Thursday, June 30

Book Review: Dust to Dust

Title: Dust to Dust

Author: Timothy Findley

Pages: 225

Summary: Dust is everywhere, but what is it? I it the dust of death, blowing across a Mediterranean island and etched by the footprints of a small boy? Is it the fine but offending particles on the wings of angels and archangels so carefully brushed away by th Vergerine sisters in the nave of the cathedral? Or is it the smoke languidly rising from that one illicit cigarette?

In Dust to Dust, Timothy Findley weaves the consciousness of mortality with the everyday acts of living and loving, of desire and faith. The result is a wonderful collection of unforgettable stories which swings with a smooth arc between joy and bitterness, satire and candor, comedy and tragedy.

The Collection Includes:
Dust
Kellerman's Windows
Abracadaver
A Bag of Bones
Come as You Are
Hilton Agonistes
Americana
Infidelity
The Madonna of the Cherry Trees

My Rating: 8/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: What made this collection of short stories, was Timothy Findley's writing style. He has both an elegant style, and is able to be tell blunt and bitter stories lines, without affecting his style. I found it very easy to just lose myself in the writing style and how he told the story, even the ones I didn't like as much, I still found that I was able to enjoy some aspect of it. It really show the author's brilliance at writing, when he can keep my interest based on just the plot, even if the plot of the actual story isn't as good.

I'm not sure I have a favourite story, but I did enjoy Dust and Abracadaver. Most deal with death, dying or suicide. It was interesting topic - morality throughout the book. I think the metaphor of dust and how it was tied into the topic of morality, death etc. Was well done, it was subtle, but it was an interesting tie in.

Some of the short stories were just not to my taste - which is part of my issue with it. Some of the characters within in aren't my favourite, they were bitter, dealing with their inner demons - which I liked how all the characters were flawed characters, deeply flawed, but some were just a little too cruel and bitter - it made it hard to like some of them.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection of stories. Timothy Findley was a brilliant author, and I look forward to more of his works.

Would I recommend it to read: Yes, this collection of stories is one not to miss. The stories may be bitter at times, but the writing is beautiful - highly recommend the author.

What to read next: He has another collection of short stories called Stones, so I'd try that. Also his short novel The Wars was brilliant. Also, to promote Canadian short stories - Alice Munro is also a wonderful, Canadian short story author

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, A - Z Challenge

Also Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians out there!


Book Review: The Zigzag Way

Title: The Zigzag Way

Author: Anita Desai

Pages: 179

Summary: Unfamiliar land. Eric, a young American historian, has come to Mexico on his first trip abroad. His search for his immigrant family’s roots brings him to a town in the Sierrra Madre, where a hundred years earlier Cornish miners toiled without relief. Here the suspiciously enigmatic Dona Vera, the fierce Austrian widow of a mining baron, has become a local legend, but her reputation for philanthropy glosses over a darker history. A haunting, powerful novel that culminates on the Day of the Dead, The Zigzag Way examines the subtle interplay between past and present.

Anita Desai is the author of many acclaimed works of fiction, including Baumgartner’s Bombay, Clear Light of Day, Diamond Dust, and Fasting, Feasting, among other works. Three of her novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. A professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she now lives in New York.

My Rating: 6.25/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: While I enjoyed the cultural look of Mexico and the general idea behind the story, the story didn't work for me, something was missing to bring it all together to make it a fantastic one.

The author did a fantastic job at creating the setting, you were able to taste the food, smell the scents and see the land around you. I was easily able to picture the whole setting in my head. I also thought the story was a good idea - the search for identity, in an ancestral village was a good idea - but they way it was laid out didn't make it very believable for me. I felt the emotion, and the drive was at times lacking and other times forced. The idea behind it was good, but how it was executed didn't work.

The characters were just that. Didn't like or dislike them, they were just pieces of the book for me to help further it along.

Overall, not a bad book, I'd likely read the author again - and for a book that was randomly picked for me for a reading challenge, it worked out better than I thought.

Would I recommend it to read: Undecided - has some good qualities, but not high on the list.

What to read next: I think try to read more books by the author, but other than that I'm not sure.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 2011 Countdown Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Global Reading Challenge, Take a Chance III Challenge


Book Review: Never Let Me Go


Title: Never Let Me Go

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Pages: 288

Summary: Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

My Rating: 7.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: The book is almost haunting as the reader follows the story of Kathy and her friends as they prepare for their fate which is disturbing, cruel and sad at the same time. I enjoyed the book, especially one that bounces around in time periods, but wish it gave more detail to this dystopian world.

I thought the narrative was very well done, it could have easily fallen apart, as the main character, Kathy, looks back on her life, and how she got to the point she's at now. It moves around a lot, and the memories are disjointed at times, but it works out wonderfully. This is something that could have fallen apart, but the author manages it wonderfully - it really does feel like you're in her mind, picking out random bits of memory.

I also enjoyed the story itself, it was creepy learning how these children were clones, and what they were created for, but I enjoyed reading, tryign to find out more. At the same time, there was much to be learned about the world, what everything means, things are hinted at, but not always fully explained. While at times I enjoyed this aspect, other times I wished there was more explained to the background of the story.

I wasn't a big fan of the characters, it felt like something was missing from them, I felt that the story and the fate of the characters was sad, but I didn't connect to them emotionally. A well told story, but I just didn't click with the characters. There are multiple themes explored throughout the story, the morality of human cloning, how far is too far, is just one of the many. It doesn't go into to fully, but there are many themes worthy of discussion. Overall well done story.

Would I recommend it to read: Yes, particularly in a book group, theres so much you're able to discuss from it, I think it would be a great book to read for a group discussion. The book isn't for everyone - I can say that. And it's not the best dystopian I've read, but it does tell an interesting story.

What to read next: The Unit is very similar. There's another book out there, I think it's called the Island, that is also similar in themes.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 1001 Books Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Book Bloggers Bucket List, Futeristic Sci-Fi Challenge


Book Review: The Lightning Thief

Title: The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riodan

Pages: 375

Summary: There is no such twelve-year-old boy as Perseus 'Percy' Jackson. The Greek gods are nothing more than old myths. They certainly never have children with mortals in the 21st century, nor is there any such place as Half Blood Hill, a summer camp for demigods on eastern Long Island. Percy never met a satyr or a daughter of Athena. They most emphatically did not take a quest together across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

My Rating: 5.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: The book was fine, it wasn't a bad book by any stretch, but I didn't find it that interesting, likely because I'm quite a few years older than the intended age audience.

I found that there were a lot of holes in the plot, missing information I guess you can say on how everything should have come together, and tied up. But I did enjoy the Greek mythology woven into the book, it gave enough information, to grab the reader's attention, especially for the age group - it may even get the intended audience more interested in mythology.

If I look at the book as something I'd recommend to the age group, I think it would be a good book, and series for them. It's easy to read, and has adventure and action throughout. And the characters would likely be ones the age group can relate to.

Overall, it is not a book for me, but I think it is good for the age group. I didn't hate it, it just didn't work for me.

Would I recommend it to read: I'd recommend the book for the tween audience. It may be a good choice for more reluctant readers, or a book parents can read along with their kids, but it isn't one of those books I'd recommend to the adult readers.

What to read next: If you enjoyed the book, more from the series.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 2011 Countdown Challenge, Fantasy Challenge, Spring Reading Thing


Book Review: The Daughters of Rome

Title: Daughters of Rome

Author: Kate Quinn

Pages: 364

Summary: The Roman Empire is up for the taking. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything-especially the lives of two sisters with a very personal stake in the outcome. Elegant and ambitious, Cornelia embodies the essence of the perfect Roman wife. She lives to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor. Her sister Marcella is more aloof, content to witness history rather than make it. But when a bloody coup turns their world upside-down, both women must manoeuvre carefully just to stay alive. As Cornelia tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams, Marcella discovers a hidden talent for influencing the most powerful men in Rome. In the end, though, there can only be one Emperor...and one Empress.

My Rating: 4.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: I have to say, while eventually I did enjoy the first book I read by the author, this one fell short of my expectations.
I enjoyed the historical background of Rome, I found it to be interesting, and the author did a good job at weaving the characters into the history and making it her own. Although I did find it have a bit of a modern twist, I did find I liked that aspect of it.

On the other hand, I found the characters, to ruin the book. I found them to be one sided, they had no depth to them. The conniving, manipulating character was just that. The sporty girl character, was just that - it took away any interest I had in the story, because the characters were poorly constructed. I also found certain aspects and revelations throughout the book, to not work with the story as a whole, one revelation really didn't work. I could see a few hints at it, especially with the prologue of the book, but there wasn't enough to support this so it wasn't very believable and it didn't work out or me in the end.

Overall, I enjoyed some of the historical background of Rome, but I found the overall plot and characterization didn't work out for me - the characters, pretty much ruined the book for me.

Would I recommend it to read: No, this book didn't work out well - I'd recommend Mistress of Rome, but definitely not this book.

What to read next: Mistress of Rome, Nefertiti, or other books by Michelle Moran - similar settings.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 2011 Countdown Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Spring Reading Thing


Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

Title: The Red Badge of Courage

Author: Stephen Crane

Pages: 128

Summary: First published in 1895, America’s greatest novel of the Civil War was written before the twenty-one-year-old Stephen Crane had “smelled even the powered of a sham battle.” But this powerful psychological study of a young soldiers struggle with the horrors, both within and without, that war unleashes strikes the reader with its undeniable realism and its masterful description of the moment-by-moment riot of emotions felt by men under fire. Esteemed scholars such as ALFRED Kazin Have considered The Red Badge of Courage to be the first American novel of “literary distinction to present war without heroics . . . in a spirit of total irony and scepticism,” and Ernest Hemingway called it an American classic. Crane’s genius is as much apparent in his sharp, colourful prose as in his ironic portrayal of an episode of war so intense, so immediate, so real that the terror of battle becomes our own.

My Rating: 7.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: Comparable to books like "The Wars" and "Alls Quite on the Western Front" I enjoyed the book. It takes the war, and brings it home, as it examines the effects, on a person's psyche, showing how the brutal effects the persona and changes them. I can see why it's considered to be an American classic. I didn't enjoy the character, but I was interested in his story. And at times, I found the other characters to be fairly flat.

The writing didn't help the book, it was a flaw for me, it wasn't terrible, and the author is able to tell a story but I just found there wasn't enough of a hook to keep me engaged in the book. The story moved along well, but I found my interest slipped at times, even for such a short book - it felt something was missing, I'm just not sure what. Despite this, I still enjoyed the book, and found it to be a good book on the civil war.

Would I recommend it to read: Yes, it focuses on the harsh realities of war, how it effects the protagonist. The story is similar to the Wars, I may not have found it as epic as "The Wars" but it does have similar themes and I think readers who enjoyed that book, would enjoy this one. Also, anyone who enjoys historical fiction, war time fiction and fictions that focus on the inner psyche of the character would enjoy it.

What to read next: The Wars by Timothy Findley, All is Quite on the Western Front, The Things They Carried - all show very real portrayals of war and its effects on the soldiers.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, Historical Reading Challenge, Spring Reading Thing, War Through the Generations-Civil War


Book Review: The Witch Doctor's Wife

Title: The Witch Doctor's Wife

Author: Tamar Myers

Pages: 307

Summary: The Congo becomes to young Amanda Brown in 1958, as she follows her missionary calling to the mysterious "dark continent" far from her South Carolina home. But her enthusiasm cannot cushion her from the shock of a very foreign culture - where competing missionaries are as plentiful as flies, and oppressive European overloads are busy stripping the land of its most valuable resource: diamonds.

Little by little, Amanda is drawn into the lives of the villagers in tiny Belle Vue - and she is touched by the plight of the local witch doctor, a man known as Their Death, who has forced to take a second job as a yardman to support his two wives. But when First Wife stumbles upon an impossibly enormous uncut gem, events are set in motion that threaten to devastate the lives of these people Amanda has come to admire and love - events that could lead to nothing less than murder.

Richly evocative, written with warmth and humor, and based on the author's own experiences, Tama Myers's The Witch Doctor's Wife is an unforgettable African journey with a spellbinding mystery at its heart.

My Rating: 7/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: I enjoyed the book and its peak into the cultural background and everyday life of the Congo as well as reading about the struggles the characters had to go through. But I found the characterization, and how the hole story, and the "mystery" behind the large uncut gem, fell a little short for me - things didn't come together like I'd have liked.

I really enjoyed the facts about the Congo at the beginning of the chapters, and sometimes I found them relevant to what was happening, almost like a metaphor - I think this was one of the best aspects of the book. It made it interesting and helped explore the setting. I also enjoyed, the overall idea behind the story, but I was hoping for a look at the more severe consequences of the diamond trade, how everything played out - and at times, how it was exaggerated just didn't fit together, I didn't see the justification of the characters actions, and for certain events, and how the characters were involved, didn't work for me. It felt like there was no development to get them for point A to B, and it felt that there were individuals pieces of a story, but they weren't pulled together properly.

The writing was good, it kept my interest, and it brought the life of the Congo into my mind, I'd likely give the author another try.

Would I recommend it to read: Yes, I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but I think there are a lot of readers out there who'd enjoy the book.

What to read next: The book is part of a series, so I'd start there.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 2011 Countdown Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Global Reading Challenge, Spring Reading Thing


Sunday, June 5

Book Review: Quatrain

Title: Quatrain

Author: Sharon Shinn

Pages: 341

Summary: Collection of Short Stories, Flight, Blood, Gold, Flame

FLIGHT
To be chosen as the lover of an angel is the highest honor in Samaria, but Salome knows the hidden dangers of such a life. . . .

BLOOD
As a gulden man, nothing is more important to Kerk than race and pride - except the prospect of finding his long-lost mother. . . .

GOLD
One the eve of war, Crown Princess Zara is sent to the kingdom of Alora for safekeeping. But the magical realm and its people have their own seductive perils. . . .

FLAME
In the world of the Twelve Houses, Senneth can make fire do her bidding, but when she exposes her gift in a small town, her power alone is enough to condemn her. . .

My Rating: 7.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: Overall the stories were enjoyable reads, I liked the small glimpses of the different worlds - and peoples/races in the stories. The author is very creative in this regard, and for Blood and Flame, I would like to learn more about the races in the book, and read more stories about them.

I enjoyed Flame, but felt it needed to be a longer story, it felt rushed, and parts left out. Blood and Gold had a few questions unanswered, and I would read more stories about them, but I felt in both cases the story was finished off, some questions left unanswered, but I was satisfied with the ending.

Gold was interesting, but wasn't fantastic, I felt that Princess Zara could have used some work, she was the typical spoiled princess, so I found it hard to get into the story at first, because of her character.
The only one I disliked was Flight. I'd rather not have read that on at all - I didn't like the story, characters or plot, and felt that some characters were cookie-cutter characters - the archangel is one example. The story just didn't work for me, and was glad that it was a short one.

I'd have to say my favourite was probably Blood, and I hope there are other stories based on the world it took place in. I'd also read more stories based on the worlds in Gold and Flame.

Would I recommend it to read: If you enjoy fantasy, and would like some short stories to read than I would. There's some interesting stories in here, but the book isn't the best choice for non-fantasy fans.

What to read next: Some of the short stories are based off realms etc the author has written in other books, so that would be a good place to start.

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, 2011 Countdown Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Spring Reading Thing,


Book Review: Xingu and Other Stories

Title: Xingu and Other Stories

Author: Edith Wharton

Pages: EBook

Summary:
Collection of short stories and one novella.

Contents:
Xingu
Coming Home
Autres Temps
Kenfol
The Long Run
The Triumph of Night
The Choice
The Bunner Sisters

My Rating: 7.75/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: I never knew this book existed, until I saw it on the list of someone also participating in the A - Z challenge, and when I found there was this in a short story collection, I had to find it. I mean an "X" title is rare! I had to read it in ebook form, as there doesn't appear to be many print available, and even in Ebook, the quality wasn't the best, as it's been scanned in. A rare book, the title story was worth the trouble.

Xingu, is by far the best short story in the collection, it was witty and well written, and showed a very interesting example of snobby, posh women who are pretending they are up with what's "in". I loved at the end, how it was all explained, and overall made for a pleasurable read. Not to mention, Wharton's writing, is lovely.

Kenfol, which was a bit of a ghost story was my second favourite, and was easy to read and kept my interest. I also enjoyed The Bunner Sisters, although it was a bit of a depressing story, it was well written, and the plot was interesting enough.

Unfortunately, like with most collections of short stories some just didn't work. The Long Run, Autres Temps and most of Coming Home, passed through me. I read them there was a story there, but none left any memorable impression there. The Choice and The Triumph of Night were good, but there wasn't anything special about them to give them that extra push.

All of the stories were well written, I really enjoy Wharton's style of writing, she's inbetween the late 19th century and early 20th century style of writing, yet still as her on unique qualities to it. This book has me looking forward to reading, Age of Innocence. Which is good, as the first book I read by her "Glimpses of the Moon, wasn't my favourite out there.

Would I recommend it to read: I'd definitely recommend short story Xingu. It was witty, well written, and a very fun story to read. If you enjoy early 20th century writing, then I'd recommend all the short stories in this collection, if not, than just Xingu.

What to read next: Age of Innocence and other works by the author

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, A - Z Challenge

And yes! I got a book whose title starts with the letter X!

Book Review: Cold Mountain

Title: Cold Mountain

Author: Charles Frazier

Pages: 449

Summary: Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, Inman, a Confederate soldier, decides to walk back to his him in the Blue Ridge Mountains and to Ada, the woman he loved three years before. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into the intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, Ada is trying to revive her fathers derelict farm and learn to survive in a world where the cold certainties have been swept away, As it interweaves their stories, Cold Mountain asserts itself as an authentic American Odyssey - hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.

My Rating: 8/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: Another fantastic novel by the author, I did like Thirteen Moons better, but this had the same beautiful writing style, I'd even say it was lyrical, wonderful descriptions o the scenery and nature - you could almost feel the crisp mountain air, this book shouldn't disappoint.

The book is slow moving, which I both enjoyed and didn't at the same time - it was heavy on developing the characters, as the reader follows them on a journey of finding each other, and themselves during the era of the Civil War. I enjoyed watching Ada grow, and Inman struggle for survive as he walked through the wilderness to find his lover, but I found that parts of his story did drag a bit, and would have liked the pace to picked up a little more than it did. I enjoyed his story, but at times it was too slow moving - even for a heavy character development based book. The only other issue of the book, is the amount of minor characters and how they are all connected, there were a few times, I was a little confused on who was who, and how they fit in with the other characters and story as a whole.

The book also shows the other side of the civil war, instead of showing the battles, it shows how those left behind carried on with life, with what little provisions they had, and in a sense struggled for survival. Soldiers are seen throughout the book, as they hunt for deserters and the "enemy", but they are more in the background, and don't overpower the important side of the story, which is self-discovery during a time affected by war.
By far my favourite part of the book is the writing, Charles Frazer is a brilliant writer, trapping you into his books with his style of writing. His descriptiveness, really takes there reader to the same place the characters are, was very impressed. I've read two books by the author, and both times I was amazed by his writing - well worth reading.

Would I recommend it to read: I would, it's a very enjoyable book, well written, the descriptions alone make it worth reading. Also, it's a good choice for readers who enjoy character development heavy books, rather than plot driven.

What to read next: Thirteen Moons

Challenges: 11 in 11, 100+ Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Book Bloggers Bucket List, Historical Fiction, War Through The Generations - Civil War


Thursday, June 2

May Wrap-Up!

Another month has come and gone, and the year is almost half over! How did this happen? Where has the time gone? This month was a good month for me, for both reading and other bookish reasons. I may not have gone to BEA or any of those events, but I did manage to snag some great books, and had a few good reads as well. So, May has been a very successful month for me. I even finished a reading challenge!


The Books

This has been my best reading month so far! I hope I can keep up the pace! This month I read 11 books (I would have gotten to 12 at the eleventh hour, but I fell asleep!) This month was also a very eclectic month for reading. As I read a range of genres, Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, General Fiction. I finished the other two books I hadn't read yet from Canada Reads 2011. All in all, a very successful month. My favourite book is "The Help" my least favourite book of the month was "The Best Laid Plans." This month also had a wider ranger of ratings for my reviews, and there were more books this time around, I felt were good, but not as impressive as I had thought. But, still most of them were good reads - to say the least I will be exploring many of the authors again.
11 - Midwife of Venice - Roberta Rich - 5.75/10

The Challenges

I did pretty well with my challenges this month, I'm happy with my progress so far. I need to get working on the Civil War Challenge, but other than that I'm doing great. I even finished a Challenge this month, and I'm getting close to finishing a couple of others.

This month I finished the New Author Challenge reading 25/25 books. So far I've finished 3/19 challenges - it doesn't sound like much, but many challenges do have higher numbers or genre specific - and I don't want to get bored with the genres -either way, I'm happy with my progress.

Completed Challenges
Current Challenges


Countries Visited

This month I visited a few different countries, I also visited both the west and east side of Canada. I visited Austria-Hungary, Canada, China, Ireland, USA, and Venice.


Books That Followed Me Home

Review Books
1) The Sojourn - Andrew Krivak
2) Wings: A Novel of the World War II Flygirls - Karl Friedrich

The Ones That Followed Me Home (aka Bought)

3) The Long Song - Andrea Levy
4) Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
5) My Name is Mary Sutter - A Novel - Robin Oliveira
6) Baking Cakes in Kigali - Gaile Parkin
7) Rooftops of Tehran - A Novel - Mahbod Seraji
8) Clara Callan - Richard B. Wright
9) The Dressmaker of Kahair Khana - Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

I also got this bookish thing!



A & Z Book Ends!


And that's it for this month! Some good books read, and bought. Happy reading in June.