Review: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voight

jackaroo
Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One upon a time (grade 7/8 ish) Cynthia Voight was my favourite author. I stumbled across this book a few days ago by complete accident, and absolutely had to read it. Voight writing alternative-history/fantasy? Amazing.
It was an easy and enjoyable read. Not really fantasy, just a Medieval kingdom not necessary based on any fact – but no magic, dragons, or wizards.
I enjoyed reading about Gwyn. She’s just the kind of heroine I can get behind. She is independent, intelligent and hardworking. She is stubborn and opinionated. She is a dreamer and a bit of an idealist. She is well aware of the world around her and the problems those both more and less fortunate than her must deal with. She has a keen intuition into the personalities and motivations of those around her, for better or for worse. She does have her blind spots though, especially romantic ones – but really, don’t we all?
Gwyn must make a choice. She must marry, soon. Or she must announce that she does not intend to marry at all, a decision that is not reversible, and will leave her reliant on her brother to take care of her, with a lifetime of working at the family Inn ahead of her. She isn’t completely against marrying, but sees few if any attractive local prospects and fears being tied forever to the wrong man.
And of course there is Jackaroo – the title character – a Robin Hood like figure who helps the poor and downtrodden. But who is he? Does he even exist?
Voight has done a good job of presenting the realities of life in the middle ages, the romantic aspects for sure, but also the less galmourous details: the hard work, lack of freedom or spare time, even the walk to the privy in the cold and dark and dealing with menstruation before tampax and advil.
If I have any criticism, it’s that it was perhaps too light, too easy to read. A bit more depth, character development, and relationship development would have strengthened the story, but sometimes you just need a nice light read. I love a book that I can read in a day.

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Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“‘They don’t hate you, Saul.’
‘Well, what, then?’
‘They think it’s their game.’
‘Is it?’
I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. ‘It’s God’s game,’ he said.
‘Where’s God now, then?’ I asked.”

Incredible story.

I was worried that the combination of residential school experience with a young man’s love of hockey was going to be too much – too Canadian. I was wrong. This worked, so very well. Wagamese reminds us all that no matter how different we may be (or appear to be) as individuals or as cultures, underneath we are still the same, driven by the same needs and desires.

This ought to be on required/suggested reading lists in high schools across Canada.

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was heartbreaking and frustrating and so incredibly engaging. But really, what was I thinking, reading a novel about a women who loses three babies before deciding to “keep” the one that literally floats into her life?
While I easily empathized with the characters, I still struggled with the choices they made. We’ve all dealt with loss, it doesn’t turn you into a kidnapper. I don’t like the idea of an infertile woman as some hysterical, amoral creature who will justify anything to have a child.
Yet, the whole setting led up to making you accept it. There they are, on an island in the middle of the ocean. No one to see, no one to know. Perhaps more importantly, no one to share their struggles and lend support. A woman who lost both brothers in the war, and a man struggling with the guilt of surviving the same war. You can’t help but think “you know, in that situation, maybe I’d have done the same.”
But the fallout. I expected the standard “well meaning couple does terrible thing, learns lesson, everyone lives mostly happily ever after.” I did not expect the gut-wrenching consequences. I did not expect to be up at midnight, desperately reading, tears streaming down my face, hoping everything would be alright in the end. It so rarely is after someone has done a terrible thing.
That’s all I’m going to say. Any more will spoil it. Highly recommended.

Wait – one more thing. I didn’t realize it when I bought the book, but the back-story to the novel is the first World War, and its aftermath. Set in Australia, it is a different take on the war than usual – very similar, but different stories and battles emphasized. Made ever more poignant this year, this week, as it is the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

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Review: The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm.
When I read a fantasy novel, I tend to either obsess over it and the whole series love it or dismiss it entirely. I rarely have an in-between reaction.
When this book started, I thought I was having the latter reaction. I just didn’t buy in right away. To me, fantasy should be completely detached from the real world. That’s why I like it. This was different. The characters live in the real world (albeit in a fictional city) but know that a parallel fantasy world exists. Some visit it, some cannot.
That was pushing my acceptance level.
Where de Lint won me over, however, was with his characters. I liked them. I wanted to know more about them. I kept reading about this world I wasn’t sure I believed in so I could be sure they were OK. And before I knew it, I had bought in. So much so that I am already reading the next book.
I wouldn’t rate it as a full-blown obsession yet, but it could happen.

Note: content heavily features reminiscence of childhood sexual abuse.

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2014’s somewhat delayed To-Be-Read List

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I must admit: it has not been a great year for reading so far. In the past three months and three days, I have finished reading two books. Only two. I’m the girl who reads a book a week I guess I’ve been busy catching up on important things like The Good Wife and  Doctor Who.

It really is time to get back on the wagon, though. I have once again committed to the 50 Book Challenge. I am way behind. And so, I will finally get serious about this, starting with this years TBR list.

You remember how this works, right? I pledge to read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months. Each of the 12 books must have been on my bookshelf (or “To Be Read” list, hence the name) for at least one full year. (Two alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.)

Drumroll please… My TBR list for 2014 includes:

  1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown Author
  2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  5. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  6. The Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman
  7. Lygaya: L’Enfant Esclave par Andree-Paul Mignot
  8. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  11. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  12. Ghosts of Medak Pocket by Carol Off

Two Alternates:

  1. Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

So I’m going for less non-fiction, which I rarely read, and more classic books – I tend to buy older editions at thrift stores or yard sales, and they are piling up on the shelves. Oh – and more reading en francais (dammit WordpPess, why aren’t the accents working?).  Last year I started on time and still only managed 7 of my 12 chosen. Who knows how I will fare this year, but the fun is in trying, isn’t it?

2013 To Be Read (TBR) Challenge

book pileWell, I performed rather abysmally with last year’s challenge. I read and reviewed 6 of 12 books. I did read, but not review one other: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I just didn’t get into last year’s list that much. Guess that’s why the books had sat in the pile for so long already.

The time has come (arguably, the time has passed) to make my 2013 list. I am late putting it together, so not officially registering the list with Roof Beam Reader’s blog to be eligible for prizes. Just making the list for my own purposes.

Remember the details. The goal is to finally read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months. Each of the 12 books must have been on my bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for at least one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2012 or later. Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile. And so.

My Twelve Chosen:

  1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  3. Dubliners by James Joyce
  4. A Short History of Progress by Ronald B. Wright
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul
  7. The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

  8. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  9. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
  10. The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnson
  11. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  12. Robert The Bruce: Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter

Two Alternates:

  1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  2. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

In addition, I also pleadge to read at least 40 books this year. Do you have a reading challenge for 2013? What’s on your list?

Read local!

ImageMy friend Kat will soon have her first novel The Night Has Teeth published by a new local publisher: Fierce Ink Press. As part of the process, they are running a crowdfunding campaign to support a limited edition print run.

Are you a fan of young adult novels? Love stories about werewolves and other monsters? Have a thing for books set in Paris? If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to check out The Night Has Teeth, and consider supporting the campaign.

 

The Night Has Teeth by Kat Kruger

There’s a darkness that lurks in the City of Light

Seventeen-year-old Connor Lewis is chased by a memory. On his first day of kindergarten he bit a boy hard enough to scar the kid for life. Since then he’s been a social outcast at a New York private school.

Through an unexpected turn of good fortune, he lands a scholarship to study in Paris, where everything starts to look up. On the first day he befriends two military brats, and he may finally get a taste of what it’s like to be a normal teenager.

It doesn’t last.

His host family — an alluring young tattoo artist and her moody, handsome boyfriend — inadvertently introduce him to the underworld of werewolves where there are two types: the born and the bitten. Those born to it take the form of elegant wolves, while the latter are cursed to transform into the half-man, half-beast creatures of horror movies. The bitten rarely survive. Unfortunately, Connor is on the wanted list of a four hundred-year-old bitten human who’s searching for both a cure and a means of wiping out werewolves for good.

Connor’s loyalties are tested as he becomes embroiled in a conflict where werewolves, mad science and teen angst collide.

Author Biography
Kat Kruger is a freelance writer and social media consultant with a degree in public relations from Mount Saint Vincent University. The Night Has Teeth is her first novel and won the 34th Atlantic Writing Competition. She splits her time between Toronto and Halifax with her husband.