Posts Categorized: Review

{Review} Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

May 18, 2015 Review 3 ★★★

{Review} Orange is the New Black by Piper KermanOrange Is the New Black: A Memoir by Piper Kerman
Published by Spiegel & Grau on March 8, 2011
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 314
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

I picked up a copy of Orange is the New Black at my library’s spring book sale last month because 1) I like non-fiction, and it seems to be one of the very few things that can still draw me in while I’m in this god-awful book slump and 2) I wanted to see how it faired to the TV show.

When I first heard about the TV show I was slightly curious. My mother said she wanted us to try it out as one of our new shows, but upon further investigation, I discovered it was not really the kind of show I was comfortable watching with my family, haha! Over the next year or so though, I kept hearing how great of a show it was, from the great acting to the complex lives of the female characters, and I was loving what I was seeing on my Tumblr dashboard, so I figured I’d give it a shot in the frigid months of January and February. Tumblr was right (really, has it failed me before on TV shows? Nope), of course, and I’m now anxiously awaiting Season 3!

But back to Kerman’s memoir. I think is the case of the TV adaption being way better than its source material (could it really shine without the amazing presence of Laverne Cox though?), although Orange is the New Black isn’t a bad read, not at all. It held my attention and was informative and funny. I didn’t really learn a whole lot more than I already knew about the prison system though, and I think illustrating statistics among the system via each character’s lived experiences on the TV show works better than having Kerman rattle off information about race, class, sexuality within the prison industrial complex. One thing that I did like compared to the TV series was that Larry was much less annoying, haha!

Overall, a solid read but it doesn’t hold a flame to the TV show!

3 Stars

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{Review} Take Them by Storm by Marie Landry

January 12, 2015 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} Take Them by Storm by Marie LandryTake Them by Storm by Marie Landry
Series: Angel Island #3
Published by Self-Published on 01/06/2015
Genres: New Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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This book is a standalone companion novel to Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm.

Sadie Fitzgerald has always been different, and not just because she makes her own clothes and would rather stay home watching Doctor Who than party with kids her age. When it’s time to leave Angel Island for college, Sadie is eager to put her old life behind her. Small-minded people and rumors have plagued her for years, but with the love of her adoptive family, the O’Dells, Sadie has learned to embrace who she is. Now she’s not afraid to admit the rumors about her are true: she’s gay.

For the first time in her life, Sadie feels free to be herself. She dives into college life and begins volunteering at the local LGBT center, where she discovers her small-town upbringing left holes in her education about life outside Angel Island.

The world is a bigger and more accepting place than Sadie ever imagined. She’s finally found where she belongs, but with the reappearance of someone from her past, an unexpected new friendship, and a chance at love, Sadie soon realizes she still has a lot to learn about life, friendship, and love.

Cover Talk

Purple is my favourite colour, so I may be a bit biased here, but I love the cover. It’s eye catching, and quirky, just like Sadie. It actually matches very closely the descriptions of the clothing she wears and makes in the book, so it’s not another girl in a pretty dress cover that has NOTHING to do with the book. Nothing against those covers, because hey, they can be absolutely BEAUTIFUL, but after a while they become overdone when they have no connection to the plot. Alas, I digress.

My Expectations

I love Marie Landry’s books, and have been looking forward to Sadie’s story since she first told me about it so I was pretty sure I would like this book. However, 2014 had me in a god awful slump, and I didn’t want to read anything with dead mothers in it at the moment. That said, I decided to persevere and read Take Them by Storm since I had been looking forward to it for a while now.

My Thoughts

Marie Landry has done it, yet again! Take Them by Storm had me captivated from the first chapter, and I found myself reading for long stretches throughout the day and night, pushing aside other things to make time for Sadie, Ella, and River, as I returned to those loveable group of friends one last time.

While Take Them by Storm picks up a few weeks after After the Storm ends, it can be read as a standalone novel. Sadie is the protagonist, or I should say star of the book, as she really does shine. Whereas in After the Storm, Sadie was bubbly but self-conscious, and dealing with a lot of heavy things, in this book, she has the chance to truly get outside of her comfort zone and expand her horizons, as she starts at Loyola College while living with her best friend, River. Away from her unloving and bigoted parents and cruel high school peers, Sadie has the opportunity to volunteer at a local LGBTQ Rainbow Centre as part of her placement, allowing her to further grow confidence in herself, her identity, and to develop a sense of community for the first time in her life. (And if you’ve read any of Marie’s other books, particularly The Game Changer, you also get to see some familiar faces in Bellevue which was SO fun as a fan and reader!)

I really appreciated the complexity that Marie Landry gave to Sadie’s story, and character. She wasn’t defined by her sexual orientation, but identifying as a lesbian was still important to her. Not every relationship worked out picture perfect with a happily ever after story, nor was Sadie’s story one of doom or gloom. There was a little of both, and Sadie spent a lot of being happy, making mistakes, and just generally trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted – in other words, she was a typical college student! I also LOVED that the LGBTQA+ spectrum was represented, or discussed, including bisexual, pansexual, intersex, asexual, trans*, queer, and two-spirited identities. There was also a bisexual character (she actually read more pansexual to me, but nonetheless), and thankfully there was no bi-erasure, as can often happen. Sadie also gets served the same treatment as Landry’s other female protagonists, with a few steamy bedroom scenes of her own. No fade to black just because it is a LGBTQ romance, yay!

Although a LOT of things worked for me, one thing that didn’t really was one of the romantic relationships Sadie has towards the end of the book. Without spoiling anything, I had just never gotten the same kind of chemistry with the character as I did with some of the other female characters. It also seemed to happen very quickly, and then there was about a month’s jump forward in time, which made things seem even more rushed and made it a bit difficult for me to be all swoony and excited over them. That said, this was one thing in a sea of many things that I did really like!

In the end, Take Them by Storm was a whirlwind ride through Sadie’s first few months of college, and the highs and lows that came with it. I’d recommend this to anyone who is looking for a great contemporary read, whether you have read Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm and are looking to continue the story, or are looking for a great read about a young woman coming into her own with a wonderful group of friends. Also, being the last book, I am sad to leave this series behind! I’ve had some good laughs and cries over all three books. But I can’t wait to see what Landry has up her sleeve as she moves on to new characters, places and stories.  I’m sure they will be just as swoon, cry and laughter worthy as her others!

4 Stars

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{Review} Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

November 5, 2014 Review 2 ★★★★★

{Review} Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by HarperCollins on September 9, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, from the author of three highly acclaimed previous novels.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theatre troupe known as the Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I recently picked this up for an assignment on Canadian literature. I’d read numerous positive reviews – from JamieHannahKaren, and Blair – so I was really looking forward to this book. While literary science fiction is not a favorite genre of mine, the dazzling reviews were enough to sway me. Station Eleven is about a lethal flu epidemic that plagues our world and the ensuing aftermath. The narrative focuses on several characters each related, in some way, to a famous Hollywood actor who dies onstage during a production of “King Lear” in the opening pages. In an interview with the New York Times, Mandel said, “I wanted to write a love letter to the modern world, and a way to write about all these things we take for granted was to write about their absence.” I was pleasantly surprised by this insightful look into our world, our culture, and our humanity.

Part of what made this book so rich for me was how well Mandel developed a response to what exactly happens when 99% of the world’s population dies from an influenza epidemic. It’s about resilience, of the body, of the mind, and of the heart. I loved the multiple narratives in this book because it demonstrates so well how many different reactions are possible. A recurrent theme is that survival is not enough, and while Mandel writes characters who embody this concept, there are others who aren’t as mentally resilient.

These characters, though – they’re insanely realistic. I LOVE THEM. I ached for them. Their stories felt so tragic but so beautifully expressed. However, I don’t think there’s any way to explain these characters or their plots without ruining it all. Part of the enchantment of this book is the suspense: you don’t know how everything links together, and it seems to take forever to figure it out, but you do eventually.

The narrative has a wonderful sense of self-consciousness. You always have a sense of where you are currently in the timeline of the novel (which is long). I love this passage, which really exemplifies what I’m trying to describe:

“standing on a stool on his wondrously functional pre-Libya legs, the bullet that would sever his spinal cord still twenty-five years away but already approaching: a woman giving birth to a child who will someday pull the trigger on a gun, a designer sketching the weapon or its precursor, a dictator making a decision that will spark in the fullness of time into the conflagration that Frank will go overseas to cover for Reuters, the pieces of a pattern drifting closer together.”

We jump around from the moment the epidemic was unfolding and 20+ years after it happened, as well as a few memories from way before the epidemic. It really conveys a sense of shock when you go from completely normal – like our current world – to complete devastation and craziness. Super, super scary. I love when Mandel described the world 20+ years out, though, because it was so interesting to compare people who’s attitudes and experiences are so similar to mine, to a generation who grows up without any of the “modern conveniences” we are accustomed to (i.e. electricity, plumbing, gasoline, Internet).

For me, this book ticked every box: while the pacing is slower, it’s elegant and unique, and the characters and plot are expressed beautifully. Mandel is a wonderful storyteller. Her writing demonstrates that she put a lot of thought into the story, and it is completely controlled. That is the mark of an extremely talented writer; she knows everything but isn’t overhanded by revealing it all at once. If you enjoy books with interesting characters and emotional narratives, this one’s for you.

Collected Quotations

“‘It’s like the corporate world’s full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that, my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts. . . . I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. Dan’s like that. . . . You probably encounter people like him all the time. High-functioning sleepwalkers, essentially.'”

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“Something I’ve been thinking about, which will sound harsh and I’m sorry: you said you’d always be my friend but you’re not, actually, are you? I’ve only realized that recently. You don’t have any interest in my life. This is going to seem bitter but I don’t mean it that way, V., I’m just stating a fact here: you’ll only ever call me if I call you first. Have you noticed that? If I call and leave a message you’ll call me back, but you will never call me first. And I think that’s kind of a horrible thing, V., when you’re supposed to be someone’s friend. I always come to you. You always say you’re my friend but you’ll never come to me and I think I have to stop listening to your words, V., and take stock instead in your actions. My friend C. thinks my expectations of friendship are too high but I don’t think he’s right.”

“Survival is insufficient.”

5 Stars

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{Review} Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

September 12, 2014 Review 1 ★★★★★

{Review} Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversDark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 2, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 385
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...
My Thoughts

If you read my review of Grave Mercy then you know I LOVED the first installment in this series. I requested Dark Triumph from the library at the same time as Grave Mercy, and I didn’t bother reading the synopsis – I just assumed I would want to read book two right away. I did… until I realized Dark Triumph is NOT about Ismae, but her “sister”, Sybella. I was completely disappointed and actually held off starting Dark Triumph for a few days. I loved Ismae and wanted more of her and Duval!

However. I seriously underestimated Robin LaFevers’ skill as a writer. I loved the kick-ass heroine, slow-burn romance, court intrigue, intense and mysterious politics, weapons and fighting, and superb supporting cast in book one, and these same components were delivered once again in Dark Triumph. Also, I just love how LaFevers told Sybella’s story. It was not overshadowing or overtaking Ismae; instead, it is really just a continuation in a way that makes sense and feels natural.

Also, I think I MAY love Sybella even more than Ismae. She is fierce but so vulnerable. She is kind but pretends she’s not. She is witty and funny – see: “You are not my nursemaid. Remember, I am rescuing you.” She has a good heart, despite being affiliated with the God of Death.

At the beginning, I couldn’t believe that Beast was the love interest in this book. How I had imagined him from Grave Mercy just seem irreconcilable with a romantic hero. But man, LaFevers did a fantastic job with him. I loved that he is so humble, quiet, and respectful – despite his accomplishments, his confidence, and his size, he isn’t a pain in the butt! (Which was kind of how I envisioned him at first.) His loyalty – and the loyalty he inspires in others – was something that really stuck with me throughout the novel. Sybella says, “In the distance a wolf howls. Let it come, I think. Beast will most likely simply howl back, and the creature will either turn tail and run or fall into line behind him, like the rest of us have.” That basically sums up Beast’s character – he is definitely the strong, silent type, and he inspires hordes of people to follow his cause in spite of – or because of? – those characteristics.

Not only did I love Sybella and Beast, but the supporting characters were amazing, too. Dark Triumph stands out to me as a book that excels in characterization. There is a prison guard who is just fantastic. He always kept me guessing. There are some “Robin Hood”-esque men who had struggles of their own that made me question how we perceive and discuss race, even in modern society. There is Ismae and Duval, returning in little glimpses, which was just the perfect treat for fans of the series. There is Annith, who is always in the background – from book one, too – and my heart aches for her and her struggles. (Can’t wait for book three!) There is Julian, Sybella’s brother, who was equally disturbing and fascinating… and really demonstrated the horribleness of the villain of this book. It is clear that LaFevers has put care and thought into every character in this book, and it certainly paid off.

One of my favourite aspects of Dark Triumph is the focus on faith. Sybella has so many questions and doubts regarding the God of Death – also her father – Mortain. Like Ismae, she doesn’t know how to perceive the abbey and who to believe anymore. She see things outside the abbey that make her question her unquestioning faith in the abbess. On top of that, she often compares herself to Beast, seeing him as goodness, and herself as darkness: “[Beast] feels as bright and golden as a lion who roars in the face of his enemies and stalks them in broad daylight. Whereas I – I am a dark panther, slinking unseen among the shadows, silent and deadly. But we are both great cats, are we not? And do not even bright things cast a shadow?” I really love when characters question their faith in religion, an institution, a person, whatever. It’s something that I think everyone goes through at some point in their lives, and often one must choose to take a certain path. I think that reveals a lot about a person, or a character. With Sybella, I loved her moment of reckoning, and it felt so realistic (despite the fantastical elements).

On that note, Sybella, as I mentioned above, compares herself to Beast unfavourably. At first it seems like she is the beauty and he is the beast (obviously… his name is Beast because he’s so ugly!). And it seems to be following that traditional fairy tale story. But in so many ways I think Sybella actually sees herself as the beast and Beast as the beauty, because he is good, and she is bad – or at least, she carries out the God of Death’s wishes, which isn’t exactly positive. I love this kind of contradictions in books, and I love how LaFevers sets up these concepts and oppositions. Deciding how to perceive both Sybella and Beast, as individuals and as a couple, was an enormous part of the fun for me with this book.

This series is amazing, and I think Dark Triumph topped the first book by far. I wish I had purchased these because I ALREADY want to reread them! I am so excited for book three, Mortal Heart, out in November… I simply can’t wait. I have a feeling Sybella may remain my favourite, but Annith’s story is one that really intrigues me. If you like fantasy of any form, strong-willed heroines, books about a loss of one’s self-identity, or slow-burn romances… Dark Triumph‘s for you. Without a doubt, it will be a favourite I return to again and again.

Collected Quotes

“Some days, like today, my aim and timing is so true that it takes my breath away and I feel certain Mortain’s hand guides my own.”

“Do I love killing? Of a certainty, I love the way my body and weapons move as one; I revel in the knowledge of where to strike for maximum impact. And of a certainty, I am good at it.”

“The dinner is as satisfying as any feast I have ever eaten. Not only is the goose cooked perfectly, crisp skin and juicy succulent meat, but there is a thick, hearty stew of mutton, leeks, and cabbage, dark brown bread and new cheese, thin red wine and pear cider, as well as baked apples with cream.”

“Mayhap my short time away […] has reminded me that there are things worth living for. […] There is the thrill of a fast horse, and the sun and wind in your face. The rare – and all the more precious for it – moments of laughter to be had. The excitement of seeing Mortain’s marque and knowing the hunt is about to begin. The look in someone’s eye when he truly sees you – not just your face and hair, but the very essence of your soul.”

5 Stars

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{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

September 8, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan JubyThe Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby
Published by HarperCollins on March 8, 2011
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Woefield Farm is a sprawling thirty acres of scrub land, complete with dilapidated buildings and one half-sheared, lonely sheep named Bertie. It's "run" - in the loosest possible sense of the word - by Prudence Burns, an energetic, well-intentioned 20-something New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, but without an iota of related skills or experience. Prudence, who inherited the farm from her uncle, soon discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on the property, which means that she has to turn things around, fast. But fear not! She'll be assisted by Earl, a spry 70-something, banjo-playing foreman, with a distrust of newfangled ideas and a substantial family secret; Seth, the alcoholic, celebrity-blogging guy-next-door, who hasn't left the house since a scandal with his high-school drama teacher; and Sara Spratt, a highly organized eleven-year-old looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens, including one particularly randy fellow soon to be christened Alec Baldwin.
Some Brief Thoughts

Oh, man. THIS BOOK. I don’t even know how to begin to explain it. First things first, the best thing about this book is the characters. Their special brand of hilarity reminds me a little bit of The Big Bang Theory – like, hilarious, but they’re not trying to be funny. They aren’t “nerds” like the show, instead they are a crazy cast of misfits… there is Earl, an old guy with his eye on retirement, who is a farmhand with basically no farming skills. There’s Seth, who is an irritating, sloppy blogger who is incredibly self-centered and conceited – but as he is forced to work on the farm, his character development is truly amazing. I was rooting for him in the end, which is NOT something I thought I’d be saying when I first opened the book! There’s Sara, who is also annoying, but in a much more endearing way; she only wants the best for her prize-winning chickens and is determined to get it from the folks at Woefield. And finally, Prudence… so sweet, hard-working, and determined, she’s a city girl and a “retired” writer who wants to make it on a farm. She reminded me so much of myself – her ideals, not necessarily her personality – and it was hilarious to see her try to make it all work.

Which is, essentially, the whole kit and caboodle of this book. Prudence wants to make the farm into a utopian land that is sustainable and profitable, but all she has for help are Earl, Seth, and Sara… which leave something to be desired. Each of these characters is prone to hair-brained ideas, and the best part is seeing how they turn out. You just never know, and I can honestly say EVERY “solution” had me busting my gut and shaking my head in wonderment.

Part of that is the animals – Woefield is pretty pathetic, especially at first, and all they have for animals are Bertie the sheep and Sara’s chickens. But holy cow, do they ever get up to some crazy shenanigans with these animals. You would think it would be pretty easy to take care of one sheep, but Earl and Seth show that is not the case….

There’s also a hunky guy, which in my opinion never hurts. BUT my favourite thing about this hunky guy is that, while I was rooting for him and Prudence to get together, HIS role, from his perspective, was about saving the animals at Woefield. (He’s a vet… even better.) He’s concerned about Bertie the sheep, not Prudence – and I love that he’s not playing her white knight.

Other things I loved: the farm life (I love farms), the fact that it’s in Canada, the grumpy characters yet the way they’re totally endearing, and the constant laughing out loud. I can’t even begin to describe the humour. I’ve tried to include some of the funniest quotes I could pull below, but I don’t know if just a few lines will accurately convey the situation. It is one of the funniest books I can ever remember reading, and if you are in need of something light, fun, and wholly entertaining, this should definitely be next on your list!

A few notes: This book was published in the US under the title Home to Woefield. Also, both Earl and Seth like to swear a lot, so this book is definitely at least a PG-13.

Collected Quotations

“My heart kind of hurt when I looked at her. Not because I was in love, but because I could tell from looking at her that she didn’t hate herself. Not only didn’t she seem to hate herself, she barely seemed to think about herself. How fucking glorious must that be?”

“It’s been a pretty tough day,” he said. “No sense making it worse with a salad.”

“The old man kept going about how he could never keep her home, how she loved to roam. He said she should have been a sheep in the foothills of Scotland. Now if that wasn’t a load of shit I don’t know what is. I’ll tell you why that sheep roamed. The fences around here was held up with goddamn binder twine and half-assed prayers. That’s why.”

“I think Prudence is one of the busiest people who ever lived. Probably only God and Jesus and the devil are more busy than Prudence.”

4 Stars

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