Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Published by Tor Books

If you could hang out with God and benefit from personal guidance every day of your life, would you? Set in Toronto many years after the Smart Drug revolution there is a drug on the market known to users as Numinous. Now that anyone can download recipes and print drugs with their chemjet printer and an internet connection, drugs are easy to obtain.

A young woman is brought into a psychiatric facility to be treated for drug addiction and it's soon established that her source for Numinous is a new church that uses it for sacrament. With the ability to reprogram a user's belief system, it's the perfect way to aid people in connecting with their God but withdrawal is deadly.

Another patient who witnesses the events feels the sudden need to leave the facility. Lyda Rose was one of the original scientists who created the drug, and knows better than most what some of the effects can be. Thanks to taking Numinous many years earlier, she has had the constant companionship of a doctor/angel that only exists for her. When she and the doctor leave the facility to track down who is responsible for the drug being widely available, they soon realize they are in over their heads and it isn't long before an ex-government agent joins them.

What follows is a fast-paced read that mixes together a few genres which added to my enjoyment of this novel.

I really wasn't sure what to expect going into this one. I read the blurb and it really didn't give too much away (which I love) so like most of my reading experiences, I went into this read with no preconceptions. There is no gentle easing into the story with this novel so it does grab the attention of the reader from the start and it wasn't long before I realized that I was half-way through it already.

The plot earned and kept my interest in spite of the fact that I really couldn't connect to any of the characters, which is rare for me. That said, I've been dealing with a neck issue so it's also possible that that I wasn't as absorbed in the book as I usually would have been and when the book was nearing the end, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters. It does speak volumes for the book that in spite of neck pain that was aggravated by reading, I still couldn't and wouldn't stop racing through the pages.

There are many things I like about this book. The plot, the setting of the scenes, including tech & gadget information (yes, I'm an unapologetic tech nerd), obviously well researched mind/brain information, and the laugh-out-loud moments. My favourite thing about this book though, is the take on religion, spirituality, faith, delusion, and science. I love smart reads that raise questions in a non-offensive or non/judgmental way and Daryl Gregory achieved exactly that. The only thing I didn't like? One of the characters uses a racial slur and while I respect and understand that characters, like humans, are going to be flawed and have their own opinions and biases, I felt that the inclusion of that comment was unnecessary as it really broke the flow for me and it really didn't add anything to the novel.

As always, if you do read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it too.
Happy reading!

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

Monday, 21 April 2014

Afterparty Blog Tour

Over the long weekend I spent a great deal of time reconnecting with a book in preparation for my review tomorrow. I'm so excited about participating in the Afterparty Blog Tour which kicks off today with Karen over at {for what it's worth}

I'll post links to the reviews here, as they go live, but you can follow the whole tour very easily too by looking up the #AfterpartyBlogTour on Twitter.

April 21 - Review by Karen at {for what it's worth} (also includes an excerpt of Afterparty)
April 22 - Check back tomorrow to read my review.

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.