The Man in The High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Penguin on September 6th 2001
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 249
Goodreads

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

I’m not even really sure how to sum up my feelings about this book.

I sort of understood what was going on, but at the same time I had no idea. Normally this would make me dislike a book, but I think that was the point of The Man in the High Castle.

I love that there was really no hero, no big lead up to some final climax (not really), and no big love story. You’re legit just reading a book about what could have happened if the Allies had lost, and Germany and Japan had split up the States like a little cake. Or are you.

The choppy sentences were a bit hard to deal with sometimes, but I understood that Dick was trying to get across just how much Japanese influence there would be in America if they’d won.

I liked the idea of a book within a book as well. It tied all of the characters together in a more solid way, and it made it almost seem like there was an awakening happening. Like you knew people were reading this book and realizing how different the world could have been if the Allies had won. Which was kind of funny to read as someone from the universe where the Allies won.

It was slightly scary to read, but made me very grateful for what I have today because of the sacrifices that others made before me. The ending also sort of made me distrust my own universe, but I don’t want to get into it. The ending was the most confusing part.

Have you read Philip K Dick? This was my first foray into his work and I will definitely be reading more.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd on April 16th 2012
Genres: memoir
Pages: 336
Goodreads

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

The Happiness Project is the last book I read in 2017. A friend lent it to me at the beginning of the year and it just sat on my shelf, but that friend and I got into a discussion around Christmas about the book and I decided to pick it up. After reading the first chapter, I challenged myself to read it before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Challenge accepted, me! I finished it at about 8pm that night.

I don’t entirely know what I expected going into The Happiness Project. I’d heard bunches about it, and I knew the general premise, but I didn’t know if any of it would be relatable. I consider myself a fairly happy person. The idea that someone spent an entire year of their life dedicated to making themselves happier just felt, weird?, to me.

The thing about The Happiness Project is that it’s completely relatable while also giving us examples of how each of the resolutions affected Gretchen’s life. So we had the theory behind things and then the proof of how they can work (or not). What made it even more relatable to me was the inclusion of people’s responses from her blog. For almost every resolution, Gretchen posted the question on her blog and included the answers in her book. It was interesting to see how different people interpreted her resolutions or made up their own that related.

There were a couple of things that I took away instantly from the book and started incorporating into my life immediately. I have no idea why they resonated with me so much, but they’ve definitely made small improvements to my happiness.

1. If it takes less than a minute to do, do it right now instead of putting it off.

2. Happiness comes from within, not without.

3. Pursue a passion and forget about the results.

4. Be aware of how your attitude/happiness affects others.

Even if you aren’t looking at improving your happiness, I think you should read this book. I guarantee you that you’ll take something away from it without even trying. I did! Plus, Gretchen’s writing is superb, hilarious, and flowing. It made it enjoyable to read while also teaching me something.

All in all, this was a great way to end 2017 and I’m 100% sure it’s going to help shape my 2018 into a better year.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Weirdo

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth
Published by House of Anansi Press (Canada) on September 30th 2013
Genres: mystery
Pages: 408
Goodreads

Corinne Woodrow was fifteen when she was convicted of the ritualistic murder of her classmate in a quaint seaside town. It was 1984, a year when teenagers ran wild, dressed in black, stayed out all night, and listened to music that terrified their parents. Rumours of Satanism surrounded Corinne and she was locked up indefinitely, a chilling reminder to the parents of Ernemouth to keep a watchful eye on their children.

Twenty years later, private investigator Sean Ward — whose promising career as a detective with the Metropolitan Police was cut short by a teenager with a gun — reopens the case after new forensic evidence suggests that Corinne didn’t act alone. His investigation uncovers a town full of secrets, and a community that has always looked after its own.

I wanted Weirdo sooooo bad when I first saw it on Chapters. That cover, that synopsis. I had to have it!

(A bit of backstory: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with anything murder related. The psychology of different people, especially criminals, hits all of my interest buttons.)

It’s October and I figured it was the perfect time to pick this darling up. Sadly, I was not as thrilled by it as I thought I was going to be.

The story itself is pretty interesting. The two different timelines (in the 80s leading up to the murder and in the 2000s when it’s being re-investigated) are interesting and insightful, but I think they make the book longer than it needs to be. You get to know the main people that were involved in the murder, while also kind of sort of learning about Sean Ward and his investigation into the murder. But there’s so much backstory with both that it I just felt like I was learning about people and completely forgot it had to do with a murder half the time.

Maybe I was just expecting something else, as I don’t really read much mystery, but it didn’t feel very mysterious to me. The plot-ish twist at the ending got a “huh, alright” from me, but that’s about it. And the ending after that felt super rushed. It’s like you received this nugget of information and the characters went “well, that’s that” and went home for the night. The entire build-up of the book is figuring out if Corinne did the murder herself and I feel like it wasn’t treated as the climax it should have been.

I guess overall I was just meh with the entire thing. I read it, though, so there’s that.

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Bees

The Bees by Laline Paull
Published by HarperCollins Canada on May 6th 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 344
Goodreads

Born into the lowest class of an ancient hierarchical society, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, an Untouchable, whose labour is at her ancient orchard hive's command. As part of the collective, she is taught to accept, obey and serve. Altruism is the highest virtue, and worship of her beloved Queen, the only religion. Her society is governed by the priestess class, questions are forbidden and all thoughts belong to the Hive Mind.But Flora is not like other bees. Her curiosity is a dangerous flaw, especially once she is exposed to the mysteries of the Queen's Library. But her courage and strength are assets, and Flora finds herself promoted up the social echelons. From sanitation to feeding the newborns in the royal nursery to becoming an elite forager, Flora revels in service to her hive.

When Flora breaks the most sacred law of all-daring to challenge the Queen's fertility-enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses who are jealously wed to power. Her deepest instinct to serve and sacrifice is now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart and her society, and lead her to commit unthinkable deeds . . .

In the beginning, I really liked The Bees. It was interesting, seemingly unique, and I wanted to know where it was going. I held on for about as long as I could.

First, I don’t know WHY but for some reason I didn’t think this was actually about bees. Pretty dense of me since it’s literally in the title and the entire cover is bees. But I figured it was a nickname for whatever faction Flora was from. Nope. She’s a bee. Which I actually thought was pretty cool. When’s the last time you read about a bee?! I like that aspects of Flora were slightly human (feelings, thoughts, etc) but she still had a somewhat bee-sque mentality. It worked for me!

The setting was wonderful, and the way Paull writes is superb. It didn’t feel like a hive at all for me. It was some robust, living, richly exotic world that I found myself wanting to visit. I loooved it.

What fell flat for me was the story. The beginning of it was great. Exploring the hive with Flora was tense and exciting. But about half way through the book I kind of knew what was going to happen and it made me care less about reading it. I think if the entire thing had been shorter, I would have been able to hold on. But 200-ish pages of a story I’ve already guessed isn’t fun.

So, unfortunately, I DNF’d this half way through. It was wonderful though, and I’m sure many people will enjoy it! I did sneak to the end to figure out what happened, so it’s not like I didn’t care. Tehehe.

The Conjoined

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
Published by ECW on September 13th 2016
Genres: mystery
Goodreads

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

I read The Conjoined last year, as I was so kindly given a review copy from ECW Press (thanks guys!). Unfortunately, since I was silly enough to let my hosting lapse, that review is no longer up. Why past Mackenzie, why?! Luckily for me I really loved this book and still have my notes.

Going into The Conjoined, I assumed it was going to be some sort of psychological thriller. You know from the synopsis that Jessica finds two bodies in her mom’s freezer when she’s sorting through her mom’s belongings after her funeral. You read that and you’re like but why?! That’s certainly something I wanted to know! I’d be curious as hell if I found evidence to what I can only assume is my mother murdering two people.

The thing is, this book is more than just a thriller. It’s a heart-wrencher. It’s less so about figuring out who did it, and more about finding out what lead up to Casey and Jamie ending up in that freezer. It’s quite a sad story. The atmosphere surrounding these two kids is HEAVY. I wanted to reach through the pages and fix their lives, to tell the people surrounding them what was going on and save them the fate they end up with. I so badly didn’t want them to end up the way they did, but I was absolutely powerless to stop it. And that just made it worse.

Although we shift between different timelines, stories, and characters, it’s all done with ease. Not once did I forget who was who, or what I’d read about them previously. Jen did a wonderful job of weaving everything together, and I never once got bored.

I didn’t get the ending I wanted, but I’m okay with that. I think it was better that way.

Thanks again ECW Press! You’ve published a great book.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

By Gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 23rd 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 731
Goodreads

London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

I dnf’d it.

If you’re wondering, earlier this month (last week? Time is a thing I can no longer keep track of) I didn’t know if I should continue By Gaslight or not.

Reasoning: pacing was slow, writing style (no quotations and a TON of run on sentences) were annoying the poop out of me.

Funny thing is, I actually continued reading it after I posted. I’d rented it from the library, so why not?

A couple of days before it was set to go back from the library, I went to renew it online and found out I couldn’t. I looked at the book, looked back at the notice saying I couldn’t renew it, looked at how many pages I had left, and then flipped to the end of the book and read the ending.

It seemed like an okay book, but again, had it been half the length, it probably would have been much better.

Oh well. Moving on.

The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
on May 1st 2011
Genres: non-fiction
Pages: 288
Goodreads

In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

I’m not usually a non-fiction reader, but I love anything that has to do with the human brain. I love when people try to analyze the way people tick. It’s just so fascinating to me.

I think I originally saw this book on someone’s YouTube channel (don’t remember who, sadly) and I immediately marked it as a to-read. But because it’s a nonfic, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to buy it. And then a couple of weeks ago I refound my love for my local library and they had The Psychopath Test. Score!

Although this book doesn’t delve too deeply into exactly why psychopaths are the way they are, it was interesting to see the different thought patterns behind labeling someone a psychopath. And reading the reactions of those who are labelled that way. It was a very surface level dig into the madness industry, but it was incredibly fascinating. Especially if you don’t know all the lingo, as it doesn’t take too much outside knowledge to understand.

If you want a light, fun read about what possibly makes a psychopath a psychopath, definitely give this a try. If you’re looking for a book to tell you whether or not you’re a psychopath, this isn’t it.

And if you are looking for something to tell you whether you are or aren’t one, chances are you aren’t. If you were, you wouldn’t care. This was pointed out in the book and made me laugh.

“But isn’t Tony kind of a semi-psychopath? A gray area? Doesn’t his story prove that people in the middle shouldn’t necessarily be defined by their maddest edges?

Slaughterhouse 5

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Published by Vintage Classics on January 1st 1970
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 177
Goodreads

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller - these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

Oh man. I don’t know, entirely, what I was expecting when I went into Slaughterhouse 5. I can’t quite tell you if I had any expectations whatsoever.

What I came out of with, though, was a great appreciation for Mr. Vonnegut. Man, can he write. I’ve never read something so pointless and so entertaining all at once.

But, I gather that’s the point.

I love that there is no backstory, no trying to explain events, no fluff. You’re simply reading about a man who comes unstuck in time. You don’t even question it, because…well, I’m not entirely sure why. Just because. Because that’s the way it was written and don’t try to go figuring it out. Just enjoy the ride while you’re on it.

It was a great departure for me. I tend to read a lot of fantasy, where half the book is spent explaining the who and the what of a scenario, so you can understand everything that is going on. Sometimes I don’t need to know all that. It just needs to be written in a way that allows me to lean in and enjoy it.

It’s also helped me realize that there are great novels out there like this. When I write, I don’t explain a lot of my backstory. It just is. It’s good to know it can work that way.

I will read more Vonnegut.

Poo-tee-weet.

 

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Jackaby

Jackaby (Jackaby, #1) by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on September 16th 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 299
Goodreads

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

A lot of people describe Jackaby as a sort of Sherlock….and they have every right to.

If Sherlock hunted the Supernatural, his name would definitely be R.F Jackaby.

I love how we’re showed the world through Abigail Rook, who at the beginning of the book has no idea who Jackaby is. She simply needs a job and he has a posting for an assistant. It made the story more interesting for me, because there was never any info dumping about the world and its supernatural elements. You simply find out about things as she does, which made me connect with her confusion more, but 100% in a good way.

It also made Jackaby more mysterious, sometimes frustrating, but always enjoyable to have on the page and in the story. While some might think he’s cocky or obnoxious, I liked his personality. He sees things that no one else can, so he has very little time to explain things to people. It’s a very easy way to only keep the “important” people around, in my opinion. He doesn’t have to hide himself or spend hours explaining things to people who choose not to believe what he sees. Call me crazy, but I like it. He also has a wicked sense of humour without meaning to.

The case itself was okay. Nothing mindblowing, but it kept me guessing. I’m interested to see if book numero two gets any more thrilling.

Yes, I already bought it. Have you seen those covers?? They’re just too pretty not to have.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Hidden

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd on June 18th 2013
Genres: fiction
Pages: 366
Goodreads

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.

Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.

Hidden read like I was getting little glimpses into these characters lives, which I love. I mean, I guess you are (that is the whole point of reading) but as if they were REAL people walking around and they had stopped in to tell me their story or something.

Warning: this may get spoilery.

The multi character narration was incredibly useful, and I don’t usually like more than one narrators in my stories.

Jeff I liked, although I felt a little bad for him. Especially since he, you know, dies. His relationship with Claire could have been explored a LOT more, but we got enough surface details to know they weren’t 100% happy. Their relationship just wasn’t very…meaty…for me.

Claire was okay as a character, but she wasn’t my favourite. She seemed like a good person, but she had some stuff going on that caused her to push Jeff away and I, I don’t know. She felt mopey to me. Mopey before her husband died, I can understand being mopey after he dies.

And Tish, the coworker. As you can probably guess, Tish and Jeff had something not purely work related going on. They emailed back and forth, which pissed me off. Who carries on a personal relationship via office email?? Especially someone in HR who knows they can be read at any moment!?! And who ditches their daughter’s competition to fly to a coworkers funeral who she MIGHT have been sleeping with, where she knows she’d come into contact with his family? I wanted to like Tish, but everything she did screamed fucking selfish to me. There was not one time during that entire scenario where she went “hmmm, how is this going to effect other people?” Tish, you are a fictional character, but you are also not a very nice woman.

I liked the book enough, but I wish it was a billion times better so I could justify keeping it on my shelf because THIS COVER <3 Which doesn’t actually match the story, since I don’t think either of the women are redheads. Or was Claire and I just pictured her as a blonde?

I don’t know anymore.

One StarOne StarOne Star