{Review} Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

July 3, 2014 Review 2 ★★★★

{Review} Lost Lake by Sarah Addison AllenLost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 21, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 296
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages -- and her heart -- back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost... until they are found.

I had heard of Sarah Addison Allen when her novel The Peach Keeper came out, but I never managed to pick up anything by her. A while back, I read a review of Lost Lake on a blog (can’t remember which one!) and was immediately intrigued. There is something so magical about summertime and spending it at a “lost” dilapidated lake sounded like something else. I think the cover is absolutely gorgeous – the colours are so mysterious, somehow, and the lights are beautiful – and if I had walked by it in a bookstore or library, I probably would’ve picked it up. It looks like my kind of book.

Looking back on this book the best way I can describe it is like a summer memory. You know those memories of summer that seem tinged by the hot, hazy weather, of days that melt together and nothing much is happening, but at the same time it feels like a magical time of year somehow? That’s what this book reminds me of. This book is a contemporary and it feels true to life but at the same time like a dream, and it’s in this way that the tiny magical elements feel so at home in it.

I didn’t read the jacket copy until I already had the book home, but I was immediately wary of the single mother cliché – it’s something that I usually don’t enjoy, probably because I feel so far from motherhood myself. But Kate’s problems with her daughter are really just indicative of her problems with herself. Ultimately Kate’s struggle with herself is universal; it’s a struggle through grief and confusion and wanting to understand and know one’s self, but feeling unable to. This is one of my favourite parts of the book:

“Kate was tired of sacrificing her happiness for someone else’s dreams. She’d done it for her mother when she was a teenager, and she’d done it for Matt. She’d done it all willingly, but never again. For the past year, she’d been scared that she couldn’t actually live her own life, that she was someone who was inherently incapable of it. She was scared of being a bad parent. Scared of being alone. Scared to grieve. Not anymore. This, she thought, was where her real life was going to start. She didn’t know where it was going, but it was going to start here, where she used to know herself so well, where no one else’s rules made sense but her own.”

In this sense Lost Lake is a Bildungsroman, an exploration of Kate’s childhood and adulthood. The melding of these two opposing parts of her life is what brings her a sense of peace and hope for the future. It’s empowering and motivating to see Kate take charge of her own life and cope with her grief in a way that works for her. I like that she finds the strength that allows her to be independent of others, so when she does rely on someone, it’s because she truly loves them and wants a relationship with them.

The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert on Grooveshark

While Kate did not grow up at Lost Lake and it’s not technically her home, there is a real sense that she is returning home to “find herself.” It reminds me so much of that Miranda Lambert song “The House That Built Me.” (Just listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.) Kate’s last happy childhood was spent at Lost Lake so in many ways her trip there as an adult is all about revisiting the past. She spends a lot of time revisiting her relationships from that period of her life: “Those stories were the sound track of my summer with you.” (My favourite quote. Ever. So sweet.) There is, relatedly, a strong sense of old vs. young, past vs. future, retirement vs. fresh start. The stories of Kate and her Aunt Eby are equally important in this novel, and it is interesting to compare Aunt Eby looking back on her past with tired eyes, with Kate looking to the future with hope. This contrast really provides some depth to the story, as it’s not just about Kate’s struggles, it’s about Eby’s, too.

Allen writes magical realism, which is “a literary genre in which realistic narrative is combined with surreal elements” (definition provided by I Believe In Story, which has an excellent post on the genre). As I mentioned before, the novel is definitely contemporary and seems completely realistic in most respects. The difference is the small moments which make you question the novel’s reality, as if there’s something not quite right that you just can’t quite put your finger on. The magical realism elements of the story really create a fun atmosphere and contribute to that overwhelming sense I described before of a lazy summer day.

One of the best ways I can think to describe this book is kind of like Sarah Dessen for adults. If you’ve read Sarah Dessen, you know what I mean – characterized by summery carefree days where the focus is on emotional development and burgeoning new relationships, not the details of one’s sordid past. This focus on character development is the highlight of the book, and if you like a focus on that in your reads, this is for you. For this who love summertime and all it entails, this will check that box too. Finally, it has a super slow, swoon-y romance that is sure to delight (I adore the love interest). I highly, highly recommend this if any of that sounds like something you’d love.

A Few Favourite Quotes:

“After they ate, there was silence, save for the thrumming of the nighttime wildlife, a strange sort of chorus that seemed to call from one side of the lake and answer on the other.”

“She understood that the hardest times in life to go through were when you were transitioning from one version of yourself to another.”

“‘I taught literature for nearly forty years. The books I read when I was twenty completely changed when I read them when I was sixty. You know why? Because the endings changed. After you finish a book, the story still goes on in your mind. You can never change the beginning. But you can always change the end. That’s what’s happening here.'”

“Lisette loved the flavors of old, simple recipes, ones made so often that their edges were worn down and they tasted soft and sure of themselves. They made her think of her grand-mère, who had lost her husband and two of her sons in the war. She had cried every day for a year, walking the same stretch of road from her home to the train station, waiting for them to come back. Her tears fell as black stones to the ground, and to this day those stones lodged themselves in car tires and let all the air out slowly in a wail. People called it Sorrow Road. Lisette had very few memories of her grand-mère and her house in the country. She remembered the bread she had baked there in a sooty black stove. And she remembered her grand-mère once holding out her spotted, papery fingers and telling Lisette that old hands made the best food. ‘Old hands can hold memories of good things,’ she had said.”

4 Stars

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In Praise of Slow Reading

June 30, 2014 Discussion Post 10

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Before I began blogging, I thought that I was a pretty fast reader. People were always making remarks about how many books I’d read, and that I must be a fast reader. However, once I become part of the book blogosphere, I realized that I’m actually probably just slightly faster than average (I remember doing that Staples reading test a while back!). It takes me approximately 2 hours to read 100 pages, although I tend to read a bit faster on e-readers.

Sometimes I can read a book in an entire day, if I have 4-6 hours to dedicate to reading. But usually it takes me a few days. Now that I’m reading and reviewing books, I tend to push myself to read more throughout the year. Last year I read 75 books. This year though, I’m challenging myself to return to reading 50 books. Why?

Slow Reading
Upon reflection, particularly in writing my comparison of my 2012 vs. 2013 reading experiences, I have discovered that I enjoy books much more when I get a chance to sit with them (which shouldn’t surprise me, I almost always end up liking a book more that I would have if I initially rated it 3 or higher after chatting about it at book club!). Taking time to really absorb the words on the page, and to connect with the characters apparently makes a big difference to the pleasure I get out of a book.

I think another reason that I like taking my time to read through a book is that reading can help my anxiety. I’m going to be talking about this hopefully soon in a new upcoming interactive feature, but the books that have helped me get through some difficult times and deal with my anxiety are books that it took me weeks, even a month or more to read. I think this is because it is reassuring to continue coming back to a story, night after night. It provides a sense of stability, and a chance to escape in a familiar world. Racing through a book could, at times, alleviate that sense of anxiety — in regards to leaving the characters and world, to have to make a choice about another book, etc.

All this is to say that I think I’ve finally come to discover and, perhaps, more importantly, to understanding my reading personality. Sure, it’s just one facet of my reading personality. There are many other things that can be taken into account: time of day, preferred genres, hardback or paperback, e-reader or paper, and other reading quirks. It’s nice (and fun!) to realize what works for you, and to be able to put that into practice, allowing yourself to have the best reading experience you can. I don’t know if I would have discovered this part of my reading personality had I not started blogging!

*This post isn’t trying to diminish those who can read with lightning speed, and I’m not trying to say one is better than another. Go with whatever works for you as a reader!

Continue the Convo!
Are you a fast, average or slow reader (how long does it take you to read 100 pages?)? Do you prefer to routinely binge read, or does reading across a few days work better for you? Does your reading speed affect your experience, like it sometimes does me? How is your 2014 reading experience going? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz

June 27, 2014 Blog Tour, Book Blitz, Giveaways 4

Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz

Welcome to the Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz! I rave about Marie Landry enough that by now everyone should know that I highly recommend her books, right? Well, in case you need a reminder, here’s my chance! Marie Landry is one of my favourite Canadian authors – she writes heartwrenching, laugh out loud contemporary romance stories in the vein of Sarah Dessen. Today I’m helping relaunch her first book, Blue Sky Day. Full disclosure – I helped beta read some of this book. While I haven’t finished it (yet!), I just know that she is going to rip my heart out of my chest. Why? Read on to find out more about the novel, the special importance this relaunch has to the author, and find out how you can win one of three $20 PayPal giftcards!

Blue Sky Days Relaunch BlitzBlue Sky Days by Marie Landry
on June 27, 2014
Genres: New Adult
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A year after graduating from high school, nineteen-year-old Emma Ward feels lost. She has spent most of her life trying to please her frigid, miserable mother - studying hard, getting good grades, avoiding the whole teenage rebellion thing - and now she feels she has no identity beyond that. Because she spent so many years working hard and planning every moment of her life, she doesn't have any friends, has never had a boyfriend, and basically doesn't know who she is or what she really wants from life. Working two part-time jobs to save money for college hasn't helped her make decisions about her future, so she decides it's time for a change. She leaves home to live with her free-spirited, slightly eccentric Aunt Daisy in a small town that makes Emma feel like she's stepped back in time.

When Emma meets Nicholas Shaw, everything changes - he's unlike anyone she's ever met before, the kind of man she didn't even know existed in the 21st century. Carefree and spirited like Daisy, Nicholas teaches Emma to appreciate life, the beauty around her, and to just let go and live. Between Daisy and Nicholas, Emma feels like she belongs somewhere for the first time in her life, and realizes that you don't always need a plan - sometimes life steers you where you're meant to be.

Life is wonderful, an endless string of blue sky days, until Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer, and life changes once again for Emma in ways she never thought possible. Now it's time for her to help Nicholas the way he's helped her. Emma will have to use her new-found strength, and discover along the way if love really is enough to get you through.

Author-Note-Blue-Sky-Days-Blitz

June 27th is the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death from leukemia. For a long time I’ve wanted to honour him in some way, and I thought having the relaunch of Blue Sky Days, a book that was partly inspired by him, would be the perfect tribute. My dad was a wonderful man—smart, funny, kind, and loyal. He was an amazing father, husband, brother, and friend. Even before he died, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and he would listen to my crazy made-up stories with the patience of a saint.

From the 27th-30th of June, half the proceeds from all sales of Blue Sky Days will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. If you already own a copy, maybe you’d consider buying the book for a friend or family member? Or buying another copy from a different retailer (like Smashwords, which offers the book in every format)?

I greatly appreciate the support of the online reading/writing community for helping me honour my dad.

 

Giveaway-Blue-Sky-Days-Blitz

Thanks to eight incredible sponsors, there’s a huge blitz-wide giveaway! There will be three (3) $20 PayPal cash prizes. Three chances to win – not too shabby, huh? This giveaway is open internationally to people aged 18+ who can accept PayPal cash.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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{Review} Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

June 26, 2014 Review 4 ★★★★

{Review} Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 549
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts -- and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany -- where she finds herself woefully under prepared -- not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

COVER TALK

I have to admit that despite the reviews that were definitely catching my eye, I find the cover a little off-putting and I was just not feeling ready to pick it up every time I walked past it in the bookstore or the library. I like the general set up of the cover but to be honest, the cover model doesn’t look like a strong kick-ass heroine to me, and it just left me feeling very meh about the book.

EXPECTATIONS

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, and my interest was re-piqued when I watched padfootandprongs07‘s video Fantasy Books I Want to Read and then later saw that Hannah was re-reading Grave Mercy before starting Dark Triumph (the sequel).

MY THOUGHTS

Despite my initial misgivings, there is actually so much to love about Grave Mercy. It is by far one of my favourite books of the year. I read it in two days (and considering it’s 500+ pages that’s pretty fast for me). Rachelia and I were going to read along together, but I was so caught up in it I couldn’t wait for her to get to it that night! (Sorry, Rachelia!) Anyway, here’s why I loved it:

1. Ismae

After reading the synopsis for Grave Mercy, I knew immediately it was a book I would love. Ismae reminded me of characters written by Kristin Cashore, Sarah J. Maas, and Tamora Pierce (who are some of my favourite authors ever). I like these ladies – KatsaCaelenaKel – because they so awesomely revert gender stereotypes.

Ismae is strong like this – her entire life has been a struggle for existence, and in the first few pages of the book, she is sold and married to a pig farmer and accosted by a madwoman her first night in the convent. She takes everything in stride and always focuses on the next step, never dwelling on whatever latest tragedy has befallen her.

She begins to struggle with her moral code and the duty she feels to the convent. This challenge felt so real and fresh; it’s a struggle many of us face, and seeing how she coped with it and the consequent character development was really interesting. Intertwined in all that are her feelings on religion and paranormal gifts, so it’s a really interesting way to view personal ethics vs. “the Man”.

2. Duval

There is a romance in this book and I have to admit I’m a sucker for that kind of thing in high fantasy. I loved Duval right from the start – tall, dark, and brooding – he’s exactly my kind of love interest. The tension in their relationship at the beginning of the novel was fantastically done, and I love the “slow burn” kind of romances. This one fits that description to a T. There are some pretty sworn-woothy moments, and it was delightful to watch them realize they’d fallen for each other: “Whenever you are ready, or if you never are, my heart is yours, until Death do us part. Whatever that may mean when consorting with one of Death’s handmaidens.” Even when being romantic, Ismae is still witty and funny!

There were some problem areas with their relationship, and at times things felt too contrived, too inconsistent, and too fast-moving, but overall I loved Ismae and Duval individually and I loved them together. One of my favourite Duval moments is when he begins to take his relationship with Ismae seriously: “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.” Even though he’s beginning to open up to her, his wry humour still kicks in. The execution of their coming together as a couple was a little wonky at times (and a certain moment of passion was a bit weird and unconvincing), but at the end of the day I can’t help but love this aspect of the book, too.

3. Setting

I can’t think of a more fascinating setting. It is 1485 in Brittany, which at the time is a duchy separate from France. This time in history was rife with political turmoil and questions of nationality and separatism were of huge importance. (Wikipedia, as always, has a great outline of the basic situation.) Not only is the time period and country fascinating, but the novel takes place first in a convent and later in a castle – which is basically the perfect recipe for a medieval setting. Convents, boarding schools, castles, etc.: these are some of my favourite settings ever, because it’s interesting to me to see how people interact when they are so many in such a (relatively) small space.

4. Genre/Themes

This book ticks all the boxes for me as far as my favourite genres go. Growing up I loved fantasy with a historical feel, and this completely delivers on that front. It’s a mix of historical fiction and fantasy with a few paranormal elements and lots of discussion on religion. I really enjoyed Ismae’s struggle with what it means to be Death’s handmaiden: “Surely He does not give us hearts so we may spend our lives ignoring them.” I think it echoes the struggles we face in our modern world with religion. I also love how LaFevers is able to so deftly weave together fact and fiction, creating a world that feels so true to life primarily because it is drawn almost completely from our history books. But LaFevers embellishes on the good parts and ups the ante at times, creating a realm and a book that are utterly fascinating.

5. Political Intrigue

One of my favourite things about historical fiction and fantasy, and particularly high fantasy, is that these plot lines are often so rife with crazy political intrigue. There are secrets and question marks everywhere you look, and there is an intense pressure and urgency to figure out what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is going on. There is definitely lots of that in Grave Mercy. The second half of the book takes place at court so the stakes are high and there are lots of traitors and spies afoot. Ismae quickly learns that even those who she thought she could trust… she really can’t. I love the struggle to figure out who’s good, who’s bad, and who’s allied. It adds a whole other dimension of tension and intrigue!

Ultimately, I 100% recommend this book. I think there is something for everyone here, but if you are at all inclined to enjoy historical fiction or fantasy then I would consider this a must-read. At 549 pages this one is a chunkster, but it’s one of those books that you’re glad is so long because you realize you just can’t let go of the story and the world. My biggest disappointment with this book was that there wasn’t more of it – it was just that special for me!

A Few Favourite Quotes:

“I want to laugh at his concern. No, I want to wrap it around me like a blanket and use it to soothe my most recent loss.”

“The sharp metallic tang of my weapons is more welcome than the finest perfume.”

“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?”

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.”

JOIN THE CONVO

Have you read the His Fair Assassin books? Which is your favourite? Did you like the romance between Duval and Ismae (I’ve seen some naysayers!) Does the ginormous size of Grave Mercy hold you back from starting it? Are you a historical fantasy/high fantasy lover? (If so, leave me some recommendations please!) Let me know your thoughts about this series so we can chat!

4 Stars

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{Review} Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

June 23, 2014 Review 2 ★★½

{Review} Guy In Real Life by Steve BrezenoffGuy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
Published by HarperCollins on May 27, 2014
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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An achingly real and profoundly moving love story about two Minnesota teens whose lives become intertwined through school, role-playing games, and a chance two-a.m. bike accident.

It is Labor Day weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; and Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again. 

But they don’t.

This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other’s lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn’t belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren’t in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play—at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends—and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.

Disclosure:I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

COVER TALK

I really like the cover! It’s super fun and it lets you know what the story is about at first glance. My brother pointed out to me that Guy In Real Life is GIRL, so you know, points for a creative title, too!

EXPECTATIONS

I didn’t have too many prior expectations going into this one. I’d heard it offered an interesting discussion on gender roles and fandoms, etc. and aside from some positive, but not overhyped, reviews that is it.

MY THOUGHTS

Looking back, I think this book was an honest case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. As I touched upon in my expectations, I was mostly going into this because I was interested in the commentary it provided on gender and fandoms. I’m not super interested in World of Warcraft, or Dungeon & Dragon type games, but I am familiar with how they work, since I have a younger brother who plays both, and is very active in those communities.  While there is gender analysis and an examination of these types of fandoms in Guy in Real Life it wasn’t enough to fully sustain my attention throughout the entire (400 page!) book. I also had a problem with the homophobic language used, but I also understand that sexism and homophobia are prevalent in gamer communities and lingo. Did it add to the realism? Yes. But it still bothered me.

That said, Brezenoff does two things really well that I commend him on: he intertwines the fandoms and games into the narrative in such a way that it truly immerses you into these worlds; and, he creates complex, interesting characters.  I liked the stylistic choice of narrating both the online RPG and tabletop games, even if I did tend to skim these sections a bit. Compared to Fangirl, where I really disliked the Simon Snow sections and I felt they pulled me out and away from the story, here it worked to actually pull me in further, and connect with the characters on a different level.

Speaking of characters, I really liked Lesh and Svetlana. They read like actual teenagers, and were very relatable. Their characterization didn’t veer into stereotypes, as they were complex, multi-faceted characters with fascinating back stories. Even the minor characters were interesting (I especially liked Hen, Svetlana’s younger sister)! The characters, not the plot, is what kept me reading, as I wanted to see what became of the two protagonists. 

As for the plot, I only started to find it very interesting toward the end. There was a twist I wasn’t expecting, and it added much-needed tension. The book ends a bit unconventionally – not so much with an “end” to a climax, but at a point in the character’s journey. Those that like more definitive endings might be bothered by it.

Even though this book didn’t WOW me, I wouldn’t have a problem recommending it to those who are interested in the subject matter. In fact, I’m trying (rather unsuccessfully, but still, trying) to get my younger brother to read it. I’d really be interested to see what he thought of it as a gamer!

JOIN THE CONVO!

Have you read Guy In Real Life? Is it on your TBR list? What are your fandoms? Do you play online or offline RPGs? 

2.5 Stars

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