ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursday – Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

robotThis week I’d like to review a book I read a few months ago. It was a book with a concept that I found fascinating – ‘Dear Killer’ by Katherine Ewell. The premise is thus: Kit receives letters addressed ‘Dear Killer’. Each one requests that she murder a specific person and gives the reasons behind the request. She then decides who to kill and when she does, leaves a letter with the body. A prolific serial killer operating on her own societal standards. Well, the standards of her mother , the original ‘Dear Killer’ and the person training Kit. Murder is the only way of life Kit has ever known and the only way of relating to others her mother has taught her.

The rules are simple (taken from the book):

Taken from Goodreads

Taken from Goodreads

Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit lives by these rules and others die by them. She gets paid to do this by the letter writers and essentially sees it as a service she’s doing, one that fits her nihilistic morals. But then, things get complicated, the rules don’t fit and Kit has to examine what she’s doing and how she feels about this turn of events.

I have to say that I found this concept a very interesting one. What do we learn from our family and what do we learn from society? When do we begin to fill a role because it’s expected vs filling the role because it’s what we’ve chosen. All of the relationships in this novel center around Kit and her role as killer. The reader is left wondering what would be happening in her relationships if she wasn’t so stuck in her world – if she had not be brought up to be a trained killer, who could and would she be? On a side note, it’s interesting to see a female character who kicks such butt in a realistic world (eg, non dystopian).

I found the service she provides fascinating. I don’t think I’d ever be in the position to request some kind of serial killer, but the fact that there are people so desperate they would request someone in their life to be killed was intriguing. The way Ewell builds the world, it seems totally believable that this could happen – that the services of an anonymous serial killer could be requested so often and for so long – a multi generational dear killer family.

This book is not for everyone. I have recommended it to students who tell me they like books about killers, crime and that fall a little more into the thriller genre.

I read this book on my kobo on April 4th, 2014. It was published by Katherine Tegan Books on April 1st, 2014. The ISBN is 9780062257802.

Ok, so you like to read…..

Have you tried Goodreads?

I really like goodreads (Goodreads.com.) It’s a social media website for reading! Yay connecting! Yay social media! Goodreads is a place to connect with other readers. It’s also a great place to find book recommendations and set challenges for yourself. At times, I have goodreads and kobo open in two different tabs – one to find books and one to buy them!

To use goodreads, you can just visit it as a website. It will give you access to descriptions of books and reviews. You can sign up and get a fuller experience. I signed up and was able to customize – I have followers and I follow people (equal opportunity stalking?), I get book recommendations and I can join groups of people discussing books. Plus I set a reading challenge each year – this year I set it for 400 books. I’m up to 329, which amazes my students.

When looking up a book, you get to see the book cover, as well as any other editions that have come out. It has the ISBN of the book and the publisher blurb. You can click on the authors name and find a list of all their books – useful if you liked one and want to see what else they have done. There is a ranking – 1-5 stars – as chosen by the users of the site. You are then able to see reviews written by people who are your friends and then reviews written by the general population. Useful when picking a book as it’s not trying to sell you the book (although there is a link to amazon and a corporate connection there). As well, there are quizzes to help you test your knowledge of books and a place to share quotes you loved from an author or one of their works.

For those interested in YA literature, there is a page devoted just to that. You can find it at https://www.goodreads.com/genres/young-adult?original_shelf=ya-lit. This page shows new releases tagged as Young Adult, has contests to win young adult books, has lists of books that users have made that contain young adult books, shows the weekly most popular as well as the most popular overall, and then, if you’re a member who has read some YA lit, shows new and upcoming releases by authors you have read. It’s a fantastic way to find books to read. The lists especially.

Goodreads is a website and has apps for apple and android. It’s free and you can link it to facebook to connect with others. This post is not groundbreaking – the site has been around for ages. However, if you’re unaware of it, it’s a great place to track what you’re reading. Teachers may find it a good way to share book discussions and reviews (I might even start a group for my students as a virtual book club). For book nerds like me, it’s a great way to find that next great (or good) read.

ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursday – Like No Other by Una LaMarche

robotThe book I’m reviewing this week is ‘Like No Other’ by Una Lamarche. In many ways, this novel is an updated Romeo and Juliet. Devorah is a devout Hasidic Jew who never questions her life or her parents. Jaxon is a book smart West Indian boy who walks the line between pleasing his family and finding fun. Devorah is not allowed to be alone with any males who are not part of her family in public areas, one of the many rules by which she lives her life. However, she finds herself breaking the rules by accident when stuck in an elevator with Jaxon during a power outage. Devorah is at the hospital helping her sister who is having her first child while Jaxon is there with his friend who had an accident while skateboarding. While stuck in the elevator they both feel a connection, a connection that both want to act upon, even after they leave each other. Through some detective work, they find each other and despite the odds and customs ingrained in them, they begin a relationship. While Jaxon has to lie to protect Devorah as his family would not have a big problem with the relationship, Devorah has to lie to her family to protect her place within it. She has always been the good girl, the one who they never have to worry about; now she’s spending time alone with a boy, has

a secret cell phone and is starting to question her path in life. Devorah faces a major obstacle in her brother in law – he’s not just observant, he’s righteous and demands obedience from all. When he begins to suspect their relationship, he will not stop until Devorah is set back on the path of right doing. Their romance comes to a dramatic head and Devorah is forced to confront her family and her faith as she deals with questioning and realizing what her life goals actually are and how they relate to her faith and her family.

This book is bittersweet and charming. The relationship reminds me of the quote from ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”. Once the relationship has begun, it is a runaway train as both come together and experience a relationship that neither ever anticipated. Devorah is a more complete character than Jaxon – she goes through the biggest changes and the most questioning. In many ways, Jaxon serves as the impetus and springboard for the change. It is his prodding that causes her to break many of the rules of her faith – rules that were part of how she has always lived and ones that bind her with her family and community. At times this is annoying – show some respect Jaxon! The girl has faith! – but it does serve the plot well and carry it forward to the ultimate conclusion. While many readers may relate more to the character of Jaxon, they will find the journey of Devorah one that is familiar.

As a reader with some knowledge of Jewish culture, I had some understanding of the Hasidic culture. This preknowledge served me well as I read about the world of Devorah. I did not have much knowledge about the community in Brooklyn where they lived or the tension that has developed between the two groups portrayed in this novel. Knowledge of both the Hasidic culture as well as the cultural history would be useful for readers. While they will understand from information presented by the characters why their relationship is not allowed, understanding the bigger picture would be useful.

I enjoyed this book – diversity was present, a relationship that was edgy while being a familiar story. Readers who enjoyed ‘Eleanor and Park’ or ‘Say What You Will’ will appreciate this take on a modern romance.

I read this book on my Kobo on August 3rd, 2014. It was published by Razorbill on July 24th, 2014 with an isbn of 9781595146748.

 

Ways of Reading – Kobo

When I decided to eread, I went, without research or review, to Kobo. I chose Kobo as I am a fan of Chapters and they are linked. So, the reader was chosen based on the bricks and mortar store. Go figure. As a Canadian, it’s been nice using a reader that works well in Canada and as a reader it’s been easy to use. This post is a look at how Kobo works in a few formats, including options I enjoy and wishes I have for each app.

I don’t own a e-reader. I carry around enough in my purse that to add in another device would just be overkill. Instead I read on my ipad mini. I also have kobo on my Android (Samsung Galaxy 5) phone. This one is set up to access the

My current reading library. Note all the circles with arrows - they are books that need to be downloaded.

My current reading library. Note all the circles with arrows – they are books that need to be downloaded.

account my son uses, just in case he runs out of books and doesn’t have anything else while we’re out and about. It has come in handy. There are some differences in the apps, nothing major but enough for me to notice. I’ve taken screen shot from both – the one with all the 39 clues books is from my phone, the one with all of the obviously summer relaxation reading is my ipad.

When you open up a kobo app, you are greeted with your library. This is a list of books (and magazines and other reading materials) you have purchased from kobo. You can add other books you have obtained in pdf form to your library, but you are primarily limited to

Menu, including store access on android.

Menu, including store access on android.

books from kobo. In the iPad app, you cannot access the store (or, if you can, I can’t figure it out and it’s something I’ve looked for!). You can access the store in the android app by accessing the home menu. If you are using your iPad, you have to purchase from the website. Once book are purchased,the next time you access your app, the covers for the books will appear in your library. They will have a small grey circle in the bottom right corner. You touch that and it begins downloading. You will need access to the internet for this to happen. When you download a book it will take up space on your device so you’ll have to make decisions on what is kept in your library. If you’re reading a book for class, keep it there once you have finished it. If you’re reading for pleasure, you can ‘close and remove’ books once finished. To do this is different on both android and iPad. Android asked you if you want to close the book. You then need to select the cover by holding down on it and choose remove – either from device (which means you can download it again later) or from library (which means you don’t have it anymore). Personally, I take advantage of the removing it from device on either platform. Makes it easier to access books I want to read again without taking up space on my device. You can keep as many books as you want in your library; it’s all about the space on your reading device. I tend to download a large number of books when I travel in case I don’t have wi-fi in my hotel and don’t want to use up roaming data. Otherwise, I tend to just have the book I have reading housed in my library.

You can personalize a kobo to look how you want. I personally pick a black background, the smallest font and then bump up the brightness. Each option was chosen based on my reading style and my eyes – the black background is the easiest on them.

Picking the colours

Picking the colours

You can choose from a variety of different options in ipad and can choose from three options in android, but really, it’ll come down to personal preference – like your books paper coloured? Sepia or White? Want it darker? Play around and figure out what works best for your eyes. You can also chance options such as how your page turns and how big you want your text. I keep it small but find there are some books that are not set up for a small font – the lines overlap, the words merge. Upping the font helps with this. Kobo has lots of options for your personal preferences, both with android and iPad. If you are new to e-reading, you need to determine what you like.

In the iPad app, there are options given to highlight and make notes in your book. I’ve used this when teaching – put notes in and then put it on the board, or simply use it while teaching. It has replaced my post it notes from years past.20140831-200527-72327919.jpg

To make notes, you simply highlight the word or phrase you want to make note of and a menu will appear. This gives you the option to add a note or to highlight. You can even choose the colour of your highlighting if you’re picky about that kind of thing. Given that I used to use specific coloured post-its for different factors in a novel (characters, conflict, symbolism, etc), different highlighting colours is perfect. Kobo allows you to keep your notes private or make them public – if public, anyone reading the book can access them. You can also choose to read notes others make public – I stopped doing that when too many squeeing fans exclaimed when their favourite character appeared again, but do find myself turning that option back on when I am reading a classic I am teaching.  wpid-screenshot_2014-08-31-19-44-52.pngYou can also search for phrases; kobo will search the web and their built in dictionary to help your understanding. This is very useful, especially when books make reference to historical figures and events that are less than familiar to you. I’ve used this several times when reading historical fiction and non fiction. You will need access to the internet for this option, so if you are on a plane or you are out of data, it won’t help.

One nice thing about kobo is that it gives you awards based on your reading. They have 20140831-200527-72327383.jpgthirty eight different awards, from ‘Book Lover’ to ‘I eat books for lunch’. I have earned all but five of them. It’s a nice little perk when you start out using the kobo – having notifications pop up stating that you won an award is fantastic. As well, Kobo keeps track of your stats – you can take a look at 20140831-200526-72326853.jpghow much you are reading, the types of media you read, how long it takes you to read a book and other such stats. If you are like me and like to know how much you read (I’m doing a reading challenge) this is fantastic. I especially like to see how many pages I’ve turned – right now it’s over a million and I’ve only been e-reading since the end of November 2013. With the awards and the stats, Kobo has set itself up to give positive reinforcement to their users – if you can measure your reading through awards and positive stats, you might feel good enough about it all to keep using their product.

Kobo is my main choice for an e-reader and I use it extensively. One account option that works nicely for me is that I can add a children’s account – my son has an account linked to mine and to which I add money for him to buy books. I get the receipt when he does that so I can keep track of what he’s doing. However, I do not like that I cannot share books with him – if there is a book I’ve read that I’d like him to read he either has to use my device or we have to purchase it again. However, this is something I can hope for in the future. As for now, my e-library is always with me and I am adding to it constantly. I do wish the iPad option had links to the store and the android option had more options for adding notes; between the two they make a great app. Both apps were free and easily available. you also have the option of reading on your computer, if that is your preferred option. There are often coupon codes and promotions that direct me to books I had never previously considered or heard of. All in all, the switch to kobo was a positive one and one from which I have not looked back.