Things You Can Do on World Book Day…and Beyond

04.23.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / zaraalexis / @zaralibrary

There’s a day to commemorate almost anything from the birthday of a country on an international level to celebrating the joy of eating cupcakes to tacos. Then we have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, National Siblings Day, and of course, a day reserved to honour our furry pet friends. We’re a fickle people. Every day is a celebration of something, if not to celebrate the intimate, yet almost unnoticeable act of breathing.

But, I believe World Book Day should not be taken for granted.

According to the Huffington Post based on the study by The Organization for Economic Cooporation and Development (OCED) in 2012, Canada placed 17th in high literacy and numeracy rates, a lower ranking on the list compared to countries such as Korea, Japan, Netherlands, and Finland, the top-ranking countries consecutively.

Another report from the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network reported that 42 percent of adults have low literary skills, which leaves almost half of adult Canadians at an unfortunate disadvantage.

It’s an undeniable privilege, then, to be able to read—and to read freely.

Many countries inhibit women and young girls to read, or control what kind of literature is deemed acceptable by enforcing strict book bans.

In Canada, literacy is a powerful resource, one that is readily encouraged in schools, the workplace, and in our communities at large, including the social media community, which is now saturated with book publishers, book editors, book bloggers, book reviewers, and enthusiastic readers worldwide.

What you can do for World Book Day…and beyond:

Believe it or not, there is more you can do than simply read for World Book Day (but, don’t let me stop you from doing that because I wholly encourage reading on a daily basis if you can!):

  • Visit your local public library and borrow some new books or old classics. Consider reading a genre you’ve never tried before. Ask your librarian for book recommendations if you’re unsure where to start.
  • Join a book club. Check listings at your local public library or bookstore.
  • Create your own book club with friends and family.
  • Create your own free book library outside your home, a small space where books are left for neighbours to pick up, borrow, and/or trade. It’s based entirely on an honour system or a means of sharing books you’ve already read with your community.
  • Volunteer at your local school or public library as a reading mentor.
  • Donate books to your local school, hospital, or home care facility.
  • Attend book events and author readings in your community.
  • Read and buy literary magazines.
  • Donate to book charities or writing organizations.
  • Leave copies of books around your community for others to discover and read.
  • Read and review books online.
  • Rather than purchase toys or other expected gifts as presents for family, friends, and children in your life, invest in buying books for them instead.
  • Look up a new word regularly to increase your literacy and vocabulary.
  • Make some time to do a crossword.
  • Read with your children daily.
  • Create your own bookmarks and send them to family and friends.
  • Throw a book party to celebrate the launch of a new book or host a social for your book club.
  • Host a book giveaway.
  • Encourage others to read.
  • Make time to read on a daily basis.

***

How did you celebrate World Book Day today?

What book(s) are you currently reading?

What do you enjoy most about reading?

What funny book-related habits do you have?

Is there a particular book you highly recommend?

***

Zara

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New Cover Reveal: Wildwood by Jadie Jones

04.11.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

Last week, the president of the new boutique publishing house, The Parliament House, reached out to me about one of its new novels.

Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the book sounds like an intriguing paranormal, young adult fiction.

Take a look:

Tanzy Highwater is not crazy. At least that’s what she tells herself. She also tells herself that the shadows stalking her in the woods aren’t living, murderous beings.

On her father’s death, Tanzy is swept up by the woods and the shadows that took him. She quickly realizes those monsters lurking in the dark now have their sights on her. Neither Tanzy nor life as she knows it escapes unchanged when she is introduced to a world…unseen.

Two strangers seem too willing to help her navigate her new reality: Vanessa Andrews, a doctor’s trophy wife with a southern drawl, and Lucas, a quiet, scarred man with timing that borders on either perfect or suspect. But Tanzy has secrets of her own. Desperate for answers and revenge, Tanzy must put her faith in their hands as her past comes calling and the shadows close in.

With wild blood coursing through her veins, will Tanzy’s choices shed light on the shadows of her past, or will they bring forth the darkness within her?

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Author:

author - jadie jones

Young-adult author. Equine professional. Southern gal. Especially fond of family, sunlight, and cookie dough.

I wrote my first book in seventh grade, filling one hundred and four pages of a black and white Mead notebook. Back then I lived for two things: horses and R.L. Stine books. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and I still work with horses, and hoard books like most women my age collect shoes. Its amazing how much changes… and how much stays the same.

The dream of publishing a novel has hitch-hiked with me down every other path I’ve taken (and there have been many.) Waitress, farm manager, road manager, bank teller, speech writer, retail, and more. But that need to bring pen to paper refused to quiet. Finally, in 2009, I sat down, pulled out a brand new notebook, and once again let the pictures in my head become words on paper.

As a child, my grandfather would sit me in his lap and weave tales about the Cherokee nation, and a girl who belonged with horses. His words painted a whole new world, and my mind would take flight. My hope – my dream – is that Tanzy’s journey does the same for you.

Confession time: Jadie Jones is not my name. It’s a pen name I created to honor two fantastic women who didn’t get the chance to live out their professional dreams. First, my grandmother – a mother of four during post World War II America, who wanted to be a journalist so bad that even now when she talks about it, her blue eyes mist and she lifts her chin in silent speculation. And second, a dear friend’s mother who left this world entirely too soon. To Judy Dawn and Shirley Jones, Jadie Jones is for you. It’s been a pleasure getting to know her.

***

Links:

You can connect with Jadie Jones through her official website.

***

Be sure to check Parliament House for its new and upcoming publications.

***

Zara

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Book Review: Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

02.22.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Fiction

Author: Joseph Boyden

Format: Paperback, 104 pages

Publisher: Hamish Hamiton, a division of Penguin Random House Canada

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3338-6

Pub Date: October 18, 2016

***

Summary of Publisher:

An Ojibwe boy runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realizing just how far away home is. Along the way he’s followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting, and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.


Written by Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author Joseph Boyden and beautifully illustrated by acclaimed artist Kent Monkman, Wenjack is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

Wenkack by Joseph Conrad, is a small-length novella that packs a big, social punch with its imaginative retelling of the microcosmic story of Chenie Wenjack, of which the book is named.

It tells in a simple, stark narrative, the voice of an Aboriginal boy who attempts escape from a residential school with two other boys, following a secret path known only to those children who have attempted escape before.

As Chenie ventures his journey toward escape, Manitous, spirits of animals in the forest, accompany him as witnesses and alternative narrators, which guide him and his story along its way.

Though the book is only 104 pages and its narrative simple and plain, the weight of the story is a stark reminder of a dark part of Canadian history where Aboriginal children were taken from their homes against their will and forced into the inclusion of the residential school system with the intention of forcing full assimilation and eventually cultural genocide.

Readers are given first-hand insight into the terrorizing cruelty Aboriginal children had to face at the hands of their oppressors through Chenie’s narrative and mixed dialogue; the inevitability to speak English and yet intentionally attempt at self-preservation and to retain his original language in secret as a means of ensuring the survival of his Aboriginal culture.

The book touches on the types of abuse that Aboriginal children suffered while kept in residential schools, from being forced to speak only English and learn and practice Christianity, to being cruelly punished.

Punishment included different forms of abuse that were either enforced singularly or at the same time: from being forced to strip down naked in front of clergy, teachers, and/or peers; to being struck in the face or whipped until there were visible lashes; to being locked away in a cold basement for an indefinite amount of time; to being sexually abused.

If Indigenous children were not able to tolerate or survive such punishment, many children fell to the misfortune of disease, more abuse, exposure, or accidents, which led to an early death, while many of these abusive incidents and deaths themselves were intentionally not recorded.

The tone of the Manitous’ voices may have seemed somewhat indifferent, but were actually rather intimate in their witness of Chenie and his difficult journey towards what he had hoped to be his final escape.

From the crow to the hummingbird, to owl, and pike, spider, wood tick, beaver, snow goose, rabbit, and lynx—the manitous evolved as Chenie’s journey moved forward, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things, animals, and humans—and the great connection the Indigenous people have with nature.

While the book is a strong testament to the sufferings of the Indigenous children who suffered the oppression practiced in residential schools, and in particular, the story of Chenie Wenjack, I would have enjoyed seeing a longer narrative that perhaps shares a deeper look into the life of a boy like Chenie—a detailed narrative of how he was taken from his family and what specific things occurred to him and others while living in a residential school, what friends he made, and how his suffering eventually compelled him to make the decision to attempt escape.

The book is an important document to shine a light on the injustices that Indigenous peoples have suffered and a blunt reminder of the dark part of our Canadian history—one we must be mindful to rectify and ensure not to repeat.

As always, Joseph Boyden, is a remarkable writer, one who writes with a clear and concise voice, one who moves its readers to empathy, and a vivid understanding of his characters’ predicaments and drives. He is a favourite Canadian author and an important ambassador of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people.

And this is certainly an important Canadian book to add to anyone’s shelf.

Note: A portion of proceeds of the book, Wenjack, will be donated to Camp Onakawana, a Northern Ontario camp for First Nations youth. I encourage you to pick up your copy today.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3.5 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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About the Author:

author-joseph-boyden

Joseph Boyden is a Canadian novelist and short story writer.

He grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. Boyden’s father Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was a medical officer renowned for his bravery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was the highest-decorated medical officer of World War II.

Boyden, of Irish, Scottish and Métis heritage, writes about First Nations heritage and culture. Three Day Road, a novel about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during World War I, is inspired by Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow, the legendary First World War sniper. Boyden’s second novel, Through Black Spruce follows the story of Will, son of one of the characters in Three Day Road. He has indicated in interviews that the titles are part of a planned trilogy, the third of which is forthcoming.

He studied creative writing at York University and the University of New Orleans, and subsequently taught in the Aboriginal Student Program at Northern College. He divides his time between Louisiana, where he and his wife, Amanda Boyden, are writers in residence, and Northern Ontario.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Joseph Boyden on Twitter.

***

Zara

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Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

02.16.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Literary Fiction Fantasy

Author: Katherine Arden

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Publisher: Del Rey, division of Penguin Random House

ISBN: 978-0-3995-9328-4

Pub Date: January 10, 2017

***

Summary of Publisher:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

I was unaware of this book before it arrived to me, not only as a pleasant surprise but also as a curiosity. In reading its title, The Bear and the Nightingale, I had first thought the book was meant to be a children’s story targeted to middle-school children and that perhaps I had received the book in error.

But, gladly after having read it, the book became much more like a refreshing blessing, a way for me to return to my natural love of reading as I did when I was a child who had first learned how to read. I came to a fresh love of reading again—a reading with new eyes.

The gift of oral stories is that they are passed down from one generation to the next, and here, the novel is an entire, oratory gift; a written narrative of legend and Russian folklore, beautifully and masterfully written by a young, debut novelist.

The book itself, begins as a re-telling of folklore that has passed down through the ages; a way in which to entertain and engage the children by the heat of the stove, distract from the cold and bleakness of winter, and a way to keep the stories alive, both as a reminder of old ways—and as a way of warning.

What begins as a distant, fairytale narrative slowly transforms into the story itself with characters of this world and elsewhere intermingling in a fight first for common survival—from working the land, keeping the hearth, and providing daily sustenance—to maintaining and gaining religious and spiritual territory as a way of thinking, living, and thriving not only in the land, but hopefully throughout the ages.

It is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl who inherits her grandmother’s special, occult gifts, but is ostracized for them: her innate comfort and oneness with nature, her gift of sight for things unseen, and her ability to hear, speak, and connect with animals and mystical creatures as harshly judged and whispered by those in her community.

The characters are wonderfully vivid and unique, from the book’s central heroine, Vasilisa (Varsya), daughter of Pyotr Vladimorovich and Marina Ivanova, a young woman whose independent personality and headstrong temperament goes beyond the accepted roles of a woman in medieval Russia; to the frantic paranoia and maddening cruelty of Varsya’s stepmother, Anna Ivanova; to the zealous and self-righteous priest of extremism, who hides his own terrible secret.

But, what is most breathtaking about this tale of a novel, is its imaginative fantasy and magic, this other-worldly setting of startling frost, its beauty, but also its enticing danger, and the other-worldly creatures whose integrity and existence resides in the faith and actions of the townspeople towards them.

The original depiction of such fantastical creatures as the Domovoi, whose small squat and long beard resides in an oven, to the majesty of speaking stallions, and the regality, strength, and grace of Karochun, also known as Morozko, Winter-King, a death-god whose voice is the winter wind, are exceptional examples of such natural and effective writing that they become real and believable.

But, this is no fairytale for young children or the faint-hearted. What begins as an idyllic and pastoral setting and plot devolves quite graphically into dark and horrifying evil and the tests, destruction, and decay it brings, not only on the land, but to the spirit of the living—and the dead.

I moved from being mildly curious to quickly enthralled, intrigued, and then petrified.

This novel is more than its telling, a book layered with themes of oral history, folklore, historical acuity, political and religious power, spiritualism, magic, superstition, female empowerment, the perpetual fight between good and evil, faith, resilience, and of course, love—including self-love.

It’s a glorious book of storytelling, one that will haunt and mystify its readers for a long time after it’s done.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Del Rey for providing me with a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale, in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

author-katherine-arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Links:

You can connect with Katherine Arden on her official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***

Zara

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Book Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

01.25.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Paranormal Young Adult

Author: Alison Goodman

Format: Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC), 496 pages

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 978-0-670-78548-3

Pub Date: January 31, 2017

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Summary of Publisher:

June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman is the exciting second instalment in the Lady Helen series, a continuing story of the journey the protagonist, Lady Helen Wrexhall, must take as a gifted Reclaimer-in-training in the growing complicated world of supernatural, demonic Deceivers and the hard, political entanglements of the Dark Days Club.

While it would be beneficial to read the novel’s predecessor, The Dark Days Club, by the same author, first, to experience a richer reading knowledge of the series, it’s not entirely necessary in enjoying the novel itself as a stand-alone book.

Though I am the first to confess, I don’t naturally gravitate towards the Young Adult genre (since I’m almost three times the age of a young-adult and my literary taste usually lends itself to literary fiction, poetry, or the classics), I highly enjoyed this novel even more than I enjoyed its predecessor.

With its re-introduction of familiar characters and the incoming welcome of new characters to enrich the story, as well as a diversified, twisting plot, the pacing of the novel was quick and unrelenting in its skill to tease, lead, and interest the reader into continually turning all of its 496 pages with a frenzied anticipation.

It’s fantastical, in that, for its contemporary readers, its setting resides in the time of the Regency era in Great Britain best characterised for its upper class society, its renaissance of finery, arts, architecture, and propriety, while at the other end of the spectrum, also reveals the underbelly of  squalor, thievery, womanising, drinking, and gambling that existed at that time in the dingy alleys of the poor.

And then amongst that, the supernatural world of the paranormal: the Deceivers disguised to the the human eye except to those with Reclaimer gifts, whose intent is unclear except to feed on human antipathy and eventually kill its greatest threat, a direct inheritor of Reclaimer powers.

And while the layered plot moves quickly to reveal more of the book’s mystery, which deepens the urgency of the thematic fight between good and evil, it’s the ongoing repressed passion and chemistry between Lady Wrexhall and her mentor, Lord Carlston, that is the driving force in the novel.

Their physical and emotional connection is purposeful to furthering the plot and significant in giving the book its quintessential YA romantic flavour.

And grounded in these characters’ emotional typography, is an inevitable violence deemed by supernatural powers, which is both passionate, somewhat frightening, yet also reflects a tone of powerful sensuality—wrought with a foreboding destiny, much to the regret of Wrexhall and Carlston, whose interconnectedness and perpetual gravitation towards one another is always fraught with denial and a forbidden love, which is much to their frustration—and the reader’s—but makes for powerful reading.

But, readers will have to wait for the next instalment in the series, which will hopefully reveal the identity of the book’s Grand Deceiver, his/her eventual downfall, the destruction of the danger posed by the Deceiver community, and the outcome and hopefully rightful and just conclusion of Helen and Carlston’s forbidden relationship.

This young adult paranormal novel is a book propelled by action, mystery, violence, secrets, darkness, a fight against gender-norms and propriety, and the unplanned dictatorship of The Dark Days Club, and the surprising flourish of love and tenderness found in the least expected places.

It is, overall, a frenetic and enjoyable read and I wait impatiently for the next novel in the series to appear!

***

Characters: 4 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3.5 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Viking for providing me with a copy of The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2), in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

author-alison-goodman

Alison Goodman is the author of The Dark Days Club, the first Lady Helen novel, about which Entertainment Weekly said, “This fantastic introduction leaves us hungry for more.” She is also the author of the internationally besetselling and award-winning Eon/Eona duology, as well as the YA science fiction thriller Singing the Dogstar Blues. She was a D.J. O’Hern Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Master of Arts, and teaches creative writing at the postgraduate level.

Alison Goodman and her husband live in Victoria, Australia, with their irrepressible terrier, Xander.

  • From the novel.

Links:

You can connect with Alison Goodman on her official website, Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Zara

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Book Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

01.10.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Mystery

Author: Ruth Ware

Format: Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC), 344 pages

Publisher: Scout Press, imprint of Simon & Schuster Canada

ISBN: 978-15011-5177-4

Pub Date: January 3, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware begins the novel by setting the rest of its foreboding tone with a breaking and entering of the main character’s apartment. This triggers Laura (Lo) Blackwood’s anxiety and almost prevents her from taking a luxury cruise for which she is assigned to cover a story for the travel magazine she works for.

Because the genre of the book is a mystery, it’s expected that the novel is not character-driven, but rather rests its ambition in its deviating plot.

The main character, Laura Blackwood, who prefers to be called Lo, seems to be a highly agitated and insecure individual whose coping mechanism for anxiety and claustrophobia is to drink liquor, distance herself from the commitment of a serious relationship, and to continually second-guess the events that surround her.

While her tenacity in attempting to solve the murder mystery herself is commendable, her constant, internal dialogue read particularly paranoid and narcissistic.

A number of secondary characters, a few of the guests on the luxury cruise, are used to compel the mystery of the book, emphasizing the whodunit narrative, which is typical in the mystery genre.

The premise of the story is the unexpected sighting of what the main character believes to be a murder of a woman who resides in Cabin 10, hence the title of the novel.

But, with a history of anxiety, a prescription of antidepressants, and an alcohol binge that lasts into the late night, Lo Blackwood, while certain of what she heard and saw, is personally scrutinized and her reputation put into question until she, herself, is almost driven to obsession in trying to discover the culprit of the crime she adamantly believes she witnessed.

While the narrative itself wasn’t overwhelmingly well-written, and the characters lightly superficial, the work does take a number of turns, leading its readers to consider possible scenarios in the main character’s goal to uncover the criminal behind the alleged murder, which, sends a few welcome surprises in the plot.

And while the pacing is quick enough to keep readers interested if not only to come to the book’s conclusion in the hopes of discovering the truth of the crime alleged in the novel, the conclusion of the novel seemed far-fetched.

Because the narrative wasn’t moving in a way to propel me to the “edge of my seat” as some successful mystery novels are meant to do to keep readers fully engaged in the mystery of the detective-style story, along with the lack of depth in characters who left me indifferent to their susceptibility to suspicion or blame, even danger, as well as the unlikely turn of events for the main character at the end of the novel, I am regrettably left to give The Woman in Cabin 10, a disappointingly 2.5 stars, overall.

But, if you’re an enthusiast of the mystery genre, you’re welcome to take a look at the book yourself. If you enjoy light reading, don’t require character depth, or a gripping plot, and don’t mind unrealistic and potentially exaggerated outcomes—or plan on attending a holiday cruise anytime soon—this could very well be an acceptable book choice.

For those that have already read the novel, the lesson it taught me in reading it: don’t forget to pack your own mascara when travelling.

***

Characters: 2 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars

Dialogue: 2.5 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of The Woman in Cabin 10, in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

author-ruth-ware

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer.

Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and the follow-up The Woman in Cabin 10 were both Sunday Times top ten bestsellers in the UK, and New York Times top ten bestsellers in the US.  She is currently working hard on book three.

Links:

You can connect with Ruth Ware on Twitter and Facebook.

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What do you love about the mystery genre?

What is your favourite mystery novel?

***

Zara

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The “Joy” of the Christmas Season

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12.31.2016

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Albeit my previous post on how dreadful 2016 has been in lieu of all the terrible events that have taken place around the world, as well as all the wonderful people we have lost, those who were famous and those who were known personally to us— with only a few hours left until the arrival of the New Year, it seems there’s still a tinge of hope left, in that I’m starting to really feel the giddiness and joy that this season is meant to bring.

While we can often make the mistake of getting extremely worked up and stressed out about the challenges of attempting to make the holidays as wonderful and nostalgic as we expect them to be—what, with the number of presents to hunt for, buy, and wrap; to the work of putting up a tree; decorating your house in minus-25-degrees-weather; to the Christmas cards to write, buy stamps for, and mail out; to the number of social events you are called to prioritize and juggle in an already busy schedule, plus the time you need to plan and create a fantastic Christmas breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner—the season can become overly commercialized with tired and trying traditions that create more stress than they do, rest, relaxation, or happiness that they’re meant to be.

It was the other day, for example, that my family and I had planned to take our annual, Christmas family photo.

Instead of simply changing into some new clothes and going downstairs to take a photograph, I had spent far too much time lamenting over which piece of clothing to choose not only for myself, but also for my husband and my children, debating over whether or not we should coordinate our clothes, decide on a Christmas theme, wear winter colours, choose colours that won’t unnecessarily clash with each other or our backdrop, or whether or not we should dress up formally or dress down in only our pyjamas. On top of that, I couldn’t find clothes, that in my mind, worked. Most of the clothes that I had in mind were either in the hamper to be washed, too small to wear, or simply nowhere to be found, as in missing, nowhere, nada, gone.

Needless to say, something inside me just broke down. The stress of the holidays finally imploded into a hot mess of tears and a pile of mismatched clothing. I had become a Scrooge in my quest to pose for happiness. And if we had gone through with it, I would have made my husband and two children utterly miserable in the process.

But, my husband in his kind and tender wisdom held me close and said, “If it’s not fun or it doesn’t make us happy, let’s not do it. It’s okay. We don’t have to.”

And I knew he had meant it for more than just the family photograph or any Christmas tradition that we’ve upheld for a number of years. He meant it as a token of wisdom we could apply to ourselves, our life choices, our perspective and decisions as a family.

If the act of doing something causes more distress than it does joy, should we not give ourselves an alternative and seriously consider why we do what we do in the first place, and choose whether or not to continue?

He not only held me, calmed my anxiety, but also did a wonderful thing in telling me what he did: he released me from the obligation of traditions we’ve held in the past and reminded me of the value and significance of the journey one takes to meet an end result.

Success isn’t deemed on end results alone. True success is measured by life choices, which stem from good character, integrity, kindness, and love—the good stuff, the true gold.

The true value of Christmas does not rest in the consumerism, nor superficiality that sometimes people so often fall prey to during the season.

It’s not the cost of the gift, nor the shine of the wrapper, nor the boast of the fattest turkey and largest potluck dinner on the table. And it certainly isn’t about the clothes one chooses to wear, or the pictures that are taken to be posted on Instagram or Facebook later to commemorate your way of celebration. Nor is it about the number of gifts you receive nor the number of parties you’re invited to or choose to attend. And it certainly isn’t about how tall your Christmas tree is or how brightly your house is decorated.

The joy of Christmas particularly for Christians, originated from the joy of discovering the prophecy of the birth of Jesus—the Saviour, the King of Kings, the One who reigns on earth and in heaven—to actually come to pass.

And while most do not celebrate Christmas at all or Christmas from a Christian perspective, even so, the act of kindness, generosity, and love still rings true for many people during this season.

In the last two weeks leading up to Christmas, I have had a number of surprising things happen to me that helped restore my faith in humankind and remind me of the joy one can feel during the holiday season and also the joy one can create for others:

First, I had won four different book and film giveaways in a span of a week because of the generous spirit of publishing houses, book bloggers, and film enthusiasts:

  • I won my choice of a book from The Book Depository of up to $10 from the With Love of Books blog. I was privileged to be able to choose the novel, Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright, a book I’ve been excited to add to my book collection and read before I go and see the movie in theatres.
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  • I won a copy of A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket from Savvy Reader on Twitter and look forward to joining in on the scheduled Twitter chat on January 13, 2017. Winning this novel is certainly not an unfortunate event, but ironically a beginning to what seems to be good ones.

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  • I also won a multi-book giveaway from The Pop Culture Rainman blog, which includes the books: Canada by Mike Meyers, The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whithall, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, a collection of books that I look forward to enjoying over the holidays.

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  • And then I won advance screening VIP tickets from The Reel Roundup to see the movie, A Monster Calls, in Toronto on January 4, 2017, featuring actors: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, and Lewis Macdougall.

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And if that wasn’t enough to bring on the cheer of the holidays, an anonymous customer at my favourite Starbucks home location (Queen & Main in Brampton) bought a gift card of an undisclosed amount and asked the barista on staff to pay for everyone behind her until the money on the card runs out.

I happened to be one of the lucky few to be in that lineup and personally enjoyed a grande Pike with four shots of Praline & Chestnut syrup, courtesy of this anonymous customer’s generosity. I was not only pleasantly surprised, but touched to be able to experience first-hand what it is to be blessed by someone’s random act of kindness. It was an especially delicious tasting coffee that morning.

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Enjoying coffee and holiday drinks, courtesy of the kindness and generosity of strangers during the Christmas season. What a treat! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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On another day, I was asked by a frequent patron of the same Starbucks location, if I was expected to return to the coffee shop the next day. I said, yes, I had planned on returning, as was my usual routine.

The next day, during my stay at the coffee shop, the patron who I have had a number of conversations with during my visits to Starbucks and who I now consider one of my Starbucks friends, arrived unexpectedly with a Christmas card and a gift for me!

The thoughtfulness of this act was not only that we had not agreed on a gift exchange, nor did I truly expect anything from him, but that he had taken the time to write out in beautiful penmanship a lovely message in the Christmas card he gave me, as well as lug that heavy present with him all the way to the coffee shop, walking through the cold and the snow.

While he insisted that it was a small gift, to me, it was his genuine thoughtfulness that made the gift so touching.

What was the gift, you wonder? Hah! A large tin (2kg) of chocolate bicuits—to go with my daily Starbucks coffee!

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An unexpected, but thoughtful gift from my friend, Irvin. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But, the unexpected blessings did not end there.

The barista staff at my favourite Starbucks location—yes, on Queen & Main—presented me with a lovely Christmas card and a free drink!

Hey, it may not seem like much, but do you know how many stars I have to earn as a Gold Member to get a free food item or drink from Starbucks?!? 125 stars!!!

And because of the love from my Starbucks family at Queen & Main, those 125 stars fell from the Starbucks sky right into my coffee-loving lap.

Thank you, Hanh, Kat, Andrea, Ashley, Ryan, Karolina, Rona, Moe, et al. Thank you, most of all, for remembering my name, and knowing exactly what I love to order each and every time I come in to visit, and for making my drink exactly the way I like it.

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A handwritten Christmas card and special treat from the baristas at my favourite Starbucks location! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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On an entirely different trip to the coffee shop, I was given a $10 Starbucks gift card from another anonymous customer and was told that this was the way in which he/she was paying it forward. 

How blessed I was to be at the receiving end of these random acts of kindness.

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Christmas, itself, was an intimate celebration with family at my sister’s house. We had a traditional, potluck dinner, drank some wine, shared latest news, and laughed at our silliness (whether or not this was due more to the drink than our own conversation, I’m not quite sure). Overall, we had a good time.

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Our Christmas potluck dinner, 2016. (c) Photos and collage by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

And every Christmas Eve, we have an opportunity to see and spend time with family members we might not otherwise see that often. While the entirety of the Clan wasn’t with us this holiday, we were still able to celebrate with the gusto my family is well-known for.

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Celebrating Christmas 2016 with family. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
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The big kids and the little kids. Christmas, 2016. (c) Photos and collage by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

And, of course, the children enjoyed their favourite part of Christmas—opening their presents.

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It’s always a joy to see the kids enjoy opening their presents for Christmas. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

However it is that you celebrate the holidays, I hope it is filled with opportunities to spend time with loved ones, to enjoy an abundance of food and drink, and to be blessed with gifts of the season—especially books!

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The best way to spend the holidays is with your loved ones. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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How did you celebrate the holidays?

What was your favourite part of the holidays?

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Zara

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