March 20, 2013

Sloppy Firsts - Megan McCafferty

It has been many years since I was in high school, and yet I haven't forgotten feeling like I didn't quite fit in; that I didn't quite get the system.  And all of those feelings were brought back (painfully, at times) by this book.

Jessica Darling is 16 years old, and in her second year of high school.  Her best friend, Hope, has just moved to the other side of the country.  She is intelligent, athletic (long-distance runner), snarky (I secretly loved her snarky comments!), and a social mis-fit.  She tries (at times) to fit in with the group of friends that she and Hope hung out with, but she secretly calls them the Clueless Crew.

The story is told in the first person by Jessica, through journal entries and the occasional e-mail to Hope.  Her voice shone through, and I was rooting for her all the way; while cringing at times with remembrances of my own high school experiences when I was too shy to talk to anyone, longing to be as social as my younger sister, not understanding the high school culture around me, and wanting yet not wanting to fit in.

I had heard about this book for a while, and was loaned a copy last year.  I'm glad that I finally got around to reading it!  There are apparently 5 books in the series, and I am curious enough to find out what happens to Jessica as she grows up that I will probably read them all.  Though I hope that she doesn't change too much - there are some of us so-called-adults who still feel a bit cut off and disconnected from the world around us.

March 12, 2013

Up And Down - Terry Fallis

Terry Fallis is one of those authors whose books I will automatically buy, without knowing anything about the book.  His first two books, The Best Laid Plans and The High Road were laugh-out-loud funny (literally - I wouldn't have been able to read them in public places without causing a disturbance).  And I may have mentioned in a previous post that I got to sit beside Terry Fallis for lunch at the Sleeping Giant Writers' Festival a few years back, and he is just as funny in person.

And so Up and Down is his latest offering.  It isn't a sequel to the previous books in that it isn't to do with electoral politics.  This time 'round, he takes on the world of PR.  The opening line says it all.  "Welcome to the dark side."  The main character, David, has recently made the switch from working for the government taking care of the press for the Minister of State for Science and Technology (a real post in the Canadian cabinet), specifically liaising with the Canadian Space Agency (a real agency); to working for a private PR firm in Toronto.  He gets thrown into the fray right from his first day on the job, and ends up heading up a program that will put the first Citizen Astronaut (rather than a professional astronaut) into space.  One thing leads to another, and much hilarity ensues.

Like with his first two books, there is much humour to be found; as well as some over-the-top-improbable situations.  But unlike his first two books, there is more emotional impact in this book.  In his previous books, there was some poignancy with the inclusion of the relationship between Angus and his late wife.  In this book, family dynamics are much more fleshed out in both David's family and in the family of Landon Percival, Canada's first Citizen Astronaut.  This added much more punch to the story.

Things do wrap up very neatly in the end (much more neatly than they would in real life), but that is OK with me since the book isn't intended to be realistic in any way.  It was an easy and enjoyable read, and I will continue to buy any book that Terry Fallis writes!

March 10, 2013

The Witch of Portobello

A bit of history behind my reading of this book.  When it was first published back in 2007, it caught my eye in the bookstore because of the striking cover; but when I picked it up and read the cover blurb it didn't capture my imagination enough to actually read it.  Fast-forward a few years, and for the Lay Worship Leader course that I am taking, we are required to read one novel from the list.  I had already read most of the books on the list, and it includes some that I loved (The Diviners, Good to a Fault, The Life of Pi, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Complicated Kindness); others that I had mixed feelings about (The Red Tent, The Shack), and others that I disliked (The Poisonwood Bible, The Stone Diaries, anything by Jodi Picoult).  So when a book that had previously tempted me appeared on that list, and I was struggling to chose a novel anyways, I decided to pick this one up.

I think that part of the reason that I had resisted reading this book is the popularity of the author, and how he is lauded as a great spiritual leader.  Call me cynical, but that made me dig my heels in a bit.  And I'm afraid that reading one of his books hasn't changed my mind.

I think that I was craving / hoping for something deeper, and yet this book made me feel as though it was only scratching the surface without giving any real substance.

I did enjoy how the book is structured.  It is centred around one woman - Sherine, who changes her name to Athena.  It is a fictional biography that is constructed through interviews with people who knew her in one capacity or another.  You get to see Athena through other people's lenses and memories, without her actually making an appearance in the book.

I did not like the ending.  It seemed to build and build with fore-shadowing galore; but then seemed to just fizzle out when I was hoping that it would go out with a bang.

Overall though, I don't think that I will be reading any of this author's other books.

On a more positive note, I am facilitating and participating in a reading challenge on FaceBook, and one of the challenges was to read a book that you chose because of it's cover.  The cover is even more striking in real-life than in the picture; but unfortunately the book didn't live up to it's cover.