3.30.2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY | BOOKS I RECENTLY ADDED TO MY TBR LIST


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Books I Recently Added To My TBR. Which you all know is absurd. I mean, let's face it - the best and worst side-effect of being part of the online book community is more books going on your TBR every week than you can count, much less read. It's never-ending. But here are a few newish books (to me):


Lost & Found - Brooke Davis
The Last Good Paradise - Tatjana Soli


On the Move: A Life - Oliver Sacks


Hold Me Closer - David Levithan


Nothing Like Love - Sabrina Ramnanan
God Help the Child - Toni Morrison

There are so many books on my TBR, and I add so many more every week. It's hard to remember when I added or heard of different books, but I think these were relatively recent additions. Let's face it, though, by the time you're reading this, I've probably added ten more...

3.29.2015

THE SUNDAY REVIEW | SWAMPLANDIA! - KAREN RUSSELL



The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness.

Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.
- Goodreads


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You're not exactly going to have a normal childhood if you grow up wrestling alligators in a Florida swamp. But even by these standards, the Bigtree family is anything but ordinary. The story starts as Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling family's theme park, is in its decline. The park is located on an island off the Florida coast and houses up to 100 alligators (along with various other animals) at a given time. The park boasts a champion alligator-wrestler - Hilola Bigtree, wife to Chief Bigtree and mother to our main characters, Ava, Osceola and Kiwi Bigtree.

It sounds like a rich, exciting setting, doesn't it? But within the first hundred pages they've lost their champion alligator wrestler, Hilola Bigtree to cancer, and the park's founder (and the children's grandfather) Sawtooth Bigtree to the mental labyrinth of old age. Not only that, but another amusement park has opened up on the mainland that steals their audience away. It's a confluence of unfortunate circumstances that creates a variety of negative effects on Hilola's husband, Chief Bigtree, and their three children. It's not long before the audience begins to falter, the park is temporarily closed, Chief Bigtree disappears to the mainland in search of "investors," and the oldest sibling, Kiwi, has run away in search of more viable economic prospects to support the family.

The book started strong. I loved learning about alligators (particularly after playing with a baby gator named Elvis when I was in Louisiana - go here if you missed my pic) and imagining what it would be like to grow up watching your mother dive into a pit of live gators night after night. The potential of this fictional landscape is immense. I expected a sense of the magical, even if it wasn't magical realism. With such an overstated setting, how could there not be?

Unfortunately the magic I got wasn't the kind I was hoping for. Ossie, the middle child, becomes obsessed with the occult - going to far as to begin "dating" a series of ghosts. At first it seems this is just a socially isolated teen's imagination running riot. Until it isn't, and soon her fantasies have taken over, and whether they're real or not, they're creating real-life problems for her and her sister.

But I think the biggest difficulty I had with this book was that it opened on such a down note, and every time you think things are looking up, something else goes wrong. Which isn't to say stories have to be happy to be good - they don't. But I think it would have really helped if the story had opened earlier so we could have experienced the park's heyday and seen Hilola as an gator wrestler and mother before her death. This would have helped the reader become more invested in her family and home. But because she is gone, with Grandpa Bigtree and the park following, it's hard to want to stick with the story to find out what happens. It's just a real downer.

Based on the description of this book, I expected: Quirky kids. A setting fraught with contained threat (dangerous alligators handled as part of a show). A bit of magical realism and probably some overcoming of obstacles - real or imagined. Such potential for a thoroughly enjoyable literary romp.

What I got: a book that, while beautifully written, started on a down note and continued to descend from there. Neglected children. A depressing set of characters handling everything from mental instability to social awkwardness to dementia to assault to bankruptcy. Does that sound like fun?

I think this is a book that will appeal to a certain type of reader. If you are one who has the stamina for a story that twists and turns through dark territory but has passages of beautiful writing and does an amazing job of setting the scene, this is a book for you. Likewise if you are fascinated by the Florida swamplands and/or paranormal stories, there's a lot here that will appeal to you. But if you like more entertaining books that have bright, shiny magic, this may turn out to be a bit disappointing. Many people I've talked to have loved this book, so if you feel like this is a story you'll enjoy, don't be deterred. I feel like it's one you'll either love or hate - but either way, it'll leave a strong impression!

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Book Title: Swamplandia!
Author: Karen Russell
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Vintage Books
Released: July 26, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Family, Character-Driven
Pages: 400
Date Read: March 2-9, 2015
Rating: 5 or 6/10

Buy the book:
 

3.28.2015

STACKING THE SHELVES | #65


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks I don't buy any books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some I haven't shared in an StS post yet!


Hold Me Closer - David Levithan
The Last Good Paradise - Tatjana Soli


Let Fury Have the Hour - Antonino D'Ambrosio
Best Sex Writing of the Year - Jon Pressick, ed.


I'm not sure what to expect from Hold Me Closer. I thought Tiny was one of the characters in John Green's chapters of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, so I was surprised that the Tiny Cooper story was written by David Levithan. Then again, maybe I was wrong about that! Either way, Tiny was such a wonderful character that of course I have to read his story. And I've heard nothing but good things. The rest are a pretty eclectic mix of books, all of which I'm excited to read, all for different reasons. Best Sex Writing is a series of books that Cleis Press has been coming out with annually for over 10 years now, and is always worth reading. Let Fury Have the Hour... to be totally honest, I mostly wanted to read this on account of the cover, which is by one of my favourite artists, Shephard Fairey.

What about you guys? Have you read any of these books? Did you pick up any exciting titles in the past week? Share in the comments!

3.26.2015

BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | GOOD BOOK; BAD CHARACTERS


The world of books is never boring. Every week (well, most weeks) I'll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what's going on in the online book community (or something I've seen another blogger talk about). I call this Book Thoughts on Thursday. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me! 

***

I've been thinking a lot recently about unlikable characters. It's kind of been in the back of my mind since reading Gone Girl, a book with absolutely horrible characters, the kind you can't find much of anything redeemable in, but a fantastic book just the same. 

This was an anomaly for me. I've often found that if I don't like the main character of a book, the book itself won't make my favourites list. I find it really difficult to enjoy a book if I don't enjoy spending time with its characters, particularly if it's written in the first person thus putting me right inside their head. 

But recently I've been thinking about my perspective on this issue. After all, not every good book is a comfortable or enjoyable reading experience. In fact, some of the books that have stuck with me and changed my mental landscape the most were ones that were incredibly disturbing or upsetting to read. Often this is because of the subject matter or plot, but why should a difficult protagonist be any different than a difficult topic or event?

I discussed the topic at some length with Katie from Bookish Tendencies, who, unlike myself, is a fan of unlikable characters. Our discussion made me stop to consider my stance and what was really behind my reactions. After some consideration, I realized that I've scapegoated unlikable characters and blamed them for books I just didn't like. In reality, it was usually a matter of finding other issues with the book, and the fact that I didn't like the main character was just part of the problem. I'm discovering that when an unlikable character (or a whole cast of them) is well written with depth, insight and interesting traits, and the plot of the book works, I'll end up considering it a good book.

After all, unpleasant characters are often necessary for a well-rounded narrative, and in many cases an antagonist can even have richer narrative potential. It can be fascinating to explore the motivations of a villain - it's easier to understand a "good" character, but a villain... that takes some explaining. But usually they're the secondary characters, over whom the protagonist must triumph. It's different when the main character is the one who's hard to handle.

I've further realized that there's a separation between books I enjoy reading, and books I consider to have great literary value. It's possible to really enjoy reading a book but not think it has much in the way of literary importance, or to find a book really difficult to get through but for it to be a book that is has a lasting impact on the reader and the literary landscape as a whole.

I knew this before, of course, but generally thought of it in the context of books whose content was difficult to read (for example books dealing with the holocaust or racial tension or depression or substance abuse... among many other topics), not in terms of books with characters I disliked. Perhaps because the two tend to go hand in hand. However, in thinking about it more carefully, I came to the conclusion that it works for characters just the same.

I think this distinction is key to my own perspective. If the book is otherwise excellent, and if the characters are presented in such a way that they make sense (even better if you end up feeling conflicted about a character you know to be "bad," but the author's representation of them makes you understand or even sympathize with them) and have depth, the book will still end up being one I consider excellent.

This was underlined by my recent read, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum - a book that deeply affected me, the writing if which was so poetic as to cause me to re-read passages just so I could wallow in the words, but that contained not a single adult character I could honestly claim to like. Perfect example of an amazing book with a main character who was simultaneously sympathetic and very unlikable in my opinion. 

I'm interested to hear what you all think on this topic. Do you have to like a protagonist to enjoy his or her book? Do you find it difficult to ascribe a rating to a book separate from whether it was an enjoyable read? Or do you find antagonists drawing your interest? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

3.25.2015

MY WEEK ON WEDNESDAY | #5


My Week On Wednesday is a weekly post in which I share with you what I've been reading, what I'm reading next, and any other bookish news that has happened in the past week.

Just Shelved:


Almost Famous Women was... well, it was intense. It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was also so much more than I bargained for. This was a buddy read with Katie from Bookish Tendencies, and while it was a multi-faceted read to begin with, adding the discussion between Katie and I to the mix gave it an extra layer that made it a wonderful reading experience. It's going to take me some time to sort through my feelings after this book, but it's definitely worth checking out.

Anne of Green Gables is one I was supposed to read in January for the Green Gables Readalong. Yes, I'm about two months behind! But I'm still truckin' - I've started Anne of Avonlea already. Anne was every bit as lovable as when I first met her as a child, and I'm enjoying setting foot in her whimsical world once again. Black Dove White Raven was my first Elizabeth Wein book and I can see why she receives such high praise. Though a young adult book, this one was every bit as intense and emotional as the best literary fiction. It's definitely one I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or character-driven books set in conflict zones.

Currently Reading:


My dad read the The Sweetness while we were on vacation, and though I'd had it on my list for a while, that pushed it closer to the top of my list. The book is the first in a series featuring a spunky eleven-year-old aspiring chemist who defies police directives and sets about solving a murder. It's set in 1950s England, so the setting has an idyllic, slow-paced lifestyle that makes it as whimsical as it is smart and edgy. And I'm getting started on my second Anne book for the Green Gables Readalong... only three behind! (Oops...)

Up Next:


So it seems I'm turning reading into a social event lately, which is totally and completely awesome. After the roaring success that was our The Fever buddy read, Julianne and I are tossing around the idea of another one. And because, yes, we're both just a *little* nuts (okay, stop laughing now) we're planning to give A Little Life a try. Even though it's, like, really long. So this should be interesting.

In addition Katie at Bookish Tendencies and April at The Steadfast Reader are hosting #CloudAtlasAlong next month, and I'm tossing around the idea of joining in, because I'm loving co-operative reading, and because it's probably the only way I'll ever make it through this particular book! We'll see if I manage to stick with it!

Cool Stuff I Came Across This Week:



That's right, it's the Harry Potter version of the Friends intro. Need I say more?

In Other News:

So you know how when you're writing a review, you have to agonize over not revealing anything that could spoil the book? And how frustrating it is because what you really want to do is discuss that huge moment when [insert spoiler here] happened because OMG!!!? Well, 5 bloggers decided it was time there was a place to do just that. The newly-established Socratic Salon will allow readers to do just that. They're hosting discussions on a selection of books with the understanding that there WILL be spoilers, and that that's okay! The first book discussion they've got going on right now is about Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. So if you've read the book, hop on over and join in. If not, you can visith the blog and find out which books are coming up so you can plan your reading accordingly!

That's it for my week, it's been a great one! If you'd like to share what's been shaking in your literary world over the past week, feel free to link-up below or share in the comments!

3.24.2015

RELEASE DAY REVIEW | SOMEONE IS WATCHING - JOY FIELDING


A fast-paced, intense psychological thriller from an international bestselling author--Rear Window meets The Silent Wife.
  
Bailey has it all. At least, she had it all--a job she loved as a high-powered investigator in a top Miami law firm, a gorgeous condo in a stylish downtown high rise, a handsome boyfriend, a sizeable inheritance. A seemingly idyllic life.

But that was before a brutal attack left her feeling insecure about her entire world. And with her attacker still on the loose and the police at a loss for clues, she can't shake off the feeling that someone is watching her, monitoring her every move. Even after her half-sister, Claire, and Claire's sassy teenage daughter, Jade, move into her apartment to care for her, their presence does little to ease her overwhelming anxiety. Plagued by nightmares, she begins spying on her neighbours through high-powered binoculars, becoming obsessed with the new tenants in the building across from hers. But the strange things she sees only deepen her fears. Is it all in her head? Is her growing paranoia just a symptom of trauma? Or is it possible that someone is really watching? - Goodreads

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This story begins with a pulse-pouding attack on our protagonist, Bailey. Bailey is a private investigator who is employed by a prominent law firm in her native Miami. She's good at her job - she knows how to be sneaky, she can find the best time and place to surveil her target, and she's had self-defense training. She even carries a gun.

So when she's attacked one night while watching the apartment of a target's girlfriend, her lack of ability to fight off her attacker is as mentally debilitating as the attack itself. It doesn't help that her attacker hasn't been apprehended, and that nearly every man she sees could be the one who raped her.

For weeks after her attack, Bailey can't function. She can't sleep for more than a couple of hours before her nightmares wake her. She takes shower after shower but never feels clean. She searches her apartment to make sure no one is hiding in it multiple times a day.

She's no longer the person she used to be - and she doesn't know how to get herself back.

To distract herself, she starts watching a guy in the apartment building across from her. At first it's idle curiosity, but then strange things start happening. Phone calls that wake her up in the middle of the night, but no one is there. And she keeps seeing suspicious behaviour in her neighbour that no one else sees. The police are growing tired of her calls, and everyone around her is beginning to doubt her sanity. She has no one to call, and the investigation into her attack has stalled.

So she falls back on her training and decides it's time for her to investigate. She can get in where the police can't, she can ask questions they may not have, and she can rely on her instincts.

Which is where things start to get interesting.

The first thing I'll say about this book is that it's excellently paced. Fielding has written many books, and her experience as a writer really shows. It's not easy to write a thriller when the majority of the book takes place after the salient event. It could easily have dragged or become repetitive - but Fielding kept this from happening. She creatively finds ways of moving the plot forward evenly and consistently.

I found this easy to get into and I definitely wanted to keep reading as soon as I started. I think the only down side for me was that I guessed one of the big reveals well before they happened, and was a little disappointed when I turned out to be right. That said, I think it was more of a lucky guess than anything, so I wouldn't count that against the book.

This wasn't the most brilliant thriller I've ever read, but I was impressed with the pacing. I'd say it's definitely worth picking up if you're looking for a light, suspenseful read and enjoy intrigue!

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**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**

Book Title: Someone Is Watching
Author: Joy Fielding
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Doubleday Canada
Released: March 24, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Date Read: March 16-18, 2015
Rating: 7/10

Buy the book:

3.23.2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY | BOOKS FROM MY CHILDHOOD AND TEEN YEARS I'D LIKE TO RE-VISIT


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Books From My Childhood or Teen Years That I'd Like To Revisit. Seriously. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Only TEN??? Man, the girls over at Broke and Bookish like to torture us, don't they? Fine, fine, I'll do my absolute very best to stick to ten. I mean, I'm not promising anything, but I'll try.

Childhood:

Matilda and The BFG - Roald Dahl


Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome


A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little House In the Big Woods -  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink

Teen Years:


Under the Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes

 
Travels - Michael Crichton

I would have included Anne of Green Gables if I weren't already re-reading it. I'd also include the Trixie Belden books, Coraline by Neil Gaiman and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, except I've definitely re-read those already as an adult. Probably more than once!

Did you read any of these? What were your favourite childhood/teen reads? Share in the comments!

3.22.2015

THE SUNDAY (BOOK & MOVIE) REVIEW | THE DROP - DENNIS LEHANE


Dennis Lehane returns to the streets of Mystic River with this love story wrapped in a crime story wrapped in a journey of faith—the basis for the major motion picture The Drop, from Fox Searchlight Pictures directed by MichaĆ«l Roskam, screenplay by Dennis Lehane, and starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini.

Three days after Christmas, a lonely bartender looking for a reason to live rescues an abused puppy from a trash can and meets a damaged woman looking for something to believe in. As their relationship grows, they cross paths with the Chechen mafia; a man grown dangerous with age and thwarted hopes; two hapless stick-up artists; a very curious cop; and the original owner of the puppy, who wants his dog back. . . .
- Goodreads


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This one of those very rare cases when I watched a movie based on a book and liked the movie so much that I wanted to read the book right away.

Strangely, I've had a lot of trouble figuring out what to say about this book - in no small part because the part that made me love it is a spoiler, so I can't share it. So instead, I'm going to talk about both the movie and the book, and my impressions of both after watching the film and reading the book.

This is the story of Bob, a quiet guy who works at his uncle's bar as a bartender. Outside of work, he doesn't have much in his life. He lives simply in the house he inherited from his parents, he isn't married, doesn't have any kids or other close family, and his only social interaction is at his church.

Then one night he's walking home from work, and he hears a noise in a garbage can. When he investigates, he discovers a pit bull puppy that was beaten and left for dead. As he's rescuing the dog, the woman whose garbage can the dog was dumped in comes out to check out what's going on. Before he knows it, Bob has a new dog, and a new friend.

But life isn't suddenly perfect for Bob - or for his dog Rosco and new friend Nadia. Bob's neighbourhood is home to plenty of illegal activity, and the bar he works at is used to launder money from illegal betting. Not only that, but his uncle has a chip on his shoulder and delusions of what the world owes him. Which is never a good combination.

Pretty soon Bob's dealing with his bar being robbed, gangsters coming after their missing money, and Rosco's owner (not a nice piece of work) who wants his dog back - and who just happens to have history with Nadia.

I really can't say anything else without giving away important plot points. I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick read, and on the surface there's not much to it. But I loved the way the characters are drawn and developed. Normally watching a movie before reading a book ruins some of the scope for imagination, but with this book I was really glad I did things in that order. The movie was perfectly cast, and having the on-screen images flashing through my mind as I read really added depth for me. I will say, however, that because the movie and book are so close (the author worked on the script, I believe), if you watch and read too closely, it will feel a bit repetitive. Which didn't bother me because I liked the story so much, but fair warning.

The film stars Tom Hardy in the role of Bob, Noomi Rapace as Nadia and James Gandolfini in his final role as Bob's cousin Marv. It's an all-star cast, and they do not disappoint.

Take a look at the trailer:



I'd highly recommend both the film and the book. Aside from anything else, if you're an animal lover like I am, watching Bob's attachment to his adopted puppy is completely heartwarming, and his dedication to his furry friend will make you feel like the world isn't such a horrible place after all.

***Spoiler ahead!!***

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Book Title: The Drop
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: William Morrow Paperbacks
Released: September 2, 2014 (first published January 1, 2014)
Genre: Fiction, Character-Driven, Suspense, Drama
Pages: 224
Date Read: January 24-February 8, 2015
Rating: 9/10

Buy the book:

A spoiler for the animal lovers: Click here to show/hide spoiler

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