Posted in Reviewed

“And Then the Sky Exploded” by David Poulsen

I received a copy of And Then the Sky Exploded from Dundurn via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

This book… this book is something unique and good and important.

I don’t have much in common with Christian Larkin, it’s true. I’m not a teenage boy born in Canada and moved to America, lucky enough to go on high school trips to Japan. And despite this utter lack of similar, shared experiences, I feel some connection to Christian.

I suppose it’s about genealogy. And history, very much about the history.

Long story short, Christian’s GG Will (short, 21st century-speak for Great-Grandfather William) dies and there are protesters outside his funeral because he, in this fictional tale, was one of the scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project and helped to develop the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Christian had spent his short life believing only that GG Will was a cool old guy who knew lots of things and occasionally played street hockey.

Alerted to this dark family secret, Christian dives into research, trying to understand just what the Manhattan Project meant and suggesting his high school Travel Club (why oh why did my high school not have a Travel Club??? oh, right… we were so poor we had to get paper donated so we could print stuff *sigh*) go to Japan instead of to England.

Christian, the semi-popular and always amusing narrator of the story, wants to atone for the role GG Will had in one of the darkest moments in human history. He wants to understand why and how the man he looked up to could be a part of that.

And strangely, it’s a Hiroshima grandmother who was eleven on the day the bomb was dropped who gives him the closure he needs, teaching him that he can still admire the man who simply part of something so much more awful than that one moment and that one action.

It’s a very well-rounded story full of meaning. I think it’s very important for it’s targeted demographic to read.

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Posted in Reviewed

“The Agony of Bun O’Keefe” by Heather Smith, a story in which agony is poetic and good

I received a copy of The Agony of Bun O’Keefe from NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Bun O’Keefe is fourteen when her obese, hoarder mother tells her to get out. Having lived alone with her mother, not even being allowed to go to school, Bun has educated herself with the books and magazines and VHS tapes that were someone else’s trash that her mother brought home. So when she’s told to go, she goes.

She’s taken in by a twenty-something man called only Busker Boy who becomes her guardian, protector, and big brother as he takes her to live in a house he shares with Big Eyes, a young woman who ran away from a convent, Chef, a dishwasher who dreams of being a chef, and Chris/Cher, a drag queen whose parents meant him to be a doctor. It’s a motley group of personalities and yet they become one another’s biggest champions, all learning together every day.

And Bun learns how to be a part of society, to interact, to have friendships and to lean on people. 

It’s a story of growth, of fighting to save yourself, and of love in it’s purest form.

I laughed, I cried, and I finished the book so happy.

Posted in Reviewed

Turn off Siri & Alexa… then read “The Mansion” by Ezekiel Boone

If you feel like you can’t live without Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google… you probably don’t want to read this book. I’ve used Alexa a few times, but I can live without. 

Which I will absolutely do after reading this book, live without a virtual ‘assistant’ who can answer any question I have and remind me of obscure, easily forgettable things.

*brb going to make sure Alexa is disabled on my Kindle Fire*

I hope Ezekiel Boone won’t mind me describing The Mansion as something that gives me strong vibes of Stephen King’s The Shining, because it does. It’s not the same book, not by any means. The similarities lie deep in Boone’s Eagle Mansion and King’s The Overlook Hotel, both hotels from bygone eras that carry a lot of baggage and have a personality, a soul of their own. It’s winter in Boone’s book too, and the caretakers are Billy and Emily Stafford.

But they aren’t there to make sure the pipes don’t freeze and the roof doesn’t cave in under the weight of an upstate New York snow.

This is a twenty-first century book, and they are there because, a dozen years ago, Billy and his friend Shawn Eagle stayed on the Eagle family estate to code. It’s originally a bit hazy why their partnership, one seemingly destined to create something like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined, ends up shattered but, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s over a girl. Emily, to be precise.

Shawn has become richer than basically anyone ever, running a tech empire that seems to make Mark Zuckerberg jealous. But there’s one thing he doesn’t have… something he and Billy (and another friend named Takata but you have to read the book if you want to know what happened to him!) created as recent grads, something he can’t work into the phones that bear his name. 

Nellie.

She is why you might be wary of Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and… does the Google one have a name?

*brb going to turn off the Google one on my laptop, and the predictive search for good measure*

Billy becomes caretaker of Eagle Mansion that winter because there are ghosts and bugs and viruses in Nellie, and Shawn is running Nellie in the mansion, with the aim of creating what I imagine would be the ultimate ‘smart’ house to be scattered across America. But Billy had a drinking problem and slightly less alarming cocaine problem, and this creates just the right level of uncertainty as he prepares to tackle a problem that could make him him a multi-millionaire and Shawn a multi-multi-billionaire (because Shawn is kind of an awful person, not entirely without cause).

Nellie will freak you out. Shawn will make you… feel things. Billy will make you root for him. Ruth and Rose (twins and of one soul) will make you curious. And Emily will make you understand.

Horror and thrillers aren’t usually my go-to genres (and to be fair, I’ve seen The Shining but I have not read it) but this is as good as it gets. It’s a book that you will not be able to put down once you start it. and when that ever more irritating Real Life creeps in and makes you put it down? You’ll be thinking about this book.

The Mansion is on sale December 4, 2018 wherever books are sold. Probably. Go buy it!

(I received a copy of The Mansion from NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Posted in Reviewed

“Hope and Other Superpowers” by John Pavlovitz

The full title of the book I’m here to review today is… Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto. John Pavlovitz wrote this book and, presumably, picked the title. It is possibly the longest title I’ve ever seen but the book is absolutely worth ever hyphen in the title.

A few things, first.

When I requested the ARC of this nonfiction book from NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the chance to read it and offer my thoughts!), I picked it because the title seemed ambitious and I was trying to pick outside my genre-comfort zone, so I picked self-help. I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is a pastor, I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is considered one of the more liberal prominent pastors in the country, and I did not realize that the ‘superpower’ part of the title meant I’d need a working knowledge of comic book heroes to get the analogies made in this book.

When I realized these three things, as I started the book, I was quickly wary because I am agnostic, I’m generally skeptical of the motives of megachurch pastors, and I’ve never seen a comic book movie (Marvel or DC or whatever else there is, it’s all very confusing).

However, and this is an important part, Hope and Other Superpowers is not about why I should go to church and give myself up to Jesus, let him take the wheel as Carrie Underwood sings. Pavlovitz mentions being a pastor but I had the sense that he was not writing as pastor to his flock, but as a human being to other human beings. And, possibly less important but very surprising, I really want to watch all the comic book movies!

I was going to say I didn’t expect this book to be what it was but I don’t know what I expected it to be so I will say this…

I didn’t know I needed to read this book, but I did.

It’s in part a call to larger action, in that it’s fairly obvious how Pavlovitz feels about the current president, but it’s also a call to any action at all. A reminder that every single action we undertake has a ripple effect on both our own lives and the wider world. The underlying theme is that we all have the power to be the superheroes we see in movies and comic books, even when the simplest task seems so impossible. It’s about the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we can also make our world better for it. It’s a guide that asks me to take stock of myself, to take better care of myself, and take better care of the world.

I’m going to read this book again, and again. I needed this book, at this moment in my life, and I know I’ll need it again.

Posted in Reviewed

“The Rain Watcher” by Tatiana de Rosnay

(I received a copy of THE RAIN WATCHER through NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

There were a couple things that drew me to this book –

1) Paris is on the cover and I need to get to Paris at some point in my life. Need. Until then, vicarious visits via fiction will do fine.
2) I’ve wanted to read a Tatiana de Rosnay book for awhile, so I jumped at the chance to read this. I can’t say I read the synopsis closely before I requested the ARC, just requested it.

It was an absolute win on the first point. Paris is a main character in this story. The individual streets, the parks, the arrondisements, the statues… they all play a role in the story. And, as the title suggests, it is raining Paris. Flooding, really, because the rain won’t stop and the Seine overflows it’s banks with a viciousness that brings a modern, bustling city to it’s knees. This has happened in Paris, as de Rosnay illustrates with details of the catastrophic 1910 flood, throughout history and will likely happen again.

Honestly, I’d read a nonfiction account of the 1910 flood. Or the most recent flood in January 2018. Anything Paris, really, because Paris is history.

But the flood in THE RAIN WATCHER is a supporting plot that is a background for the true plot – the trials and tribulations of the Malegarde family. In short, anything bad that can happen to a family has happened to the Malegarde family. Linden, named after his father’s favorite tree, flees his rural French home as a teenage because he’s being bullied at school for being gay and he doesn’t feel like he can be open even with his American mother and French father. Tilia, his sister who carries the Latin name of their father’s favorite tree, had a daughter young, got divorced young, was the only survivor of a horrific car crash, and is married to a controlling drunk. Linden found a safe haven with his aunt in Paris and then became a world-famous photographer who seems to do his best to not get too personal with his family while regretting that they don’t know the man he loves well.

The plot comes together when the four Malegarde’s, parents and children, gather in rainy Paris for father Paul’s 70th birthday. And then all sorts of calamity strikes, leading to scenes of weeping at hospitals, dramatic evacuations from flooded places, and angsty confrontations between family.

There were some threads in the story that seemed dropped (like why mother Lauren refused to allow Linden’s boyfriend Sacha or Tilia’s husband or daughter to come or clarity in terms of the ‘flashbacks’ about Suzanne) but the ending of the story was fitting enough. There was tragedy and there was happiness.

This is how families work.

Posted in Reviewed

“The Kennedy Debutante” by Kerri Maher

So… I can be a snob about novels that are fictionalized tales of real people in history. I admit to this. I’m obsessed with all things history and have spent many hundreds of hours happily lost in the rabbit holes of history, playing a sort of Word Association as I get lost in Wikipedia articles about obscure people and places I’ve never known just how badly I wanted to study. <b>The Kennedy Debutante</b> is different because, long before Wikipedia was a dream in the eye of whoever it was that started it, I had a bit of an obsession with the Kennedy family.

My family would probably say it was more than a ‘bit’ of an obsession and the stack of biographies still resides in my closet. I have to admit that Wikipedia is a little easier to handle than stacks of thousand pages biographies and histories.

But anyway, my obsession is still alive and well, it seems, because when I saw a novel about Kick Kennedy (JFK’s second sister, fyi) available for request on NetGalley, I clicked Request before I read the synopsis. (Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Books for granting me access in exchange for an honest review!)

So, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was a debutante in London in when her father was U.S. Ambassador to England. Eighteen at the time, she was quickly swept up in the elite social circles of aristocratic England, despite her being a Catholic American. And she fell in love with the Marquess of Hartington, who was considered a potential husband for Queen Elizabeth II. He was a Protestant. This caused many problems.

Those are historical facts, a very quick summary.

For the book itself, the novelization of Kick Kennedy’s life… it just works. The looming backdrop of World War II, the fact that Kick is one of the lesser well-known Kennedys, the… I don’t know the reasons, really, but Maher has centered on something magical here. Kick’s view of the world is privileged but unique, bleak but honest, full of love and full of heartbreak.

This fast became one of those novels about real people where you find yourself thinking “I don’t know if this might have happened but… gosh, I hope it did!” because you want them to have their happily ever afters.

But Kick is sort of the forgotten tragedy when it comes to the Kennedy family. Hers was a life cut short at only twenty-eight, one full of love and strength and independence and character. I knew how it ended for her, for her and the Marquess she loved, for her in all things and yet Kerri Maher made me cry for Kick. It’s not easy to make me cry. But that someone as strong as Maher wrote Kick to be, as I believe she was from my dusty stack of biographies, lost so much made me root for her even when I knew how it would end.

If you like historical fiction, read this book. If you like love stories, read this book. If you’re alright with some angst and tragedy, read this book. If you know a little or a lot about the Kennedys, read this book. If you like fiction set around World War II, read this book. If you are human, just read this book!

Posted in Reviewed

Anne Shirley is my kindred spirit… I hope

I really do hope that Anne Shirley and I would be kindred spirits, were she real and had I grown up in the late 1800s on Prince Edward Island. A girl can dream, I believe Anne would say, and I have been dreaming the sorts of dreams Anne dreamed since… third grade maybe? I can’t remember exactly.

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What I do remember is this… this book, the one in the picture, is the original that I bought. I’d read it enough by the time fifth grade rolled around that, horror of horrors, the cover fell off one day in school. I had my book at school because Mrs. Bright, hands down the best teacher I had ever had, was reading Anne of Green Gables to us after lunch every day. Some kids in the class called this naptime. I did not. I toted my copy and read along with her. I remember she seemed amused and pleased by that. And I remember that when my cover fell off, she used masking tape to put it back on.

 

That tape remains there to this day.

Anyway, enough about Mrs. Carol Bright of Edison Elementary School (eternal thanks to all the teachers who read) and more about Anne.

But basically it is this… Anne Shirley and the world she lived in, the world L.M. Montgomery imagined, mean as much to me in 2018 as they did in 1991.