Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: Middlegame

MiddlegameMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm always nervous when one of my favourite authors comes out with a novel that seems to be very different from anything they've ever done before. In the case of Middlegame, Seanan McGuire has given us a book that is unlike most things I've read before. As usual she stands in a class all her own and screams "look at me"! And while I really enjoyed this unique science fiction, dystopian, magical realism (add other genres here) story; it wasn't up to the 'snuff' I expect from Seanan. It felt a little drawn out and perhaps needed one more round of solid editing to be more concise.

Date, Time & Place
As someone who reads a lot of historical and science fiction I'm familiar with the usual date, time, place information at the beginning of a chapter. Generally I find myself flipping back (or in the case of a book on my eReader cursing) to remember what the last date, time, place I was given was. McGuire solves this issue sooo elegantly. I want this to become a new standard for date, time, place monikers. We get in brackets, at the beginning of (most) chapters, notes about if it's: later the same day, a different day, a few hours later, a month later, years later, etc. Or in the case of some fun time warping a note about how skewed time has become. It may seem like a small this but this little detail was critical to my enjoyment of Middlegame as I wasn't constantly flipping back and forth to orient myself.

More like Mira Grant
For those not familiar with McGuire's work she also publishes horror books under a pseudonym Mira Grant. I wish this was a Seanan McGuire meets Mira Grant novel. There are moments during it when the depth, detail and goriness (to be frank) of Grant's books would have been better suited here. Now you may think to yourself; they are the same person! But I honestly believe that a good writer (and McGuire is amazing) puts on a different 'hat' to write in certain genres or under different names. What I wanted here was a little more Grant with my McGuire. While Middlegame feels more like a Blake Crouch book than anything else I can think of in recent years; it still has the strong relationships and magical allure of most of McGuire's writing.
Our Hand of Glory is described as a melting gruesome thing and so I have to say my second disappointment with the gore factor in Middlegame was the very underwhelming cover. Where's the melting? Where's the burning flesh? Where's the horror that the hand used to belong to a real person?

Mixing Religion, Magic, Science & Alchemy
A really good science fiction or fantasy book (in my mind) will take different aspects of real-life knowledge and blend them with ones you might not expect. While the study of alchemy has long been the disproved sibling of science; there is no doubt that they have roots that come from the same place. McGuire takes the alchemy concepts, today's science and mixes it all around. Adding a healthy dose of religion, superstition and magic into the pot. By the time you come out of Middlegame you won't be sure what might have been rooted in science or math and what wasn't. I liked this treatment of the technical aspects of this book as it left more up to the imagination and it didn't let doubts seep in the way a book that is very science based might have. A clever way to deal with a magical realism story that people can believe and connect with.

Lost in Time & Space
There are few writers that can twist a timeline around on a reader and keep their attention and the order of events in order. Some of those writers include Blake Crouch, Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson and (now) Seanan McGuire. The veteran writing style and touch of McGuire kept me not only entertained; but also oriented in the every fluctuating timeline of Middlegame. This is not a single timeline story and part of it's allure and magic is that time twists around in places and creates opportunities for things to happen in a magical way.

Why Four Stars?
By now you may be wondering why I only gave this four stars. There are points during the story where the plot is bogged down by mini-info dumps. The first time it happens I figured McGuire was just ensuring we caught some nuances. But by the last 100 pages there were STILL large amounts of text that just explained away happenings. Certainly for the average writer this would be expected; but McGuire is anything but an average novelist. So it was disappointing to see a poorly used tactic come out of the writing on more than one occasion. Additionally I found that at times the dialogue between characters was a bit stilted and ridiculous. As though it was only there to ensure the reader that our characters were still pinged into the intricacies of the story.

Overall
I think Middlegame might have benefited from more smooth proofing or an editor that would recommend cuts in some of the denser parts of the novel. If you have enjoyed Mira Grant before then definitely read this. If you're more into the Heart of the Doorway or the Incryptid series this may be a little too complex to your taste. Although, ironically, if all these books existed in one multiverse it could potentially explain a lot of things. And maybe they do all exist in the same place and time; without every encompassing the same time and place. Middlegame will keep your brain moving, engaged and a good dose of McGuire's imagination at it's best.

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




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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Book Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are some books which need to be read at their publication time. Anything which is the first of its kind, relevant to current events, or just odd can sometimes only be truly appreciated at the moment in history with which it’s existence coincides. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (thus referred to as Hitchhiker) may fall into all three of these categories; but it’s solidly in the last.

Plot
To say there is plot in this would be like saying there is substantial fruit juice in gummy candy. It’s such a small, minute amount that it’s barely worth categorizing or referencing. I couldn’t tell you what the plot is in Hitchhiker to save my life. All I know is there’s a book about the galaxy, Earth is blown up (in opening chapters) and we follow around this random human who has no real business being in space. None of these things are truly plot. In fact there is no real reason to tell this story that I could find; except to maybe write some ridiculous (and sometimes amusing) science fiction.

Historical Context
I was not born when this book was written by Douglas Adams. As a child of the early 80s and a teen of the 90s, there is something about the 70s decade that eludes me. I believe this is likely one of the main reasons I don’t “get” Hitchhiker. Sometimes you need to be in a moment, or understand how little of something existed in order to appreciate the mind boggling change when a new innovation, trend or piece of writing comes along that changed everything. Hitchhiker seems like a text that requires you to appreciate and know the exact state of the world at the moment it was published. I would never presume to say it isn’t an important book for its time period, as I wasn’t there to know and trust those who were that its publication was a significant turning point in literature.

Philosophical
I think everyone can agree there are a lot of philosophical inferences and statements to be taken from this novel. I have long loved the idea that the meaning of life is 43, for example. It’s a random, nonsensical thought; and yet isn’t it comforting to think 43 might truly be the answer to the universe and everything in it? The same as I love the idea of the world being transported on the back of a turtle through the galaxy (see Discworld). And so there is no way anyone could argue that Hitchhiker doesn’t have value in some way today given it has sooo much room for interpretation. However, at this moment I am (perhaps) just not intelligent enough (or I don’t care enough) to sit down and derive what many of the lines in Hitchhiker are truly about. Good news for readers; there are many books and papers written about it, all by people more talented in this area than I.

Overall
I feel very “meh” about the whole book; and am most thankful it’s a short read. Maybe it’s a lifetime of hype around Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy bringing my expectations too high? Maybe I’m just not in the right generation to truly appreciate what Adams had to say. Or perhaps it’s that Hitchhiker is special to a generation because it was released at the perfect moment. If this last is true, I absolutely respect the importance of any novel to a time period (even if I can’t experience that importance myself).
While I’m unlikely to read Hitchhiker again or carry on with the rest of the series (especially after reading that it’s not in sequential order and grossly contradicts itself throughout the remaining books) I do want to say that it’s a unique and clearly pervasive piece of literature that every bookworm and/or science fiction reader should delve into at least once. Even if it’s only so you understand pop culture references and have a moment to wonder what it might be like to be the last human in the galaxy.

Side note: I have to wonder if Adams had heard of the concept of the internet (as was being developed by the US military in 1970s; or if he thought up a device, that provided the user with all the galaxy’s data at their fingertips, on his own...)

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Book Review: The Binding

The BindingThe Binding by Bridget Collins

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 40%

A strange thing happens in The Binding. We are taken through Part I which is full of magical intrigue, book binding principles, books galore; and then it's all ripped away. Part II opens up and it's like nothing in Part I happened at all! Now we are just stuck on a farm with our (not so interesting) and seemingly non-magical teen boy. Whereas in Part I the same teen boy was just coming into his own personally and professionally (as a magical book binder) when we are pulled away from the story.

Good Stuff Too Early
In a world where it is increasingly difficult to capture the attention of any one person, never mind a large group of people, it's critical that you not give away too much of the good stuff too soon. If the beginning of a book, like The Binding, is infinitely more interesting than the rest then any author is going to have a hard time keeping their reader around for another 300+ pages.
As I didn't read the whole book (I gave up during Part II) I went and read some spoiler plot points and other reviews. These all confirmed exactly what I suspected, the good stuff was all over and the rest of The Binding might have been be a good story IF you didn't know what happened in Part I.
What Bridget Collins should have done with The Binding is flipped narratives around and started with a teaser of Part I and then stuck us into Part II right away. That way we haven't had our attention piqued and the interesting stuff ripped from our attention. Our world has a lot of competition for attention and ultimately enticing people to to read more must be a large priority. Sadly farms, even ones with cute m/m possible relationships, just aren't that interestin (or at least not near as interesting as books full of memories).

Books about Books
I've said it before, there is nothing quite as easy as marketing a book about books (or book related activities) to a bunch of bookworms. It should be a slam dunk. You might not get the mass appeal that Stephen King garners but you'll likely get a small, devoted following to your story. The Binding is one of these books that should have been an easy sell to someone like me. A book about binding books that have magical properties!? Sign me up now!
Now, maybe my excitement about the possibility of a fantasy and magical realism mixed in with the art of book binding (not with a machine but by hand) had my expectations too high? Or maybe I just wanted to have the whole story be about books (and Part II clearly wasn't)? Or perhaps it's a little of both; which seems the most likely. Either way the use of book binding should have made this a worthy read; too bad there isn't any book binding in Part II up to the point I read.

Writing, Setting, etc.
It's really too bad that the focus and plot of The Binding fly off the rails as the writing itself is really lovely. It's a romantic, sing-songy style that invoked an archaic, medieval feel for me. the descriptions and use of magic in Part I are just enough without being overwhelming; and our lead boys response to the magic and how it affects him is really well done. I especially appreciated that he was sick for a long time before he could do even small amounts of magic or binding. No easy road here for this hero. It felt realistic in a way that most magical fantasy stories aren't able to convey. It's so tragic that this writing, imagery and setting don't result in a plot and story that I cared about enough to finish the novel.

Overall
Collins has some definite talent for setting a scene and creating worlds that are well developed. Additionally Collins clearly knows how to write characters that readers can bond with almost immediately. Because of this obvious talent in writing I would try another Collins book again; even though I did not finish this one. The Binding should have been one of my top reads of the year; and if Part I had continued forward in the same style, setting, etc. it might have been. Unfortunately we end up on a farm bored out of our minds with the harvesting, horses and not enough to keep it all going. It's sad because I bet the m/m relationship that was developing between our two teen boys was adorable. However there is no amount of cuteness between two characters (even gay ones) that will have me put up with descriptions of grains and farm animals for dozens and dozens of pages.

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

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Book Review: The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson

The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson by Quinn Sosna-Spear

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A little disjointed at times, this strange and unique middle grade book has a lot to digest (even for an adult). I feel like it tries to do too much and that takes away from what the core story should be. While I felt like there was an attempt to have a fun and dream-like tone and story; Quinn Sosna-Spear misses the mark for me in some key areas including plot and use of flashbacks.

Plot
It's only at the 32% mark in which our two children actually take off on their journey together! Just a bit too much introduction and info dumping for my taste to start with. This is a classic quest set-up with our two main characters setting out into the big wide world. Nothing really different from other stories happens. There's a balloon incident (Wizard of Oz), giants (Jack and the Beanstalk), quirky inventors and some odd honeybees. All were unique in their own way as encounters but none of them stood out to me as especially unique or even all that exciting.

Odd Moments
There are a few noteworthy or odd things that happen or are said in this book that I highlighted while reading and I feel like they are worth coming back to. These descriptions begin to really give a sense of why I wasn't a huge fan of this book.
In the opening few pages we meet a teacher who is intentionally teaching children the wrong things! From spelling, math and geography; this teacher gives the kids the wrong answers to things; and she does it knowingly. I'm not sure what the point was of this teacher but it really bothered me that this character (already a brief presence) existed at all. Unless of course the reason was to give our children an "excuse" to run away from school? (ie: they weren't being taught properly anyways?)
One of the first towns we encounter sounds exactly like H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth. I'm going to assume this is not intentional (?) as this is a children's book and there wouldn't really be a reason to pay homage to a horror writer in a fantasy middle-age story. However; given the Lovecraft Innsmouth town use in the recent blockbuster DC comics hit 'Aquaman' and a bit of a resurgence of Lovecraft's settings and monsters being used by many adult fantasy/horror writers; I can't help but wonder if it was coincidence or not. There is nothing wrong with this homage or use of Innsmouth (as it's a clever way to explain evolution); it just struck me as a bit odd and made me wonder if Sosna-Spear wasn't creative enough to come up with her own quirky town.

Circling Dialogue
This reminds me a bit of Ronald Dahl in that there’s a lot of nonsense in it and dialogue that circles itself. Where each character says the same thing a different way and they are confirming their understanding of one another. It's really annoying as an adult to read this. And frankly, as a child I found Dahl to be a bit boring at times because it took him soooo long to describe one thing or have one quick conversation. Perhaps this is just me and it's helpful to children to read the same thing over again in a different way to help with comprehension. If that is the case I will conceded that it is clearly appropriate for this middle-age book.

Flashbacks
My ongoing hatred of poorly used flashbacks continues. I don't understand why we get the POV of Walter's Mother closer to the end of the story in the current day; never mind her flashbacks. It feels like Sosna-Spear wasn't able to write the story in a clever enough way to have Walter unveil the secrets for the readers and instead Sosna-Spear gives us two sides of the same story so we can put it together (albeit slightly) sooner than our main children do. The purpose is still beyond me except to maybe ensure the reader knows what is/has happened.
The biggest pet peeve of this book I have is the use of flashbacks. If you want to change POVs without too much context I don't tend to mind. But switching what timeline is being described is a huge no-no to me. If I'm getting slightly lost trying to figure out of the Mother's POV was current day or past I don't even want to think about the struggle a 9-year-old child might have. It was just too much work near the end of the story (especially given the ease of reading the prior sections of the book) to keep things straight.
So I hold to my usual comment: if you don't know how to set-up and use flashbacks, then please don't use them at all. Tolkien uses flashbacks poorly and emulating his wizard battle flashback from Fellowship will always be a bad idea!

Overall
I nearly didn't finish reading The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson. Honestly, had it not been relatively short and easy to read I may have put it aside. 3 stars is probably a bit generous of a rating for me. And yet I will say there is some magic here and the children are fairly well put together characters. If a child was to read this as one of their first fantasy-style stories I could seem them being enamored as it's not 'bad' so much as it's just boring and very plain given the plethora of middle-age fantasy that is available to readers which has a much better plot and writing style.

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

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Book Review: Treasure

Treasure by Mireille Messier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beautiful artwork and lots of colour is found in Mireille Messier's children's book Treasure. A good length for a bedtime story and doesn't have any huge moments that might over excite children for a nap or sleep read.

Unfortunately I didn't love the content of this story. A little girl goes looking for treasure and asks her mother many times if something from nature is the 'treasure'. Things like a flower, rock, etc. Eventually the 'treasure' is a hidden, special waterfall. I didn't really like that the other items prior to that (which might be considered treasures to many) were dismissed as not treasure. I also didn't like that the waterfall, which is an intangible thing, was called treasure. I realize the point here is likely to teach children that physical objects or items aren't the only kind of treasure in the world; but it felt a bit forced to me. I would have preferred to have the mother say that while an item can be someone's treasure it's not HER treasure.

This change would allow for children to learn:
a) anything can be treasure, not just objects (especially nature items!),
b) treasure is special to each person,
c) treasure can be special in it's own way. For example: not all treasure is equal or even the same (ie: gold coin versus waterfall).
While I don't think there is any harm in the way this story is set-up for children; it's just not the way I would have done it.

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

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book Review: The Masterpiece


The Masterpiece
by Fiona Davis


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It should be known up-front that I'm a big fan of Fiona Davis'. Her writing, characters and choice of historical settings are always superb. As with most of Davis' historical fiction there are two women in two separate timelines that eventually come together. You might think that perhaps this choice of set-up in historical fiction would eventually feel overused or loose it's magic as it's been used to death; but for me it's the perfect way to relate a story.

Setting
I seem to always have an affinity for the oldest timeline and characters in any given historical novel. Perhaps because they seem more intriguing, magical or unpredictable? Whatever the reason, The Masterpiece was no exception to the rule for me. Both timelines keep the primary location of the Grand Central Terminal in New York; and yet one is about how gorgeous, vibrant and art filled the station is; while the other is set during a time when they nearly took the whole train station down! I didn't know that Grand Central nearly didn't survive decades ago from being demolished; and so this historical tidbit was great to learn about.

Characters
As always Davis has characters that are realistic and relatable. Whether it's our divorcee fighting to stay alive in (relatively) modern day (1974ish) or the aspiring artist in 1929 who everyone walks all over because she is a woman; Davis makes me feel like these are real women. At one point nearing the end of the story I was beside myself when I realized that there might not be a happy ending here! Inspiring emotion for the people in the story is key to a historical novel being successful and Davis does it masterfully in The Masterpiece.

Plot
There's a lot going on in here. We have intrigue and mystery in both timelines; and of course it all comes together beautifully in the end to tie our two ladies together. I don't to say too much, as I don't want to give any good tidbits away; but if you enjoy the unraveling of a history and finding out about people's dirty little secrets then I think you'll be on board for this plot.
Unfortunately The Masterpiece falls to a four star book (from five) for me because of it's ending. There is a bit too much that just 'happens' for no real reason and so I put this book down feeling a little cheated at the contrived ending.

Overall
Regardless of if the ending is to my liking I still really enjoyed this story and would certainly consider revisiting it in the future. Davis gives us strong women who persevere even when the odds are stacked against them. I was able to relate to these women and even reflect a little on my daily life and realize that it could always be worse. Each day I read this during my commute to work (on the bus), at lunchtime or at home I felt like I was being subtly reminded that any one of our lead women could have been me. And that made me thankful to live when and where I do.
Any book that is able to so strongly connect with me is worthy of a recommendation and a place on my print shelf (the highest honour I can give). While not a perfect five-star read; The Masterpiece is still more than worthy of a dive into the art and magic of a train station.

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

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Book Review: David Bowie (Little People, Big Dreams)

David Bowie (Little People, BIG DREAMS)David Bowie by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a step towards the other gender, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara has taken her line of children's books called Little People, Big Dreams from primarily famous women into the stories of famous men. The idea of the series is to promote unique and influential people whom we want our children to look up to.

Obviously David Bowie was as unique a person as they come! He changed the landscape for people to start realizing that gender norms weren't necessary and that being 'weird' or 'different' was okay. The biggest disappointment I have in this release in Vegara's line of children's books is that there is very little said about how he influenced so many people to question their own sexuality and start conversations about the idea of gender fluidity and other realities that we are working to have society embrace today. It feels almost like Vegara, or her publisher, was not comfortable with stating outright the influence Bowie has had for so many in different marginalized community. Whether he was gay or not (note: he was married to a woman), gender fluid, bisexual, pansexual, etc. is irrelevant, partially because Bowie made it irrelevant; but also because it wasn't about being one thing in the 70's at the height of Bowie's fame. Bowie instead embodied the idea of allowing yourself to be whoever you wanted to be; even if that person didn't fit into the social box. While the book captures the idea of being weird is okay; it really misses out on emphasizing the gender norms that Bowie took head-on.

There are some cute pages in this book about Bowie being 'weird' or 'unusual' but overall it really missed the mark for me. There was an amazing opportunity in this children's book to really allow kids to consider gender norms and, perhaps, have little boys decide to wear dresses. Instead this story played it safe and for that reason I cannot say this is as good as it really could (should?) have been.

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

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book Review: Suspended Hearts

Suspended Heart by Heather Fowler  (short story collection)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As always with a collection or anthology of short stories there are winners and losers. Some standout and are memorable; others are forgotten the moment you read the title of the next story. On the whole Heather Fowler has given us a fairly standard set of different genre stories inside the magical realism realm. I really enjoyed some of these (especially Cock-Sculpting, Minnow Lake and Fear of Snakes) and found some of them a bit bland or too allegorical for my taste (like Razorblade Skin, Made of Clay and Erotic City of Ghosts).
Likely any one who enjoys speculative and weird stories will find at least one of these 20 stories that whets their appetite.

Story #1 - Suspended Heart
A lovely little story about a woman and her missing heart; and her desire to never, ever take it back. What I wouldn't do to have ditched my heart in a mall a few times over in my life so it didn't hurt anymore.

Story #2 - Bloom In Any Season
A gal blooms lovely in spring/summer; and then looses her lovely flowers in fall/winter. Then no one wants her in the same way. It made me think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As well as reminded me of how much we can change as people depending on our existing state of mind. Wonderful little story!

Story #3 - Cat/Bird Love Song
This story is just depressing. It’s about being alone and the challenges of love when you are attracted to those likely to dislike you just because of your look, race, age, etc.

Story #4 - Crack-Smoking Parrots
So this title is literally describing our two lead characters. Two parrots. It’s a very purposeful allegory, filled with a lot of humour, regarding how difficult it is to publish anything these days. I genuinely laughed out loud twice during this cute little story.

Story #5 - The Girl with Razorblade Skin
I’m not totally sure I get this one. It’s clearly about self esteem and making your life your own; I’m just not sure on the symbolism of the razor blades. I’m starting to think I need an English teacher to explain some of these stories to me.

Story #6 - Godiva
Here we get a story that is all about the #MeToo movement and the idea that dressing like a slut, wanting to show off your body, etc. is not consent.
Ironically (perhaps) I feel like the lead gal in this loves being a slut and when she’s upset at one point I had very little sympathy. I’m not sure if that was the intended point or not...

Story #7 - My Brother, Made of Clay
Another one that had mostly gone over my head. It’s obviously about how bad parenting and negativity grows awful children (or plants) but I can honestly say the point of the story is lost on me.

Story #8 - Cock-Sculpting
Here’s a story where the title is literally what the artist in the story does. Yes that’s right she makes male genitalia from clay; based on real life models (of course). And I loved it!

Story #9 - Psychic Pigeon
A really sad but great story. Told from the perspective of a pigeon who helps out a woman being sexually assaulted (as blackmail to keep her job) by her boss.

Story #10 - Fear of Snakes
Okay this super short story is near and dear to me as a snake momma. My three darling snakes are amazing; although I will confess to loving my 6’4” boa the best.

Story #11 - Men like Chameleons in the Dark
Imagine if a colour on your body indicated how you felt about someone? An involuntary colour change would betray your every moment of love, lust or hate.

Story #12 - Saints and Blue Babies
This religious story is a little weird; but I liked the overall idea that all religious are the same religion at the end of the day.

Story #13 - The Rose Lamp
An intriguing story that should really be expanded into a full length historical mystery novel. Sooo much potential in this one but because it’s so short it doesn’t quite reach its full worth.

Story #14 - The Bheindris
A typical sci-fi short story about a human in love with a robot. Nothing new to see here.

Story #15 - A Companion of Minnow Lake
This is exactly the type of odd, creepy story I love best in short stories. Absolutely wonderful and nice to see an elderly man as our lead character.

Story #16 - Channel 59
A commentary on our societal addiction to television and by proxy our smartphones. Showing that addicts will find a way to get a fix; even when it seems impossible.

Story #17 - Time Broker
The ultimate question... what would you be willing to give up in life in order to have more time? We all say what we wouldn't give to have more time in a day; but have you ever thought about what that might actually mean and if you intend the statement literally?

Story #18 - Schrodinger’s Love Cat
Thanks to The Big Bang Theory I know what Schrodinger’s theory is! I was really excited for this story as I think there’s so many ways the cat theory can apply to opportunities or what if situations. Sadly this story didn’t elaborate on it any further than at the basic level.

Story #19 - Little Red Riding Hood and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
This is an amusing take on Red and her encounter with the wolf which included her grandmother being eaten. I liked the wit put into it and wish I could read Red’s diary now.

Story #20 - Dangling Now, The Erotic City of Ghosts
I’m sure some English professor could find meaning in this last super short story and tell me how it brings all the stories together in a way. But to be honest it feels like some nonsensical words put together that don’t make a story; but instead set a scene. No characters, plot or anything exist here, so I feel it’s not really a story at all.

Overall
Out of these 20 stories I really enjoyed about half of them. Some were much better than others; as tends to be the way with short story collections. I'd definitely read more of Fowler in the future and would love to see her write some full-length speculative fiction for readers to gnaw their way through.
I would encourage Fowler to stay with the lighthearted or creepy stories more so than the contemporary ones. She does a good job of incorporating the contemporary themes desired into the amusing or scary stories; and it keeps the reader far more interested (or at least me more interested) than the basic tell it like it is story.

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

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Book Review: Fierce Fairytales

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your SoulFierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The idea is good, the illustrations gorgeous but the last 1/3 of the collection is just a big giant bash against men with no real fairytale link at all. It’s really too bad Nikita Gill can’t seem to understand that not all men are awful. The last few poems are very disturbing to me considering they are the most likely to be remembered (being last). It's too bad because many of the poems near the beginning of this compilation are solid, strong takes on known stories.

Great Pacing & Feel
Gill gives us some wonderful quotes and moments in Fierce Fairytales throughout her (very) short stories and poem snippets. She has taken known fairy tales (some from around the world) and given them a darker or more realistic spin.
One example of that writing that really stood out to me (being as I have a medicated Anxiety disorder) is:
"Anxiety makes more heroes than history would care to repeat. It is better than sitting and waiting, letting the demon claw into your mind with worry. Anxious people are resourceful, they need to know how to keep the sea of panic at bay so they do not drown.”
This resonated as very true for me. Some people tell me I’m brave. But I’m really not, I just can’t stand not knowing or waiting to find something out. My lack of ability to breathe, be patient and not panic is a detriment and shows weakness more so than anything. Although I will agree with the resourcefulness comment. I have gotten good at distracting myself, calming myself down, or otherwise finding a way to not pass-out or show external signs of any given panic attack I may be having.

Pretty Isn't Enough
The idea of updating fairy tales or poems and putting them in a gorgeously bound (and illustrated) book for children/teens is wonderful. The actual production of this book is amazing. I would have cherished it as a child just for how pretty it is; even if I didn't like all the stories. I think there is probably something here for everyone; but unfortunately you have to navigate a lot of obnoxious, in your face rhetoric to find it. Gill starts us out with the tamer stories and sets the tone and mood. She lures the reader into buying into her ideas, stories and verse. Only to take the last quarter of this book bashing, and I mean declaring all out war on, men. I didn't like this. It felt too overt and just too nasty to teach children or teens.
Being upset about the inequality to date in our world is not really a useful thing to teach our children. What we need to teach them is how to stand up for themselves and speak out against those that are treating women (or others) inappropriately. This doesn't require us to fear-monger or make like all men in this world are awful. At one point I felt like maybe Gill was building a new lesbian army of teens to take over the world; that's how all out awful a lot of the last poems/stories were. Just unnecessary in my mind and not productive.

Overall
Were it not for the last quarter of the book this would probably get a four star rating from me; but I struggle to even give it three stars given how much I disliked the last few passages. Gill needed an editor or publisher that spoke up about how any boy/man that picks up her book is likely to be put off by the end. And perhaps needed to hear, in advance of publication, that many women don't take kindly to generic bashing of males. I would love to give this book to two little girls I know in order to have them use their imagination when it comes to Disney or modern-day interpretations of fairy tales; but I'd have to rip out the last few pages. Given the children know how much I love books that would cause all kinds of questions. So instead I will leave Fierce Fairytales off my gifting list and be conscious of the rhetoric around me that all the lovely children in my life (none of which are my own) may be subject to on any given day.
In order to really be an equal society we must get over our anger and remove the chip on our shoulder. The only way to true equality is to work together to level the playing field; not to get revenge and one-up anyone over anyone else. I'm disappointed that the overall point and end of Fierce Fairytales was clearly that we women need to take control of everything over our male peers.

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

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Book Review: Batman: Damned

Batman: Damned by Brian Azzarello 
(3-issue comic series)


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Without a doubt the most interesting part of Batman: Damned 3-part over sized comic series is the 'Batwang' seen in Book 1. Yep, I was stoked (and still love, regardless of the controversy) that we finally saw a man with no clothes on in the Batman universe. And boy is he yummy. Add in the hot sexual version of Harley Quinn we get in book 2 and I can't help but be a huge fan of the art and lack of clothing in all genders. In fact all the stars I give this series are for sexy, gritty art.

DC Black Label
Intended to be a line of comics that are intentionally put together for adults, DC's Black Label started off strong with White Knight. These books are marketed as very dark, gory, sexual and meant to show-off the real grit of the DC Universe. It gives the opportunity for DC to explore all sorts of themes that can't be looked at in their monthly lines (more geared at teens).
On the heels of the superbly done White Knight Black Label; I was super excited about Damned. Too bad the art is by far the best part. Oh, and the Batwang I mentioned earlier is just icing on the cake really. It's perhaps interesting to note that in White Knight we see naked, nipple pointing Harley Quinn and no readers or fans protested; but put naked Batman's naked mushroom cap and suddenly the world has ended. *eye roll*
As a bi-sexual woman I would love to see comics get a little more fair when it comes to the sexualization of each gender. I don't want the women in more clothing; but instead let's remove some of the clothing on the men. It's worth noting here, the Batwang page is darkened in this compilation edition and so you won't get the full art like in the original first print issue of the comic. (side note: this fact just proves how sexist the comic industry is. And reinforces that the fanboys, a.k.a. a bunch of wussy men, whined enough that DC pulled the glorious nakedness of Batman).

Format & Font
I read a lot of comics and so the size of the standard modern day comic is very comfortable to me. Damned is printed in a much wider page that felt awkward. I also don't like how much floppier the pages are (even though they are a good heavy stock). I just see more opportunity to damage or hurt the artwork/pages in any format (besides electronic) that this is printed in.
And what is up with the font at times? It's hard to read, awkward and just annoying. I know it's Batman's thoughts or inner dialogue to himself but it's really obnoxious in the way it's presented. It's not necessary to put the words in some crazy hard to read font in order to get the feel of the deepness or darkness of the narrative. I'd much prefer being able to easily read the narrative and have the words be portray the ambiance than have it be difficult to read. I realize the font is meant to match the illustration style of this series; but for me it's just trying too hard.

Overall
Given the hype and controversy surrounding this series, it's a real let down. While I love the moment in Book 2 when Harley bears her heart out to Batman over Joker's demise and how much she misses him; there's really nothing else here. We have little to no new character development, are given annoying Constantine who just confuses the story more (as he tends to), and Zatanna shows for no apparent reason I can tell. And don't even start me on how the angel statues in Book 3 are a poor rip-off of Doctor Who's Weeping Angels. I would speculate on the Enchantress looking character that is unnamed in book 3 but I literally have no clue (and don't really care that much) given her small role in the story.

While I'll certainly keep this series in my collection as it features Harley AND a bat-penis; I just can't imagine coming back to it very often to really read it. Unless of course the next Black Label comic builds on this. Although I really hope it doesn't because I'm not loving the end (which felt so anti-climatic to me) and was just typical annoying DC being incapable of leaving anyone dead in their universe. Given the grit and adult content I feel like the least we could get is some continuity in keeping dead characters dead. But then they'd have to come up with amazing new characters and the reality is that we all just read about our faves.
My overall recommendation is flip through this one at the library or your local shop to see the art and then move onto something else. Or go read (or re-read) Batman: White Knight; the best mini-series DC has put out in the past couple years.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: Rainbow

Rainbow: A First Book of PrideRainbow: A First Book of Pride by Michael Genhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is just so cute! Michael Genhart has brought to us a simple little book that explains each colour of the rainbow used on the Pride Flag. We get a simple one line to read out to children along with cute illustrations of same sex couples of different ethnicity.
I'm not sure if it was intentional or not; but there are couples in the book where it's hard to tell if they are male or female. This feels just perfect for this little primer that is all about people being inclusive. I also liked the descriptions of the colours in the flag. I think this is something that everyone should know and helps reinforces Pride values.
This review is based off the assumption that Rainbow comes as a board book for all pages and is suitable for babies - toddlers.

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

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Book Review: Justice League vs. Suicide Squad

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad by Joshua Williamson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As a Harley Quinn fan I don't follow Justice League (JL); but of course follow Suicide Squad (SS). I was very excited to see my beloved villains/anti-heroes go head-to-head with the righteously annoying JL. Sadly that is not exactly what I got here. While we get some fighting between the two groups; mostly the story centers around a totally different group that is causing trouble for everyone.

Plot
What is most interesting in this large story (each comic had an extended page count in this collection) is that all powerful Amanda Waller didn't have complete control every moment of this story line. It was also nice to see Batman appreciate any help, regardless of where it comes from.
There are some side stories with the Lanterns and other characters I don't know very well. But they have asterisks to tell you "for more go to XXX comic" or aren't intrusive enough that I felt left out of the main plot and story.

Memorable Moments
There are a lot, and I mean a lot of 'moments' in this series between characters that are cute. And (besides Batman) there is no one 'stand-out' character. When you get this many well-known DC characters in one room it's difficult to give them each a piece of time to appease the fans. Considering the scope of the book I thought Joshua Williamson did a decent job of trying to give everyone, from both JL and SS, some time in the spotlight.

Harley Quinn
At the very least my girl Harley and Wonder Woman had an adorable little moment (with a throwback to Harley's Little Black Book edition with Wonder Woman) that I won't soon forget. This is also an interesting crossover comment as the Harley in Black Book is assumed to be the non-SS Harley (herself in her title comics). This does raise (for the millionth time) my question about how we have two Harley's in the DC canon universe that are clearly not the same person... that said if you read White Knight (which I HIGHLY recommend) you'll find out that maybe there is a way this is all possible.
At any rate DC keeps me on my toes following Harley around in her adventures and crossovers.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Second note: I do also own this trade paperback and the individual comics because I collect all things Harley. :)


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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: The Queen of Bloody Everything

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 30%
I really forced myself to read to 30% on The Queen of Bloody Everything (Queen). This book appears as though it might be cute, fairly light and fun; which is why I picked it up after some intense reading that had resulted in a book hangover for me. While I realize a hangover may be part of why I didn't get into Queen; I have my doubts. Weeks since putting it down, I still have zero desire to try picking it up again and so I'm calling it as just not for me, and determining that Joanna Nadin just missed the mark for me on this one.

Story
We are brought into Queen via the narrative of a woman telling her life story to her mother. The cadence is a bit odd at times as the narrative (our leading girl/lady) will say things like "you" and she's not referring to you as the reader; but "you" as in her Mother that she is talking to. This is, of course, because her Mother was a main character in her life story. However, because Mom doesn't respond back, or have any interaction with our leading gal, it was awkward for me (until about 20% in) to keep straight who was talking at times.

Plot
While telling a story may seem like enough for a novel; that story really needs to have plot. Besides the 'life and times' narrative of our lead gal's experiences I could not figure out what the plot of the story was. While Mom is a total headcase and very narcissistic, this fact isn't plot to me. As I always say, existing in life is not plot; otherwise we all have very plot filled (even if boring, lol) lives everyday. Plot should drive the need or reason for the story to be told (ie: destroying a ring, obtaining a crown, establishing a business, finding a killer, etc.). I couldn't find a single reason why I was being told this story.

Wholly Unlikable
As mentioned, Mom is a complete narcissist. Let me be more specific she is a: selfish, bitchy, loser of a mother who believes she is clearly more important than anyone else. I really hate these people (in fiction and real life). No one person is 'more important' than anyone else. And while I realize we are supposed to dislike Mom I literally couldn't bring myself to find any redeeming factors about her in 30% of the book. I can't imagine any scenario in which she has some magical turnaround (and is worthy of the time her daughter is putting into telling the story of her awfulness) that could result in me liking her for more than a fleeting moment. In fact I'm not sure why the daughter/narrator is even bothering to revisit these awful memories she has. This ties back to the issue with a lack of plot. Why are hearing this story?

Overall
The title is actually very telling in this instance. Our narrator calls herself "The Queen of Bloody Everything" after her mother says it one day. But instead of realizing (at least as a child in first 30%) that this is not a compliment; our narrative seems to interpret it as a good thing. If you like pompous, awful characters that bulldoze their way through life, surviving on the charity of others, you might enjoy Nadin's story.
While I did not get far enough in to hear our narrator tell any part of her story as an adult; I feel like after 30% of the book I know what this is about. A rambling, narcissistic excuse for why useless people who hurt others should be forgiven. There is no doubt to me that eventually Mom makes some amazing turnaround to help or save the daughter, our narrator. If this is not the case in the end I'd be very surprised...
Ultimately, regardless of the ending, it came to the fact that I just didn't care about ANY of the characters in Queen and didn't miss them for even a moment when I put this one down and didn't finish it.

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

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Book Review: Traitor Born

Traitor Born (Secondborn, #2)Traitor Born by Amy A. Bartol

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With young adult/teen books a dime a dozen these days, it's seemingly difficult to parse through the many major publishing house options; never mind the independent ones out there. I have been lucky enough to discover Amy A. Bartol's indie teen series Secondborn and even though there are so many cliche moments in this series I don't even care!
Note: This review is for book 2, there are spoilers for book 1 below.


Yummy Love Interest(s)
I feel like I need to disclose immediately how much I adore the main love interest for this series. This may mean that I am biased. There are also sooo many characters that could make for great romantic flings or engagements with our lead girl. In fact I found myself really wishing at times that she was bisexual so she could match up with anyone in the book! But I have no problem with the hetero choice Bartol has made here as it's very steamy; along with a healthy dose of teenage angst Bartol makes me feel like a teen having goofy puppy love thoughts again. This is quite the feat given that I'm approaching 40 years of age.

Forbidden Love
There is obviously something about the Romeo and Juliet set-up that holds larger than life appeal for humans. We instinctively want what we can't, or aren't, supposed to have. Now in this case, as our class system of first born, second born, etc. persists in this society, we know that if our rebels are successful they may create a new situation that allows them to be together. But first they need to survive getting there; both from their enemies and from hurting one another.
I do wonder, often, with teen books (and some adult ones) that include possible partners who are on opposite sides of a fence if there isn't an inherent biological need to reproduce that overpowers everything when we are attracted to someone 'dangerous' or 'unattainable'? I'm sure there is complex psychology behind the whole wanting what you can't have... At any rate, be prepared as the forbidden love from Book 1 continues at a heated rate here in Book 2 and gets tied up in other possible side romances.

Plot
So much happens in Traitor Born. We have many sub/side plots happening around our main gal; plus the occasional pop-up of scary, scary Crowe to be vigilant about. We see some of those we thought loyal to one side (or the other) begin to switch over to a new belief (for good or bad) and we see the evolution of our lead gal realizing she has to fight back as hard as anyone; and at great risk to her own life. Additionally the attacks and in-fighting with our lead gal's family, and those around her, intensifies and we find out some answers to mysteries in book 1. But don't worry Traitor Born leaves more than enough left unknown or to happen for Book 3 (Rebel Born) to tackle. And leaves us off on a huge cliffhanger!

Overall
While I would say Traitor Born is solidly in the category of cliche teen fantasy; it's also wonderful teen fantasy. Having read Book 1, and knowing what I was getting into, Bartol gave me exactly what I expected and wanted when I picked up Book 2. Never underestimate a good book that keeps you on your toes with plot; but has an atmosphere, characters, and emotions you are expecting. I don't fault Bartol for this cliche feel at all. In fact I commend her for having a teen fantasy series that is both totally unlike most out there and yet fits perfectly in the genre. This is what most readers want (in my opinion) or at least what I do; something unique but not too far outside what they expect given the genre and blurb provided for the story.
If you are craving some teen angst relationship drama, elaborate political scheming and a unique class-based society then Amy Bartol's Secondborn series is for you. If you enjoyed Book 1 even a little bit then you are sure to like Book 2 as I believe it is even better than it's predecessor.

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

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: The Bookshop of Yesterday

The Bookshop of YesterdaysThe Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Books about books are often some of the most treasured amoungst those of us that read a lot. I certainly find I have a soft spot for them. Let's face it, who doesn't want to read about a character like themselves that is a voracious reader and where the setting is a bookstore!

Bookish Plot
The Bookshop of Yesterday takes us on a book themed scavenger hunt and touches upon many wonderful pieces of literature including Pride & Prejudice, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Picture of Dorian Gray . It also touches on some less loved classics (at least by me) like Grapes of Wrath and Persuasion; but each reference is no less interesting and propels us forward in the plot. The books lead us to an ultimate reveal of information that impacts our leading lady's decisions on what life she wants to live.

Family
At it's core Amy Meyerson has written a story that is about family. Who our 'true' family is and why we connect with them. Of course there are the traditional blood connections that matter; but we are also treated to the idea that family can come from many places. Our leading lady is led through the book scavenger hunt by clues left behind by her deceased (and mysterious absent since she was 12 years old) uncle.
The drama with our gal's Mother is a bit annoying to me as I didn't really 'get' why Mom was so coy with information. However, the one thing that I tried to keep in mind is that, past events are oft embarrassing; even when you're not at fault for the outcome or event. The imperfectness of the characters and family really resonated with me as truthful and made it easy to relate to the majority of the characters.

Ambiance
I loved the descriptions of all the events and regulars at the bookstore. The setting descriptions include: the smell of leather, paper, ink and dust of an old indie bookshop. Even the choice of Meyerson to set our leading lady apart from her existing (and awful) boyfriend, to really reflect on her life, is intentional and contributes to the overall feel of the story. Additionally all the supporting characters at the bookstore create a sense of calm and add to the romance of the entire story which helps lead our gal in a certain direction. Meyerson uses details about people and descriptions of elements to really bring you into the bookshop setting and made it so I felt like I was there each time I picked this book up.

Overall
I really enjoyed The Bookshop of Yesterday and would say it's a good little drama-mystery book for summer. There's some good real-life situations addressed here including: the dynamics of split families, living away from home, grudges and blame, romantic relationships, and the idea of 'finding yourself' in the most unlikely place.
Overall, my favourite part of the whole book is that, it ends in a way that I (mostly) expected and so it felt comfortable. This may seem like an odd thing to say (especially by someone like me who loves a good shock factor) but the entire book feels safe and so it fit well that it ends as you are likely to expect early on. Sometimes you just want a sweet, cute mystery, without too much intensity, that makes you smile at the end; this book is exactly that for me. I look forward to more from Meyerson (this is her debut novel!) in the future when I am craving something contemporary and sweet.

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

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Book Review: Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast

Little Doctor and the Fearless BeastLittle Doctor and the Fearless Beast by Sophie Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story that goes along with Sophie Gilmore's mutely coloured illustrations in Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast is just lovely. It's about a little doctor (girl) who helps all the crocodiles in her area that are injured, even the mean ones. Without jamming the idea of: preserving the environment (as some of the crocodiles injuries are from human garbage) or eliminating discrimination we are engaged in a story that 'talks' (without talking) about both. I love how subtle and clever Gilmore has been with the illustrations enhancing the message of the actual text. Sometimes things are better left unsaid.
This writer/illustrator, originally from Britain (who now lives in Italy) has done a great job at creating a children's book with enough story to feel complete and words that lyrically roll off the tongue when read aloud. This is a gem of a book and one I could see many children wanting read to them night and night again. Let's hope the children subconsciously understand the garbage and discrimination points that lie under the story of a doctor who wanted to help everyone, no matter what.

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

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant, disturbing, intense, elaborate and ingenious are all words I'd use to describe Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Marlon James has taken the epic fantasy genre to a new level and in a different direction that feels uniquely his own. The setting is rich with African influences, supernatural beings like I've never seen/heard of before, and a brutality that reflects what life would really be like in a society filled with shape shifters, witches, demons, zombies, vampires and so much more. Many of these creatures are called different things and it was engrossing to learn about new legends, myth and lore that James borrows from.
While this book dragged at times and had me flipping backwards to re-read sections (so many names!), and briefly hit/passed my 'ick' gore threshold; Black Leopard, Red Wolf is already on my favourites shelf and I cannot wait to read this dense masterpiece again, never mind the rest of the series.
So let's get into the details of this 600+ page monster...

Please note: that the quotes below are EXACTLY as written in the published book. I did not make any grammar or spelling mistakes. Instead this is the style of certain characters speech.

Characters & Lead Narrative
Our lead man is Tracker. We experience the entire story via his narrative. He is actually telling the story to a inquisitor (like Interview with the Vampire) after the events have transpired. So you can be reassured from page 1 that he at least lives through everything that transpires (as it's all history to him). Tracker has no 'real' name but is known far and wide as 'the man with the nose' of a wolf. Able to distinctly smell people, items, excrement, really anything at any given time in any place he is present at. While we see Tracker on his own and with a single companion at times the bulk of the story is him and a host of characters. Most aren't assembled until we hit Chapter 10 (just past 200 pages). This unlikely group of travelers is called a fellowship at one point. Thanks for the direct Lord of the Rings LotR) reference James! For the avid reader there are at least three more references I picked up on through the course of the book that are clear LotR references.
Each of our characters in the group is representative of a traditional archetype with a twist. We have the gentle but deadly strong giant in our Ogo. An unrelentingly harsh woman in the Moon Witch. A man who is more animal than human in the Leopard. The prefect soldier who is so in love he can't see anything beyond his desired. And mercenaries that remind us all that eventually every society is the same; it's all about the money (insert Han Solo reference here). Oh, and did I mention a couple of them are former lovers or bed partners with Tracker? This makes for some fun exchanges between our manly men.
The non-fellowship characters are unique but also archetypes in their own way. Vampires/zombies with a twist:
"the living dead with lightning running through they body where blood used to run"
A water being that loves to trick everyone. An assassin who can control people's minds (scary right?!). And just in case that wasn't enough to try and get your head around there are disfigured children (including one made of blue smoke), and the Ten and Nine Doors that can magically transport characters from one area to another. Albeit there are some 'gotcha's' to any magical use...
The narrative is told by Tracker; although at times you can easily forget this as there is still dialogue and descriptions like a traditional novel. Similar to Lestat's interview story it is a little surprising that Tracker has (what appears to be) perfect recall of all the events. Interestingly I suspect (hope) this point will come up in the future of this series where perhaps the question is asked about whose 'version' of the events is truthful. For the purpose of just reading this book you will need to accept that Tracker is telling his story with great detail as he remembers it.

The Story
Some might argue this book is about the reason our fellowship exists (to find a boy and return him to his mother); but I would argue it's really the story of Tracker's transformation from what he was 5 years prior to what he has become at the time he is telling the story. I especially feel this way as the fellowship isn't even formed or an understood plot point until after page 200. Additionally, there is such a breadth of change in our lead character that at times it's hard to remember whose side he's on (if Tracker has one at all?). Because of this the plot felt lost to me at times (or I just didn't care?); but at the end to all comes back to the missing boy. I did appreciate that the ending ensured I remembered the plot and reason for the story post Chapter 9.
At times I felt like the narration aspect was lost (the exact same mistake Anne Rice made ironically); but overall that didn't bother me much until the last 100 pages or so. I think a couple more reminders about who was telling the story and to whom (Tracker to the Inquisitor) would have been prudent in the last 200 pages. It might have broken up the story a little. But honestly a breath or two wouldn't be all bad as we approached the very intense ending.

Names, Maps and Language... oh my!
Let's deal with three specific things I loved or hated.
1) Names: there are a crazy number of names or descriptive words that are similar to names in this book. For example just in the 'S' category we have: Sadogo, Sogolon, Sangoma, Sagomin, Sasabonsam. Now some of those are names and others are words that describe a type of monster, place or witch. But when you are struggling to remember any of the terms being used it can give the reader a headache. I definitely cursed James a few times for not explaining better who and what all these things were continually through the story. Thankfully for our main characters there is a list of names and who they are (and the location we first meet them) at the front of the book. I flipped to this a few dozen times (at least) while reading.
2) Maps: who doesn't love a good map?! There are over a dozen beautiful maps in this book. From our introductory kingdom/continent look (with magical doors marked and all!) to a map of each place or city/town that is visited at the beginning of each chapter. This helped me immensely to orient myself each time a door was used and near the end as things moved very quickly.
3) Language: a lot of our characters are lesser educated (to say the least) and so their language is stilted, lacking grammar or just flat out awkward. This meant I had to read a lot of dialogue lines a couple times. But it also gave me some really unique quotes; including this one (said by my fave character):
"How you keep to memory what the world tell you to forget."
Certainly this slows down the reading experience. But given how much content and action there is in James book it might be a good thing to read it all a little slower. I felt it gave a genuine voice to each character as none of them use language in quite the same way.

Social Issues
The breadth of issues that James touches on are far too many to discuss here. But some of the key points driven home include what is it that causes divisions amoungst the people of the entire Kingdom. These include (but are not limited to): sexuality (not everyone is okay with non-hetero choices), race, magic use, shape shifting, deities/religion, power and morality. What is a definite focus during Black Leopard, Red Wolf is that it's not always obvious what is morally 'correct' and that being on the 'right' side will likely end in an untimely death for the average person.
What is also investigated is why people just don't care anymore about the perception or interpretation of their actions. Sometimes you just want to do something. This line from Tracker sums up this desire well:
"On the way there I was hoping to meet a demon, or a spirit of someone who would feed the hunger of my two new axes. I truly wanted a fight."
There are many times when I found myself accepting what could otherwise be quite horrific as just the way this world is. And recognizing that our characters have had it hard enough without needing to analyse every decision to determine it's acceptability.

Who is Black Leopard, Red Wolf written for?
You may be wondering at this point who the primary audience is for this book. Let me be very clear here: THIS IS NOT YOUNG ADULT. Not at all. Nothing about this is appropriate for anyone under the age of 18 (maybe even 21 to be totally honest).
This is a story for those who love epic, elaborate books (like Gardens of the Moon or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell). This is for those who are tired of the typical romance, good vs. evil and obvious outcomes. Black Leopard, Red Wolf challenged almost every value I currently have. I loved it's ability to make me think and consider things from a different (and sometimes very morally questionable) perspective. If you want a story that pushes boundaries at every turn, with a cast of lovable and yet hate-worthy characters then this is probably the book for you.

One suggestion when reading the story: do not try to figure out all the things happening. You likely won't be able to piece out any of the insanely complex mysteries in this book to start with. I gave up and used the advice a friend gave me years ago when I went to see Inception (movie with DiCaprio) for the first time: just enjoy the ride. Analyse and consider after or on your next time through the content. I am greatly looking forward to my re-read(s?) and linking so many more things together.

Can you handle it?
Maybe you think this book might be for you but you are concerned about if it's going to be 'too much'. Let me say that without a doubt this is a depraved, disgusting, morally reprehensible, wicked world James has dropped us into; but consider the genius of an author that can write a scene so intense you actually feel ill or turned off. For me this shows crazy literary talent!
For those willing to give it a chance, if you can handle and get past Chapter 8 you'll be fine for the rest. Chapter 8 is the pinnacle of the gore. It doesn't get worse. It is note worthy that our core group of characters consists mostly of gay men (representation!) and there is a fair bit of sex talk between them. Now for those that aren't male or haven't been privy to a true male sex 'chat', let me warn you; it's not necessarily flattering (to anyone or any gender or sexuality). It's harsh, crude and well truthful. Sex is messy and pretending it isn't is just naive. These characters certainly don't hide the reality of m/m sex. One of my favourite parts of James writing is the constant banter between our characters; especially the male past-lovers.

On that note here is my Warning for those who are thinking, wow this book sounds amazing. I am hesitant to recommend this book to anyone (and yet want to recommend it to everyone all the same). I cannot predict your response to the torture and darkness James has given us. All I can say is I think it's brilliant; I love it's dark, gritty portrayal of what life might be life in a less organized society. If you read it and have nightmares or are turned off please don't blame me. You were warned.

On that note, a rant...
To those who claim anyone who likes this book (never mind loves it as I do) must be depraved, awful, horrible, morally abject or just downright evil people; I'd like to remind you that our world is just as awful as this one.
And that you should consider these points:
1) Enjoying this doesn't make me a psycho serial killer. The same as watching CSI doesn't make you a murder expert or obsessed with dead bodies, even though every show starts with a dead person (speaking of morbid...); nor does my love here even remotely infer that I am similar to our characters. It merely means I am entertained by the content. For the record I hate super gory movies. I still have nightmares about House of a Thousand Corpses. Reading content and seeing it are very different activities for my brain and I can handle a lot more when I read something than when I see it on screen.
2) Our world is a brutal place. Many of us, including myself, are able to disassociate from the awful things that happen on Earth daily in order to survive. But that doesn't mean they aren't happening and that we should allow ourselves to forget what people are capable of. Everything that happens in this book (that isn't related to magic or supernatural) is 100% plausible in real life. People do these types of awful things. Everything James writes about is an event that has likely happened (at least once) to a human or animal in real life.
3) This is fiction and it's okay to like any fiction. It is your choice to engage in nicer stories and I respect that. But I also expect others to show me the same respect. I don't think much of contemporary romance novels; but that doesn't mean I think all people who read them are fluffy, love-sick women. See what I mean? I can enjoy literature without personally embodying the subject matter or having the tone of the story represent me as a person.
4) Respect is important and I expect it to be given for ALL tastes. No one is forcing this book down your throat; it's not 'required reading' so don't pretend it's existence is abhorrent or an issue. If you believe that it is a problem that this was published then you have just jumped on the banning books bandwagon (and I don't believe the average reader condones this practice). We (should) live in a world of free speech; even when that speech is repulsive to some people it must still be permitted.

A quick side story... When I was 15 years old and first read Game of Thrones I thought it was the best book in the world. And at that time for me it was. Elaborate, epic fantasy where characters actually died and awful things happened (even to children) was what I craved. Teenage me would have died to read Black Leopard, Red Wolf (and shouldn't be allowed to until at least 16 or older!). I feel like I found in this story a darkness I knew (even back then) existed in our world and occasionally with myself and others. Today at 37 I can definitely say that James has provided me with a story I didn't know I needed so badly. Over the years I've come to find some connection with other grim-dark epic fantasy books including: Sara Douglass 'Wayfarer Redemption' series, Scott Bakker's 'Prince of Nothing' series and (of course) Game of Thrones. Generally I loved these books because 'evil' won, people were killed and NOT brought back, and that each of them delves into the idea of the 'good guy' losing (either the battle or themselves). Ironically none of these are my favourite fantasy series; but they hit a dark place in me with their mood, setting or characters. In Black Leopard, Red Wolf I feel I have found a story that really spoke to me. Even James lack of female representation is acceptable to me as, let's face it, most women (including me) couldn't play with the boys on the turf established by James. To feel the greed, lust, arrogance and other emotions of James characters has allowed me to remember that it's okay to be a little dark inside; and has reassured me that the average person may also have this blackness inside them and still be a (generally) good, functioning member of society.

Overall
Any book that takes me 23 days to read, and which I can still say I loved, must be amazing. My husband believes this is the longest I've ever taken to read a book in 10 years; not including one year when I was in and out of hospital. He may well be right. And yet I want to read Black Leopard, Red Wolf again right now; even if it takes another 23 days. How crazy!
All that said, I will confess I have not read anything other than short stories (all of which I loved) by Joe Ambercrombie, John Gwyne, Mark Lawrence or Glen Cook. But let me assure you they are all on my TBR and have been for sometime. A consideration that I thought of; maybe Black Leopard, Red Wolf came along at a point in my life when it just fit perfectly. Certainly Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel did that for me in college many years ago; it was just the perfect book for that point in my life and remains a favourite still today. Same as GOT as in my story above.
The moral crisis in our world, that is played out every day in the news, has been grating on me for years; and so I appreciate Marlon James reminding me that my small slice of the world could *always* be a lot worse. Maybe even worse than I ever imagined. I also appreciate his willingness to publish something so deep and dark knowing that many people might consider him awful because of where his imagination takes this story.

Last note, I did something unusual with this book; these days I have a rule about starting epic fantasy without knowing there is a completion in the future. GRRM has burned me so bad over the years that I have actually changed how I select my fantasy reads. I broke this rule here because I just had to know what the buzz was all about. I just hope James doesn't break my heart and mind by never publishing the rest of the story. Although interestingly... unlike GOT I could actually accept the ending here as a stand-alone. I'm dying for more; but if nothing more was written; at least there is a certain dark ambiguity that book 1 leaves off on which makes it an ending of a particular quality.

As always my highest compliment is to purchase a print copy of a book for my bookshelf after reading an ARC or library version (I read the hardcover from my library on this one). I am definitely getting a copy of this book. In fact I'm already perusing online to see if I can get a signed first edition hardcover copy to put next to my first paperback edition of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and my signed by George R. R. Martin (I met him long before HBO had their contract) Game of Thrones hardcover.
I'm really not kidding when I say that Black Leopard, Red Wolf is that damn good and I'm very confident that it will remain a favourite in the future for me. Even if it's a little hard to take at times and consumes a fair chunk of reading time.

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