“John dies at the end” by David Wong


artemisiconThe review on the cover of the book by Fangoria says that this books is “a case of the author trying to depict actual soul-sucking lunacy, and succeeding with flying colours.”

They’re not wrong.

I was actually introduced to this book backwards. When I still worked at the book store, a book called “this book is full of spiders” came in, and since everyone knew of my fear of spiders, they thought it was hilarious. I read the back and decided I was going to read it (much to everyone’s shock) and that book was absolute insanity. It was immediately after that that I learned ‘This book is fill of spiders’, was a book two. It was actually the successor to a book called “John dies at the end”. Unfortunately, it was years later that I actually read the book. When I realized a movie had been made, I vowed that I WOULD read the book, and it was actually the co-writer of this blog who gave me the book!

Because I read them out of order I had a SLIGHT idea of what I was getting into. Slight. David Wong is one of those writers that you don’t see too often. He’s up there with Douglas Coupland, and some-what Christopher Moore. In that sarcastic narrator that kind of sounds like they took all the drugs before telling you the story. But David Wong takes what the other authors had established and dials it to 11.

The majority of the story is told by our main character David Wong, as he narrates what has happened to him to a reporter. David sees ghosts, and spirits, and any number of wacky things. And him and his friend John help others deal with strange occurrences.

The story is heavily influenced by a drug called “soy sauce” (which I learned of through ‘This book is full of spiders’ so I wasn’t too surprised with what it does), it’s not a drug in the conventional sense. On top of feeling high, it gives the person unpredictable supernatural abilities.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book, because in all honestly, what I tell you won’t make any sense. The book is a ride that needs 100% of your focus, so you don’t miss anything. Time travel, floating people, alien drugs, murder, ghosts, this book covers it all.

The movie that was done doesn’t even dip a toe into the insanity that is this book.

I love books that grab hold of you and don’t let you go, for whatever reason. And this book was one of those. Not for it’s dramatics or its love story, the way other books grab you, but for the sheer sake of “what the HELL did I just read!?”. It is incredibly fast paced and nearly impossible to predict. Even all the way to the very end it keeps throwing curve balls and fake-outs.

It is narrated by the character so the story is told from his point of view, which also includes what he is thinking at the time (even when his mind wanders). This is not an uncommon method of story telling, but Wong has so much going on in his head and an off sense of humor that it gives the familiar method an unfamiliar voice.

Most people probably won’t like this book. I’m not going to lie about that. It takes a weird sense of humor to get into these books. But they are amazing and unbelievably imaginative, and a shame not to read.


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Anita Blake versus Lestat de Lioncourt.


artemisiconAnother series that was compared to me long, long ago, were Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake, and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

I started reading Anne Rice back in High School, I think somewhere around the time the ‘Queen of the Damned’ movie came out. I found out they were based on books (Interview with the Vampire was one of my favorite movies) so I started reading the books right away! In college, (I don’t remember exactly how it happened) another person in my class and I got talking about Anne Rice, and she told me if I like Anne Rice, I’ll like Anita Blake. If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know it was YEARS later that I finally picked up a Laurell K Hamilton book.

Once again, I saw no similarities, even less than Harry Dresden and Harry Potter. Both books contain Vampires. That’s about where the similarities end.

Laurell K. Hamilton’s series is about Anita Blake, a necromancer turned Vampire Hunter for the State. She does get entangled with the local Vampire coven and romantically involved with the leader.

Anne Rice’s series follows, for the most part, a French Noble turned Vampire. His trials and tribulations as he grows both as a Vampire, and as a personality, and eventually to a leader of his kind. Lestat does share some similar traits with Anita, both are sarcastic and a little bit childish, but where Anita’s personality is within normal limits, Lestat breaks any boundaries and creates a level all his own – even earning the title the Brat Prince.

On top of the main characters being really nothing alike, the stories are drastically different. Anita’s story takes place in current times as she battles supernatural creatures of all kinds and tries to find her place in the Vampire community. Lestat’s story, known as the Vampire Chronicles, actually bounces between other Vampires, like Louis and Armand, to tell a fuller, wider story. It starts way back in Lestat’s childhood (around the 1800s), and details his entire life as a teen, up until he attracted the attention of an Ancient Vampire, through his learning how to be a Vampire and gaining a following of both humans and Vampires. Because of their long life, the stories eventually catch up to current times (the times when the books were written since the series is very old: Interview was first publish in 1976). Both stories are very much a coming-to-age style, only Anne Rice does hers on a much larger scale.

The Anita Blake series is told from her point of view, so you see the story ONLY through Anita’s point of view. It does make the story interesting because you get to learn about Anita through her thoughts and reactions, and you learn about other characters through her impressions of them. The Vampire chronicles are told from that Vampires point of view, but in the sense they are literally writing their own books. Interview with the Vampire is written as Louis giving an interview, so you get conversation between him and Daniel, the boy interviewing him. All of the books in the series are done like the Vampire they are about are actually WRITING the book, so you always get their thoughts on the events, and only their point of view, but another book might come out written by another Vampire that overlaps and tells a slightly different version of the same event. The books are incredibly well written and interesting for that fact.

Certain topics come up in both books, and are dealt with beautifully, but those topics aren’t enough to call the books similar.

Both series are awesome, for entirely different reasons. Laurell K Hamiltons books are a quick fun read, where as Anne Rice’s are a bit deeper and dwell more on thought (their place in the world, religious ramifications, the need to kill to survive, etc), than actions. I loved both series and I’m first in line when new books come out (to the point I have all the new Anne Rice books in hardcover).

I don’t want a Vampire lover to miss a wonderful series because they are expecting one or the other. If you read my other Versus review, you’d know I likened Anita Blake to Harry Dresden, but Anne Rice is kind of in her own classification. If I had to compare her to ANYONE it might have to be Ken Follett. The heavily emotional stories that spans through generations.

I rather enjoy writing these Versus reviews, especially since people comparing one book to another shaped what kind of books I started reading. I wouldn’t have read Anita Blake, or Harry Dresden if it wasn’t for someone telling me it was similar to a series I had already read.


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“Rituals” by Kelley Armstrong


asteriaiconI once had someone come up to me and ask if I have ever read Kelley Armstrong, and I told them that they were too old for her. I felt, after finishing the Women of the Underworld series, that her writing was a bit juvenile. It was good, but light, and it lacked real substance.  I have grown up  more myself a bit since then and I have realized that perhaps it isn’t so much a lack of substance, but rather a light, fun, no-thinky read, and sometimes that is exactly what you need. I find myself always drawn to Armstrong’s work, it is like reuniting with an old friend, and find myself always having fun when reading her books. I still find them light, but that makes for an easy and fast read, and sometimes that is exactly what I am looking for.

Rituals is the fifth book in the Cainsville series. This series was an interesting combination of mystery and paranormal/fantasy and romance. I believe I have done a review on previous books in this series, so some of this may seem familiar. Liv Jones is in the center of an age old love triangle. The three are continuously reincarnated, destined to find each other, and live out the lives and mistakes of their kind. Liv must choose between two men, and in doing so, determines the fates of not only themselves, but potentially the fates of each blood line. These men, you see, are fae, each coming from a different species so to speak. Ricky is Arawn, part of the Cwn Annwn, while Gabriel is Gwynn, king of the fae, the Tylwyth Teg. Whomever Liv chooses means survival of that particular fae species. And Armstrong makes sure that it is a tough choice, as each man has incredible qualities that would make anyone fall in love with them. Sure, there are a few character flaws, but that is part of the fun.

In this particular novel, Armstrong wraps up the love triangle, all while fighting a new big bad that also wants to be considered in Liv’s choice. Though, consider is really not the right word, more like ensure they are the only option. The story starts out with the arrival of a character that has already been established to be dead, someone who threatens all that Gabriel has worked for in his life, not just his money and reputation, but his security, his safety, and probably most importantly, his relationship with Liv. There are many twists and turns and surprises along the way to the ultimate conclusion of the series.

I felt Armstrong did a great job of wrapping up all of the loose ends during the series. She made sure to bring little tidbits from the beginning right through to the end. I really enjoyed the various omens that would pop up here and there, and the gargoyles that were mentioned within each book in the series. It brought the whole town of Cainsville alive, easy to picture in your mind, and I loved the mysteries that Cainsville hid within its borders. I did struggle a bit with the fae lore, but I think that is because I am just still not accustomed to reading fantasy. Still, I was able to enjoy it, I just needed to take a second to wrap my head around it all. Tylwyth Teg and Cwn Annwn are really a mouthful! I also had a hard time not mixing up Gabriel with Clay from the Underworld series, as they really have a lot in common, and are written very similar.


I have read a few reviews on this book, and some people felt the ending was a cop out. I however, found the ending to be very satisfying and rather perfect. To me it showed real character development. Each character grew through the whole series, which I love seeing, but each character also learned from their reincarnated self’s mistakes.  Liv’s final choice was…to not make a choice. To choose not to choose. In the past, Matilda was forced to choose one side indefinitely, cutting off all contact with the other side. In choosing Ricky or Gabriel, she would have to choose one side of herself over the other, when in reality, she was both. She was both Cwn Annwn and Tylwyth Teg. She wanted to be able to ride with Ricky, either on his motorcycle or a horse, and she wanted to be with Gabriel.  Yes, one of these men was chosen romantically, but there are many kinds of relationships, and Liv found a good balance with each of these men.  And personally, while I did like both men, I had a favorite in this love triangle, and my man won so I found that rather satisfying all on its own.

All in all, I loved the series. I can count on Armstrong to be a fast read, yet a read that satisfies an itch, one that she alone seems to scratch. I may not be amazing with fantasy and romance genres, but she seems to make it a little more effortless for me. I love her character building and how she carries them through the series she writes, having them develop and grow. I love her richly detailed scenery, how you can picture yourself in the surroundings the characters are in. I love the fact she is from rural Ontario, I like supporting good female writers from our region (well Ontario as a whole I suppose). I love catching up with this old friend, no matter the series, no matter the age.

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“Sleeping Giants” by Sylvain Neuvel


asteriaiconI generally leave the science fiction reading to Artemis, as it is more up her alley, but this seemed really intriguing, and I just had to pick it up. I tend to shy away from sci-fi, I find it hard to believe, and harder to really wrap my head around, but this was just a perfect way to really get introduced to the genre. I kept hearing about this novel all over the place, seeing it in various articles around the internet, and hearing about it in a podcast, and I just found it too intriguing to not pick up.

The story starts out with Rose, a then eleven-year-old girl who gets a bike for her birthday. She sneaks out of the house to take her new ride for a spin, when she falls through a hole in the earth unexpectedly. She loses consciousness, and when she comes to it is now dark and there are firemen looking down on her with confused and terrified faces. The thing is, Rose awakens cradled in a giant metal hand, and the hole she fell in is really a square, held up by large metal walls that have glowing symbols carved in them. Flash forward seventeen years, and Rose is now head of the project to determine what this giant metal hand is and what its purpose is.

Through the progression of their research they determine that wherever the hand and walls came from, they are certainly not from Earth. The walls and hand are made of metallic material that does not exist on Earth in such large quantities. The giant hand is followed by the discovery of an arm, and a leg, and a torso, and other various body parts that have been scattered throughout the globe, and are joined together to make one giant female robot. Finding these body pieces have come at a price, with people from the general public dying during the process of discovery and excavation, not to mention the many laws and treaties broken internationally.

This is the first novel in the Themis Files series. The story is told almost entirely through interviews between an unknown, unnamed man, and various scientists, military personnel, and pilots. It is very reminiscent of World War Z in that respect. While this way of writing provides us with little in the way of action, we get to see the story progress in each characters own words, and even without action there is still quite a bit of suspense around what is happening. It also made for a quick read. I plowed through this book in a few days.

The interesting thing with this book is it looked at the concepts of morality vs mission, and the usage of technology as a whole. What are we as a society willing to pay as a price for technology? Is it okay to lose the lives of a few people? One hundred? What about one thousand? Are we using technology for the right reasons? What would happen if we did find alien technology? Would we use it for good? For evil? Who decides the use of such technology? Who even owns it; the specific country that started the search or the whole world?

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and cannot wait to read the second one. This is also a book I think would make a very good transition to the big screen!

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Harry Potter vs. Harry Dresden


artemisiconThis was a concept I’ve been tossing around for a while. Working in the book store people always gave me the title of their favorite books, and wanted something similar, so I was constantly trying to compare books. Our computers had a fun little function where it did that for you, so it was interesting to see what the computers pieced together.

Now, on that tangent, a long, long time ago a friend found out I was reading Harry Potter (this was before the last book even came out) and said if I like harry Potter, I’d like this series called the Dresden Files. It took me many, many years but I eventually picked up the first Harry Dresden. After plowing through the first several books I couldn’t understand HOW one book was compared to another, there was literally NOTHING similar. Literally, both main characters are named Harry, and they’re both Wizards. That’s it, the only similarity.

So, I thought it would be fun to start a Versus series with comparing the very first “If you like that, you’ll like this!” I ever dealt with!

Before we delve deeper into the actual story, the biggest difference is the books themselves. Harry Potter is classified as 9 – 12 (though “adult fiction” versions have been released so adults don’t feel so embarrassed reading them in public – I wish I was kidding), whereas the Dresden Files is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Potter is read through a third person’s point of view, where Dresden is 1st person. This gives both books a very different feel, and allows for Dresden to be as sassy as he wants to be.

Both our characters are named Harry, but Harry Potter is a 11-year-old, and Harry Dresden is in his 30’s. Potter is a child from Britain; whose parents were killed by an evil Wizard and to protect him, sent him to live with his cruel Aunt and Uncle. Dresden lives in Chicago, where he works with the police on crimes that are a little to weird for their paychecks, and runs his own business for people who need a Wizard to solve their problems. His mother was killed when he was a child, so his single father raised him. After his father’s death Dresden is sent to live with his Uncle, where he learns about his magic and how to use it properly. Admittedly, both characters are somewhat similar. They have a lot of the same traits (as do most hero-type characters) determination, strength, honesty, what have you. And later in the books Potter does get quite the sassy attitude. But Dresden has a bit of an edge because of his age, and the fact that although Potter has been through a lot in his short life, Dresden has been through more. This is already aimed at two different demographics. Not saying that each age group can’t read either book, but I wouldn’t recommend Harry Dresden for anyone in the 9 – 12 range.

Now, we can’t talk about Wizards without talking about the most important part; the magic! We all know how magic works in the Harry Potter world: swish and flick, and it’s Levi-OH-sa, not levio-SA. Potter’s magic is based on spells that were created and handed down, only being used through the magic of a wand. Most of their magic is wand and incantation, but there are potions, made from odd magic-based ingredients (gillyweed anyone?). Dresden’s magic is the complete opposite spectrum. Magic comes from within, and the only time a wand (or blasting rod) is used, is as a tool to focus their magic through. Dresden is good at LARGE magic, mostly for blowing stuff up, so if he needs to do a spell with a much smaller radius, he funnels it through his blasting rod. Wizards use incantations, but the language is their choice. Some use ancient latin to sound better, others use their own language, and some just use gibberish! Harry’s most common spell is “Flickum Bicus” …and if you think hard enough, I guarantee you can tell where it’s from. They aren’t using handed down spells, they are creating their own, sometimes using other people’s spells and spellbooks if they want to try something new, or are in a situation the spells they created can’t help. And their potions are completely different. I really loved how Dresden did his spells, it kind of rooted the story more in our reality, giving it a “what if?” feeling. He doesn’t use some obscure magic creatures blood, or a magically growing full moon mushroom. He uses ingredients that require all our senses, and usually uses pop as a base. He uses money in a love potion, or sunlight in an energy drink. And because Dresden is completely broke his spells seem completely thrown together and desperate, but lets his natural strength come through!

Potter is a boy thrust into the limelight because of surviving a killing curse. The books follow his life through school, and the slowly growing power of his greatest enemy. Even though they are kids books, they are absolutely phenomenal. They bring up issues many adult aimed books won’t even touch, and has created a generation of open minded, politically savvy, and creative children. Children who know the media lies, and that being different (in colour, sexual preference, nationality, etc) isn’t bad. Dresden doesn’t hit notes like that, but that doesn’t make it less of a book. Dresden is a Wizard for hire that works with the police in cases containing magic or anything occult. Dresden has to deal with werewolves, vampire courts, fairy courts, evil hidden in the Wizard council, and just all around bad luck. Dresden hits a different note through this; he’s not rich, not overly handsome, not overly strong or athletic, but he’s smart. And determined. Those factors get him through any situation thrown at him. He shows that you don’t have to be “special” to make it through life, you have to be determined and face any challenge head-on without giving up. Even if life kicks your ass the first few times.

Now, the point of this review wasn’t to say if one was better than the other. It was to compare because all these years, I had no idea how one could be compared to the other. And if someone is interested in reading one series because they like the other, I don’t want them to be disappointed because they are nothing alike.

I found Harry Dresden actually closer to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. Anita’s series is a female lead, and has a hell of a lot more sex, but at it’s root they are very similar. Both are written through the characters eyes, and both characters are quite spunky and sarcastic. Anita is a Necromancer for hire, who works with the local police on cases involving anything supernatural (though her cases are a little more bloody and gruesome). And Harry Potter is much closer to Percy Jackson – a demi-god raised by a single mother who spends his summers at a half-blood camp learning to harness his powers and inevitably saving the world.

I hope this review was interesting to everyone!

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“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot


asteriaiconI cannot believe we have had this blog going for this long and I have not yet done a review about this book. This is another one of my go to Swiss Army recommendations for just about anyone looking for a good book!

The book follows the life of Henrietta Lacks, or more importantly her family. Henrietta was a working class black woman, trying to make ends meet as a tobacco farmer. She was suffering from cervical cancer, and was receiving treatment. During the course of her treatment, cervical cells were taken from her without her knowledge or consent, and smeared in a Petri dish. Science had not yet been able to get cells to grow before, not until Henrietta came along, and changed the entire path for scientific research.

Lacks’ cells were the first scientists were able to reproduce, and reproduce they did. HeLa cells, as they became known as, are a huge multi-billion dollar industry today. They have helped the world over to create vaccines for such things as Polio, as well as other cures and medicines and treatments which have helped millions of people. Thanks to HeLa cells, we can understand gene mapping, which it’s a subject that hits home for me, and they can help millions of couples conceive through in vitro fertilization, a technique we could never have accomplished had it not been for HeLa cells.

Skloot, a journalist, has chosen to tell the story more through talking with the Lacks’ family. Her family is still working poor, and cannot even afford the health care that Henrietta’s cells helped to create. They did not receive one cent of the money generated from the production and sale of HeLa cells.

It really makes someone think. Life back then was so vastly different from what we know today, probably more so for a poor black woman. Her care would have been different than that of a white woman’s with the same illness in those times. Is it fair that her cells were harvested without her knowledge or consent? Certainly today this would not (or should not) happen in a first world country. Is it right that the family did not receive any monetary compensation from the sale of Lack’s cells? How it is right that the family cannot afford healthcare that might not exist yet without HeLa cells?

On the other side of the coin, where would healthcare the world over be without HeLa cells? How many people have benefited from the medicine and technology created by them? How much would we understand about various illnesses and how they evolve? Is the consent of one woman worth literally millions of lives?

It is a very interesting and thought provoking read. I believe this is also being made into a movie, and if I am not mistaken, I do believe Oprah is involved, which will definitely get the word out about who Henrietta Lacks was, and her unknowing contribution to science and modern medicine. At any rate, I dare you to read this and not debate where you stand between ethics and science.

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“The art of racing in the rain” by Garth Stein


asteriaiconThis book was recommended to me while I still worked at the book store by a local physician. He promised me that I would never look at a dog the same way again, and he was right. It quickly became one of my favorite reads and one of my Swiss Army picks when giving recommendations to people.

The entire story is told through the eyes of a dog named Enzo. Enzo is dying, and he is reviewing his life and all that he has learned. He believes that he is near the last stage of the reincarnation cycle, and the last stage is human. He is desperate to learn and remember everything he can about being human, in hopes that it will give him an advantage in his next life.

Enzo has a master named Denny Swift who is a race car driver. Enzo tells the story of his life with Denny, as Denny traverses  life from single to married to children and beyond, and relates it to all that he has learned about racing.

The novel just touched a part of me I didn’t even know I had. It was so lovely and sweet, yet sad at the same time. I laughed out loud at Enzo trying to understand what it is like to be human and how hard life would be without opposable thumbs. I cried when life took unexpected turns for Denny and Enzo, and how Enzo learned the downsides of being human and how much we can hurt and feel.

The writing is so beautiful, and I found myself loving the racing philosophies, a topic I know nothing about, yet it added such a uniquely wonderful element. I am more of a cat lover than a dog fan, but I loved watching life through Enzo’s eyes, and could envision any animal really trying to understand human behaviour and thoughts and feelings. I can also admit that I cried at the ending, it’s a five alarm snot-bomb so make sure you have tissues handy, but for a pet lover it still was the best ending imaginable! It left me with a magnificent feeling of hope for any pet. Stein was able to really convey that life simply isn’t about going fast!

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