Archive | March, 2010

Wednesday’s Words

31 Mar

she is never kinder
then when another diamond shuffles past
and emotion overtakes her

she wants to boogie blue
proving she is more
than glass

Review: Wake by Lisa McMann

31 Mar

Simon Pulse, 2008

Not all dreams are sweet.

For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people’s dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie’s seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime.

She can’t tell anybody about what she does — they’d never believe her, or worse, they’d think she’s a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn’t want and can’t control.

Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else’s twisted psyche. She is a participant….

From Simon and Schuster Canada website

This  book was freaking amazing! I mean, I know I’m coming a bit late to the party, but I can’t believe how much this book blew me away. I had no idea what it was about when I requested it from the library, just that Twitter was a flutter about Gone, the third book in this trilogy. It only made sense that I should read the first two books before digging into the third.

I have never read a book where the writing style affected the overall tone of the book so much. For me, the writing almost became a character in the book. The writing was very minimalist, with lots of short sentences and paragraphs. Janie’s life is pretty bleak, and the writing accentuated this perfectly. As a dirt poor teen who can slip into someone’s dreams at anytime, she doesn’t have a whole lot to be happy about.  There are no flowery speeches or overdone descriptions in Wake. What you see is what you get.

It is also written in first person, something that I normally don’t go for, but it totally works in Wake.  There is an immediacy to the plot, and to Janie’s life, that wouldn’t have been captured by using past tense.

Now, don’t get me wrong: bleak doesn’t mean boring. There are lots of twists and turns in the story, and quite often I was surprised by the direction that the author took. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, McMann would throw a curve ball.

I also like the fact that while there were romantic elements to Wake, the romance presented wasn’t glossy or easy. It was rough, confusing and sometimes hurtful. Kinda like real life.

About half way through Wake, I requested the second book, Fade, and Gone from my library. I loved Fade (review coming) and am still impatiently waiting for Gone.

Review: The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron

30 Mar

HarperCollins Canada, 2010

Click. Sukie Jamieson takes a selfie after her tennis lesson. Click. She takes one before she has to give a presentation in class. Click. She takes one to be sure there’s nothing in her teeth after eating pizza at Clementi’s. And if she can’t take a selfie, she checks her reflection in windows, spoons, car chrome—anything available, really. So when her mother gives her an exquisite full-length mirror that once belonged to her grandmother, Sukie is thrilled. So thrilled that she doesn’t listen to her mother’s warning: “This mirror will be your best friend and worst enemy.” Because mirrors, as Sukie discovers, show not only the faraway truth but the truth close up. And finding out that close-up truth changes people. Often forever.

From HarperTeen website

I have to admit that for the first 70 pages or so, I really didn’t like this book. Or, rather, I didn’t “get” this book. I didn’t get Suki, the main character. I didn’t get the plot. I didn’t get the writing.

I found Suki raither vain and self involved. She spent a good portion of the first 1/4 of the book staring at herself in the mirror, admiring her beauty and daydreaming about hunky Bobo. (Part of my dislike of the first part of the book was the name Bobo. I found it so dumb and I hated it so much, it was distracting.)

I disliked this book so much that at page 80 I simply set it down and moved on to another book, something I rarely do.  But I believe in second chances, so I gave The Girl with the Mermaid Hair another try. And I’m glad that I did.

Once I got back into the book I discovered that Suki wasn’t supposed to be 100% likeable. She was supposed to be shallow and vain. But as we are introduced to the people in her life, particularly her parents, it becomes clear why she is the way she is. And the plot?  What I thought was the plot (Suki’s attempt to get Bobo) was actually secondary to the main focus of the book, which was Suki’s growth and development as a teen ager coming to terms with who she is.

The writing style also grew on me. Subtle and simple, Ephron didn’t try to make her writing clever or alluring: it just was. There isn’t a whole lot of action in the book, and I would almost describe the style as slow. But in a good way. The further you get in the book, the more you realize that there is a depth to Suki’s story that isn’t obvious at first.

I guess the best way to put it is that The Girl with the Mermaid Hair grew on me. After it I read it, I kinda went “Huh,okay” and beyond that wasn’t sure what to think. But as I did think back on the book it became clear that while it doesn’t wow from page 1, it does slowly convince the reader that it is worth something.

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

25 Mar

HarperCollins Canada, 2010

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend,three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

From HarperCollins Canada website

This was probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. I finished the book quite awhile ago, but every time I sat down to write about it, I got stuck. I got emotional. And really, that’s what this novel is about:getting stuck in a certain lifestyle, feeling stuck with the outcome of our action and the emotions tied up with realizing you need to make a change and actually trying.

This was a hard read for me on a couple of levels. First off, I really didn’t like Sam, the main character, for a huge portion of the book. She was not only popular, but she was pretty obnoxious about it. But part of the brilliance of Before I Fall is that the reader really isn’t supposed to like her at first. But as she grows and becomes more aware of her actions and the feelings of others, the reader can’t help but grow to like her. Also, despite the fact that I didn’t like Sam, or her friends, I never once considered putting the book down and not finishing it, which is a testament to Oliver’s writing.

Without giving anything away, the climax and ending of the book were also hard for me. So much, in fact, that I actually didn’t want to read the last few pages. The author chose a tough subject, and didn’t hold back in the end. While it made for a beautiful read, it was also a difficult one for me and I imagine a lot of readers.

The whole concept of dying and reliving your last day until you get it right could have been written with a lot of cheese, chock full of cliches. Thankfully Oliver choose the hard road and wrote it in a painfully honest manner. Never once did I feel cheated by the flow of the story. And while there definitely was a message to the book, Oliver did a super job of not shoving it down the reader’s throat.

This book had a huge affect on me in a way that not many books do. I was moved by the journey of self-discovery that Sam went on as she tried to figure out what changes she needed to make on the day that she died. She set out to fix just the events of that day, but ended up fixing so much more.

I guess when it comes down to it, this was perhaps one of the most honest books I have read in a while. And while the story was emotional hard to read at times, the writing and the plot were so beautiful that it was well worth it.

Before I Fall has been one of my favorite reads so far this year. I think everyone who reads it will love it as much as I did.

Browse inside Before I Fall.

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

Wednesday’s Words

24 Mar

This is a new weekly thing I’d like to try. I’ll be posting a piece of poetry for your enjoyment. Or critique.

don’t train her to shimmer and glimmer bright
let her go at her own pace
so she doesn’t burn out
instruct her to move slowly among the clouds
with song brilliant and her other self
wear balance wisely, if at all
next year may be too late

Review: 397 Ways to Save Money by Kerry Taylor

24 Mar

HarperCollins Canada, 2009

Families are always looking for simple and effective ways to stretch their household budgets. In tight times, finding extra dollars in unexpected places is even more important. Packed with ideas, information, tips and tricks that range from longterm savings to instant cash in your pocket, 397 Ways to Save Money makes budgeted living easy — and even fun.

Written by an average Canadian whose frugal ways have saved her thousands, this accessible guide offers saving savvy that you don’t need to be a financial planner to understand. By looking in every corner of every room in your house, from the kitchen to the closet, and by considering the needs of every member of your family, from your toddler to your dog, 397 Ways to Save Money will help you find thousands of dollars in savings.

From HarperCollins Canada website

So, who doesn’t want to save money? I mean, we could all use a bit of tightening the ole purse strings, right? Enter Kerry Taylor’s 397 Ways to Save Money.

Kerry, better known to some of you folks as the brains behind the uber-popular website, gives us easy to do things to help us save a buck or two (or, in some cases, a buck or a hundred). The book is super easy to read and very laid back in its approach. A lot of times books on saving money can be dry and induce yawns and drooping eyelids. Not the case here. Kerry uses straightforward language which helps to create a connection with readers.

This book also has the benefit of not needing to be read cover to cover to be of some use.  You can take it a chapter at a time, finding tips and ways to save money catered to either a certain element in your life, or even a specific room in your home.

A lot of the tips are fairly common sense, but some of them had me smacking my head, wondering why I wasn’t already doing it (especially the buy high quality, slightly more expensive items that will last longer. I’m a bit of a sales/cheap products freak). It was cool to see that I was already doing quite a bit to keep my cash where it should be – in my no fee, high interest bank account.

Browse inside 397 Ways to Save Money.

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

23 Mar

Random House Canada, 2010

In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

From Random House website

Oh. My. Dear. God. This book! I don’t want to be dramatic or anything (go ahead, roll your eyes) but The Forest of Hands and Teeth just blew me away.

I love zombies. Okay, let me clarify: I love zombie movies. So it only made sense that I’d love this book. But, man, I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did.

This book is action packed from the get-go, and I swear my pulse raced through the whole thing.  Even before the fence was breached, the book was intense.  Ryan holds nothing back and within the first dozen pages I was shaking my head. She made some bold choices early on in the story that some authors would have baulked at.

Every time the plot took a twist, I was surprised. I mean, just when I thought I couldn’t be anymore shocked, Ryan would pull something else out of her hat and I’ve once again be bowled over.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is dystopia at it’s best. Everyone thought that the Sisterhood knew best and that the Guardians would protect them until things fell apart. When push came to shove, the villagers were left on their own.

I adored Mary, the main character. While there were several strong male characters in the book, I never once had the feeling that Mary’s survival depended on them. Quite often in books, the female is seen as  “strong enough”, but really, she has to depend on a man to get through.  But Mary was written in such a way that I knew if she was totally on her own, she would still survive.

The only thing I wasn’t 100% in love with was the love story, but honestly, I think that’s because of my natural resistance to romance subplots. I eventually warmed up to this aspect of the book and even found later on in the book that without it, the story wouldn’t have been as vivid or have had such an impact.

I read The Hands of Forest and Teeth in one sitting. And I mean that literally. I forgot to eat. I didn’t get up to go to the bathroom. So far it’s been one my favorite reads of 2010.

Review: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

22 Mar

HarperCollins Canada, 2009

Summer is here, and 16-year-old Allie, a self-professed music geek, is exactly where she wants to be: working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records. There, Allie can spend her days bantering with the streetpeople, talking the talk with the staff, shepherding the uncool bridge-and-tunnel shoppers, all the while blissfully surrounded by music, music, music. It’s the perfect setup for her to develop her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favourite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging.

Her mother, though, is actually the one getting the dates, and business at Allie’s beloved record store is becoming dangerously slow—not to mention that there have been a string of robberies in the neighbourhood. At least her blog seems to be gaining interest, one vinyl junkie at a time….

From HarperCollins website

The Vinyl Princess is one of those books that I’m kind of meh about. There were aspects that I liked, but, man, there were some elements and characters that I think the book would have been much better without.

Unfortunately, I can’t say a whole lot more without giving away some of the plot, and I really don’t want to do that. What I can say is that I didn’t find the main character, Allie, all that likable. Actually I found her a bit pretentious. We’re supposed to believe she’s “uncool”, but she’s that uncool that is actually cooler than the cool kids, you know? She’s always eating ethnic foods at cute little restaurants and cafes, listens to vintage rock on vinyl and seem to have every rock T-shirt known to man.  And while I know the whole point of the book is that she’s the vinyl princess, I found the constant references to music a bit annoying. I don’t know, it’s kinda hard to explain. I just didn’t like her very much.

And at one point she has an important decision to make, and really, it’s a no-brainer, but because it involves a guy she’s into, she struggles with it. At this point in the book I was ready to scream at her and wanted to give her a good shake. I mean, he’s just a guy! (And no, the decision has nothing to do with sex.) There were a few times I wanted to jump into the book and throttle her.

What I did like was the author’s writing style and while I did find the music references a bit much, I sure can appreciate the author’s vast knowledge of music.

So, yeah, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Vinyl Princess. I’ve heard from lots of others who actually really enjoyed the book. But it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea.

Browse inside The Vinyl Princess.

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for providing a review copy of The Vinyl Princess.

Music Monday: Sugarland’s Stay

22 Mar

Okay, I’m not a country music fan. At all. Sure, I like some of the crossover hits by Carrie Underwood and others, but in general I don’t care for it at all. In fact, if I’m driving in the car with someone who is playing country music, I have to ask them to turn it off.

But, like most rules, this one has an exception. Sugarland. I know, I know, for someone who doesn’t like country music you would think that a group with one of the twangiest lead singers would make me grit my teeth, right? Noppers.

A few years ago I was channel surfing and happened to flip to a country awards show. Surgarland was performing a new single. Stay. I was riveted. Blown away. I had no idea who they were, but the song, my God! I immediately Youtubed them and found the video.

Okay, the video. I have been a music lover since before I could walk and remember when MuchMusic and MTV came on, so I’ve seen a lot of video’s. Stay is the most emotionally charged video I have ever seen. I still can’t watch it without getting choked up.

I HATE songs where the singer is bitching about how hard it is to cheat. Now, Stay is written from the perpective of “the other woman”, but it doesn’t come of as whiny. It’s about being in a crappy situation and make a hard decision. It doesn’t romantify cheating like some other songs do. (Yes, Hinder’s Lips of an Angel, I’m talking to you.)

Okay, enough gushing from me. Watch the video, but grab some Kleenex first: you may need it.

Music Monday: Wavin’ Flag

15 Mar

Okay, I never, ever thought it would be possible for a song to make me actually like Justin Bieber. But it happened. Of course, it’s a song supporting an amazing cause, but still.

A bunch of Canadian artists came together to re-record K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag. All proceeds for the single go directly to help the people of Haiti. I love the original version of this song and was intrigued by the idea of a remake. But when I heard Justin Bieber was going to be in it, I rolled my eyes so hard I saw the inside of my head.

When the video came out this past Friday I braced myself. I watched. I cried. I loved it. I loved Justin Bieber.

Now, in case you think the sentiments of the song overcame me, causing me to temporarily like Justin Bieber, I can assure you this was not the case. When I watched the remake of We Are the World, I still hated autotune. And Lil’ Wayne. With a passion.

I don’t know what happened. But (gasp!) one of the best parts of the song for me was Justin’s part.

Here, you be the judge. (Justin is the kid that sings at the end, in case you didn’t know.)

Oh, and after you watch the video, scoot over to iTunes and buy the single, k?