Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Waking Dark: Dark, Terrifying and impossible to put down!

The town of Oleander has always been picture perfect. Until the day that would become known as "The Killing Day". On that day, five murders take place, and all of the murderers except one die by their own hand. The one left has no answers for a shattered town. No reason for why she killed, no idea if she'll do it again. As life starts to resume in this sleepy little town, something dark begins to awaken in the people. Something that causes them to descend into madness. Now, five survivors of Killing Day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself- but will they succeed before it's too late to save even themselves?

The five central characters are all ordinary teens from different backgrounds. There's Daniel- a 17-year-old who tries to look after his little brother, while his father, known as "Preacher"  goes off on his crazy crusades. ,Jule- a sad and lonely girl from a dangerous and crazy family who tries to avoid the leering eyes of her mother's latest loser, Ellie- who has taken up Christianity with a new zeal, and believes that everybody can be redeemed, West- the golden boy football player on the outside who hides his homosexuality from the world, and finally Cass- the "baby killer" who survived her post-murder leap out a window on the Killing Day, and believes she's been abandoned by her family and left to rot in whatever place she's been locked up in. As the story progresses, the five find each other, and band together to try and stop this unknown evil.

This is definitely one of the most frightening books I've read in a long time.  I've seen it compared to Stephen King, and I'd be inclined to agree- or at least with the assessment that it can stand toe-to-toe with the masters of horror fiction to whom I was addicted in my early teens. What makes it so frightening- and compelling, is that the there's no immediate explanation. The people haven't become zombies. There's not some apocalyptic event that can be pinpointed as the day everything changed. The Killing Day seemed as completely random and inexplicable as is the sudden shift in the behaviour of the town's people, snf it's not until about 3/4 of the way through the book that the author reveals what's really been going on.

We've all had violent thoughts at one time or another. Thought about how good it would feel to just do exactly that thing you wanted to. But we don't. And we don't because we are generally rational people who understand that there is a right way to act and a wrong way. What if that part of your brain that kept you from doing those wrong things was stripped away? Can seemingly ordinary people be "made" to commit violent and evil acts, or, is this evil perhaps inherent in all of us, and when stripped of our inhibitions, are our true natures revealed? This is the big idea that the teens struggle with throughout the novel, and it's terrifying. How easily could you let go of those inhibitions that keep you from giving in to the ugliest part of yourself? I like to think that it wouldn't be easy for me at all, but as the author illustrates, neither did the people of Oleander. Even more interesting a question, is which you is left when it's all over and everything goes back to normal? Is it the one that existed before, or is the evil, ugly you that was capable of those unspeakable acts?

The characters are well-developed and compelling, and I was fully invested in each of them. They weren't extraordinary. They were real, they were flawed, and they did the best they could under the circumstances. The plot moved at a breakneck pace, the writing is masterful, and like the best horror films, for as much as I was personally disturbed/terrified by many of the things that were taking place, I couldn't take my eyes off the page, and I had to find out how the story would play out.

Due to some extremely graphic and disturbing content I wouldn't recommend this for readers under the age of 15, but for those who can handle a truly horrifying horror novel, this one should be at the top of their lists when it releases in September.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Laughing Wolf & Fortuna: Teen Time Travel Adventures

Published in 2009, Laughing Wolf  introduces readers to a future society, set in the year 2213. Fifteen-year-old Felix Taylor is the last person on earth who can read and speak Latin. Technology has eliminated war, crime, poverty and famine, but has also obliterated the need for books, and the study of history. When a mysterious plague breaks out that has scientists baffled, humanity is on the brink of extinction. The cure, discovered by Felix in one of his "useless" history books, is a flower found in ancient Rome extinct for more than 200 years. Now Felix must travel back to Roman times and retrieve the flower before it's too late. It will take all of his knowledge of history and languages to navigate through the dangerous world of Spartacus, Pompey, and Cicero if he's to succeed in his mission.

In Fortuna, publishing this August, One year has passed since the Plague was cured, and the world has for the most part, forgotten about their close encounter with death. Technology exists to suppress emotions and wipe memory, creating a dangerously detached society. Just when it seems life has pretty much gotten back to normal, the world is under threat once again. Someone has discovered the time machine, and used it to project back into the past, and attempt to reverse Felix's success in curing the plague. To make matters worse, that someone is a person who is close to Felix. With the help of his friend Carolyn, Felix must travel to the time of Julius Caesar, and a later era divided by religion to stop the reemergence of the plague before the world turns to dust.

Spanish Philosopher  George Santayana famously wrote in his 1905 work The Life of Reason "

“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”, and this is the central theme of Canadian author and high school history teacher  Nicholas Maes' Felix Taylor Adventures. 

Imagine if one day we simply decided the past didn't matter, and history was no longer studied or remembered. Not a big deal right? After all, history never repeats itself right? We'll never make the same mistake twice, right? We know that not to be the case, but that is what the majority of the people in Felix's society- including the President- believe. Reading and the study of  history and languages is antiquated- unlike technology, which surrounds him. Luckily for Felix, (and the world) his father has insisted on a different sort of education. An education where he is surrounded by books, speaks Latin, and studies ancient history. 

Luckily for the reader, Maes' teaching background has enabled him to bring history to life in these novels, in a way that will keep easily-bored middle-schoolers engaged and turning the pages. Ancient history was violent and bloody, and Maes successfully captures these details in his writing. These details, combined with a survivial-of-the-world depends on you kind of quest make for a thrilling read. What Maes also does extremely well is to challenge his readers to consider the roles that history and religion play in our lives, and to understand how vital emotion and memory actually is. 

Whether you're a history buff or a sci-fi fan, these novels are entertaining and thought-provoking, and well- worth offering to tween readers.