artemisiconI will be moving in a few days,  and I’m not completely sure when the internet will be hooked up at the new place. I hope it will be relatively quick, but we all know how internet companies work. If there are no reviews next Thursday, don’t worry, it’s probably just because I have no internet. We shouldn’t be more than a few days without, so we will be back the week after!

We are also trying to build the audience to our blog because we would love to start doing things for our readers! So if you really enjoy some of our reviews, please share them!

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“Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan


asteriaiconThis is another book where I had seen a review in a magazine and found it rather intriguing. When we finally got a copy in the book store, I jumped at the chance to read it. The book is a sad story, which had to be pieced together from Cahalan’s family, her friends, and her physician’s accounts, as well as hospital records.

Susannah Cahalan was 24 at the time she got sick. She was in a new relationship, with a promising career as a newspaper journalist ahead. Then one day, she woke up in a hospital room, strapped to a bed, deemed psychotic and violent, and had no memory of what happened to her.

It started with a bed bug bite, which is still unclear as to whether it ever really existed. She started having seizures, and started to behave peculiarly. She started demanding things, began having hallucinations, and became paranoid.  Her boyfriend and family struggled with how to help her, since they had no understanding of what was happening to her. She saw physicians and all thought that she partied too much and just needed to settle down, or they thought that she was having a mental break. She was labelled as psychotic, bipolar, or schizophrenic. As her illness progressed, her psychotic episodes got increasingly worse, and increasingly more frequent, until one day she was hospitalized and strapped to a bed for her safety. She most certainly would have died, had it not been for one physician who had recognized her symptoms as a relatively unknown disorder.

Cahalan has Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare disorder where the patient’s body is incapable of regulating itself. The patient first begins showing bizarre psychotic behaviours and wild mood swings, which leads to incredible sensitivity to light and sound, eventually leading to catatonia, and ultimately death. She was very fortunate to find a physician who was able to recognize the symptoms and save her life.

For me, this story struck home. My dad had been sick with a physiological disease, which was misdiagnosed as a number of mental illnesses before one physician finally realized what it was, all because it was something rare and relatively unheard of. Cahalan’s main agenda with writing her story is to raise awareness of her illness, which I can fully appreciate. Maybe it can help another person escape the suffering she had to go through.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was very open and honest, and it shed light on just how little we know about the human body. She raises some interesting questions about mental illness, how we treat people with mental health issues, and how they are viewed. Perhaps in some instances these people are suffering from a physiological issue, rather than just a mental one. Cahalan was fortunate to survive, though she is not completely unscathed by her ordeal. I liked that she didn’t paint herself as perfect, in fact she didn’t really establish a base line of what her personality was before she got sick. She pieced her illness progression through various stories and points of view so she could understand what truly happened to her and now is merely trying to get her life back on track.

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“The coldest girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black


artemisiconSince we are in the middle of moving, all our books are packed away, so I’m reliant on the books people have let me borrow. This book was one of them. Last time I went to visit our friends, she loaded me down with a huge stack of books. Literally my night-table and reading shelf are loaded with her books. The other books she gave me are part of different series, so I wanted to start this one because it was the only one I had.

I’ve never read Holly black, but through working in the book store, I know OF her. I never had any ambition to pick up her stuff, which is what’s nice about having friends who read completely different authors and genres than you do. I knew nothing about this book, I wouldn’t even read the synopsis of it. I wanted to go in completely blind. Knowing my friend, I knew the book should have had some kind of supernatural twist, but I wasn’t 100% sure.

That leads me to the actual book …which starts out with an absolute bang as our main character Tana wakes up hung-over in a bathtub. Typical teen party story, but when she went out into the house and found everyone dead, that’s when I was hooked. In this story vampires are a thing, and to stay alive, when the sun goes down people lock themselves in. But at the party someone had accidentally left a window open. As Tana tries to get out of the locked-down house she remembers another similar crime where after murdering everyone, the vampires laid with the corpses to await the following night. This created an awesome sense of panic because Tana was alone in a house of dead people, which could also potentially contain the creatures that killed them all. After finding a boy still alive (and infected) she hears a door deep in the house open. Then it was a race to save herself, the boy, and another vampire left chained up in the corner of the room.

The thing about this book was I could look past the obvious stereotypical teen writing, and actually enjoy the over-all story. It was blatantly obvious that Tana would fall for the teenage vampire boy who was only ever described with attractive pronouns and some kind of jewels for eyes. Even though the romance made no sense, I could look past it because it wasn’t detrimental to the plot. It was just there. Even the love triangle I was expecting wasn’t really there.

What kept me hooked in the story was the lore. A vampire, essentially on a bender, infected hundreds of people, and they in turn infected thousands. The virus spread so quickly it started showing up over seas. The virus only turns into vampirism if the person drinks human blood, if they manage to fight through the “Cold” they can sweat it out in 88 days. Because of human rights, instead of killing off everyone, they quarantined towns with the biggest vampire break outs and called them “Coldtowns”. Vampires became internet stars by showing live feeds from inside Coldtown and their eternal parties. At the same time, Vampire Bounty Hunter shows started playing on regular TV of people hunting the vampires that are outside of Coldtown and murdering innocents.

I’ve read a lot of vampire books throughout my life and they all have a different take on what would happen if vampires were real. This idea I really like. With everything that has happened through history (and sadly, today) the mass reaction to fear seems to be a concentration camp; to lock away what scares them.

People who even THINK they could be infected are asked to sign themselves into the Coldtowns, and if they are not infected, they can hire a bounty hunter to bring in a Vampire to trade for a Marker to let the human out. Humans can also sign themselves in if they want, because some people become so obsessed with the Vampire lifestyle that they want to turn away from their normal lives.

The plot, the lore, and even the main character are all super interesting and well done, if you can look past some typical teen writing, it’s actually a relatively good book. It’s an easy read, very quick, but even the way she writes is interesting. The chapters alternate through the characters to reveal more of their history and the history of their world. If you’re a YA reader, and enjoy vampire stories, this is definitely a good one.

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“The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure


asteriaiconI came across this book while visiting my mom in Toronto. We spend a nice lazy afternoon walking around Costco, and naturally I gravitated towards the book section. I had never heard of this book before, but the synopsis won me. After all, I think I have established I dig me some good WWII fiction. I ended up buying a copy for myself, and a copy for another friend who also is fascinated by WWII anything. I am a firm believer that if we do not seek to remember and understand our past, we are doomed to repeat it in the future.

The novel takes place in Paris during WWII, where the architect Lucien Bernard just wants to stay unnoticed. He doesn’t have much empathy for the Jews; he wants nothing to do with them, or the trouble that follows them. One day a very wealthy business man approaches him, and asked him if he would build a secret hiding space for a pretty price. Lucien is conflicted. If he helps the wealthy man by building a space for the Jews to hide, he risks the wrath of the Nazis, which most certainly will lead to his death. But, he can really use the money in these difficult times. He decides to help him out, just this once. When he sees how his clever work has outsmarted the Nazis however, he can’t help himself but take the business man up on his offer when he is asked again for his help. Now his pride is at stake, and he is extremely proud of himself, and wants to see if he can do it again. He makes a series of secret hiding spaces, all with great success: until one fails. While the business man ensures him there was nothing he could do, Lucien feels incredibly guilty. He is now connected to the Jews, and feels the death is his fault. How can he make this right?

What a wonderfully written story. The author has done some research for the novel, and he makes the sections of the book regarding Nazi torture very realistic, which was the hardest part of the book to read, harder still to know that the torturous acts were most likely written on true events.  The author truly has a gift of bringing Paris alive. He writes incredible detail about the streets and the buildings, the smells and the sights. I was so enthralled by the story; everything felt so real, even the fear of the Nazis, where a simple sound scared me. It is an incredible story about how one small decision can change your viewpoint, and in fact, change the course of your life.

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“Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds” by Kara Richardson Whitely


asteriaiconI came across a review for this book in a magazine and found it intriguing. As a plus size woman myself, it was interesting to find a book where a plus size woman set out for a dream, regardless of how crazy or dangerous it seemed, and realized it despite her size. I immediately ordered the book online and read it voraciously when it finally arrived.

Kara has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro before, the first time successfully, but the second time she failed. She is ashamed of the failure, and determined to make it this time. This time though, she has gained a significant amount of weight during and post pregnancy. It is easy to do in our busy lives. Now she sets out to realize her dream of climbing the mountain again, at 300lbs. I think my favorite thing about her story was that she didn’t wait until she had lost a lot of weight to see her dreams through, nor did it end with her losing a bunch of weight when she finished. She set out in spite of it, and didn’t let it hold her back. To me, I found that very empowering.

Kara is very relatable. It is hard to not see yourself in her. She sets out to do something that is rather difficult for a fit person, and she does it despite people telling her she can’t do it. People stare at her and make fun of her, after all she is the largest person on the trail.  I hurt for her as she wrote about how hurt she was and her feelings of just wanting people to know she was worthy. It is hard to not feel her pain. She struggles with self-image issues and food addiction, and it is easy to understand her shame and guilt. She was brutally honest and raw, and I appreciated that. I didn’t want to read a fluffy tale about her adventure and it being perfect and easy. I loved that she did the climb not just for herself, but she raised money as well through pledges, with the money going to a charity that helped orphans with AIDS.

If you want to read a great story about overcoming adversity, being true to yourself, not giving a fuzzy brown rats ass about what other people think of you, please give this a try. I lent this to a friend, another plus size woman, who ended up reading it twice because she found it so powerful and empowering. If you like honest and real, this is about as honest and real as it gets.

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“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde


artemisiconAll our books are packed so once we move I promise to update all my pictures!

I know, this review is kind of out in left field according to the regular books I read. But I’ve read so much about Dorian Gray through pop culture, and so much about Oscar Wilde for that matter, that I couldn’t help but pick it up.

Many sources create their own version of Dorian Gray, which led to an image of him being created in my mind. Suave, gentlemanly, sexual, devil-may-care attitude. Even the modern show Penny Dreadful’s has their own version of Dorian Gray, and he follows along those lines as well.

So when I started reading the book, I was not prepared for the hateful, emotional, juvenile, and all out brat that is Dorian Gray.

That’s not to say it ruined the book; this was the original version of Dorian Gray, and the other stories are the romanticized versions of his life the book ghosts over. Reading the book NOW, instead of when it was published, I didn’t see it as scandalous. Then again, I live in the age of HBO and 50 shades of grey. At it’s time, it was incredibly scandalous and I can understand why.

Dorian was an impressionable youth who was praised for his beauty. So much so, that it became all he cared about. That’s not to say he wasn’t intelligent, or talented, it was that his beauty was all that was seen of him. He develops a sort of relationship with another man who opens his eyes to a new way of thinking. This led to Dorian’s downfall. He was taught almost everything is fleeting and what people praise as good and just, are just ideas. He awakens Dorian’s vanity and flames his self-love even more. He is slowly learning that there really are no consequences to any action, and he loves the way Lord Henry can turn a room and astonish, inspire, or disgust everyone in it.

Dorian then hires an artist friend of his to paint his portrait, out of vanity. But once the painting is done, it absorbs any evil and cruel thing Dorian does, leaving him young and beautiful. Dorian goes on a modern day bender, which I think is where it was left open to interpretation for a lot of modern telling because Wilde hinted at sex parties and opium dens, but those were only spoken through rumor. (I really need to look into my copy and a few others, because apparently around 2011, an uncensored version was published!)

His cruelty saw no bounds, and neither did his vices. This book was seen as scandalous, and Wilde painted in a horrible light, but instead of trying to be a fluff-piece, he wrote it as a cautionary tale. A young man sold his soul for youth and beauty, an in turn watched his moral compass crumble and things he may not have considered in the beginning, were common place by the end. Even murder didn’t make him pause. The book raises a lot of issues on internal beauty vs. external beauty, and art vs. life.

It was a short book, a little bit of an odd read because it was first published in 1891. But, it is an interesting tale, and even without the balls, opium dens, and magic, still rings true. I read it to find out the original story of a common pop culture character (I think I’m up to 6 references that I know of), and I don’t regret that. It was a good book, but not something for everyone. If you’re interested in classics and about Dorian Gray’s original concept, I’d recommend picking this book up.

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“The Martian” by Andy Weir


asteriaiconI had first heard about this book on my weekly podcast I listen to about books, and they seemed to really enjoy it. There are 3 regular hosts to the podcast, and each has different reading styles that they prefer, and this seemed to appeal to all of them. It was routinely recommended to read, and then it was mentioned it was going to be made into a movie, so I decided to give it a try. I, myself, as a child, thought about becoming an astronaut, and thought about it again pre-university, so I knew this would ring my space bell nicely.

Mark Watney is one of the first astronauts to walk on Mars. He is one of a crew of six that travel to Mars, gathering samples and test materials to see if it can be inhabited. When a sudden, violent, dust storm kicks up, Mark is separated from the rest of the crew as they race to their ship for safety. They believe he was killed during the storm by flying debris, and have no choice but to leave the planet before they are killed by the storm as well. What they didn’t know was that Mark was hurt during the storm for sure, but he was not killed, and they have now marooned him on this planet. Mark knows that he does not have enough supplies to survive until someone can come for help, that is if he can even reach NASA and let them know he is alive in the first place. It is a harrowing tale of survival, and never giving up hope.

Mark happens to be an incredibly smart guy. He isn’t just your run of the mill astronaut, he also happens to be a botanist and an engineer. He uses what little he is left with to try to prolong his life. He finds a way to let NASA know he is there, he finds a way to maintain shelter, he finds a way to ration out his food supply, and he finds a way to utilize his own feces as fertilizer to grow potatoes, furthering his food situation. Throughout the book, Mark is met with one dilemma after another, knowing if he fails he dies. You just can’t help but root for a guy who just does not quit (even though you know he has to keep finding a way to survive, otherwise the book would be much shorter).

The author has done a tremendous amount of research for the novel. It can be very scientific at times, and for those that may not be versed in science, it might be a little too much. I found it to be just enough to keep it interesting. The writing was very witty, and the most enjoyable part of the book was the daring rescue mission at the end. Due to the author’s research, the book was believable, and raised the questions I am sure NASA scientists are looking at regarding what would happen if we as a society tried to travel to Mars. If you dig science, if you dig space, if you dig a character that just refuses to give up hope, this is a great read for you!

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