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review 2017-11-29 23:16
Stranger Than FanFiction by Chris Colfer @chriscolfer
Stranger Than Fanfiction - Chris Colfer

I won a fabulous package from Chris Colfer that included the book, Stranger Than FanFiction, a pair of sunglasses, a notebook for travel , and a keychain of America. I would have missed this wonderful story if I hadn’t been lucky enough to win it.

 

Stranger Than Fanfiction

 

Goodreads  /  Amazon US  /  Amazon UK  /  Amazon CA

 

MY REVIEW

 

This is a wonderful adventure novel about a group of nerdy high school kids traveling from coast to coast with their childhood idol, stretching their horizons and growing as individuals, learning the true meaning of friendship. Stranger Than FanFiction by Chris Colfer surprised me by being so much more than just kids on a road trip, with the writing drawing me in slowly and the ending hitting like a punch to the gut.

Animated Animals. Pictures, Images and Photos 4 Stars

 

Read more here.

 

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review 2017-11-13 00:01
Night In Jerusalem
Night in Jerusalem - Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Square 8 for the 16 Festive Tasks....

 

David Bennett travels to Jerusalem in 1967 on a journey to find himself. His cousin Johnathan has been studying Judaism in Jerusalem and believes that his mentor, the chief rabbi, Reb Eli will be able to help David with his troubles. David arrives in Jerusalem planning only to stay one month, however, he is quickly taken in by the beauty of the city and Reb Eli's ways. When Reb Eli suggests that David visits a local brothel for help with his women's troubles, David is taken aback. However, when he finally decides to visit, David meets Tamar and his troubles seem to vanish. Meanwhile, Reb Eli's widowed daughter, Sarah is feeling depressed and out of place without a husband or child within her Orthodox community. Sarah longs to love once again and when a mysterious Englishman enters her home, Sarah's senses are awakened. As David and Sarah begin their new journeys in romance, the Six Day War breaks out in the Middle East and forever alters their lives.

Recreating the biblical story of Tamar in a more modern setting, Night in Jerusalem has a fairy-tale quality to it. I immediately felt immersed in the city of Jerusalem, from the golden glow of the city, to the quaint diners and the people of many religions mingling together. I easily took to David and Sarah's characters as lost souls as well as Reb Eli's comforting character. I was surprised at Reb Eil's suggestion for David's troubles as well as how sensuous many of the scenes were. Along with learning the tale of Tamar, I learned many things about Jewish Traditions and life in Jerusalem. The intricacies of Shabbat seemed beautiful and I wish I could have heard Sarah's singing. The Six Day War was something else that I learned of, I had no idea that this tragedy or the reasons why it had happened. The most interesting aspect of this story is the interwoven tale of Tamar told through David and Sarah. Their mystery to one another kept the story suspenseful and their romance kept me intrigued. Overall, an interesting portrait of Judaism in 1960's Jerusalem interwoven with an updated biblical story.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

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review 2017-10-30 15:17
DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING

 

Praised by Alice Munro (whose name is on the back cover), Do Not Say We Have Nothing earned Madeline Thien the Canadian Authors’ Association Award for most promising Canadian writer under the age of 30. Then went on to win a Carnegie Medal, the Scotiabank Prize and the Stanford Travel Writing Award (Wikipedia 2016), but although shortlisted for The Man-Booker and the Bailey’s Prize, it didn’t win. I was shocked. The reviews I’d read suggested a forgone conclusion…It speaks to the humanity that continues even in the harshest, most self-destructively paranoid conditions, and it shows how the savagery of destroying culture comes hand-in-hand with the destruction of human bodies. For this reason alone, I hope it wins the Man Booker prize…(Boland 2016)
 
I found it compelling, important. I thought a close second read would determine why it hasn’t gained a glittering crown. Long, with a rambling, fractured narrative, covers many aspects of the Maoist revolution. The story is told in sewn-on patches, revealed slowly with huge difficultly, almost like a labour. This immediately felt right…as if structure and style represent the dreadful hardships the Chinese people experienced.
 
Do Not Say We Have Nothing  opens in Vancouver in 1990. Marie’s father has killed himself in Hong Kong jumping from a high building, and Marie (also called Li-Ling) and her mother take in a young woman from China. Ai Ming arrives at their home without ‘papers’. 10 year-old Marie is enamoured by the teenager, but ask as she might, cannot discover what has happened to her. Marie tries to get closer by showing the girl something that belonged to her dead father…
 
The notebook with her father’s writing, the Book of Records, was easy to find. I picked it up, knowing it would please her. But when I offered the notebook to Ai-ming, she ignored me. 
I tried again. “Ma told me it’s a great adventure, that someone goes to America and someone else goes to the desert. She said that the person who made this copy is a master calligrapher.”
Ai-ming emerged from her coat. “It’s true my father had excellent handwriting, but he wasn’t a master calligrapher. And anyway, no matter how beautiful the Book of Records is, it’s only a book. It isn’t real.”
“That’s okay. If you read it to me, I can improve my Chinese. That’s real.”
She smiled. After a few moments of turning pages, she returned the notebook to the bedcover, which had become a kind of neutral ground between us. “It’s not a good idea,” she said. “This is Chapter 17. It’s useless to start halfway, especially if this is the only chapter you have.”
“You can summarise the first sixteen chapters. I’m sure you know them.”
“Impossible!” But she was laughing…(Thien 2016)
 
Politics, time, place and generations of characters are intertwined within the story, and echoed in the handwritten ‘Record’ of the extract above. It was like reading a half-lost Chinese legend, or a guide to survival under hopeless oppression. I loved the way stories and music are powerful threads connecting the lives and times of a Chinese family. Often, I felt I was reading Dostoyevski. I agreed it wasa beautiful, sorrowful workthe mind is never still while reading it…(Senior 2016)
 
At the core of the story is a true event. In 1968, the director of Shanghai Conservatory of Music, He Luting, was dragged from his office by Red Guards, physically abused in front of TV cameras and accused of ‘non-revolutionary thinking’ over his  approbation of Western classical music. He did not confess, as most did, instead, crying out, “shame on you for lying!” (Isobel Hilton 2016). Thien incorporates this into her story.
 
I have this idea that … maybe, a long time ago, the Book of Records was set in a future that hadn’t yet arrived,” one characters says (Thien 2016). The covert record, written by hand and passed secretly from writer to writer, allows them to express what they cannot tell. Almost entirely unrevealed on the page, I thought the notebook was a metaphor for the half-lost history of three generations. 
 
Bach’s Goldberg Variations (always played by pianist Glenn Gould), becomes the score in our head. – the words echoing the complex counterpoints in the music. It’s a symbol, I believe, of how brilliant creativity is suppressed and punished in the Cultural Revolution (CR), but also of how music is universal. Early in the novel, Marie says…I was drawn toward it, as keenly is if someone were pulling me by the hand. The counterpoint, holding together composer, musicians and even silence, the music, with its spiralling waves of grief and rapture…(Thien 2016) She might be talking about the story she’s about to unfold.
 
Tieananmen Square in the 80s
We only find out Ai-Ming’s full story as the book progresses to its climax in Tiananmen Square. However, this is the beauty of close reading, and doing so made me sit up. There are a lot of clues in that first chapter in Vancouver. I had tried to keep them in my head on my first read, but it was almost impossible. The sweep of the book wipes them away. It’s only at the end, as things come to a head, that we learn how Ai-Ming and Marie are intrinsically connected.
 
Marie narrates short sections of the novel as an adult, in the present day. She’s become a mathematics professor, which links with the contrapuntal nature of music and story. She’s still seeking the truth about her family’s history. Meanwhile, the lives of the families of two sisters over fifty years of Chinese revolution is revealed in a wide-ranging viewpoint, allowing one after another of the characters to catch and take up the tale. It’s never clear who is in charge of this omniscient-like third person. It might be Ai Ming, remembering all she knows of the Book of Records, even adding to it. Maybe this is all Marie’s story, told at the end of her quest. Or perhaps the overarching view is Thien’s herself.
 
I became intimately involved with these lives, the ambiguities of the story, and the glorious sounds of music; Chinese and European, violin and piano. From Vancouver we go back to the colour and gaiety of the 1940’s, where two teenaged sisters entertain by singing in provincial teahouses. We follow Big Mother Knife and Swirl through the land reforms, re-educations, the arrival of the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution, and on, to the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
 
Big Mother has three children, including a boy called Sparrow, who becomes a musical prodigy. Swirl and her husband, Wen the Dreamer, have a girl, Zhuli. Wen is the ‘master calligrapher’ and principle contributor to the Book of Records. He and Swirl are caught up in the punishments devised to expose counter-revolutionaries… anyone deviating from the norm of communist orthodoxy. They are tortured and given hard labour in a desert area of China, where they barely survive. The young Zhuli is sent to find her aunt in Shanghai. She takes up the violin under the influence of her cousin, the shy composer, Sparrow, and is destined for great things, until the Cultural Revolution rises up. At the Conservatory, Zhuli becomes unable to cope with the humiliations, brain-washings and destruction of music and musical instruments….students began writing essays asking, “What good is this music, these empty enchantments, that only entrench the bourgeoisie and isolate the poor?”(Thien 2016). Some musicians form a clandestine resistance group, and this seems to finally topple Zhuli. She kills herself. 
 
In Moa’s China, history is manipulated or suppressed unless it toes the party line. And so, from the safety of Canada, Thein has attempted to tell the entire truth, using music as her theme. It feels off-key, literally, to write about musicians when so much of the history is political. They quietly go about their business of writing, playing and teaching music. They have brilliant minds, but are quiet people, not necessarily politically articulate.
 
Sparrow becomes deeply intimate with a piano student, Kai, whose family didn’t survive the starvation times of the Great Leap Forward. But Sparrow is unable to consummate their love, perhaps because of his timid reserve, perhaps due to the shock of Zhuli’s death. Kai is determined to live whatever the cost. Ruthlessly, he compromises his art and prospers as a musician, lauded by the establishment, while Sparrow, who cannot dishonour classical music, is forced to leave the Conservatory, reassigned to work in a radio factory for thirty years.
 
And what of the Book of Records? In an interview, Thien explains…It’s a book with no beginning, no middle and no end, in which the characters are seeing an alternative China where they recognise mirrors of themselves and which they write themselves into.” She is speaking literally as well as metaphorically. “The act of copying is different in China because part of the art of calligraphy is that you learn to write as the masters did. It’s a lot about breath and pressure and line. (Armistead 2016)
 
When I surfed the net, I discovered the notebook is an allusion to China’s most celebrated work of pre-history, Shiji or the Historical Records. Like the novel and the notebook, the Shiji is non-chronological, fractured…overlapping units that interpret rather than document. Completed in 91BCE  it was kept hidden for fear of the wrath of an emperor who had had its author, Sima Qian, the ‘grand astrologer’ castrated. (Vioatti 2014).
 
I followed one family for sixty years, across vast Chinese landscapes, puzzling about the ‘book of records’, carrying Baroque music in my head through 450 pages of traumatic experiences and moral complexities. Although it’s not an easy book to read, and I wasn’t alone in finding I always wanted to read on… Thien's reach—though epic —does not extend beyond her capacity, resulting in a lovely fugue of a book…(Chalfant 2016).
 
China has always been a dangerous place to state the truth, rather than toe the line. Then chose characters with great gifts, extraordinary yet quite ordinary, who fall foul of the absurd doctrines of a regime. Through them, I understood the consequences of Mao’s revolution on both the Chinese national identity, and the personal identities of its people.
 
The duplicitous Kai finally agrees to help Sparrow’s daughter, Ai-Ming, to escape China, but soon after Marie meets her, Ai Ming disappears into the USA. Marie is still searching at the end of the book. As if both girls, mirror-images of the girls who sang in the teahouses, resonate what the previous generation had to go through; to disappear emotionally or physically, or to wander, in search of reasons and identity. There’s no final answers, especially as to why it did not win the Booker. That is a puzzle as great as the Book of Records.
 

 

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review 2017-10-24 18:23
The Crows of Beara
The Crows of Beara - Julie Christine Johnson

One more for Halloween Bingo...Magical Realism!

 

Annie Crowe is a recovering alcoholic and though it seems like her life should be coming together, it is falling apart at the seams. Annie's marriage has ended due to her actions while being an addict and now her prestigious job at a PR firm is at risk. In order to simultaneously escape her failed marriage and try to get her career on track, Annie takes a high-risk assignment in Ireland. On the shores of Ireland, in the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie is supposed to get the townspeople to agree that a copper mine in Ballycarog Cove would be the best choice for the economy and people there. However, once she arrives in Ireland and is given a tour by hiking guide Daniel Savage of the land that the mining would destroy and the bird that would be displaced, Annie seems starts to think that she might be on the wrong side. Daniel Savage is also haunted by his past mistakes and has closed himself off to getting close to anyone else, but when Annie Crowe arrives for his hiking tour, he feels a connection; and on the wind they both hear the disembodied call of Mise Éire calling them.

Before I was swept into Annie and Daniel's stories, I was entranced by the opening, the Hag of Beara in her glory, looking out over her beautiful land. I had to know more about this legend and how she would effect the story. Written in changing points of view between Annie and Daniel, I was thrown into their lives. Both characters are broken, recovering alcoholics. Annie wants to escape her past and start over. Daniel would rather wallow in his guilt, believing this is what he deserves. Through the writing and the voice on the wind, I was able to feel their immediate connection. The internal struggles in both Annie and Daniel were mirrored in the external struggles of the mining company and the environment. In addition to these strongly developed characters, I felt fully immersed in the beauty of Ireland and Ballycarog Cove. The red-billed chough also caught my attention, I too would surely be rooting to save the unique habitat of this special bird. The rise of fall of tension between Annie and Daniel kept me absorbed within the story and I almost forgot about the trouble of the mine and the birds. Overall, a charming story with a mix of redemption, love, folklore and environmental themes.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

 

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review 2017-10-21 14:46
Last Words
Last Words: A Diary of Survival - Shari J Ryan Emma's grandmother, Amelia is the rock of her family. That is, until the day Amelia suffers a stroke. At this point, Emma's life is forced to come into focus. Amelia suddenly wants Emma to find her old diary, one she wrote during the Holocaust, and a man named Charlie. Oh, and Amelia has also conned her cardiologist, Jackson into taking Emma on a date. When Emma finds her grandmother's diary, she is launched into a world of secrets from Amelia's life and horrors that she could not believe. In addition, Emma also reads about love found within the concentration camp. Amelia and Nazi Soldier, Charlie Crane find one another during the worst of times. Charlie, though a Nazi, has simply been forced to serve since a youth. In reading Amelia's story of survival and love, Emma comes to realize what she has been missing and dives into her new relationship with Jackson. However, she is now in a race against time to find the Charlie from her grandmother's past as Amelia's health worsens. I have always loved historical fiction and I'm so glad Shari took on such a heavy topic. Inspired by her own grandmother, Shari has weaved together a story of past and present, survival and loss and heartbreak and love. I was pulled into Amelia's story with her strength and tenacity throughout the pain, hardship, loss and desperation of being separated from her family and watching those around her continuously die while she lived with help and hope from Charlie. With alternating viewpoints of Amelia's diary and Emma's blossoming love life, I was given a reprieve from the Holocaust and given a taste of Shari's specialty with Emma and Jackson, a sweet and sultry romance. Through reading Amelia's diary together, Emma and Jackson are brought together quickly, realizing that love is something that you should hold on to. With just enough hints of spice, their relationship heats up quickly. I was also engrossed by the mystery of Charlie; was he alive, had he moved on, would Emma find him on time? I was glad for Amelia's happily ever after, although it came seventy-four years late. Most of all this story this story is about remembering those who fought to survive and the power of love when we have lost all else. This is also a way to remember those who have survived this hateful time in history and to make sure we have all of their last words recorded so that we will never forget. This book was received for free in return for an honest review
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