Thursday, May 24, 2012

Big News!


Hi, guys! I'm super excited to share with you all that I will be spending the next three months - June, July and August - in Delhi, India! I'll be working as a volunteer intern with two different but equally worthy causes and hopefully having some amazing cultural experiences. I am currently only four days away from my departure date from Ontario, Canada. I'm in for some crazy culture shock, but ultimately I think this summer will be full of rewarding experiences.

However, I will unfortunately have to put Books Are My Heroine on hiatus until my return in September. I considered trying to keep up my book reviews while abroad but I simply don't think I will have enough time to read and review enough books. I'd also like to take the opportunity on this trip to really focus on my own personal development instead of my literary aspirations. So instead, I'll be keeping a travel blog to record and share my experiences with family, friends and blogger buddies while I'm in India. I'd love for you all to come check out my adventures at Genny's Journals, which can be found at http://gennysjournals.blogspot.ca/.

I hope you all have a great summer and I'll see you back at Books Are My Heroine in September!

Photo from here

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In Leah's Wake (Terri Giuliano Long. 2012)



The Heroine: Leah Tyler, a high school junior and soccer star with a bright future at an Ivy League college ahead of her. Meeting Todd Corbett, however, changes all that as her new boyfriend opens her up to a world of sex, drugs and hardcore partying. As Leah's life begins to fall apart, the effects of her behaviour echoes through her parent's shaky marriage and her younger sister Justine's life.

The Highs: An ensemble novel told from the perspectives of each member of the Tyler family, In Leah's Wake provides a full 360 view of a family in crisis. I enjoyed reading all the family member's perspectives, especially Zoe, Leah's mother. I also appreciated how well rounded and realistic each character is. Leah in particular reflects the regular motivations and thought processes of a young adult, though I felt she seemed a lot more like a thirteen- or fourteen year old than a seventeen year old.

I really feel the topics discussed in this book such as drug use and sex in the teen years are really relevant to today's western culture and society. While I am not for or against sex, partying and alcohol, I really can agree with the message in this story that communication between parents and teens is really important in order to preserve family relationships and help guide teens to make the right choices for them. I definitely sympathized with Zoe and Will, Leah's parents, who were only trying to do what was best for their daughter, but I didn't agree with their methods at all.

My favourite character in the story was Justine, Leah's young sister, who is adorably geeky and such a sweetheart. Of course, her choices begin to change as well, since she idolizes her older sister. I felt bad for Justine because she became lost in the conflict between her parents and her sister and was basically ignored by her family for the majority of the story. Remarkably insightful for her age, I would love to see what happens to Justine as she grows older!

The Lows: While at first I could understand Leah's conflicting ideas about who she is and who she is supposed to be (the typically teenage identity crisis), her selfish attitude and lack of common sense really began to bug me. By the end of the story, I no longer cared what happened to Leah as I felt she deserved whatever she got for her self-absorbed and ungrateful behaviour toward basically all the other characters in the story.

I also worry that Leah will give a bad reputation, so to speak, for real-life teenagers when adults read this book. I know that at age seventeen, for instance, I would never be stupid enough to think I could make a living as a musician when I had never even touched a guitar, or silly enough to throw my whole life away for any boy. I can only hope that the adults who read this book know that most teenagers are much more intelligent, mature and insightful than Leah.

Final Thoughts: While I enjoyed the book, I felt the plot moved a little slow at some points. However, I really enjoyed Terri Giuliano Long's writing and definitely plan on picking up her next novel!

Rating: In Leah's Wake earns seven beers out of ten. 

Buy 'In Leah's Wake' at the Book Depository here
Connect with author Terri Giuliano Long at her blog here
Photo from here

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Everything Was Good-Bye (Gurjinder Basran, 2010)



The Heroine: Meena, a young Canadian girl struggling with the tension between her traditional Indian family and her yearnings for the freedom to choose her own path in life. The sixth daughter to her widowed mother, Meena knows she is expected to keep her reputation in tact, make a good match with an Indian boy and produce children. However, her relationship with bad boy Liam, a white boy from a poor family, gives her a taste of the life she could have outside the demands and obligations of her family. When Liam asks her to run away with him, Meena is forced to choose between duty and love, resulting in consequences that resonate throughout the rest of her life.

The Highs: I really enjoyed reading Everything Was Good-Bye. Not only was it a well-written and fascinating, but I feel it is a really important story for everyone living in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. We often struggle to understand the perspectives and lifestyles of those from different cultural backgrounds and this confusion can easily turn into fear and anger given the environment. I think the only way to lessen racial tensions and promote understanding between different sects of society is through narratives such as these that help share the perspectives of minority groups that are often misunderstood by the masses.

Meena was a very sympathetic narrator, caught between her love for her family and her personal dreams and goals. Every time she tries to do the right thing, she ends up unhappy. Meena's failure to find happiness really pulled on my heartstrings. I also really felt close to her by the end of the story, due to the revealing and intimate nature of the first person POV. Meena is a realistic and fully rounded character, compiled of the many contradictions that often show up in human nature.

I also really enjoyed the love story between Meena and Liam, the high school boy who gave her a glimpse into life outside of obligation and duty. Though complicated by many different events, characters and circumstances, the ultimate prevalence of their love was inspiring.

The Lows: Frankly, the ending to Everything Was Good-Bye is quite devastating. Just when it seemed Meena had finally achieved her ultimate happiness, it is snatched away from her in a heart-wrenching instance. The ending left me cursing the unfairness of life and wanting to chuck the book at the wall.

Final Thoughts: Beautifully and honestly written. Everything Was Good-Bye shows the author Gurjinder Basran as a true talent and I am excitedly looking forward to her next book.

Rating: Everything Was Good-Bye earns eight rotis out of ten.

Connect with author Gurjinder Basran at her website here
Photo from here

Monday, May 14, 2012

Web of Angels (Lilian Nattel, 2012)



The Heroine: Sharon Lewis, the suburban mom of a teenage boy and two young girls. With a knack for finding things, keeping her family on schedule and numerous sewing projects, Sharon's super-mom facade hides a deep secret from the outside world. Sharon has dissociative identity disorder, otherwise known as multiple personality disorder. Caused by childhood trauma, her body is home to a multitude of personalities that occasionally force themselves out. Sharon's secret is threatened when a neighbourhood girl, Heather Edwards, commits suicide and Sharon begins spending time with Heather's younger sister Cathy, whose curious behaviour hints at a dark secret of her own.

The Highs: While I know a little about DID (dissociative identity disorder) from a course I took in psychology at my university, I still didn't really understand the reality of someone who is DID until I read Web of Angels. The author Lilian Nattel handles this complicated disorder with skillful ease, painting what I believe to be an accurate portrayal of someone with DID. Impressive and fascinating, I was completely swept up in Sharon's story and inner life.

Heather and Cathy's story really touched me, especially Cathy's efforts to take care of her sister's baby daughter Linny. I felt very emotional at many points of this book, as Sharon, Cathy and Heather had all been through hell and back. Again, the author handled these sensitive topics and scenes with the appropriate balance of realism and tenderness.

I loved the surprising plot twists and element of mystery in the story. The author has a real knack for pacing, slowly revealing necessary information and secrets as needed through the course of the plot. This kept me reading well into the night!

The Lows: I would definitely slap a warning on this book for scenes and topics of a sensitive nature. This book may not be appropriate for everyone, especially younger readers. I actually found I had trouble sleeping on this night I finished this book as I was a little disturbed by some of the things that went on in the story.

I also had some issues at the beginning of the book with understanding what was going on in Sharon's inner world (the parts labelled INSIDE). At first I found it quite confusing! Thankfully by the end of the book I finally got a grasp on what was going on.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed Web of Angels and would definitely recommend it to a friend. I hope to read another book by Lilian Nattel soon.

Rating: Web of Angels earns eight knitting needles out of ten.

Connect with author Lilian Nattel here
Photo from here

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Affair (Alicia Clifford, 2012)



The Heroine: Celia Bayley, the young daughter of a housekeeper swept off her feet by a charming and handsome soldier, Frederick, in the English countryside during the Second World War. While on the outside their marriage seemed perfect, secrets, betrayals and lies were shared between Celia and Frederick until after their death. As their three children and their families clean out Celia's private papers and scan the numerous novels she penned during her life, startling revelations come to light, causing them all the question the woman they all thought they knew.

The Highs: I absolutely loved the ensemble cast of this novel. The story is narrated from the perspective of Celia, in the memories of the past; her daughter Sarah, dealing with the infidelity of her slacker husband Whoopee; her younger daughter Margaret, trapped in a loveless marriage; and her granddaughter Bud, who was closest to Celia in her last years. Each character is fully rendered and realistic, featuring their own unique voice and perspective. The viewpoints of each character come together to form a fascinating picture of Celia, the famous writer adored by her fans and the private, secretive mother hiding truths from her past.

There are many surprising twists and turns in The Affair. I often made one assumption, only to be proven wrong later on in the story. I really enjoyed the element of mystery. I became enraptured with the plot and finished this novel pretty quickly, racing through it even at the detriment of the exams I should have been studying for!

The best part of The Affair was Alicia Clifford's writing style. This is the first novel I have ever read by her and I really enjoyed her effortlessly beautiful prose.

The Lows: I felt the actual "affair" part of the novel came really late into the story and didn't really have the amount of significance that the title of the book suggested. I thought the relationship between the two people involved in the affair seemed really rushed and unrealistic. I'm trying to be purposefully vague about the details, if you can't tell!

I also didn't like the ending of the novel. I felt like none of the subplots involving the members of Celia's family were resolved and I wish I had known how their stories had ultimately ended.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed reading The Affair, though it doesn't stick out in my mind as a book I'd be really eager to read again. I do hope to read another novel soon written by Alicia Clifford, however, as she is a fantastic writer!

Rating: The Affair earns seven letters out of ten. 

Connect with author Alicia Clifford here
Photo from here

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006)


The Heroine: Elizabeth Gilbert, a real-life writer and journalist on the edge of a mid-life crisis as her marriage falls apart. Combating depression in the midst of a messy divorce, Liz decides to embark on a journey across Italy, India and Indonesia in order to learn what each culture knows best: pleasure in Italy, spirituality in India and balance in Bali. From encountering new friends in Italy, to struggling with meditation in India, to finding love in Italy, Eat, Pray, Love encompasses all genres into one extremely funny, entertaining and touching memoir.

The Highs: All women should read Eat, Pray, Love. While Elizabeth Gilbert's style is light, playful and humourous, this book is ultimately the tale of a women's fight to overcome her personal demons and move on from life's hardships. Inspiring, uplifting and life-affirming, Eat, Pray, Love is a lesson in happiness as the readers learn along with Elizabeth on her journey of self-discovery. I first read this book last year and since then I have re-read it quite a few more times!

Elizabeth Gilbert is an extremely personable narrator; I don't think even she could have invented a better protagonist! By the end of the book, Liz feels as if she is both your best friend and your sister. Candid and personal, Liz bares her soul to her readers and lays her vulnerabilities open for all to see. I must applaud her for her courage and tenacity, as I learned a lot about myself while reading about her struggles – I suppose I could credit her for providing a valuable psychological health service! By sharing her struggles, I'm sure there are millions of women who feel less alone in their own troubles and pain.

For travel junkies, Eat, Pray, Love is a must-read. Since Liz spent four months living in each country, she had a great range of experiences and got to see things most vacationers and tourists miss out on. I know I'm dying to go to Bali since reading Liz's lush descriptions – and I've taken note on what she claimed is the best pizza in all of Italy!

The Lows: For those who have no interest in the subject of spirituality, you may not enjoy Eat, Pray, Love as much as I did. Liz spends a lot of time mulling over the topics of spirituality, as well as spends four months staying in an ashram in India. While I found Liz's spiritual exploration fascinating, others might find it tedious or boring.

I have never seen the movie version of Eat, Pray, Love, so I have no comments to make on how closely the film follows the book.

Final Thoughts: Eat, Pray, Love is a feel-good read with an added dose of spiritual soul-searching.

Rating: Eat, Pray, Love earns nine bowls of pasta out of ten. 

Connect with author Elizabeth Gilbert here
Photo from here

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson, 2011)



The Heroine: Eve, a young translator who has become disenchanted with her career in England, secretly longing to write her own stories. On a business trip to Switzerland, Eve meets Dom, a charming and wealthy composer. Immediately swept off her feet, Eve and Dom embark on a whirlwind romance that leads them to Les Genevriers, an ancient and crumbling farm in the beautiful Provencal countryside in France. Although captivated by the beauty around her, Eve begins to learn that not is all what it seems: spirits seem to haunt the old house, Dom grows distant and cold and Eve becomes obsessed with the mysterious disappearance of Dom's ex-wife Rachel. Intertwined is the story of Benedicte, a young farm girll that lived at Les Genevriers with her family in the early twentieth century, Eve's story is a traditional Gothic tale spun on its axis to meet the modern era.

The Highs: The Lantern is full of romance, though not the type between a man and a woman. The prose is full of drawn-out descriptions of Provence and its hills, the flora and fauna of the region and beautiful imagery of the seasons, reflecting Eve's emotional life perfectly. Truly a Gothic tale, this book is perfect for anyone who longs for a little more beauty in their life, though The Lantern also does include some interesting plot points.

I really enjoyed the story of Benedicte Lincel and her family that was intertwined with Eve's tale. One of the last of the traditional farming families, the Lincel's struggled through cold winters, the burden of Benedicte's blind older sister, Marthe (destined to become a famous perfumer) and the insane cruelty of Pierre, Benedicte's brother. I really felt for Benedicte and developed a camaraderie with the sweet, simple farm girl whose life was plagued by trouble and disappointments.

The mystery of Rachel's disappearance and Dom's refusal to talk about it really caught my attention. I love plot twists, and though I felt The Lantern was a little lacking in suspense, I was intent on finding out what became of Rachel and I was satisfied by the ending.

The Lows: While The Lantern may be beautiful and sumptuous, I felt that the author really dragged out her descriptions so much and laid it on so thickly in each and every chapter that the actual plot moved along at a sluggishly slow pace. I got very impatient with the novel by the end of the book, wishing the author could just cut the crap (excuse my language) and get to the point already!

I was disappointed with the protagonist, Eve. Although I understand that the book is supposed to be written in a "hauntingly beautiful" way, it seemed like Eve was kept at a distance from the reader and, as a result, I never felt close to her or truly invested in her life.

Final Thoughts: The Lantern was enjoyable, but I doubt I would ever read it again.

Rating: The Lantern earns six parakeets out of ten. 

Buy 'The Lantern' on the Book Depository here
Connect with author Deborah Lawrenson here
Photo from here
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