the bookish life

my geeky love for books and bookish things

Tag: books (page 2 of 9)

Book Review – When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

This book was on one of those shelves with a huge sign, “If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, check out these titles!” How could I refuse?

When She Woke

Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love. – Goodreads

I read this book in a single sitting – it was heavy, but pretty interesting. The similarities with The Handmaid’s Tale are certainly there, but this book is much more focused on religion and punishment. It got a bit too preachy at times, which definitely slowed down the pace quite a bit. Hannah’s journey was emotional, gritty and full of self reflection which was great, but may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t expect a lot of action!

Jordan’s world building is fantastic, and her characters are complex and deeply flawed. I found myself very frustrated with Hannah’s family, and their rigid inability to grow and change. But Hannah herself does, and comes out stronger for her trials.

The story ends with hope, but not full resolution, which is my favourite kind of ending. That left me curious and thinking about Hannah’s future long after I had put the book down. I wish for a sequel, even though I know it shouldn’t really have one!

3.5/5 

Book Review – The Circle by Dave Eggers

I downloaded The Circle because of the movie trailer – it looked fascinating. And I always try to read the book first!

the circle

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. – Goodreads

Anxiety. That’s the biggest thing that comes to mind about my experience with this book – anxiety. Mae’s new Circle world was full of online activity and stimuli, and I just couldn’t handle it. She was overloaded with newsfeeds, message threads, online events and conversations – and she handled it perfectly fine. But man, did it ever stress me out! I can barely keep up with Instagram and Facebook.

There were no individual chapters and the ending was unsettling – I had a lot of questions after I finished it. The characters felt a bit two dimensional, but I kind of think that was the point. This book is a fable about the dangers of overdoing it online and the limits of privacy – the characters were there just to help tell that fable. As for the movie – I’m not sure if I want to see it. I’d rather not feel that anxious over a piece of fiction again.

4/5

 

Book Review – Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt & Ramie Liddle

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


I was a bit uncertain about this one – it’s not really the type of book I gravitate toward. Happily, my feelings were unwarranted.

Driving Miss Norma

When Miss Norma was diagnosed with uterine cancer, she was advised to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But instead of confining herself to a hospital bed for what could be her last stay, Miss Norma—newly widowed after nearly seven decades of marriage—rose to her full height of five feet and told the doctor, “I’m ninety years old. I’m hitting the road.”

And so Miss Norma took off on an unforgettable around-the-country journey in a thirty-six-foot motor home with her retired son Tim, his wife Ramie, and their dog Ringo.

Infused with this irrepressible nonagenarian’s wisdom, courage, and generous spirit, Driving Miss Norma is the charming, infectiously joyous chronicle of their experiences on the road. It portrays a transformative journey of living life on your own terms that shows us it is never too late to begin an adventure, inspire hope, or become a trailblazer. – Goodreads

This touching and inspiring memoir covers Miss Norma’s last year. This started as a Facebook page dedicated to the journey and I wish I had seen it while she was still travelling. Norma spent that last year coming out of her shell and experiencing a tonne of new things – regional foods, a hot air balloon ride, cannabis…

While in Colorado, Miss Norma began experiencing some medical issues related to her illness. Her son Tim and his wife Ramie did some research and decided that CBD balm and pills would help. Norma agreed – and their story about visiting a marijuana dispensary was really interesting and funny. Even better – the CBD worked! I’m a huge supporter of medical cannabis, and as a former nurse I found her experience to be fascinating.

Midway through that eventful year, their Facebook page went viral. The book doesn’t shy away from it, and really delves into their self-doubt and worry as they accepted interview requests. Luckily it turned out really well and Miss Norma was treated like a local celebrity wherever they went. It sounds like she got a kick out of it!

The book’s ending is sad of course, but overall it’s an inspiring story that I’m not soon to forget.

5/5

 

Book Review – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters arrived in the May Owlcrate – complete with an exclusive cover! I went into this book totally blind, which I think is always a good thing.

Eliza and her monsters

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. – Goodreads

This book is near perfect. The characters have nuance and depth, and the world Zappia has created is realistic and detailed. The artwork included is beautiful as well. But more than anything else, this book covers mental health amazingly well.

Social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts – Zappia has covered it all with a level of realism and compassion that I haven’t really seen in YA fiction before. I could see myself in Eliza, and I felt for her on so many levels. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit at times too. I truly believe that this story could help so many teens that are struggling right now – teachers should add this to their classrooms and parents should take a look too. I know I’ll be recommending this book – a lot.

4.5/5

Book Review – Miss You by Kate Eberlen

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


I jumped at the chance to read an advanced copy of Miss You – the premise looked really interesting. And it didn’t disappoint!

Miss You

Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever – but not in the way she expects.

Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be.

For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.

Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there? – Goodreads

Miss You is told through two parallel stories, where the lives of Tess and Gus occasionally cross –  usually in extremely subtle ways. It was fun to spot them whenever it happened.

The story itself isn’t the happiest: Tess and Gus experience very different things growing up, but both end up on similar paths. They spent their lives sacrificing for the happiness of others – and I found it quite frustrating to read at times. I wanted to knock some sense into them! Tess at least acknowledged (internally) at the unfairness of it, but Gus just accepted it as his life. When they finally meet in the end – and totally fall for each other – it truly is the first time they put themselves first. The end is uplifting, full of hope and promise – which has me wishing for a sequel!

Eberlen’s descriptions of London and Italy are so lovingly detailed – they almost become characters themselves. I struggled at times with the slow pace of the plot, but never lost interest in the story itself. The pace actually built up the anticipation for when Tess and Gus would eventually meet. It made the whirlwind romance at the end feel a bit rushed though, and I think it could have benefitted from a bit more development.

I think one of the things I was most impressed about was Eberlen’s sensitive and knowledgeable take on a character with Aspergers. Tess’ little sister Hope (whom she pretty much raises on her own), is the centre of her world. She struggles as Hope is diagnosed, and tries to give her as normal a childhood as possible. It was a very honest portrayal – I loved it.

Miss You is now available.

4/5

Reading Wrap Up – March 2017

I read 12 books in March. Books with reviews have their titles linked.

Total Books Read in 2017 (from my Goodreads page): 40

  1. The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike 3/5
  2. Damaged Goods by Jennifer Bardsley 3.5/5
  3. Caraval by Stephanie Garber 4/5
  4. The Awakening by Kate Chopin 5/5
  5. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway 5/5
  6. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 2/5
  7. RoseBlood by A.G. Howard 2/5
  8. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie 4/5
  9. Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji 3/5
  10. Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen by Serena Valentino 3.5/5
  11. The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince by Serena Valentino 3.5/5
  12. Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch by Serena Valentino 3.5/5

March reads

I’m hoping to have the review for the Disney Villains series up in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

As always, pictures plus shorter reviews for some of my reads are also on Instagram.

Book Review – The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I read The Awakening because my pen pal recommended it. Have I mentioned I have a bookish pen pal? She has great taste!

The Awakening

The Awakening is a short novella written in the late 19th century, and was extremely controversial for it’s time. It’s about a married woman and mother who finds herself falling in love with another man, and starts to crave independence – she wants to be her own person. This book essentially ended the author’s career, but it’s a fantastic book with themes that are still really relevant today (like the questioning of gender roles). Kate Chopin is now seen as far ahead her time.

Chopin’s writing is beautifully simple and clear – her prose has aged very well. When tracking down a copy, be sure to grab one that includes her other short stories – they are fantastic and will definitely make you think.

4.5/5

Book Review – RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

RoseBlood came in the January Owlcrate, with the theme Classic Remix. It’s marketed as a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but I would call it more of a sequel.

RoseBlood

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known. – Goodreads

I saw the stage show of The Phantom of the Opera when I was young, before I really understood what it was. So I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with it through this book. And I will admit that RoseBlood has sparked an interest in the original book, but unfortunately, that’s the only good thing to come out of this.

Although Howard’s world is very descriptive, with a gorgeous setting, the story itself could use a lot of help. Simply put, Rune is a Mary Sue surrounded by flat, stereotypical characters: a bitchy female enemy, an inquisitive best friend and a stalker/broody soulmate. I was able to tolerate this kind of storytelling a decade ago (i.e., Twilight), but I’ve since lost all patience for it. Pacing was also off, with unexpected forward jumps in the story, and Rune giving a quick recap of what happened in between. It was jarring, and took me right out of the narrative at times.

I finished the book feeling like it was mildly entertaining, but not memorable.

2/5

Book Review – The Phoenix Project by C.A. Gray

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


The Phoenix Project is the final book in Gray’s Liberty Box trilogy. I reviewed the first two awhile ago, and have been really eager to jump into the third.

Phoenix Project

During Kate’s broadcast to the nation, Voltolini unleashed targeted brainwave signals against her, causing her to allow both Jackson MacNamera’s capture, and her own. Now, despite Voltolini’s exquisite wining and dining, she can’t seem to stop the panic attacks. Whom can she trust? What is truth? Is there even such a thing?

Meanwhile, imprisoned and hopeless, Jackson realizes the depths of his feelings for Kate only after he has already lost her. The incredible self-control upon which he prides himself gets put to the ultimate test when he meets an unlikely ally who just may turn the tide in the rebels’ favor—but only if Jackson can put aside his own bitterness. In this gripping conclusion to The Liberty Box Trilogy, new and surprising alliances are formed, passions run high, and our heroes learn what they are really made of. Do they have what it takes to fight for freedom—even if it means paying the ultimate price? – Goodreads

The Phoenix Project is a well written and entertaining end to the series. Gray’s world building is still going strong, and the story itself was a very fast paced, easy read. As with the other two books, characterization of some of the antagonistic roles (like Wil and Alex) were a bit one note, and could use further development. However, Jackson’s voice improved this time around, seeming a bit less super-human and more relatable.

I very rarely read self-published books, but I’m really glad I stumbled upon these. This is not Gray’s first series – and I think it’s about time I explored her other books!

The Phoenix Project is available in both paperback and digital edition on Amazon. (I hope it reaches Kobo in Canada soon too!)

3.5/5

Book Review – Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval has been getting a lot of attention and love on Instagram right now. Some are comparing it to The Night Circus. While I don’t think Caraval is quite up to that caliber, it is still really good. Spoilers ahead!

Caraval

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner. – Goodreads

Garber has created a beautifully detailed world that is both dark and magical. It has these layers that are slowly peeled away as Scarlett delves further and further into the mystery of Caraval. And it really is a huge mystery, which left me guessing and questioning right until the very end.

Characterization was a bit weak, but still pretty good. Scarlett is really the only character that is fully explored, while the Caraval players, her sister and father are a bit more 2 dimensional. And quite a few characters were able to cheat death – they literally came back to life at the end of the game. I feel like that lessened the emotional impact and really was my only issue with the book. But it’s a testament to Garber’s story telling skills that it really didn’t bother me that much overall.

Fair warning – this book has a heck of a cliffhanger, and is the start of a series. But it’s an extremely good story to kick it off. In this case, the hype is definitely warranted.

4/5

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