Booking it

I’ve been a bad blogger lately, but since I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that I would not make this just another ‘should’ in my life, I’m okay with it. I started a new job in January. Huge, positive life change. And I’ve found that a) I haven’t wanted to sit in front of a computer more than necessary and b) my reading has pretty much been reserved for weekends because I’ve been pretty tired during the week. Which means, I’ve only read 4 books since January. That’s a low number for me, but to be fair- one of those books was 784 pages long.

So- in the order I read them, here are my thoughts on the books that kept me company as winter (slowly) turned into spring. You’ll notice, the books are varied in style and topic. As my high school English teacher used to say- variety is the spice of life.

Image1) I went from a post-apocalyptic novel (The Bone Season) to a book about a young boy named Bit, who grows up in a decaying commune in New York State in the 1970s- Arcadia by Lauren Groff. Guess what, (spoiler alert), it got a little post-apocalyptic too, which I didn’t see coming. But in an entirely different and realistic way. Like- a world without bees, which may not be too far off in the future. And without the bees, we can kiss life as we know it goodbye. But I digress…

You see the entire book through Bit’s eyes. At the beginning, he’s a babe in arms. By the final page, he’s got a daughter of his own. I’ve always been a little fascinated with late 60′s/early 70′s counter culture, so that’s what attracted me to the book. What kept me engaged was Groff’s language. The lady can write. Such a great attention to detail and words that flow like honey. It’s also a very satisfying read, because it really does track this one boy/man’s life, and as he grows older, how we see his world changes as his perspective shifts. One thing I found odd at first is that the book is entirely void of quotation marks. But you know, once I got used to it, I hardly noticed. I’d definitely recommend this one.

Image2) Next off the shelf was Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Brosh also runs a blog called Hyperbole and a Half where she tells stories from her life and illustrates them in MS Paint, to hilarious results. I first came across her work via the entry called Sneaky Hate Spiral, and it changed my life. I just might be Allie Brosh, but with cats instead of dogs. Late last year, Brosh put out a book that collects her “best” work and contains some new material too. If you like laughing- check out her blog. If you can’t stop laughing, go out and get her book. For all it’s hilarity, the thing that struck me the most is how poignant it can be. In the last couple years, Broch hasn’t been as active on her blog because she’s been dealing with some seriously shitty major depression. She writes/draws a lot about that in the book, and is willing to be so vulnerable and honest about how it feels to be depressed. For people who have never had to deal with mental health issues, I think it  explains what it’s like really well. For people who have, I think you’ll relate. And even while she’s dealing with dark emotions, her work still manages to be funny, which is often the best way to get through to people.

Image3) Up next was the big one: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I was on vacation, and that was my beach read, all 784 pages of it. Thankfully, I read it on my Kobo (which is still weird for me. I like “real” books). It took me about two months to read it, but it was the type of journey that could easily be stretched out like that. It’s the kind of book and story that you want to savor. It was on so many critic’s best of 2013 lists, I had to check it out. AND- I just saw that it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction. Well deserved!

Again, it’s the coming of age story of a young man (there seems to be a pattern here) who, on a day when he’s suspended from school, goes to an art gallery with his mom and is inside when a terrorist attack occurs. He’s one of very few survivors, and in a stupor of shock and concussion, sees a painting in the rubble and takes it as he evacuates the building all alone. This action sets off a series of events as he bounces around from one temporary home to another, and dreams of a young woman he met eyes with just before the blast went off. It’s the kind of book you can get lost in.

Image4) Finally, I needed my equivalent of brain candy: Missing You by Harlan Coben. When it comes to popular fiction, I gravitate to mystery/thrillers, and ever since my mom lent me a Coben novel to read while on (a different) vacation, I’ve read much of what he’s written. There are always many twists and turns in his novels, and I like that I never see the end coming. He also likes to rip things from the headlines. Missing You deals with catfishing- people pretending to be someone they are not on dating sites. Usually, catfishers are up to no good. In this book, they’re up to some very bad things. It was a quick, easy read and thoroughly enjoyable.

And now I’m reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, lent to me by my book-buddy Jenette. She swears it’s the best fantasy novel ever written. Time will tell… but more on that next time.

 

Welcome to Scion

The Bone Season probably wouldn’t exist without The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight. And the movie Inception. Their DNA threads throughout Samantha Shannon’s debut novel. At 20, she scored a six-figure, three-book deal after spending time working at a publishing house, familiarizing herself with the book industry in order to better position herself for a writing career. And while her first book in a planned series of seven is derivative of its predecessors in some ways, it does manage to distinguish itself and introduce a world that has unique qualities.

The Bone Season

A supernatural dystopian novel, The Bone Season is set in the year 2059. The world, which seems to have taken an alternate timeline to our own, is populated by regular folks and clairvoyants or voyants. The later are feared by general society, and are forced to hide in plain sight or risk being captured and executed by the ruling government, Scion. The central character of the novel is Paige, a 19-year-old voyant known as a dreamwalker, someone who can travel into other people’s dreamscapes. She’s a rare type of clairvoyant and she puts her skills to use within London’s underground supernatural criminal network, performing surveillance and stealing information from people’s minds. One night, everything changes when she is captured and transported to Oxford, a city that has been kept secret for 200 years after a group of other-worldly beings called the Rephaim invaded and took over. Paige is kept captive in Oxford by one of the most powerful Rephites, Warden, the blood-consort of the female ruler. He’s got mysterious motives, and because the book targets the Twilight crowd, Paige’s relationship with her captor as he trains her and helps her develop her clairvoyance, may or may not evolve into something more.

The book is an engaging read. It’s easy to get caught up in Paige’s story as she challenges her captors and plots with some surprising allies to escape Oxford. I really liked the structure of “the Seven Orders of Clairvoyance” and a helpful chart at the beginning of the book describes the types of voyants and what they can do. There is this whole aspect where voyants, as well as the Rephaim, use ghosts to fight other voyants, which is just cool. And the whole concept of dreamscapes – this multilevel “space” connected to the aether (the metaphysical world beyond this one) that we all have within us – is pretty neat.

On the other hand, the style of writing is pretty simplistic. Everything is told from Paige’s point of view, and I wish there was a little more character development to support why she chooses to act the way she does. Because it’s the first novel of a series, there are many things left unlearned, and secondary characters are under-developed. Some of the plotting is formulaic as sometimes things seem to happen for no other reason than to advance the plot. The book also spends a lot of time with Paige’s training and the story seems to end just as its picking up steam. But- it left me wanting more. I’d definitely pick up the next volume.

My friend Jenette lent me the book after I told her to buy it because she’d probably like it. I asked her what she thought and I have to share some of her commentary, because it’s insightful and it made me laugh:

“I thought the book was original as well until I realized that the alien creatures were just like vampires (they feed off of you, they are taller than us, the Gothic feel was vampire, they are mysterious and strong and possessive, etc.) Once I’d classified it in the teenager vampire genre, I felt a little less friendly toward the book which is funny cause I wrote a teenage vampire novel….I did like the main character’s personality, though I thought she should learn how to keep her feelings in a bit better instead of shouting at everyone all the time. If she really has as little self-control as it seems, she should be long dead. But that made the book a little more interesting. I felt like the Warden guy touched her face too much… they always do that in books… he turned my face toward him, he tilted up my chin so I was staring into his eyes, etc… can you think how awkward it would be to actually touch someone’s face?”

Comedy gold.

Visit www.boneseasonbooks.com for more info.

And of course, there is a film adaptation coming soon…

 

Wholehearted

gifts-of-imperfection

I’ve never been a big consumer of ‘self-help’ books. I’ve bought some, but they tend to sit on my shelf collecting dust. About a month ago, Brene Brown was in town doing a keynote that I wanted to attend, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get tickets. So- the next time I was in my local bookstore, I picked up her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Sub-sub-title: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life. Amazing book. There are so many bits of wisdom…it’s the kind of book you read, and read again.

If you’re not familiar with Brene Brown, google her TED talks. She’s a researcher (don’t glaze over- it’s actually interesting!) who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. She was finding in the course of her work that people who engage the world from a place of worthiness- those who live with their whole hearts- have similar traits. These became the 10 guideposts of Wholehearted living in her book. The chapters include: cultivating authenticity, letting go of comparison, cultivating calm, letting go of productivity as self-worth and engaging in play. Learn more about the 10 guideposts and read the first 20 pages of the book here.

A quote from Harriet Lerner on the back says “reading The Gifts of Imperfection is like having a long, uplifting conversation with a very wise friend who offers compassion, wisdom and great advice.” I would agree with that. Brown doesn’t talk from on-high as if she has everything figured out and if you just follow all the steps you too can have a perfect life. Nope- as per the title, it’s all about cultivating authenticity and embracing imperfection. She lays it bare, talking honestly about how she discovered that despite her life’s work, she wasn’t living a wholehearted life. This led to a breakdown spiritual awakening (as she describes it). Each chapter ends with a digging deep section where she describes how she puts the guidepost into action in her own life and encourages you to think about how you ‘dig deep.’ I enjoyed how the ideas in the book aren’t presented as a to-do list. Wholehearted living isn’t a goal, it’s a practice. “Cultivating a Wholehearted life is not like trying to reach a destination. It’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Some of my other favourite quotes from the book:

“If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anne Quindlen

“Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on earth.” – Mark Twain

Pictures and Words

graphicnovels

I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. They’re great for escapism, which is probably why I’ve been attracted to them. They land somewhere between books and TV because they have that visual component to them- you don’t have to rely entirely on your imagination to construct the story. Not that using your imagination is a bad thing!

I’ve been reading Bill Willingham‘s Fables series ever since a coworker at McNally Robinson suggested them to me many moons ago. (That was Chadwick Ginther, comic aficionado and now a published author of two great works of fiction rooted in Norse Mythology but set in the present. Check him out- http://chadwickginther.com/)

The Fables series began in 2002 and follows a group of fairytale characters that have been driven out of their homelands and are hiding out in New York City and upstate New York. If you’re a fan of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, you’ll like Fables. In fact, when it premiered, there was definitely some criticism that Once Upon a Time is a Fables rip-off.  I appreciate them both as different executions of a similar idea. Once Upon a Time is owned by Disney and very Disney-centric. And quite PG. Fables is much more adult, much darker, and not limited to Disney characters. Its source material is older- folklore, mythology and literature. The main characters at the start of the series are Snow White, who divorced Prince Charming because he’s a cheating bastard, Bigby- aka The Big Bad Wolf, who can appear in human form- and Rose Red, Snow White’s sister. Other characters that you might be familiar with- Beauty, the Beast, Pinocchio, Geppetto, Cinderella, the Blue Fairy, Boy Blue and many more. I recommend starting with the first trade paperback Legends in Exile and reading the series straight through. Don’t get put off by the odd tangent the series goes on. It’s worth it to stick with it! I recently finished the 15th trade in the series, Rose Red, and I’m looking forward to starting the next one- Super Team.

Fables has several spin-offs. I haven’t read all of them, but the most recent one caught my eye: Fairest- which gives the female fables a series of their own. The first volume, Wide Awake, tells the story of Briar Rose, aka: Sleeping Beauty. I believe she popped up in the main series, but her character wasn’t delved into a lot. Sleeping Beauty’s handy trick of pricking her finger and putting everyone to sleep has been used as a weapon in the Fables’ war against the Adversary (the being that forced the fables out of their homelands in the first place). This story puts her, the Snow Queen and Ali Baba -the Prince of Thieves- together for an adventure. What might seem like an odd combination actually works out quite well. You don’t have to have read Fables before reading Fairest, although it does provide context for the story.

The second volume, The Hidden Kingdom, is all about Rapunzel. She’s a character we haven’t seen much of at all in the main Fables series, mostly since she’s has to hide more than the other human-looking fables because her hair grows four inches an hour- faster if she’s upset. That’s sure to be a tip-off to the Mundies (Mundane people like us) that something is amiss in Fabletown. I really enjoyed her story, and it introduces us to the Fables of Japan, which is a nice plus. It also seems that Rapunzel gave birth to twins in the past and while the witch who acted as her midwife told her they were stillborn, she is convinced they are still alive. I’m sure that will come up again in the future- at least I hope it will.

The other graphic novel I’m currently reading is completely different- it’s a trade paperback of the greatest stories ever told about Wonder Woman. I’ve always been intrigued by Wonder Woman. She’s got the whole Amazon thing going on, and an invisible plane and a magic lasso. And she kicks butt- what’s not to like? As much as I enjoy the character, I actually hadn’t read any Wonder Woman comics,  so I picked up this edition, thinking it would be a good primer. So far, fun! It contains the comic where she was introduced in 1942, and other stories published between the 60′s and 2001. The art is definitely different than what I’m used to with Fables, as it’s got that classic comic book style going on.  It is a classic comic book! And reading comics from 1964 through a modern lens is interesting. There’s a juxtaposition between the inherent sexism of that time period and the fact that you have this female superhero who outwits and out-muscles even the biggest, burliest men in order to save the day. I’m enjoying the adventure.

There are some other graphic novels that I quite enjoy- ones that are truly novels- but I’ll save that post for another time.

Do you read comics or graphic novels? What’s your favourite?

Deserted Island Books

A fun thing to ponder- if you were stranded on a deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

I would probably hope a crate full of books would magically drop from the sky, like the Dharma food that mysteriously landed on the island in Lost. But- for the sake of this exercise, I will pick only five and try not to cheat.

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  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
    The official blurb: The circus arrives at night, without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, a fierce competition is underway – a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in “a game,” in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Why I love it: The language is electric, and the story is told in vivid detail. You can taste the circus, and fully imagine that you have stumbled upon its black and white tents. The plot is just as strong. Magic, love and destiny collide.
  2. White Oleander by Janet FitchThe official blurb: Everywhere hailed as a novel of rare beauty and power, White Oleander tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, whose odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes-each its own universe, with its own laws, its own dangers, its own hard lessons to be learned-becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery. Why I love it: Again, the poetry of the language is what drew me in, and the examination of the life of an artist. I owned this book for a while and when I finally read it, it was like it came into my life at the most perfect moment. My favourite quote: “Take notes, remember it all, tattoo it on the inside of your mind. No one becomes an artist unless they have to.”
  3. The Best 10 Minutes of Your Life by Zoe Whittall
    From the back cover: “Zoe Whittall’s poetry makes you want to grab your best girlfriend, roll some stolen cash up in your sock, steal a pint of booze and hop a skanky bus into an excellent adventure.” Why I Love it: The simple answer- poems with names like Drag Queen Maid of Honour and The Bitchin’ Cameros Greyhound Diary. The longer answer- the moments captured and the way it makes me feel when I read it. I first read it when I was in my early 20s at university, and Zoe Whittall so perfectly captures what it’s like to be young, on your own for the first time, and trying to figure out who you are. Poetry on the edge: sexy, bloody and raw.
  4. Fray by Joss Whedon, Karl Moline and Andy Owens
    The official blurb: Hundreds of years in the future, Manhattan has become a deadly slum, run by mutant crime-lords and disinterested cops. Stuck in the middle is a young girl who thought she had no future, but learns she has a great destiny. In a world so poisoned that it doesn’t notice the monsters on its streets, how can a street kid like Fray unite a fallen city against a demonic plot to consume mankind? Why I love it: It’s written by Joss Whedon. That’s really all you need to know! Released when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still on TV, Fray took the slayer mythology to a whole new level. It also has flying cars.
  5. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
    The official blurb: George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has become, in many ways, the gold standard for modern epic fantasy. Martin has created a world that is as rich and vital as any piece of historical fiction, set in an age of knights and chivalry and filled with a plethora of fascinating, multidimensional characters that you love, hate to love, or love to hate as they struggle for control of a divided kingdom. Why I love it: This is where I cheat, because clearly, this is 5 books (to date). But I can’t help myself. I saw the HBO show first, but I needed more, which lead to devouring these novels. The world is richly drawn and I love the characters, especially Arya and Daenerys- two strong women who challenge their predetermined role in society. Each book is a zillion pages, but it’s totally worth the journey to stick with it. And- it’ll keep you busy on your deserted island while you await rescue!

Watch This Space

Hello, welcome to my blog! As this is my first post in this particular space, I thought I’d tell you a bit about myself and why I decided to add one more book blog to the internet.

Who am I?
I’m a PR and Communications Specialist with a background in non-profits, specifically in the arts and cultural sector. As a busy creative professional, I spend my days writing for all sorts of communications materials, but I haven’t had a lot of time to write for myself lately. This blog is an opportunity to do just that.

Why blog about books?
I’ve always loved getting lost in a good book. My parents encouraged reading when I was a kid, and I would gladly spend entire afternoons in libraries. It was not uncommon for them to catch me after lights out, reading in the almost darkness and “ruining my eyes.” As an adult, I still dedicate some of my free time to reading a good book. Even in a world with lots of entertainment options, the allure of written word remains. Books are different from television and movies because of how much you must rely on your own imagination to construct the story. As a creative person, reading is a great outlet!

Before going back to school and getting into the PR field, I did an undergrad in English at university. It was a great opportunity to discuss and dissect books, and exposed me to novels, poetry, short stories and essays I probably never would have read otherwise. (Medieval literature anyone?) I also spent 2.5 years working at a bookstore, where I met fabulous fellow book nerds and my passion for all sorts of books grew.

This blog is an opportunity to reconnect with that part of myself and an opportunity to blog about just about everything. After all, books are a gateway to the world, each with the potential to take you to some new and exciting place or to expose you to a particular point of view about any subject under the sun. Books contain stories, but the tomes themselves also have stories- where you were when you read it. What state of mind you were in. It’s this and more that I plan to explore here.

What kind of books do I like?
I like variety in my reading. It’s not uncommon for me to have several books on the go at the same time, and to rotate between brain food and brain candy. I like novels that take place in the present day, featuring complex characters. I like books that explore the human psyche or society as we know it. I have a weakness for forensic mysteries and thrillers. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Margaret Atwood. I like novels based in the 60s and the 70s, exploring the societal change of those decades. I like poetry written by women with strong voices. I like graphic novels, especially if they’re written by Joss Whedon or Bill Willingham. I like a little bit of science fiction and fantasy. I’m a little obsessed with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. I also own several books full of random facts.

What I’m currently reading
Right now I’m reading three books:
Persuasion by Arlene Dickinson
My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman
Fairest, Vol 1: Wide Awake Written by: Bill Willingham | Art by: Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning