Monday, May 23, 2016

Brief Thoughts: A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

Author: Jenni Ogden
  Title: A Drop in the Ocean
  Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon  
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
On her 49th birthday, Anna Fergusson, Boston neuroscientist and dedicated introvert, arrives at an unwanted crossroads when the funding for her research lab is cut. With her confidence shattered and her future uncertain, on impulse she rents a cabin for a year on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. However Turtle Island, alive with sea birds and nesting Green turtles, is not the retreat she expected. Here she finds love for the eccentric islanders who become her family; for Tom, the laid-back turtle whisperer; and for the turtles whose ancient mothering instincts move her to tears. But Anna finds that even on her idyllic drop in the ocean there is pain, and as the months fly past her dream for a new life is threatened by a darkness that challenges everything she has come to believe about the power of love. .
I wanted to read this book because it is set in the Great Barrier Reef (a location I was planning to visit at the time, and have now visited!), because it features an older female protagonist, and because it sounded like a good vacation read.  My main reason for not giving this book a higher rating is the plot. The story takes awhile to get going. Everything is picture perfect for a good while. I wondered when any sign of conflict or 'trouble in paradise' would finally happen. Certain dramatic sub plots are resolved too conveniently for my liking. The writing can be very episodic. A lack of transitions or connections makes the story feel choppy at times. The depiction of a wise cancer survivor and cheerful Huntington's patient irked me as tropey and unrealistic.

 Despite these criticisms, I enjoyed the book enough to finish reading it. The ending took the road I wasn't expecting, which was a nice change. Overall, I found the plot somewhat bland and stiffly progressive, but I enjoyed the setting and the role of Huntington's and marine turtles. These aspects brought a dimension of reality to the tale, not usually found in these kinds of stories. I especially appreciated the author's note at the end providing more information on each topic.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light by Cordelia Strube

Author: Cordelia Strube
Title: On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light
Format/Source: eBook/NetGalley
Published: 12 April 2016
Publisher: ECW Press
Length: 372 pages
Genre: General fiction
Why I Read: Net galley browsing; liked description and cove
Read If You're:  Looking for a realistic character-driven story
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 
 I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Harriet is 11 going on 30. Her mixed-media art is a source of wonder to her younger brother, Irwin, but an unmitigated horror to the panoply of insufficiently grown-up grown-ups who surround her. She plans to run away to Algonquin Park, hole up in a cabin like Tom Thomson and paint trees; and so, to fund her escape, she runs errands for the seniors who inhabit the Shangrila, the decrepit apartment building that houses her fractured family. Determined, resourceful, and a little reckless, Harriet tries to navigate the clueless adults around her, dumpster dives for the flotsam and jetsam that fuels her art, and attempts to fathom her complicated feelings for Irwin, who suffers from hydrocephalus. On the other hand, Irwin’s love for Harriet is not conflicted at all. She’s his compass. But Irwin himself must untangle the web of the human heart.
I adored Harriet. Although she finds herself in a bleak and seemingly loveless home life, she has a strong go-getter personality. She makes the best of situations you'd wish children never found themselves in. It's definitely heartbreaking how most of the adults in her life are so clueless about her. It sobered me up to think there are many adults in the world who must be just like the ones in this book, so self-absorbed and ignorant. I wonder what would happen if someone like Uma or Gennedy read this book...That being said, there are moments when you realize the adults might have more going on to explain their vapidity than Harriet can understand. The characters (which include a motley bunch of seniors and a welcoming Filipino family) are what I enjoyed most about this novel. Strube knows her craft well. Harriet is the star, of course, so unfortunately I found the novel lost some of its appeal when the third person narrative shifted from Harriet's perspective to Irwin. He doesn't have her perspective or spunk so the narration slowed down for me in his half of the book. I find this a difficult book to review without spoilers. If you have read anything by Strube, or about her works, I think I can just say that it seems this one falls in line with the others.

  The Bottom Line: A vivid and moving read distinguished by clearly drawn characters, but not for those who prefer more light than dark in their stories.

  Further Reading:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reading Recap: February and March

I've been reading a lot more than I thought I would be able to while travelling, so here's a recap post with safes quick noughts on each read.
  1. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson - A gift from my parents a few, uh, years ago >.> I'd read bits of it but never the whole thing. A valuable read for a beginning photographer.
  2. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab - Reread in anticipation of the sequel, which was published at the end of February. I have the hardcover waiting for me at home and I'd hoped to get an ebook for cheap through Shelfie, it's 'not eligible yet' so I still haven't read book two :(
  3. Dreambender by Ronald Kidd - Review here
  4. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - Book recommended to me by my host. Easily digestible chick lit about a woman who temporarily forgets the past ten years of her life.
  5. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah - Another recommendation by my host. Not really my sort of book, but I wanted to know what happened so I kept reading. I thought I recognized the author, but it wasn't until I looked her up on Goodreads did I realize she wrote The Nightingale. Totally different cover here! I added that to my TBR some time ago...hopefully it's better/different than this one.
  6. Essentially Japanese: Cooking and Cuisine by Hideo Dekura - Owned by my host. I liked reading recipes for some of my favourite foods in Japan and learning more about Japanese food history.
  7. Wild Garlic, Goodeberries...And Me by Denis Cotter - Owned by my host. Not a very practical read, with the 'exotic' ingredients he uses, but still intriguing. I did make the rosehip syrup!
  8. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - Library ebook. Put this on hold just before I left Canada. Read in in two sittings. Made me realize just how difficult/impossible it is for me to understand what it's like growing up black in America, all the implications and challenges that go with that.
  9. On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light  by Cordelia Strube - Review forthcoming. Liked this much more than the other fictions I read thus far.
  10. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab - Soooo happy to see my library wasn't too slow to acquire the book! I'm a few weeks behind, but I finally got to blaze through this one. 
I'm also currently reading The Lord of the Rings, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Road to Middle-earth, National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape Photography and Finding Yourself in the Kitchen. I think I'll have to update my Goodreads goal when I get home to account for all these books!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: Dreambender by Ronald Kidd

Author: Ronald Kidd
  Title: Dreambender 
Format/Source: eBook/NetGalley
Published: 1 March 2016
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Middle-grade dystopia
Why I Read: Liked cover + description
Read If You're: N/A
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon   I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Everyone in the City is assigned a job by the choosers--keeper, catcher, computer. Callie Crawford is a computer. She works with numbers: putting them together, taking them apart. Her work is important, but sometimes she wants more. Jeremy Finn is a dreambender. His job is to adjust people's dreams. He and others like him quietly remove thoughts of music and art to keep the people in the City from becoming too focused on themselves and their own feelings rather than on the world. They need to keep the world safe from another Warming. But Jeremy thinks music is beautiful, and when he pops into a dream of Callie singing, he becomes fascinated with her. He begins to wonder if there is more to life than being safe. Defying his community and the role they have established for him, he sets off to find her in the real world. Together, they will challenge their world's expectations. But how far will they go to achieve their own dreams?
Oh dear. This was not a good book. I wouldn't have finished this book if it wasn't an ARC. Thankfully now the remainder of my year's reading should all be uphill from here!

 The story falls extremely short of the copy description, which seems full of potential. Unfortunately there is nothing more to the story. All aspects (world building, character development, prose, etc.) lack any substance. There's no purpose, explanation or motivation to anything. It's like something written by a 12 year old. (I say this recognizing features of my own 12 year old style.) I couldn't believe I was actually reading a school teacher info dump that attempted to explain everything about dreambending while showing how gifted one of the MCs is. That whole weird, awkward  introduction to dreambending exemplifies many of the issues I have with this book. I had so many questions (not the good kind you want to have while reading). Why is Jeremy questioning, why are they starting dreambending suddenly, how did they get to this point, etc. Throughout the novel I was always asking 'What, why, what, why is this happening?' 

 There's nothing really holding the narrative together. I felt there were a lot of random 'WTF why is that happening now' moments. The story feels very disjointed, with nothing really happening. The conclusion is especially eye rolling, with the 'conflict' fizzling away and everybody becoming friends with little convincing.

 The prose and dialogue is very blah and basic, predictable in a way. For example: "“Try it,” he said. “It’s good.” I eyed it and decided it probably was, if you were a beaver. I didn’t want to be rude, though, so I nibbled the edge of it. Amazingly, he was right." Amazingly! -.-

 The characters all clearly demonstrate the concept of 'one dimensional'. Protagonists Callie and Jeremy are 'different' and 'special', questioning the world around them with absolutely no reason for doing so. Whenever one made a 'wise' comment, I rolled my eyes and thought "Puh-lease, where would you get that from?" Nothing differentiates them from cardboard characters. The other characters, such as Callie's 'city friends' and the kids living in Between, also read as caricatures constructed solely to drive the thin plot.  Finally, the foundation of the dystopia make no sense. Music and personal feelings caused 'the Warming' because people were too focused on themselves? This seems to me a silly shallow argument, with no basis in reality, being the opposite of what I've experienced - such people are generally more in tune with nature and their environment. It's the ones with no interest in art and only interest in profits that you might say are driving 'the Warming'. Everyone (aside from our 'special' characters) are scared of music and art for no substantial reason.  The Bottom Line: There's nothing here worth your time. Sounds like Kidd's Night on Fire is a book you should check out instead. Further Reading:

Friday, February 5, 2016

On Hiatus (Busy Travelling Middle-Earth)

I'm travelling around New Zealand and Australia until the end of May. (I left on the first - by the time you read this I'll be heading to NZ from Sydney.) I'm not sure how much reading I'll get done, and I can't guarantee I'll have Internet access, so for the next few months I'm going on hiatus. I'll primarily be WWOOFing in New Zealand for three months, then visiting my best friend in Australia for the last month. Probably 70% of the reason I'm going to NZ is because of The Lord of the Rings. Some of the filming locations I plan to visit include Mt. Sunday (where they built Edoras), Matamata (Hobbiton), Wellington (WETA Cave) and various sites around Queenstown (Lothlorien, Isengard, Ithilien, etc.). I won't be bungee jumping, but since NZ is the home of extreme sports I plan to give paragliding a go. I'll be sure to share some pictures of Middle-Earth when I return. See you again when the weather's a bit warmer~
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