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Ramblings by Category

Ramblings by Year

The Rest of Us Just Live Here [book review]

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions. (goodreads.com)

I am going to try my best to blog about the books I read this year. I miss writing about books. My course last semester on Editing for Children and Teen books, and my being back at the bookstore has made me excited for reading once more. I might not write about every book I read (and here’s hoping I read MANY in 2017!) but I want to write about those that I enjoyed.

I like starting off the year with a book that makes me happy. And I like starting the year by reading – and finishing – a book. Makes me feel all accomplished (and is a lovely way to relax!)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an interesting sort of book. I discovered it while showing a customer something else at work. It was on the staff pick wall and something about it hooked me. I bought it before the store closed that day because I knew I NEEDED to read it on my day off the next day. In fact, I started it New Year’s Eve, but I am pretty much dead from this flu so I didn’t manage to finish it before I needed to go to bed.

I am writing about this story because I keep thinking about it. First of all, my instinct that I needed to read this book was spot on. I devoured it. I liked it a lot. But parts also bothered me. See, the book is sort of a weird mix of YA urban fantasy and a contemporary issues (mental illness) novel. The story is about those kids who aren’t the chosen ones. The bystanders in a story about Chosen One Teens who battle and save the world from apocalypses. There is very little reference to those Chosen Ones (called “indie kids” in this book) though. The story, to me, was more about teens who had regular issues just trying to cope with life.

Mike, for instance, the protagonist has OCD, and his older sister is recovering from an eating disorder. Their father is an alcoholic and more-or-less checked out of life and family, but still living with them because their over-achieving, running for political office, mother doesn’t want to ruin the perfect family vibe. There’s a very poignant scene between Mike and his therapist towards the end of the book that made anxiety/OCD/mental illness very real, and raw. I loved the way the author describes the struggle with accepting medication to help calm anxiety and see it as a failure to be ok on your own. There are comparisons between medical and “accepted” illnesses (like diabetes, or cancer) and those not being seen as failure.

So as a story about teens dealing with Real Life things, and mental illness awareness, this was a rather good book.

Where the book lacks, in my opinion, is within the idea of it being about the kids who aren’t the paranormal saviours. Sure each chapter starts off with a paragraph about what’s going on with the Indie kids (who all have those fancy, weird names that characters in paranormal novels tend to have. I was rather amused by the five or so kids who had the name Finn. That does seem to be a popular name in those types of books. I always refer to those strange names as Soap Opera Names.) but once that little summarized Indie Kids storyline is over, it’s back to Mike and his gang of friends. His best friend, Jasper, happens to be one quarter God of cats (long story), but refuses to be an Indie kid. Other than that, and the occasional news of the death of one of the Indie kids (as they fight the impending apocalypse that we don’t really know anything about), and the random explosion of an auditorium, and the school – we don’t really have much bystander reaction to whatever else is going on that’s paranormal and/or The End of The World. I’d have liked a little more interaction between the indies and the normal kids who just want their school to not blow up before graduation.

The other part of the story that stuck out to me was Mike’s interaction with the new guy, Nathan. Mike takes an instant dislike to Nathan as he only transferred to the school six weeks before graduation and seems awfully suspicious. Much of Mike’s dislike for Nathan has to do with jealousy as the girl he’s mooned over since the dawn of time, Henna (Finnish, not an Indie Kid name!), has feelings for Nathan. But from Mike’s point of view, Nathan does seem suspicious, and could possibly be the reason for whatever battle the Chosen One kids are battling. Mike is a pretty unreliable narrator at this point and I did have to keep guessing what Nathan’s deal was. Turns out I was off by a long shot, and even though Mike’s friends are annoyed with him for always suspecting the new guy who has suddenly joined their group, I have to say I’m Team Mike on this. In a small town, where all these strange paranormal things keep happening, a new person who smoothly sails in at the same time everything (“everything” they claim is going on, of which we don’t really know about) is going on, can be a rather suspicious deal. I get where Mike’s paranoia comes from 100%. I don’t think his friends were very fair to him about his reaction because it made sense to me.

I love that my instinct about this book was on point. As a novel about mental illness and dealing with teenage issues, I think this story stood out to me. I wish the actual part about how the normal kids just want to get on with their lives and not have to worry about all the paranormal apocalyptic stuff going on was a little more present in the story though. It was certainly a very interesting way to tell a paranormal story in a short, summarized paragraph per chapter, but I wish there could have been more obvious signs that stuff was happening around the normal kids.

I am content with the first book I have read in 2017. It made me feel. It made me think. It was enjoyable to read. And I have a feeling that my bookstore job might bankrupt me. 😉

What I Read in January

Ok folks, I seem to have forgotten how to blog. Or, rather, I can’t seem to get my blogging mojo off the ground. In my defence I’m going through some stuff and there are too many things that are overwhelming me. Being online, blogging, social media… those are a big chunk of the GAH! feelings so I have been avoiding the internet as much as possible. It’s helping me so that’s good. On the other hand, I miss blogging and having handy reference of what I read online, so here I am with a mini update!

I managed to read 7 books in total throughout January! This was surprising to me since I didn’t think I’d actually gotten that many read! I read some great books and some not-so-great books and here’s my rundown in one post because I’m just not up to multiple blog posts right now.

Reconstructing Amelia
by Kimberly McCreight

In Reconstructing Amelia, the stunning debut novel from Kimberly McCreight, Kate’s in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter–now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.

An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump. (goodreads.com)

This book was the first Featured Book from the 50 Book Pledge hosted by The Savvy Reader. It sounded pretty interesting and I was looking for less YA novels and more adult ones. I’m feeling mystery or suspensy these days and very little is holding my attention, I had hoped that this book would be a nice change of pace – I wasn’t wrong! This was a great mystery to read and I think it would be a prefect bridge-book between adult and YA fiction since the story is told in two points of view – that of Amelia and her mother. This has the added bonus of a Prep school. It’s not a boarding school, but there are still rich kids being all mysterious and secret societies! I love that stuff. Woo!

Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum, #19)
by Janet Evanovich

New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is certain of three truths: People don’t just vanish into thin air. Never anger old people. And don’t do what Tiki tells you to do.
(goodreads.com)

I saw a bunch of complaints about this nineteenth book in the Stephanie Plum series, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I am seriously hoping for some sort of character progression in Stephanie’s case over time, but ultimately this book made me laugh. Laughter is something I seriously look for in one of these mystery novels. I also love me some steamy Ranger scenes and although he was in the story a lot, there wasn’t a ton of steam. I don’t know if the love triangle will ever be resolved, but Morelli is getting a tad boring for my liking. He used to be a bad boy and now he’s just feeling like an old man. Hmm. At least Stephanie seems to be slightly more competent in her bail bondsman job. She’s not always failing miserably and I will admit to a certain amount of glee every time one of her cars blows up! Hee!

The Gospel of Winter
by Brendan Kiely

As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.

When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s. (goodreads.com)

This one was sent to be by Simon & Schuster Canada after an email exchange I had with my pub rep. Once she told me it had been one of her favourites I admitted I was extra curious about it. It’s certainly a subject that’s pretty taboo and not often written about. I didn’t see many favourable reviews on goodreads for this one so I was apprehensive as I began it but I was surprised by how much I liked it. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing (now majorly lapsed) but this story was pretty riveting and I thought, well told. I liked Aidan a lot, too. As troubling as the story itself was I found the book to be quiet and calm, sort of like a snowfall. It was sort of nice to read an “issue novel” from the point of view of a male protagonist, too. I am very happy that I was able to have included this novel in my 2014 reading.

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy, Book 1)
by Marie Rutkoski

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. (goodreads.com)

Release date: March 4, 2014

You might have seen photos of the epic packaging floating around the internet for the ARCs of The Winner’s Curse – they came with a dagger! I didn’t get the epic packaging, but my friend did send me an ARC and although this doesn’t come out until March, since I was so desperate to read a book that I could connect with I tried this one out. It’s an easy read and a nice fantasy but my problem with it was the constant pining between Kestrel and Arin. I wrote this on Goodreads, “I’d really like someone to write a YA fantasy novel that isn’t just a romance in disguise. I wanted to like this one more than I did but there was just too much pining between Kestrel and Arin and it overshadowed all the rest. 🙁” I KNOW Rutkoski can write an amazing fantasy novel because I adored her middle grade  Kronos Chronicles trilogy. I think the problem here is that YA novels always have to have this stupid OMG I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU UR SO PRETTY ZOMG! theme to them and I am so, so tired of that crap. Do I want to continue with the series? Probably. Mostly out of curiosity though.

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, Book 2)
by Sarah J Maas

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is bold, daring and beautiful – the perfect seductress and the greatest assassin her world has ever known. But though she won the King’s contest and became his champion, Celaena has been granted neither her liberty nor the freedom to follow her heart. The slavery of the suffocating salt mines of Endovier that scarred her past is nothing compared to a life bound to her darkest enemy, a king whose rule is so dark and evil it is near impossible to defy. Celaena faces a choice that is tearing her heart to pieces: kill in cold blood for a man she hates, or risk sentencing those she loves to death. Celaena must decide what she will fight for: survival, love or the future of a kingdom. Because an assassin cannot have it all . . . And trying to may just destroy her. (goodreads.com)

Oh, look. Another YA fantasy novel that’s 80% PINING! This sequel to The Throne of Glass might just have ended the series for me. The first half of the book is all about how Celeana and Chaol can’t be together because OMG THE LUST and OMG THE DISTRACTION! And let’s not forget about how Darion can’t even look at her because OMG SHE WANTS CHAOL! Ugh. Then (SPOILERS) there’s this entire section of the book that’s nothing but sexsexsexsexsexsex all of the time and I just wanted to throw the book across the room in disgust because it added NOTHING to the story. Nothing. Nada. The last quarter of the book things got more interesting but then we’re totally thrown for a loop with a plot twist that I am still trying to decide between it being obvious and unoriginal or a surprise. Jury is still out on that one. I didn’t even like Celaena anymore. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with this series or not. We’ll see how I’m feeling when the next book comes out.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
by Teresa Toten

When Adam meets Robyn at a support group for kids coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder, he is drawn to her almost before he can take a breath. He’s determined to protect and defend her–to play Batman to her Robyn–whatever the cost. But when you’re fourteen and the everyday problems of dealing with divorced parents and step-siblings are supplemented by the challenges of OCD, it’s hard to imagine yourself falling in love. How can you have a “normal” relationship when your life is so fraught with problems? And that’s not even to mention the small matter of those threatening letters Adam’s mother has started to receive  (goodreads.com)

Now THIS book was FANFREAKINGTASTIC! I picked it up for my Kobo with some gift cards I’d gotten at Christmas. I bought this one on the recommendation of my naturopath of all people. When I went to an appointment in January she mentioned having just read a great YA novel about teens with OCD and that totally piqued my interest. I am so happy that I found out about this book because it was just amazing. Yes, there is romance-ish between Adam and Robyn but it’s not the over-the-top swoony kind that you get in most novels these days. This book is so raw and real and just heartwarming you are rooting for Adam the entire time. This was a great story about mental illness that will make you laugh and cry and feel uncomfortable but also happy and hopeful. It even has a bit of a mystery within the story that kept me on my toes until the end. I know I’ve only read seven books (now 8, since I just finished one in February) so far, but this is the best one I have read so far.

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life
by Leila Sales

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. (goodreads.com)

I had tears in my eyes by the second page of this book. I knew just by Elise’s voice and the words on those first two pages that this book was going to resonate so deeply within me and I was right.

This Song Will Save Your Life was the book I ended the year with. After the year that I had, I think a book like this was the perfect ending. There is something so genuine and piercing about Elise. Her words. Her fears. Her actions. Although I couldn’t exactly relate to the sneaking out and DJing at an underground dance party, I did connect with the other parts of her. The parts that “knew” being different was wrong. That being yourself and not fitting into the cookie-cutter cutout rules and norms of the rest of the teen world would result in being punished.

It was almost like Leila Sales took parts of my actual life and wrote them into a story. Obviously she didn’t because she doesn’t know me from Adam, but there were so many things in there that were my life. Starting in the 4th grade. It was scary and fascinating all at the same time.

Elise was rescued from her life though, so many others aren’t. However so many others are too scared to take the leaps and chances that can find them refuge among the wars that wage between high school walls.

The idea that some idiot can make a fake blog and write as someone else in a way to bully another kid is just terrifying to me. I don’t know why that idea never crossed my mind before because I’ll bet you it’s common. It’s just another example that has me pretty certain I’d have not survived growing up if the internet had existed back then.

This story is one of the few that gets the teen voice right. The struggles, the fears. And it’s not completely depressing, there’s humour among all of the angst and the angst isn’t superficial. I was just about bawling when Elise tries to save her sister from the same fate she feels she’s had. The lesson here is don’t be different. Don’t be yourself. Blend in. 

Honestly for most of my life I had the same mantra although it didn’t ever work. I’m still learning that being myself and being different isn’t something that deserves punishment. Unfortunately it took me 30 years to get to the point that I could start understanding and trusting that.

I thought this was an amazing book. I’m still thinking about it three days later and I’m still full of emotion over it. This book might have been one of the best gifts I have ever received and I am so happy that someone chose to send it to me. It was exactly what I needed to end my 2013. It helped me settle down my energy for 2014. It moved me. It made me laugh and cry. It made me want to check out the other books written by this author.

Mostly, it made me happy to be ME.

The Prairie Bridesmaid

The Prairie Bridesmaid
by Daria Salamon

Just cresting her thirties, Anna Lasko is a frustrated high school teacher whose almost ex-boyfriend, Adam, is away on temporary assignment in Europe. She finds herself tricked into a break-up-with-the-bad-boyfriend intervention by her supportive but meddling girlfriends. To cope with it all, Anna starts smoking again, keeps nightly counsel with her backyard squirrel, Buddy, and starts sessions with a caring but fashion-challenged therapist. Her well-intentioned family adds to the emotional workload when her beautiful and free-spirited sister decides to move to the Middle East with her boyfriend. Luckily, Anna has her gun-toting grandmother who constantly says it like it is, refuses to conform to anyone’s requests, and continues to live on her prairie farm half-blind, happy, and alone. (goodreads.com)

This book belongs to a friend of mine and if she hadn’t shoved it at me last summer and said, “You have to read this. It’s great and now that I know the background behind it, it’s even better.” There are reasons my friend has this book and met the author. It all happened on her summer vacation last year. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about how I forgot that I had the book in my overhead bin at work and only saw it when I was on a cleaning binge in July. Oops.

So before my friend went on her vacation this year, I took the book home and started to read it. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy the book. It’s been so difficult for me to read lately. Nothing holds my attention and even though I have mountains of books to be read in my own home, they are all annoying me at present. I start one and get about 5 pages, or maybe an entire chapter in, and then I am tossing the book aside in a huff thinking, “GAH! This is so STUPID! Why are all books the SAME?!” So, right now? Right now a book will only capture my attention if it’s original enough and had compelling characters and is written in a voice I can tolerate in my curmudgeonly phase.

I don’t really want to categorize this book as “Chick Lit” because of many reasons – the first one being that I hate that term. The second one being that most people seem to associate Chick Lit with Romantic Comedy and this isn’t either of those things. Sure the book has its humourous moments, but it’s not a book about romance.

It’s a book about a woman living her life and trying to escape a very bad relationship. It’s about friendship between women who love each other dearly and all have their own paths in life.

This sort of reminded me of Janet Evanovich crossed with Sara Addison Allen. Anna’s grandmother certainly has Grandma Mazur vibes (I think they’d be friends) and the characters are real and raw as in Sara Addison Allen novels.

And it all takes place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. So, there’s that. Very rare to have a Canadian location in a book that isn’t Toronto or Vancouver. 😉 There ARE other places in my country. They are just quieter.

This isn’t a new book. This is a book you may happen across when you browse – really browse – the shelves in your local (Canadian) bookstore. But I’d give it a chance if you come across it because it’s quite charming and emotional and it will make you laugh out loud once in a while.

Hidden

Hidden
by Catherine McKenzie

When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered—his wife and someone else’s—and past secrets, desires and regrets are brought to light

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Not one but two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son and contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—her ex-boyfriend—Tim.

With Tish’s co-workers in the dark about her connection to Jeff outside the workplace, she volunteers to attend the funeral on the company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life. Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, our personal choices and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love. (goodreads.com)

I have professed my love for Catherine McKenzie’s novels many times on this blog. (Spin; Arranged; Forgotten – with Spin being my all time favourite!)  I was surprised – and disappointed in myself for not knowing about this – that her new novel was released this summer. Hidden hit the stores in July and although I happened to physically be in a store when the book should have been on the shelf, it wasn’t there. Don’t you just hate that?

Imagine my delight when I received an email from HarperCollins Canada about an actual, honest to goodness BOOK EVENT in Montreal. In Montreal! Yay! The event was for the Summer Escapes event which featured many great summer reads, two of which were written by Montreal authors – Catherine herself and Isabelle Laflèche (J’Adore Paris). I was excited for many reasons – we were finally having a pretty decent book event in Montreal, I would get to meet Catherine McKenzie in person (finally) and I would get to meet Shannon from HCC and The Savvy Reader who has been such a great person to get to know as I have been blogging.

Left: Shannon & I // Right: Catherine & I

Now! About Hidden!

Told from three points of view – some in the present and some in the past, this book is the story of a man who is killed in a car accident and leaves behind two grieving women – his wife and his (married) girlfriend. I am not a huge fan of cheating stories, but I was compelled to read this one only because it brought up a question that I always wondered about. Ever since those miners were trapped in a mine in… Spain (?) and one man’s wife and girlfriend found out about each other while he was trapped (lucky him, probably safer that way)… I have always thought, “Wow, it must be insane to find something like that out in the middle of a trauma. Who would do such a thing!?”

Obviously Catherine McKenzie wondered this too, because she wrote a book about it. 😉

I couldn’t tell you what character I liked throughout the story. I didn’t think much of Jeff – I’m just not someone who can justify or tolerate cheating. I didn’t much care for Tish, the girlfriend, either. She just didn’t click with me. Not that Claire, the wife, was all that great of a person either. Hmm, if I am being honest, I didn’t really connect with ANY of the characters but oddly, I didn’t dislike the story.

I know! It does happen occasionally where I’m not all that into the characters but I enjoy the story. Sometimes a good story doesn’t need you to want to be BFFs with the people in it. It can happen. Trust me. 😉

There is something about Catherine McKenzie’s writing that connects with me though. Deeply. It’s almost as if she writes the way I talk to myself. (OK, that sounds odd but I don’t know how else to explain it!) Her words are…familiar? Comfortable? Her writing makes me happy – regardless of the subject matter and the sense of humour in the books seems to be similar to mine.

ANYHOW… Hidden is yet another wonderful novel from Catherine McKenzie and although probably the most dark and emotional of her novels, it still managed to tug at my heart-strings and make me think about things. (Like, if I ever find out my husband has a girlfriend if something happens to him, I will be VERY, VERY cross with him. *glare*)