Friday, December 19, 2014

Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin | Book Review

TITLE: Thorn Abbey
AUTHOR: Nancy Ohlin
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Simon Pulse / 2013
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.

Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.

Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…

Thoughts and Reactions
You know those books where it's just difficult to formulate your thoughts to form a cohesive opinion? Thorn Abbey is one of those books for me. There is a lot to be critical of, but also a lot to like and it's left me feeling pretty scattered. Thorn Abbey is a modern retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. The story is now centered on Tess, a brilliant, but insecure and socially awkward girl who has trouble fitting in. She falls for the rich and popular Max, but feels that her relationship will always come in second to his relationship with the now dead Becca, the former Queen Bee on campus. I think it's a super interesting premise and it could be an absolutely brilliant retelling, but the problem is, I've never read the original novel. I feel like I'm missing out on a lot by knowing absolutely nothing about the source material, but there you have it. 

I was totally drawn in by the premise of the book, but I have to admit that when I first started reading I almost put it back down. I found Tess to be so incredibly off putting; I wasn't sure that I would make it through the book, but I realized that she was written that way for a reason and I soldiered on. Tess is an incredibly frustrating character; she's insecure, needy and at times a little delusional. It's so difficult for me to read about somebody like that. However, ultimately it was the right choice for the story. I think in the end Tess needed to be the way she was for anything to work. Plus, she was always described as being awkward and insecure and wow, did she show that. So while I found this character to be incredibly frustrating, I have a feeling it's true to the original and she seemed to work as a plot device. 

That aside, the story itself was super creepy. The presence of this dead girl throughout the school is overpowering. People, especially her super popular ex-roommate are obsessed with her in a way that cannot be healthy. It's that part of the plot that really drew me in. How much power did this girl really have over everybody and how is her presence still so tangible despite her death months ago? 

That's where what I understand to be the modern updates come in. There's a definite supernatural, haunting presence that was more than weird enough for me. I'm a total wimp when it comes to that sort of thing. Writing on walls, flying embers, burning pages all of it added up to one vengeful ghost and I cannot deal. I mean it keeps the pages turning and sets the tone from the start, but it creeps me out just thinking about it now. For those of you who are into ghost stories and supernatural heebie jeebies, you'll probably think of this as super tame, but for me, it struck the right balance. 

Now I did have an issue with some of the character development. The characters were fairly two dimensional and we never learn a lot about anybody. They're flat and show no growth. There's no emotional journey. Max is moody, the girls are all stereotypical mean girls, the cousin is sleazy, there's the loyal best friend, I could go on. That having been said, it's not like this was a book driven by characters; it was more about action. I just happen to like some solid character development in my stories. 

Overall, I enjoyed Thorn Abbey as it is, without comparison to the original. I like the boarding school setting and think that Ohlin set up the plot and tone well. The supernatural aspect, for me, enhance the story and it's the main reason why I'm still shivering about it now, days after I finished reading; always a good sign. It was by far not the perfect novel and maybe those of you who have read the original will have more to criticize, but I liked it for what it was and would buy it again for my shelf. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Talk Film: The Muppet Christmas Carol

So I hope by now I've made it pretty clear that I love the holidays. Holiday books, baking and especially holiday movies. I will watch almost anything if it has Christmas in the title. You know all those Hallmark channel, sugary sweet, 60 minutes of pure schlock? Love it. However, just because I don't necessarily have discerning tastes when it comes to this kind of thing, it doesn't mean that I don't have favourites. My particular favourite, a classic really in my mind, is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

There have been so many takes on Charles Dickens' classic story, but the muppet version will always hold a special place in my heart and yes I do re-watch it every year.There's something about having the muppets tell the tale that makes it a little more joyous. Gonzo the Great plays Ebeneezer Scrooge and Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchit and of course Michael Caine as Scrooge. What more could a child ask for? I feel like I don't need to summarize the story and I'll go out on a limb and assume you all know it and I think for a film aimed at children, this adaptation stays relatively close to the original. You know, with puppets and additional music.

Are there any holiday movies that hold a special place in your heart? Have you seen this one?

I'll leave you now with a clip from the film, or one of the saddest songs ever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish


1. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
I have so much love for this book. It was completely gripping and it made me want to run out and immediately buy the third book in the series. 

2. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
This book dealt with grief in such a real way that it hurt my heart. I just felt for all the characters. It was written in the absolutely best way possible. 

3. What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
I didn't love What I Thought Was True as much as My Life Next Door it is still one of my favourite books of the year. It took a while to really take hold of me, but once it did it didn't let go. Dealing with growing up, moving out and possibly on hit home and the characters need to leave, but also pull towards her family, it got to me. 

4. This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
A really cute story about a teen heart throb meeting and dating a local towns person. Totally normal. But actually, I kind of loved the totally fictional aspect of that. It was a get me out of my own head kind of read that I picked up at the right moment.

5. Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
I said it last week and I'll repeat it; I love Mindy Kaling's humour. It's super girly and gossip magazine based, but also whip smart. I love the combination and will follow anything she writes or produces. 

6. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
A weird and pretty creepy novel set in 1920s New York. I really am a sucker for historical fiction plus this one had the not everything is as it seems thing going on. 

7. Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen
I love Sarah Dessen; her books are total comfort reads for me. The blend of romance and real world problems is fantastic. What more can I say; an obvious go to choice for when I'm feeling down. 

8. Blood Sports by Eden Robinson
This was a super weird, creepy and graphic crime thriller. Not my typical fare. I don't know that it's converted me to the genre, but it was set in a city I know well and certain aspects of the city's atmosphere were captured perfectly. 

9. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff
One of my favourite authors, Rakoff blends the tragic with humour and as always it's brilliant. He was an absolutely brilliant author and essayist and I cannot recommend his work enough. 

10. Let it Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle
This is a book I literally just finished before writing this list and I know it might not be the perfect holiday book, but I really enjoyed it and it put me in the Christmas spirit. It deserved a mention.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle | Book Review

TITLE: Let it Snow
AUTHOR: John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Speak / 2008
SOURCE: Purchased 


An ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House (and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.

A trio of today's bestselling authors - John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle- brings all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away.

I love picking up a book around this time of year to help get me in the Christmas spirit. Movies are great, but sometimes I want to be able to sip tea, look at the lights and read. This year's choice was Let it Snow, a trio of short stories by some absolutely fantastic authors. Holidays? Yes. Romance? Yes. That pretty much sums up my criteria for a fun holiday read; I don't want anything too serious. Light and fun will do the trick. I had read a couple reviews of this book last year that weren't overflowing with praise, but it was cheap enough and I haven't met a holiday book I haven't liked to some extent yet. 

Thoughts and Reactions
The streak continues with Let it Snow. It wasn't the perfect, blow me away, reread all the time kind of book, but it was exactly what I was looking for. The book is three interweaving stories connected by setting and secondary characters. Each author has their own take on Christmas romances and I enjoyed each one in it's own way. I find I'm having issues summarizing and reviewing the book as a whole since each story is unique so I'll split up my discussion into three sections. 

The first story is Maureen Johnson's "The Jubilee Express." On Christmas Eve Jubilee's parents are arrested and instead of going to her boyfriend's Christmas Eve Smorgasbord she has to get on a train to get to her grandparents in Florida. The train gets stuck just outside of Gracetown and she must rely on the help of a stranger to have a warm, safe place for the night. The stranger just happens to be Stuart, a boy her age who has recently had his heart broken. 

I really enjoyed "The Jubilee Express" although it took me a little while to warm up to Jubilee herself. She's one of those characters who seemed totally believable and I know people like her in life, but my god she drove me crazy at times. She was so concerned with outward appearances that she rarely saw what was really happening.  I enjoyed the building tension between Stuart and Jubilee and more than anything loved the supporting characters in this story. Stuart's family was so sweet and caring if a little quirky and well I'll leave the reason why Jubilee's parents were arrested out of this since I think you should find that out for yourself if you don't already know. "The Jubilee Express" felt like a cute holiday romance with some fairly believable characters in weird and quirky situations. It kind of just made me go aww, I know, not the most eloquent way of putting it. 

The second story is John Green's "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle." This was probably my least favourite of the three stories which definitely surprised me. I was honestly expecting to like it more than I did. This one centers on Tobin and Angie, best friends who go, with another friend, on an epic midnight Christmas Eve adventure to the local Waffle House to meet some cheerleaders who were stranded on the same train as Jubilee. 

These characters just seemed to rub me the wrong way. They were incredibly nerdy cool in a way that almost seemed to look down on others or like they were all trying just a little too hard to really pull it off. There's a weird male obsession with hooking up with cheerleaders, but also a certain disdain in the writing towards them. Angie is a cool girl because she's a girl, but totally doesn't act like one (but of course still wants to be seen as one). I think that's the part that really got to me; why does being a cool girl amount to displaying more masculine traits and being one of the guys? I'm all for going your own way; this just seems to be a female stereotype that comes up a lot and kind of bothers me. I know there are others out there who have examined this in much more detail and I'm feeling the need to read up on it now. The other part of it was that I just couldn't get behind the adventure. Driving your car up an icy road in the middle of the night during a blizzard is a really good way to get killed. There was some incredibly poor decision making displayed in this story. 

The final story is Lauren Myracle's "The Patron Saint of Pigs." This one centers on Addie a girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend, who happens to be another passenger stuck on the train. She's absolutely heart broken, but also realizes that what has happened was ultimately her doing.  It's now Boxing Day and she must go to work while dealing with her heartbreak and horrible breakup haircut and remember to pick up the pig she and her friend have purchased for their friend who is absolutely obsessed with pigs. 

I know this wasn't a story loved by many, but I really enjoyed Myracle's take on some classic holiday plot lines. Angels and bells, they just go with Christmas you know? Maybe I've just seen It's a Wonderful Life one too many times. Her characters are probably the least fleshed out of all three, but I was too busy enjoying the talk about angels and self improvement and worth to really care. I could not stand Addie's two friends, Dorrie and Tegan, even her boss ended up getting on my nerves. Dorrie was written as a Jewish stereotype and Tegan basically had no personality of her own. The thing that got to me was everybody telling Addie how selfish she was being and while she did display a lot of selfish behaviour, the reactions to some of the things that happened seemed extreme. Not all, she did do one major thing that I know won't sit well with a lot of readers. However, despite its flaws; I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Overall, Let it Snow isn't my favourite holiday book of all time, but I know I'll pick it up again next Christmas. It's light, it's a really fast read and all the stories are about people falling in love in the snow. How bad could any of that be; you just have to be in the right mood for it. Which I, perhaps shamefully, always am. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Favourite Holiday Read

Do you have books you just have to read every holiday season? I don't know about you, but I'm a huge seasonal reader. September is my new kid at school book, the road trips books are for over the summer and each December I crack open some lifelong favourites, all with a seasonal theme of course.

My absolute favourite one of these books is Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories. I remember I received this book as a Christmas present from my parents when I was about eight years old and have been reading it yearly ever since. Maybe it's just my Canadian childhood talking, but there's something cozy and comforting about L. M. Montgomery's writing. She tells stories that have withstood the test of time and remain beloved years after they were first published. Reading Christmas with Anne immediately takes me back to those childhood memories; reading by the fire, in front of the tree, sharing the stories with my grandparents. There's something so nice about revisiting these stories and the memories that go along with them year after year.

The collection of short stories begins with a chapter from Anne of Green Gables. It's Anne's first Christmas at Green Gables and she desperately wants puffed sleeves which Marilla sees as a waste, but Matthew knows that they're in fashion and desperately important to Anne and sees that she has them on Christmas morning. It's a classic chapter that creates immediate memories with me and so many of my friends. It's just a touching tale.

The rest of the short stories are lesser known, mainly published in magazines, but that doesn't mean their lessons are any less important or sweet. Each story centers on Christmas or New Year's and often features those who have very little, but either share or make do. These are all stories about coming together to celebrate the season as a family and community and they really do just warm the soul.

A personal favourite of mine is entitled The Joseph's Christmas and is about a fairly poor family living on the prairies. They all scheme and create so that they can have the best Christmas possible with their meager resources, making each other gifts out of household items and things found in nature. A benevolent guest spends the night after getting caught in the snow and decides to help the family out. It's the kind of heartwarming story you wished happened more often in life so that nobody would go without.

I'm sure some out their would find these stories saccharine. They are from a different era, where at least the writing was more innocent if not the actual times. These stories give me hope and take me to my own childhood though and I can't help but love them. Does anybody else have any childhood favourites that they revisit each year?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top Ten (Five) New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish

Um I have to admit something embarrassing here guys; I haven't actually read that much in 2014. That's why this blog got so quiet and I've just started sort of updating it again. I got burned out, was sick and overall just not taking enough time to enjoy things. I don't actually have ten authors to feature, but wanted to take the time to appreciated those author's whose books I did enjoy this year. 

1. Sarah Ockler
Twenty Boy Summer was the first book by Sarah Ockler that I've read. I've spent so much time reading glowing reviews of her books, but so little sitting down and actually reading them. You were all so right. Twenty Boy Summer absolutely blew me way. It was so touching and dealt with grief in such a real and palpable way. I felt for every character. It broke my heart over and over again, but was also uplifting in the writing. 

2. Suzanne Rindell
I read The Other Typist while I was off work and bedridden. It was so confusing and I'm still not sure I totally get it, but I also think that might be the point? Anyways, it's months later and I'm still thinking about all the twists and turns this book took; a sign of some good writing in my mind.

3. Eden Robinson
Eden Robinson wrote Blood Sports a book I've been meaning to read for ages since I've had a print copy sitting on my shelf for years. I finally read it a little while ago and it definitely lived up to its potential. Robinson managed to write a creepy, fictional, story that for me captured the essence of a city I know well. Plus I have to feature some home town talent don't I? I'm looking forward to reading her other works in the coming year. 

4. David Rakoff
This one is kind of a cheat because Rakoff isn't really a new to me. I read a collection of short stories by him years ago and loved them. However, I hadn't read anything by him since then and Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish was the first work of fiction I've read by him. It was his last book as he sadly passed away in 2012 and is a true testament to his writing that continues to mean so much to so many people, myself included. 

5. Mindy Kaling
I feel like putting Mindy Kaling on this list is another cheat because while I haven't read another book by her I do religiously watch everything she produces. I loved The Office and currently love The Mindy Project. She's talented and hilarious and the humour that I love on television came across brilliantly in print. Basically I follow everything she does and admire her for her wit and intelligence. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski | Book Review

TITLE: Don't Even Think About It
AUTHOR: Sarah Mlynowski
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Delacorte/2014
SERIES: As far as I know, no
SOURCE: I received this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads / Author's Website

We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.

So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening

Thoughts and Reactions

Going into this one I figured a book about telepathic high school students could go either way. On the one hand, telepathy could be kind of cool and science fictiony, but on the other, you've got the potential for some highly immature thoughts. Don't Even Think About it unfortunately veered towards the latter. 

A group of high school students gets the flu shot at school and one of the unexpected side effects is telepathy.  They can overhear each other, friends, family, cheat on tests. Of course, they decide to keep it a secret because who would believe them anyways? I love the premise of the book. It had the potential to be a sort of contemporary sci-fi mash up, at least in my mind, but something about it ended up rubbing me the wrong way. 

My first gripe is that it was written entirely with the we; it was as if they had a collective conscious and no individual thoughts. I suppose I understand why; they could overhear everything every other person in their direct vicinity was thinking, but it kind of got on my nerves. Just because you can hear everybody's thoughts, does that necessarily mean that individual thought is entirely gone? Doesn't one person still have to have the thought before it can be heard? 

It also seemed fairly immature. The telepathy was used only to get gossip and cheat on tests. There was no wondering why or how they got it. It might have been mentioned briefly, but then quickly glossed over. How could a government conspiracy or botched science experiment top who was cheating on who. I wouldn't have minded that so much had every chapter not been high school gossip, but it was. Maybe other reasons, perhaps the target audience actually, would understand these teenagers more than I do, but it certainly wasn't the book for me. 

I have to admit I ended up putting this book down for awhile before picking it back up. Reading every single thought, fully formed, as a sentence got to me after awhile and I just didn't think the premise was used to its full potential. I'm not saying that Don't Even Think About it doesn't have an audience, but I was definitely not among it.