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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Nostalgia

I don't normally jump heavily onto the Canada Reads bandwagon, but this year the short list really interested me.  Fifteen Dogs by Andrei Alexis is on the short list, which in my opinion means that the competition had better be pretty amazing to remotely compete.  Plus two of the short listed books are science fiction, which intrigued me as well.  I currently have three of the other four books on the short list (I don't currently have The Break by Katherena Vermette), and I will make a valiant effort to read the three of them before the debates at the end of the month.  So first up is Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji, which I will freely admit was the most intriguing of the remaining four books to me.

Nostalgia takes place in the future.  Humans have found a way to prolong their bodies pretty much indefinitely.  But along with a new body, you have to get a new life.  Your old memories are buried and a new, fictitious life is built for you, complete with brand new memories.  But sometimes memories of your old life resurface.  Left unchecked, they will destroy your mind.  But that's where the nostalgia doctors come in.  These doctors specialize in sealing those memories away. 

Dr. Frank Sina is one such doctor.  But when he is visited by a strange-looking patient named Presley Smith who has begun to have these memories surface, Dr. Sina finds himself obsessed with this patient.  Who was Presley Smith, and why does he have such an effect on the doctor?

Nostalgia was a bit hard to get into, even with this very intriguing concept.  The beginning of the book didn't really speak to me the way I really felt it should have.  But I'm thinking it had a bit of a slow start to it.  The back of the book promised irreparable cracks in Dr. Sina's own fiction emerging as a result of his interactions with Presley Smith.  But that doesn't really happen until the latter half of the book. But once it happens, wow does Nostalgia start to shine.  It takes what appeared to be very differing narratives, including the fictions Dr. Sina writes about a kidnapped journalist and his own suppositions on what Presley Smith must have been like before, and weaves it into a very compelling narrative that examines what happens when the elderly continue to live indefinitely (and take their resources and jobs with them while simultaneously completely leaving their families behind) and how the post-Colonial world is built in many ways upon the less fortunate people who just happen to have the bad luck of being born elsewhere in the world.  Nostalgia leaves you with a lot of food for thought, and I am very glad to have read it.

That being said though, my vote for what should win Canada Reads this year still goes to Fifteen Dogs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls was recommended by an author I interviewed at work. I borrowed the book from the library. I was admittedly put off by it - I'd been told that A Monster Calls was a graphic novel. That is a factual statement in that it is a novel with pictures. But it's not a graphic novel in the way I think of them (like a collected edition of comic books). Nevertheless I decided to give it a shot and started reading.

I will admit though, I had a really hard time getting into the book.

A Monster Calls is about Conor O'Malley, who is visited at night by a monstrous yew tree. As scary as this monster is, it's not the one he was expecting, the monster who hunts in his terrible nightmare, the one Conor won't tell anyone about. The yew monster says it will tell Conor three true stories, and that in return, Conor will tell it one. The monster wants Conor to tell it the truth about the nightmare. But how will Conor ever be able to do that?

Meanwhile in the waking world, Conor must deal with school, being bullied, both his grandmother and father coming to visit, all the while coping with his mother's rapidly deteriorating health. 

I may have had a hard time getting into the book, but by the end I was balling my eyes out. Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls is a brilliant look at coping with the impending loss of a loved one. 

With that said, I am definitely going to read what I hope will be a happier book next. Between this and The Lovely Bones, I feel like I've been reading too much sadness so far this year!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Among Others

I apologize in advance: this is a bit of a rambly review because I'm rather overtired and it's really hard to collect my thoughts regarding this book.

I bought Jo Walton's Among Others when I was out of town.  I have never read anything by Walton before, but I was intrigued by the premise of Among Others.  The fact that it also won both a Hugo and a Nebula really helped my decision to buy it, too.  The back of the book makes it sound like it's going to be a really fun, magical adventure, with fairies and magic and magical battles.

While it is true that there are fairies and magic and magical battles, Among Others never really did seem to deliver on the "fun" part that I was looking forward to.

Among Others follows Morwenna Phelps.  She has run away from her old life to her father, who she doesn't really know.  Her father lives with his three sisters, who end up sending her to an English boarding school.  Mori's mother had tried to bend the faeries to her dark will, which resulted in a magical battle that left Mori's twin sister dead and Mori crippled.  That's why she ran away from Wales.

We never get to read the actual details of this magical battle.  We just get little bits and pieces of it in Mori's journal (which is how the entire novel is told - through her journal).  What we do get is an exhaustive list of all the science fiction books Mori reads (and how almost every one of them are "brill"). Because Mori is crippled, she spends most of her time reading. Someone on Goodreads was kind enough to put together this list of books mentioned in Among Others (which is about as long as the books I currently have on The List).  Needless to say, there are a lot of books mentioned, most of which I have never read. 

Mori starts receiving letters from her mother, which burn with evil intent (and magic).  In a bit of desperation, she works some protective magic against her, while also wishing for a karass (which basically was her group of similar-minded people).  The next day she finds a science fiction book group, which includes the very beautiful Wim.  She finds herself attracted to him, but worries for a large part of the book that Wim's attraction to her is only thanks to the magic she enacted.

Mori also sees fairies, as the premise promised.  But they are very alien beings who do not speak or act the way Mori wishes they would (aka the way they do in her stories).  When she was younger, she used to play with the fairies with her sister.  From time to time the fairies would ask the twins to do things for them because the fairies cannot influence the physical world.  As Mori has aged, the fairies still ask things of her, and she rushes to help them (especially when it involves stopping her mother's plans).  But most of the fairies she sees are in England, who are not at all interested in talking to her.  Only when she's in Wales and able to speak to the ones she knows well (specifically the one she called Glorfindel - fairies don't have names, so she and her sister named him) do we get a really good sense of what they're like (or what her childhood was like).

I'd like to mention, she had a moment where she almost passed onto the next life, but Glorifindel stopped her by reminding her that she was only half finished her book.  She literally decided to stay to finish the book (and keep reading others).

And that's as good a spot as any to bring me to the weirdness of this book.  As many reviewers on Goodreads have said, this book takes place after the climax of the story.  Mori is having to move on with her life after the epic battle where she saved the world, but lost her sister in the process. It's a very odd place for a story to start (almost everyone tells you to start in the middle - I've never heard of anyone starting once it was over, so to speak).

As I already mentioned, Among Others is told through Mori's journal.  It took me a bit to pick up on this originally (I thought the dates were just day markers denoting chapter changes at first; but near the beginning they skip ahead and she says she didn't have much time to write in there.  That's when I clued in). It gave Mori a very strong sense of voice, but also made the book rather tedious in the middle.  Not only that, it made the end of the book quite abrupt.  In the last twenty pages of the book, her mother finally shows up and they battle again.  This is explained after the fact and really, really glossed over by Mori; in many ways the book just sort of ends.  It was weird.

While it's an interesting premise (and very clearly a love letter to science fiction, libraries, and the interlibrary loan system), I felt that the book's story was rather bogged down.  I wonder if I would feel that way though if I had read more of the books on her list? It's really hard to say.

So all in all, I really liked Mori.  But this was a very odd book in many, many ways.  I had a hard time rating it on Goodreads as a result.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

After reading The Lovely Bones, I wanted something that was not depressing so I started reading Island: How Islands Transform the World by




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Face2Face

A friend at work lent me Face2Face by David Lee King after we attended one of his social media webinars last fall. I've been reading it a little at a time over the last few months and finally finished it a few minutes ago.

Face2Face details how to start listening to and engaging with your customers on social media. It's a really easy-to-read book that is packed full of great advice to get you started. I liked how it really had something for everyone in every chapter, whether you're new to social media or a seasoned pro. Face2Face is written in everyday language so you're never really lost in jargon. While a bit dated (as any book on the internet and specific websites tends to be), I thought it was still highly relevant to the social media of today. I'm now looking forward to reading Designing the Digital Experience, a second book by David Lee King that my same friend lent to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Lovely Bones

Wow, was this a difficult book to start reading.

I've had Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones for a really long time.  I think I bought it just before the movie came out (which was 2009) because I'd heard the book was good and wanted to read it first.  I don't remember what exactly I was up to (but school...) but I do remember lending it to my mom to read with the intention of reading it soon after.  That clearly didn't happen since it's now 2017 and I finally got around to reading it now.  Unfortunately my mom doesn't really remember the book at all, so we weren't really able to talk about it. :/

The Lovely Bones opens with Suzie Salmon, our narrator, telling us about her death.  And wow is that a difficult chapter to read.  I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but not the rape of a fourteen-year old in a lot of detail.  She tells us that she is killed at the end of that, but that wasn't in any detail (until later when authorities tell her family they found her elbow- she was clearly gruesomely hacked to pieces).

I remember finishing that chapter being unsure of whether i would continue.  But I did, making it through a few more chapters before going out for the evening.  And not coming back to the book for most of the week because it was hard to convince myself to keep reading).

The Lovely Bones is about Suzie's family struggling to deal with her murder, which remains unsolved (other than her father's unshakable conviction that he knows who the killer is - he just can't prove it).  Her sister Lindsey must deal with everyone looking at her and seeing her dead sister. Her brother Buckley is too young so no one wants to tell him that Suzie isn't coming back.  Her mother, who never really wanted children, cannot deal with Suzie's loss and slowly slips away from the family, while Suzie's grandmother, who was always an independent and apart woman, comes closer, becoming an integral part of the family.  Ray, Suzie's crush and first kiss, must deal with the authorities blaming him (even though he is innocent).  And Ruth, a girl from school, saw Suzie's spirit fleeing the night she was killed; Ruth sounds crazy when she tells anyone about this. 

Once you get past Suzie's gruesome murder, The Lovely Bones is an excellent story about a family dealing with terrible grief, and how that grief can either pull them together or push them apart.  I actually liked how different people were either pulled or pushed.  But Suzie's rape and gruesome murder is very, very hard to get past (especially since Suzie does keep watch over her murderer quite a bit, too).  This is by no means a "fun" book to read, and I honestly don't think I would recommend it to anyone.   

Monday, January 16, 2017

Witch Wraith

Well, here it is.  The final book in Terry Brooks' Dark Legacy of Shannara series, Witch Wraith.  I finished it about a half hour ago and needed some time to think about what I was going to say about it.  The problem was that the book was all over the place.  It was predictable at times, boring at others.  Sometimes bewildering, other times trying to convince me to care.  But the good parts were so very good. 

Witch Wraith started off with the boring.  Railing Ohmsford is on his way to the Tanequil, intent on discovering the fate of his great-aunt Grianne Ohmsford (previously the Ilse Witch, later the Ard Rhys of the Third Druid Order).  He sits on the airship feeling sorry for himself for keeping his visitation with the King of the Silver River a secret from his companions (especially Mirai Leah).  The King of the Silver River had given him a warning that Grianne would not be the same person she was when she became an aerid 100 years ago.  Railing is then summoned by the Grimpond, a shade that gives visions of the future (often without speaking plainly).  The Grimpond insists that it speaks plainly, saying Railing can succeed, but says so in such a way that its words echo the warning of the King of the Silver River.  Railing keeps this meeting a secret as well.  He and his companions are attacked and his mentor is gravely wounded in said attack; the older man passes away.  They find a place to bury him and Railing hangs back to confess his secrets over the grave.  Mirai hears some of it.  She then gets Railing to have sex with her in an effort to bring him back to himself (she says he has become a different person since he got separated from his brother).  This story line was finally getting a bit interesting, then it cut to Aphenglow.

Aphenglow and Cymrian get horses and chase after Arlingfant, who has been brought to the Federation capital city, Arishag.  Arling awakes to find herself in Edinja Orle's tower in Arishag.  Edinja drugs Arling with some sort of truth potion to find out what the heck the elves have been up to.  She then brings her down to see her crazy mutant creations.  Edinja leaves to address the Federation people (after much backstabbing from behind the scenes, she is the Federation Prime Minister).  Arling escapes (because Edinja apparently set her up to escape?) and tries to get out of the city but the gates are closed because the demon horde has appeared outside of the city.  She doesn't know that Aphen and Cymrian are there, and so the three elves spend a few days chasing each other around the city (explained in summary when they finally find each other) while we get several chapters about some guy who was given command of the city defences (and is fighting a horribly outnumbered, losing battle).  The elves reunite and are confronted by Edinja, who gives them a small aircraft to get out of the city, saying she doesn't want them to fail in their quest.  They escape just before the city is overrun and sacked by the demons.  For their part, the demons then turn to march on Arborlon. 

I completely skimmed over it in that summary, but there was a really fun scene where Cymrian has Aphen pretend to be his wife so they can get into the Federation city.  At the end of it all, they're together on a bed in an inn and he admits he would like it if she was his wife.  It was sweet.

Anyway, while all of this is going on, Oriantha and Tesla Dart have been trying to free Redden Ohmsford from the cage he's been stuck in by Tael Riverine (the Stracken Lord).  Oriantha eventually gets him free.  The three then have to outrun pursuit and decide that their best chance is to run back into the Forbidding, then cross back into the Four Lands closer to Arborlon.  I don't remember why, but they decided that was the best place for them to go.

Railing during this time has found the ruins of Stridegate (which is where the Tanequil lives).  He is determined to face the Tanequil alone, even though Mirai wants to go with him; Railing doesn't want her to come in case the Tanequil wants to trade her for Grianne Ohmsford.  Railing meets with Grianne Ohmsford, who tells him she cannot help him.  Railing insists on speaking with the Tanequil.  He offers nothing to trade with the Tanequil, but is insistent that he won't go away until the Tanequil gives him what he wants.  Father Tanequil (the upper part of the tree, with whom Railing speaks) warns him yet again (the same warning he's already gotten twice before), then tells him the matter is up to Mother Tanequil (the roots).  For some completely unknown reason (seriously, I don't understand at all why Mother Tanequil agrees), Grianne Ohmsford is returned to them.  But it isn't the Grianne Ohmsford who was the Ard Rhys.  No, it's the Ilse Witch who is returned, because she is the one who will be able to stand up to the Stracken Lord (or so Mother Tanequil decided?).

I found this part of the story very, very tragic, but it wasn't given its due respect.  Grianne refused to help Railing.  She had chosen her life as an aerid and was very happy there.  But because of Railing's demands, Mother Tanequil decided to give Grianne up to help the boy.  As far as I can tell, Grianne was given no say in the matter.  And worse than that, she was turned back into the Ilse Witch, the very thing she spent YEARS of her life trying to atone for.  Yeah.

I have to say, this part was in many ways predictable, except I really thought the Tanequil was going to demand Mirai Leah in exchange for Grianne.  The fact that the Tanequil gave her up pretty much without a problem was really odd.

So from there on, Railing now broods over how he brought the Ilse Witch back and how selfish he was in going on this quest in the first place.  He finally comes clean with the rest of his companions, but there's nothing that can really be done about this now.  So they travel on, terrified of what the Ilse Witch is going to do.  She has admitted that she will go and face Tael Riverine, but she cares nothing for what happens to the rest of them (or of the Redden Ohmsford's fate).

Oh yeah, and Seersha and Crace Coram are doing things.  They fly to Arishag just in time to see the remains of the city and the army already on the march to Arborlon.  Seersha sends Crace to muster the dwarves and border cities while she will go to Arborlon to warn the elves.  The king had previously been assassinated (and his brother implicated in the murder) so Phaedon has declared himself king.  Phaedon has been the most difficult person for everyone to deal with, so Seersha incapacitated him in order to get the army mustered to defend the city.

Aphen and Arling get the Ellcrys seed back from that guy who took it (this doesn't need any more explaining because it was a weird and rather dumb waste of time).  They find the Bloodfire and Arling quickens the seed.  But then Edinja appears and kidnaps Arling with the intention of bringing her to the elves herself so she would be the hero who saved the Four Lands.  She leaves her moor cat to stall Aphen and Cymrian.  Cymrian is mortally wounded, but manages to kill the cat.  They then take off after Edinja.  They kill her, but Cymrian is killed in turn.

That was a very sad and unexpected moment.  I really liked Cymrian.

So battle is happening outside of Arborlon.  Seersha wounds Tael Riverine's dragon but is badly wounded herself.  She's back in Arborlon being healed and discovers the weird shape shifter traitor in their midst (Edinja's magic creation/spy).  She manages to kill it but is even more badly hurt.

Redden and Oriantha discover that Tesla Dart knows where the missing Elfstones are!  They go to recover them, but get trapped by their pursuers.  Redden combines the power of the Wishsong with the Red Elfstones, shredding their pursuers.  He knows something is badly changed within him.

Railing and company arrive with the Ilse Witch who challenges Tael Riverine.  She manages to defeat him (that was a super cool scene - she surprised everyone by her unexpected victory), and then takes his place as leader of the Jarka Ruus.  She is about to continue the assault on Arborlon and attacks the Ohmsford boys (who reunited there on the battlefield).  Redden again combines the Wishsong with the Red Elfstones and becomes catatonic.   They are saved when Aphen and Arling make it to the Ellcrys and Arling becomes the new Ellcrys, thereby returning the Forbidding to full strength.  All the demons get sucked back inside.  So does the Ilse Witch, because she became their leader.  The unfortunate side effect is that Tesla Dart is sucked back into the Forbidding, too. :(

Aphen then has to decide whether to remain in Arborlon or return to Paranor.  Meanwhile, Railing and Mirai take Redden home.  Thanks to the ring the King of the Silver River gave Railing (and a crap load of time), Railing is able to bring Redden back.  The end.

So if that plot summary felt all over the place, don't feel bad.  It was a lot worse reading it.  Every time something that I cared about started happening, the book would skip to several chapters of boring fluff.  The demon attack on Arishag was all boring fluff in my opinion; rather than seeing the elf trio trying to find each other through a city in lockdown, we got the city's commander fighting a losing battle.  I think it would have been far more relevant to miss that and just cut the elves finding each other and escaping the city, then to Seersha and Crace finding the city in ruins.  Railing's chapters were also super boring because pretty much all he was doing was feeling sorry for himself.  I would have loved something from Grianne's perspective as she evolved back into the Ilse Witch.  But no.

So what was the good?  Honestly, most of the stuff with Aphenglow, Arlingfant, and Cymrian.  Arlingfant didn't sit around and wait to be rescued.  And we got to see how she slowly came to accept her destiny to become the new Ellcrys.  Aphenglow and Cymrian were super cute while also incredibly capable.  As I said, the Tael Riverine vs the Ilse Witch moment was awesome.  I had a feeling that she would win, but how she did it really surprised me.  Oh, and I was super sad that Tesla Dart was sucked back into the Forbidding.  I really liked her and was sad that she didn't get a happy ending.  But really, this whole story wasn't a happy ending. 

Oh yeah, especially since Tesla Dart had the remaining three Elfstone sets in hand.  So they all went back into the Forbidding too.

So this entire story seemed completely pointless overall.  There was no reason to go on this quest in the first place.  Everyone was warning them not to go.  Then everyone seemed to forget about it anyway because more important things were happening (like the Ellcrys dying).   The Federation politicians were doing crazy things because they were basically hellbent on being mustache-twiddling bad guys.  Edinja was the most fleshed out (barely) and she just wanted to rule the entire world (and make mutant monster things?). 

While reading this trilogy, I kept feeling like maybe I'm done with Terry Brooks and Shannara.  I looked back on Goodreads, and I've rated most of his new books in the 2-3 star range (Bloodfire Quest is the only 4 star book, and I'm still thinking I only gave it that because it was so much better than Wards of Faerie and not because it actually deserved the 4 star rating).  And Witch Wraith was no exception to this rule.  But I have all three books in The Defenders of Shannara series, AND I just found out there are going to be four more books that will be the chronological end to the entire Shannara series.  So most likely I will keep reading (and hope the books improve from here!!!!)