Timing is all off for The Bellwether Revivals

Thank you to McClelland & Stewart for sending me a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is part of the Red House Books NetGalley Reading Challenge.

While the storyline for The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood seemed intriguing enough, it was hard for me to get through. It begins with a boy named Oscar outside the Bellwether Estate remembering where a past love had died. The story rewinds to tell the story of how Oscar, a nurse at Cedarbrooke retirement home, wanders into a church on the grounds of Oxford. An atheist at heart, he is lured in by a moving performance on the organ. From there, he meets Iris Bellwether and they instantly hit it off.

Iris’s brother, Eden Bellwether, happens to be the one playing the organ. As Oscar gets closer to Iris and her friends and family, he begins to learn about Eden’s erratic behaviour and delusions about being to heal people through his music. You’re left wondering for yourself if Eden is a genius or just plain crazy.

Of course, it’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I loved the plot of this story but I had trouble placing when the story was taking place. Wood places so much emphasis on social classes, it seemed like it was taking place in the very distant past. But someone mentions CDs or e-mails or Silicon Valley and I’d realize that this is happening in the not so distant past or maybe even present day.

Photo by Mierswa Kluska

I was also itching to learn more about the eccentric characters. There’s Oscar, who’s as dull as a doorknob. Iris is witty, sarcastic and beautiful but you get limited access to her thoughts. There’s also Herbert Crest, a dying psychologist whose specialty is Narcissistic Personality Disorder but he doesn’t talk much. Perhaps the only character Wood did justice was Eden who is horribly obsessed with himself (the kind of guy my friends like to date).

The book was a slow read for me. You could blame the beautiful weather I got in Toronto but the last few chapters sped up when the characters see more action. While I wasn’t over-the-moon about The Bellwether Revivals, I would keep an eye out for debut writer, Benjamin Wood, for his awesome plotlines.

Photo by Mierswa Kluska

Photo credits: thisiscolossal.com

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The Starboard Sea reminds you that growing up is damn hard

This post is part of The 2012 Netgalley Reading Challenge hosted by Red House Books.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont. The Starboard Sea is available on February 28th!

The Starboard Sea sets you up for heartbreak. It really does. It makes you fall in love with a boy named Jason Prosper, a rich kid who has been kicked out of his fancy prep school for cheating on a calculus test. Yeah, I know, calculus broke my heart too. It makes you fall in love with the sport of sailing and the setting of the beautiful, yet dangerous ocean. And then, Dermont takes it all away. With a string of words, Dermont will “destroy everything beautiful” for the reader in this world.

Jason’s self-involved family barely seems to notice that this act of cheating is a desperate call for help after Jason finds his best friend has committed suicide. Instead, he is enrolled in Bellinghem, the prep school of second chances. Everyone at Bellinghem has screwed up elsewhere and not surprisingly, the school is lax on the rules. It’s here that Jason has to grow up fast and it’s here that things ultimately get harder for him too.

It’s hard not to compare The Starboard Sea to Catcher in the Rye. There are very similar themes and similar characters. But while Holden Caulfield is more angry and Jason Prosper is more sad, they both share a common loneliness. I especially love how Dermont uses the language around sailing and sea navigation to describe growing up. You spend most of novel slowly learning more about the best friend’s suicide and in the end, only some of the questions get answered. I loved the open-endedness of the ending. If the name “Jason Prosper” is any hint, there is also much hope in this story.

I think if it weren’t for some of the harder subjects in this book (suicide, homosexuality), The Starboard Sea would have fit into the young adult genre. I recommend this one to anyone loves a good tear-jerker like Catcher in the Rye or to anyone that wants to remember that growing up is a wonderful journey but it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.

Updated on 2/27/2012: Visit Pam Writes for an interview with Dermont & learn how you can win a copy of the book!

Photo credit: Nick Onken

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Photo credit: etsy.comnickonken.com