Thursday, April 2, 2020

Book Review: Twisted Fairy Tales: Snow White and the Seven Robots

Twisted Fairy Tales: Snow White and the Seven Robots
by Stewart Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well if this take on Snow White in space isn't the cutest ever! I mean who doesn't love the line:
"Viewscreen, viewscreen, who is doing best of all?"

That's right, no beauty obsession here; just female engineers making robots and space stuff. Additionally this time our 'witch' is Snow White's actual Mother; no evil stepmother to be found here. And the 'dwarves' are just perfect. But I can't say anymore or it will spoil the surprise and take away the fun.

I love this little series of Twisted Fairy Tales that Arcturus Publishing has recently started coming out with. This is my second one and I gotta say if the rest are even half as good as Snow White and the Seven Robots then they'll all be great. Easy enough to be read by children just learning to read, but short enough for a longer read aloud choice. Lovely illustrations throughout help break the pages up so children don't feel overwhelmed by too much text on the page.

I have one complaint about Snow White, and that is that she did no readings of the strange planet she ended up on to make sure she could breathe the air. This is obvious space travel 101 to me. Oh wait, unless we are on Star Trek planets where the air is always safe (lol).

I'm really looking forward to more in this adorable series; and these are for sure going to be gifts for little ones I know in the near future!

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: Winterwood

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is Shea Ernshaw's sophomore release, following The Wicked Deep last year. I wasn't a huge fan of Wicked Deep but I thought it had potential. I was hoping Winterwood would have taken Ernshaw's writing one step further. In some ways it has, unfortunately we are still subject to wooden characters whose dialogue is painful and poor descriptions of hypothermia. I don't know why she keeps using it given she obviously doesn't understand how hypothermia works.

In Wildwood we meet Nora, a witch of sorts, who lives in a forest on a mountain near a camp for troubled boys (mostly teens). So naturally she will be the only girl amoungst many boys. But at least it makes sense here and isn't just by chance or luck like in many other YA/Teen novels. Nearby is a large lake that plays an important part to the overall story. If you're suddenly thinking Friday the 13th with Jason Voorhees you get the isolation, seclusion, and danger of a lake near a camp in the forest.

Snow and Hypothermia
I don't know why Ernshaw has used hypothermia (especially water induced) in both her books; as she doesn't seem to understand how it works. First up, almost no one ever 'wakes up' after they have fallen asleep and are hypothermic. Magical intervention aside. So it would be nice if cold is being used to 'knock' our characters out that there is a sense of why/how they woke. Second, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would survive falling into a frozen lake if they did not get immediately pulled out, and immediate attention to slowly warm them up. Think, all wet clothing removed, rubbing skin, immersion in lukewarm (or even cold) water to bring body temperature up, etc. It really bugs me when authors use well-known medical injuries poorly. And so I don't know why Ernshaw seems to have a fascination with snow and the cold, but this Canadian (who knows the cold very well) would really appreciate the descriptions being more accurate.

Plot and Dialogue
As with The Wicked Deep, there is a great creepy, dark story here. A legacy of misunderstood magic, an area of the forest no one enters, genetic magical ability, and more. And this plot would work, even if it's similar to many other stories, if only our characters didn't seem to break up the well written moody and creepy descriptions. Both the setting and plot are good. Right up to the point our teenagers open their mouths and say something stilted, stupid, or ridiculous. Ernshaw seems to have real issues with developing dialogue for her characters that doesn't feel forced. It's as though she wishes no one needed to speak and we could just infer what was happening from descriptions. Sadly that is not the case.

If the dialogue and character development were improved upon then Winterwood would be a solid 4 stars. Sadly because it is not I can barely justify the 3 stars I've given it. If Ernshaw can really up her game with her characters and dialogue she might be able to crack further into the over-saturated YA fantasy genre. But as it stands now she is on the edge and barely hanging on. I hope her third novel comes out stronger. I will leave you with the most amusing quote from the book; which had me considering who is more madder, the Hatter or Jekyll. I think Jekyll.
"A person can go mad in these woods. Hatter mad."

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, April 1, 2020

Book Review: The Lazy Rabbit

The Lazy Rabbit by Wilkie J. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fairly dark and depressing children's book.
The Lazy Rabbit has heavy on bottom text; making this a good for dyslexia or children learning to read (although not as pretty as other font choices it works well here). However the difficulty of the words chosen is likely far past most children, even I didn't know what a 'gorse bush' was until I looked it up. I know we want children to expand their vocabulary but it seemed excessively hard to read. I would recommend adults pre-read this one to make sure they know all the words and can read it to the child. If you were looking to purchase a book for a new reader to practice with this is probably not a great choice.

Fair warning, the lazy rabbit ends up expiring in an untimely death. There is even water colour red across the page to symbolize the death of the rabbit. It reminded me of the old Aesop tales in which someone who doesn't follow the rules or do the smart thing inevitably looses. I had many books like this as a child that were the original tales including: Ariel cutting off her fin, the rabbit loosing everything in a race, etc. To me books like this are a good way to start teaching little ones that the world is not all butterflies and rainbows. The morale here is that the rabbit shouldn't have been so lazy; then maybe he would have survived..

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, March 28, 2020

Book Review: The Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We could probably get a lot more kids to read if all middle grade books were this exciting, spine-chilling, and intriguing! Lockwood & Co series proves that the Goosebumps books I read as a child were mild in comparison. I'm so glad that today's kids have this kind of amazing writing and story-telling to read instead of some cheesy Goosebumps books (that while fun lack the depth of story telling and characterization we get here).

New Girl = Jealousy
I really liked the girl/girl jealousy that immediately springs up between Lucy and (new girl) Holly. Jonathan Stroud really hit the nail on the head when he write the snippy, hurtful, sarcastic comments that these two girls throw at each other. I felt at times like I was re-living a few childhood moments between myself and other girls. Stroud makes it a clear point, by the end, that both girls are jealous of one another for no reason whatsoever. And why? Because us gals have been taught to be wary of other girls. We are supposed to 'win'; be is the boy, the race, or the popularity contest; and so we tend to be wary of new females in our comfort zones (even if it's undeserved or unfair).

There are a number of great models for friendship in The Hollow Boy. Stroud continues with our terrific trio of Lockwood, George, and Lucy of course. But he also brings back lesser loved Kipp and his team; plus new gal (mentioned above) Holly. The Kipp dynamic is a carry-over from the previous two books and I like how, in the end, both team of agents always ends up helping one another in some way, shape, or form. Our Lockwood-should-be-with-who dilemma continues; and of course he has swashbuckling moments where his hair is flowing perfectly as he jumps *eye roll*. I make fun but I know 11 year old me would have eaten it up like candy.

Plot & Ghosts
The story is really where Lockwood & Co books shine. While our characters are well done and interesting; it's all about the haunting problem in London. Without the ghosts we'd have nothing to be chilled by. We are introduced to more types of Type Two ghosts in The Hollow Boy, a couple super creepy presences (ick to all the spiders!), and in the end a hoard of... well I can't tell you! You'll have to read up to find out. But let's put it this way; there are more ghosts in this book than any of the previous two combined. Oh, and our skull buddy is back. He has to be one of my favourite 'people' (is he people?) in the series. Sarcastic, mean, and all around self-serving; the skull is a great reminder that people can be both good and bad at the exact same time.

My husband calls me a wuss when I read these books because I have been known to actually shiver from Stroud's incredible descriptions and atmospheric tension. The sense of disaster that lingers throughout The Hollow Boy (in a few different ways) keeps you on the edge of your seat. Each time I picked this book up I didn't want to put it down (resulting in two very late nights, lol). Stroud has taken the idea of child ghost hunters, which is already a bit disturbing, and elevated them to just the right level. He allow this series to remain middle grade (no gore) but still be creepy enough to make you think twice about turning the light off.
If you need to get a child who loves creepy things into reading; then I would highly recommend this series. If you're a teen or adult that wants something that is nice and easy to read, a bit scary, and has great writing then this series is for you.

Finally... that ending!! Oh that ending! I need to find out how quickly I can get book 4 delivered to my house (all our bookstores are closed at time of writing this due to COVID-19) because it's a 'necessity' for me to read it now! (lol) I'll leave you with one of Stroud's chapter ending sentences; that always pulls the reader onto the next page.
"Yes, all the living inhabitants of the store had left.
But that didn’t mean we were alone.
Of course not. After dark, we never are."
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book Review: The Toll

The Toll (Arc of a Scythe, #3)The Toll by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall this was a disappointing closure to the trilogy given how amazing I thought book 1 and 2 were. I had hoped for more. Defining what that 'more' is however, is kind of difficult. As though I wasn't sure what I wanted; but I know this isn't it. For the record, this is an awful thing to say to artist and is not helpful feedback at all. However it is how I feel right now. Maybe breaking this down will help give some definition to my let down feeling.

Whether intentional or not Neal Shusterman has created a dictator that reminds me of Donald Trump in Goddard. I don't think this was an intentional choice per say, it is just reflective of worldwide politics right now and how there is a massive power struggle going on. We keep seeing examples of the dictatorship model to the communist model. Of course in reality, as with Goddard, everything falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes there are certainly leanings certain ways. I was a bit disappointed that Goddard was used as a pawn in the story and felt less human, even after that one big twist.
"Language means what they choose; dictionary be damned."

Pre-Chapter Snippets
One of my favourite things about the previous two books were the journal entries of book 1 or the Thunderhead's internal commentary at the beginning of the chapters. In The Toll Shusterman gives us snippets of future civilizations discovering elements or relics of the one we are currently experiencing. And of course, they inevitably assume certain things and get it wrong. I of love this because it shows how often we are likely to have misinterpreted ancient history or relics. These snippets remain one of my favourite parts of this series.

As expected there are a number of twists and turns that we encounter in The Toll. Some more obvious than others. Unfortunately there also seems to be a lot of filler. I didn't really need to experience certain aspects of the discovery of an island, or what some of the side characters were up to. I missed more of our two MC's. I really just wanted Scythe Anastasia and Scythe Lucifer and their direct narrative. I would have been fine with discovering many of the events that happen through their eyes; instead of experiencing the event through a minor characters eyes and then again glazing over it as our MCs encounter the scenario. It just felt unnecessary and made me bored overall.
Important work often loses the spotlight to self-important people"

Politically Impact
I could see this series having a large impact on younger reads. Those who perhaps haven't seen as much history unfold, understand politics in-depth (and how they are really just human nature), or encountered a truly persuasive person, may find the concepts in The Toll hold more impact than those of us who are older. This is entirely appropriate, given this is YA/teen book. I wish I had had this series to read when I was a teen; but alas at 37 I'm perhaps too jaded to really buy into many of the concepts presented here.

While not a 'bad' book, it's certain not the ending I was hoping for with a series that I loved this much. Perhaps it was ultimately too predictable of an ending, or Shusterman just lost track of who his 'MC' amoungst all the events happening. Either way it wasn't enough for me and didn't live up to my love of the first two books.
I would still recommend this series to many people; but with a caveat that third book is not as strong as the rest.

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Book Review: Eunice and Kate

Eunice and Kate by Mariana Llanos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very cute, little story about two girls who live side-by-side in an attached townhouse. The illustrations are lovely! I really appreciated a number of things about this story. Starting with the girls living in a city, in a shared basement dwelling. It shows that they are not rich. This point is then further emphasized when each mom gets a page describing what she does for a living (hairdresser and baker), and how they sometimes don't have enough money. Eunice and Kate feels very authentic right from the start. I suspect that many little girls (and maybe boys?) will have a strong connection with it. These are two normal gals with a home situation that many children are likely to be in. Whether it's having one parent, shared housing, or knowing they aren't very rich.

The story continues on to be about what the girls want to be when they grow-up. It's a wonderful story of friendship and how it's easy to see differences; but harder to see similarities sometimes. There's a strong moral here about friendship, and that being different from one another is a good thing, because we can always find some common ground and continue to be friends (even when we disagree).
A great book to pick-up. Short enough to be bedtime length to read to littler ones; but also easy enough to be read by those just starting to read aloud.

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, March 23, 2020

Stitching: New Start & Alice

I can't help but laugh (lest I cry) at the irony of the two reasons I have stitching updates to share with you today: 
First is that I was laid off from my government job (due to budget cuts) 5 weeks ago. I was crushed and very upset. That has taken me time to digest and start to figure out what is next. Just as I was feeling like I could get things on track and find a new job the second major event happened, the announcement of COVID-19 virus as a pandemic. Canada immediately reacted (of course) and started shutting down events, gatherings, and asking people to self-isolate and stay home where possible. Since that March 11th day it has been a whirlwind for the entire world. No one (okay maybe the Antarctic penguins) has been left untouched by this crisis and it will be remembered for generations to come. 

Both these events has left me with time to do things. For a little while I couldn't even concentrate or figure out 'what' to do. Here I am at home (where I usually love to be) with all my hobbies around me (ie: stitching, reading, comics, puzzles, etc.) and at a loss for what to do. How can this be? 
Slowly I've realized that it's part of being stunned. Two whammies in a row have nearly paralyzed me into playing cell phone games and napping. Thankfully the Internet (while often a big sucking hole of time) has connected me with many people (as always) and I've received some inspiration from those people; and so I have stitching to share! 

This is a new start for me by Kelsyn's. It's one of 16 motifs from her Itty Bitty's pattern. I have been starkly reminded why dark fabrics are so much tougher to stitch on, and even pulled my magnifier out for this one. But I do love the way the colours pop so far. I'm hoping to fit 6 motifs on this black piece of 36ct evenweave. 

And I have worked on Alice! I know you're all shocked. One of my 'goals' recently was to actually pull her out a lot more often. And you know I'm reminded that I love stitching her once I have it all going; it's just finding motivation to grab her as she's large and a bit unwieldy. Nevertheless I am committed to making Alice happen. And so here is the latest little area I worked on and a picture of the larger piece completed from right before I added more stitches yesterday. 

I hope everyone is staying safe, practicing social distancing, trying to stay as calm as possible, and reacquainting themselves with some at home hobbies! Or maybe even trying something new. 

Book Review: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As always, Fiona Davis delivers in this startling story about life post-WWII in the theater industry in NYC. This was a time when the FBI and USA government was going crazy about finding the infiltrating communists. So much so that they accused innocent people and ruined many people's lives. Davis does a fabulous job of telling this story.

The Chelsea Hotel
Yes it's a real place. And yes it hosted many celebrities and artists (of all kinds) over the years. I love the little drops of descriptions during the book that are clearly famous people you likely know; but Davis doesn't use their names as our (fictional) characters don't know these celebs at this time. This hotel is noted for many crazy events; but perhaps most famous for being where Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) is said to have murdered Nancy Spungen in the 1970's.
I love how Davis always chooses a prominent, historical building to feature in her stories. In this case the Chelsea Hotel feels like a character at times. As though the hotel is living, breathing, and dictating people's lives. Is it fate or the hotel pushing who ends up in an elevator together and/or who chooses to stay overnight? I love the drama of it and the mystery it creates.
"The Chelsea Hotel. A 'she', like a lumbering redbrick ship filled with foolish dreamers,"

Fiction vs Truth
As with so many historical books these days the core story and characters are fiction; but a lot of truth is incorporated. Davis describes her inspirations at the back of the book and gives a fulsome list of resources she used to research the historical events and people of the time. For me nothing felt off, although the communist hunt is not something I know about super well. What is important in the end is that the stories of our fictional characters could be 100% true and are certainly truthful in many ways. And of course the power struggles, greed, and selfishness of those with even a tiny bit of power are still very true today.
"The world is run by men who want power, who will say anything to attain it, and do anything to retain it."

Scary Truths, Even for Today
As I type this it is March 23, 2020 and we are in the midst of the COVID-19 virus crisis with no known 'end' in sight. Civil liberties are being taken away from many as areas lock down all unnecessary movement in entire countries! The slippery slope mentioned in the quote below certainly rang true to me; as governments are making the best decisions they can in this unknown playing field. I imagine this is not unlike the choice by many European countries to surrendered to the Nazis in WWII or when to enter into another war (the Korean War is mentioned a number of times). And it's certainly true that people were hunted down for being suspected communists, detained unjustly with no actual evidence, and pressured into false confessions during this time. All pieces of the story Davis touches on; and all possible scary realities that may be in our (not so) near future.
"Of course, she had nothing to hide. But it was the principle of the matter, the slippery slope into censorship, that irked her to no end."

I believe I would have loved this book irregardless of what is happening in the world today. It was just 'luck' that it came up for me to read at this moment. The Chelsea Girls felt like the perfect read to draw parallels between then and now; but also gave a sense of security. I don't believe agents are banging on doors accusing people unfairly of treason in Canada and so at least one piece of the past will hopefully not repeat itself.
The Cold War saw many things happen that would have been unthinkable prior to WWII; and today is no different. We are always living in unprecedented times. The thing about history is that we should ensure we pay attention and learn from it. The below quote really resonated with me in the end; even though I believe lock downs are the only way to fight the virus it is a sobering thought that we have reached this point in 2020.
"We must promise to be vigilant against our own worst tendencies. Only by doing so will our country sustain it's ideals of freedom."

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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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review: The Chalk Giraffe

The Chalk Giraffe by Kirsty Paxton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This imagination filled story is very cute! Our young girl starts off with a giraffe but it doesn't remain alone.
With every second line that rhymes, bright colourful chalk art (on dark blackboard backgrounds), and a fun but legible font; every page of this book is adorable.

The story is simple enough; and at exactly the moment I was thinking our giraffe was getting kind of demanding our little girl calls him out! Just perfect. As the story progresses other elements and animals are added (even a snake, my favourite!). Resulting in a beautiful little ending about companionship and showing a wonderful use of imagination.

The only thing to be aware of here is there are some very complex words that adults will want to make sure they can explain. The three that stood out to me were: 'forlorn', 'genet' (I had to look up a picture of this medium sized cat up to see what it is), and 'acacia tree'. These same words, plus a couple others are great for kids to learn; but may stump a newer child reader as they are not used in everyday language.

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, March 9, 2020

Book Review: The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept and bones of this world and story are amazing; sadly they haven’t been given the space to transpire, breathe and sink in for the reader. I feel like there is a trilogy or at least 1000 page epic story here; and it’s been ruined by being chopped down or rushed into ~300 pages, one POV, and for a broad audience; instead of the darker feel I hoped for from the blurb.

Unfortunately Lauren Mansy has made a critical error. One of my number one pet peeves in writing is convenience or too much luck. Our leading gal sure seems to know everyone in the realm and they are always super nice to her and helpful. Is there not one person (besides our clear bad guys) that lives in this land that isn't all for her?
What's worse is that I would expect in a world where memories are sold to the highest bidder (and lost to the original person forever) that you'd forget lots of people over the years because you sold all their memories or the memory of what their name is, where they are from, etc.

If anyone has a timeline of the events during The Memory Thief I'd love to see it. To me as the reader I thought only a couple days passed by. Yet there are multiple comments made by our first person leading lady about how she felt someone had "changed so much" since she last saw them or something had evolved or grown which really confused me. I'd love to really know how much time actually passes from the beginning through each event to the end.

There is so much that could have been explored here inside this unique construct of a world. But within ~300 pages and so much plot it's just not possible to do the story or characters justice. I wish this was a trilogy, with a broader arc, more opportunity to explore the memory situations created, and a lot more time for our characters to live, learn, and grow.

I just wanted a lot more from a book with such a great idea/concept (and beautiful cover). I know The Memory Thief is Mansy's debut novel and so I would consider reading another of her future books. I really hope that she takes the time (and her publisher allows her) to really explore her ideas and characters further. Mansy is young and so I have great hopes for her abilities to grow and become a solid addition to the YA fantasy (or adult fantasy) genre.

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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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Review: The Veil

The Veil: A Post Apocalyptic Bio-Punk Survival Thriller (The Redemption Series Book 1)The Veil: A Post Apocalyptic Bio-Punk Survival Thriller by Torstein Beck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a straight-up dystopian horror survival story. If you're hoping for something new, different or a big twist you won't find it here. I predicted (most of) the ending at about the halfway mark; which is a bit frustrating. However that didn't make me want to put The Veil down.

This high-paced, well written story will keep you on the edge of your seat when the fighting starts. Some writers have a knack for action and some don't. It's clear to me that Torstein Beck has a talent for action. Our characters go from calm to panicked and into flight or fight mode with a fluidity that feels genuine. I'd love to read a sword fight written by Beck because if this is what they can do with guns and monsters I can only imagine how awesome a straight-up sword fight could be.

Writing and Dialogue
I'd definitely read another book by Beck as the writing style and pacing of The Veil is perfect. At times my heart was racing, the gore was as expected, and the dialogue had it's witty moments. The character conversations are part of what really makes this a great book. You gotta appreciate dialogue like this:
"Nothing like a bit of humour to take the edge off impending death.”
You'll have to read The Veil to find out what the joke was. *wink*

Where's the Science
I dunno what bio-punk is supposed to mean exactly but I was expecting more of a scientific read than I got. The science is there but not to any detail level that will satisfy those hoping for Michael Crichton or Blake Crouch level explanations. Our 'past' timeline scientists are messing with gene splicing and (of course) it doesn't turn out quite like they hoped. But don't expect to understand even the basics of gene splicing here. Read Jurassic Park for a better understanding of 'filling in' the genome to create new creatures.
Although geek me really wants to analyse the data collected during all the events of this story (in both timelines). As a data analyst I'm just imagining the possibilities of finding correlations!

The Veil is worthy of 3.5 stars in my mind. Had the ending been something other than what I, more or less, expected it might have made it all the way to 4 stars. Unfortunately the 'twist' is too predictable and lacks real climax worthiness. To get to 5 stars I would have wanted more of a scientific story that allowed me to learn about gene splicing (even if only theoretical) and had more focus on animalistic senses of our creatures.

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

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Book Review: Stories I Can't Show My Mother

Stories I Can’t Show My Mother by Ann Tinkham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few gems, a dud, and some typical anthology stories. Here’s my thoughts on each of them:

Story #1 - Direct Deposit
The end of this story is highly unlikely; but it’s kind of cute that our MC is so uncomfortable with the idea of a sperm donor.
"She was someone who wasn’t afraid to use words such as “masturbation,”“ejaculation,” and "sperm count." The words sounded a little less obscene when said with a British accent."

Story # 2 - Needle Man Sticks Bat Girl
"But it was hard to find bat cave jobs, unless one were an animated character in Gotham City. Which I’m not, unfortunately."
Damn. I wish I was an animated character in Gotham too. But my gal won’t have a bat cave; she’ll have a fun house.

Story #3 - Chairs in Air
"People expected or at least weren’t shocked when artists were nonplussed, anarchic, and chaotic."
This one is short and yet it feels like a love story I might actually like to read. Dang.

Story #4 - The Sweetness of Salt
This story is funny, yet genuine in a ‘everyone’s life is like this’ kind of way. . An erotica writer who is tired of finding alternate words for penis has had enough.
"She wondered if she would ever be able to rescue her sex life from the pages of romantica writing."

Story #5 - Static Breakdown
"What the hell is an oxymoron? An idiot on Oxycontin?"
I suppose prostitutes aren’t the most educated of society?
This is a dirty story and I can’t really figure out the point except that sex gives women power over men. Meh.

Story #6 - Fourth Step Tango
"I didn’t want to let him off the hook that easily. One simple phone call in exchange for my virginity?"
I’m so with this chick. The resolution or absolution piece of therapy when you’ve been an awful human being to someone never, ever feels fair to the victim.

Story #7 - Fly me to the Moon
All this story did for me was get Sinatra stuck in my head and wonder why I was reading an outline of what could be a good book. There’s no real substance here, even as a short story.
However, I’d love to read this novel if it was expanded out properly.

Story #8 - He Brings Me Flowers
The longest story by far. Two women, both being used by a narcissistic man, one is the wife one is girlfriend. Lots to unpack here. In the end it’s about women standing strong. And this one truth; I've been in meetings where this actually happened:
"Her take-away: never duck out of a meeting; you will always be assigned the most unpleasant tasks."

Story #9 - The Magician
I could someone injecting some magic into my work situation right now. Too bad magicians with parrots who wear pirate eye patches aren’t found everyday. 😉

Story #10 - Cabin Pressure
Whew, steamy. Great little turn you on story.

Story #11 - The Horse Whisperer
A bit of an odd story.
By having this story last, it’s clear that the idea behind this anthology is to slowly bring the reader through a sense of restraint into freedom.

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, February 24, 2020

Book Review: All That's Bright and Gone

All That's Bright and Gone by Eliza Nellums

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Telling any story through the eyes of a child is difficult; add in mental health issues, single parents, lost children, and financial constraints suddenly you've got yourself a pretty tragic story. Consider this your warning, All that's Bright and Gone is an amazing read; but it's darker and not necessarily a feel good story. That's not to say it's all bad; but overall you're likely to feel sadness through most of it. Eliza Nellums brings us the story of a child (and her imaginary friend) coping to handle her mother's mental illness, the loss of her older brother, and childhood in general.

Children Are Innocent
At the heart of this story is Aoife, a 6-year-old, who doesn't quite understand: the things going on around her, why she gets in trouble for talking to her imaginary friend, and that frozen chicken nuggets in the microwave are perhaps not a sustainable food for weeks on end. Right from the get go we realize that Aoife is a strong, resourceful little girl, who hates when adults say her name wrong. Her obsession with her name really struck me as genuine and conveyed the way children think well. Many times we are reminded that Aoife doesn't understand adults, health care or society the way we do. She is confused: why her Mom can't come home, scared for herself (and imaginary Teddy), and yet curious about her brother's death (whom no one will talk about).
The only criticism I might have is that Aoife sure is good at eavesdropping, or has the hearing of a superhero (lol). She is often found to be in just the right place to hear the adults talking. This is obviously a way for Nellums to easily convey the story to us without Aoife understanding what is said. But it does happen a few too many times for my liking.

Mental Health
This is a very poignant story portraying how mental health hurts surrounding the inflicted person. There is no ignoring it when down days happen, and there may be no reason why things strike someone the way they do. From the neighbour to Uncle Donny to (of course) Aoife herself; we see the drastic effects that the mother has on herself and those around her.

Twists and Turns
It might seem obvious what some of the twists and turns will be from the get-go. But I bet by three-quarters of the way the average person is so enthralled with Aoife and her perspective that they forget that her narration is from her eyes; and therefore may not be truly true. Anytime a child is the storyteller the reader needs to remember that they are unreliable. Aoife's voice is so strong at times that I would completely forget that her accounting of events or experiences weren't necessarily the truth. If you allow yourself to get lost with Aoife I think the twists and turns will hit you, like they did me.

Lies and the End
This is a wonderful story that reminds us that little kids always want their parents; even when said parent is ill or dangerous. All That's Bright and Gone brings out the darkness that many families try to hide and puts it on display smack dab in the middle of the street. Nellums does a great job of showing why we should always try to be honest with children. That lie, you think might keep them safe, may one day backfire. The more we lie to children the more we skew their interpretation of the world. Usually it's just best to tell the truth. Even when the truth is difficult, messy or undesirable. Nellums shows this so well by the end of the novel that I felt, as someone who tries to tell the truth to kids, that I wasn't doing enough (and I am not a parent) for the children in my life. And so I leave you with one of the (many) comments Aoife has about adults:
"Now that Dr. Pearlman pointed it out, grown-ups really do lie all the time."

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, February 22, 2020

Book Review: The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived

The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived by Daniel Errico

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First up, I can't comment on the Hulu show that has been made of this book as it is not (yet) accessible in Canada. Second, when I requested this ARC I was not aware it was being made into a show; I just wanted to read a fairy tale with a 'twist'.

We start out very typical with "Once Upon a Time" and while it all ends with "Happily Ever After" the content in the middle of this knight's story is not quite what you'd expect. Written in rhyming couplets it's easy to find a flow and pace that works and keeps the story quite even throughout. But watch out, I found myself thinking, talking and writing in rhyme for a time (lol).
"The driver ran away and left the carriage to the thief.

Cedric peered from up above, behind an autumn leaf."

As I said, The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived has a couple of twists on the 'typical' knight saving story. There are three distinct differences. First we have a female dragon (but don't worry she still breathes fire) and our knight saves, not only a princess, but her brother who is (of course) a prince. Our final twist is foreshadowed many times with the repetition of the line "this isn't how it ends". [Spoiler Alert] (highlight text to read) The final twist is that in the end the knight doesn't want to marry the princess, he wants to marry the prince! There is even a moment of hesitation by the king that help us understand this is maybe a little different but okay in the end. The story is complete with a note from the United Nations (UN) that everyone should be free to be themselves.

Something interesting, that I noted right away, is that if you pick this book up and don't flip to read the end (only look at cover and blurb) you'd not guess at the ending. I like that this means children may choose the book without their parents necessarily censoring (ie: at the library) due to it's LGBTQ+ content. This helps get the message out that 'gay books' aren't to be flagged or called out. They are just the same as every other story book for children and should be consumed the same as any other story we read to kids.

This cute story, with it's fun illustrations has one flaw for me. Halfway through our boy, Cedric, is knighted by the one training him. However his trainer is a knight himself. Historically this would have been a king or queen bestowing the honour; but hey nobody likes hierarchical society anyways right? :)

Overall I can't speak highly enough to this story and it's subtle, yet strong messaging. Regardless of what makes you 'different', be it gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.; we are all the same in the end. Each of us is on a quest to find our 'Happily Ever After'.

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, February 21, 2020

Book Review: The Trouble with Time Travel

The Trouble with Time Travel by Stephen W. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an adorable, fun and well drawn book. The Trouble with Time Travel is cute, outrageous, and ironic. In fact the first time you read it (assuming you are an adult) you'll likely be laughing so hard at the fact that our leading girl doesn't make (what to us is) the most obvious decision about how to stop the vase from breaking (again). Gotta appreciate a kids book that gives a nod to the adult reading it!

Writer Stephen W. Martin has given us the type of picture book that is my favourite to read with kids that are 3-5 years of age. It has BIG emphasized text words that are really sounds (like CRASH or KABOOOM) and emphasized words (like great or completely) every couple pages. These are moments and opportunities (after a couple reads) to have the child you're reading to join in! They will learn which page has the word (and it's nice and big on the page) and know when to say it with you. Some of my favourite moments with kids are re-reading a story like this and laughing after each emphasis. I've also seen this help children recognize a word over time even when it's in a different context.

Overall I love The Trouble with Time Travel for its cleverness, wonderful illustrations by Cornelia Li, and re-readability. I have one small critique, the two-page spread where you have to turn the book (as they fall into the ocean) is awkward and would drive me crazy after a couple times through. But it's a minimal issue that I can easily get over and doesn't detract from the clear 5 stars this one is for me. This is a picture book suitable to buy any gender or ethnicity as, at it's core, it's about breaking something and feeling remorse for it. I only wish time travel were as easy as our leading gal makes it seem so that I could grab a pet (in her case a dog) and visit all the interesting places and times that she does.

Science note: There is a flaw which is an error commonly made with time travel... The time machine takes our gal and her dog back in time AND to a new PLACE (ie: Egypt, Rome, etc.). A 'true' time (only) machine would take her back in time to the spot she is in however many years before or after; it wouldn't displace her around the world. A nod to Big Bang Theory (and Doctor Who) for ensuring that I never forget this tidbit of science.

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, February 19, 2020

Book Review: Teddy Bear of the Year

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very cute little story, suitable for bedtime, about how teddy bears need to know their ABC's. 'Always Be Cuddling'. This little phrase is Teddy Bear 101. Vikki VanSickle has just enough text and lovely full illustrated pages to make it quite well-balanced. Although there is one problem... there is a koala bear at the big Teddy Bear Awards event! Unlike panda bear's, koalas are not really bears. All I can imagine is a child who knows this getting struck on the inclusion of a koala (perhaps to their parent(s) annoyance, lol). But I suppose this oversight can be ignored given that there is an obvious attempt (and success) to show diversity among the teddy bears themselves.

I really liked how the teddy bears were obviously 'on the job' for their human counterparts and that it was about the bears being brave, loving (by cuddling of course) and attentive. Funny, these tend to be the same traits we desire in children (how clever). This is a solid story that could be bought for any child. If you need a 'generic' kids gift that could go to any child or toddler this is a perfect pick as it doesn't lean in any direction except that kindness (and cuddling) are good things; and I have to hope that everyone in the world would agree with this sentiment.

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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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Book Review: The Ventriloquists

The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning true story of ordinary people, in Nazi occupied Belgium, fighting back with printed words. As a Communications major in college (many years ago) I found The Ventriloquists to be very intriguing; both the truth and fiction. E.R. Ramzipoor does a wonderful job of breaking down what is true and what is not in her author's note for those whom feel that is important to identify. Additionally the literary style of The Ventriloquists is gorgeous and leads to quotes like:
"The typewriters has gone to sleep for the evening, taking their needful melodies to bed with them. Aubrion hated the silence. Silence reminded him of everything that was frightening in the world: night and death and audiences that didn’t applaud."

Historical Reference
I'm very disappointed with myself (and my education) that I did not know the story of Le Soir or Faux Soir. Thus, I'm very thankful to Ramzipoor that she has brought this intriguing, but also important story to light. Many people today may not realize the resources it took pre-Internet to get a propaganda message out. Between paper, ink, press time, press labour and distribution it was no small feat to print and distribute a daily newspaper. Ramzipoor does a wonderful job of covering off every one of these key pieces prior to Le Soir hitting the streets for public consumption. And while she takes 544 pages to tell the story, I'm not sure I would want a single sentence cut as it all feels so critical to the ending and final piece that was printed and distributed in Belgium.
There are additional little tidbits of information in The Ventriloquists that could be novels all their own. My personal favourite true 'side' story I learned is this one:
"Germans later began shipping little fabric Stars of David to every town in Belgium; when the men and women of the post learned of Stars’ purpose, they took the Stars home and burned them."

I love reading books set in France. Not only for the fact that France always feels like a truly romantic place (I've not been there yet); but also because they speak my favourite language, French. As a born and raised Western Canadian it's a little unusual that I am fluent in both English and French. 99% of French speaking Canadians (francophone) are in Quebec (east) and on the East Coast. Let me clarify that, English is my first language; French is the language I love but am only (at best) proficient in. For me there is something about books where they combine the French phrases that many know (without translation) and English that just makes my heart soar. The mix in The Ventriloquists felt perfect to me. It might be a little bit too much French, that goes untranslated, for some; but in that case I'd encourage readers to 'Google It' for a translation and appreciate the flow and style of the French language (but I'm biased).

Whether it's the characters that Ramzipoor researched and were real, or people she had to assume existed, each of our POVs and characters feel like real people. You might think that it's easier to narrate from the POV of a person that actually existed, than a fictional one. I have found that is not always the case for many writers. I could not have told you the difference between the characters based on historical record and those that Ramzipoor inserted or assumed into the story. They all feel equally fleshed out. I know many reviewers have criticized the plethora of characters in this story but the reality is that it would take a lot of people to pull off this feat.
I would remiss not to point out my three favourite characters: a boy of about 13 who is the primary POV, a lesbian whom seduces another (high powered) lady, and the star of the story our middle aged male and lead conspirator (real person) Aubrion. However even the side characters are so impeccably done that I can't leave them all out: a gay man who forges letters like no other (and is trapped into working for the Germans to stay alive), the German turncoat, or the man that donates his printing press (at great risk) to produce the final product are all beautifully done. Many of the lovely quotes in the story come from difference characters, including this gem I love:
"An ellipsis is a poor substitute for a period, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise..."

I've been known to hate a lot of endings. I often wonder if I've liked the ending to even 30% of the books I've read in my life. I dunno what it is but endings make or break stories for me. The Ventriloquist does not let down. From the true events that happen at the climax of the story, to the fictional outcomes for many of our characters; Ramzipoor does a wonderful job of wrapping up the pieces of the story for our many intriguing people in ways that feel balanced (given it's war time and they are all conspirators) and also surprisingly satisfying. A few may (of course) bring you to tears; but there really is no avoiding that when the Nazi's are involved.
"So it was beautiful and you burned it. All of Nazi history written in a single sentence."

If you have any interest in a small rebellious group, printing of newspapers, propaganda creation and distribution, WWII in Belgium, resilient people or just WWII in general this is a wonderful book to add to your repertoire. It will require some time to read because of it's dense language and length; but I believe the pay-off is well worth the effort. For me, The Ventriloquists easily deserves to be alongside The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and other recently told WWII literary feats, that bring to light some of the billions of stories of those who survived a time most of us can't even begin to relate to. Each one of these amazing stories of resilience and hope help me to remember that it can always get worse; and that if others survived in the past than I should certainly be able to survive today's world.

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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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book Review: Fledgling

Fledgling (Sorcery and Society, #2)Fledgling by Molly Harper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in the Sorcery and Society series, Changeling, was a good fun take on a magical school with the typical YA drama we've all come to know (and love?). While there is nothing overly special about Molly Harper's series there is also nothing particularly wrong with it. I picked this one up knowing that I wanted to: go back to a world I knew, read something light and fluffy, and that had just enough intrigue and politics to keep my brain engaged. I got exactly what I asked for.

Our 'fake' debutante, Sarah, continues into year 2 at her all ladies finishing school (really a front for magic school) alongside her two best buds Alicia and Ivy. This year instead of discovering her own powers, like book 1, she instead starts to realize the powers of others like herself, non-high born children with magical power that is supposed to be impossible. The lead up to the trip to Scotland that brings about the climax of the story is decent and exactly what I expected it to be. Lots more Harry Potter vibes but still different enough that I didn't feel ripped off.

Rushed Ending
Unfortunately Fledging has a very rushed ending. It's like someone told Harper her book could only be a certain number of pages and she spent too much time at the forefront of the story and doesn't give us enough time to really absorb what we learn in Scotland. Also... what are the chances that a girl can randomly learn to fly some fantasy balloon contraption after one attempt? My bet is slim to none. I am proven wrong.

With a little more polish and attention to the ending, I think Fledgling could reach 4 star potential. And while Harper gave me exactly the type of book I was expecting; I guess I was hoping for a little more to draw me in and keep my attention. After all there are so many times one can read about a teen bumbling around with magic and screwing things up, right? Apparently not according to the top publishing houses of today.
Fledgling suffers from the usual middle book curse in that it really exists to set-up the story for (what I presume is) the third and final book of the series. Many pivotal set-up things happen, fate intercedes to put our heroines where they need to be and we are once again treated to a cliffhanger pushing us to find out what happens in book 3.

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, February 7, 2020

Book Review: Sea of Rust

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On Earth in a time where no humans exist, and there are only human made AI robots, we are challenged to look at ourselves, human society, the definition of a 'living thing', and question our own existence. C. Robert Cargill has brought us a spectacular science fiction, social commentary through the eyes of a charismatic robot and a POV from history before humans were decimated in his novel Sea of Rust. This is easily one of the most underrated books of the 2010's (released in 2018). Forget the Martian, Ready Player One, or Annihilation; Sea of Rust deserves to be next to Station Eleven and Dark Matter as one of the most brilliant science fiction books of the 2010's decade.

As with many science fiction books there is a lot of social commentary in Sea of Rust. Cargill does not hold back on ensuring that the reader is aware of how useless and dumb society (as a whole) is. While individuals can be smart and understand issues and root cause; getting everyone to conform and agree in order to meet the greater good is nigh on impossible (look at climate change issues of today). Ironically we realize, very early on, that the same is true for our (adorable) robots. No one wants to be a part of one entity, we all want to be individuals; even if you're 'just' an AI. And what is an AI robot besides an evolution of human thinking? Afterall a human made AI must have all the same inherent flaws that human logic does. And therefore, doesn't an AI also have a personality and make its own choices just like humans?

Are AI robots alive?
The question of existence is prevalent throughout Sea of Rust. To start Cargill borrows Isaac Asimov's three rules of robotics. Now anyone whose read I, Robot (or saw the action packed movie) knows that it doesn't really work in the end. The same is true here.
In order to protect humans, (rule #3: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.), robots must act to stop the humans from being parasites and destroying the Earth.
If you need proof that this is true look at the United States or China of today. Both are nationalistic countries that don't care what happens to anyone else but themselves. They don't make global decisions, they (tend to) make selfish decisions that meet their own needs and people first. And while this makes sense to us as citizens of a country (and politically) the reality is that this attitude cannot persist if we are to keep humanity alive. That same thing happens in Sea of Rust as this Earth ends up with only robots and no humans. And so as soon as you talk about existence what you are really talking about is survival. Isn't anything that 'survives' alive?

Can robots have feelings?
The second thing that Cargill makes the reader question is if you can have feelings or love for a robot. Alternatively, can a robot have feelings for someone else (a human or another robot)?
To me it's clear that as soon as something has an identity, or can be seen as an individual, then it must have feelings that lead it to those individualities. Think of any pet (dog, cat, snake, bird, etc.), we know their nuances and personality; therefore they are individuals to us. No one cat or snake is the same as the next. Cargill eloquently show that AI Robots are the same. They make decisions based on their programming (obviously); but also based on their own learning (AI). Thus each AI perceives the world differently; just like humans. And so each AI has a feeling towards other robots or things in its perception.

There is a lot to digest here. But at no time was I overwhelmed. Instead Cargill introduces many times over, and explains in different ways, how and why his robots are the way they are. The beauty is how Cargill does so without sounding like a boring English professor. His robots have build societies and thus wars break out (because humans always want more and so do our AI counterparts). We also start to understand that the robots have a drive to survive (again like humans):
"The survivors, on the other hand, embodied the can-do attitude of the post-apocalyptic frontier spirit. In other words, they were completely fucking nuts."
"But I had to dream. I had to hope. Even if it made me the fool of this particular tale."
I won't ever be able to put into words all the amazing points, quotes and social insight that Cargill gives us in Sea of Rust. What's especially nice is that, unlike many social commentary books, Sea of Rust is in a easy to digest format. The chapter sizes feel consistent, the pacing is well set and while the concepts are complex the writing itself doesn't require a dictionary. This is a very approachable story that everyone should read; if only to understand themselves and humans as a whole better. If nothing else this line of Sea of Rust will resonate with me for a long time; because knowing things are bad and accepting those bad things are two concepts humans are very bad at reconciling:
"People knew their own nature, even when they wanted to think better of themselves."
A print copy of Sea of Rust now sits on in my personal library; right next to the equally insightful and amazing Station Eleven. I cannot possibly endorse this novel enough and hope that others find the depth to it that I did.

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