Review: KITTY TAKES A HOLIDAY by Carrie Vaughn

Thanks to Miriam at Hachette for sending me this book!

I was really looking forward to reading this book since the last one I read (Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards) was such a depressing novel. All the while I was reading Mercy I was thinking ‘just a bit more and I can start the next Kitty book’. What a relief!

This is the third in the ‘Kitty’ series and it changes direction a bit with plot. The first two focused on Kitty’s job as a night time DJ and her challenges dealing with lycanthropy – a condition wherein the ‘patient’ metamorphoses into a werewolf during full moons. In Kitty Takes a Vacation, Kitty gets away from it all in a remote cabin in the woods to write a memoir detailing her experiences as a werewolf. It’s not long, however, before odd things begin happening and odder still when the people in the nearby town show their distrust for Kitty and her ilk. Throw in Ben and Cormac – characters first introduced in the previous books – and you have another fun, light read.

I won’t give away plot points, but if you’re a follower of the series you’ll meet some other otherworldly creatures called ‘skinwalkers’ and their particular brand of powers. The secondary characters are somewhat chilling in that they display some personality traits akin to the witch hunters in Salem a century and more ago. I also like the fact that in the Kitty books the endings are not always completely happy but a sort of compromise (not saying however that that was the case in this particular book – you’ll have to read it to find that out!).

Kitty Takes a Vacation didn’t disappoint me – it lifted my mood and that’s what I expected from it. I’m going to read the next one, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, in May.

Review: MERCY AMONG THE CHILDREN by David Adams Richards

Another Canada Reads 2009 contender (I recently blogged about another one called The Outlander) that I read for my book club. And unlike The Outlander, I did not like this one.

Taking place in rural New Brunswick during the 1980’s and 90’s, the story follows the Henderson family as they eke out a meager living from trapping and working for the local bigwig, Leo McVicer. Sidney Henderson and Connie Devlin were twelve when they were shoveling snow off the roof of the local church and began arguing and the ensuing fight resulted in Connie falling and Sydney thinking that he’s dead. He wasn’t but in the time it took for Sydney to realize Connie was okay, Sydney promised God that he would never do another thing to harm another human. Making that promise was much harder to live with than it seemed at the time. The rest of the book deals with the challenges Sydney, his wife and children face as they deal with the repercussions of this oath.

I read this novel for my book club – there’s no way I’d have finished it otherwise. It’s so bleak – it’s worse than depressing. I can take the poverty, but the child abuse and neglect, no. The characters were at various times cowardly, weak-kneed, fundamentally evil, selfish, spineless, pathetic, helpless, etc. The few that did do something kind for another person seemed to be motivated by guilt rather than any altruistic sensibility. And really, do bad things actually happen that often to people or are they offset even occasionally by good things?

This book won the Giller Prize in 2000. Those judges must love wallowing in misery. Don’t get me wrong – the writing is good and the story is told well. But it’s like constantly picking the scab from a wound – it never gets better and sometimes even becomes infected, but you can’t stop picking even if it’s painful. Well, this whole book was one gaping wound. But hey, some people just love this kind of book – I’m just not one of them.

Review: UNPOLISHED GEM by Alice Pung

I asked my friend, Karen, if she would like to do a guest review for any of the recent 'review' books I've gotten.
She chose Unpolished Gem and this is her review.

“Sometimes your cultural heritage is both a blessing and a burden.” I heard this comment on the day I finished Alice Pung’s memoir, Unpolished Gem, and I thought it summed up the book very well. Alice’s Chinese heritage is central to her life. A child of Chinese immigrants who have reached Australia by way of Cambodia, Alice has an incredibly rich family life. The bonds of daughter to mother and daughter to grandmother are fierce. But trying to reconcile herself to the family expectations and traditions can be a real source of anxiety for Alice – particularly in her high-school and college years. You get the sense of a strict code of behaviour. There is a lot of talk of “doom” – the state in which you will find yourself if you step too far away from the accepted behaviour. How does she reconcile the blessings and the burdens of her deeply-felt heritage? Sometimes she manages very well; other times, not. But I suppose it is an experience shared by many children of recent immigrants as they feel the push and pull of the new world against the old.

Language and storytelling are an important part of this book. I loved the way Pung’s words drew pictures in my mind. When describing herself as an anxious, crying newborn, she talks of a “creature with the howling hole in her face.” Gossipers are word-spreaders, and the worst kind of gossip is “words with bones in them.” Alice’s grandmother, we learn, was a great storyteller, and Alice seems to have this gift. I really wanted to find out what was going to happen to the small girl in the Mao suit. A fast, engrossing read – I’ve recommended it to friends already.

Thanks Karen!

Review: THE OUTLANDER by Gil Adamson

The short description on the back of this book tells the reader right away what the premise is: that a young woman is fleeing from her brothers-in-law for the murder of her husband.

It is 1903, and the young widow’s flight takes her across the Canadian prairies, into small towns and mining settlements and across mountains. They pursue her relentlessly and she feels the urge to look over her shoulder constantly and is careful about telling strangers her proper name. Desperate and alone, she is also plagued by visions and voices and with the certainty that she is going mad, the widow nevertheless struggles to survive.

On her journey the she encounters an elderly woman whose sole purpose seems to be to take in the down on their luck. Further in her travels, the widow comes across a hermit who owns only what he absolutely needs to survive – he would put a minimalist to shame. The widow also meets a native, a minister and various other characters that make an imprint on her life.

This novel was one of five nominees for the 2009 Canada Reads competition. It didn’t win, but I can certainly understand why it was nominated. I had trouble at first believing that I would enjoy it – mild misgivings – I thought it sounded like a ‘western’. I guess it was that somewhat but also so much more.

It describes life in the early 20th century as rough, tiresome and often deadly. The author depicts some true-life catastrophes and the valiant effort of the people to overcome their hardships. The main character’s life was not romanticized and I got an honest taste of how life was lived during that era. It is interesting that the author referred to the young woman as ‘the widow’ for most of the book – her name was not mentioned until well into the story. It kept the character at a distance but also imparted the feeling she had for the desire of anonymity in the face of danger.

This novel is not one of my review books that I need to read and review – I picked it up because I was looking for something appropriate to suggest at my next book club meeting. I’m so happy I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be recommending it as our next book pick.

Happy Easter and other things!!!

Happy Easter! Now, I know the dog does not symbolize Easter in any way but I stuck him there for another reason - yesterday was my birthday and I just had to say what a great day it was!

My husband told earlier in the week he wanted to take me out for lunch to a local restaurant for my birthday which I thought was a bit strange at first because usually a dinner would be the thing to do. But he suggested he'd make me a nice dinner instead of us going out and since he hardly ever cooks I thought that would be really special.

Anyway, we got to the restaurant and waited to be seated. Well at least I did – my husband walked right in past the greeting stand then came back once he realized I wasn’t following him. I told him we had to wait and he said no, no, it’s not crowded yet, it’s only noon and he started pushing me to go. I realized why when several of my friends popped out behind a wall and yelled 'SURPRISE!'

I have to admit I was thoroughly shocked. It's a busy weekend for everyone - preparations for holiday dinner and visiting family for Easter so it was nice that my friends made time for a birthday lunch. I had a great time laughing and chatting and the food was wonderful. I was especially taken aback to see a friend who I had been shopping with the day before and was from out of town and I thought (mistakenly) she was back home by yesterday! I want to thank my friends for a fabulous afternoon!

But also I was totally, completely, utterly, entirely (you get the picture) surprised at my husband for organizing this lunch for me. Not that he wouldn't do something nice for me. Not at all. It’s just that I didn't pick up on it!!! There was no hint, no clue – I was utterly unsuspecting. He later told me it took him more than a month to get it together - he wanted to be sure that my out-of-town friend would be able to make it on the actual day and there were emails back and forth to my friends and phone calls and planning the timing of it and so on.

So, I have to say to my husband – thank you and I love you!!!

As for my birthday dinner, we did go out again, but just with my small family. My daughter talked my husband out of cooking dinner since he only knows how to make Kraft dinner and..., no that's it, just Kraft dinner.

Some of my books...

My friend Cindy has posted pictures of her bookshelves which has inspired me to do the same. So here goes:

My husband saw the writing on the wall last summer and decided to do something about it - so he built these bookshelves for me in our basement. To the left of the shelves is the door to go upstairs and to the left of the door are more shelves - but they hold my husband's books. He says that this summer he'll have to build more to accommodate my daughter's books. I think I'm running out of room already!

Mailbox Monday

Last week I received three books to review:

I was really happy to get Shanghai Girls since I absolutely loved Lisa See's other book, Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Thank you to Marcia at The Printed Page for hosting this meme.

Review: THE MANUAL OF DETECTION by Jedediah Berry

Charles Unwin is an unassuming clerk working on the fourteenth floor of ‘the Agency’, a mysterious organization located in a mysterious city. One morning Charles meets up with a Detective Pith from the Agency who informs him that he’s been promoted – he’s no longer a clerk but now is also a detective. This throws Charles off and agitated, he tries to reclaim his old position all the while solving the riddle of where his predecessor has disappeared. While one might assume that Charles would be pleased with his promotion, the result is actually the opposite. He enjoys being a clerk and he’s very good at it. Clerking at the Agency involves organizing, cataloguing (and discarding what the clerk deems irrelevant) all the clues, facts, evidence and solutions gathered by the detectives. Each detective is assigned one clerk who is responsible for all cases investigated by their detective.

This book is nothing like what I thought it would be. I expected something conventional in the, well, mystery/detective novel genre. Ha! It’s anything but conventional, at least plot-wise. The writing is good, sparse and to-the-point. The story takes on a surrealist, fantastical perspective and I have to confess I was somewhat lost at times. I had a bit of trouble following the plot because of the unusual method of story-telling. I don’t think, however, that it’s the author’s fault – I’m just not used to this kind of writing style. To give an example, the cases Charles’ detective (Sivart), followed were strange – one was called ‘The Man Who Stole November Twelfth” and the reader should take that title literally.

There were a few plot twists (in the normal context of this book) which I found very clever. As a matter of fact given my confusion with the nature of this novel, I likely missed some plot points as I was so focused on untangling what was going on. I plan on re-reading this book soon since there were subtleties I know I didn’t catch and I believe this is one of those books I can read over and over again and likely find something new each time.

This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before in this genre and I would recommend it to anyone who loves mysteries with and off-beat, quirky approach to the story.

Review: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY by John Boyne

Seen through the eyes of John Jacob Turnstile, a 14 year old boy, the story of this ill-fated ship takes on a different light than in previous versions. John was commissioned to work as the servant of the ship’s captain after he was given the choice of either spending a year in jail for stealing a gentleman’s pocket watch or boarding ship. Having no previous experience with sailing but being familiar with prison, John chose the former.

Most people know what happened with the Bounty so I won’t describe the journey, but John’s experiences as he tells his own story aboard ship is fascinating. He is soon nicknamed Turnip and describes the voyage trying to round the Cape of Good Horn, the drudgery of living on a ship, the storms and arguments between shipmates as well as the hazing as a rite of passage as the ship crossed the equator. As sailors are a suspicious lot, the ritual of appeasing whatever ‘gods’ there may be must be completed with the a sacrificial ‘sea lamb’ and Turnip, being the lowest in status was unceremoniously plucked from his bunk in the middle of the night to satisfy this necessary event. As he stands confused and accused of some unknown misdeed on deck, the beginning of a hair-raising ordeal starts. From page 131:

‘Before you is King Neptune,’ said one of the sailors around me and I frowned and shook my head. ‘Tremble in his presence, slimy pollywog, tremble!’
‘He never is,’ said I. ‘He’s John Williams, his as looks after the mizzen-sail.’

The book has a good measure of humour as seen from the unconscious response to his accuser. For all of his past thievery and other misdeeds, John Jacob Turnstile is a frightened boy, struggling to endure in an environment that is way out of his element. But he deals with it and learns the best way to survive is to keep his eyes and ears open.

About the only thing that gave me a slight pause with this novel was the consistency – I was a bit confused with John’s background. Early on, the reader finds out that he was raised by the dastardly Mr. Lewis, and John’s first memories are of Mr. Lewis when John was five or six. But later on, it’s written that he was ‘sold’ to Mr. Lewis at the age of 9 by a woman who’d taken care of him up until then. Later still, Mr. Lewis is referred to again in reference to when John was younger than nine. I thought at that point the earlier inconsistencies would be explained somehow, but they weren’t. That managed to take me out of the story, but just a bit. And despite that, I really enjoyed this book. It had all the elements to the sort of novel I really like: adventure, history, and humour. The author’s storytelling reminds me a bit of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series and I really loved those books. And though this book is just shy of 500 pages, it took me just a few days to read it – it was that compelling. I highly recommend it!

You can read another review of this book at a bookworms world.

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