Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review: No Good Deed

Title: No Good Deed
Author: Kara Connolly
Genre: Retelling, young adult
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Re-tellings. The latest fad.
While they can be successfully pulled off, so long as the world is drastically different (ie: Lunar Chronicles), it's awfully hard to do well. This re-telling of Robin Hood has some great little anecdotes and moments; but for the most part it feels like recycled scenes, characters and concepts. Right down to the time travelling aspect. 

While there is action, intrigue, teeny bit of romance and all the things that generally make up a good story; I just couldn't help but feel like I'd read this book before or at the very least seen the movie. 
Now I know the scene of Robin Hood having a battle with staffs over the river is a classic moment in lots of Robin Hood lore and/or stories. However, the reality is that all I could imagine during this scenes description was the scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Now maybe it's not fair as I've seen that movie almost 100 times in my life (it was my Mom's favourite movie when I was a kid; and while we couldn't watch Simpsons or other shows on TV apparently violent movies were okay...). I suppose I'm bound to imagine similar moments in any Robin Hood story to scenes from the movie... even still it would have been nice for something interesting and different to have been thrown in the mix. 

As with any retellings Kara Connolly choses to focus on a couple of things and drop out other things. There is no Maid Marion (but is a Templar knight that our main gal is blown away by every time he dons his armour) or damsels in distress (unless our lead gal counts). Given that our gal is Robin Hood I suppose it was too much to hope for a lesbian romance. But we do get Little John, Will Scarlett, Alan Dale and (sort of) Friar Tuck. The characters themselves are not well fleshed out, but most of us don't need them to be as we know the players. The most disappointing character of all for me was the Sheriff of Nottingham. I adore this character usually but here it felt like he was far less important that others in Nottingham. It's almost like Connolly's story was too vanilla for the sheriff's black and morbid personality. 

The basic plot
Like any good time travel story, girl is plunged into medieval times (luckily she's an amazing archer), screws a bunch of stuff up, concerns herself with trying to survive and get home; whilst not changing history... there's really not a lot else to say here except that I am really tired of reading time travel books where the character has to "fulfill" some task or event in order for the door to open back home. Let's not kid ourselves, this is a cheap, easy way for the author to write their way into a perfect ending at the perfect moment. I'd rather it be elaborate, magical or scientific. Pretty much anything but convenient would have been better. 

So are you wondering why I gave this three stars yet, given that I seem to have rolled my eyes at a lot of it and didn't really enjoy it?  (lol)
The ending. In any 'fairy tale' I'm a sucker for a good ending (not necessarily happy I'd like to point out). No Good Deed ends in a way I was not really expecting. Connolly takes what could have been a super mushy, annoying and overly romantic ending and makes it just... well perfect. It's plausible, cute and lovely all at once. 

So, is the ending worth the read?
Not really. If you love Robin Hood then maybe. Perhaps a tween or pre-teen would love this but it's not even really a teen book (even though it's classified as young adult). In my opinion, you could read this to an 8 year old and honestly it would be less violent and offensive than most saturday morning cartoons. 

Overall you're not missing anything if you skip this one. I'm sure there will be dozens more re-tellings just like it tomorrow.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: The Bone Witch

Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I found this to be a very disappointing read. There is so much potential here and yet I wasn't at any point excited about reading this, dying to keep reading, or even all that inspired to pick it up. 
After thinking on this for a day I think I've identified why. 

The world building is spectacular in this book with a magical system that is intricate and well thought-out. However, the reality is that world building is not enough. Even with moderately interesting characters like Prince Kance and Kalen I still just didn't care enough about anyone to be concerned about their safety or destiny. Rin Chupeco gets too caught up in indulging herself and info dumping about her world. This is not the Silmarillion. I don't need, or even want, to read every detail of every ingredient in a tincture, step in a dance, or history lesson or story that isn't even relevant to the current politics! Or if you're going to write out a fable or story within the realm then make that story really, really good. There are two amazing examples of this being done well in fantasy literature: Suzanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (with crazy story footnotes) or Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest. These books incorporate the lore and history of their worlds so well that you almost care more about the mini stories told than the larger story! 

Additionally there is little to no actual chemistry between anyone in this book. Be it a friend, mentor, teacher, or possible love interest. Our lead gal, Tea, doesn't seem to connect with anyone, not even her own brother that she says many times she loves and yet I never really felt it. 

The format of the book is interesting and I did enjoy the snippets of Tea 'today' in the quick page or two break-ups to the main story of Tea as a novice asha. And yet, by the end of the book we have learned NOTHING more to really connect the Tea we get to know as a novice and the Tea in her 'current state'. Additionally the ending is soooo disappointing. There is clearly a HUGE chunk of the story left out. Which would be fine if at least the story I had written to that point had some sort of plot or intrigue. Even the so-called love interests (if you can even call them that) are dull and Tea has almost no actual ability to connect with them. 

It's really odd because all the right elements seem to be in this book but it's just not compelling. I just can't get excited about any of it and ultimately I became bored and looking forward to the next book I was going to read. I almost DNF'd this one. 
However, all that said, and even in spite of my boredom, there is a spark of interest at the end of the book. This tiny spark means I would actually consider trying to read book 2. Because I think there is potential here. 

In the meantime  really hope someone is mentoring Chupeco on how to write more compelling characters and stories. Plot is important, please give me some! And let's face it, this is a young adult book, if you are going to have love interests then don't just make them a passing blip on the radar. Let's get them involved a bit more! I appreciate that there is no insta-love and the eluded to love triangle didn't seem to happen (though still could in future books); and yet I just wanted something more. 

I believe this book, in the hands of a different writer could be sensational. But Chupeco is missing that 'something' that gives writers like Mass and Meyer an edge over other young adult writers. I hope she can find it before book 2 is released. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: On the Spectrum

Title: On the Spectrum

Author: Jennifer Gold

Genre: Contemporary Teen

Rating: 4 out of 5


There's one thing this book definitely is, highly readable. It was a very quick read for me and while not everything is perfect in it; some plot points are a bit contrived to set-up scenarios, I can't deny that I ate it up in two sittings without any thoughts of wanting to put it down. This is unusual for me with a contemporary teen book. Kudos to a Jennifer Gold and her writing style! 


I loved our 'on the spectrum but not autistic' little guy Alastair. He said things I've heard from a little guy I used to babysit, who is autistic in real life. The perfect example was his comment about not having 'cold feet' when he was afraid to ride the Ferris Wheel at the last minute. Autism kids don't understand much that isn't literal. By far Alastair was the star of the book for me. 


Our mail gal, Clara, has an eating disorder I'd not heard of before. And for this reason if nothing else this book deserves a spot on library shelves! Orthorexia, a disease where you're obsessed with counting calories, exercising and how 'healthy' food is. Very interesting. One criticism I have is is liked to better understand the difference between anorexia and orthorexia.  


There are many moments in this book that many readers may connect with. For me it's when when Alastair says: 

"I'm on the autism spectrum, but I'm not autistic. You're on the eating disorder spectrum."

This really struck me personally in regards to my own mental health. If you're not willing to accept you have a disease, in my case anxiety, that's okay but at least start to accept that you are 'on the spectrum'. A clever way to perhaps speak to those who don't quite see their predicament in a hard hitting way or can't accept any part of what is being said about them. 


Lastly I'd like to give a copy of this book to all overprotective, my kid is special, parents. Our author, Jennifer Gold, really drives home the very real reality that you need to set your kids up for success. Don't baby them, don't buy them dumb looking shoes unless they absolutely medically need them. Superman backpacks and glow-in-the-dark running shoes are definitely going to make your child a less likely bullying target. If you want to help your kids with bullying situations a the first step can be to change the things that are easily changed. Ie: shoes, clothes, haircuts, etc. While we don't want to teach kids vanity and to try too hard to fit in; there is a balance here that is crucial for parents to find between 'my kid is picked on because he's uncool' and 'my kid is picked on because his clothes are uncool'. I have often wondered if I'd have a bit of an easier time in elementary school if I'd have had more than hand-me-downs for clothes. 


Overall I think this book is well written as it's engaging, cute, funny at times and clever. But it's not five stars because of two major reasons: 

1) Guidance Counsellors rarely call social services over eating disorders. Generally this action is reserved for physical abuse;

2) Real life can often seem to rain down awful events; but three major happenings in a 12 hour period seemed like a bit much. However I cannot deny that it made for a quick read that was concise and to the point. For me this trumps the plot probability issue. 


I definitely look forward to more from Gold in the future. 



Please note: I received an eARC of this book from qthe publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: The Halloween Children

Title: The Halloween Children

Author

Genre: Thriller, Horror

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


This story needed to be one of two things; instead of straddling the middle. 

  • Either make it a 100 pg or less short story, change the title so it's not a dead giveaway of the ending and tighten it up. 

OR

  • Make it a longer, more mind-bending book (200+ pgs) where there is much more emphasis on the children and expand the psychosis look at the family. 


Instead this book is stuck in a space of not quite a short story but not really in-depth enough to be a novel. Unfortunately the title gives it all away. So that no matter how creepy or disturbing the lead-up is to the end (which is well put together) you already figured out 75% of the 'twist' of horror. This just makes it no fun to me. 


It's an easy read, it does have some chilling moments but for the average horror reader I believe there is nothing here. 


If you don't normally read horror then I think you'll quite enjoy it. And it's tame enough for non-horror readers to handle in my opinion. 


Please note: I received an eARC of this book from qthe publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book Review: Dear Reflection - I never meant to be a rebel

Title: Dear Reflection: I never meant to be a rebel
Author: Jessica Bell
Genre: Memoir, Teen, Drugs & Alcohol
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Critiquing a memoir always feels almost unfair... you can't say that someone didn't feel the way they did or isn't being genuine; as likely they have explained things in the only way they know how. 
So how can you criticize them? 
The short answer is, you can't. 
The long answer is more complex. 
If I end up sounding like a heartless bitch by the end of this then I will only apologize to Jessica Bell to say that it's not about devaluing her experiences, it's about how they were written about and discussed. 

I found this memoir to use 'shock' value moments in a very odd way. Not to send a morale or turn you straight message to the reader, not to show the progression of Bell as a person, but instead as an excuse. It's like each time something happens that is a 'big deal' Bell uses it as a reason for why it's okay to then do something else. This is not really a good message in my mind, especially for teens. I'd like to have read more about the actual consequences of her binge drinking, of having an abortion, etc. I'd also like to have read more about how those situations have made her the person she is today. Instead by the end of the memoir I feel like Bell has just made a myriad of excuses for why she hasn't done things in life that she maybe wanted to. Or is with the man she is with. 

That said, her definition of love is different; and this I commend her for. She does discuss how love is not a blinding moment or 'instant' and how sometimes it's hard to even see it. So I give her props for describing a non-typical relationship and allowing readers to maybe gain a sliver of insight into why people stay together that may not seem like a perfect match. 
Now alternatively you could easily say that Bell settled. But I will give her the benefit of the doubt here that she isn't taking the easy way out on this one. 

I think overall the glazing over of issues is what bugs me the most here. I hate when moments in life are used as a crutch or justification for why someone should receive sympathy... maybe it's because I can go toe-to-toe with Bell on a lot of situations I personally experienced as a teen myself. And maybe that isn't fair to her... but in my mind those experiences are not something to be used as a way to garner sympathy or used as an excuse. They are moments that make us stronger, more resilient and overall shape our personality today. They also inform our current decisions. And here is where I felt like Bell missed out in this memoir. She didn't connect her past decisions with her future ones. Let's face it, whether we like it or not, the things that have happened to us in the past ALWAYS influence the future us. 

While some may connect with Bell's story and her aloneness, I personally felt like this was missing something. Some piece of Bell that I craved. I still feel like I don't know her even after reading this. I feel like I know about her; but don't actually know HER. 
Overall if you want to read a shock value story about drugs, alcohol and how damaging it can be; read Go Ask Alice instead. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The Devil's Prayer

Title: The Devil's Prayer
Author: Luke Gracias
Genre: Religion, Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The Devil's Prayer feels like it is three separate books with a couple chapters of a prologue. My 'parts' do not line-up with the parts defined in the book. Here are my three breakdowns of this book: 
1) The first part is a grusome thriller novel. Including every trigger ever; from suicide to torture to murder to moral ambiguity. This section is done by our main gal reading journal entries. It's well written and compelling. I often find journal entries to be a bit dull and an easy way for writers to trick us or leave out important details but that was not the case here. This was easily the best part of the book; and yet also the most disturbing. Be warned it's very horrifying. 

2) The story of a deal made with the devil, and not how the deal was made (as that is covered in part 1) but instead of what happens after you make a deal with the devil and follow-through. It also includes our main gal fleeing across the world. Here is where things start to feel the most 'Da Vinci Code'-esque as we learn (from more journal entries) that there are secrets in the church that have been hidden for centuries. This is all interesting enough and was shaping up to make for a really stellar ending. 

3) Then we are told the a duller than dull story of how a man came to be involved in the church and know many of these secrets that are discovered in part 2. Super boring!  This is set-up to also give us all a lecture about how we are ruining our earth and the Devil is winning. And I honestly couldn't have been more bored or irritated by the lecture. 

Then, like the couple chapters prologue, there is a couple chapters of 'wrap-up'. Except for the part where NOTHING HAPPENS! There is no climax, no plot points and literally the book ends when it feels like there should be another 200-300 pages of plot and story. This is beyond frustrating to me and makes me wish I hadn't read the book at all. It's that annoying. 

For a book to go from amazingly face-paced and engaging to as dull as a history book written in ancient text to  no ending whatsoever is so odd. So if you want to read a book about how to NOT set-up a story. This is a good one to read and be very critical about. Otherwise, I suggest you don't waste your time. 
I am giving it two stars because the first part is so well written and would make an amazing novel on it's own. But otherwise it's not worth reading this book. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Stitching: New Start!

Well I couldn't just work Alice... and I wanted a new stitch in hand fabric piece. 
So, much to my hubby's chagrin (he wants Alice done tomorrow, lol); I started a new piece!
I think hubby forgives me as I took this one 100% from my stash! 

On: 32ct Relic Linen (that is gorgeous!!!). 
Design by: Elizabeth Foster 
Design name: Antique Celtic Sampler 
Threads: All Weeks Dye Works
Stitches 2 threads over 2 

Here's the start: 


For once an overdyed linen that photographs well!! 

And here's what the final piece will look like:


This brings me up to four pieces I'm actively working on: 
- Alice - HAED (28ct, 1 over 1)
- Mermaid - Mirabillia (28ct, 2 over 2)
- Sugar skull - Mill Hill kit (perforated paper)
- Here there be Monsters (this one! 32ct, 2 over 2)

As usual I rename my projects to something that represents what each item looks like. 

Thanks for stopping by and for all your lovely comments on Page 1 of Alice. I've actually got almost 1/3 of the next page done already!! Part of why I made this start. I am justifying it as 'deserved'. Lol! 
Happy Stitching! 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Review: Waste of Space

Title: Waste of Space
Author: Gina Damico
Genre: Teen, YA, Science Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book was... well crazy different. 
It's a super ridiculous and humorous premise; that a TV network is going to send a group of teenagers into space and film it as a reality TV show. I really enjoyed the first 65% of this book. It was amusing, engaging, heartfelt and so cliche you couldn't help but laugh. The end however didn't quite hit for me. 

Waste of Space is written in the format of video or audio transcripts (for the most part); either of the reality TV show, phone calls, unaired footage from the video cameras, or the mysterious intern that provides commentary every once in awhile. On page 1 we learn that the intern is the reason the footage is all combined in one file from so many sources. This format while easy to read is not always my favourite. We only get characters perspectives from their 'confessionals' to video cameras which makes it difficult to know if we are getting their genuine thoughts or more 'acting' out of their stereotypes. I prefer to be in the character's head and better understand their POV. 

The teens are the main focus of the story; alongside the TV executive, Chazz. He's the over the top executive that calls all the ridiculous shots and seems to think that the world needs cutting edge, truly dangerous reality TV. Except that no one is going to sign off on their teenage being shot into space alone... so instead of actually going to space they make it seem like the kids are in space for the show. Oh, and the teens think they are also in space and on their own. A typical Lord of the Flies scenario. 

The best part of this book is that the ridiculous fun of the first half is obviously a hoax. We, the reader learn this right away and of course most of the world buys into the silly premise (because people are easy to manipulate). Thankfully a few groups of scientists easily debunk the show as being in space, even if no one listens to them. 
By the second half of the show I feel like the reader is suddenly the one being taken along for a ride. Suddenly we are trying to figure out what is actually going on as there is clearly more to this little charade than a fake 'space plane' and a celebrity hungry TV executive. 

This brings me to the crux of what I didn't like about Waste of Space. It has an odd ending. It's not that it's bad... it's just... not what I expected at all. And not in the 'wow, I'm amazed' kind of twist. Instead in the I feel there was little to no foreshadowing for this ending and it's a bit cheap. I suddenly feel like Gina Damico took me, the reader, along for a similar ride that Chazz took the TV audience on in the beginning. A total and complete facade that barely explains what is happening. 

The other thing that I found about Waste of Space is that it's a bit long... my ARC copy is 510 pages. I see that the published copy is shorter (400 pgs) so I'm hoping they cut down on some of the unnecessary dialogue between the teens on the ship. That said, the pages aren't fully text either, as they are in the screenplay dialogue style. So average words per page is significantly lesser than your average book. 

Overall I thought Waste of Space was fun, but I wouldn't pick it up to read again. That said, if you have a teen that is a space geek and would enjoy a fun book I think this is a great pick. Also this is a clean book so you could give it to any child at the right reading level. I'd easily buy this for a 10 year old that has a higher than average reading level. And I'm certain that a 10-13 year old would be enchanted by the whole thing. Which makes me wonder just now... maybe I'm just a bit too old for this book (like 20+ years too old, lol). No matter what your age is there is no doubt you will need to suspend ALL belief to really accept this odd ending. But at least you'll have a good, fun time getting to it! 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: The Floating Theatre

Title: The Floating Theatre
Author: Martha Conway
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Usually when I rate a book 5 stars I immediately know why. Otherwise I default to 4 stars as I usually have a critique or two. The Floating Theatre is a bit different in that I really, really enjoyed it; but wasn't immediately convinced it was a 5 star book. But upon a couple hours of contemplation I've realized I cannot come up with any major flaws. Therefore 5 stars it is! 

This is an enchanting and enjoyable book. Now I know you're thinking... um... Mel isn't it about slavery? Well yes, but it's also about theatre, a young woman finding her voice, an unlikely romance, and a cast of characters that you could write entire books about.
Ironically the slavery part is a small portion of the book. Now it's the obvious climax of the book and plays a major part; but the first 65% of the book isn't really about slavery. It is noticed by our lead gal, May, that slavery is only on one side of the river. She continually expresses to herself how she's made uncomfortable by it as she tells her story. On a few occasions May is horrified by what she sees but up until the point in which she is forced to 'choose a side' she remains a silent protester. The typical American woman in the 1800's. Keep quiet, do your own thing and keep out of trouble. 

I don't want to give any plot away that isn't obvious from the blurb. So let's talk about characters instead. While the plot is excellent and moves at a good pace; creating tension and stress for the reader, it's really the characters that endeared me to The Floating Theatre. Our lead gal May tells the story, as though it's her memoir. Offering occasional moments of commentary like she 'didn't know it at the time' but would 'soon learn' phrases. Then we have her cousin, who's a good example of a waste of air. The Captain of our Floating Theatre, whose charming and you can't help but just love him. Our cast of theatre folks who are a troop all on their own. Finally there is a lady who is our catalyst.. I can't call her a villain as I think that is not quite right. However there is no doubting that she manipulates everyone around her to her will. Whether it's with sugar and promises, money, blackmail or good ole negotiation tactics. While I dislike her the most of our main cast of characters, she's actually the second most interesting person next to May. I am always intrigued by morally subject characters; especially women during a time when women didn't have near as much power as they do today.

Overall if you like stories about the 1830's before slavery was abolished, are interested in theatre in any small way, and like a good coming into her own story I think you will enjoy this book. I found it intriguing and a very unique way of looking at how the whites were affected or conflicted by slavery. However, this is not a rah-rah, underground railroad type story. It's more a story of a girl who gets accidentally caught up between the north and south sides of a river that divide a nation's opinion on slavery. 
I look forward to this coming out in trade paperback so I can add it to my collection of historical fiction that I would easily recommend again, and certainly read again myself. 
And I will be looking for more by Martha Conway in the future. 


Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Stitching: Alice Page Finish!

Here we are, a few months after I announced this project and I have the first page finish for Alice. It's about a 3/4 page in the bottom left corner. These bottom pages are not quite as large as all the others will be. 
The stitching was wonderful to do until I got to the gear and then it got a bit tedious due to the confetti stitching. But I'm very pleased with the result and I think it's a solid start to this epic piece. 
I'm also very happy to be on 28ct 1 over 1 instead of 25. While it is smaller and presents new challenges; at the same time I don't see any of the occasional spaces or fabric that peeked through on 25ct 1 over 1. 
Here is the first page (because I stitch like I'm left handed) from the bottom left corner: 




And a quick reminder of what she will hopefully look like eventually...


And so I will keep on going as obviously there is still a lot to do!!! 
Happy stitching! 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Whispers


Title: The Book of Whispers 
Author: Kimberley Starr 
Genre: YA, Teen, Demons, Historical 
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

DNF @ 61%


There's a distinct oddness to this book. It's a YA book set during the crusades. We have a lead gal and guy from very different walks of life. I was really enjoying the demons and stories of our characters right up until they met each other (45% in). And then all of a sudden the magic was gone. Yet ironically the introduction of a lot of convenient magic shortly after that is what turned me off in the end. 


I love fantasy, but magic needs to be used so as not to just set-up convenient ways to travel, time to change, items to only work for some, etc. It's like every magical thing that happens in this book is very convenient. As this is one of my biggest pet peeves ever I decided I was done with The Book of Whispers. 


It may very well have an amazing and profound ending but getting there just got too difficult. The last couple days I've thought to read this book my response is very dull. Like I'm not really interested. Once I'm reading that improves but it's almost like this book is a slump in and of itself. 


I am giving it two stars, even though I didn't finish it. 

I have a few reasons for still liking much of it: 

1) the writing is quite good. I would look forward to and read a future book by Kimberley Starr. 

2) our two main characters are interesting people. They could use a bit more depth and emotion during their POV scenes but overall I didn't dislike either of them. 

3) the demon concept is interesting and ties in very well to the time period. The crusades were a time of massive superstition, religious war and all around distrust. The setting is well chosen. 


The main things that need improving: 

1) as discussed above, not using magic as a convenient excuse for plot to happen

2) the adults surrounding our two teens need to have a bit more development to really add depth to the story. 

3) historical facts are pretty few and far between in this. If you're going to use a famous time in history it's best to make sure you really understand why it happened. 

4) there is excitement missing from this book. Lots of exciting things happen but somehow I didn't get excited during them. A great writer makes you feel what your characters feel and puts you in the scene and story. 


Overall if you are very intrigued by the book blurb then check it out. But if you have hundreds of other books to read I'd skip this one. That said I would still read Starr again in the hopes that her writing improves. I think there is real potential for her and I hope to see more from her. 



Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Book Review: The Hate U Give

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Racism, Social Commentary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I finished this book yesterday, wrote a 4,000 word review and then promptly the interwebs ate it when I hit submit. So I'm going to try this again. Maybe being a day later this will be a little more concise and less well gushing. Edit: at 2600 words it’s shorter, but I hope no less powerful than my first review/commentary. 

---------------------------------------------------------------
I've tried to break this review, because it's huge, into sections by topic. If you just want to know my overall opinion scroll to the bottom and read my summary. 

The Hype
Any book that receives the kind of hype that The Hate U Give has gotten made me nervous. It's just too often that a book is awful (Twilight) and yet the hottest book of the year. That said many books that are hyped deserve it (Hunger Games, Ready Player One, etc.). So I went into The Hate U Give a bit skeptical and (as a 34-year-old Canadian white girl) a bit unsure of what I was going to be confronted with. Turns out, the hype is well deserved for Angie Thomas' novel. In fact this may be one of the most important novels of the decade in ALL genres; not just YA. 

Truthful & Honest
This has to be the most honest and realistic book I've read in a really long time. And that includes historical novels and literary novels based off real life recent events. The dialogue, language, thoughts and attitudes of all the characters are so genuine. It's clear that Thomas has experienced at least some of the internal conflict that our main gal Starr has. But Thomas does something that is very difficult for many authors, she also gets the other side of the story too. Not only are the black and other minority characters perfect; but so too are the white characters. From the white boyfriend who feels guilt "I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.",  to the black mom who understands the world is not fair, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.", to the mislead and mean white girl who implies that because our dead teen might have been a drug dealer he deserved to die.  
These kinds of comments and thoughts are only a small sampling of the truth said and conveyed in this book. So many quotes hit home for me and I hope I remember many of them forever. 

Social Issues Galore
Not since the Handmaiden's Tale have I felt that a book brought together so many social issues in such an elegant and simple way. To take a number of complex issues and tie them together into a realistic story is a major talent. I cannot wait for Angie Thomas to write more books that touch on other social issues. I’m hoping her magic in The Hate U Give is not a one-time hit. 

Social Issue 1: Two People in One
The portrayal of our main gal, Starr, and her major internal conflict between being a black girl in the ghetto who goes to preppy white kid school is sooo well done. Starr expresses how at her white school she is cool by default (being one of two black kids). But that in the ghetto (her home community) she is terrified to be made fun of, look awkward or stupid in general. Even with her own boyfriend she has tried to hide her ghetto life. This is a sub-plot and by far lesser discussion in some ways to the overall black kid killed by a white cop plot. And yet it really resonated with me as it can be true of so many different scenarios (not just by race); but in any situation where you feel you are different people.

Social Issue 2: Racially Motivated Mistrust
The main plot is the situation in which we have all seen in the worldwide news a lot in the last few years. Black kids being shot without enough ‘reason’ by white cops. I would like to say this is a USA problem, but I know that’s not entirely true. If you substitute black for any other minority group, and white for any majority group of any country you can tell the same story over and over again. Initially I had a hard time with Khalil, our murdered teen, because he did move and talk back a bit to the cop… but as I read The Hate U Give I realized that I myself am being too harsh and judgmental and probably thinking like a typical white person. Thomas nails it on the head when she talks about how there needs to be trust between the public and cops. On BOTH sides. Cops need to trust that just because of a certain race, religious affiliation, neighbourhood, vehicle drives, etc. that someone isn’t going to shoot them just because. Now this is a tough thing because stats may show the likelihood of an event is higher in certain areas. But we have to build trust and the best way to build trust is to bring down those who are breaking it. If we, as a society, are too afraid to snitch or report events, people or situations in which the trust is being broken then we are part of the problem. And that is really the inherent message of The Hate U Give… you must speak up! Even if it’s scary, difficult, seemingly useless and costs you something. Without everyone speaking out things will just stay the same, or possibly get worse. The second part of this is to ensure our actions don't break that trust. That might be really hard as it may seemingly affect our personal safety; but without it we are perpetuating the cycle. 

Social Issue 3: No One Deserves to Die
This is another major theme in the book that no one deserves to die unless they have actively done something to ‘deserve it’. Now of course the issue is who deserves it; what is our benchmark at which killing someone is not murder but self-defense. This is an issue that is unbelievably difficult to find two people who agree on never mind a nation of people. But I think Thomas makes her point extremely well by the end of this book. That no one deserves to die for what they may or may not do in the future. Or for what they may or may not have been doing that can’t be proven. Whether we like it or not we cannot decide some people are predisposed to a certain fate, we do not live in the world of Minority Report, and we should be eternally thankful we don’t. 
Most Canadians don’t believe in the death penalty… except in 2 or 3 extremely difficult serial killer situations that have occurred in Canada. But certainly something most Canadians can agree to is that you DO NOT deserve to be shot at unless you are making an offense move towards someone. Ie: you must have a gun in hand and aiming it at someone; or an equally killer intention or weapon. And this is where I think a lot of us that are in majority groups forget that the issue of trust comes back into play.
This issue brings together social issues 1 and 2 discussed above and wraps them all up into one very simple statement: DON’T ASSUME!!!  

So why is this so hard for people…
Self preservation is a biological response we ALL have without even thinking about it. We inherently, like any animal, want to survive. And so those that are in difficult jobs (ie: cops, firefighters, etc.) tend to be very careful people. They understand their job is more dangerous than others and have almost always seen or known someone to be killed by a mistake. The problem is when is a mistake by a cop actually a mistake and not just bad luck or a bad situation gone worse. 
My uncle was an RCMP officer (like a state cop in the USA) and he talks a lot about how you had to trust that no one was going to shoot you. Because you aren’t (in Canada) supposed to shoot at until shot at first or some dangerous threat or offensive action is taken. So we’re back to, what is an offensive action? And this is where Angie Thomas did something most people cannot do, she shows the arguments on both sides and yet by the end of the book I would challenge anyone to say that they disagree with Starr; that shooting an unarmed teen, with their back turned is okay. If you think it might be right now, read this book and see what you think afterwards. 

Emotional Response
So all of these social issues and realizations put together have actually made a huge impact on my opinion and thoughts. It’s a rare thing that a voracious reader, as most of us on GoodReads are, actually changes their thought process because of a book. We all just read so much that it takes a truly powerful and stand-out novel for a major change to take place. The Hate U Give has blown me away, made me laugh (I agree with Starr’s Dad that Harry Potter houses are kind of like gangs…) and made me cry. I’m not a crier… my husband tells me that’s how he knows I’m at my wits end is that I’m in tears and not just angry (lol). I’m a person who doesn’t cry at the ‘make you sad’ books like The Fault in our Stars or Still Alice. If you wrote it to try and make me cry then I’m probably not going to quite get there. But Thomas has done something different; she has created some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read that have thoughts just like I do, that are morally conflicted and confused, that are overwhelmed and marginalized, who feel that they cannot make a different no matter what. And when these honest characters have sudden moments of rage, despair or euphoria then suddenly so does the reader. This is a rare talent, especially in YA books, in my opinion and so I give all the stars to Angie Thomas for making this connection with her readers. 
The great part about a connection this powerful with the reader is that whatever your character learns is exactly what your reader learns as well. 

SUMMARY
At the end of the day The Hate U Give has probably changed my life… 
I won’t know for a while longer, but I feel like something has just inherently changed for me. My first version, lost to the interwebs, of this review was much more emotional and raw as I had written it hours after finishing this book. Having now had a day to think about it I feel less raw, but no less impacted. This tells me that I will not forget Starr and her plight any time soon. Additionally I will continue to feel like I want to repeat what Starr’s white boyfriend says “I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.". If it would help I’d be honestly more than happy to do so. 
I have never understood people that make assumptions based on race, religion, culture or geographic area. Maybe because I grew up in a decent neighbourhood in a Canadian city that is moderate in size? Or maybe because we had a lot of minorities at my school’s over the years and one of my best friends was a Japanese boy for many years? I’m not sure. And that just because I’ve dated an Asian guy, a black woman, alongside white men and women, that it makes me perfect and means I don’t have unknown prejudices. I am hoping that I have learned from The Hate U Give to identify more of these prejudice, discriminatory, racist or ‘white’ thoughts that I may not have even realized were in the past. This book has made me realize that everyone, including ME, makes the mistake of thinking we aren’t prejudging people or situations when we probably do it on a daily basis without even realizing it.
We cannot work towards changing this in our society until we realize we are part of the problem. Every person in the world needs to realize they do this towards others, no matter what minority, group or situation you make an assumption towards. This is not just about black vs. white. This is about humanity taking a step forward to be ‘one’ and appreciate each other for what we bring to the table. As well as realizing that many of the prejudice’s we have are based on situations that people haven’t even been able to control. Being born to a poor family isn’t the child’s fault but somehow we always put it on them as they get older. These types of things need to STOP.
The Hate U Give title is taken from a TuPac song that is over 20 years old… the fact that it’s shown in the book that the lyrics of the 90’s are still as relevant today as they were then means we are not making enough. We are not listening. 
Let’s start by listening and trying to understand the problem. Regardless of who you are, stop for once and listen to people. Not just those different from you, but those similar to you. Maybe you will learn something about where the real problem is; and can start to break down the walls our society has put up. We need to LISTEN to minorities of all kinds and stop thinking we know best (yes I’m talking to you SJW’s). Let’s listen to the problems that we are made aware of and not invent issues where they don’t exist. We have enough problems to solve without creating more. 
The second step is to speak out and not let things happen because we are afraid. Whether that is letting someone know you are hurt by their comment, reporting illegal activity or events you witness, or just being strong enough to stand by others and talk to people in a respectful and mature manner about issues. Attacking people with weapons or words is not helpful. We need to really open the dialogue up to make real change happen. And even if we lose and aren’t heard on the first try or the hundredth try we still MUST work towards the morally correct outcome. Because if we don’t then who is going to? 

I want to thank Angie Thomas and everyone that had a part in publishing this book. It’s an important book that I cannot wait to buy for everyone I know (seriously). You can easily replace black for any race, religious group, sexual orientation or other minority and find that it’s about more than just white and blacks. It’s about how we treat one another and the trust we need to build. Trust is best built by the actions we take. It takes time and effort to build it and only one moment, like a gun shot, to crush all the trust in the world. Let’s be conscious of those around us, and things in ourselves, that are deplorable and start to really change the world in a mature and change motivated way. Calling one another names and attacking is never going to fix the issue. Start a dialogue that is intelligent, mature and respectful. Really consider others opinions and admit when you are wrong. 

You can start yours and others journey into this conversation and being a part of change, by reading The Hate U Give, immediately.

Disclaimer
I’m not perfect and might say things here that seem wrong or can be misinterpreted by twisting my words. I know some will try to do this. My point in this review is not that we should call people names or make them feel badly. My point is that we should listen to each other, offer fair advice and points of view to affect real change (not just one group against another). No one of us is 100% correct, and this review and book are about building trust and community together. This starts by having intelligent, honest and mature conversations. I hope that by admitting my past mistakes and discussing what I feel I have learned from this book helps people to see what I mean by good intentions and affecting true change.

Thank you for reading this giant review/commentary.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stitching: Disney Freebies


Just today on Facebook someone posted a link that I can't believe I've never seen before! 
It's for FREE DISNEY CHARTS! 
Crazy right? 

My absolute fave is Dory and "just keep swimming". I actually say this a lot either outloud or in my head. It's a great little line to think or say when times are rough and you just have to push through. 


I also love the Up balloon house. But really who doesn't?! It's so colourful and super fun as it's so unrealistic! 



I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. 
Check them all out here: https://family.disney.com/search/Cross+stitch

Enjoy! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Aftercare Instructions


Title: Aftercare Instructions
Author: Bonnie Pipkin
Genre: YA, Teen, Abortion, Drug Abuse
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'm tempted to give this 5 stars just because Bonnie Pipkin was willing to take on the topic of teenage abortion. However moving, realistic and moving this book might be it didn't bring me to tears; and while I'm not one to cry easily at all a five star book of this sort probably would have gotten me there. The ending is a bit too weak for me given the harsh  content of the overall book. 


Aftercare Instructions is set-up in a clever way. The past is read as screenplay entries and the present as first person narrative from our lead gal, Genesis. This is a story of hardship. The kind that comes along and you have no control over (like loosing a parent) and the kind of hardship where you made a choice at some point (or multiple points) and now you need to accept it and move on. 


There are so many great moments in this book. Especially the beginning and when Genesis meets a boy. Both handled in a very realistic and surreal way. Exactly how I myself have felt in the past; both as a teenager and an adult. Sometimes you're just there for the ride and can only think about the immediate step in front of you. It's clear to me that Pipkin has experienced this first hand and she displays the distance, but intense emotion really well on the page. 


My biggest disappointment here is that our lead gal doesn't to give much thought to her abortion after the fact. While this may be what some girls do in real life; I have to say that it would have been nice to see more agony over the morals, concerns and emotions of her choice. Additionally the part the 'boyfriend' plays in the abortion decision is downplayed overall and the ending didn't do him any justice. 


As a woman who cannot have children, and it is believed that I miscarried a baby at 19; I can say that the whole realm of babies is a difficult place for me sometimes. Most days I'm happy to see my friends have little ones and be the one in five whose unable to carry. But occasionally I wonder what it might be like to hold my own baby in my arms. These types of thoughts all happen to a woman at some point no matter what her decisions are or where fate may take her. I think it's important more of these discussions happen openly among women and that our society accept that whether people like it or not getting pregnant doesn't come with a survey to fill out or pre-screening. We need to continue to offer support and options; pre and post sexual intercourse in order to ensure that both women and men feel they have played a part in the decision. 


Overall this is a wonderful debut YA book, that tackles a couple difficult topics. I think Pipkin has talent and in a couple more books she will hopefully hit her stride as a YA writer whose willing to tackle the heavy stuff and keep the emotions raw and real. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones


Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Series: Wayward Children, book 2
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: YA, fairy tale, fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

It should be noted that I'm a bit of a Seanan McGuire fan girl. I think she's a very talented, diverse and interesting author (in all her pen names). You just gotta respect her ability to write things so vastly different from each. 


While book 1 was perhaps slightly stronger than this; I must say that Sticks and Bones was absolutely engrossing, enchanting and engaging! (Wow that was a lot of E's!) 

The blend of two commonly known classic monster stories, alongside the story of the twins and their odd and frustrating upbringing works beautifully. There is just so much here even though the book is less than 200 pages. 


The shortness of these books is perhaps part of their magic. They are concise, pretty without being overly flowery, and all around well edited and written. I've always said that a good short story is often more impressive than a good 1000 page epic. (Which is ironic as I love epics). The reason is that the writer had to work so much harder to get their message across in a short story. To make you understand a setting, character development and enough plot to feel like something started and stopped in less than 200 pages is very difficult. And McGuire does it fantastically here. 


If you love fairy tales, stories of children finding their way or spins on classic myths then I believe you will like this book. 

I personally loved it and would recommend it to everyone to read. It's just that magical.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Shadow Fall


Title: Shadow Fall

Author: Audrey Grey

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopian

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars


Did Not Finish (DNF) @ 33%


I just can't do it. I love elaborate novels. Especially fantasy ones but you have to be able to write them in a way that keeps your reader engaged and aware. If too much happens and too many info dumps are supposed to 'explain things' then readers get frustrated, bored or detached.


In addition to there being too much all at once there is also not a single moment in this book that felt unique or it's own. A death match. Giant impact about to hit the earth. Girl whose a nobody but is 'chosen'. Looking to save a sibling. Caste society separated by colours. Etc, etc, etc. 


It's like Audrey Grey couldn't decide what elements of which books she liked best so she used ALL OF THEM. And in the end it's a jumbled mess of nothing. 


I'm super disappointed as this book sounded really cool. And taking what's been done and putting a new spin on it is what stories are all about. Sadly there is no new spin here, just a mish-mash of everything into one. 


Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Stitching: Sugar Skull Start

Wow that is a lot of S's in that title! 

I have a quick little start to share today. 
But the bigger bed is I'm very very close to the first page finish on Alice. It's been slower than I expected due to a lot of confetti... 
but in the meantime here is a new start on my fave little kits by Mill Hill... 


Start to date


What it will look like 

That's it for now, but I really have been stitching a lot it's just not exciting to post blobs of beige and pink on Alice. 

Thanks for visiting and commenting!! 

Book Review: A Murder in Time


Title: A Murder in Time 

AuthorJulie McElwain 

Genre: Time Travel, Murder Mystery, Historical 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


This is more of a 2.5 stars book. And what I'm about to say is going to be very contradictory...

I enjoyed this book, but it also drove me crazy. The overall concept of a FBI agent time travelling to the past and solving crime is amusing, clever and unique. Also the time period of the 1800s is a personal favourite. 


And yet there were so many things I had to look over in my enjoyment of this book: 

 science or myth/lore, and your character trying to return... Kendra puts ZERO thought put into returning to her own time. And while she may not want to in the end, the reality is that she should have tried something for a day or two... or just been more frantic. 

  1. It rambled on and on, often. It could be 200 pages shorter and you'd sacrifice no story or character development; instead you just loose some extremely detailed autopsy info, details about maids and servants that are irrelevant. 
  2. A lot of our lead gal, Kendra  thinking (also easily cut out) includes stupid one liners (think Caruso in Miami Vice bad comments) that are just unnecessary and frankly is a cheap trick that an inexperienced author uses at chapter ends. 
  3. If you are going to do a book on time travel you had better be ready to deal with a few things... your character desperately trying to return, some actual
  4. Accents. I get it servants have accents and nobels/aristocrats don't. But I do not need an apostrophe in place of every single 'H' muttered by a servant. There were entire lines I couldn't read even after three tries. Ridiculous over emphasis of accent. 
  5. Speaking of not understanding things; while it was only done once it as almost an entire page of actual conversation in French. No translations. Now for me this is fine as I'm bilingual but had it been any other language I'd have been screwed. This is a rude disservice to readers in my opinion. 
  6. Id have liked to see more effort put into researching the time period for historical issues. Many, many small things drove me crazy... but I love historical fiction that is well researched. So maybe I just expect too much of a fun book like this.  


And yet I really LIKED this book. Confused yet? LOL 


A Murder in Time is like Outlander meets J.D.Robb. I'm not a big murder mystery person per say but I enjoy a bold, break all the rules female that kicks ass every once in awhile. 

I also really enjoyed how Julie McElwain demonstrated the intelligence of our 1800s characters even though they didn't have our current technology. I think we often think people in the past were dumb which is just not true as they got us to where we are today. 


I will read the second book as I now want to know about the romance that was just getting started, more about the time travel aspect and how Kendra continues to manage her situation(s). 

And because this was a decent read, even if it wasn't amazing. 

It would make for a fun beach read or lazy Sunday afternoon. Just don't over think it.