Book Review: Stray: Memoir of a Runaway

Title: Stray: Memoir of a Runaway

Author: Tanya Marquardt

Format: Amazon First Reads Kindle Edition

Published: 2018

This was my pick for the month of August with Amazon First Reads.  Stray comes out officially on September 1, 2018.

Raw.  Powerful.  Emotional.  Heart wrenching.  These are all the feelings I felt reading Stray.  In this memoir Tanya Marquardt takes us on her journey when she was a teenager finishing up high school.  She decided to run away from home when she was 16 because the police in Canada could not do anything about it.

Her childhood left me so sad.  Marquardt has overcome a lot in her life.  She survived through abuse, a rough relationship with her divorced parents, and poverty only to relive it by writing about it.  This book reads a lot like a general non-fiction novel and I had to remind myself that this was in fact a true story.  My heart kept breaking with every turn of the page.

The ending is anti-climactic but again, it is a memoir.  I would have liked more closure at the end of the book, but, that is my opinion.  Overall this book was a powerful, insightful read.  I really commend Marquardt for staying focused on her education throughout her rough spot in her life.  Any more details about this book and it would be giving it all away.

I am giving this book 3 stars.  This book was well written and kept my interest.  It saddened me to think that there are children, innocent children, out there that live this life.  The ending just lacked and I would have appreciated to know the outcome of her transition from high school to college.  Obviously, she became successful as she wrote a book but the book just ends with her at an interview for college.  I felt like I went on this journey with her for a better life and she left me hanging.  It was a bit of a letdown after such a tremendous, powerful read.  Tune in next Thursday for my review of my advance reader copy of Sadie by Courtney Summers!

Book Review – Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
Jean Stringham
Paperback
2013

I’ve thought long and hard about this review, and I still don’t know what to say about it.
The book starts off with a prologue that has seemingly nothing to do with the next 2/3 of the book. A cowboy appears by magic on the day of the Summer Solstice [oddly, the same day I started reading this book]. Then in chapter 1, we’re suddenly on a farm somewhere in Canada.
So the family dynamic is a bit unique. There’s Mom, Dad and Daughter, which isn’t as weird, but then the grandmother – who the son hasn’t spoken to since he was a young kid – arrives from the Ukraine with her huge, man-eating dog in tow. We also have the less-than-typical family at the next farm – siblings and their grandmother. They’re also Ukranian. [Note: 3.8% of the overall population of Canada, and 14.8% of Manitoba are Ukranian – I looked it up.]
The daughter, Zo, has just been given a pet rabbit, Susie, and is teaching it to do hopping courses. The grandmother is hell-bent on chasing it around the house with a broom and shouting about vermin in the house. Which adds color, but…

Let me stop. The book is a bit weird and jumps around from thing to thing. A few things you’ll see in this book:
Family relations, including the dynamic of Zo’s grandmother trying to be a human being, which she mostly fails at. There are several instances where you just want to slap the bitch. Pretty much every time she’s in the book.
Lots of stuff about animals: the hopping course, sheep-hearding by dog courses, the Calgary Stampeed, the grandmother’s psycho crazy dog, etc. As a side note, though, I don’t know how Canada works, but in most countries, bringing a dog in would result in the dog being quarantined for six weeks. I would assume Canada is much of the same, though, but my google-fu tells me that only certain dogs don’t have to be quarantined and I’m not sure this dog fits that description.
Ukrainian everything – which is both good and bad. The author chose to use more Ukrainian spellings kevbosa instead of kielbasa, etc. I don’t care. There’s a glossary in the back if you get confused. But she italicized everything every time she used such a word. If a normal book talked about having kielbasa for dinner, they wouldn’t have italicized it, so why Jean thought she should here is beyond me. It was distracting and annoying and something a good editor would have pointed out. Another thing, the mysticism and Ukrainian stuff was interesting, but for somebody with absolutely no background in it, there were a few things I would have liked explained better. The magical aspects of the book, though… I wasn’t sure where the Ukrainian stuff stopped and the magic began or how intertwined they really were.

Some other concerns – I never felt a good voice for the author or the characters. Transitions were weak – sometimes there were entire paragraphs that should have been there for transitioning that weren’t – and Zo was in high school but sounded about ten. Also, serious climactic scenes didn’t feel any stronger than any other scene, and there were a few (especially in the last third of the book) that should have felt heavy while I read them. Zo living with her friends, for instance, felt about as serious as a slumber party.
I don’t at all buy that a five foot nothing size two woman could pass as a guy in the rough and tumble world of rodeo. Not without a lot of hazing.

I could tell that the author was really into animals. The descriptions of the dogs/cows/bull/sheep/bunnies were all great.
Sentence structure/grammar/that sort of thing were good.

So rating. I don’t know that I can give one to this book that I won’t want to change tomorrow. (I really have spent an entire day trying to figure out how to rate this book) It’s a decent showing for a first novel, but there are a lot of things that need tightened up. I think it would do better as YA than an adult book for sure. But I think it’s appeal – at least with the book as its written now – is small. So I think if you’re really seriously into Ukrainian things or the Calvary Stampede that you’ll want to read this book, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to you if you don’t.

 

July 19- Edit to add this note:  The author read my review and sent me a letter, explaining the background of the book.  *ahem*  Now, while I did discover that the book was meant to be YA (apparently I didn’t know this going in), it doesn’t change anything else I said.  Because the truth is that most readers find books by accident.  We find them in libraries and bookstores and yard sales.  And even if we find them online, we generally don’t get more than just the back cover blurb.
Besides, most of what I said above stands.  Knowing that the book is about Ukranian Mysticism (which, incidentally, I did know) doesn’t make it any more clear if you don’t know what Ukranian Mysticism is.  It also doesn’t fix the problems that I had with the book.

Writer Wednesday – Christopher Carroll

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Christopher Carroll, second son and third child of a Quebec Irish family born and raised in Ottawa Canada

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Raised with a love of books. Bed time was extended if we were reading in bed. For every hour of television or video games we wanted to watch we had to read a book of some sort. Dad wasn’t picky. It could be a thick comic. As long as we were reading something. That started the love affair.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’ve published about a dozen short stories in various mediums and have self published a half dozen collections of everything from pulp fiction mysteries to kink erotica and non fiction… self help pieces for alternative and risky lifestyles.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Right now I am working on a series of short (100 page) horror/thriller novels set around the concept of the empty miles of highways you find all over Canada. Ten minutes north out of any city and you find yourself on seemingly purposeless roads that look like they haven’t been travelled in years heading to parts of the country where there are maybe one person every ten miles.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Picking out Winnie the pooh books from the public library after church on Sunday afternoons to read with my dad that night before dinner.

What are your three favorite books?
American Tabloid by James Ellroy (picked it up at Union Station in Toronto to read on my first trip to New York. Missed most of New York as my head was buried in the damn book)

Richard III by Shakespeare. I don’t know why I like that play so much but I really, really do. I keep envisioning it playing out in Nazi Germany but still…

The Magus by Jon Fowles. It was gifted to me by a friend in Huntsville with the caveat that I’d only be able to read it when I needed it. I tried about a half dozen times and couldn’t get past chapter one. Then, after dropping out of University and getting dumped I found myself pouring through it three times in a week. It was magic. It set me right.

I haven’t been able to open it since.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
Five or six at any given time. If I read anything more then a hundred or two words of anyone writer everything I write for the next three weeks comes off like me trying to sound like them. And I can’t read Stephen King at all anymore or I end up mimicking.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book,
I am gone from the world until I fall asleep or someone kicks me in the head.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Re-read. Some books are worth it. Some books are complicated. Danielwski’s House of Leaves and J G Ballard’s Attrocity Exhibition have been re read about six times each (and I still have no idea what the hell they’re about!)

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very. Unless it’s the in thing. Then I’ll read it later. I just read The Millenium Trilogy. I imagine I’ll get to The Game of Thrones sometime in 2014.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very. My last job was special event coordinator for an independent bookstore. Pretty much my job was earning and recommending local authors. The only way we’ll survive these days as authors is through self networking… especially if we’re going the independent route and don’t have major publishing houses backing us.

What do you look for in a good book?
An interesting narrative voice. Someone with a good voice can write about their laundry list for a hundred pages and I’ll devour it. Someone could be talking about the end of the world by zombies and killer robots but if they write he said she said they did this he said this she said this they did this the sun rose they sat down he said this she said this they talked… ick.

Why do you write?
It’s therapy. It lets me close my eyes and shut off my ever critical brain and just vent out whatever is sitting inside me causing me grief. I know I’ll never get rich doing this. That doesn’t stop me. It gives me release and sometimes stuff I write sparks feelings in others. There is nothing more precious to me then that.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A monk Seriously. Cloistered in stone walls with books and quiet contemplation.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I honestly have no idea. Stories start for me with a monologue. A character starts talking. I let them talk. Then I close my eyes and see where they bring me.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I am a terrible editor, and self critical to an insane degree. And I am a lot more clever than I thought.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I think most of them are wishing I’d hurry up and get over it already. Even the most die hard of the highschool artists have settled down and gotten a decent paying job by now.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I’ve never heard a stereotype about writers.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
That first rejection shut me down for about twelve months. You don’t start great. Hell, you don’t even get great midway through. I think you get one really, really phenomenal story. The trick is to not ever let the last story you wrote be that one story. Always write one better.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh, no. I was an arrogant little twit when I started and I think I still kind of am. I just know, looking back on what I wrote then, that I was an absolute idiot. There is no such thing as pure talent. Don’t ever let anyone convince you there is. All talent needs three AM hammering it out on a keyboard practice. All skill needs refining. Back then I thought I could coast on talent.

Now I know talent is but a tenth of what is actually needed for success.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
The Walking Dead is awesome. I’d kill to work with Geoff Johns (DC COMICS) or Joss Whedon at least once before I die. Mostly, I would absolutely love to work on a Shakespearean revival. The Bard is cliche now and that irritates me because every single drama you can imagine he dealt with four centuries ago. Oh, and if anyone has the magic mojo to bring Lovecraft back from the dead for a book or two I’d love to work with him. He is the ONLY writer to ever give me the creeps.

How do you deal with your fan base?
With shocked awe. That anyone reads me stuns me. That people like what I write humbles me. They become my best friends. I try to be as nice as possible at all times.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know I’m not actually a crazy serial killer. I’m a normal guy who drinks beer, screws up really badly and sometimes worries too much about oral care.

Thanks for this
Chris

Book Review – My Orange Duffel Bag

Title: My Orange Duffle Bag: a journey to radical change

Author: Sam Bracken (With help from Echo Garrett)

Written/Published: 2008-2010

Format: Hardback

 

My Orange Duffle Bag is the story of a man named Sam, who was kicked out into the world by his mother at the age of 15 with nothing more than his orange duffle bag and a few clothes.  It deals mostly with his journey to not be another statistic, and to instead succeed at football and academics and later religion.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been excited to actually sit down with a copy of this book since the original self published version of it appeared at a booth I was part of during a book festival.  The self-published version was orange canvas, complete with a white zipper and full color pages and it was as beautiful and incredible as it possibly could be.

The version I finally got to review is the copy my library had; professionally published by Crown Publishing and missing the awesome zipper, but still awesome looking.

 

So, I popped a movie in and sat down with this book (ever the multi-tasker) and eventually turned off the movie and just finished this.  The book is about 200 pages long, but there’s a lot of white space and a lot of pretty layout, but it’s short on content so I finished it in just under two hours.

The book is divided into three parts – the first is a short history of his life.  Just a paragraph or so about a year in his life, boiled down to the most generic of story lines.  “Age 10 – I win my first track meet and my step-brother uses me as a human dart board”  Onto the next age.  And key points of his life – Age 18, I am baptized – are glossed over so quickly that you almost miss them.

The second part of the book talks about his time through college.  How he succeeded at football but doubly succeeded at academics because he set huge goals.

The third is over half the book and includes his “7 rules for the road.”

 

I was hoping for a little more, actually.  I think that Sam was trying to hard to be positive and uplifting that he forgot to tell us about himself.  I didn’t need a full memoir, but I wanted some sort of connection.  What I didn’t get anywhere in this book was EMOTION.

And what I didn’t get was what drew me to this book in the first place.  You see, after Echo got the book to my booth, I kept in touch with her and her brother Kevin Montgomery, who does a 50 states in 50 days concert tour to raise money for Echo and Sam’s Orange Duffle Bag Foundation.  So through them in other venues I’ve heard the stats.  Only about half manage to get a HS diploma, 2% get a four-year degree.  Over a quarter end up homeless.

And while Sam wasn’t formally in the system (he stayed with friends for random periods of time and bounced from house to house), the fact that this WASN’T him is a story that I wanted to hear along with the tips and tricks for being awesome.  Especially since a lot of these are common sense.  (The gist is want it and do what it takes to get there.)

 

Granted, the book is beautiful in any form.  Several of the pages could be really awesome motivational posters, and I wish they were.  And I think it’s a book worth sharing.

It’s not a top rating, but I’m confident putting it solidly in as a four out of five.

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