Saturday, March 18, 2017

Book Review: The Cat at the Wall

I did not want to read this book. I came across it while inputting something on goodreads after clicking on the author to see what else she's written. Obviously as a cat lady, I was immediately drawn to the title. After reading the synopsis, I thought the premise was interesting, and I wanted to know how it ended. Alas, my google skills couldn't find me a long form summary, so I picked up the book. It's a juvenile title, and I figured it wouldn't take me long to read and it would be worth it in the end to know what happened, right?

The Cat at the Wall
By Deborah Ellis
152 pages

A cat (our narrator) sneaks into a Palestinian house, looking for food. She has followed in two Israeli soldiers, tasked with spying on the neighbourhood. But they are not alone: there is a young boy hiding in the house. Eventually he gets discovered by the soldiers, and then the neighbourhood discovers he is trapped in the house with the soldiers, and it all escalates into a frenzy. Meanwhile, our cat narrator tries not to get involved because nothing is her fault or problem. But she is not just any cat: she is actually the reincarnation of an eighth grade girl. Will she step up to resolve the frenzy? What happened to the boys parents? How did the girl die? Will they all die?

I did not want to read this book, and I'm almost sorry I did (almost). The story set in Palestine is interesting, and a fascinating look at life within the conflict. This, plus the fact that it's about a cat, would've been right up my alley when I was 8-12 years old. I'm certain I would've read this book if it had been around then. But would I have enjoyed it? Probably not - because the flashbacks to the girl's former life are super annoying - she is spoiled, pretentious, selfish, and just downright mean spirited. A 10 year old me (and a 36 year old me) would hate her. But then in the end she steps up, claims responsibility, and does something selfless to help others. Hooray! Moral learned by all the juvenile readers! Except the last page about her new personality is really twee and abrupt; 10 year old me would've hated the ended, just like 36 year old me.

So. An interesting book about a cat in Palestine on one hand, an annoying glimpse into the life of a rotten 13 year old girl on the other. Half interesting, half annoying, but it only took me a couple hours to read so not a waste of time I guess. If you are a 9-12 year old girl who likes cats and reading about other places in the world then you should pick it up. If you're not, then don't. Nice cover art though, eh?!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: A Man Called Ove

Since starting in October 2016, my book club hasn't had the best luck with choosing books. Of the four we've read so far, I liked most of one, sort of liked some of another, didn't like one, and was ambivalent about another. For March, it was suggested we read a book-to-movie and then watch the movie. After much debate we settled on A Man Called Ove...

...and I'm so thankful we did!

A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman
337 pages

Set in Sweden (though not at all different than what you might be used to), Ove* is your typical 'grumpy old man'. Like seriously grumpy. He lives in a residential complex and just wants to be left alone to [spoiler redacted], but his annoying neighbours (and one ragged kitty cat) keep interrupting! What's a cranky old man to do!

I LOVED this book. It was so funny, and though there's a fair bit of sadness in it, the sardonic, cynical type of humour was laugh out loud worthy. So, not funny "ha-ha", but funny "oh that's exactly how the world works except no one wants to say it because we're all too polite to tell the truth" funny. The timeline jumps between the present, and Ove's past, including much information about his relationship with his wife, and themes from many current topics such as LGBTQ, immigrant, and elderly concerns. And love. It's all about love, but not gross-out sentimental romantic love (well a little bit) but more about the love that holds various types of relationships together and makes life worth living.

“To love someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one's own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That's it, all the little secrets that make it your home."
- Fredrik Backman , A Man Called Ove 

And so funny! Parts of the text are almost lyrical in the way they're written, which is amazing because it is originally written in Swedish. And the characters, well all of them are such...characters! It's weird to say, but I saw parts of me in Ove, and could related my current relationship to Ove's and Sonja's in certain ways. I hope I'm not quite as cranky as Ove, but also see how the relationship to good people could save us all from ourselves (my favourite quote is above, not a funny one, but super sweet). I really enjoyed Backman's style, and am looking forward to reading more of his novels. I'm also super looking forward to seeing the film because, if it's true to the novel, will make for an excellent visual experience.

Definitely pick up this book, regardless of what you usually read. It's funny and sad and happy and so worth your time!

*How do you pronouce "Ove"?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Book Review: Graphic Novel Kick Ass Girl Trio

Being a short month, Book Club decided to read a short book - or rather a graphic novel. We tried to find a few kick-as girl stories, and voted on Snapshot of a Girl. I decided to read all three we voted on though, but as usual, found that graphic novels aren't really my medium.

Snapshots of a Girl
By Belden Sezen
176 pages

This autobiographical collection follows the author as she accepts and comes out as a lesbian. I got the simple, but not deeper message, and was a fan of only half the artwork (the cartoon styled ones, not the more realistic figures). So, just meh.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
By Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen
128 pages

I've been meaning to read this for awhile: who wouldn't love strong female characters hanging out at camp?! Well me apparently. It was just a bit too weird. Probably I'm just getting old.

By Noelle Stevenson
272 pages

Evil nemesis fighting noble knight and corrupt institution mixed with quirky shapeshifting sidekick equals fun times, right? I didn't much like this one to start but it grew on me. The ending wasn't disappointing, and even though I only half liked the art, I did like the humour. A worthy quick read.

Book Review: Ragged Company

Years ago, I read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese and it changed my life. I had another of his books on my list for years and finally had time to read it!

Ragged Company
By Richard Wagamese
376 pages

Four homeless friends decide to shelter from a particularly cold winter's day by going to the movie theatre. There, they happen upon a gentleman, who at first moves away from them, but who, over the course of the book and multiple random meetings at the movies, becomes a very good friend. This of course comes in handy when one of the ragged company finds a $13 million winning lottery ticket on the street, because you need ID and thus an address to claim such a fortune! The book tells the back stories of all the friends, as well as their present issues of dealing with such a lifestyle change, and their journeys to overcome their inner demons.

This book has a simple premise, but is very sweet, and poignant, if a little rough around the edges. I enjoy Wagamese's writing style, and got so into the characters I cried at three different parts (twice on an airplane, yeesh). I did think it went on a bit too long and that the last quarter dragged a bit, but it wrapped up well with a happy and hopeful ending. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a not-super-depressing-or-gruesomely-traumatic read. Let me know if you end up crying on an airplane when Timber tries to find his wife...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Book Review: Station Eleven

Every year, my university picks a book to study - everyone (this year around 800 students as part of classes, plus misc staff and faculty) reads it and the author visits in March to do readings and workshops. All very exciting. I've read the book every year I've worked there (well, skipped last year, oops) and this year was looking forward to it because people raved about the book!

Then I heard it had Shakespeare in it. Not a huge Shakespeare fan (I'm just not that smart or cultured).

Then I realized it was dystopian fiction. I HATE dystopian novels! Why? First of all, everyone dies. Which is sad. So then I think about losing the people I love and I get sad. So then I dream about death and I get depressed. Reading about everyone dying is soul destroying and the world is depressing enough - I don't need to get more depressed by reading for fun. Second, bad stuff happens when society breaks down and people are left in a lawless state. Like horrible terrifying gruesome stuff. Have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? There are a couple scenes from that book that still to this day haunt me, 10 years after I read it they still crop up in my dreams. Horrible violent stuff. Why would I want to read about that? Depressing. Gruesome. No thank you.

But the author is coming in March, so I gave it a go...

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel
352 pages

An actor dies on the stage of King Lear, a child actress watching from the wings. That night, a flu flies into Toronto that eventually kills 99% of the people in the world. Fast forward to twenty years later, the child actress is now an adult, and part of a travelling performance group. They reach a settlement only to learn a prophet has taken charge, and not in a good way. The book flips between the present day post-flu world and the past, tracing the lives of many interconnected characters, who all have a part to play in the future.

Is that vaguely interesting? Besides the horrible death and gruesome gross dead body stuff,, I hate dystopian! The writing is very accessible and easy to follow, and I even liked the plot lines from the past. But it was just so depressing learning about the new normal people had to deal with in the post-flu world. And I could think about is the loss. And death. And that stupid quarantined plane the entire time I was flying back from Toronto a couple days after finishing the book. Dammit, like I needed another book haunting me.

The ending was good though. Almost happy. Hopeful. So there's that.

Was it a good book? Yes. Would I recommend it? Of course! Will I be reading a dystopian novel ever again? Not if I can help it! I'm glad I read it before the author comes, as I wouldn't have read this otherwise. And it got me thinking (even if it was haunting, depressing, thinking) so I guess that's the whole point, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Shades of Grey

After reading a few "traumatizing to children" books, book club decided to pick a humourous book for January. We all came up with suggestions, voted, and the winner was...

Shades of Grey
By Jasper Fforde
400 pages

Where do I start? Eddie Russet and his father are on their way to East Carmine, a far away outpost, and thus not really a trip they'd like to go on. As Russets, they see the world as grey, except for red colours. In East Carmine, we meet other "colourful" characters, the yellows, greens, blues, oranges and purples, including the greys - those people who can't see colour at all and are lowest on the social status system. As Fforde continues to build his world, we learn about the cult of Munsell, the social caste system, and the weird ways of the world. But all is not as it seems, and Eddie and his cranky, and somewhat violent maid Jane are on the trail to uncover details that will upset the colour balance - if they can avoid the corrupt bullies and stay alive long enough!

Bad summary, I know, but this book is hard to explain. Parts of this book are very clever. The whole colour viewing social system creation of Fforde's is super neat, and the weird slightly off throw backs to our world added to the neatness. He definitely has created an interesting world, so props for the world building. In the end, I never really knew if the people were people or robots or what. This book would probably make a good movie as it's very visual based. I might tune in.

But contrary to why we chose it, I didn't find this book funny, at least not "laugh out loud" or even "smirk" or "chuckle quietly to myself" funny. The humour is more...British I guess, very reminiscent of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker, Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld, or obviously Fforde's Thursday Next series. So not funny but peculiar. Which is good if that's what you're after. Not sure that's what I was after. Also it was quirkily gorey (lot's of dead bodies), which I wasn't expecting.

There were a few things that disappointed me about this book. First, I realized after I'd finished that it was a dystopian novel. Duh. Of course. Why didn't I realize that straight away: the clues are obvious from the beginning? The reason this is disappointing is I HATE dystopian stories. And this goes a long way to explaining why I just couldn't like the book. Secondly, I found out after that it's the first of a trilogy, which is disappointing because I didn't like the book and don't want to read more but there are unresolved plot issues, which is super annoying. Near the end I could tell he was setting it up for more. Not like reading a series is bad, but he hasn't even written the other two books (which I wont read, but might look up a plot summary on the interwebs, if I even remember this book was a thing by the time he publishes more). Finally, I hated the two twists at the end. It was that feeling where you'd read all the way through the book and then he throws a curve ball which you hate so much it made you wish you hadn't read the first 300-some pages. Just disappointing and sad. But I guess there are no happing endings in dystopia. Especially when there's still two books to come in a trilogy.

In case you can't tell, I didn't really like the book. Sure, it was clever - the whole colour viewing caste system was unique. And the parallels to our world, the inside jokes, some of those were clever as well. But overall, I found I didn't really get to love the characters, and this combined with the disappointing ending, well, yeah. Not a complete waste of time but similar to previous book club choices (The Wonder, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend) this book was disappointing in the end. Maybe reading it after the fantastic All the Light We Cannot See was a bad idea, or maybe the book is just meh. I really enjoyed Fforde's Thursday Next series and will probably reread it one of these days, but I'm passing on his Shades of Grey universe.

The internet loves this book though, so you might too. If you like clever not-overly-violent dystopia, pick it up.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Book club is awesome - the girls are hilarious - and it's got me reading again. The other day I walked into the public library to pick up The Wire season 4 that I had on hold, and a book caught my eye. My boyfriend and I decided, in lieu of ridiculous Christmas spending, we would start following the Icelandic tradition of buying and giving books for Christmas. We picked four book lists (Governor General fiction and nonfiction, New Your Times and the US National Book Awards) and each bought each other one to put under the tree. While scanning the lists for him, I put together a list for myself. While picking up my DVDs, I spotted one I had my eye on, but big was on the Hits to Go shelf - and that means they can only be borrowed for seven days. When's the last time I read a book in seven days? Especially when two days were out because of Christmas festivities? I shouldn't've taken it out at all - what if there was a copy under the tree for me?* But I thought it was a recommendation from book club, and it sounded right up my alley, so I walked out with The Wire season 4, a book, and a challenge to read a 544 page book in five days.

And wow, am I ever glad that book came home with me!

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
544 pages

A young, blind girl and her father live in Paris during the Second World War. Her father works for the museum, and she is fascinated by nature. He has carved little wooden houses from their neighbourhood to create a model for her to memorize, so she can take walks to the park or shop. Alas, it is war, and they escape to the walled city Saint-Malo in Brittany, to stay with the great-uncle. Again, her father carves her the town. While she waits for it to be finished, she listens to, and broadcasts signals over radios with her great-uncle.

A young, orphaned boy lives with his sister in an orphanage in Germany. He is a radio whizz, which eventually gets him into an academy for the chosen ones of the Hitler Youth. Eventually he ends up on the front lines, tracking Resistance radio signals, all the way to Saint-Malo.

And war. Always the heartbreaking truths of war.

Short chapters switch from Marie-Laure's, Werner's and other minor characters point of view, and from the main assault of Saint-Malo in 1944, to the events that lead up to assault, and then to the future fates of all our main characters.

And it was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The writing style was simple, accessible, but also eloquent and...beautiful. The short chapters that switched from perspective through time made it a quick read, and I read it over four days - I just couldn't put it down. Just...wonderful.

This, this is the kind of book that reminds me why I read. A rarity these days on my reading list, but a masterpiece, one that has already helped restore my passion for reading.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It was fantastic. Fitting that the best book I read in 2016 was the last book. And here's to more masterpieces in 2017!

*I got this one. What for a review soon!