Tag Archives: Fiction

A Haunting Coming of Age Tale During the AIDS Epidemic

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR7 Review #2  Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This second novel in my Cannonball Read challenge came highly recommended by my daughter in Grade 10. After reading it for her English class Book Club project and completing her essay before the end of the first term, she slid her copy into my reading pile and I am VERY glad that she did.

Brunt’s debut novel features the poignant story of fourteen-year-old June Elbus as she struggles to deal with the death of her uncle Finn from AIDS. Set back in the late 1980s, when the disease was still highly misunderstood and fear was rampant, Tell The Wolves I’m Home weaves a complex web of intrigue, self-discovery, tolerance and the coming of age process.  While I found myself struggling to like the protagonist at time, due to her jealous nature and the fact that I am an extreme extrovert, the voice and the writing were nonetheless so powerful that I was swept along by the moving story until its touching conclusion.

Amid the chaos of the return to school and starting a new 12 week job as a supply teacher, I found myself with more reading time than usual, but less time to write my reviews. It wasn’t until this last blizzard brought our city to a standstill that I found the chance to catch up. If you are looking for a wonderful story that will touch your heart, paint vivid pictures in your mind and make you think, then my daughter, her English teacher and I highly recommend Tell The Wolves I’m Home!

Paperback format, 355 pages, published by Dial Press

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Review #81 & 82 The Bridge Across Forever and One by Richard Bach

One of the challenges of owning a vast book collection is always what to read next after a major binge.  Having spent most of the summer with my nose in Darkover novels, I fully intended to move back to something else in this genre. Then I was tucking the last two Darkover novels back into their place on the shelves and had to rearrange the B section a tiny bit, stumbling over my two Richard Bach books in the process.

The Bridge Across Forever is billed as a love story on the cover and details the author’s adventures to discover his soul mate, the ultimate person that he was meant to spend his life with. While tenderly and poignantly written at times, this book also contains a lot of selfishness and narcissistic navel-gazing.  The problem with Great Truths in life is that they are so often delivered through us fallible human beings.  Great paintings, music, plays and words all have the power to touch us to the core… if only we can get past the flawed medium trying to put such glory into words.  This is not to say that Bach portrays himself as perfect and blameless.  He is very good at detailing the flaws in his life and problems that keep he and Leslie Parish apart for so long.  The story of their trials and tribulations is both frustrating and inspiring at the same time.

One is a sort of sequel to The Bridge Across Forever and is perhaps the more powerful of the two booked.  I was hooked and intrigued from the moment I read the words on the back cover. “I gave my life to become the person I am right now.  Was it worth it?”  The book deals with the intriguing idea that we are all part of a much larger whole and that ultimately, despite our restrictive individual perceptions, which trap us as our “reality”, we are ONE.  The novel contains the unique blend of inspirational writing and storytelling that first made Bach famous in Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

While both books stand as a testament to what Richard experienced during his marriage with actress Leslie Parish, the fact remains that the story beyond these books did not have a happy ending.  Richard and Leslie divorced after 20 years in 1997 and he married his third wife, Sabryna Nelson-Alexopoulos two years later.  On August 31st of this year, the author was involved in a landing accident with his plane on San Juan Island in Washington.  He suffered serious head and shoulder injuries but has begun to recover slowly.

These two books, along with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, remain the only works by Richard Bach that I have read.  I enjoyed rereading them, but was reminded again of how a writer’s personality, especially in semi-autobiographical stories, can sometimes get in the way of a great message.  I wish him well in his recovery and hope that his stories have not come to an end.

The Bridge Across Forever Paperback format, 396 pages, published in 1984 by DELL Publishing

One Paperback format, 378 pages (but strangely LARGE type), published in 1988 by DELL Publishing


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Review #68 Turning Japanese by Cathy Yardley

Amid all the Darkover Novels, dystopian stories and Dark Hunter romances, I found time to squeeze in a novel I picked up on sale at Chapters.  Turning Japanese is a witty and entertaining, if somewhat self-indulgent, fictional tale of a half Japanese, half Italian-American young manga artist from a small town who wins an internship in Tokyo for a year.

Lisa Falloya has been reading manga for years when she wins the contest offered by one of the comic publishers in Tokyo.  She soon finds herself leaving a boring desk job and workaholic fiancé behind for a year as she moves to Japan’s largest city where nothing goes quite as planned.

One of the reasons that I enjoyed this novel so much was that many of the places, foods and cultural references were familiar to me after our family’s visit to Tokyo in December of 2011.  Many of the experiences that Cathy Yardley’s character describes in this first person narrative were ones that we could relate to.  The only difference was that our family of  people over 6’ got stared at a lot!!

The narrative in Turning Japanese is strong but somewhat whiny at times.  While this seems true to the character and spurns her growth from timid sidekick to determined, independent female who empowers others around her wherever she goes, it was hard to like Lisa on more than one occasion.  Some of the generalizations and stereotypes about Japanese society felt cliché… to easy a trap to fall into and to easy for a North American reading audience to believe.  Just as Peter Mayle offended quite a few locals with his vignettes in A Year In Provence, I wonder how some Japanese people would feel about some of these sometimes less than flattering glimpses into their culture and society.

All in all, Turning Japanese was a fun read because I still miss Tokyo, I love comic books and I am a big fan of young women being able to choose their own destiny… but there were enough speed bumps along this journey that I can only give Turning Japanese a 3 star rating.

Paperback format, 310 pages, 2009 published by Thomas Dunne Books

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Review #57 No Mercy by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I picked the hardcover copy of No Mercy in a sale bin at a local bookstore to add to my rapidly growing Kenyon collection.  It felt a bit familiar as I read the first few chapters and I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have read a friend’s copy of this.  Regardless, the story makes a lot more sense having now read the Chronicles of Nick series, Archeron and the other novels that I’ve acquired in the Dark-Hunter collection.  Since I am not reading them in pure chronological order, there are a few gaps in background character knowledge that would probably make the reading experience slightly richer, but that is the beauty of having a vast set of books in your personal library – when you complete the collection at some point, you can go back and read them in sequence to fall in love with a sweeping series such as this all over again.

No Mercy deals with one of the most intriguing characters in the series, the Sanctuary club’s bouncer Dev who just happens to be one of 4 quads (4 hunky brothers) and a Were-Bear to boot.  Kenyon has no shortage of imagination when it comes to creating unique characters that break beyond the traditional romance novel mold!  Add a 5000 year old Amazon Dark-Hunter to the mix who is haunted by the death of her husband and child in a gruesome betrayal and you have two people with far more baggage to overcome than your traditional  Harlequin lovers.  The fact that Samia is being hunted by demons who want to use her psychometric powers to find out how to destroy the Greek God Apollo also makes their relationship a little more challenging.

Once again, Kenyon’s blend of riveting story line, fascinating characters and sensual lovemaking combine for a thrilling read from start to finish.  The more of her novels I read, the better I understand how and why Kenyon has attracted such a vast and loyal fan base.  As with previous stories, the characters triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds with determination, sarcasm and cultural references that had me laughing out loud.  I can see that I will have to make more bookshelf space under the Ks again…

Hardcover format, 343 pages, published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #43 Divergent by Veronica Roth

Every so often a novel comes along that shatters the mold of its genre and pushes the boundaries of what you expected.  In the slew of Dystopian novels I’ve read as part of the CannonballRead#4 challenge, Divergent stands out as the most unique and captivating first novel I’ve read since I bought a copy of The Hunger Games at a SCBWI conference in New York  in 2009.  My family devoured the book and knew long before the series became so popular that it was a story that stood apart from others.

Divergent is as unique a novel in its own way and perhaps even more captivating.  The plot has been summarized countless times but here are the barest facts for those who still have not heard about this story. It is set in a dystopian version of Chicago where society has been divided into 5 distinct Factions; Candor (who prize honesty), Abnegation (who embrace selflessness), Dauntless (who embody bravery), Amity (who seek Peace), and Erudite (who strive for knowledge).  Regardless of which Faction they grow up in, on the appointed  day of their 16th year, after special testing, each young person must publicly choose which Faction they will belong to or become one of the Factionless who live in abject poverty and squalor. The only problem is that a few special people can belong to more than one faction… their personalities are unique enough that they can be hunted.  Right before she has to choose, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is different… that she is Divergent.  Revealing that could endanger her new life as she leaves her Abnegation family and Faction behind… that is if the training to be accepted as a full member of the Dauntless Faction doesn’t kill her first.

Divergent took my breath away. This is the single most impressive book I’ve discovered in the past few years.  I found myself riveted by the struggles of the main character to define herself against all of the rules and philosophies that she had grown up with.  It was as empowering a tale as it was captivating, challenging readers of any age to be true to themselves and who they really are, even as it kept them glued to the pages with a futuristic, breathlessly vivid and suspenseful story. I truly admire a new writer that can keep me guessing  as to where the story is headed!  Divergent was as powerful a read for me at 46 as it was for my 17 and 13 year old daughters.  All of us inhaled this book and then fought over who would read the sequel next.  Since I am the Mom (and I bought Insurgent)… I won!

Paperback format, 487 pages, published in 2012 by Harper Collins

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Review #18 – Jinx High

Jinx High by  Mercedes Lackey

Diana Tregarde, writer of Romance novels, Wiccan and undercover Paranormal Investigator returns for another adventure in this entertaining and thought-provoking novel by Mercedes Lackey.  Larry Kestrel, another of Diana’s former Spook Squad members needs help  in Tulsa, Oklahoma where  someone or something seems to be trying to get its claws into his teenage son, Deke.

Like Burning Water, this novel is packed with suspense, action, magic and mayhem. Having visited the Tulsa area a few times before and after this novel was written, it was interesting to see how well Mercedes integrated her home town into this novel when she is so well known for writing about other worlds and other eras.

Jinx High also deals with sensitive issues such as AIDS, teenage promiscuity, drinking and drug abuse in a very compassionate and realistic way.  Some of the teenagers in this novel are like many I see in the high schools here… far more curious than their parents realize, far more worldly that we think and just as confused as some adults about what to do with their lives.

When Diana Tregarde agrees to help out with an advanced writing class at the local high school, as a cover for her investigation into the paranormal happenings, Lackey has fun creating a semi “Mise-en-abyme” (story within a story) where her main character describes what it takes to be  writer and what their day truly looks like.  As someone else who has experienced the “I have a great idea for a story.. why don’t I share it with you and then we can split the profits when you turn it into a book” meeting, I laughed until I cried when I got to that section of her narrative.

Jinx High contains more sexual nuances and descriptions that horror this time, although there are a few gruesome deaths.  What stands out, above all else, is the sense of courage with which some of the characters face almost impossible odds. The plot twists are masterfully crafted and the ending leaves you satisfied, but wishing there were more Diana Tregarde novels to enjoy.

Paperback format, 314 pages, published in 1991 by Tor Books

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Review #16 Matched

Matched by  Ally Condie

Matched  was another book that I picked up as a Christmas present during the fall Scholastic Book Fair. I heard students raving about the story and thought it might be a good addition to our family library, even though I doubted that anything could rival the Hunger Games  or Uglies series.

There have been many other famous dystopian stories, including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run or even George Lucas’s THX-1138.  Though Matched also portrays a Society which appears to be perfect on the surface, Ally Condie manages to add her own twists and unique touches to a futuristic Society which sets her story apart and makes it memorable.

Matched portrays a Society in which couples are chosen for each other at the age of 17 though an elaborate evening ceremony after a careful screening process to determine the person’s best partner on an emotional and genetic level.  The story begins as the main character, Cassia, heads off to her Match Banquet with her parents, her best friend Xander and his family.  After a delicious meal, wearing her beautiful green silk gown, Cassia stands when her name is called.  For  endless moments the screen goes blank and remains blank until a Society Official announces that her match is actually present at the same banquet.  Xander’s name is called and Cassie suddenly discovers that her perfect Match is none other than the boy she’s been friends with all her life.

The problem with perfect Utopian Societies, is that they seldom stay that way… revealing themselves to be full of problems, errors or corruption.  When Cassia enters her microcard into the portscreen, the face that appears is not Xander’s.  It is the face of another boy in her neighbourhood, a boy named Ky with a dubious background.  An Official visits Cassia to explain the error and forbid her to tell anyone about having a second Match, which only causes her to wonder more about the two boys she’s been paired with.  Will she remain faithful to her childhood friend or explore the new feelings that seem to be growing within her every time she is thrown together with Ky?  Are the double match, the strange news from other provinces and her grandfather’s message hidden in an Artifact symptoms of a bigger problem or the seeds of rebellion being planted?

The best stories always have strong, believable characters and vivid prose.  Ally Condie  does a beautiful job in portraying the struggles of a young girl coming of age and learning to make her own decisions.  Thinking for yourself is never encouraged in a controlled Society and yet the more events unfold, the more we share in Cassia’s struggle to figure out what is right, even when the Powers That Be tell her these things are wrong.  Matched is a must-read for teens and adults alike!

Paperback format, 366 pages, published in 2010 by Scholastic

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Review #13 – Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice had been sitting on my bedside table for a few weeks, loaned to me by a friend.  Last night I was restless, so I decided to settle down and open its pages at last.  This haunting first novel is both beautiful and tragic.  It describes a fictional Harvard psychology professor’s discovery that she has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 50 and the terrifying deterioration of her memory as this incurable illness takes hold.

While Lisa Genova was a first-time novelist when she wrote this book, she holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard and writes online columns for the National Alzheimer’s Association.  Her prose is evocative, descriptive and informative as well as compassionate.  The gripping story, while told in the third person through the eyes of the main character, Alice Howland, is so powerful and intimate that I almost felt that I was living the story along with her in a first person narrative.  Sometimes, through truly brilliant repetition of text or dialogue, I had a glimmer of what it might actually be like to live with the disease as a portion repeated itself.  So vivid are the descriptions in some scenes, I actually lived Alice’s confusion along with her until she figured out what she was looking for or how to spatially interpret data.  I could literally feel my stomach clenching with anxiety as I tried to figure out what was going on, just like the main character.

Still Alice was not a comfortable book to read.  I am only a few years younger than the main character and have had those moments of sheer panic as I hunt for misplaced keys, glasses, cellphone or iPod touch.  I’ve had to retrace steps to figure out what I was going to do next.  Each time, I wonder if it is a sign of something serious, but so far it has turned out to be nothing more than my brain and body telling me I’ve taken on too much.

This book portrays Alice’s attempt to cope with the disease with beauty, dignity and even gentle humour.  The story also deals with the struggles and challenges of the people around her as well as other difficult issues faced by those challenged by Alzheimer’s, without ever giving in to total despair.  The uplifting chapters at the end of the book are a true triumph of sorts, even though the progression of Alice’s disease remains unchecked.  Even if you’ve never known anyone with Alzheimer’s, this brilliantly crafted tale is worth reading in a book club for discussion or on your own.

Paperback format, 292 pages, Self-Published in 2007,  published in 2009 by Gallery Books (a division of Simon and Schuster)

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