Monday, January 9, 2017

Biittner's Book Reviews - Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Preamble: It's literally been years since I've blogged. One of my goals for 2017 is to write more; I have a few (!!!) manuscripts I need to get finished and submitted. I've been told the more you write, the easier it is so I'm going to use blogging to inspire my academic writing as well. I have another academic blogging project in the works as well (top secret, hush hush stuff I'll blog about eventually...) but for now I thought I'd get back on track by relaunching my book reviews. I used to blog our monthly book club picks and figured I'd up the ante by not only blogging those reads but at least one other book a month. I'm also kicking off with something special!

Back in December I was selected to be a Harper Collins Canada "First Look Reader" for Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson. So in return for a free, advance copy of this book, I promised to share my experience and opinion of it online. I posted my progress through the book on Twitter and Instagram (@kbiittner) but honestly got so caught up in this book that I wasn't as active on social media as I originally intended. But that's a good thing! Her Every Fear is a captivating and compelling read. I consumed this book in a few sittings. The pacing is excellent. Without giving too much away, Swanson begins the narrative from "Her" (Kate's) perspective but then switches to other characters in subsequent chapters to provide both another perspective on the same events or to move the plot forward. It is neatly done in that the switch between characters is logical and easy to follow; it adds clarity (what I call "ah ha!" moments) and tension. It felt like I held my breath for most of the final act of this book. It had a satisfying, if heart pounding, conclusion. The characters themselves are interesting. Kate is a dynamic character; at first I was worried she'd just be the typical "broken beauty with a traumatic past" but it quickly becomes clear that she is much more than that. The building in which most of the book takes place is just as much as a character as it's various (and odd) residents are; it seems to contain many mysteries within its walls, behind its doors. There are a few twists and turns - many are delightfully unexpected!

Overall Her Every Fear was an excellent read and one I would highly recommend.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Books Read in 2013

Each January for the past few years (20102011, and 2012) I have posted a complete listing of all the books I had read with a brief comment about each book including whether or not I recommend it. However for 2013 I am doing something different. Last year I participated in something through twitter called the 50 Book Pledge (#50bookpledge). It is a really cool online bookshelf where you can keep track of what you have read, rate each book, and provide a brief comment. You can then share your bookshelf via twitter (or facebook). I tweeted almost every time I posted a new book to my shelf. You can view my 2013 bookshelf here, where you can click on each book cover and my rating and brief review will pop up (note: I know there are other sites where you can do something similar but I like this one so much better!).

I really liked participating in #50bookpledge. It was a great way to connect with other readers, discuss books read, find new books to read that came highly recommended, enter contests, and even connect with authors. I loved chatting with the "host" of #50bookpledge The Savvy Reader (@SavvyReader). And I've already created my shelf for this year!

Last year I read 84 books. My goal for this year is 100 but I think hitting around 80 again is more realistic. I need to spend more time writing this year than reading but my book pile is already growing rapidly plus we have some excellent books slated for our 2014 book club.  If you'd like to follow my 2014 progress you can do so here. As always I'll continue to post reviews of our book club selections each month.

However, for those of you interested (and who don't want to go through the entire shelf), here are my top reads from 2013 in no particular order:
- Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. For those of you have read my previous lists, you won't be surprised that King is on this one. I loved this sequel to The Shining. All I can say is that this is classic King!
- Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Things Volume 1) AND When Did You See Her Last (All the Wrong Things Volume 2) by Lemony Snicket. This is a fantastic series and a great counterpart to his A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I adore. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) this year as part of Edmonton Public Library's centennial celebrations, which only increased my love for his writing.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - enchanting, haunting, and bittersweet. A must read and contender for the best book I read in 2013.
- The Sandman by Neil Gaiman - an incredible comic series that I started just after Christmas (so I'm squeaking it in). I've read the first five volumes and just love the complex world that Gaiman has created. The artwork is fantastic. I read a ton of Gaiman in 2013 and he has quickly become one of my favourite authors and yes I know I am late to the game on this.
- Ru by Kim Thuy - a lovely and poetic book. Each "chapter" takes up only a single page but there is so much stated in such an elegantly "simple" way. Another must read and contender for the best book I read in 2013!
- In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Just excellent. I cried my way through this book. It was just so heartbreakingly beautiful. I've told others when asked that it is the best book I read in 2013 and think I'll stick with that assessment.

So 2013 was a year filled with great reads and I'm looking forward to tackling the pile of books on my shelf and all those gems waiting to find their way there.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Biittner's Book Review: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

Our 2014 book club is off to an excellent start! I really enjoyed our first book - an interesting science fiction piece with a historic/western/biographical feel. It is the account of the best friend of the President of the United States in the 22nd century outlining his perspective on the President's rise to power and position. North America has essentially reverted back to the days of the wild west/colonization and war is ongoing with a form of unified Europe. The government is essentially a monarchy, which lends to an interesting rebuilding scenario post-collapse or post-post-apocalypse. There is the expected commentary on social hierarchies and class structures with some neat digs at the separation (or lack there of) between church and state and approved religious practices. I think one could read much more into some of the political, social, and religious commentary that is dominant throughout the first half of the book but I just enjoyed reading it without analyzing it. The plot really isn't that complicated or innovative (that's not to say it isn't interesting because it does capture and hold attention) but rather it is how the story is told that makes it so engaging, that keeps you reading to see how everything will unfold. The main character is naive but that is why telling the story from his perspective works, and some of the best parts of the story are when his naivety is clearly pointed out by one of the other characters while he remains oblivious. I loved the nods to Darwin and Darwinian evolution (to say any more would not spoil anything other than some of the charm of the post-collapse setting). I'd highly recommend this book, especially to a sci-fi fan, as it was an enjoyable read. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Poem for #YEGlongnight

Between the ages of 11 and 19 I wrote a lot of "poetry". I was so excited to submit a portfolio for, and to get into, Write 393 during my undergrad. That course killed any passion I had for writing. I haven't written anything resembling poetry since - well maybe a random haiku but that is just because they are fun.

So it is with great hesitation that I post this for you, a "poem" inspired by #YEGlongnight - you can read more about the project celebrating the longest night of the year here.

A Poem for #YEGlongnight
My baby calls out
I go to her
Nurse her in the dark of the early morn
Normally the weight of today
This longest, darkest day
Would be too much
It would keep me in bed
Buried under covers
But not today
Today the warmth of my nursing babe
Her sweet milk drunk smile
Her bright shining eyes
Are light
She pushes back the shadows
As we wait for the sun
This day of the longest night

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Our book club tries to select a memoir every year. I had no idea what to expect with "Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir" by The Blogess Jenny Lawson but heard it was "funny". It was! I made the mistake of bringing this book along when I was invigilating the final exam (three hours!) for my summer session course. It was a mistake because I actually laughed out loud at one of the stories and got the nastiest look from my students who were trying so hard to focus on the task at hand. So the book is a collection of stories, "mostly true ones", about her life; some are downright bizarre (her dad is one kooky character), while others deal with some very real and tough situations. I probably laughed the hardest at the "diaper at the swimming pool incident" and the story of what she got her husband for their anniversary. I really connected with her awkwardness in social settings, especially with other women and in party scenarios (I swear I have similar odd/inappropriate dialogues run through my head but luckily I have a strong filter in place that has mostly kept the more ridiculous comments from spilling out my mouth). She does love to swear and I quickly got tired of it (but get that it is just part of who she is). It's a great pick up and put down book to have on hand. It is not something I'd re-read (the shock of the punchlines is part of the fun), but is something I'd recommend.

We'll pick our selections for next year at our next book club meeting. Can't wait to see what we come up with.

Biittner's Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Our October book club selection was one of my picks: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I selected it as it was listed by Veronica Roth (the author of the wonderful YA Divergent series) as something she had read that she really enjoyed. I agree with her assessment that the writing and the characters were "TO.DIE.FOR". Well maybe not "to die for" but they were exceptional. In particular, I really appreciated the adults in this book. Too often YA writers (not necessarily the good ones) tend to write their adult characters as if all adults are total idiots who have no idea what is going on around them or are so concerned with being the compassionate and caring adult in the life of a troubled youth that they are incapable of functioning as a normal human being *end rant* Actually all the characters are well written; I liked the dynamics that were set up between them. The plot is really solid and engaging; my only critique is that it felt like the first book in a series - many story arcs were established and you could tell very quickly that few would come to conclusion by the end of this book. I would highly recommend this book, and am looking forward to reading the next in the series. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: The New York Trilogy by Paul Aster

Our September book club selection was from our 501 Must Read Books list: The New York Trilogy by Paul Aster. It is a collection of three short stories - "City of Glass", "Ghosts", and "The Locked Room". I did not know much about these stories other than they loosely fell into the detective genre. I'm not sure how exactly to describe them - a post-modern blend of science fiction and detective with a twist of satire/black comedy/the absurd - but I can say that I really enjoyed them. Because they are short stories I do not want to go too much into the plots of each one to avoid spoilers, so will instead describe them fairly broadly and vaguely. "City of Glass" is the closest to a detective story but has a strange bent to it with a really neat connection to Don Quixote. "Ghosts" was my favourite by far. It has a really neat premise and quickly takes a dark turn. "The Locked Room" is really "meta" as it almost has a story within the story. I'd highly recommend reading all three stories back-to-back as it is the best way to see why the three stories have been published as a trilogy. The Trilogy was an excellent read. I really enjoyed the quirky, dark themes in all three stories and how they fit together. It is easy to read and I think most readers would appreciate it. I highly and readily recommend it.