Review: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5/5

As with most short-story collections, it’s often difficult to find a star-rating that best represents the book as a whole — you’re torn between the stories you liked more than others and maybe even ones you straight up disliked.

Hence I give this a solid, but still positive rating. I really enjoyed some of the stories from this collection — the one on the tortoise and hare rematch might just be my favourite, but there was one involving a date with a warlord that made me laugh pretty hard (and feel a little inappropriate for doing so). But, despite this, where were some stories that just didn’t grip me — not necessarily bad, but just uninteresting. Hence, I couldn’t quite bump this up to a 4-star rating.

If you’re looking for an eclectic short story collection, this is a good place to start!

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Review: Tell the Wind and Fire

WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED FOR THE SAKE OF POTENTIAL SPOILERS.

YOU CAN FIND THE FULL REVIEW AT GOODREADS.COM

Tell the Wind and Fire
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you so much to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group for granting me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a review**

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

I did not know what to expect from this novel; I have never read Ms. Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy series and am only familiar with her through her contribution to The Bane Chronicles. I could not, however, help but be drawn in by what this novel promised: a fantastical/paranormal take upon Dickens’ famous serial novel of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities.

Dickens may be hard to swallow for many people, but I happen to love his work, especially Cities. With its teems of resurrection, light versus dark, and social justice, it’s hard for a reader not to get swept away by sweeping romanticism of its tragedy. And while Ms. Brennan gets so very close with her own adaptation, she still falls just a hair short.

The strongest parts of Tell the Wind and Fire are when it focuses upon its setting; when it really digs its claws into its source material and starts spinning its own web from it. While it is, admittedly, sometimes a little clunky — did we need to call the revolutionaries the sans merci when this is set in NYC and not France? — it is still both gripping and intriguing. As the novel progresses, Brennan continues to pitch up the tension and let us see a world on edge begin to fall apart entirely into mob-fueled chaos. I should have been jaded, but Wind’s own tragic conclusion still managed to grip me; maybe not as much as when I first read Cities, but its a testament to Brennan’s commitment to the Dickens narrative that made her retelling so successful in that regard.

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Despite all that, I adored this book’s concept. Adding magic and doppelgängers to this retelling of A Tale of Two Cities was fantastic and the back third of the novel — especially the finale — is the highlight of the entire book. Like I said, I was emotionally gripped by the last chapter almost in spite of my issues with the characters because Brennan fully committed to her premise and her world. It may be a clunky, sometimes uneven world, but she’s in it 110% and it shows in all the best ways.

I highly recommend picking up this book — even if, like me, you roll your eyes bit — because the strength of this retelling’s creativity outshines and outweighs its flaws.

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Review: The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder

The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder
The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder by Rachel McMillan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

*3.5/5

A murder mystery set amidst Victorian-era Toronto with two leading ladies full of gumption? Sign me up!

What fun — no, really, what fun! I spent a good deal of my childhood in the city of Toronto thanks to my paternal grandparents living there, and so I took great delight in reading all the familiar streets and places to which our delightful heroines, Jem and Merinda, travel as a result of their amateur sleuthing. Speaking of Jem and Merinda: yes, they are an absolute delight. Ms. McMillan writes them with a wonderful sarcasm and dry humour that I appreciated, especially as it helps to balance out the mystery and romance of the plot.

The mystery is very good, even though I did figure it out before the novel’s players, but it was the wonderful details about Victorian Toronto that I loved best. It’s clear that Ms. McMillan has done a great deal of research in preparation for this series, which gives this novel more “life”: I can imagine these streets and people with every one of my senses and, thus, immerse myself more easily into the story.

This is the perfect book for anyone looking for a Sherlockian fix, and I know many people to whom I can recommend this novel.

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Review: Dictator

Dictator
Dictator by Robert Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely fantastic conclusion to a spectacular historical-fiction trilogy.

As someone who is quite familiar with the Classics — even spending a year studying Cicero’s writings — I am overjoyed with how Robert Harris has managed to make historical fact seem like a story he made up in his head. Perhaps this is the benefit of telling Cicero’s tale through the eyes of his secretary, Marcus Tullius Tiro, the very same man who invented an early form of shorthand. Through Tiro we see Cicero in all his strengths and vices: we see the statesman, the orator, the husband, the father…the man, faults and all.

I’ve always found the difficulty with any kind of historical fiction such as this, which hews so closely to its history, is that when one is familiar with the history, it can be hard to maintain tension. But this series managed it, especially in this book. I probably spent most of it groaning aloud saying: “Cicero don’t do that!” because I knew that it would end poorly for him. But, unfortunately, Harris is faithful to history and, so, we must watch the rise and inevitable fall of the man that was Marcus Tullius Cicero.

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Review: Rules for a Knight

Rules for a Knight
Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*3.5/5

This book reminded me a good deal of Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho. Both books are more like manuals on how to live a “good” life than any kind of novel, but written in ways that don’t come across as pretentious or preaching. In the case of Rules for a Knight, this is definitely a book I would like to own a physical copy of — I borrowed this copy digitally from my library — so I guess I’ve got a trip to the bookstore in my future.

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Review: Written in Fire

Written in Fire
Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Thomas & Mercer for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purpose of review**

Here it is: the finale to a truly fantastic science-fiction/dystopian/political thriller. For those of you who have not yet read any of the “Brilliance” trilogy, the quick version of the premise is that 30-years ago, some people contracted a virus that imbued them with extra powers, all of which were different from each other; the world named them “Brilliants.” But even better than that is the fact that “Brilliants” can pass down their powers, because susceptibility to the virus is genetic.

As a result, you have a world on the edge, not always to blatantly; this is the kind of tension that slithers beneath the surface of everyday life; it makes itself commonplace, blinding so many to the stark truth that they live in a world where they can trust no one – not their governments, not their friends or family, and not even themselves.

Mr. Sakey’s ability to create and sustain this tension across three books has been fantastic, and in “Written in Fire” he just keeps ramping it all up higher to the point that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep breathing. The stakes are so very high, especially when we’ve been following these characters — good, bad, shades of grey — for three books and they’re brought to moral, ethical, and emotional brinks. And the pace is non-stop with a finale that I can call nothing except explosive.

A brilliant conclusion to the story of the “Brilliants.”

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Review: Every Exquisite Thing

Every Exquisite Thing
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Little Brown for Young Readers for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

I think you need to like either (a) J.D. Salinger and/or (b) The Catcher in the Rye in order to fully appreciate this novel. Unfortunately, I’m not such a huge fan of either of those things, so I’m left rather conflicted by this novel, the story of a young teen connecting with a reclusive author whose cult-classic novel is one of teenage angst and rebellion.

Half of me wishes to save Nanette from what is (in my opinion) a toxic relationship with a particular boy; the other half knows that such things are a part of the learning experience that is life. Sometimes we have to go wild and do things we regret. Sometimes we need to look at our lives and reexamine everything about it — we are humans and, such, we change.

I think Mr. Quick captures the turbulence of a(n undiagnosed) teenage mind quite well, and I also think he draws out the adults with equal care. Of particular note, I think, is our protagonist’s English teacher, Mr. Graves, who behaves in a very responsible manner when something rather unfortunate occurs in the middle of the novel. Despite the hurt I felt at losing the interaction of a great character, I’m glad that Mr. Graves behaved the way he did — had he not, I might have grown to dislike his character.

I don’t deny that Nanette was in need of her therapist, June, and I don’t deny that she spends the majority of the novel clearly undiagnosed with depression, at the very least, in a place that largely ignores her…but I do also think that she is rather selfish. Is this just a part of growing up and being a teen? Sure — I’m not going to get on some moral pedestal and claim I was a perfect teenager, because I wasn’t. I, too, was selfish and messed and did things that were horrible to myself, my parents, and to other people. But there is a chunk of the novel spent with Nanette conducting a kind of social experiment that, even while I understand the intent behind it, I found despicable.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the author’s intent: to have me feel sick at the idea of Nanette pretending to be someone that she is not. The only difference between this experiment and what was happening at the start of the story, is that Nanette is making the conscious choice to behave this way, knowing that she is being entirely deceitful. I may not have liked her friends/classmates very much — not at all, really — but this entire section of the novel left a horrible taste in my mouth that, unfortunately, I still have even now that I’ve completed the book. It is the only thing keeping me from giving it a full 5-star rating because, without it, I thought this novel was quite wonderful.

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