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Running Santas

I thought I was crazy for signing up to do a 5K in the summer but I’ve signed up for another one. This Saturday morning I’ll be running with a bunch of like-minded people, including my girlfriend and two of my best friends, who thought it would be fun to run while in a full Santa costume. The rules say you have to run whilst wearing the pants, belt, jacket, beard, and hat, or else you’re disqualified. The medals last year were shaped like Christmas trees, so festive!

My girlfriend and I have been trying to get in better shape now that we have a vacation in February to look forward to. We’ve been doing some running on treadmills so hopefully that’ll help!

 

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Posted in book review

Melody’s Key Review

   Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Melody’s Key by Dallas Coryell in exchange for an honest review. 

I’ve never sought out a novel in the romance genre. My knowledge of what happens in these books is limited to the Chick Flicks and Nicholas Sparks movies I’ve seen. When Dallas Coryell offered to send me his novel in exchange for a review, I was excited at expanding my literary horizons. The premise seemed intriguing enough and I hoped the novel could hold my interest.

It did.

Melody’s Key is about Tegan Lockwood and her family who own and operate a sort of summer getaway for guests in a small English town. The Lockwood family is struggling financially to keep the business afloat and Tegan has known this for some time now. The Lockwoods’ luck seems to change when they host a special somebody for the summer.

Tegan is a complex and interesting character who always seems guarded. She is quite well fleshed out throughout the course of the novel and always able to make relevant nerdy pop-culture references. Some of the other characters that we spend a lot of time with are just as interesting. Mason, Simon, and Ryleigh in particular felt like characters who you grew to know and care about. This is done so well, that when Tegan receives a figurative gut-punch near the end of the novel, I felt it too. Not an easy feat. The relationships that Tegan has with all of the characters felt real, and this is probably why.

Tegan also has a special relationship with music. The cover photo shows the keys of a piano and it’s an important piece of the characters’ lives. It was a nice bonus that all of the songs mentioned in the novel were on Dallas Coryell’s YouTube page for a listen. It added another layer to the novel. The author seemed quite knowledgeable about music but some of the technical speak in the novel kind of lost me. Luckily, it was only once or twice.

The overall writing of the novel was well-done. The novel flowed well. The chapter titles were creative. The banter between the characters felt very natural. However, sometimes there were sentences that seemed very mechanical or stiff. Something about them didn’t seem quite right.

Either way, I enjoyed my first foray into the romance genre and thought this novel was pretty good. Check it out!

4/5 Stars

 

Posted in book review

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review

Ever since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I’ve always looked for new ways to rediscover the magic of Hogwarts and the magical world presented in these novels. I went to the midnight release of books 6 and 7. I’ve watched the movies. I’ve been a part of Pottermore (I’m a Hufflepuff, a Thunderbird, and my patrons is an Ibizan Hound).  Of course I was excited when this novel (or script) was announced.

I can’t honestly say what my expectations were other than I hoped for a new story involving Harry Potter and co. It’s hard to say goodbye to loved ones, and after reading Harry Potter from the ages of around 10 until the age of 16, he felt like a loved one. Heck, I’d spent more time with him through the novels than some of my extended family members who I still love. I welcomed the chance to say hello again and peek into his world.

I am now 25. Harry Potter is 40 in the Cursed Child. His son, Albus, spent most of the play as a 14 year old. Unfortunately, I found it pretty hard to relate to either character too much. Much of the supporting cast failed to make an appearance. I was disappointed that much of the play took place in the past. I felt that this decision was stupid.

Boy, was I wrong. After I took time to reflect, I realized just how often I dwell on the past. “What if I had said that? Why didn’t I do ______?” I realized this was precisely what J.K Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne wanted. In this way, I found that I did relate to the characters. Harry obviously carries a lot of guilt about the sacrifices made in the war against Voldemort. His son, Albus, carries the weight of Dumbledore and Snape on his shoulders. He has big shoes to fill because of the things they’d done. Not to mention his dad is Harry Potter!

The contrast between Albus and Harry is great. Albus has a Malfoy as a best friend. He’s a Slytherin. Harry even tells him that he’s more Ginny than Harry. We see Harry struggle with parenthood and even with married life, we see Ron and Hermione rediscover love, we see the beginnings of a friendship between old enemies. These are moments we didn’t have in the original series and in the end, we know that the characters are successful at this point in their lives.What more can you ask for?

The original 7 books dealt with a boy wizard who would rid the world of a big bad Dark Wizard. They also dealt with growing up, falling in love, creating mischief, realizing your faults and doing things in spite of them. Essentially, the parts of the books which weren’t about fighting Voldemort, were about life. In that way, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child captures this beautifully. The story might leave a bit to be desired as soon think of it more as a character study than a new story but it was enjoyable, it kept me hooked, and it brought me back to a world I cared about.

3.5/5 Stars

Posted in book review

Alien Busters Review

     Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of Alien Busters by Safa Shaqsy in exchange for an honest review. 

Alien Busters is not the first work published by Safa Shaqsy, but it feels like it could be. The Finite Series is also available by her, which disappointed me because it meant there shouldn’t really be any excuse as to why the writing in this novel was so amateur. As a reader, I expect an author to give me their best work. There are always clear signs that a book was or wasn’t proofread and unfortunately, this one falls into the latter category.

I’m not certain if English is the author’s native tongue but it is hard to overlook some silly mistakes. If this is the case, some very minor research or reading other books could have fixed it. The author writes whip cream instead of whipped cream, proudness instead of pride, and Adam’s apples instead of Adam’s apple. She lazily says till instead of the full until. There are awkward sentences like, “I turned to Kraig for explanation who was also checking out the cave”, “…I sensed that the Insitute is evolved somehow to my parents death”, and “Was to run for our lives and to find a safe place to hide in”. Yes, that last example is the full sentence.

The narration style was first-person and it was told in the past tense. And present tense. Sometimes both in the same sentence. This was a persistent problem that lasted the duration of the novel and would easily be caught if somebody edited or proofread it before sending it out for review. For example, the narrator says,”Then I remembered my snow outfit when I was a baby that my parents kept in a box inside the garage, hoping that someday it will snow in the city.” The simple will instead of would gives this sentence two different tenses.

This was not the only problem I had with the mechanics of the novel. Another big issue was that the dialogue formatting was off. Conversations were clumped into long paragraphs, often leaving me confused as to who was speaking to whom. There was quite a bit of exposition that seemed unnatural. The author seemed to want to give all the information upfront and it didn’t work. Right on the first page she mentions that a scanner would scan alien corpses spread on a land with dry, cracked ground. Two sentences later, she says that Alien corpses were scattered everywhere on the dry land. This was also only the first of many instances of redundancy.

There were some grammatical mistakes, mostly involving commas and apostrophes. There were also many instances of sentence fragments. Sometimes the author’s word choice was off-putting and lead to confusion. Sentences were just poorly written and never revised. It was as if the author had a deadline and handed in the first draft a minute before the final product was due. The narrator describes a hallway as being unreachable while already standing there. At one point she mentions that she is joined by other members of her team. Later on, two of these other members are described as Isabel’s friends. Even later, someone mentions that she was joined by Team 5. A reader shouldn’t have this much trouble keeping things straight.

When I read the blurb about what the novel was, I thought it was a cool story idea. This is what drew me to reading the novel. However, the idea was executed in a less than desirable way. All of the story beats were good, and in a perfect universe, they would’ve been written in a way that engaged me as the reader. Like I stated above, all writing problems kept causing me to disengage from the novel. I had to stop, reread, and think about what the author was trying to say.

This was just Part One, and I knew that before I started reading the story. I went in hoping that I would finish it and be curious about Part Two. Unless the writing vastly improves, I can’t honestly say that I’ll be checking it out. Reading this novel felt a bit like a chore and I don’t want to feel that way again.

2 out of 5 Stars. If you can get past the amateur writing, I’d maybe give it a 3 1/2.

Posted in book review

The Couple Next Door Review

Oh. My. Goodness.

Talk about a book I couldn’t put down. I read this book in 3 sittings, stopping only to go to work. Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door was a book full of twists that kept me hooked. I thought I had figured out the story, then I thought I was half-right, and then I realized there was much more to it than I had pieced together. And the ending, whoa.

Marco and Anne Conti have a six-month old baby. They leave the baby home alone while attending a dinner party next door, having agreed to take the baby monitor with them and check on the baby, Cora, every half hour. When they return home at the end of the night, Cora has been kidnapped. The mystery of who kidnapped the baby and where she could be is then set in motion.

This book keeps you guessing. Again, it’s very hard to put down. I have a feeling this could be the next The Girl On The Train, in the sense that it becomes a worldwide phenomenon and has a blockbuster movie adaptation made out of it. I thought it was a great debut novel for the author. I know some people have issues with the ending but I thought it made sense.

I had a minor issue with the writing where it felt that Lapena was telling a lot instead of showing. Also, the first perspective change kind of threw me off because I wasn’t expecting it but then I got used to it. If these things don’t bother you, you might have no issues with this book.

4.5 Stars

Posted in book review

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

I’ve read a few of Neil Gaiman’s novels before, though not for a few years now, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I was as enthralled with one of them as I was with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The closest thing was probably Stardust or American Gods, but those were the first two of his novels I ever read.

The strangeness of this world was so fascinating to me as a reader. I often found myself thinking of the novel when I wasn’t reading it. It’s not a long read by any measure of the imagination but for someone whose free time seems to be dwindling, I had to read it over a number of sittings. I wanted to know exactly what was happening at the Hempstock farmstead that allowed fantastical things to happen in the nameless narrator’s world 40 years prior to him arriving in Sussex for a funeral.

The characters of Lettie and Ursula were intriguing, with both having mystical properties to them. I enjoyed seeing the escalation of the narrator’s feud with Ursula. The way she affected others around her was also intriguing. It’s my understanding that she is the one who made the boy’s father discipline him in the ways he did, but I could be wrong. As a grown man, I found myself a bit terrified of this being.

My curiosity was piqued however at the old world where the Hempstock and the fleas came from. I wanted to know much more. Neil Gaiman did a great job of building this world, even with just a peek behind the curtain. I would love to read more stories set in this place.

Neil Gaiman’s novels are always peculiar and a bit absurd and this one was no different. He has mastered this presentation in his novels. The surreality of this novel worked so well that it felt natural to have an ocean in a bucket or a hole/gate in a jar.

“You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”

4 Stars

 

 

Posted in Off-Topic Tuesday

Off-Topic Tuesday: Motion City Soundtrack

My favourite band broke up. The Minnesota-based Motion City Soundtrack went on their farewell tour this year after announcing they were splitting up. I didn’t get to make it to their local show during this tour but that’s okay. I would’ve really liked to go but I’m trying to be smart with money and save towards big purchases such as a house. Besides, I’ve seen them 3 times already.

Their latest album, Panic Stations, was likely my least favourite album of theirs but even then, it was still really enjoyable. I first started listening to the band in 2005 after somebody played Everything is Alright for me. I actually have an Everything is Alright shirt which I love, but that’s beside the point. After hearing that song, I gave both of their released albums a listen. I couldn’t get My Favorite Accident out of my head for a long time. Some other standouts were Make Out Kids, The Future Freaks Me Out and LG FUAD. Something about Justin Pierre’s lyrics really struck a chord with me.

      A few years later, they released the album Even If It Kills Me and it impacted me deeply. This CD was always played when I drove my mom’s minivan around. I loved how pop-punk it was and it lead me to finding other pop-punk bands that I now treasure. The songs on this album always meant a lot to me. I even have some lyrics from Can’t Finish What You Started tattooed on my arm. On May 14, 2008, I saw Motion City Soundtrack for the first time at the Honda Civic Tour with Panic Station (of the OC’s California theme song fame), The Hush Sound, and Panic! at the Disco. We didn’t even stay for the headlining act but I was overjoyed at going to my first ever concert and seeing my favourite band.

I started university in September 2009 and had a weird relationship(?) with a girl on my floor in residence. After a few months of being strung along and waiting for something to happen, I was pretty upset at how things were turning out and I started to feel a bit emotional when I’d think about it. I would go to bed and listen to the lyrics from this album and it really helped get me through that time. By March of 2010 I was in a relationship with another girl. When I listen to the album now, it always brightens up my day.

My love for this album is incomparable to how much I like any other albums. This might seem like a hyperbolic statement but I think it’s actually true. I often toy with the idea of writing a novel using the songs as an outline but I’m not informed enough on the legalities of using a band’s material as the source for a book that I’d plan to sell. Maybe once I’m actually an established author.

In 2010, My Dinosaur Life was released and while it wasn’t as great as the previous album, it was still good. I saw the band at the Vans Warped Tour and they nailed their performance. They played a lot of my favourites again and I had a great time. Eventually they announced a fifth album, Go, and released it. It was quite different from their previous albums. I found it to be pretty mellow, but this was still great by me, I really enjoy  listening to mellow music while I’m doing other things.

Somewhere between the release of Go and Panic Stations I saw them perform for the last time, probably at Warped Tour again, and again, really enjoyed the performance but some of my favourites were left off the setlist to make room for new songs. After this, I discovered Justin’s Book Narcs YouTube videos with his wife and started to watch. I felt an even greater connection to the band for some reason because I knew some of the books I had read had influenced his writing. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m sure this happens to other people too.

By the time Panic Stations came out and I gave it a listen, I think they had changed a lot from their first album. I understand that bands evolve but I think the members of the band were all evolving in different directions. By this point, there were some side projects happening, Tony Thaxton left the band, and I think they had run their course. Again, it saddens me that they called it quits but I’m also glad they didn’t keep it going if they weren’t passionate about it anymore.

It’s great to hear other bands cite them as an influence. I think they did a lot for the Pop-Punk genre in the sense that their success led other bands to be discovered and the spotlight was shone on other Pop-Punk acts through places like AP and other magazines/websites. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll find a new favourite band, but Motion City Soundtrack, and specifically Even If It Kills Me will always have a special place in my heart.

 

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Reading Shouldn’t Feel Like Work

Reading should not feel like work. Unfortunately, the book I’m currently reading, feels exactly like work. It might be because it’s a translation, or its historical fiction which requires some previous knowledge, or it might be neither of these things. Either way, I’m not enjoying this book very much and I feel that this is stalling my blog posts.

I could force myself to get through it for a review but then I feel like it’s doing the book a disservice and I should come back to it when I’m in the mood. I think what I’m going to do in the meantime is read another book and slowly get through Look Who’s Back.

What would you do in this circumstance?

Posted in book review

Book-Sponsored Run

As you may know, I recently did my first 5K. I’ve been looking for more to do and I came across a neat one called the Turkey Trot. What I found neat is that it’s sponsored by an online bookstore. All participants get a free book upon completion of the race. I think it’s a wonderful way to encourage people to read more.

Sadly, I can’t participate because I’ll be away on that day but I really hope I can find more races like this and find myself some more books. You can never have too many 🙂