Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

2/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 22 to April 13, 2014.

This book has been nominated and has won a variety of awards, to name a few: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2011)Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2012)Scotiabank Giller Prize (2011). It was also apart of CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads debate, which is what brought me to read this book.

I can see why this book won awards. The author is Canadian, the novel discusses the dangers of being black during the Nazis reign as well mingling in the ever popular topic of jazz. These are three areas/topics that many critics appear to check off their list as a part of a good novel. The dynamics of the characters and content sounds like they should make for a very interesting plot, and while at times it did, I felt very disappointed with this award winner.

Sidney “Sid” Griffiths is the main voice in this novel. He is the bassist in the German/African-American jazz band, The Hot-Time Swingers. Other important members include Charles “Chip” Jones on drums and the ever young and talented Hiero (Hieronymus) Falk on horn. Paul, Fritz and Ernst are the other minor and additional characters in the band. The plot surrounds the bands survival amidst the Nazis. Sid was born in America and can often pass for being white, while Hiero is a “Mischling” a half-breed; he was born in Germany with a mix of German and African blood. His skin tone is quite dark as a result, making it substantially more difficult for him to get around during the Nazi invasion. One of the pinnacles of the story is that the famous Louis Armstrong has extreme interests in the talent of Hiero and he wants to record an album. The story the reader is involved in the most however, is the ever changing relationship  that Sid and Hiero have and the eventual regret and mistake that Sid makes with Hiero in which he will come to regret his entire life.

The chapters in the story are separated by different timeframes. For example, the story opens up in Paris in 1939 when the band is attempting to record the album. The next chapter is in Berlin in 1992 and here we see a very old and miserable Sid Griffiths. The book does this flip flop, unsuccessfully in my opinion, of timeframes to give the reader an idea of how much time has passed and how long Sid has been living with his one major regret. I found that the chapters were choppy and didn’t flow as nicely as they could have. I found myself at times going back to read an detail that was vaguely mentioned in the past but ends up becoming more important in the future.

I also felt that this book could have been more concisely written. The story and concept is good but it was carried out inefficiently. For example, there is a flashback scene with Sid and Chip as teenagers involving some prostitutes, which I believe is meant to show how long the two of them had been playing together. While it’s one of my favourite scenes, I feel it does little to build either of the characters or their relationship at this point in the story. We’re already aware of Sid and Chip’s past at this point, so while the scene was entertaining it had little to do with the main conflicts or developments.

While Sid and Chip are dynamic and interesting characters they’re not the most likable. Sid is negative and serious and Chip is a bit sleezy. Hiero is the most innocent and likable character but you actually learn very little about him throughout the book. I feel that this was probably intentional but I feel if we had known more about Hiero it would made the turning point in the book by far more poignant.

Overall, this book is very dynamic and it has reached out to a lot of readers with its content and awards. I’m glad I read the book as I like to support Canadian authors but I don’t foresee myself reading anything else by the author.

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Filed under 2 Star, Canadian, Historical Fiction, Read 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

3/5 stars.
ebook, 784 pages.
Read from February 04 to March 20, 2014.

After many recommendations and a book club read, I finally got around to finishing Outlander. Unfortunately to all the major fans out there, I can’t say I’m raving about this book. I wouldn’t say that I liked this book but I didn’t fully dislike it either, hence the neutral rating. There was so much about this book that didn’t make sense to me or that I could relate to. I remember as a teenager listening to my Mom talking so fondly about this book but when I asked to read it (at the ripe old age of sixteen) and she wouldn’t let me. She feared the content would be too graphic and that the I might be traumatized by the amount of sexual and abusive violence or something. Needless to say, I am glad that I didn’t read this book as a teenager or I may have been severely horrified. With that also being said, I may have also appreciated the romance a bit more with my naïve teenage brain.

The premise of the story focuses on Claire, a nurse living in the 20th century who is separated from her husband and everything she knows and is somehow (and this was never fully described or given reason for in the book) magically transported to 17th century Scotland. You would think that this plot, the transportation, why she was sent back in time and the emotional turmoil something like this would cause on Claire would be the focal point of the book right? Well, it isn’t. Along comes Jamie, an extremely handsome, strapping, young (younger than her), fiery and red-headed Scottish solider who crosses paths with Claire when he is injured and requires the use of her healing skills. He saves her from a cruel Englishman suspecting her to be a spy (who is also a direct descendant of her husband back in the 20th century) and brings her back to a castle where the two of them are cared for under another Scottish family.

Both Jamie and Claire hit it off right away and what ends up happening is that they are forced to marry in order to protect both of their skins from the English. Now you would think that would be a pretty tense scene, right? I mean Claire is already married but in a different time and she has told no one of how she came to be in Scotland, but the scene only vaguely touches on her tiny bit of turmoil before skipping to the consummation of their marriage. The rest of the book, well, it was pretty much just one sex scene after another with a loosely based plot to keep the characters moving. So the continuous sex scenes on top of sappy romance really got to me. Don’t get me wrong, sex is awesome! I just wanted more details about the plot and for the writing to really get to the raw difficult choices and struggles that Claire had to make. She makes cheating on her husband seem like the easiest thing in the world by justifying that he technically hadn’t been born yet. I also don’t feel that she tried all that hard to attempt to get back home. She seemed pretty dandy in the 17th century and really didn’t question her position as much as I would imagine someone in her shoes to be. To make matters even sillier, Jamie was a virgin before he married Claire. Seriously? Where is the realism in that? A good looking Scottish man in the 17th century a virgin?! That’s ridiculous. What made Jamie even more unrealistic was how soft and in-tune he was with his own feelings as well as Claire’s emotions and feelings. I can’t see that a warrior of his status, regardless of his temper, got to where he was by being in-tune with his feelings and those of women, and especially by being a virgin.

There was a lot of sexual violence in this book. Surprisingly, the worst of it happened to Jamie in the end and Claire pretty much remained untouched, despite some of the situations she was in. As a reader, this content didn’t bother me so much, but I could see how it could be pretty disturbing to some readers. To add to the violence, Jamie also took at least three-major beatings by the end of the book. Yup, three.

All of these silly details really show to me that this book was written by an older married woman, for older married women who would rather be swept up in romance they can’t have instead of reading a captivating plot full of psychological turmoil and realism. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I read books to escape too, just not romantically (maybe erotically haha). Many writers make good money writing romances and the popularity of this book says enough in and of it’s self, it just didn’t work for me. It makes me a bit sad as I see so much potential for this book. The author has some good ideas, very likeable (even if unrealistic and shallow) characters and reasonably decent writing. It’s just too long, too vague on the emotion and details of the plot and too romantic. Sorry Diana, I won’t be reading any more of your work.

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Filed under 3 Star, Historical Fiction, Read 2014, Romance, TNBBC

Project Dermatillomania by Laura Barton

20959902
5/5 stars.
Paperback, Colour Edition, 100 pages.
Read on March 14, 2014 .

I won’t toot my own horn too much here (as I am a contributor to this awesome novel) but for people who suffer or who have suffered from Dermatillomania this book is one of the first of its kind. Project Dermatillomania is written by people who know this disorder and deal with it everyday. They know what it feels like to be alone with the condition and through their own bravery and dedication all came together to share their stories to help others know that there is hope. These stories are personal, they’re artistic, beautiful and raw; ranging from pieces of art, graphic design, pictures and poetry from people from all over the world. They give an insight to the turmoils of Dermatillomania which is meant to be standing point of hope for sufferers and a basis of understanding and a resource for those that love them.

Having worked with all the people who helped bring this book together has been a blessing and I have made some great friends. I’m very proud of myself and of each of the individuals who have made this book possible. I highly recommend this book for anyone with Dermatillomania or for anyone who loves someone with Dermatillomania. Here is the purchase information:

All proceeds to be donated to the Canadian BFRB Support Network and the Trichotillomania Learning Center.
B&W Edition – Purchase – S13.99
Colour Edition – Purchase – $20.19
***An ebook edition is currently in the works***

If you have any questions or comments about the book please feel free to ask me. You can also reach out to: projectdermatillomania@gmail.com.

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Filed under 5 Star, Biographies/True Stories/Memoirs, Non-Fiction, Read 2014, Self-Help