Sunday, July 5, 2020

Book Review: Look for Ladybug in Ocean City

Look for Ladybug in Ocean City
by Katherina Manolessou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Who doesn't love search and find books?
Even today I still love to look through a well illustrated seek and find book. Of course it's always more fun with a kid by my side these days. These pages are wonderfully colourful with whimsical illustrations. There is a real story here (which is unusual for a search and find book) that really allows this book to be used again, even after the child has found everything. Never mind were you to try and name all the aquatic animals drawn on each page. I know I'd be hard pressed to; but they do all look like they are based off real fish or aquatic mammals (there are otters that show up a couple times I love).
On each page there are little phrases or words in the illustrations, for example: way up, way down, eye tests, chill out and more. This is a great way to have a little one practice reading a bit; without them needing to read the entire story blurb on the page and getting overwhelmed.
We also visit many fun, and a couple not so fun but needed, locations along the way including the dentist, theater, a gorgeous museum (I want the two-sided head sea serpent on display!), and, my personal favourite, a garden maze!
There is a list of items to find at the beginning of the book (including ladybug of course) and then throughout the story blurbs there are phrases in all-caps that indicate they are to be found. For example: crab on a swing, portrait of a fish with a pearl earring, shrimp looking in the mirror, starfish with seven arms, etc. These are fun in that they aren't just an object for a child to find but in fact are often 'actions' inside the still illustration. So not only do you need to know the aquatic animal doing the item (ie: fish, octopus, crab, etc.) you have to know where something is or what something is. So to find 'penguin with a basket of ice pops' you need to know what a penguin looks like, what a bucket is, and probably what ice pops are. And yes there are tricks! On the page to find the penguin I saw at least four other penguins doing things like: eating ice cream, drinking coffee, walking, etc. So it's not as easy as just find the animal.
Don't worry parents for those who aren't so great at these, or have impatient children, there is a key at the back. Now if you're child is anything like my 8-year-old niece then you'll get in big trouble (like I did) for 'cheating' and looking at the answers. LOL

Overall I really liked this book. I love that it's a real story of 'detectives' looking for ladybug and it has an adorable twist at the end of the story. I also love finding things! So it's a double whammy and well worth the cost of getting this one in a nice hardcover that will last. Some of my favourite books from when I was a child are the search and find ones that helped me learn to read. It's too bad this one wasn't published many (okay yes a lot of) years earlier.

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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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Book Review: The Grace Year

The Grace Year 
by Kim Liggett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When a story takes you from annoyance, to tolerance, to friendship, to love you know it’s special. I really didn’t get this book to start. But I realize now, that’s on purpose. Liggett has given us a journey to experience, much like Hunger Games, we may not understand the constructs or the challenges entirely at first (and our lead gal doesn’t either); but as we progress with our leading gal into the dark trenches of reality and truth, we realize that we knew all along we just didn’t want to believe it. The truth is messy, dirty, bloody, and not flattering; just like real life.

Women’s Competition
This is a powerful story about girls, women, mothers, and childless crones. It is a reminder that we as women are taught to compete; not to further ourselves but to keep us apart, because apart we are stronger.
I tell my husband all the time about how meeting new women is terrifying for me and how I hate the competition. He tells me I imagine it, but I know that it’s my imagination. Especially because over the years I’ve carefully talked with other women and found out we all feel the same. And so we gain progress inch by inch by quietly discussing our realities. The Grace Year shows us how to start (or continue) the work that these girls begin. It lifts the veil (or the shroud) and tells us that not all men are evil, women don’t need to compete, and ultimately that change may be slow and our patience is required.

Change Comes with Sacrifice
From the early chapters of The Grace Year we are shown that not everyone survives, and most return broken or changed so much it’s difficult to recognize them. As our lead gal progresses through her own Grace Year we, of course, start to see why that is. The knowledge or questions our gal starts with aren’t even the most important ones she answers throughout the story.
Everyone in this story sacrifices something in someway. It’s not romantic, pretty or bittersweet. Instead it’s harsh, bloody and stark as bone. Yet each sacrifice made, and the ultimate ones made at the end, are essential for the progress of our story and characters. Liggett has intertwined them so well that I didn’t even realize what was happening to my thoughts and emotions until after I had tears in my eyes.

Romance
Very few real life relationships are fairy tales. In fact I have yet to meet someone with the perfect fairy tale spouse or life. It’s because it doesn’t exist and we are reminded of that in The Grace Year; sometimes the best you can hope for is that it not be awful. Thus when a small speck of hope and love shows up it’s all the more powerful. Liggett takes that knowledge of the poignance of love and how we all crave the fairytale and uses it against us. Watch for your emotions to be twisted and at times you won’t know what you want to happen, or even have a clue what is next. I recommend staying on the ride and letting yourself be immersed in the difficulties of living in an imperfect world (to say the least).

Overall
While the premise is intense and grabbed me quick; it’s the main character that nearly broke me off from this novel. Thank goodness I didn’t give up on it. If you hate our lead gal at the start, find her annoying or just inconsistent that’s okay. There’s a purpose to it. Were I to make a suggestion about edits to Liggett, I’d recommend that she tweak the introductory chapters to focus more on our lead gal and her male friend; and theorize less about the magic. Give us something to at least respect about this girl (and keep us reading) before she’s torn to shreds and rises back up in the most unlikely of ways.
I wonder on a reread how I’d feel about the beginning. Maybe I’d see more to it? Maybe I’d see what seemed obvious wasn’t as clear as it was portrayed? All I know is there is power when a shift happen. My brain, heart and soul shifted while reading The Grace Year, almost without my knowledge. I felt myself recognizing so many of the things said as true to my own life and experience. It’s a treat we get insight into our own lives and makes this a perfect story for the YA/Teen genre.
One of the first books as a pre-teen to make a strong impression on me was The Giver; when the apple flies through the air and changes to red. That moment in The Grace Year isn’t as clear cut, making it even more impactful in the end, but it’s there. Hidden under some small YA tropes; but once you uncover it, and keep on reading, you’ll suddenly know that this isn’t your average YA girls versus girls book. It’s got some magic of it’s own.

Note: I wrote this review within minutes of putting this book down. I may not feel as strongly tomorrow; and normally I allow myself time to digest a book. But I felt like I needed to capture this emotion I have right now before it disappeared and was replaced with the depression of headline news and our own reality. I’ll be intrigued to see how I feel about this book in a week, a month or a year. Do I remember it? Does it stick like The Giver, like Black Panther, Red Wolf, like Hunger Games, like Station Eleven, or so many other dark(er) dystopian books I’m drawn to. Only time will tell.

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: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Let me first address the 'issues' many reviewers who didn't like this book have. This is a horror genre book. This is a genre known for scariness, playing off extreme stereotypes, gory passages, and (usually) some sort of magical realism. If you weren't expecting that Grady Hendrix would: a) delivery just like he did on all his other books, b) use those genre tropes to his advantage, c) write a book just like promised in the blurb; then I'm sorry the problem isn't with the book, the author, publisher or the readers whom love it. The problem is with you. Just like those who condemn S&M activities because they aren't 'into it'; I look upon them with disgust and say 'you don't have to like it, or even be a part of it, but you should tolerate it's existence'. No one threatened your life or that of those you love to read this novel and it's existence is not hurting you in the least. It's a clear and obvious fictional spoof with horror thrown in to make it even funner.
For the record, I loved this book. It was exactly what I was hoping for a more. Gory, spine-tingling, and a chilling portrayal of the 'average housewife' in a upper middle-class suburban community. Which, for the record, is still scarier to me than fighting off a vampire; which is exactly the point Hendrix is making. The irony of those that don't get it is almost comical, if it wasn't so infuriating that they missed the point by miles and now it's somehow a 'problem' and must be stamped out.

The Women
Are all our characters 'typical'? Yep. I don't even need to see an episode of Desperate Housewives to know that these women are just like those. Or going back some years like the ladies in Melrose Place or even Dallas. These are women whose outward appearance is more important than anything. These are women who can't show weakness for fear of being chewed up (which is ironic given there is a vampire in this story, haha). These are the women so many of us (at least in my generation) don't want to be. We try to do everything in our power not to turn into these slaving housewives, mothers and/or caretakers of men and children. Hendrix hits the nail on the head with his archetypes of the different characters and gives us a glimpse into the fact, that we all have always known, being a mother and housewife isn't all it's cracked up to me. This isn't the 50's and there's very little thanks given to getting it 'right'. If you've watched The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon Prime) you'll totally get what I mean. If you haven't seen this great, funny and ironic show I highly recommend it for any/all; but especially women.

The Horror
There's a lot of set-up. Similar to a Stephen King novel; we don't get much immediate excitement past a couple paragraphs to start. But don't worry the gore, fear, and terror are coming. There is a point during this book (and yes I was reading late at night while my husband slept next to me) where I had to put the book down and convince myself there wasn't a 'creature' on the roof of my own house. That's how well Hendrix writes. I remember this during We Sold our Souls as well; there's always at least once where Hendrix will drag you so far into the story that your own psychosis starts to work against you. Perfect horror and the contrast with the sunny morning eating breakfast with the children is genious.

The Ultimate Ending
The best part of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires (seriously longest title ever!) is the ending. Our ladies are pushed to their limits, and yet while doing so are laughing at themselves. They've realized their own faults and limitations; as well as recognized that everyone is lying around them, just like they are. If there is anything this book definitely says it's that everyone is lying about almost everything. A commentary on social media and our outward desire to seem 'perfect' if I've ever read one. Hendrix takes these women, their husbands, their money (or lack thereof) and their livelihoods and strips them bare to show us the reality of what should have been obvious (and maybe was) all along. The challenge being if you see the truth in others then you suddenly start recognizing it in yourself; and most of us aren't ready for that.

Overall
I am not ashamed to say that I absolutely loved this. Whether you are young or old, male or female, married or not, a mother or not; I believe you will find aspects of these housewives in yourself and perhaps even recognize that you've been fighting against being these exact people. I know I have. I never wanted to be like my Mom whom (I think) values what everyone else thinks far too much. And yet I get caught in that trap weekly (if not daily) still today. Hendrix reminded me that life is funny and that the iconic life is actually so ridiculously treasured it can't possibly exist or if it does it feels like more of a trap than the back of a vampires nondescript white van.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is exactly what I expected; full of tropes, stereotypes, blood, gore, biting vampires, scared children, pompous men, and strong women. And leaves you with the solid reminder that you should never, ever invite someone into your home that you don't implicitly trust or know; because you never know what they do when you're not around and what mask they are showing at that moment, and you just might need some magical rule to save your life or that of someone you love. You'll laugh, you might cry, you'll certainly despair, and probably get at least a shiver down your spine as you watch these women fight against a vampire whose seemingly smarter than all of them combined.

Note: I have a mental health disorder, am medicated for it, and did not find the use of anxiety and delusions to be out of context or insulting here. In fact I felt like it was well purposed to portray a hysterical woman...(spoiler - highlight to read) and provide convenient reasons for her to be 'dealt with'. This is what life was like for many women, and probably still is today. They are in fear of their husbands or others determining them to be 'crazy' and not truly listening. Of being shipped off to a psych ward or being medicated past conscious thought. I have been in the shoes of this woman and terrified of being locked up myself when my anxiety peaks and makes me (for real) delusional and (frankly) crazy. If you think this is a poor portrayal then it's only because you don't understand how society has historically (and still today) treats hysterical women.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Stitching Post: One Alice Page, Three Motifs & A New Start

Somehow these days time is both lagging and flyin by! How odd eh? Still in the midst of pandemic land here in Canada, the government is slowly opening services back-up; much to my frustration as nothing significant has changed (except that the economy is collapsing) and so the 'reasons' they gave before for shut-down (to protect immune-compromised and seniors) don't seem to matter anymore? It's a whole mess frankly and just makes me angry. So I've been trying to focus on: 
  1. New Job - week 3, I'm learning stuff
  2. Stitching - Alice page finish, 3 moTtifs (of 6, new Canada mandala start!)
  3. Reading - I'm doing the poorest here and am now leagues (okay 5-6) books behind on reading challenge. But let's focus on stitching here!
I also have three stitching updates for you (ironically):
One - Alice page finish!
This leaves one full page and a partial page left for the bottom row. Which means I am 4 pages complete of 45 pages (assuming I can do math). That just doesn't sound all that great; but I'm super happy about any page finish. Hubby wants to know when it will be 'done' and I keep telling him it might be before we die! If we're lucky! LOL! 

Two - Three little motifs

These beauties were started and stitched during the 'lockdown. I have three more of these Kelsyn's Itty Bitty's selected, with new thread colors, to put below the current ones. This was started on a whim with no plan project to keep me distracted during the chaos as my regular stitching projects weren't cutting it. I suspect this little beauty will end up being called the '2020 complication' or having some name related to covid. The full chart has 16 motifs but I just went with 6 as that's what fit this cute piece of fabric I had on hand. Threads are all Coloris from DMC which I'm crazy impressed with! 

Three - A new start! Canada mandala
Yes that is Aida you see. Crazy right? It's my first time on Aida in decades. So why Aida? Well because this square will be put on a memory blanket for fallen RCMP officers. I've been very fortunate to join an online group that sends beautifully put together quilts with cross-stitched squares on them to the family members of those RMCP (federal police) that have fallen in the line of duty. I know the topic of police enforcement is difficult right now; and I definitely support Black Lives Matter and what they stand for; but I also acknowledge that not every single officer of the law is racist (but there are many in Canada that are, no doubt in my mind). And no doubt the overall system itself is racist and we all need to take responsibility for that. Here in Canada it's directed more at Indigenous people than any other All that aside I'm super proud to be a part of this group and add contributions to the cause. This pattern is a personal favourite from Ink Circles. I hope to do it up on linen with variegated thread for myself one day. On 16ct Aida it comes in just below the 8" x 8" needed measurements for the quilts.

💜💜💜💜💜

Overall things are trucking along for me. I'm not reading nearly as much as I would like, but I am now working from home and that takes some adjusting as my reading time was previously on bus. However, I can now stitch from my chair, with my full set-up at lunch! So trade-offs. 

What is super good is that it allows me to avoid public transit or an office building for \ c(hopefully) a long time; and I cut down on my previous 2+ hours commuting per day to work. All that said, I'm a bit nervous as my husband is returning to his 300+ person office on Monday (not pleased he hasn't been given option to keep working from home as he has for last 3+ months); but he will monitor situation and if becomes dicey we have the option to say I'm immune-compromised and our household can't be subject to that much risk (which is true; but I feel bad claiming it as everyone should have a right to certain safety in my opinion). Hope you're all doing well and stitching up a storm out there! I know losing my job and the pandemic really made me focus more on stitching which I appreciate. And with far fewer events/activities in the near future I'm hoping to keep the stitching momentum up.

Hope everyone is doing well and staying safe!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Book Review: A Surprising Friendship

A Surprising Friendship by Andrew Wald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While a cute story and adorable illustrations, I couldn't help but laugh from page 1. It reads:
"... a playful Canadian goose, loved swimming in the pond." 
Now if you've ever met a real Canadian goose before you will have likely encountered their massive attitude problem. These geese are not polite or nice at all (generally). Instead the geese are vicious, mean, and will literally attack you if you invade their space (even if it's next to your car or on the pathway). So while I understand what Andrew Wald was going for here in terms of showing that friendships can survive a time away from each other (over winter). I also must admit that I'm concerned some child will instantly think a wild goose makes for a great friend. I'm less concerned that a child will think of a wild bear as a friend; as if your small child is out in the woods alone and meets a bear I seriously wonder about your parenting skills (lol). But geese are found in the city, near water, etc. and so it's far more likely that a child might encounter one. So just make sure if you read this to a little one they know that the goose and bear are friends; but maybe not friends with humans the same way. 

This is a simple story that sends a great message. It's generic and so safe for a gift for any child or family. And I love the message that even if you are apart for some time that doesn't mean you stop being friends and cannot reconnect in the 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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Friday, June 12, 2020

Book Review: The Whispers of War

The Whispers of War by Julia Kelly


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’ll never cease amaze me how many unique, important and touching stories there are to tell in history. Particularly those stories of women in WWII strike me hardest. Their bravery, determination, and pride were second to none as most volunteered to help in any way possible before conscription happened in Britain.
The Whispers of War surprised me as it's not as sad as most WWII stories are. Julia Kelly brings us a touching, moving and brilliant story of the bonds of friendship and love.

Female Friendship
It's so nice to read a book where the women aren't always competing, at each others throats, or out to get each other. I know that it's rare in real life to find the kind of friendship Kelly describes between her three main characters in The Whispers of War; but it does exist. It's so heartwarming to be reminded that people usually intend to be good; sometimes they fall the wayside and don't even realize it. I love how the tensions of the friendship ebb and flow throughout the story.

Past to Present
As with the majority of historical figure these days, this book does flip between the WWII timeline and present day. However unlike many other books set like this the present story isn't near as relevant, and not the bulk of the novel. Kelly has done a good job of keeping us in the past with the occasional snippet to the future so that we can stay 'in the story' but also understand some of the repercussions of choices our characters made 60+ years before present day. It felt understood throughout the book that the reader really only cares about the past and so keeping the focus there worked really nicely for me.

Internment Camps and Refuge
I will confess I am very proud to read this as a Canadian. To know that we offered even one person refuge from the Nazi's is really powerful to me. Canada however is not a country without many transgressions, including our own internment camps during WWII (primarily against the Japanese); and so if you approach the end of this book and think my country is 'so great, rah, rah' (while I want to be proud of that) I would caution you that the events in Britain and elsewhere in Europe of internment and prejudice absolutely did and do still happen in Canada (sadly). No country has a clean slate; there are always skeletons in the closet.
That said it must also be acknowledged that the persecution that much of The Whispers of War focuses on in Britain is sad, frustrating and all too true. You might come away being disgusted by some of the actions of Europeans and their governments. I caution you to remember that these were extraordinary times and people were merely trying to keep folks safe. The same way that today we are engaged in extraordinary times with the covid pandemic and we can only hope that humanity of the future understands that we didn't have all the information and were just reacting as best we could most of the time.

Overall
Not unlike The Paris Seamstress this is a good 'mostly positive' WWII book. It has less death, rape, torture, etc. than books like The Tattooist of Auschwitz; and it focuses more on the girls relationships and thoughts which is easier to relate to. This is a historical fiction novel that I would definitely recommend to someone like my Mom. She likes historical novels but struggles sometimes with really gruesome events or descriptions. That's not to say that we ignore any of those awful things that certainly did happen; but a variety of novels that differ in pacing and descriptive content is always smart as it allows these stories to be accessible to more people. Otherwise some people wouldn't ever read a war time book because they can't handle the content.
For me, in the end, The Whispers of War is a must add to my growing WWII physical book collection. As always this is the highest praise I can give a book.

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 8, 2020

Book Review: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Beautifully illustrated with a palette of blues, greens and soft colours; this is the original little mermaid story and so vicious and painful. No Disney happy fairy tale magic exists in the original text that Hans Christian Andersen wrote. Additionally the story is longer than your average children's book, but I didn't mind as reading the delicate font allowed me to also be immersed in each pages beautiful illustrations.

It's important to note that Andersen first published this story in 1836. To say that relations between men and women have changed over the last 250+ years would be an understatement. So be forewarned the original masculine domination themes, the trickery and subservience of women is portrayed here along with more. A lot of critique has been tossed at The Little Mermaid over the years; and rightfully so. It's not a pleasant story; and yet somehow our heroine ends up with a happy ending. This really highlights that the belief of the day was that the suffering of women would be rewarded in the afterlife. A very Christian belief that fits nicely into the rhetoric of the 1800's.

I first read this original text when I was about 8 years old. Disney had just released their version of Ariel (1989) and I was obsessed (as little girls tend to be over Disney movies). The songs, the excitement, and my favourite part, Ursula. As I grew older I came to realize that I never saw myself being a princess; but if I was any character it was likely to be the clever villain. Interpret that as you will (lol). I also realized I shouldn't trust any Disney movie ever again!

What really stuck with me, right up to today, from this original story, is that pain and suffering is usually required in order to gain something you desire. Not a bad lesson for an 8-year-old. I did wonder what my Mom was hoping I'd get from the story at the time. As an adult we discussed it and she told me that all she ever tried to do was ensure I had enough reading material as I blew through books in minutes, not hours. Content became irrelevant as I got older as she figured I'd ask questions if I had any; and just wanted to keep me reading.

If you want a copy of the original story this is a beautifully illustrated version. I definitely recommend this latest edition from NorthSouth Books. If you are hoping for some nostalgia towards the Disney movie or story this is really not for you. For today's young girls it's probably worth having them read it and then setting up a conversation about how they feel about: the outcome of the story, what they think of Ariel taking on voluntary pain to be with Eric, and if there is a level of pain or suffering that is unreasonable. My thought here is that a little girl might think that a man who loves her and occasionally beats her is acceptable based on this story (for example). Of course that is up to each individual parent to decide. I would not recommend this as a gift for a little girl you don't know really well or know how the parents might react. It's a bit too vicious to be loved by many; and it veers so far away from the Disney story that I could see some parents who have not read it being upset by the content.

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: Reverie

Reverie by Ryan La Sala

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I hate to say this but Reverie is a bit of a mess. It's sad because Ryan La Sala seems great online and is adorable in general. However none of that can make up for this poorly put together teen novel. All the right elements exist here, and then some, including: a clueless and unreliable lead boy, a strong villain, a cast of supporting characters, a unique concept, lots of action, sibling in peril, magic, etc. And yet it's put together in such a haphazard way that there's no coherency, consistency, or clear goal even as we approach the end.

Amnesia as a Plot Device
The most convenient way to create mystery, allure, and fool your reader is by giving your main character amnesia. It can work, but it's rare for it to be done in a really clever way. Most often the use of amnesia indicates weak plot or writing. Reverie seems to have lots of plot, and sort of does; but it's so hard to follow at times. I felt like I might as well have had amnesia about what I'd read before each time I sat down to give Reverie reading time.
Even more disappointing is that our MC learns aspects to his life, prior to the amnesia, by overhearing a conversation that he 'conveniently' trips over between his friends. La Sala uses a weak plot device and then pairs it up with my least favourite aspect to most stories, convenience. If you had to put your character in just the right place, for no real reason (ie: they literally stumble into a hallway and hear a conversation), then you've likely not given conceivable motive for them to be there. I usually attribute it to lazy writing; but in this case I think it's just immature writing.

Characters
On first glance our cast of characters seems pretty good. We have our gay lead teen boy, his annoying younger sister, some parents (that are of course a non-factor, because what parents would be concerned about their kid that just woke up with amnesia after a large incident... let's not even get into this ridiculous teen troupe...), a villain, a female best friend, a couple other friends to make up the little team, and of course, a (gay) love interest. Sounds not bad... expect that none of these characters (expect maybe the sister) really have any actual personality. A hint to La Sala and other writers; if you want the reader to believe that someone is acting or given powers opposite of their 'normal' nature, you have to first let them see and understand their 'normal' nature! One line about how someone is kind, hates illusions, or wishes they didn't have certain memories is just not going to get the reader there. The average reader wants depth, emotion, and understanding of these people. Sadly we don't get that here.

Unraveling the Story
In order to really do a mystery back story well a writer has to be skilled at unraveling and revealing the story to their reader. This is La Sala's debut novel, so some allowances might be given, but not enough to make this novel feel anything less than a knotted mess. Between not really understanding what a reverie is (or how they come to exist) and constantly feeling like I was missing something critical to really follow the story; there was no chance of me unraveling this complex and disorienting plot. Additionally a reveal near the end felt random, inconceivable and really highlighted that the rules of reveries, this 'magic' or power, and just general physics of this world was never well explained. If you are going to have something surprising happen then it needs to feel like it was there all along. Instead I realized I clearly misunderstood some aspect of reveries. Even after contemplating this miss for a day I still can't figure out how the reveal is even possible! It's very mind boggling and doesn't make for a 'fun' time on the readers behalf.

Overall
La Sala has the right idea when it comes to setting up a complex, intricate, interesting teen novel. All the elements are there but each of them needs some major refinement. From setting the rules of the magic/power in the story, to expanding on characterization, to making the scenarios feel realistic to this fantasy world (a version of our own). If a reader isn't convinced that something is possible, or at least an intriguing idea, then they will not buy into the premise of the story; and with no buy-in you might as well have blank pages.
All that said: with a killer editor, some stronger plot lines and explanations, and maybe some really harsh beta readers I think La Sala has the base components to be a good writer. I did after all finish the book (even if I was frustrated nearly the entire time by what I didn't understand). With more time and refinement La Sala could be a real powerhouse for LGBTQ+ teen literature. He maybe just needs to grow up a little, get some more experience under his belt (I always recommend short stories as they have to be simpler but clever), and find a way to bring his story all together.

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, May 28, 2020

Book Review: Failsafe


Failsafe by Anela Deen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s nothing special about this story per say. And yet it feels special. It’s really all about one girl and a man fighting for the impossible. And aren’t we all fighting for the best and maybe the impossible everyday?

Representation
Some amazing representation here. Our lead gal has epilepsy and struggle in her dystopian world. From drones, AI, not-safe areas; this is already a world fraught with danger. Add onto that the possibility of have a seizure at any moment and you definitely have the recipe for: over bearing parents, drive to prove yourself, and fighting just to contribute to daily life.
"I refuse to be useless because you feel better when I do nothing."
Our MC is a strong gal who pushes over and above in every instance. And her epilepsy just might be the reason she has 'access' to certain keys...

Love on the Run
We spent the majority of Failsafe running through unsafe zones with our MC and an android-like man. During their travels they enter a colony, encounter droids, get shot at (a lot), hide, and talk. Through this Anela Deen gives us the beginnings of a love story. It's subtle, and feels realistic. It's not insta-love, it's not 'you saved me so now I must love you' syndrome, or anything that feels false. One of the best things about this story is the budding interest and caring that our two MC's start to have for one another. As someone who usually hates all love stories inserted into sci-fi novels; I gotta say this one really surprised me, in a good way. Our MC really finds herself alongside her android companion.
"I had no control over the actions of others. Why had I chosen to reject myself?"

Overall
The writing in Failsafe is really good. Don't be fooled by the Indie publisher here; this is a solid story. The mystery of how the world works and what is really happening at any given time is done very well and drives our story forward. We have good plot and motivation at all times.
While it's not a five-star 'outstanding book' for me; it was excellent and I'd absolutely recommend it to those that enjoy a fast-paced, action sci-fi story. It's also short, at only 200 pages, yet jam-packed with insightful comments from our MC, relationship building, tragedy, and lots of action. You can't go wrong with this story given the small investment it takes to complete. I'll be in the look-out for more of Deen's work in the future; as I think there is real talent here and in a larger, more complex story it could really shine.

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, May 25, 2020

Book Review: I Can Catch a Monster

I Can Catch a Monster by Bethan Woollvin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adorable! Big illustrations, easy to read text, and a plot that sees a little girl besting her two brothers (although not in the way you might expect. This is perfect for a girl that has brothers who pick on her or any child that feels like they are bullied. Little Bo proves that she's brave; not only in her actions, but also in her ability to understand that what might seem like a monster might not be one after all.

The Kraken is my favourite of the 'monsters', although most children will likely gravitate to the dragon. I do like that there is the option of three creatures that a child has to choose from as their favourite.

An easily accessible children's book that has a nice simple feel to it. This comes from the use of only 3 colours, plus black (used across different shades so it feels like more colours), in my opinion; but also from the easy to read and understand text. A great book for a child starting out to read or one that might be likely to memorize lines or words (especially that ROAR! page, always fun with 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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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: The Lady Rogue

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was okay. Nothing overly special here. Felt a lot like Indiana Jones, but with a leading gal and an attractive boy sidekick her age. The Dracula pieces of the story are not vampire-like at all; but instead focus on the actual Vlad Dracul, human, who did exist. Good enough but nothing spectacular.

If you want to go on a treasure hunt you might find The Lady Rogue has something for you. If you're hoping for blood, gothic overtones, and vampires this is NOT the book for you. Those looking for an intriguing mystery are also likely to be let down. While there is a mystery here, and it should be the focus of the story, it's not that entrancing. This is more of a girl coming into her own teen book than anything. The love story is meh as the chemistry between the characters is missing.

Overall this was a very disappointing read for me. I would perhaps try another book by Jenn Bennett in the future. There was enough here that with some good editing, focus on mystery writing, and a less snowflake-like heroine; I could see Bennett telling us some interesting stories. Sadly The Lady Rogue isn't up to par; especially in the high saturated teen 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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Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Review: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew! What a ride! Recursion deserves all of the stars. It’s a perfect sci-if thriller with a surprisingly poignant love story weaves in the middle. I know I’ve said it before, but I think it’s really true, Blake Crouch is the 21st century Michael Crichton. I have no doubt that if you loved Dark Matter you will also love Recursion.
"Life is nothing how he expected it would be when he was young and living under the delusion that things could be controlled."
I still hope for control on a daily basis. But it is delusional; even in our own more mundane lives, than in the crazy complex timelines of Recursion. Crouch takes us on a interwoven journey that shows the 'butterfly effect', explains deja vu, draws attention to the Mandala effect, and more. All current scientific theories or concepts, just like in Dark Matter, and Crouch reaches to just the next moment beyond what seems physically or metaphysically possible. It's brilliant the way he is able to root everything so solidly in known science (yes I googled many things while reading this). This solid scientific base allows the reader to believe in everything happening; even when your mind is stretched to the limit of understanding.
"Time is an illusion, a construct made out of human memory."
As I write this it's week 8 (I think) of the COVID-19 'stay at home' mandate in Canada. And time has become less and less relevant as the days go by. With no job to go to, I'm lucky my husband is working from home to keep us on a semi-regular schedule. Routine is an important and valuable thing that most people don't even realize they need until it's gone. In Recursion Crouch proves that humans can do extraordinary things when needed; but he also shows the limits that even the most advanced human brain can handle.
I love the way we experience a jarring event and to the reader it seems exactly as impactful as it does to our lead character; but he sees how it affects others and realizes many humans cannot handle the stress of a sudden wealth of information or traumatic event. This really resonated with me as we continue on with the COVID-19 crisis and have been starting to see the real cracks, not in society, but in the people around us. Recursion portrays this well and could even give you insight into current worldwide events that change the course of history; from Germany invading England to 9/11 to today's pandemic.

One thing is certain about Recursion; you won't want to put it down. The last 100 or so pages had me gripped to the very end. I'm glad I had the time to read this one quickly and not have to break it up too much. If you're in the midst of a reading slump, lacking inspiration or feeling meh about books and enjoy sci-fi, then Recursion is the exact book to pick-up; it worked just like this for me.
A must read for any Crichton fan, sci-fi or thriller lover, and anyone whose ever wondered 'what if I could go back and change something'.

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, May 16, 2020

Book Review: Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls

Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls
by Anita Ganeri; Illustrated by Khoa Le


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The diversity of stories in Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls is wonderful. From India to Sweden, Japan to West Africa; we are taken on a gorgeous illustrated ride throughout the world. Our champions are all girls whom have been told, for one reason or another, their ‘place in the world’ or where their capacity maxes out. Of course, these women defy that idea and, in most cases, challenge it head on.

Artwork
The art of Khoa Le is by far the highlight of this hardcover, over sized book for me. It’s the kind of book a little girl might receive, read a thousand times, and keep forever. I have three books like this from my childhood: one is Disney stories, another Raggedy Ann stories and finally an amazing illustrated copy of Little Women. But while beauty is important, let’s face it the text and stories are far more important in (to me at least) when it comes to content.

The Text of the Tales
The stories told all feature a leading female, often younger or just of marrying age. These women range from warriors to magicians to intellects, and more. My personal favourites were the instances where the girl outsmarted a foe (usually a man, but not always) with her smarts, riddles, or common sense. That said, any girl will likely find at least one story that resonates with them, regardless of what attribute they value most; be it intelligence, strength, magic or beauty.

My Favourites
I didn’t hate any of the stories. Some were just okay, others ended too abruptly, and one or two that were based off cultures I know a little more about didn’t quite live up to what I’d imagined or hoped for them. But two stories stood out for me.

Nana Miriam and the Horrible Hippopotamus
In this early placed story (third in) we are in West Africa and a daughter is told by her hunter father that no one can kill a hippo. No one, but especially not her. Guess what our girl must do then to prove otherwise? Not the most clever story in the book; but this one felt so great to finish as it’s a clear ‘win’ by our heroine. As an early story in the anthology it set a good tone for what's to come

The Princess, the Merchants, and the very Unusual Cupboard
The second story anchors the collection. Set in Sudan it features one of the most clever girls we meet in this anthology. She is annoyed by merchants who agree to “help her” get more value for an item by giving her money but also looking to secure her hand in marriage. By the end she shows them what it feels like to be bought or sold, and even shipped to the highest bidder. I liked the obvious comparison to slavery here and that the position of wife, which here is clearly a lesser role, is still important enough (in the end) to be worthy of our gal if the partner is respectful. It keeps the idea of a strong relationship and it’s value intact, doesn’t degrade men quite as much as some other stories did, and it’s the perfect reminder that gender isn’t the only thing that has (and sadly still does) separate people from one another.

Overall
This isn’t necessarily the best fairy tales collection I’ve read that targets middle grade or a bit younger children. But it is the most diverse; representing different cultures and locations around the world. The perfect type of book to be in a daycare, school library, or featured at a children’s gathering of any sort. I believe any child could find at least one story they identify with.
It could also be a good gift for a young girl. Be aware that animals are killed/hunted for food and sport (I have a 7-year-old cousin this would really upset, for example); but otherwise I don't foresee major objections by parents to the content. I would definitely buy this for a random gift exchange between kids, as an unwrapped gift donation for holidays, or as a donation to any library.

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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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Book Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
Legacy of Orisha, Book 2

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm so glad this is over. It took me forever to read.

The Plot
The first 60% of this book is so boring! It's just our main characters lamenting about war, wishing it didn't have to happen; or figuring out schemes (none of which were interesting) to stop the war. It was so dull I wanted to cry.
At about 75% we have a significant-ish event that happens. A good action sequence and excellent character moment. Sadly it's overshadowed, almost immediately, by the fact that the larger war is happening. And so all the impact we should feel just dissipates away. And then we're in the last 25% in which we have an inevitable larger battle.

The Ending
Like WTF? I literally don't even understand and don't care enough to bother reading the last chapter and epilogue until I do. I just don't care. If the ending is supposed to make me want to read the next book (will be third in series) then it failed horribly. I hate cheap or random endings and this is about as random as it comes. There had better be a damn good explanation, that makes sense, in book three early on or I'm likely just out.

Rushed..?
The writing style here felt very rushed to me. A couple chapters held the excitement and action that I had felt through much of book 1; but mostly it was repetitive and like someone told Tomi Adeyemi to just 'fill pages' and so she rushed to do so by putting in a bunch of boring whining from our lead characters. It's too bad as I think the emotions our characters are battling during this time could have been significant for the reader (especially a teen); instead it was just meh.

Overall
If you're hoping for romance (like in book 1) you should not bother. There is almost no romance or loving moments in Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Instead we get a lot of feelings of remorse or longing; an emphasis on betrayal (and thus Vengeance), all followed up with a heavy dose of guilt. It's bleak, but not even in an interesting way. As someone who loves dark, gothic, and despair type stories this should have worked for me; sadly the emotions were too superficial and repeated between our characters. It's like Adeyemi has one character with emotions and she split them up into four characters.
I don't know about book three... maybe I'll read it. But I certainly am not going to be all excited for it or holding my breathe. It's too bad; book one was decent and had a lot of potential. But this, book two, just about threw me into a reading slump and there's just do way I can say a story that did that was any good.

Note: I read this during week 6-7 of the covid-19 'stay at home' mandate in Canada. This may have affected my reading experience of it. However I do not believe it did. Had this been a good book it would have pulled me in as a few others have managed to do in the last 7 weeks. But in the interest of full disclosure I will be fair and advise that it's possible my own frustration and despair were in the way of enjoying this story.

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Book Review: The Grizzly Itch

The Grizzly Itch by Victoria Cassanell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely adorable! This is a very short story, making it great as that "one more please" bedtime read ask for little ones. It's a very simple premise but displays friendship and helping others superbly.
A bear has an itch and has a favourite tree; but when he goes to use the tree it's suddenly on the ground! Because the beaver has chewed it down for his dam. And so they go on a little adventure to try and find bear a new tree; after no success our beaver realizes he can itch for the bear! It's really quite cute and the illustrations are also wonderful.
I like the simplicity of this story, narrative and words chosen, and the illustrations. I could see a two-year-old really getting into this one. And it has one of my favourite types of pages in it! A page with one word that is said loud and that kids will learn quick to join in on. In this case it's "crash".
A suitable read for any child under about 5 years old. It might be too simple for those older. It's a safe choice for any situation as a gift.

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, May 5, 2020

Stitching Book: Feminist Stitches

Feminist Stitches: Cross Stitch Kit with 12 Fierce Designs
by Haley Pierson-Cox


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking to take up cross-stitch or just want a fun one-off project of stitching; The Feminist Stitches is a perfect option for the beginner stitcher. Filled with 12 snarky, bold, and powerful feminist patterns/statements you are likely to find at least 2-3 easy patterns you love here.


All patterns are in full colour and colour keys are in DMC thread (the most common). The average North American Walmart will have all the items you need to stitch up anyone of these beauties (note: DMC is not required, any embroidery thread will do and you can just match the colours up as close as possible).
If you're an intermediate to experienced stitcher (like myself) then these are super quick 1-2 night pieces could make great gifts for any lady friends who appreciates a good shot or two; or needs a pick me up. As I write this I'm on stay home orders to COVID-19. These patterns are a the perfect simple stitch needed for a time when it's harder to concentrate on more complex projects and easily done up using existing stash.
There are quite a few of these hardcover 'modern' books these days. This one is on par with all the rest in terms of how-to instructions for the first time stitcher and pattern size (quite large) for those who hate tiny symbols. You can't go wrong with choosing it; but take a look around as there may be others where you like the designers style more. It will come down to personal preference, in my opinion, when it comes to which of these types of books has the better patterns in 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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Alice stitching happening this week as part of a mini May-mania challenge. Update to come next Monday! 

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderful novella! Action-packed western starring women and non-binary characters. Men need not apply; well... unless for the role of typical bad guy (lol). While there is a lot that is cliche western in Sarah Gailey's Upright Women Wanted; for every cliche there is an idea that I guarantee you've never read in a western story (novella in this case, 176 pages) before. Unless you're a Firefly fan, in which case read this immediately because you'll feel nostalgic for Mal and crew!

Characters
These are no Annie Oakley ladies. While they carry firearms and are transporting 'items' between towns; these ladies are also sharing intimate moments together, kissing and more. Something I can't imagine Oakley engaging with. Each character in our crew of five primary travelers holds a piece of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood archetype for a western fighter; yet they are also so much more. The gem here though is really Cye. A non-binary character to fall in love with.

They/Them
I adored Cye sooo much. Gailey does a fabulous job from the first moment we meet Cye; it's clear that no he/him or she/her gender specificity applies. The narrative always uses they/them and it really quickly stuck in my head and felt so natural. Unlike other characters I've read in the past, Cye doesn't swap between male and female identity. Instead they exist outside of these gender norms and (for me) it's a breath of fresh air. Gailey describes Cye and their actions so well that I didn't even try to place Cye as 'more' feminine or masculine. They just are themselves.
Now, I hope I didn't use any wrong words here or misrepresent; please feel free to correct me in the comments if I did.

Constantly Learning
It may seem weird for a member of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself (bisexual) to not fully understand all the different options in sexuality, gender, etc. that we now know exist. But when I was a teen I only understand the concepts of: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual (and trans but they were put into homosexual category at the time). And so pan sexuality is still something I'm learning about. Cye is one of the first characters I've read where I clearly adore them and would definitively change my own description to pansexual if that means Cye and I can get together.
This is a pretty big deal to me. To date I've told my husband and others that I can't drop the moniker of bisexual because I've never met a non-binary person and don't know how I would react. Assuming Cye is a good representation of non-binary then I'm happy to say that, for me, gender doesn't make a difference; be it male, female or non-binary! This is a really cool realization to have and not at all something I expected to get from Upright Women Wanted.

Overall
If you're thinking to yourself 'um Mel this is supposed to be a book review and not about you' right now; all I can respond with is that for me this book was refreshing, fun, and uplifting. It shows that people will find ways to be themselves no matter what constraints are placed on them. We may think the 'typical' western doesn't have room for anyone other than a cis-male but Gailey makes it clear in Upright Women Wanted that this is not true.
I highly recommend this book to pretty much everyone. There is a lot of action and fun packed into 176 pages; but also a lot of social commentary and learning to be had here. You're perhaps unlikely to have an epiphany, like I did, but (I believe) you'll likely enjoy your time in this world. I'm really hoping Gailey plans to revisit these characters and their adventures 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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Friday, May 1, 2020

Book Review: The Winemaker's Wife

The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a story. It’s both complex, yet simple and embodies the feelings, ideas and fears of people, and how they vary in extreme situations (in this case WWII). You may be thinking, another WWII book; let me assure you there are thousands of WWII stories that are all very different and worth telling. Kristin Harmel tells one of them here.

Protection
During great adversity we are reminded of what the essentials are for human beings; and what are great luxuries. The Nazi's were obsessed with ensuring they received all the luxuries; even so far as to remove paintings from museums and galleries. Here we see this greed and selfishness shown in their desire for good champagne. And this in turn offers our characters (including one with Jewish connections) protection, of sorts. The problem with protection during an adverse time like this is the enemy is not playing fair. And so, of course, the Nazi's take advantage of their advantageous position by demanding, threatening, and belittling our characters.

Spoiled Products
One of the most interesting pieces of The Winemaker's Wife is that our characters making the wine can choose to make it sub-par. They know how to tweak it to make it amazing; and how to spoil it just a little. We see them scheme, along with fellow champagne makers, to trick the Nazi's into thinking they are receiving the best product; whilst preserving the actual best product for the future. It's dangerous, but clever.

How It's Made
Making champagne (or wine) is such an interesting process. I loved learning about it throughout this story. With a bit less detail, Kristin Harmel takes us though the process of making wine much like Lisa See did in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. What's cool about learning about creation or farming processes like this via fiction is that it's far less boring (at least to me) than reading a non-fiction novel. You also get to see the impact things like weather, harvest delays, machinery breaking, etc. has directly on the process and people involved. The Winemaker's Wife is the next best thing to actually going out and making champagne in France yourself.

Lust and Sex
If you ever wanted to encounter a love-square/rectangle this is your book. Harmel gives our characters lusts for one another that make their lives a lot more complex than they needed to be (in an already complex time). That said it is what ultimately allows for our grand finale to be so stunning. Don't be surprised that there is a lot of sleeping around in this story. Scenes are all written tastefully, this is not smut and not really even romance; it's just a part of the story that affects people's interactions and motivations.

Overall
I really enjoyed The Winemaker's Wife. Harmel brings us a WWII story that is unlike any other I've read. The scheming between characters (even those who are working together) is brilliant and the complexities of scamming the Nazi's are well explained. While not my favourite WWII fiction, this novel deserves to be on a shelf alongside most other recent WWII fiction. If you enjoy these types of stories about people persevering and surviving in war times then you won't be disappointed.

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: Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well the space part is irrelevant. The lesbian part comes up but not really anything major. The part that is really the whole focus of the book is necromancy. While convoluted in the beginning by the end I was following 85% of things; the rest I assume is fairly irrelevant. This wraps up many questions, but not all. I have two large questions that I assume book 2 or 3 will answer. Gore and writing style reminded me of Black Panther, Red Wolf (which I also loved). But a lot less sex and innuendos. Very different books and casts of characters but the complexity are close to one another.

I keep telling myself I will write a comprehensive review of Gideon the Ninth (better than what's written above). But then I realize that I don't want to say too much as it will take away from the reading experience. So I'm leaving it as is. I will add this I think this book is AMAZING. It won't be for everyone but it hits high on my best books ever list. It's complex, gory, deadly, and overall heartbreaking. Not for the faint of heart.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Stitching: Band Sampler Finish & Mini Motif Start

Well... the world is still all weird; and there isn't any real relief in store, here in my area of Canada, anytime soon. It has just been announced that all summer events (including the famous Calgary Stampede) are to be cancelled as per the city and province. My husband keeps saying that "summer is cancelled". It sure is feeling that way. I can't believe that in the month since I last posted some stitching items that: a) it's been a month, b) nothing has changed, c) this has started to feel normal. 
All that said, I have no new job and while I'm trying to get one there are almost none to apply for and it's depressing to see what is out there. Luckily we are still okay and should be eligible for some government support funds next month. Sooo... that should mean I have lots of stitching done right? Well... sort of. I have some, for sure, but not really as much as I would have thought I'd get done in a monthly quarantine situation. Same with reading, I'm finding it hard to concentrate on stitching (with no frogs present) at times and so progress is slow. But I do have a finish! 

On the left is: 
On 40ct Ivory Linen. Using DMC Variations (Autumn pack from Lakeside) thread. 

I substituted a couple elements of the design. The biggest change I made was to not use the cat or dog design in the doorways and instead out little snakes in. It's a subtle change but meaningful to me as my pets aren't furry but scaly. Speaking of the snakes we just installed new tanks for the boa (whose now over 6 feet!) and I'm super happy to have upgraded space for him and one other. 



Here's a picture of the snakes change up close: 

Finishing the band sampler left me with the option to start a new piece. As we were just getting into quarantine I figured I'd go with a little piece I've had in mind that uses some of the motifs from Kelsyn's Itty Bitty pattern.
These are on 36ct Weeks Dye Works 'Gun Metal' Linen using DMC Coloris thread. I'm really pleased with how nice the Coloris thread is and it's variegation (considering it's quite cheap compared to most overdyed). Working on the dark linen has definitely given me a challenge and the frogs have come to visit a lot. But I'm enjoying how it looks, and it has even given me a need to use my magnifier (that in 10 years I've used maybe 3 times) when I misplace a stitch. I have the three you see below on top, and enough room for three more motifs underneath if I want. So I'll see what I'm feeling when I get to the bottom row; I might swap to a different variegated type of thread. 
Here it is to date: 

Thanks to everyone who continues to take the time to read and care about my stitching and posts. I hope everyone is staying safe, sane and stitching!