Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: The Ghosts of Nagasaki

The Ghosts of Nagasaki

Title: The Ghosts of Nagasaki
Author: Daniel Clausen
Publisher: Self Published
Published: December 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 248
Dates Read: April 1-15
Source: Received from the author
in exchange for an honest review
Add to Your TBR List on Goodreads
My Rating: 3 Stars
Snippet That Stuck With Me: "For a moment they are solitary stars, tied together by an invisible shoelace. "(pg. 108)

Synopsis:
One night a foreign business analyst in Tokyo sits down in his spacious high rise apartment and begins typing something. The words pour out and exhaust him. He soon realizes that the words appearing on his laptop are memories of his first days in Nagasaki four years ago. 

Nagasaki was a place full of spirits, a garrulous Welsh roommate, and a lingering mystery. 

Somehow he must finish the story of four years ago--a story that involves a young Japanese girl, the ghost of a dead Japanese writer, and a mysterious island. He must solve this mystery while maneuvering the hazards of middle management, a cruel Japanese samurai, and his own knowledge that if he doesn't solve this mystery soon his heart will transform into a ball of steel, crushing his soul forever. Though he wants to give up his writing, though he wants to let the past rest, within his compulsive writing lies the key to his salvation.

Melissa's Musings:

The first word I would use to describe this book would be confusing. It delves into the story right away, with very little background info. Which is good for setting a fast pace, but not so great for someone like me who enjoys the buildup of a backstory. At times I found myself not wanting to pick it back up again. But, once I did I was able to be pulled in enough to keep reading.

This is a stream of consciousness novel of sorts. Or maybe a novel with multiple streams of consciousness?

The book shifts perspective a lot, between the protagonists present day life as a business man in Tokyo, and his memories of his life four years ago when he first came to Japan to teach English. The story is also mixed in with what could be perceived by some as delusions or hallucinations. The story jumps can be unsettling, but they're also part of what draws you in in the first place.

I never really related to the main character on a personal level. There's not much told about him as a person, except that he is an orphan, who went through the foster care system and had it kind of rough. You actually don't even ever learn his name. I only knew it from an insert that the author sent along with the book. 

My thought is that by not telling us his name and by telling the story from the first person perspective, the author might have been trying to make the story, as well as the pain the protagonist is running from more universal.

The story itself is somewhat dark, there's a lot of pain, and unresolved grief and a loss of his sense of self, on the part of the protagonist. It's likely why he attacts all of these ghosts, and other figments of his imagination, like Mr. Sparkles, a glittery dinosaur.

Mr. Sparkles actually made me laugh out loud. I thought of him as an alternate funnier, version of Mikey Welsh, the protagonists' roomate.

Along with ghosts and glittery dinosaurs, there are other added elements of magical realism in the book. The magical realism element is further solidified  with the introduction of an island where one can go to procure and grow a brand new heart,fed by memories. This magical island seems to be some sort of limbo for the protagonist, between the current version of himself and the version of himself from 4 years ago.

There's a strange religious side to the story as well. One of the characters that Pierce attracts is a man who follows him around claiming that he's an apostate. In one scene the protagonist conjures up more of his ghosts who take this character and put him onto a cross in the middle of the ocean, and Pierce feels it his duty to rescue this man, against impossible odds. Then there's a secretive backstory that Pierce's first foster family were evangelicals, who were somehow horrible to him, and that the family who eventually adopt him are also particularly religious as well. I found the religious undertone confusing and at times disturbing.

The main message that I gathered from the story is that it's about a person who was trying to escape the pain of never having a place to really call home, and trying to recover from the death of the one person in life who seemed to truly understand him.

This story, while confusing, was told in an unusual and unique way.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: E-Learning 101: It's Not As Tough As It Looks

E-learning 101: It's not as tough as it looks

Title: E-Learning 101: It's Not As Tough As It Looks
Author: Dr. Liz Hardy
Publisher: Self Published
Published: April 2nd 2012
Format: Kindle
Pages: 50
Date Read: March 29, 2015
Source: Received from author 
in exchange for an honest review
Add To Your TBR List on Goodreads

My Rating: 3 Stars

Synopsis:



E-learning 101 is an e-book that will cheer you on, while it shows you the ropes.

It’s just like having your own personal e-learning coach.

This e-learning resource can do three things for you.

1. Save you time – by quickly explaining how everything works (it’s much faster than guessing on your own).

2. Stop you worrying – by replacing your fears with action and progress.

3. Make you more confident – by giving you step-by-step strategies for dealing with the tricky parts.

E-learning 101 can help you if you’re:

• Somewhere between slightly nervous, and frankly terrified
• Frustrated with having to guess about what to do next
• Too busy to wade through enormous books about online learning
• Keen to make progress on your course right now.

In 6 short lessons, you’ll find the solutions to your biggest e-learning questions.

And you’ll discover that e-learning’s really not as tough as it looks.

Melissa's Musings: 

This book is very straighforward and to the point. Broken down into 6 lessons, the information is easily read and absorbed.

I wouldn't say that I learned anything prolific or even anything new really. Given that I do have some experience with e-learning having taken some online courses during my college career, none of the information was new to me. But, I can see how it might be helpful for someone who doesn't have much experience with technology or online learning.

The chapters have nice summaries at the end with the points the author wants you to take away from reading them, as well as simple tasks to help you stay on track. The most important lesson that the book stresses is time management, and fitting studying into a busy schedule.

The one thing that didn't really work for me is the pictures of the dogs on the cover and throughout the book. I'm not sure what the author was aiming for in using these, but I found them distracting.

I would say that this is a good book for a quick read and some easy to follow tips.

Have any of my blog readers taken any online courses? Do you have any tips about e-learning to share?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: The Witch of Painted Sorrows

The Witch of Painted Sorrows (The Daughters of La Lune #1)

Title: The Witch of Painted Sorrows
Author: M.J. Rose
Publisher: Atria Books
Published: March 17, 2015
Series: Daughters of La Lune #1
Format: Kindle ARC
Pages: 384
Date Read: February 24, 2015
Source: Received from the publisher via Netgalley 
in exchange for an honest review
Add To Your TBR list on Goodreads

My Rating: 2 Stars

Synopsis:
 Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

Melissa's Musings:
When I first got approved for The Witch of Painted Sorrows, I was thrilled. Both because it was my first time ever requesting a book from Netgalley, and being approved, and because the premise of this book seemed so interesting.

I'm sad to say my interest in the synopsis was misguided.

As a main character, Sandrine didn't really do much for me. I wasn't all that interested in her. She just didn't feel fleshed out enough. Of what we learn about Sandrine, most of her personality is clouded over by the secrets of the life that she's running from, and then further complicated by the family history that she's run into by coming to Paris.

I was more intrigued by her grandmother. She too, was a frustrating character, in the sense that she only hints at things that Sandrine needs to know, but doesn't come right out and say them. Sadly, she her role is quite diminshed as the story progresses.

The most frustrating part of reading this book is that every time it seemed like Sandrine's grandmother was finally going to tell her the truth about the history, and why Paris isn't a good place for Sandrine to be, the author throws in some useless detail to distract the story and never gets to revealing anything of importance. One scene where Sandrine and her grandmother are in a restaurant, is particularly aggravating. They are eating and it seems like Sandrine is finally going to learn about her family history the story turns to the atmosphere of the restaurant, and then it weaves back around, and just as they are going to discuss the curse a rock comes right through the window where the two are sitting. There are a few other instances of this, but the restaurant scene is the one that most stuck out for me.

One of the parts of the book that I did enjoy was the authors world building in terms of the setting. I really felt that I was back in Paris in the Belle Epoque of the late 1800's. There are several well placed mentions of literature  of the time throughout the story. And of course there is all of the exploration of the art of the time, which is of course central to the story and the family curse. As frustrating as the distraction of it was, the setting in the restaurant scene also helped paint the picture of the time and the world that Sandrine and her grandmother were living in.

There is a romance between Julien and Sandrine that is important to the story but it fell flat for me. The love scenes between them do have an element sensuality, but overall there is too much to be learned about Sandrine's secrets and not enough foundation apart from the physicality to become caught up in their romance.

The witchcraft/occult element of the story is a bit more dark and twisty than I was expecting. Normally the stories I read about witches have to do with the exploration of their powers. This story is ultimately about how La Lune posesses Sandrine and gets her to do disturbing things to ensure that she can be with Julien. I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

There's an element of religion to the story as well, so you see both the light and dark sides of Sandrine's predicament. I'll let you guess which one wins out in the end.

The end of the story is predictable. I was rooting against the ending, but I understand why it has to play out that way because that's the best way to set up the rest of the trilogy.

Overall, I was not impressed. The story felt half-hearted. Sandrine isn't an interesting enough main character for me to want to read on about what happens in the rest of her story. And while the history, art, and setting of the time are intriguing, they aren't enough to keep me reading either, unfortunately.

Before this story, I had not read any of M.J. Rose's other works. After reading this, I'm not sure I will read any of them.

I'd love to hear other thoughts and opinions on this novel. Have you read it? What did you think?