Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

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*I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Shadow Scale

Author: Rachel Hartman

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9780375866579

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.
As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

——

I’m so glad that I didn’t have to wait to read Shadow Scale. As you might remember reading, I only just Seraphina only a month or so ago. I jumped at the chance to read Hartman’s second Seraphina book, and I wasn’t disappointed. The second novel has even more action, heartbreak, and intensity. Seraphina embarks on her quest to track down all of the ityasaari, half-dragons. With the help of the visions she’s seen of the grotesques in her mind garden, and Abdo’s ability to see half-dragon “mind fire,” Seraphina searches her world to unit the ityasaari to aid in stopping the dragon civil war. She uncovers many things that are more evil than she’s ever known, and others that question her moral compass. In her quest for others, she discovers a part of herself that she’d buried deep inside of her.

This book was a complete rush. Seraphina faces major struggles and losses. It’s gripping, it’s moving, and it’s heart-wrenching at times. I couldn’t put it down. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot, but please pick this series up if you haven’t read it yet. It’s so, so excellent. I definitely recommend it.

Funky Cover Friday

I just love the greys and blues in the cover of BookThug’s Miserable Singers by Victor Coleman. I haven’t read this one, but I love how this image portrays such a strong melancholic tone.

From BookThug’s website: “In the tradition of previous books like The Occasional Troubadour and MAL ARME, Miserable Singers (Book One) by Victor Coleman presents a series of “mesostic portraits” of those individuals whose voices have found their way into our hearts and into history. From June Allyson to Neil Young and 100 more people in between, these singers have been reframed forever for your reading pleasure.”

23375196Miserable Singers | Victor Coleman | BookThug | September 2014 | ISBN: 9781771660884

Review: Wind Catcher by Jeff and Erynn Altabef

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*I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Wind Catcher ( A Chosen Novel – 1)

Authors: Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef

Publisher: Evolved Publishing, LLC

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9781622533145

Wind Catcher: A Chosen Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Juliet Wildfire Stone hears voices and sees visions, but she can’t make out what they mean. Her eccentric grandfather tells her stories about the Great Wind Spirit and Coyote, but he might as well be speaking another language. None of it makes any sense. When she stumbles upon a series of murders she can’t help but worry her grandfather might be involved. To discover the truth, Juliet must choose between her new life at an elite private school and her Native American heritage. Once she uncovers an ancient secret society formed over two hundred years ago to keep her safe, she starts to wonder whether there’s some truth to those old stories her grandfather has been telling her.  All she wants is to be an average sixteen-year-old girl, but she has never been average—could never be average. Betrayed by those she loves, she must decide whether to run or risk everything by fulfilling her destiny as the Chosen.
_____

I tried to like Wind Catcher. I really did. I got about 30% of the way through and nearly gave up, but I pushed myself, hoping this book–the story, the characters–would redeem themselves in some way. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I should have stopped reading at the beginning. Giving a bad review is never easy. I know a lot of work goes into writing and publishing a book. But there are just some stories that either need tons of tender loving care, or are better of in the scrap pile. I’ve studied Native Canadian Literature, including Y.A. titles, and it’s a genre filled with rich stories threaded with incredible history. Monkey Beach for instance, a story by Eden Robinson, is an incredibly weaved coming of age story, infused with Native Canadian history and culture, and written by a talented storyteller. When you compare these two books, Wind Catcher reads as a well-written fanfiction, but doesn’t even compare.

Native American literature is something that I’ll pick up in a heart beat. The description for this book sounds fantastic, a teen girl uncovering a centuries old secret while reconnecting with her Native American heritage, fulfilling her destiny as the foretold Seeker Slayer, and learning more about the people and place that she came from.  Y.A. needs to see more Native American/Canadian writers and stories.

However for me, Juliet falls victim to believing in and perpetuating stereotypes, to all-encompassing teenage angst, to relying on lies and construct rather than simplifying everything by telling the truth (ergo creating even MORE problems for herself), and to ignorance, whether intentional or not. She is a mix of negative traits: impulsive, aggressive, short sighted, little regard for her safety, judgemental even though she herself is often judged by others. There’s really little to like about her. Her family is hardly any better. What drove me mental was that if someone had just said something to Juliet about her skills from the start, NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED! I hate stories that create unreasonable, unmotivated conflict at the start so that the story unfolds in a particular way. It’s so staged, and it’s so obvious when it’s being done. The cause and effect should seem natural, not unrealistic and set up. For example: If Juliet had been honest about what she was experiencing, and Sicheii had simply told her what she was (NO SECRETS), than the story could have been even better. It would have been strong, the characters would have clearly identified motivations for their actions, and the flow would be smooth. It would make sense. Juliet would have motivation to work towards an end goal, aka bettering herself for the sake of the common good, saving the world and all of humanity, etc., etc. There could still have been an intense climax, but the story and the characters would have that oh so necessary motivation needed to drive the story.

Additionally, the story was cluttered with so many unreasonable side stories. We get introduced to Juliet’s father who, for particular reasons, is absent from most of the story. He returns in the second half of the book, but again, there’s NO REASON for it. He’s there for some sort of personal resolution with Juliet, but it in no way betters or furthers the story. One question that all authors need to ask about their stories, ALWAYS: Does this plot element/character/symbol/etc. further the plot and is it absolutely essential to the main story? No? GET RID OF IT! Stories need focus. I felt like I was in a whirlwind Tornado of a story with Wind Catcher. Too many unnecessary plot points and characters.

I cannot recommend this story. I really, really didn’t like it.

Review: The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

22536793*I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Illuminations

Author: Andrew O’Hagan

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House Canada

Publication Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 9780771068331
The Illuminations
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth an artistic pioneer, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain in the British army is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. When his mission goes horribly wrong, he ultimately comes face to face with questions of loyalty and moral responsibility that will continue to haunt him. Once Luke returns home to Scotland, Anne’s secret story begins to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room. There they witness the annual illuminations–the dazzling artificial lights that brighten the seaside resort town as the season turns to winter. The Illuminations is a beautiful and highly charged novel that reveals, among other things, that no matter how we look at it, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.
——–
The Illuminations is a book about family, about memory, about personal history, and about perception. Anne Quirk was once a photographer, but now, in her old age, she has developed dementia and while she is often lucid, she frequently slips away from the present, unsure of her world and the people around her. For someone who lived her life to capture the essence of the world around her, to preserve memories eternally in her photos, she no longer holds the same grasp on her reality. Anne’s grandson, Luke is on tour in Afghanistan in the same regiment in which his own father was killed. Luke faces his own trials that make him question everything he has ever known.

This is a story that is often sad , but it’s pretty slow going. While I was compelled by Anne’s story, I wanted to get to know her even more. Her life is really a mystery. It’s hard for anyone, even the other characters in the story, to get to know her and what she used to be like before the dementia. We get snippets of her life, but I would have loved to know her more, to hear more about her photographs and her life. It was a bit hard to get into her story because we get her tale in fits and starts.

Through Anne, we’re introduced to her neighbour, Maureen. I found Maureen’s story to be the biggest struggle in this story. It kind of just dies halfway through the book and she sinks into the background. I found this quite frustrating because Maureen has so many struggles of her own and I felt there was very little resolution, if any at all.

I quite liked Luke’s story. I found him to be a very complex character. To be functional and successful in the same regiment in which his own father was killed, Luke is a very strong character. He has no love, no ties to real life beyond the relationship that he has with his grandmother who is slowly but surely forgetting who he is. Luke witnesses so many terrible things in the army and he struggles to cope and find some normalcy in his life. His struggles are very real and I found him to be the most accessible character in the book.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and I did so because I couldn’t really get immersed in this book. O’Hagan’s style is easy to read, but I found the characters to be distant. It was difficult to connect with most people in the book, although their lives are all quite difficult and often emotionally moving. I’m on the fence about it right now.

Kazuo Ishiguro Live!

So in place of Funky Cover Friday this week, I want to share with you some of the pictures I took at the book launch for Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant that took place at the Toronto Reference Library earlier this week. It was a sold out event and it’s no wonder why. Kazuo is a talented author and an incredibly well-read, well-spoken, fascinating man. He spoke a lot about memory in his on-stage interview. Memory is a concept close to his heart and it’s something he’s clearly passionate about. It features in many of his stories as he often poses the question: is it better to remember so the awful past doesn’t come back to haunt us, or is it better to forget and risk damning ourselves over again. His talk was absolutely fantastic.

Take a look at my night:

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We each had our copies of Kazuo’s latest book, The Buried Giant, ready to be signed.

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Yup! Sold out show!

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After reading from the first chapter of his book, Kazuo spoke in an interview and answered some audience questions.

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We got to meet Kazuo on our way out! Here, myself and my bestie Elizabeth (that friend who’s always telling me what to read! And a fellow book clubber.) pose with a very thoughtful looking Kazuo.

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Finally, here is the signature of this amazing artist. So glad we got a chance to do this!

Review: The Half-Brother

22551750Title: The Half-Brother

Author: Holly LeCraw

Publisher: Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House Canada

Publication Date:  February 17, 2015

ISBN: 9780385531955

The Half Brother

Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Charlie Garrett arrives as a young teacher at the shabby-yet-genteel Abbott School, he finds a world steeped in privilege and tradition. Fresh out of college and barely older than the students he teaches, Charlie longs to leave his complicated southern childhood behind and find his place in the rarefied world of Abbottsford. Before long he is drawn to May Bankhead, the daughter of the legendary school chaplain, but when he discovers he cannot be with her, he forces himself to break her heart, and she leaves Abbott—he believes forever. He hunkers down in his house in the foothills of Massachusetts, thinking his sacrifice has contained the damage and controlled their fates. Nearly a decade later, his peace is shattered when his golden-boy half brother, Nick, comes to Abbott to teach, and May returns as a teacher as well. Students and teachers alike are drawn by Nick’s magnetism, and even May falls under his spell. When Charlie pushes his brother and his first love together, with what he believes are the best of intentions, a love triangle ensues that is haunted by desire, regret, and a long-buried mystery.
———
The Half-Brother
 by Holly LeCraw is a story of family and of love, romantic, filial, and impossible. It’s the story of a complicated family. This particular family is secrets, but yet devoted love and understanding. After getting a dream job and starting his life after school, Charlie Garrett uncovers a dark secret that demolishes his relationship with his love, May, and sets him on a path of lies, secrecy, and self-loathing. Years later, he is joined at the school by his half-brother, Nick Satterthwaite, an ex-veteran who suffered tragedy in war, but who finds fulfillment and camaraderie in teaching. He is also joined by May, the very woman he left so quickly and with little ceremony.

Charlie is an interesting character. He’s nothing out of the ordinary in that he’s a teacher and a love of literature. He really put me in mind of Dead Poet Society. But he struggles. Although he cares deeply for the friends and family in his life, Charlie is plagued by the secret that haunts him and struggles to let go of it. Charlie isn’t the only one with secrets. His brother, Nick, has secrets so great that it nearly tears their family apart. Likewise, their mother hides things from the boys, hoping to shield them from unnecessary worry, that result in the failure of her health.

The relationships and interactions between the characters in this story, drive the pace, so it’s quite a fast read. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I just had to find out what happened. The story is narrated by Charlie so we really get to know him in depth. We see his compassion, and his self-hatred. We see his disgust and his tolerance. We learn about the complexities of his relationships with others. I would have liked to get to know the feelings and thoughts of other characters, especially May and Nick. They both have incredible stories as well, stories of incredible hurt and struggle, that I don’t feel are completely well-represented by Charlie’s narration. We don’t get a  full understanding of these characters, but Charlie is quite insightful and does provide an accurate portrayal.

The only thing that got to me a little bit is that I found Charlie a little too self-sacrificing. As much as he faces some hard-to-stomach issues, he wallows in them rather then sharing them with people who might help him move past it. Instead, he steps aside to allow others to find enjoyment. He seems to find contentment in sacrificing himself for the happiness of others. He doesn’t really do anything for himself. While I understand that there are many people who give so much of themselves to those they love, with Charlie, because the focus of the story is so central on his life, he comes off as just too selfless, if that can even be a thing. It stops being believable after a while.

Charlie’s demenour does not take away from the intensity of the story. There is a lot of tension and a lot of darkness. LeCraw has a talent for luring you in and then slamming you with a shocking twist. It’s incredible. She sets you on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Lastly, the setting is absolutely beautiful. These characters live in a romantic town in a quiet, yet fulfilling life. I can see myself ending up in a city like this one day…one can dream anyway.

I really enjoyed this one. If you like a good story about gritty family drama, this one’s for you.

 

Review: East of West Vol. 2

18809235Title: East of West Vol. 2

Author: Jonathan Hickman

Illustrator: Nick Dragotta

Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date: April 2014

ISBN: 9781607068556

East of West, Vol. 2: We Are All One

Synopsis from Goodreads
The second volume of the most exciting new book in the industry is here! “We Are All One” follows our cast around the fractured future-scape of America as we learn more about a world that’s rapidly coming to a end. Collects EAST OF WEST #6-10.
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This series started off really strong. Vol. 1 was fast paced, intense, and visually stunning. Vol. 2 picks up with the same beautiful artwork and the same intensity, but it slowed down a bit. There wasn’t the same shock factor that the first book had. It’s still an excellent story though, and I definitely encourage you to pick this series up.

In Vol. 2, we find Death on the hunt for his son. His journey takes him into the depths of the Earth to an oracle who takes from him something precious in exchange for  information. The citizens are rising up in the face of the cities’ leaders. The adopted son of one of the Four Horsemen is becoming a creator foretold in the message. The world is descending into chaos. There’s a lot of plot development in this issue. The action dies down a little bit. Hickman takes the time to develop the story, filling it with detail and suspense. Although things are a bit slower, it’s still a lovely book to look at, a unique blend of genres with complicated and highly motivated characters. Dragotta’s illustration epitomize the exact style of graphic novel that I love to curl up with.

I’m still looking forward to Vol. 3. A blend of sci-fi and Western, it’s interesting to see this story unfold.