Review: Viral Airwaves

Viral AirwavesContext

Claudie Arsenault was Québec City’s NaNoWriMo municipal liaison for several years. I have chatted with her a few times over the internet and even went to her place for a write-in during NaNoWriMo 2011. I don’t know her very well, but still, when she published her first book, Viral Airwaves, I felt I had to read it eventually, if only to show my support to a beautiful person that inspired me a lot.

I admit I delayed it voluntarily, though. I imagined her to be good and I was scared to be proven wrong. I finally purchased her book on an impulse, after having started a literary fiction that would likely be hard on my nerves and realised I wasn’t ready for another one of those yet.

I wanted her to be good with a force I hadn’t realised until I picked up the book with the intent to start reading it… as scared as that time I opened the letter that would tell me whether I was accepted into the only university I had applied to. I had an idea of how hard she works, how passionate she is about writing. If she could produce awesome work, then maybe I could, too, by following her example. I needed her to be good.

I was so scared. My expectations weren’t realistic, I thought. This was just her first book, even though I knew she had written several, already, by the time she published it. It was “just” an independently-then-self-published book, too. I couldn’t expect professional quality. Yet, I could expect no less, either.

That fear, however, died within the first chapter. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute I’ve spent reading this novel.

Review

This was my first time having a book printed from CreateSpace. The cover turned out more pixelized than expected (I don’t know if that’s due to the actual cover quality or the printing press), but the book is otherwise pretty and agreeable to read. The font might be a bit on the small size.

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The language is fluent and agreeable. If I’m not mistaken, Claudie’s first language is French, and I was somewhat afraid it’d show… Now I feel silly about it. The book was obviously professionally revised, possibly more than once. It should have been obvious: the writer I know is too serious about her work to fudge essential steps.

The story is deliciously fast-paced, although it allows for slowdowns once in a while. Those short breaks never grow boring or pointless, however; the 464-page novel is action-packed and even I, who often wonder at the relevance of certain passages in other (ahem, traditionally-published) books, feeling as though the writer didn’t have enough story to fill 300 pages, couldn’t find a paragraph that didn’t belong.

The plot elements are brilliantly weaved into each other, too. I especially appreciated the discreet foreshadowing.

There is more romance than I like in my adventure novels, but… for me the perfect amount would be close to nil so it doesn’t really count. I didn’t buy all the love stories in the book, I rarely do, but I wouldn’t say they were badly handled; only, they aren’t the main focus. However, those are still better and more credible than the love stories in action blockbusters.

The characters are colourful and vivid. Maybe not as deep as the characters from another dystopian novel I reviewed recently, but deep enough. This book is action-oriented, after all. Too much psychology and emotions would have killed its entertaining quality and fast-paced awesomeness. My favourite is probably Treysh, but Andeal was the one I rooted the most for.

There is a bit of humour scattered here and there that either made me smile or laugh out loud. I love humour so this was the cherry on top. And besides, some of the events in the book are so terrible, I was glad for the relief those provided.

Of course, if I wanted to find faults with the book, I probably could. For one, there is so much knocking people out of their consciousness, it’s a miracle no one has any obvious brain damage. But I can forgive it just as I forgive it (among other things) in blockbusters or best-sellers all the time. There would be no point in my being harder on an acquaintance’s book than I’d be on perfect stranger’s, out of paranoia that I might be biased. I’ll have to trust myself on this

The White Renegade

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Lovers of adventure novels, especially if you like fantasy or science-fiction. I don’t especially like science-fiction, but there wasn’t so much science in it as to lose my interest. I mean, they fly in a hot air balloon over trees and rivers: nothing like the grey dullness of spaceships or Coruscant-like cities.

I already have a Kindle version of The White Renegade, a prequel to Viral Airwaves, but now I think I’ll get it printed… I might get City of Strife while I’m at it. I’ve found my self-published gem. I can’t believe it was so close to me the whole time.

If you happen to read the book, I’d love to hear your opinion about it!

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale 01Context

As part of a class assignment, I’ve read an essay titled Never Heard of Them… They Must be Canadian* by Mel Hurtig. The “never heard of them” applied to Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence among others (read the essay if you get the chance, it’s great). I’m sorry to admit it was true for me too: I had never heard of them before. I swore to myself, there and then, to read at least one book from both these writers someday.

When I joined Twitter several years later, I went and followed a few Canadian writers, including Margaret Atwood, whose tweets I enjoy. At last, I became too curious about her and looked for her “best” novel, which seemed to be The Handmaid’s Tale. I can’t tell whether it is her best, but one thing’s for sure: it’s great.

I had no idea what the book was about; I hadn’t read so much as the back cover. I had only a vague idea of the genre, even: something about a dystopian society, somewhere between sci-fi and history, and I’m quite amazed I got even that “close enough”.

Review

The book is a speculative fiction, but there is a non-genre quality about it: it studies human nature in depth and leaves you to make your own opinion. Main themes include power, sexuality and feminism.

The pace is very slow, especially in the beginning. I don’t always like slowness, but here it was welcome. The events are so terrible, I was grateful that the information about “the new world” was given one drop at a time. I’m also glad that I started reading the book early this month, because I could not have binge-read it; it would have affected my mood too much.

The worst thing – or the best thing, but for your feels it’s the worst – is that this dystopian society is set in our own world and is very close to our own society. You feel like it could happen. Actually, horrors like those in the book did happen before, are happening right now in other parts of the world, and most likely will happen again somewhere else in the world. That is what makes it so hard to read.
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That and the fact that the characters are deep and complex and… human. I loved how even those most probably responsible for the worst atrocities were not depicted as overly sadistic monsters. The worst acts can be committed in the belief that they are “for the greater good”.

However, the author is kind: she doesn’t dwell on the atrocities. On the contrary, she constantly diverts your attention toward some little thing, a funny expression, a flower, a dream, for you to get some relief before the next wave of pain. I didn’t cry even once, which I’m thankful for.

Bottom note: this novel is as horrifying as it is brilliantly written.

Now it hits me even harder: how have I not heard of this book or its author outside that one university class? This is the first novel by Margaret Atwood I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.

Rating: 10/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everybody over 16 could enjoy this, but it might be of particular interest to women, amateur sociologists and fans of dystopian fiction.

Reference

*Hurtig, Mel.“Never Heard of Them… They Must be Canadian.” The Harbrace Reader for Canadians. Ed. Joanne Buckley. Toronto: Harcourt Canada, 2001. 279-284

The Harbrace Reader for Canadians(By the way, there’s an essay by Margaret Atwood in The Harbrace Reader for Canadians about utopia and several other excellent essays on various subjects, including creative writing – my absolute favourite being MadmanArchitect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process by Betty S. Flowers; this is one of the best books I’ve bought for a university course and I warmly recommend it. Obviously, it is of special interest to Canadians.)

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 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time 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

Witch & Wizard 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.
James Patterson
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. Back 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.

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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 Shakespeare 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.

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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.

Rating: 8.5/10

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.