Monday, November 17, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares | Book Review

TITLE: The Here and Now
AUTHOR: Ann Brashares
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Delacorte Press/2014
SOURCE: I received this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley. 


Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins. 

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth. 

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves. 

Thoughts and Reactions
I read a few reviews for The Here and Now and was prepared to hate it. I was expecting for it to not make sense, for the characters to be heinous, really any number of sins, but you know what? I actually enjoyed my time spent reading. Maybe it's because I went into it with such low expectations, but I enjoyed the novel more than I thought I would. It certainly wasn't the perfect read and I'm not running out to buy it for friends, but it was a few hours of my time well spent.

Preena is a time traveler who has come to our era with a group of others from the future in order to prevent a completely dystopian future. However, this group has taken to hiding out and has not taken any action to change the future. Preena learns through unconventional means that a turning point is about to occur and she must prevent one event from happening that could change humanity's entire course. 

I have to admit that I love books that involve time travel. They don't always make sense, but there's something about the possibility of multiple time lines and time being circular that appeals to me. Even if a story's not particularly well written I'll probably like it more than I should. A lot of people who's opinions I rely on when choosing books absolutely trashed The Here and Now and a few people didn't finish it. I can understand why. The plot was convoluted and their was a not entirely successful blend of romance and mystery. However, despite the convoluted nature of the time travel I was still reading at two am. Their were logical holes in the plot that even now I can't fully wrap my mind around so I'm not even going to touch on them here. 

The love story was also problematic in that it wasn't exactly fleshed out. It was love at first sight and then we jump ahead a few years to a nearly fully developed relationship. Preena and Ethan are good friends despite her community's restrictions on relationships with people native to the time. Typical star crossed lovers trope. There's really no build up or tension to their relationship. They're basically in love as soon as the readers meet them. It's not as satisfying as watching a relationship grow. 

The mixture of crazy time travel drama and romance was an odd balance.They seemed to take these large breaks from their mission and it suddenly became a contemporary romance for a few chapters. It was jarring and put me off from the part of the story I was actually interested in; the crazy time travel pandemic. These breaks from the main plot combined with some of the logic holes slowed the pace down and dragged the story out. I thought it could have been much tighter; most of the action was packed into a couple of pages and the characters seemed to have quite a few deus ex machinas on their side so in the end there was a lot of exposition as opposed to action. 

It was most definitely not my favourite book and I think there are definitely better time travel stories out there. I didn't however hate it and it did keep me flipping the pages until the early morning hours. It might not be the best book out there, but it kept me entertained as I read it and sometimes that's all I ask for. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater | Book Review

Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher/Year: Scholastic Press/2013
Series: Yes, The Raven Cycle, Book 2
Source: Purchased 

Goodreads / Author's Website

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.
Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. 

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

Thoughts and Reactions
In writing my review for this novel I realized that I never actually posted, or wrote, my review for The Raven Boys, the first novel of the series. Suffice to say, I loved it. I loved it so much that upon finishing it I pretty much immediately purchased it's sequel. However, that was a year ago and I just finished The Dream Thieves. That has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with my head space at the time. 

I picked up The Dream Thieves time and time again with the intention of reading it, but for whatever reason I could not get passed the first few chapters. I put it down and came back to it about a week ago. I was hooked. It picks up right near where The Raven Boys left off. Adam has recently woken the ley line and nobody's sure how to act around him. Noah is becoming increasingly dim as the line is surging and causing power outages across Henrietta. Everybody now knows that Ronan can take objects from dreams and that's really the focus of this book. 

Ronan is an interesting and complex character; although he wasn’t my favourite going it, he grew on me as I felt like this novel really introduces us to him. He comes across as brash, but only because he cares so much. He has this ability that he doesn’t understand; one that may or may not have had something to do with his father’s death is and he’s still trying to figure himself out. The Dream Thieves really paints him in a more sympathetic light since you really get to see his perspective.

The title essentially sums up the book. Unlike The Raven Boys where the boys and Blue are trying to find a mystical ley line, but it is mostly rooted in reality, The Dream Thieves expands upon this mystical world. Friends are dead but in the land of the living and Ronan can take things from dreams. It’s crazy and thrilling. It didn’t feel like a departure so much as a ramping up of the action and the world’s magical nature.

I’m not sure what else to say about this book as I don’t want to ruin it for anybody who has not already read it, but it thoroughly gripped me. Henrietta is more dangerous now that the line has been woken and more people are out to find it. The characters are dealing with things that they don’t fully understand and it is so exciting for the reader. I love the characterizations and how fully each character is being developed. The relationships forming between them feel real and fractured and I can’t think of a single character who I don’t like. Even the characters who I don’t like, villains like Kapuscinki, have more than one dimension and are compelling.

I am now thoroughly invested in the Raven Cycle and cannot wait to read Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I don’t often read series because I find myself getting bored halfway through, but this is one that I’m more than happy to continue. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blood Sports by Eden Robinson | Book Review

Title: Blood Sports
Author: Eden Robinson
Publisher/Year: Mclelland & Stewart/2006
Series: No
Source: Purchased 


Tom, a young man, hardly innocent, has been caught up over the years in Jeremy’s world of drugs, extortion, and prostitutes, while Jeremy, vindictive, vicious, either protects Tom or uses him, but always controls him. Added to the mix is Paulie, a junkie two years clean and Tom’s girlfriend, and also the mother of his daughter. This lethal triangle shifts when word gets out Tom has been talking to the police, and men from the past who have a lot to lose reappear. Suddenly Tom and Paulie are pawns in a much larger game, with everything at stake.

Thoughts and Reactions
I have to be honest, crime thrillers aren't my usual genre. I have a weak stomach, what can I say. No matter how well written a novel is I'll find myself skipping over parts of it I find too gruesome; it's the same reason I don't watch horror movies. I generally stick to contemporary for a reason. That having been said, every once in awhile I find myself picking up a crime novel, a novel that describes itself as gritty, and giving it a shot. I have yet to fall in love with one of these books, Blood Sports included. 

Blood Sports fits squarely into its genre. It takes place on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver; one of the poorest areas of North America. Tom is living with his girlfriend and daughter in a small apartment, trying to leave his past behind, but it starts to catch up with him. He is kidnapped, tortured; it is all brutally described in detail. It may be a work of fiction, but none of it is entirely out of the realm of possible, making it that much more difficult to read. 

Robinson's prose suits the genre and helps set a dark, dank and downright creepy tone throughout the novel. It is direct, never shying away from the more unsavoury details of whatever a character is going through, whether it be a drug overdose or torture. It is brutal and fitting. An interesting stylistic choice that I found to be quite effective was the way the story jumped around in time. It was jarring and on occasion it took me awhile to figure out where in time we were, but it added to the story's overall chaos and confusion. We are normally seeing the story through Tom's eyes and he is often unsure of what is happening; the jumps through time help  bring that confusion to the reader. 

The characterizations are brilliant and while I felt for Tom and his girlfriend Paulie; I could also clearly see how they ended up in the situation they were in. They made many poor choices, compounded by bad luck. That's not to say that I didn't want them to come out ahead in the end as they were complex characters who were clearly trying to build a better life, but it was also easy for me to see why that was so difficult for them. Jeremy Reiger, Tom's sociopathic cousin is one of the most disturbing, unfeeling characters I have come across in literature and not somebody I want to revisit anytime soon; I can only assume that was Robinson's goal while writing him into this novel and that she was successful at it. 

I didn't love Blood Sports, but I didn't expect to. I found it to be more than a little unsettling and I do think that that's a sign of a successful thriller/murder mystery. I put down the book and felt so creeped out; there really was no reprieve to the tension. I think Robison wrote an excellent crime novel and I love that it was set in a Canadian city. It may not have been the book for me and I won't be picking up another thriller in the near future, but I would definitely recommend it to somebody who liked the genre and maybe, just maybe, has stronger nerves than me.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On Reading the Classics

There was a time in my life when I would read the classics all the time. I loved them, or if I didn't love them, I could see the value in them and wanted to know why they gained the reputation they did. It's how I came across my love of Joseph Heller and realized after reading Anna Karenina that I never, ever wanted to read War & Peace. These books were my friends. They stuck with me for weeks as I lugged them from bus to bed to couch to appointment waiting room and occasionally even stuck  with my thoughts.

Something changed between high school and now though and I'm not completely sure what it is. Sure I "got busy," but we're all busy and I was always busy; that shouldn't have prevented me from continuing to read these worthwhile novels. I'll cut myself some slack for the university years; I was reading a lot of books for school and when I was reading for pleasure I didn't necessarily want to think critically. That doesn't give me an excuse now.

I'm not going to lie; I have an absolute ton of classic novels bought for very little money, lining my shelves, completely untouched. I love reading YA (I wouldn't blog about it if I didn't), but why can't I read both? Granted these books are HUGE. The size is intimidating to say the least. I  mean look at The Count of Monte Cristo!

875 Pages of VERY TINY script! 
See! See! (I'm sure you can also see that I need to work on my photography skills) But I shouldn't keep using that as an excuse, should I? I have these books sitting here; I SHOULD read them. Plus, they're classics for a reason... right?

I'm still nervous about the amount of time they're going to eat up. Time I could spend reading multitudes of other books, or watching movies or hanging out in my pyjamas with the boyfriend, but it could also be time well worth it. Time I spend immersed in another world, expanding my mind. One of the first up on my list is The Count of Monte Cristo, followed by The Lord of the Rings and maybe some Dostoevsky in the end. I can't guarantee I'll make it through, but it's worth a shot. 

So friends, what do you think? Do you read the classics or did you at any point? Does anybody out there have any tips on follow through for me?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen | Book Review

TITLE: Lock & Key
AUTHOR: Sarah Dessen
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Viking / 2008
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

There's a reason Sarah Dessen has such a huge following. She consistently writes engaging young-adult novels that touch on themes close to many people's hearts. Lock & Key is no exception. Ruby has been living on her own for months after her mother took off, but once social services finds out she goes to live with Cora, her estranged sister and Jamie, Cora's down to earth, family oriented husband.

Honestly, it took me awhile to get into this book and I don't think it was the story, but me. I don't think I was in the right mood for this particular book on this particular day. That having been said, Dessen constantly writes compelling, flawed characters that draw me in and make me want to keep reading. Ruby is so hurt and this story is really about her and learning how to trust and reconcile her old life with her new one. I felt for her despite her flaws and her occasional obvious obliviousness.

Of course, there's also the boy next door. Nate, the hot swimmer who seems to have a perfect life, but as the two get closer and Ruby learns to open up, it becomes obvious that not all is what it seems. I found Nate's story to be almost more compelling than Ruby's. He was such a sympathetic character, always putting others before himself. I kind of wanted a glimpse into his head. I felt for him and wanted to know more.

Being a comfort read, the plot was fairly predictable,but sometimes that's okay. You know what you're getting when you read a Dessen novel and you start it because you know you'll like it in the end despite it's predictability.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On Balance and Life

You guys, I've been out of the game for ages now. In fact, even now I'm not convinced that I'll be able to make a blog and life work. Don't get me wrong, I love the blogging community and have been reading reviews periodically even if I haven't been commenting. I just don't know how to make blogging work with life. It's like a full time job in itself and over the past year I've found that I've barely been reading let alone writing.

I'm going to try to get back in the game a little. Maybe posting here and there. I've got a backlog of books to read and I love sharing my thoughts and hearing what everybody else thinks. I don't know if it's going to work, but it's worth a shot, no?

How do you all make it work and prevent these year long breaks?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield | Book Review

TITLE: Bellman & Black
AUTHOR: Diane Setterfield
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Atria Books / October 2013
SOURCE: Received for Review via NetGalley

Goodreads / Author's Website

Recently I've been trying to branch out from my typical YA fare. It may seem a little nuts since I haven't been involved with the YA community for that long and I have so much catching up to do, but I've been missing my literary fiction. With that in mind I picked up Bellman & Black; Diane Setterfield's second novel. Now I haven't read The Thirteenth Tale, but I've heard some really good things about it so I was kind of looking forward to Bellman & Black just based on author reputation. I just didn't end up loving it as much as I thought I would.

What originally drew me to the novel was the premise more than anything else. It's described as a ghost story. William Bellman accidentally kills a rook when he's eleven years old, an incident that supposedly has a profound impact on his life. We jump ahead to when he is a young adult, leading a very happy life. He marries a beautiful woman, has healthy children and is amazingly successful in his business. However, the people he loves are slowly taken from him until it all ends in tragedy. A mysterious man dressed all in black has been at each funeral and as the deaths get closer to Bellman, the man offers him a compromise to save his favourite child, but it's a deal he can't fully remember.

That set up sounds kind of fantastic. It's a ghost story, a man haunted by death, but I just didn't think it panned out like I thought it would. I was expecting well a ghost or at least a little bit of creep factor. I didn't get any of that at all. Honestly, I felt like these life changing events left Bellman nearly completely unmarred. I would have loved just a little more humanity from him. The beginning is strong. Setterfield manages to build a sense of foreboding withing the first few pages. She has a very descriptive writing style that worked so well in setting tone. Like I figured something was going to happen after the innocent rook is killed.  As the deaths started piling up I was definitely creeped out, but that's where the book lost me.

While the tone and style worked, William never seemed like a fully fleshed out character. More than anything else he felt like an allegorical character more than anything else. He was only there to prove a moral point; he was a protagonist in a three hundred plus page book and it just didn't work for me. He was distant and lacked a human element. He was so focused on his work and making things run smoothly that he missed the real parts of life, the play and the grief. While I feel like it worked in getting across the overall message of the book I didn't want to read about a theme, I prefer reading about a person. It was hard to invest in him when he was invested in so little.

I also couldn't really get a feel for secondary characters. Bellman couldn't connect to them and therefore I as a reader couldn't. Some of them seemed to have interesting stories, but it's hard to say when we learn so little about them. Overall I would have loved to see some more character development throughout the novel.

I feel like the point of the book was that death comes for everybody and we need to take time out to appreciate life and grieve for the ones we lost; things that Bellman never did. Here's the thing though; I feel like that's a pretty well used/loved theme and I don't think this is the best example of it. There was a total disconnect between the tone and the plot. The basic plot was just so well known, man invests more in money than he does in life and there wasn't anything new in it.

I loved Setterfield's overall style. I loved the eeriness and have no complaints about tone or style. I would still love to read The Thirteenth Tale because writing wise Bellman & Black totally worked for me. I wish I could say I connected to this particular story more, but it left me flat. Well trodden themes and characters that I couldn't feel for made reading this particular book feel like a chore. However, I did gain a new appreciation for Setterfield's style and look forward to trying another book of hers in the future.