Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Earrings in the Cellar: Growing Up in Ruined Worlds by Rachel Bernheim.

Published by Gefen Publishing House

The title of this book refers to a deeply emotional moment between a mother and her daughters as she takes a slim tube and places jewellery and money within, to be buried in the cellar so that when her daughters return home at some point, they will have something with which to try and rebuild their lives.

This book covers the lives of Rachel Friedman, along with her father and mother Ya'akov and Matilda, brothers Eliezer and Shlomo, and sisters Chaya and Ada during WWII. Like other books on the holocaust, it does delve into the conditions that people were forced to live with, in the numerous camps. What is different about this one, compared to other books I have read on the subject, is that it delves a little into the Jewish culture. A particularly memorable part for me was when the author describes how a typical Purim festival was celebrated. It painted a picture of a vibrant community. Given that the Friedmans lived in a town which had 37,000 people of which 17,000 were Jewish, it's easy to see why.

The reader gets to witness the atrocities that happened, not just in the camps, but long before that when the Jewish people had their lives limited in many ways. I found myself often filled with sadness for the families, and pure contempt for those who sought to put them in harm's way. What hit me the hardest, or at least in retrospect it feels that way, was the deliberate cruelty that was an everyday part of their lives. One particular moment describes a mother, reaching and crying out after recognizing her son as one of the new arrivals to the camp, only to end up electrocuted. In fact, it's mentioned in the book that when people couldn't face the horror of life within the camps - in this case, Auschwitz, they would frequently end their lives by voluntarily taking hold of the electric fence until death.

There are moments too though, that capture the determination of a people. Those people facing death daily, can still sing proudly, holding on to their identity with all they have left, in spite of the inevitable beating it brought to them.  All in all, Earrings in the Cellar is a powerful read that truly impacts the reader. For those who like reading about this subject - like I do - I'd definitely look this one up. In addition to sharing the everyday life leading up to the imprisonment in camps, it also deals with the death marches, and the aftermath in which family members struggled to reconnect with one another.

Even as I write this, days later, my heart catches in my mouth at the memories and I know that I'll read this title again.

Monday, 13 January 2014

2014 Reading Challenges

It's that time of year again and we're already a couple of weeks into some of the challenges. I thought I'd take a moment to talk about a few of my favourite annual reading challenges, and a new one that I stumbled across today.

50 Book Pledge Challenge hosted by HarperCollinsCanada

The first I want to talk about is the 50 Book Pledge from the folks over at HarperCollinsCanada. This one is always a favourite for me because many of the staff over there join in on the challenge and share their progress. I love checking out/drooling over their bookshelves to see what they are reading (including upcoming new releases). If you want to learn more, just click on the logo on the left and it'll take you to where you can sign up too. I'm also thrilled to see a TBR shelf where you can add your planned reads.

You can find my shelf here

Challenge hosted by Goodreads

Next is the ever popular Goodreads challenge. I really thought I'd do better last year but this year I've gone for the same number as on my 50BookPledge which is 100 books. I'm hoping to actually pass that and at the time of posting this I'm already at 8 books so it bodes well for the year. Again, with this one you can check the progress of other people from the main challenge page which you can access by clicking on the logo to the left.

You can find my shelf here.

Challenge hosted by Retreat by Random House

Next up is the Reading Bingo from Retreat by Random House. I really enjoy this one as it challenges me to read a far more diverse range of books through the year. One of the fun aspects of this challenge is that if you read a book that meets the requirements of multiple squares you can reach Bingo all that much faster.  Care to join in? Clicking the logo to the left or right will take you over to get your very own game cards to print out for you, family, and friends!

I'll add the link to my post with full sized image and my progress later this week so do check back!

Challenge hosted by Retreat by Random House

Double the fun with Retreat by Random House, as they've added a Young Adult version of the Reading Bingo challenge. I love YA reads so I'll be taking part in this one too. It's also a fun way to get your tween and teens to read more in 2014. If you want to take part, just click the logo on the left and get printing!

I'll add the link to my post with full sized image and my progress later this week so do check back!

Challenge hosted by Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

Now for the new one. I stumbled across this challenge while browsing earlier. Each year I tell myself that I want to read more of my spiritual titles and each year it hits November or December and I realize I've rarely read any. This year I'm taking part in Melissa's challenge and I'm looking forward to it. There are 4 levels that can be reached in this challenge. Initiate 1-5 Witchy Books, Maiden 6-10 Witchy Books, Mother 11-15 Witchy Books and Crone: 16-20 Witchy Books. I'm aiming for Crone! Want to join in? Just click the image to the left.

When I have my progress post up and running, I'll add a link so do check back!

Challenge hosted by Shannon at Giraffe Days

Another challenge I stumbled across that really piqued my interest, is Shannon's Around the World in 12 Books 2014.  I enjoy reading about different countries, customs & cultures so this one really shouldn't be that tough for me to complete. There are 4 goals which make this a fun challenge for all readers, regardless of how much, or how little they read in a year. Me? I'm jumping in at Level 4 - Seasoned Traveller. If you'd like to enjoy a literary trip around the world too, just click on the image to the left and sign-up.

As with other challenges, when I have my progress post up and running, I'll add a link so do check back!

The Seasoned Traveller doesn't do anything by half-measures: they go the whole hog and the more obscure the better!
  • Read 12 books over the course of the year, each set in a DIFFERENT country.
  • Books selected should include ones set in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia+New Zealand, North America and South America. The Middle East is a bonus.
  • You do not need to plan ahead but it might help you keep on track
  • No re-reads
  • Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) but books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some book genres won’t be much use for this challenge
As with other challenges, when I have my progress post up and running, I'll add a link so do check back!

Country Hardball by Steve Weddle.

Published by Tyrus Books

It's often said that we can never go home. After spending more than a decade in various institutions and halfway houses, Roy Alison feels that home is the best chance he has for starting a new life, a better life. When he returns to the rural hometown where he grew up though, he finds it has changed a great deal and the future doesn't quite look as rosy anymore.

Country Hardball is one of those books that frustrates me to no end. I can't tell you how many times I changed my rating on this one from 3 stars, to 4, and back again. I really enjoyed the layout of the book which is quite different to most books I read in that it's a novel-in-stories. The writing style really drew me in and I found it to be beautiful, and haunting, while at the same time, gritty and raw with splashes of brutality. It definitely catches the attention of the reader and fires the imagination.

Each individual story has a lot of impact, but together it adds a whole other level. That said I believe that the change in narration could be difficult for some. What made it difficult for me to rate is that while I loved the writing style and the emotional journey, I couldn't really connect with some of the characters and that is a factor that always makes or breaks a book with me. That said, I will be revisiting it because the characters I could connect with (especially the father in the first heartbreaking story) do a fantastic job of haunting the reader long after the last page has been turned.

The cover of the book also deserves a mention. It's eye-catching and captures the mostly sombre mood of the book as a whole. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that the title refers to baseball, a theme that pops up throughout the pages and added to my enjoyment.

One of the most surprising things about this book is that it's a first novel by Steve Weddle and if this is what he brings to the table as a debut, I can't wait to see what comes next.

I'm happy to share that one of the stories has been made available for readers who'd like to peek inside the book. Incidentally, The Ravine is one of my favourites! You can read it here.

Author's website: http://steveweddle.com/

Easy Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Published by Grass Roots Press
Distributed by HarperCollinsCanada

The first I heard about Gail Vaz-Oxlade was her television series 'Til Debt Do Us Part' and I'm fairly sure that is the same for the majority of you reading this review. I've always enjoyed her straight-forward no-nonsense attitude towards money and the issue of debt and I wondered how much of that was going to carry through to this book. At less than a hundred pages, this is a quick and easy read and at less than $10 (at the time of this review) it's certainly a more affordable option for those who just want to know the basics.

I was pleasantly surprised by how comprehensive this book is since it deals with the following subjects:
  • Needs and Wants
  • You Need a Budget
  • Make Your Budget
  • Understanding How Credit Works
  • Debt is a Four-letter Word!
  • Save Something!
  • You Need an Emergency Fund
  • Choosing a Bank Account
  • You Need a Plan
  • Take Control of Your Money 
What I really love about this title, is for those who don't really have time to read a great deal, this book shares the basics with you and it's written in way that anyone can understand, regardless of financial experience. I would definitely recommend this title to parents of teens. I know if I'd have had the opportunity to read this when I was a teen, my financial future would have turned out very differently.

As for me personally, this little gem is always close by so that I can refer to it when I need a quick reminder of what my financial goals are, and also the budgeting sections are of great help when I refresh our budget every few months. I especially like the appendix where the author includes a list of common things that people include in their budget.

What I also enjoy about this book, is the fact that there is a reader's guide online for it which is incredibly useful as it has great hands-on activities. I can't like the guide as much as I would like due to some of the content being inaccurate (Activity 1 directs readers to debtfreeforever to view Til Debt Do Us Part that isn't there, but you can find it at slice.ca instead). You can find the guide here. You can also read a sample chapter of Easy Money at the Grass Roots Press site here.

I'll be reviewing more titles by Gail Vaz-Oxlade this month, so do check back. The titles I'll be looking at are:
  • It's Your Money
  • Money Rules
  • Debt-Free Forever
  • Never Too Late
Author's Website: http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/

Friday, 27 December 2013

Platform 21 by T.R. Patrick (Book 1 in the Beyond the Veil Series)

Published using CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Platform 21 is one of those books that I simultaneously love, and dread, A dread that comes from not knowing what to put in a synopsis without giving much away, which I'm told I am usually fairly adept at. When a book is this complex though, it can be difficult and so I'm going to avoid reinventing the wheel. To that end, I opted (a rarity for me) to simply share the media release synopsis and follow that with my own personal thoughts and opinions, as well as the book tour information and a contest!
Luke’s life is about to take a dangerous turn. But first he has to die. 
In the year 2052, high school sophomore Luke Gibson considers himself an average teenager in a world on the brink of monumental change. Joining his parents and sister, Laura, at the first World Energy Initiative Conference, he is among thousands gathered in a Denver arena to celebrate free renewable energy when a massive earthquake strikes killing everyone in the stadium. The last thing Luke sees before his death is a girl reaching out to him—a stranger whose face he remembers from his dreams. 
The end, however, is not the end. Suddenly, inexplicably, Luke is back home in Ohio and everything is different. His sister is gone, the victim in an unsolved homicide years before. Angela, his mysterious dream girl, is here also, and the only person besides Luke who recalls the previous reality. And now their determination to uncover the truth about Laura’s murder and their transformed world is making them targets—forced to flee for their lives from a nameless shadow organization and a government seeking vengeance for an unthinkable act of terror—as they stand on the threshold of a dark conspiracy that threatens all humankind. 
Where do I begin? In Platform 21, the author T.R. Patrick holds nothing back. From the very beginning I couldn't help but feel enthused at the scene set before me and I'll admit, I enjoyed the idyllic picture playing out. It takes no time for that serenity to be ripped away and at that point, dear reader, it is really obvious that the literary journey you are about to make, is nothing less than a fast-paced and alternatively mind-spinning and mind-blowing experience that you just cannot put down.

I have to admit that one of the least pleasant things about reading so much, and I'm sure any avid reader will agree, it's hard to stop the mind making leaps and trying to predict where the story is taking us. This is one of those wonderful books that simply doesn't allow that to happen. I was too caught up in the plot, in the character developments (complicated by the alternate realities), and yes, even reeling as the thrills and mysteries unfolded.

Some of you will remember that when I was fairly new to blogging about my love of books, I fell in love with a novel by Vincent M. Wales that is titled One Nation Under God. The huge appeal of that for me, is that the book could just as easily be real as it is fiction. Not today precisely but in the very near future and Platform 21 held a lot of that same appeal for me. Corruption in the governments, the distracting whispers speaking of the Illuminati and conspiracies that resonate with me, a person who avidly avoids the news, so I can only imagine how much it's going to strike home with readers who are more 'in-touch' with the world as a whole.

For me personally, the biggest appeal of this novel was easily the character development. In many books it's easy to differentiate between the good, and the evil, but not so much in Platform 21. It's as messy, confusing, and at times soul-shattering as the real world, except of course you can close the book for a while (unless you're me!) and maybe even pull a Joey and place it in the freezer for a while...

I guess what it essentially comes down to is whether I would recommend this book or not, and my answer is a resounding yes! I personally can't wait for book 2 in this Beyond the Veil series and I'm fairly sure that once you read it, you'll agree. It's a hard book to place in a genre since it seems riddled with science, fantasy, thrills, horror, current events, and it even has a sprinkling of zombies though I'll be quick to tell you that they don't play a huge part. In book 1 at least.

Now all I can do is wait patiently for the sequel.

In the meantime, check out the book tour link below and see what my fellow bloggers and bookworms had to say about this title, links to check out the author, and if you're feeling lucky, there are still some hours left to get in your entries for the Giveaway!

Find T.R. Patrick on:

Website: http://authortrpatrick.com/

If you'd like to see what other bookworms think of this title, please check out the blog tour information at Worldwind Virtual Book Tours (who I'd like to thank for having me along for the ride!) by clicking the image below.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Intangibles by Monte Dutton

Published by Neverland Publishing Company.

I really had no idea what to expect when opening The Intangibles and starting my journey with the characters enclosed. Set in 1968, it's a period of time rife with conflict after the recent death of President John  F. Kennedy, and the beginnings of integration of black and white citizens of the United States. The book primarily focuses on the town of Fairmont in South Carolina and the climbing tensions surrounding the closure of Mossy Springs High School and the introduction of the black students to the formerly all white Fairmont High.

While there are some citizens who are meeting the challenge with a great deal of compassion and consideration, there are also those who feel that the deep south shouldn't be enabling such change, and they make it known, whether through the appearances of the Klu Klux Klan, or more covertly through positions of authority. Though it seems like a heavy read at first glance, it was far from it. Sure, it deals with some of the issues of the time, many of which are still prevalent in the current decade. Drugs, underage drinking, and a great deal of social development as these young adults try to find their way in life, but it could be written about any school in almost any era and as such, it enables the reader to connect on multiple levels and really empathize with each and every character, however despicable they may be.

I noticed from the beginning that football was going to be the major star in this book, even over the racial battles that ensue. The thing that surprised me most about that, is that I have no interest in sport at all yet the book kept my attention regardless and I found myself saddened on turning the last page. I'm not sure I'd recognized just how much I had bonded with the characters until that moment.Another thing I liked about this book a great deal too, is that there is no main character in the book but rather a strong and varied cast that are given an equal amount of the limelight in which to succeed or fail. They'll definitely steal a bit of your heart and as some of the characters are developed through the novel, you'll find yourself shifting a lot with regard to your favourites.  Strong language, and sexual content is sprinkled throughout the book but in such a way that it only serves to increase the authentic feel of the novel. It's set in a turbulent time, and deals with the most senior young adults in a school during their time of experimentation and Monte Dutton shares the story with skill, and an unapologetic style that I couldn't help but respect.

The main appeal for me? The racial integration certainly brought a great deal to mind. I wasn't born until 1974 and so I have no knowledge about that era at all. It's not something that was ever brought up much. Certainly not in my family, and in school in the UK we were always focused on other periods of history like the Elizabethans or Tudors. I forget often that the society we see today, with interracial marriage and kids, wasn't always so visible. Of course, there are still battles, and a great deal of racism but I'd like to believe it's becoming more of an exception than a rule (yes, I'm an Optimist). I guess where I am going with this, is that the book doesn't share a story that ends when you turn the last page. It's a book that alters your life, or at least your perception of it. Those are my favourite kind.

I'll also add that I truly appreciated and enjoy the various dynamics between the characters, but most especially the complexity in relationships between fathers (or father figures) and adolescent sons. It's a richly rewarding read and I know I'll be revisiting this title at some point, and I may have to check out other titles by Monte Dutton too.

If you'd like to see what other bookworms think of this title, please check out the blog tour information at Worldwind Virtual Book Tours (who I'd like to thank for having me along for the ride!) by clicking the image below. I know I'm going to be looking to see what others liked best!

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie

Published by HarperCollinsCanada

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” 
― Thomas Campbell

I love books, and what I truly love about the whole reading experience is when a book grabs hold of you and refuses to let go until the last page. This, for me, is one of those books. They say when people are dealing with difficult situations, it speaks volumes about character, and in the prologue we are introduced to Jeff Manning who is facing one of the most difficult days of his life. I couldn't help but react with admiration and empathy and by the end of the prologue, I was already reeling from the possibility of never being able to know this man more.

When Jeff Manning's life is cut short, so unexpectedly, it really takes a toll on his family and friends, and none so much as his wife Claire, and their son Seth. As the days continue though, it's pretty clear to Claire that the presence of Tish - one of Jeff's co-workers - is something more than it seems. If you had suspicions, wouldn't you want to know?  Trying to hold things together, for Seth, and for herself is difficult, and with the constant questions in her mind, along with the resurfacing of Jeff's estranged brother Tim.. it's almost more than she can bear.

The book is narrated by multiple characters, which is something I almost always enjoy. Claire of course is one of them, Tish the co-worker is another, and the character I loved hearing from most was Jeff himself. Although it's bittersweet knowing he's already dead and that can never be undone, it's still a joy to be able to know more of him, through his own eyes.

I found this to be a warmly written, highly emotional read that really delivers. I've liked many of Catherine McKenzie's books but I think this has to be my favourite so far. I love her writing style and it's not many who can create a high level of suspense within such a few short pages, and fuel that suspense throughout the entire novel without it breaking. My heart was in my mouth so often and it's definitely, for me at least, one of those books that even as you read, you catch your mind racing in every direction trying to piece together the information and answer questions that you can't shake.

I couldn't put this book down, both times. It went everywhere with me (yes, I was even that crazy person sitting outside the store in the minivan, in -10c temperatures, reading away because I couldn't bear to put the book down long enough to join my husband in the store).  The author skillfully draws out the story as well as leading the reader on an emotional roller-coaster which brought tears more than a few times. It's a highly charged, intelligent read that brings so much to mind regarding grief, and unresolved issues, but also with regard to ethics. I've tried to share as much as I can without sharing much of the book itself as I firmly believe that you'll find it much more rewarding to be able to read the book yourself. I'd like to think you'll enjoy it as much as I do.  For me, Hidden is now a favourite that will be re-read often. While it's been days since I last read it, Claire, Tish, and Jeff, are very much still on my mind.  I love characters that haunt.

I reviewed this title as part of a Holiday Blog Tour, for which you'll find the info below. Thank you to everyone who organized it, for having me along for the ride! Do take time to go and see what my fellow tour bloggers had to say and I'm sure many will agree, that this is a title that would make a great gift that will not disappoint. Also, when you get this title and read it, do drop me a comment and let me know what you think of it too! I love hearing from fellow bookworms,

Author's website - http://catherinemckenzie.com/