Hole, who  is a returning character in Nesbo’s books, is a bit of a damaged detective (most detectives are, in case you haven’t noticed, and I have a ton of blog posts to prove it), and you don’t get the sense that he’s really even that competent, because many other characters are quick to point out his faults. However, this is the second in the series of many Harry Hole books,  so I’m sure his character gets developed further-Hole has quite a following across the globe, and this article goes so far as to say that Nesbo is a ‘rock star’ in his own country, which I wholeheartedly believe. Not only is he a famous author, he’s also a musician. Damn these multi-talented people!

What did I think of the book? I enjoyed it, Hole’s character was interesting enough and although the crime and plot was complicated, it wasn’t so difficult that I couldn’t follow along and understand the detective’s reasoning once he (spoiler alert!) solved the crime. In fact, if my earlier review of Dean Koontz piqued your interest, Jo Nesbo is the next step up (or down, quite frankly) for people like you.  For someone like me who enjoys a cozy mystery, it comes as no surprise that these bloody crime novels aren’t my first choice of reading material, but I still like to read them every once in awhile, with the lights on.

I realize that I’ve been reading quite a few dark books lately, and I don’t want you to think that I’ve gone off the deep end with this cold weather and  given up all hope. So, I promise the next book I review on here won’t involve any gory crimes. At least,  not any gory crimes that make up the main storyline of the book. They may come up in a sub-plot but I can’t be held accountable for every little narrative thread can I?

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Book Review: Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

Was that last Dean Koontz creepy enough for ya? Time for another story that will keep you up at night! Quiet Dell is based on a true story-a true crime story in fact. You can read about the murders here, but essentially the book focuses on the victims of serial killer Harry Powers. After reading the Wikipedia page, I realized that Quiet Dell stayed quite true to the actual events, and if you’re wondering whether I’m citing Wikipedia as the only source I will refer to in this case, you would be correct. I typically take whatever Wikipedia states to be true, and this time will be no different, because quite frankly, I’m lazy.17571727

So, back to the book. What I found most interesting and insightful about this particular story was the fact that Phillips spent so much time at the beginning of her narrative introducing the  family that is eventually murdered. In fact, because I didn’t read the blurb on the back of the book, I didn’t realize that an entire family is done away with in the story. As I read along, I assumed that the Eicher characters would somehow solve the mystery, because I doubted the fact that an author would spend so much space empathizing with people that were going to end up dead. Well, I was clearly wrong, and because you identify and grow to love these characters in such a short time span, their untimely death comes as a great shock, especially when you weren’t expecting it, which, I obviously was not.

Strangely, I didn’t relate much to the fictional character of Emily Thornhill who takes up the majority of the book. She is a journalist that becomes entangled in the case, and serves more as a vehicle for the author’s thoughts than anything. Although she’s a nice enough woman, I didn’t relate to her as much as I did the murdered widow and her children, and she seems to take a back seat to the overwhelming presence of the victims throughout the storyline. In fact, I would go so far to say that her romantic storyline seems a bit of a stretch, and unlikely in the best of scenarios. But, it adds a nice uplifting interlude amongst the horror and death, so I see why it was thread that was included all the same.

This picture of Duty is taken from the actual book, sorry about the quality of this, my photo skillz are as strong as my research skillz

This picture of Duty is taken from the actual book, sorry about the quality of this, my photo skillz are as strong as my research skillz

Because I’m an animal lover, my favourite character in the book was Duty, the bull terrier who originally belonged to one of the Eicher children, who then ends up in Thornhill’s care. In fact, there’s even a picture of Duty in the book, (among other photos, most too creepy for me to include here, but you can find them here if you’re curious) but after googling him, I think he’s unfortunately a figment of the author’s imagination, like Thornhill. And yes, after I’ve googled something a couple of times and no hits come up, I just assume it doesn’t exist; another example of my voracious research skills.

Does it make me kinda weird to enjoy reading fiction based on true crime? Probably, although it’s a popular genre so I’m not the only one. Plus, non-fiction accounts of true crime are typically much more detailed and gory, so if you’re interested in reading about a real life crime, but not ready to stomach the specifics, I recommend a book like Quiet Dell to get you started.

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Big News in the Canadian Writing World

Two important things happened this week in the Canadian book scene. The first, and probably most interesting (yet complicated) is the fact that the Writers Union of Canada will now allow self-published writers to join their ranks. Find out more about it here on their website. Some of you may not be aware of this, but before this ruling, to have become a member of TWUC, you needed to have published work to your name (so, obviously not just anyone could join). It’s important to note that with this latest policy, the self-published author’s work must have demonstrated ‘commercial intent’, and their work has to have been ‘peer-reviewed’ for acceptance into the union. Why does this matter to the rest of us? Well, it shows that the writing community in general is starting to view self-publishing as an acceptable form of publishing. It’s no longer the last resort for wannabe writers, it’s a viable option for people who may have published work in the traditional form, but are looking for a more flexible and profitable way to distribute their own work. So, there’s that.

Note to all self-published authors: this attitude is changing! First stop TWUC, next stop, publishing world domination!!!

Note to all self-published authors: this attitude is changing! First stop TWUC, next stop, publishing world domination!!!

Next is the fact that Canada Reads happened, which is also a big deal, because similar to the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the winner sees a big increase in their book sales, which let’s be honest here, is pretty much hitting the jackpot for any writer, no matter how successful you may be. This particular Canada Reads competition also seemed to have much more riding on it, mainly because they were trying to determine which book will change Canada. Pretty daunting task don’t you think? So obviously most of the books in the running were serious, and held dire consequences for their characters, not a bunch of funny ha-ha stories that you can read on the beach somewhere. Either way, Joseph Boyden’s Orenda won,  which I haven’t read yet, but would really like to now that its been determined that it’s a story that will change our country (!!!).  So, just a little info to keep you up to speed. Try dropping one of these two bits of info at your next dinner party, and people will be impressed, I guarantee it.

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Book Review: Innocence by Dean Koontz

I may be one of the few people who read widely, and yet have never read a Dean Koontz book. For those of you who are in the same boat as me: he’s a very popular author, and has written many best-sellers. He’s also been around for awhile; I remember my aunt (who also happens to be a librarian) talking about him when I was a young girl, and I equated his name with others like John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwell, etc. These are tried and true authors that are still big names today, and have a legacy of books behind them that will continue to keep them living comfortably well past their writing days. So, this is all to say that Innocence is the first Dean Koontz book I’ve read, and although I don’t typically pick up a lot of commercial fiction, I do still enjoy reading it, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I enjoyed this book as well.

Oh, and Koontz is a dog-lover, so for that reason alone you should read his books

Oh, and Koontz is a dog-lover, so for that reason alone you should read his books

Innocence surprised me for many reasons. The first is that because I didn’t technically know what kind of books Koontz writes, I really didn’t know in which direction this storyline was going to head in, so I was somewhat shocked when this crime thriller turned into a dystopian novel of sorts. It also had elements of horror, which I really quite enjoyed. And contrary to my love of the cozy mystery, this book was also quite dark, touching upon horrific crimes and terrible deeds, so much so that I almost reconsidered passing this book to my kind-hearted mother-in-law for fear of upsetting her.

Elements of mystery are also present, as the main character is quickly explained to have some sort of hideous deformity, one that prompts even the nicest people to attempt to violently kill him as soon as he reveals himself to them. Because of this, he lives underground in New York City, venturing out only at night and completely covered to get supplies to sustain himself. Interesting premise indeed, and only through a plot twist at the end do you discover what he truly looks like.index1

One problem I did have with the book was the painfully detailed descriptions of placement and environment. Because the majority of the book takes place in New York City, there are lots of alleys, underground tunnels, streets etc. that are crossed. However, Koontz painstakingly describes each and every turn his protagonist Addison takes, which gets a big tiresome after a few paragraphs. Maybe this is just a sign that I’m an impatient reader, but when the author has described a convoluted trail through city streets that I’ll never keep straight in my mind anyway, I don’t really care about where the character is situated exactly, or what it looks like around him. It doesn’t make a difference to the story, and it’s too complicated to keep straight in your head anyway, so why bother?

Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and it kept me turning the pages, which is in my mind, is the main objective of a commercial fiction, although it should be the main objective of any book. Considering Koontz is often painted with the ‘commercial’ brush, I was also surprised at the language used. I found it quite varied, at times flowery and laden with metaphors, which I didn’t expect. Koontz also used a few words I had never heard of before, which is always fun to come across in a book, no matter who wrote it.

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