Review: More Than Neighbours

Context

More than NeighborsA few months ago, I saw several offers for ghostwriters in the romance genre. I wasn’t qualified for those, but that gave me the idea that maybe it would be easier for me to get published through Harlequin than through finding an agent and then a publisher (not that I even tried finding an agent, but it does look awfully hard).

So I looked up Harlequin guidelines and then found they offered free trial books in each of their romance series, so I downloaded them and looked through the blurbs to find one that would possibly be acceptable to me and chose More Than Neighbors, by Janice Kay Johnson.

In the end, I gave up the idea of writing Harlequin romance books because that could probably not hold my interest very long, but the particular book I read was… quite alright.

Review

The book was better than I expected. Although it mostly focused on romance like all Harlequin romance books, there was more to it. It touched themes like parenting, autism, labels, grief, self-esteem and abusive relationships. I didn’t find them very powerful: I found the melodrama a bit too much at times and didn’t like that everything was spelt out, but still, it’s much better than what I expected.

The story is slow, with a lot of descriptions. It’s a slowness that makes you dream about those countrysides landscapes, woodworking and cutting horse competitions, not one that makes you wonder where that story is leading (anyway, you know where it’s leading: it’s a Harlequin). There are, however, some possibly irritating repetitions.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11The romance is also fairly slow, which is a definite plus with me (probably a minus for most Harlequin readers). It was a nice romance, too. I’m sometimes disgusted by romance books when the relationship doesn’t look healthy (or is downright toxic), but this one is as healthy as could be. It reflects my idea of a great, empowering relationship.

There is one very explicit sex scene plus a few other sexy bits that I couldn’t enjoy, but I know I’m the exception rather than the rule: for me, it’s like I met these people, you know, went to their house a few times, and then eventually they just stripped naked in front of me and start going at it… nope. Not something I wanna see.

The characters are fairly stereotypical and the gender roles are as traditional as could be, but I expected as much. Ciara sews and cooks, Gabe is a woodworker owning horses. They both have their own issues and are rather believable, but they didn’t jump from the page either. The one really fun character, in my opinion, is Ciara’s son Mark. He’s one of the main reasons why I liked this book.

In conclusion, it’s a decent light book for when you want to relax and not think too much.

Rating: 6/10

Who would I recommend this to? Women who enjoy light romance, especially if they also like daydreaming about rural settings, horses and cowboys.

 

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time coverContext

I have first heard about this book by Mark Haddon in a university class. The teacher’s sales pitch was that the narrator was autistic and therefore his view of the world was quite unique.

Now, the main character of my first novel is autistic too. I didn’t mean to make her, it just happened. That being said, I became curious about how this other autistic character was portrayed and consequently bought the book.

Review

I was hooked from the very first chapter’s number: 2. Yep, who cares about conventions, right? I’m all for throwing them through the window when they don’t suit my taste and have no disastrous consequences for anyone. So I started bonding right there and then with the narrator and protagonist, Christopher Boone.

It is nowhere mentioned that Christopher is autistic – although it is obvious to anyone who has basic knowledge on the subject – so I don’t see why people insist on using autism as a sales pitch. It is quite obvious that the writer didn’t want to put a label on him. And in fact, I wouldn’t even say that his autism was one of my favourite aspects of the book. On the contrary, I found him very “textbook” autistic – as in very stereotypical. Which is okay, but there is so much more to this book than that.

Christopher might seem very different at first, especially for a close-to-100% neurotypical reader (which I’m not, I’m 50-50 so to me he wasn’t that much “weirder” than the 90%+ neurotypical characters I read about all the time), but as the story progresses I think most people could realize he’s more like them than they would ever have thought. Which is often the case with anyone you think is “different”.

The characters are all unique, believable and not always very sympathetic. I had very mixed feelings for almost every character in the book (except Mrs Alexander, she’s the best). They were mostly loveable, but then they did that thing of which I disapproved (a different thing for each). However, that’s part of what made them so realistic. I felt deeply, in particular, for Christopher’s parents.

That being said, to me the most interesting aspects of this book were the plot and theme. Although Christopher keeps saying that “this is not a proper novel”, I think it is. There are several interesting mystery and adventure elements, but mostly it’s a story about life and how different people deal with it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time cover 2The main theme, to me, was that of courage. In the later half of the book, Christopher shows the kind of real-life courage that cannot fail to have an impact on me. Some other characters also show their courage… or lack of it.

Finally, this novel is refreshingly non-moralistic. Good people do good things and bad things. They care for the people they like and want to protect them, but they hurt them too, sometimes. They don’t mean it. Sometimes emotions cloud their judgement, sometimes they can’t understand how the other person thinks, and sometimes, one person’s needs are simply too much for what the other person can give. There are all three examples through the story and I loved that

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Except if you’re reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time because there are spoilers. And yes, of course I was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time or it wouldn’t have been funny: I had meant to finish it before reading this book, but then lack of time happened and I didn’t want to review two classics in a row so I put Sherlock on hold only to see my mistake when Christopher told all there was to know about its plot. Oh well.

Psst! I also posted a “life update” on my Facebook page.

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a MockingbirdContext

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been on my to-read list for a long time. When you hear a title frequently enough, you become curious. There was a child on the cover, it seemed light-hearted… hahaha. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

I had no idea what the story was about – at all. Had I had the slightest idea, I would’ve kept it for later and would probably have never come around to read it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it: this book is a masterpiece and deserves its Pulitzer Price. But it took all my courage to finish it, and now I’ve had enough emotions for a while.

Review

The plot kept me on my toes for a very long time: until about the middle of the book, when I realised what the story was about. Then, for another 150 pages, I became frustrated and wished I had never started that book. I could see where it was leading and didn’t like it. Worse: I was crying so much, I found it hard to continue reading. But the final 70 pages pacified me and made me feel… at peace. Once you started it, you have to push through until the end and not stop when it gets frustrating because the ending is so worth the effort. (Wow, that could be said of a lot of things in life.)

The themes are the strongest point of the book, as is often the case with non-genre fiction. They are deep and they are many, including courage, compassion, racism, karma and gender roles. It’s impossible to finish that book without having thought long and hard about at least one of its themes… or without having had the urge to throw it out the window.

To Kill a Mockingbird movieThe characters felt so alive, it’s like I was a Maycomb citizen and had known them my whole life. I identified a lot with Scout… It might be only the second time I identify so much with a character (the first being Villette’s Lucy Snowe). When I read my own thoughts written by an author with whom I haven’t much in common, I can only admire them. Someday, I want to do that to someone else.

The secondary characters weren’t any less three-dimensional, though: Jem, Atticus (my new favourite name), Miss Maudie… It’s like I was allowed to see their souls.

The language was plain and easy to understand except for some local words, but nothing out of the ordinary considering English isn’t my first language. I loved to “hear” people’s accents.

There might have been a few too many historical references to my taste, but that might just be me not liking to be showered with dates and historical events.

Rating: 10/10

Who would I recommend this to? Lovers of deep non-genre literature, who love feeling intense emotions; even better if they also love American history (I’m sure there were lots of references in there I didn’t get because I’m not a US citizen). However, I think it’s cruel to force anybody under 18 to read it; there are more accessible English classics out there.

Review: Witch & Wizard

Witch & Wizard coverContext

This book has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while, which means I wasn’t sure about it. I did see it on some top fantasy series list, but I’m ever sceptical – especially when it comes to fantasy. So I let it marinate for a while.

I am currently working on a fantasy novel about a witch, so I thought I would give this a try. However, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which I was enjoying and intended to review today (well, ahem, yesterday actually), so I just put it on the to-read pile.

Then, at a family party, my sister told me about this amazing thriller she’d just read by James Patterson. I was like: “James Patterson? Where have I seen that name?”. Don’t ask me how I could ignore the existence of such a famous writer, I just did. James PattersonBack at home, I checked the novel I’d just bought and saw the name written in golden letters, above the co-author’s name, Gabrielle Charbonnet.

So I picked it up. I thought I’d read just the first chapter. I ended up ditching To Kill a Mockingbird and binge-read Witch & Wizard. This is possibly the best fantasy novel I’ve read since finishing the Harry Potter series. It was worth posting the March review late.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12Review

The chapters are very short: like two or three pages. If you’ve been following me carefully, you might know that I prefer long chapters. However, these were so ridiculously short that I ended up completely ignoring chapter changes, just like I do page changes, which made me read super quickly like I do chapter-less books.

Oranges_and_orange_juice_mod

The story is gripping from start to finish. It is action-packed, and unlike in (most) blockbusters, the story doesn’t suffer from it – quite the opposite. Sometimes, in slower books, I feel like the authors had only a short story to tell but desperately added stuff until it was novel-length. Literary dilution of sorts. Witch & Wizard is 100% pure story, not made from concentrate.

I liked the main characters a lot and found them believable and endearing. The villains, on the other hand, I didn’t find too believable. However, neither did the main characters. And if I judge by the awards James Patterson received… I’m guessing something will come up in the next volumes to explain why “regular humans” would act like psychopaths.

I loved that the narration was split between Wisty’s and Whit’s point of view. I identified a lot with Wisty, despite her being a lot different from myself. Not so much with Whit, but he felt real nonetheless. Witch & Wizard The Gift coverAlso, something that happens too rarely: each had their own recognizable voice, like they were really written by a different person. Yet, it was also “homogenized”, so that neither looked like a better storyteller than the other. Awesome work, really.

You can bet the next volume in the series won’t even spend a minute on my wishlist – it’s going straight to my cart! Interesting fact: each book in the series is co-authored with a different writer.

Rating: 9.5/10, give or take .5 depending on the rest of the series.

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Really. I don’t guarantee you’ll like it, but it certainly is worth reading.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12Bonus thoughts

For the second time in two months, a book made me discouraged at my own level as a writer. I was ready to give up writing. Of course, giving up writing is a thing I cannot do because I need it too much, but you get the idea.

It sure didn’t help that the dystopian world resembled my own dystopian world in my most favourite, most precious original story, except 100 times better in terms of world-building. It was like: “Here! Compare your amateur drawing with one by an experienced pro. The same thing is pictured, but the results are completely different so you can clearly see just how much you suck.”

When I finished the book, however, I was as motivated as ever. I’m 29. If everything goes well, I should have at least another 40 years on this planet. I can learn. I will learn. James Patterson even has an online course in which he teaches his craft. I might sign up for it when I have the funds.

I will probably never get to the level I aim for. But like they say: “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

moon and stars

 

Review: Spanking Shakespeare

spanking-shakespeareLast November, my NaNoWriMo project included the point of view of a 17-year-old boy. Now, this might come as a surprise, but I’ve never been a 17-year-old boy. I’ve hung out with a lot of them, but I never was in their minds. So for research’s sake, I googled books that would show the “uncensored” thoughts of that particular species.

Spanking Shakespear by Jake Wizner is the one that caught my attention… and I am so glad it did. My only disappointment is: Why is there no French translation of that book? This should be translated! It is a debut novel by a man whose main source of income isn’t writing, and yet it is the kind of writing that makes me despair I’ll never write so well (right until it becomes a challenge, haha). I guess Random House know how to choose their manuscripts.

The voice is the best. Although some anecdotes are funny in themselves, some are only funny because of the way they’re told. Know someone who can fascinate a crowd talking about their trip to the convenience store? That’s the kind of skill I’m talking about. As a writer, I can only admire that.

Shakespear Shapiro’s inner dialogue and the jokes, and the ideas not always well-thought-out… It rings so true to my experience hanging out with boys (and even men). I guess some of the content could hurt “female delicacy”, but I never had that.

winter_essentials32b

The story isn’t one that will change your life, but it is still rather deep under the humour. Serious subjects are broached. The main theme, though subtle, is strong.

The characters are all endearing (and sometimes annoying) in their own way. They reminded me of people I used to know. I didn’t really identify with any of them, feeling instead like I was there with them.

The only thing that bothered me a little would be the structure. The entire book alternates between the present, where you’re in Shakespeare’s mind, and the past, written down by Shakespeare for his class. While those written pieces are funny and beautifully written, some of them are not absolutely vital to the story and I tend to dislike scenes that just “stall” the story.

Who would I recommend this to? The obvious answer would be teenage boys, especially those who like literature because there are a lot of references to famous writers in there. However, I do believe anyone over 13 could enjoy this book as long as they’re not too easily offended and can tolerate teenage boys’ humour.

Rating: 8.5/10

Review: The School That Ate Children

the-school-that-ate-children-web-mediumI declared, in previous posts, my intent to read more self-publications and indie books. Well, this is it: my first indie book review.

Sara General is one of the hashtag leaders of the Twitter Monthly Challenge, and that is how I first saw her book The School That Ate Children. The pretty cover caught my attention and then the title intrigued me. It’s a short book, only 132 pages, and only 10 CAD so I – almost – didn’t think twice about it and ordered on Amazon (in fact, I didn’t even read the blurb).

First of all, I need to say it: it didn’t “feel self-published”. It felt professionally published in every aspect. There are plenty of traditionally published books of equal (or lesser) quality. So +1 to my confidence in indie books. However, it does feel like a debut novel (which it is, if I’m not mistaken), in that it could be more refined. Still, I think the author did a pretty good job.

It was an enjoyable read. It wasn’t quite what I expected from the title, most of the story doesn’t happen in the school, but it was fun nonetheless. I thought it resembled a bit The Wizard of Oz.

It took some time before I really got into the story, but when I did, it only got better and better as it unfolded. I often feel like middles are weak, but in this case, I think the middle is the strongest part of the story. Bravo, nice mastery of plot!

The characters were not as three-dimensional as I would have liked. It took me several chapters time to start rooting for Maple, and even at the end she did not quite “jump from the page”. Not that she behaved in any way that wasn’t “human”. I just… failed to feel her soul. Part of it might be due to the third person narrator; part of it might be due to the fact that the intended audience is probably middle-grade. I’m totally in love with Oakley though!

gold-acornI loved the world beyond the veil and the creatures in it, most likely inspired by the author’s aboriginal culture. I found it original and inspiring. It made me want to work on my MG high fantasy again. And making me yearn to write is a definite quality in a story. Oh, and now I so want an acorn necklace!

Last but not least: theme. The themes of grief and self-acceptance are what the story really is about. They are very strong – too strong in my opinion. Some parts of the book sounded like self-help rather than fiction, with the subtlety of medicine forced down your throat. I think it would have worked better if it had been toned down; mix that medicine in my food I don’t realise I’m ingesting it, but still feel its effects.

Who would I recommend this to? Fans of stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, or even The Chronicles of Narnia. Possibly amateurs of First Nations legends though honestly, I wouldn’t know; I’ve read only a few such stories. And really, anyone who feels intrigued by the premise; do give it a try, it’s worth it.

I’ll be looking forward to more books by Sara General as she refines her style.

Rating: 6.5/10

Review: The Girl on the Train

Earlier this year I actively looked for psychological thrillers because I just can’t get enough of them. In my search for a top 10 best psychological thrillers or something I found Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train. New York Times bestseller, awesome customer reviews, I could give it a try. It so happened that my sister had it so I borrowed it from her. Since it was the French translation, I won’t talk about style.the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins-1

I was… disappointed. I wasn’t going to review it for that reason (I also felt like the NYT review said it all), but after I had time to reflect on it, I found some good points to talk about. Maybe I expected too much, it being a bestseller and all. But it’s a debut novel after all. I have better hopes for Paula Hawkins next novel, Into the Water, to be released on May 2nd, 2017. I probably won’t buy it but I may borrow it from the library if they order it.

The concept was really what made me interested. Rachel sits in the train and imagines the lives of a couple living by the railway, then decides to get involved when the woman disappears. Great! It’s not a high concept, but it’s an original one anyway and one that caught my attention. Doesn’t everybody like to imagine the lives of people they meet? I know I do! So at first sight, I identified with the main character. Good job there.

I still found her lovable in the first chapters. She’s broken alright, she’s an alcoholic with a nasty habit of blacking out, but it’s nothing I can’t feel compassionate about; I’ve had issues of my own. I guess it might have been “wanted” that she gets on your nerves at length. People do tend to lose patience when others don’t even try to help themselves. But I still could have forgiven her, if she hadn’t been so… stupid. I know that’s a harsh thing to say. There are plenty of people like her out there, but my personality type make it so that I can never really understand them.

the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins-2c

She kept on doing things that made me want to slap the back of her head saying sarcastically: “What a great idea, girl! That always ends well!” Not to mention it was obvious to me who the killer was before she let out that huge clue about their identity, and it should have been twice more obvious to her. Toward the end, I was so annoyed with her I’d think: “Too bad, it’s a jungle out there and you’re not smart enough to survive”.

I was equally displeased with most of the rest of the cast. Two exceptions: the victim, but that’s too bad because she died, and the killer, though I still I wanted them dead. It’s a shame because all of the characters are well constructed. The problem is that their faults are too emphasized and not much is there to make you sympathize with them. So I ended up hating everyone and fantasizing about an ending where everybody just dies.

On a better note, I found the plot quite interesting; few boring bits. Unpolished maybe. There was too much pointless red herring to my taste and I felt like the main character was dumb only for the purpose of the plot, but hey! It wasn’t completely unrealistic either. There was too much emphasis on the “surprise” of discovering the killer’s identity, which unfortunately was too obvious too soon for me. It all just needs to be refined. And the most important part is that upon the whole, I was still somewhat entertained.

Rating: 5/10 This is the lowest rating I’ll give here; it means I wouldn’t particularly recommend it, but I found it at least half-decent. Any book I read that I wouldn’t rate 5 or higher won’t be reviewed at all. The reason is explained in my post Confession of a recovering book snob.