Review: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

22228437Title: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Author: Richard Rosenbaum

Publisher: Quattro Books

Publication Date: 2014

ISBN: 9781927443712

Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The oldest man in the world, an activist with a suspiciously persuasive singing voice, and the author of the most anticipated debut novel ever…are three different people. Together they set out to investigate a mysteriously sychronistic earthquake that seems to have leapt from the world of fiction.

Revenge of the Grand Narrative is a novel that brought a smile to my face in a way that no book has done since the metafiction class that I took in university. The extent to which this novel is aware of itself as a fiction is amusing and absurd to say the least. This book has a whole section in it’s second half that walks the reader through parts of the stories development and the author’s thoughts and notes on the writing. The author/speaker identifies the story as a work of fiction, commenting on the style, the thought behind it, even to the point of conversing with one of the story’s characters directly.

The more “traditional” narrative is an absurd story of a city struck suddenly and unusually by earthquakes, accompanied by the landing of a wooden, naturally grown, robot-esque, fire-spurting being. It’s left to our three main characters–a famous author, a Kantian deontologist, and an idealogical utilitarian– all of whom are opinionated and act exactly how you’d expect, to save the day. We don’t really get any sort of conclusion. Each character finishes the story trapped inside the Generic House of Worship, a structure that isn’t really quite sure what it is. The writer, that is the speaker, returns to these scenes to walk us through his thoughts behind each character and each situation.

Rosenbaum has fun with his writing here. His statements are often intentionally obvious or ridiculously absurd, and it’s hilarious. He kept bringing a smirk to my face. The ending especially gave me a good chuckle. It’s a really unique story, and a light hearted read.

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Review: East of West

17929637Title: East of West

Creators: Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date: March 2013

ISBN: 9781607067702

East of West, Vol. 1: The Promise

Synopsis from Goodreads:

This is the world. It is not the one we wanted, but it is the one we deserved. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the Earth, signaling the End Times for humanity, and our best hope for life, lies in DEATH.

—-

I’m finding this a hard book to review. I really enjoyed it. It was complicated, dark, and intelligent. But I don’t have too much to say about it other than it was a really good read. Let’s see what I can come up with. East of West takes place in a future world. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have arrived and an elite group of world leaders called “the Chosen” are working to bring about the end of the world. The whole story has this future-meets-wild-west tone to it, depicted not only in the story with a cowboy villain character, but through the art: a city from the future butt up against a barren wasteland of a desert. It’s exciting to read. I love that Death is modelled after a wild west cowboy, complete with a Matthew Mcconaughey-esque southern accent. He’s edgy and dangerous. The world is fascinating to observe.

I loved this premise for a story. The Four Horsemen: Famine, War, Conquest, and finally, Death, are all frightening and pose a threat to their world. Death is the only Horseman that we really get to know. His story is so interesting, and as we get to know him a little better, is quite tragic. He’s lost so much and he’s working hard to retrieve everything that has been lost to him.

His wife is an even more intriguing character as she has conquered death. She is fierce, strong, and merciless. Together they make an indestructable team, but even they are not immune to the struggles of love. Their relationship has been strained by years of struggle and disconnect. For them, violence is an active part of their life, for Death especially.

I’m excited to get my hands on book two. I hope that Hickman delves further into the stories of his other characters. I hope to see good development in the other Horsemen. Hickman is taking his time to develop his story, letting it play out in it’s own time, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not too slow. He’s nurturing the story and letting it develop. I definitely recommend!

 

Review: One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks

9781771660907Title: One Hundred Days of Rain

Author: Carelling Brooks

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9781771660907

Synopsis from cover:
In prose by turn haunting and crystalline, Carellin Brooks’ One Hundred Days of Rain enumerates an unnamed narrator’s encounters with that most quotidian of subjects: rain. Mourning her recent disastrous breakup, the narrator must rebuild a life from the bottom up. As she wakes each day to encounter Vancouver’s sky and city streets, the narrator notices that the rain, so apparently unchanging, is in fact kaleidoscopic. Her melancholic mood alike undergoes subtle variations that sometimes echo, sometimes contrast with her surroundings. Caught between the two poles of weather and mood, the narrator is not alone: whether riding the bus with her small child, searching for an apartment to rent, or merely calculating out the cost of meager lunches, the world forever intrudes, as both a comfort and a torment.
—–
One Hundred Days of Rain
is a short novel that covers a vast journey of a narrator’s struggle to survive a break up, to navigate a custody battle, and to find happiness. The narrator walks through life observing her surroundings and trying to make ends meet. Hers is a story of commonality and the day to day human existence. The narrator is nameless, as are her lovers, ex-husband, and child. We know her only as she. She could be anyone. I enjoyed the fact that characters are not given a name. They characters that readers can see themselves mirrored in. Removing the names takes away any stereotypes or pre-determined ideas that we might have about a character. For instance, we know our narrator has a son and an ex-husband, but it only through the discrete use of pronouns that we discover that she is also battling with her previous lover, a woman, and she has a current lover, also a woman. It’s subtle and well-executed. My picture of the narrator was carefully cultivated through the pages, rather than defined the instant I began reading. Brooks gives you, the reader, more control over your imaginative experience.

My one criticism is the one thing that I perhaps should have been better prepared to encounter when I initially picked up this book, and that is the thorough discussion of rain. It is a ubiquitous presence throughout these 200 pages. While Brooks’ descriptions are beautiful and thoughtful, I quickly tired of the discussion of rain. She lives in a perpetually wet city. Got it. And the one thing that got under my skin–and only because of my own personal experiences–was this inaccurate statement: “There are other places, true. Places she stayed about about which she can testify upon returning that it never rained there, not once. Kingston. The cold knifelike, that sharp it was. Summers muggy and clear” (41). Now perhaps there’s little rain in the summer? But after 4 years of attending university in Kingston, I can personally attest that it rains an incredible amount. More than anywhere I’ve ever lived. I had to buy rain gear when I moved there. I’ve lost many a good boot to the rain in Kingston. It’s a city basically under water. I’ve never lived anywhere as wet. Now I will give it to the author that the story takes place in B.C. and I’m sure Ontario rainfall doesn’t even compare. But this statement needs amending because Kingston is one of the rainiest places in Southern Ontario, without a doubt. No one can say that it never rains there.

To end, I absolutely adore this cover. As with most BookThug covers, it is a work of art. It is stunning, attention grabbing, and unique. It’s a melancholy read. It’s a story of struggle and resilience. It’s a tale of one woman’s journey to find her way after losing so much, to make a place in this world for her and her son. Although there were things I didn’t like, overall it was a very enjoyable story.

 

Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

18630542Title: Seconds

Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Publisher: Random House of Canada

Publication Date: July 2014

ISBN: 9780345529374

Seconds: A Graphic Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

I’m so picky about my graphic novels, and I’ve never before had an interest in O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. A friends told me that I had to read Seconds. She told me it was a beautiful book both in story and in illustration. I was skeptical, but I shouldn’t have been. Seconds blew me away. O’Malley pulls together thoughtful, intentional artwork with a beautiful story to depict a struggle of mistakes. If you could change any mistake that you’ve made with a simple notebook and a mushroom, would you, no matter the consequences?

Katie, the protagonist, gets caught in a web and she is her own undoing. It’s starts with a small bit of guilt, an accident, and a desire to right a wrong. But the power of the mushrooms to change her reality soon gets out of hand. Katie’s greed and desire for perfection get in the way and things spiral out of control. She unknowingly invites in negative spirits and her situation worsens by the day. It’s a story that is both funny and dark. It’s full of the supernatural–forces beyond control–but also the human struggle to accept that which we cannot change. Katie is representative of humanity’s struggle for the easy and the better. Frustration and guilt are her greatest enemies and she loses herself in the power of change. Evil arises from Katie’s discontent with her situation–with every situation–and this evil is only tames when she learns to accept her situation and to let things happen in their own time.

The artwork is simply stunning. I was convinced that I’d struggle through this story and it’s art. But I picked it up and I was swept away. O’Malley uses subtle cues to convey the tone and situation through imagery. The colours reflect the somewhat eerie feeling of the book and the changes become more and more hazed as Katie slips further away from reality. O’Malley plays with perspective and depth to create interesting visuals and to highlight particularly important scenes or images.

I definitely recommend Seconds to you, friends, as a friend recommended it to me. For me, it was an excellent introduction to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s storytelling and artistic style. Perhaps I’ll have to give Scott Pilgrim a try!

 

Book Club No. 2: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

20525628Title: How to Build a Girl

Author: Caitlin Moran

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9780062335999

How to Build a Girl

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit. By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less. But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

I’ve given How to Build a Girl 4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.

Moran confronts notions of femininity and female sexuality in teen girls through Johanna Morrigan. Johanna is exploring her sexual awakening. Her sexuality is a self-defining aspect for her. She is less confident and embarrassed to be a virgin, even to have never been kissed. She reinvents herself into a confident, what she deems as worldly woman. This worldly woman is a sex adventurer. She’ll sleep with anyone and everyone, pushing the boundaries of comfort and acceptability, becoming more risque, to become the person that she believes other people will like. As a “woman,” she is a girl in adult’s clothing. She tries to break into the grown-up world too soon, without having those experiences of self-discovery and self-understanding along the way. Ultimately, Johanna loses herself, and she struggles with this.

The end of this book for me was by far the best part of the whole novel. It is the moment where Johanna really begins to discover who she truly is and embraces this person that she’s ignored and pushed aside for so long. The idea of “building a girl,” of building oneself, becomes so apart: Johanna believed that building herself meant being the person that she thought others would like and respect to some extent when in reality, building herself means becoming who she truly is and finding the friends that will accept her and enjoy  her for who she really is.

There are more issues addressed beyond teenage sexual awakening. Moran addresses body image, self-confidence, poverty, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and concepts of gender. Johanna learns to navigate each of these issues, sometimes struggling to understand her place in the world, economically, socially, and in terms of her gender and age. It’s a complicated story about a girl trying to make her mark in the world. It’s about trying to find your way in a world that is often cruel and unforgiving, but also has people who are honest and true.

National Readathon Day

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Saturday, January 24, 2015 is National Readathon Day! This day is being hosted by the National Book Foundation and Penguin Random House to raise money and awareness for literacy. I’m raising money to support and promote literacy in North America. I have worked as a volunteer to help children improve their reading skills. The goal is to make reading fun and accessible for people of all ages. Literacy is so important in our world today and unfortunately, there are many who do not have the opportunity to learn to read.

Please help support this wonderful cause by donating through First Giving: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/jaaron-collins/national-readathon-day

I am pledging to read on January 24 as part of the National Readathon Day. I will tweet and post my progress. Thank you all for your support!

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

19549841

*I received a copy from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Publisher: Random House Canada

Publication Date: Trade paperback, December 23, 2014

ISBN: 9780385668415

Seraphina

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

This book was a recommended read from a friend. I was told that I’d love it, and I did really enjoy. Seraphina is reminiscent of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, another book that I thoroughly enjoyed. In Seraphina, the reader enters into a magical world full of political turmoil: an unstable peace between the dragons and humans. The relationship between species is recent and the crimes of some threaten the peace of all.

Seraphina has a secret that could ruin her entire life if ever exposed, but Seraphina’s entire world could be altered or even destroyed if the peace between humans and dragons falls apart. There are threats of assassinations, secrets in abundance, forbidden romance, and musical talent beyond your wildest dreams. Hartman’s world is full and vibrant, with vibrant and extravagant royalty, but also with dark shadows lurking behind every corner.

Though this book has been released for a few years, the release of the paperback last month is the perfect reason to pick this series up, whether for the first time or for the 10th. It’s the leap back into the fantasy genre that I’ve been looking for. It’s not just a story about dragons, or a whirlwind magical romance. It’s a story set in a complicated world where the political system relies on the good faith of everyone involved. It’s a slippery slope where one can’t quite be sure if characters are who they say they are and the reader’s never quite sure who is on what side. Characters are judged based on species and interbreeding is condemned and rejected. It’s a complicated story in a complicated world. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would definitely recommend.