Book review: Icy Sparks

Icy Sparks I often say I’m not drawn to a specific genre or time period when I look for books, but there’s something about the 50s that draw me in.

In Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio, we’re treated to the story of a 10 year-old by the same name who, while growing up in rural Kentucky, tells her story of isolation thanks to her jerks, croaks and eye popping.

Her affliction, though not mentioned until the epilogue, is of course Tourette’s. Growing up as an orphan raised by her loving grandparents, Icy begins to feel isolated from her small community. Once her secret is out in the open, she feels constantly judged and alone. Often she escapes to the basement when the twitches come, just so no one will see her.

She isn’t alone though. Her grandparents, along with Miss Emily who is an overweight woman who frequently hears whispers about her from the women in town and can connect with Icy like no other. Miss Emily and her grandparents teach Icy that being different, doesn’t mean she’s an outcast and shouldn’t be proud of herself.

Throughout the book you really get the sense of Icy’s 10-year old perspective on life. You feel her frustration when she can’t control her urges, as hard as she tries, and the subsequent embarrassment she feels when people call her out. It’s should be a sad story, but though she’s only 10 you just feel Icy is strong, and has enough sass to pull through and grow stronger.

My issue is with the end. After discovering religion, and singing in (multiple) choirs, it miraculously helps her deal with her issues. Since it’s set it in the Southern States, it can be expected, but for me it came across as very convenient and too clean. I give Icy Sparks a 3/5. If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Fall of Giants: A giant novel worth reading

Ken Follett’s fictional account of the events that lead up to-, the battles of-, and after effects of the First World War, felt like a historic retelling of one of the major cultural turning points of the modern era.

Fall of Giants is the first in a series of epic novels that, through fictional characters and representations of actual ones, takes the reader through 13 1/2 years of wars, revolutions and cultural movements. The characters span across the globe in five different families (American, German, Russian, English and Welsh). Each of the people introduced in the book cross paths at one point or another, whether it be an American diplomat coming to the aide of two Russian slum-raised teenagers, or Ethel the former housewife of Earl Fitzherbert of her village rising up in the political ranks and making an adversary of him in the process.

Follett tells these individual stories, and many others with great attention to detail and with much research to backup the historical happenings of the time. I’ve said many times in my reviews that I’m more attached to novels that have a strong set of characters. I like to know as much about their lives as I possibly can like how their emotions handle different situations or in this case their political views. The characters are all pretty much set in their ways, so in terms of development, it doesn’t occur in most cases, but I feel for them when they’re defeated, even in the case of Earl Fitzherbert.

Another completely different picture of the war was painted for me after reading this. Follett is a respected author who has done many different war-themed novels, so I’m going to go out on a limb and trust the research he did into Fall of Giants. I kind of guessed much of what I knew about the war was propaganda and that it wasn’t the entire picture. Follett takes the reader into the mindset of the average labourer in England or Russia and shows just how conditions were for them, and why things happened the way they did. He also shows how the powers of the time dealt with the events leading up to the war, and eventually those that ended it.

It took me a long time to get through this 985 page beast, but I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t picked it up already I highly recommend you do so. I give Fall of Giants a 4/5.

The best of 2010: Top 5 Movies

Along with books, I’m just as big of a fan of movies. This year I haven’t seen as many as I normally do, but nonetheless here is my top 5 list for 2010. As with my top 5 book list, I’ll post a link to the review I did earlier in the year in case you want to check it out for more info:

5. The Social Network

Garnering a LOT of hype this year was the fictional adaptation of the origin of Facebook. To make it to #5 on my list says a lot for how good this movie was. I was not a fan of the idea of making it, but I was given the opportunity to watch a screening of it, so I said ‘hey, why not?’ I ended up enjoying it a lot, hence #5.

4. It’s kind of a funny story

This one probably won’t win any awards, because it appears to have flown quite under the radar. What makes this one so great for me is how it deals with the issue of depression and suicidal tendencies amongst teenagers. Zack Galifianakis’ role in the film is also a bit of a surprise, since he’s not overtly trying to be comedic, but instead as a patient in the psych ward of the hospital, has meaningful dialogue and shows he can act well. Check out more from my review from October 11.

3. Black Swan

This one had a lot of hype, going back to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) so I’ve wanted to check it out for quite some time. Natalie Portman’s performance was the best I’ve seen from her. She transforms herself into a timid ballerina dancer who is getting “old” and has one more chance to shine in the leading role of the Swan Princess in “Black Swan”. As the movie progresses we see her character unravel and become taken over by the character of the Black Swan, who she’s had trouble grasping. It was quite a trip to watch, and will definitely be a conversation maker with people who’ve seen the movie. Go watch!

2. catfish

As with my review, I’m not going to say much about this one because the more you know, the great the chance it will be ruined for you.

1. Waiting for Superman

This was a tough, emotionally draining movie to watch, as it showed real world examples of how the education system in America is failing. I highly recommend this one and would love to hear your thoughts on it, if you’ve seen it. Here’s my review from October 13: Waiting for Superman

While this year’s crop of movies was good, I think last year had a lot more gems to choose from. Looking over my top 5 list from 2009, I still want to go back and watch each of those movies – I hope this list has the same staying power.

What movie made it to the top of your list for 2010?

My review of Generation A

Douglas Coupland’s (most?) recent novel, Generation A, is book number 10 in my 26 in 52 Challenge. It caught my eye while trying to use up a gift certificate I got for my birthday last month. This one was billed as the new Generation X, and meant to take a look at storytelling in the digital world. I’d read a couple of his books already (and reviewed one or two on here) so I thought I’d give it a go.

The premise of the book is about five young people who lived in separate parts of the world, and were all stung by bees within about a few days of eachother. The quirky part is that bees are extinct (which is a bit of social commentary on where we’re headed anyway, but this time with a twist, which I won’t reveal). After they’re stung, government-types come and take them away and they become media sensations. They’re each put in secluded rooms and are studied to find the properties that attracted the supposedly dying/dead species to sting them in the first place.

Eventually the five connect with one another and after a sequence of events end up sharing fictional stories together. Each person told about two stories, which were probably the most interesting part of the book. For example, the one of Bartholomew who had been around since cave man times and had developed the English language. He helped take it from ughs to proper grammar, but eventually language started to degrade into txk sp33k, which caused Bartholomew to become disengage himself from the bastardized language. One day, after he noticed it was too silent, Bartholomew discovered that the rapture had come and taken everyone away, except for those who hadn’t accepted the new way of speaking.

This was a weird book for me to wrap my head around. Compared to the other stuff I read by Coupland, this one seemed a bit science fiction-like, which threw me off. To me there was little flow between the fictional tales told by the five sting victims and the reasons for the plot as a whole was a little outlandish. The book did however take a look at storytelling, as mentioned, which is something we don’t do very much of (verbally anyway). We’re often stuck on our mobile devices or writing our lame blogs, but creativity sometimes falls by the wayside in favour of immediacy of a message. It’s a good reminder to sit back and let those creative juices flow; it’s always there, you just have to pay attention.

My final verdict for Generation A, is a 2.5/5

Jessica at RoundLetters shares a different opinion of the book and it’s a good read for comparison if you get the chance.

If you’ve read the book, tell me what you thought about it!

My Top 5 fiction books of 2009

If you know me, you know I like to read. I figured it was natural to make a top 5 fiction books of 2009 blog as my next post in the series. Unlike my other reviews, these will be the best books that I’ve read in 2009; not necessarily ones that were published in 2009.

I’ll soon be posting my top non-fiction books of the year, but until then you can tell me what you think of this list, and what your list would look like.

NUMBER FIVE

White Tiger

I only picked The White Tiger up because I had a gift certificate to Chapters; that and it looked interesting of course. I believe this was Aravind Adiga‘s first book, and it was published in 2008, so right off the bat we’re not talking about books from this year. Honestly I had seen a few people reading this on the subway so when I went in to Chapters it caught my attention. Contrary to what the book cover said, White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Recognition for books isn’t a big selling point for me, but seeing others read it is, so I’m sure having the exposure it got from the award went a long way to seeing it on my bookshelf.

On to the story: The protagonist Balram Halwai spends the entire book writing a letter to a Chinese official named Wen Jiabao, who is set to visit India. Balram explains the true side of India, not the one the officials will boast about, and to do so he writes about his past and how he got to where he is today.

My biggest issue was the connection to the Chinese official. I Adiga could’ve come up with something better to tie in Balram’s recollections. Otherwise it was a great book and it shows the extreme class difference in the country, which isn’t something people are generally exposed to.

NUMBER FOUR

Schindler’s List

When I bought Schindler’s List I’d obviously heard of it’s great success as a book and movie (which I have still not seen) and I wanted to join the club. I was a little skeptical about how the book would read. I thought it would be page after page of sad stories and an overall depressing book, given the subject matter. Surprisingly I found it to be extremely engaging and getting to know Oscar Schindler was a great experience. That being said, it wasn’t a book for the feint of heart. It had some pretty graphic situations and it made me appreciate what everyone went through in those exceedingly tough times that probably couldn’t even be put into words.

NUMBER THREE

Any Known Blood

Any Known Blood was the second book by Lawrence Hill that I’ve read, but it was published 10 years before his more recognized book “The Book of Negroes”, in 1997. This book is different from The Book of Negroes, but Hill’s writing style is equally captivating. Set in Toronto/Oakvlle and Baltimore this book follows Langston Cane the fifth on his quest to find his family’s history and write a book about it. The book travels back through 5 generations of Cane’s (all named Langston) and tells their story; each unique to the era they lived in. I really enjoyed the generational jumps and thought that was very unique. The only issue I had with that was since all shared the same name, at times it was a bit hard to differentiate who was who. Overall it was an excellent read and had strong characters, which I always try to look for in books I read.

NUMBER TWO

Three Day Road

I previously blogged about Three Day Road after I read it. It was a late-comer to the top five list, but a fast riser making it to number two. I’ll keep this review short. It’s a great book with amazing character development and a not-often-told perspective on Canadian history. Though the book was fiction, it was based on real events and as a reader, I felt a part of what author Joseph Boyden was trying to convey.

NUMBER ONE

The Book of Negroes

I can’t remember why I picked The Book of Negroes up, but I’m glad I did because it became not only my favourite book of 2009 but one of my favourites of all time; possibly the top spot, but I haven’t decided yet (there are many that are top-spot quality and I’ll eventually blog about this!).  I cant say enough how extremely well written this novel is. It blends fiction with the harsh reality of the time. I really felt like I was reading the life story of Aminata the protagonist as she was ripped from her village in Africa, sold into slavery in America and her many travels from then on back to Africa and the UK. This one book made me a Lawrence Hill fan for as long as he keeps writing.

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