Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire, #1)Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot has already been said about this very hyped YA fantasy novel so I will try and make this short. Girls of Paper and Fire has some very familiar tropes like: girl is taken away to be a slave, she fights back, she is unique and special, she is a heroine in the end. Now, if this was to be a teens first foray into YA fantasy I could see it becoming their all time favourite. It’s not perfect, but it’s more than good enough to pull in a fan base. I really disliked the ending but otherwise it's not an awful read. There are moments of frustration regarding the 'rules' of this world but they generally iron themselves out, and it's obvious Natasha Ngan is holding back some cultural or magical details of this world on purpose.

The YA Fantasy Tropes
So here's the thing... when we read romance books we don't complain about the romance right? Because we know what we are getting into. So I see no reason why I should have expected anything different from Ngan's series opening book Girls of Paper and Fire, than the YA fantasy tropes I received. Our lead gal is a teen, stolen from her home, trained to do awful things, and of course she's a very special snowflake. This is probably the part I disliked the most (besides the end) is that she was so special over everyone else. I'd love to see someone write a book from the perspective of the non-heroine. Instead maybe from the sidekick's point of view, or the middle of the road girl in the group (the one that isn't awful but isn't amazing). It would be interesting to see if this type of a story could stand-up if not from the heroine's point of view. But I digress...

I really liked many of the characters that Ngan introduces us to; with one exception, the King. Now it's important to note that he is a 'bad guy'. But that's not why I dislike him. Instead I dislike his character as he is all over the place. Sometimes he seems nice, other times he seems angry, other times he's typical arrogant royalty. There didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. I suspect Ngan was trying to make us feel a little bit sorry for the king, or find some part of ourselves in him; but instead it just comes off as confusing and disconnected.
That said, our love interest is kick-ass in Girls of Paper and Fire. And I mean kick-ass. Not only is she strong, from a wealthy family, there with a purpose and shockingly beautiful; but she's also intelligent and helps keep our heroine in-line. I'd love to read the story from her perspective.

In case it wasn't clear in the paragraph above, yes the love interest of our lead gal is another gal. This is a perfectly logical choice by Ngan and I love how she clearly understood the dynamics that would happen between a number of women all trapped in a similar situation. They'd argue and be competitive; but also be compassionate and care for one another. It makes sense, that with such little contact from the outside world, these women would fall in love with one another. Now I don't mean to diminish the choice of Ngan to make her heroine gay at all. Just to say that from a psychological standpoint it's a natural progression (gay or not) that our women would become close. Obviously not all of them begin romantic relationships and so that has our lead gal and her partner standing out amongst the crowd of girls.
The flow and transition of the love interest, plus the smart understanding of women's feelings, makes this the best part of the book. Yes, believe it or not the romance in this is actually one of my favourite parts!

The Ending
Alright, yes I know this is a part of a series. And yes I know to expect a cliffhanger ending. BUT, did it have to be the way it is written? No, no it did not.
I liked some aspects of the ending as they felt like realistic problems that would emerge in a natural way. And yet, the final moment is so cliche and convenient it made me throw the book down (okay well my e-reader, but you get the idea). I would have much preferred the convenience of a character showing up at the exact right second be removed and have some sort of (perhaps slightly improbable) thing happen that appears to be a bit of luck.
Obviously I don't want to give anything away; but I do warn you that if you are hoping for a complex ending, like the betrayal, alliances and politics throughout this book, you will be disappointed.

This is a pretty darn good book. It's focus on rape, physical abuse, slavery and lack of control is just the right amount in my opinion. There's enough there to understand what is happening, without getting into the nitty gritty details (that really no one wants to read) that may turn a reader off. I believe Ngan found a good balance between awful events that give motivation and graphic descriptions we don't want or need to read, and sweet romantic ones.
Certainly anyone who hasn't read the last few years of YA fantasy books would really like this. Others might compare certain aspects to recent stories or feel like there is little truly original here. Ngan gives us a complex (often times a bit too complicated) and interesting world with an Asian-inspired culture, medieval-style setting and royalty driven politics in Girls of Paper and Fire; what more can we expect from a YA writer? If you're a fan of YA fantasy this is a must read. Just remember, you're getting exactly what you asked for by picking this genre, so don't criticize every moment because you can't separate one novel/series from the next.

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Book Review: My Real Name is Hanna

My Real Name Is HannaMy Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a horrifying and yet hopeful book. This is a story of WWII I had not heard in such a way before and so, while it is difficult and sad to read I'm glad to have read it. Unlike most WWII stories of Jews on the run this one doesn't end in a concentration camp, gas chamber or in any Nazi's actually having direct control over this Jewish family. Instead this family 'escapes' in a terrifying way.

As with most stories of WWII, My Real Name is Hanna, is based on true facts. Tara Lynn Masih makes it clear at the end of the book what was changed and what was real. The most important thing however to realize is that a Jewish family did hide-out in the way that is described in the book. This in and of itself is fairly awful but the conditions these women, men and children endured are truly horrific. Do not be surprised to find yourself feeling unsettled (at the least) or even sick to your stomach at points (assuming you are immersed in the novel and characters like I was).

Compelling Characters
The hardest thing to do in WWII books is usually not set-up a plot or story. There are thousands to be told based on true fact, or even rumour, of what happened during that time. The hardest thing is to create interesting characters that the reader wants to live (and possibly die) by. Masih does a superb job of making you feel like you are the teenage girl from whom's eyes we experience the entire novel. Not only do we experience her awkward love situation, her progression into womanhood, but also her fears, desire to help, and despair when it all goes wrong.
There is one thing that is definitely true of our group of stowaways and that is that it required a lot of strength and courage to do what they did.

I don't want to say much more about this book for fear of giving away too many plot points. Masih does such a good job of creating tension; especially given we know the outcome of the war. As someone who has read a lot of WWII fiction I can say with absolute certainty that this story is one of the most readable novels in a long time. It doesn't drag, stall-out or seem to take it's foot off the break. It helps that each day is a new day to try and survive perhaps; but I also credit Masih for writing the potentially 'boring' parts in such a way that we know time has passed; without feeling like we lived through every minute of it and got bored ourselves.
If you are at all interested in the story in My Real Name is Hanna or have a bit of an affinity for WWII fiction, like I do, then I would definitely recommend this one join your repertoire.

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, December 21, 2018

Book Review: The Night the Forest Came to Town

The Night the Forest Came to TownThe Night the Forest Came to Town by Charles Ghigna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LOVE this one! I am actually going to go and pick-up a copy to put in the toy box for all the children that visit my house.

Charles Ghigna has done a beautiful job of putting together a story that reads in verse. There is a rhythm to the story, a rhyming tone and pace that is just perfect. Additionally Ghigna has snuck in some complex words like: rendezvous, shimmer, shroud, azure blue; that children can learn as they hear the story over and over again. The illustrations are beautiful and I love how they go from twilight to dark, to darker, to lighter and the to daytime and colourful. The pacing and tone of the whole book is just perfect.

Additionally The Night the Forest Came to Town is a story about what is in the dark that isn't scary or something to fear but instead interesting or cute and cuddly. But unlike most stories about nighttime for children it never references the night as being scary or dark; instead it just talks about all the wonderful things that happen at night. I really like this approach to ignore that children may have fear and instead just talk about good things in the dark. This may help a child to understand that there was nothing to fear in the first place! Sometimes I wonder if books about not being afraid of the dark are just re-enforcing that the dark is scary. I'm sure there are two schools of thought on this and I don't know which is right; but I do love the perspective Ghigna uses here.

I can't give anymore of an endorsement than to tell you that this is on my list to purchase for my own (childless) house. It will go in the kids toy box for visitors but I could easily see myself being excited to read this lovely verse just because.

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 Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery

The Turnkey of Highgate CemeteryThe Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marketed as a middle grade book The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery (Turnkey) is ambitious to take on the difficult topic of WWII and how to explain the complexity to children. Allison Rushby does this by creating cemetery grave keepers, if you will. Ghosts or spirits that keep everyone in their cemetery safe and at rest. The concept overall was really interesting and it was a fast paced book. I certainly flipped pages quickly. However the plot was complex and it concerns me that it's took much for the average 9-11 year old.

Complex Plot
Delving into the plot of Turnkey the reader needs to understand a few things:
1) The Nazis were the 'bad guys' (easy enough)
2) They have levels or ranks of military (not too bad)
3) They are trying to win a war by overtaking London (tolerable) and,
4) They believe that mystical spirit magic can do this.(here's where it gets tough).

Turnkey has to establish two things quickly for the reader. The four points above AND the magical construct that Rushby has created to tell her story from. The construct itself isn't too complicated but how it can or might work is.
Additionally there are a lot of players in this book (seven turnkeys alone before we add in other ghosts and the Nazis) and while the language is very simple and well written for the 9-11 age range I still had a hard time keeping track of who was who.

The thing with magic in stories is you have to set-up rules and parameters. If you want a twist to shock a reader then it needs to make sense inside those parameters that you create. Which means in a short period of time you need to not only tell the story/plot of your book, develop the characters, set the scene AND describe the magic. This gets a little lost in the multitude of characters in Turnkey. I worry that a child would not find this book to be very engaging as they would loose track of who was who very quickly.

As with any WWII book the overall context is dark and foreboding. It was an awful time in human history and there is no easy way to tell any of the multitude of stories that are relevant to the time. There continues to be thousands of books published about WWII because there is so much for us (as a society) to learn and be reminded of from that war. Prejudice (of all kinds), value of life, lose of home or safe space, etc. are all touched upon in Turnkey. If you are not prepared to talk to your child about the horrors and evils that people can do to each other then I would definitely stray from this book. I would also encourage parents to read this book with their child or ensure they talk about it after the child finishes reading it; as there are bound to be concerns that arise.
In fact this is probably a book best suited for kids a little older who are struggling to read. With it's complexity and serious topics it may be written for 9-11 but 12+ are likely to find the story interesting and not too challenging to read.

This isn't the best children's WWII story I've read recently. But it's not the worst. Had I not felt like the magic was used to conveniently result in an outcome our heroine needed, I might have liked it more.
I think a better alternative for children's WWII fiction is The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. With far fewer characters and a less complex plot it was more meaningful to me. That said, if you want something a little more like The Book Thief but for a younger age (ie: Set in London, average person's fear during bombing, etc.) then Turnkey is a solid choice.
For those parents or guardians nervous about giving this book to younger children, it maybe worth a quick read before you hand it over so you know what you're getting the child into. It's a quick and easy read so not much time is needed to ensure you are comfortable with the topics and representation.

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: All Systems Red

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murderbot. An ominous name for an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that helps humans out in the future. Martha Wells has given us the first installation (a short novel) of Murderbot in All Systems Red. This is a spunky, fun and adventurous little book. It has lots of action and diverse personalities; not the least of which is Murderbot.

Robots and Gender
I'm not sure why, and have been thinking about it for days, but I see Murderbot as a woman. This may be because I am a woman and so identify with the AI directly. It maybe that my bisexual mind just likes boobs; or it may be that I want strong robot AI's to be female because women deserve to be lethal as well. I really don't know. All I know is Murderbot was a woman for me from the first page and they have continued to be a woman in my head. Even though Wells uses they, them pronouns for Murderbot. I'm sure there is an interesting sociological or gender studies paper to be written about what gender readers see Murderbot as. Maybe the beautiful of Murderbot is that you can give them the traits you want to be gender neutral or not.

Action Packed
All Systems Red is full of adventurous action. From the opening page where we learn of the mining expedition Murderbot is on to the closing chapter in which a most unusual event occurs; All Systems Red delivers a quick read if nothing else. I really enjoyed the action. Although at times I did feel like the plot was a little complex (or maybe how the companies were structured was the problem) to follow. But it didn't really matter at the end of the day because the only important thing is Murderbot.

Overall - Ready for the Next One!
I already have the second book 'Artificial Condition' on the go. At less than 200 pages these short novels are fun, fast and helping me reach my (very behind) 2018 reading goal. Because Wells has kept all of the Murderbot stories short it doesn't hurt to try it out and see for yourself if it's your thing. I like them and could certainly see myself revisiting them for a reread break at times because they are quick and easy.

For this and more of my reviews please visit my blog at: Epic Reading

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Book Review: Summer Cannibals

Summer CannibalsSummer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I missed the boat on this one by a million miles. I'm sure some people will say there is a lot to get out of Summer Cannibals. They will tell you the genius of Melanie Hobson's novel is her use of literary devices, comparisons, allegories, etc. But here's the thing; that only works if the story is remains interesting.

The one thing that Summer Cannibals does have is realism. These are real people, and yes they exist. Whether you find them shallow, snobby, or otherwise abhorrent; the reality is that there are lots and lots of people out there like this. People who are just not happy; even though they have a lot of money, stuff, family, etc. These are hard people to feel bad for at the end of the day.
Now, before we knock these people, I think it's worth taking a look around you, a serious look, and determining if you have most of those things too. Probably most of us do and yet still believe in our right to complain. And I think you can complain about anything you like. Whether I will be your audience or not is an entirely different conversation. And with Summer Cannibals I wish I had disengaged from the conversation sooner.

The Characters
I didn't like anyone in this story. Except maybe the unborn child; because at least it didn't demand anything, yell, cry or feel bad for itself (so far as know, lol). This is the hardest part of Summer Cannibals is there is very little I could find that made any of the characters even moderately appealing people. Flawed characters can still be solid and loved by your reader; just because you have an imperfect character doesn't mean they are always a monster. Hobson missed making a connection with me as the reader and I think will miss the mark for most with her selfish family.

The Twist
Yes there is a twist. Is it shocking? I dunno... I wasn't too surprised by the events. I was a little surprised by the outcome. But mostly by the time I got to the twist I was just thankful that meant the book was only a few pages away from being over...

Maybe it's because I just recently watched the incredibly well done family dynamics in NetFlix's Haunting of Hill House, or maybe it's because I wanted the people in Summer Cannibals to find a small spark of good in each other; either way it was a disappointment to feel so disconnected from this story and it's characters.
I'm sure there is some literary magic here (that is boring) that I'm missing. If that's the case I'm okay with not getting it; because if getting it makes me as snobby and insufferable as the characters in Summer Cannibals then I don't want to get it.

PS: There are no actual cannibals in this book. Disappointing right? (lol)

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: One Way

One WayOne Way by S.J. Morden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 rounded up.

Many will compare One Way to The Martian; and they would be right to compare a space book to another space book. Both are set on Mars, both include initial phases of scientific set-up or colonization, and both are focused on a guy who is hyper sensitive about all the dangers of Mars and just wants to survive. But past the obvious Mars, space, survival plot points these two books couldn't be more different.

Given the choice between life in prison and a trip to Mars (from which you will never return), what would you do? For our lead man and his fellow inmates the choice is simply Mars. What S.J. Morden is clearly trying to portray in One Way is a few key things:
1) It costs a lot of time and money to get to Mars and someone has to pay for it. The capitalistic approach to sending inmates to Mars is very, very interesting,
2) When you seemingly have nothing to loose do you really loose anything? Is dying on Mars (presumably for a good cause) better than rotting away and dying in a cell on Earth? This question and the concept of morality is heavily debated in One Way, and
3) Strong men are important men. Yeah men! Bring on the sausage fest...

The Sausage Fest *minor spoilers below*
You may laugh that a space book like this has annoyed me with a gender bias. And normally I would too; but the bias in One Way is sooo bad that I knew (without looking) that S.J. Morden was a man. Because no woman would casually discard EVERY single woman in this book the way Morden does. Whether he likes it or not it's super obvious that this is a sausage fest and he wastes no time in getting us to the penis party.
While it may be considered a spoiler; we know lots of people die based on the blurb, so I'm not tagging it, but the 'murder mystery' component of this book (which is weak at best) is so weak and so poorly done that the order of deaths makes no sense whatsoever. Morden attempts to rationalize it and bring up the exact thoughts I had about why it makes no sense, but we never get the explanation of why that order or why those people. Instead it's as though Morden thinks stating what the reader is thinking is enough acknowledgement to be okay with the plot, even if he can't explain the rationale... for the record it's not enough.

Murder Mystery
To call this a mystery is really, really stretching the truth. For me it was obvious from before they even get to Mars what was going to happen. I may not have known all the hows, who and what order but there was really only one outcome that made sense. Unfortunately that means there was no big twist or moment of wow for me. One Way played out exactly as I expected it to.
However, there was one thing that made up for this...

The Lead Guy
Our lead man, that we experience the story through (Frank), is superbly written. I cannot possibly express how well written he is. He's flawed, he's blind at times, he's sympathetic and he's easy to relate to. Frank 'solves' problems the way many of us wish we could; with a nonchalant, screw you attitude. And yet somehow he still has compassion and isn't a total jerk. Frank is written in such a way that you feel he's been wronged or was even justified for most of his actions. And this happens AFTER you know why he was sentenced to life imprisonment. It's difficult to make clear offenders f the law so relatable and likable; so full props to Morden for creating a character I want to revisit and see more of.

The first 100 pages of this book are fantastic! The next 100 pages start to wane and annoy (enter sausage fest). The last 100 or so pages are redundant as probably everyone has figured out what is happening and why by then.
The other important thing to note is that while there is a wrap-up ending to this book; there are major things not resolved. One Way is part of a series and you are unlikely to be satisfied by the ending without carrying on with the series. So of course the magical question is: will I read the next books in the series?
The answer: I'm not sure. I need to sit on it a bit and decide if my desire to experience Frank and his rough personality again overrides my annoyance behind the obvious gender-bias that Morden writes with. I think the answer is yes I would. Because One Way is written in a really fast-paced interesting way. I'd like to see Morden understand a little why some female readers (like myself) might be frustrated; and I'd like to see him be a little less obvious in his 'mystery' or disband the illusion of a mystery at all.
But, overall this is a decent read if you like the space cowboy type book. It's not as scientific as the Martian which some people may prefer. It's really a middle of the road read at the end of the day.

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, December 12, 2018

Book Review: Girl at the Grave

Girl at the GraveGirl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's not often these days you pick-up a book and find it to exactly what you are expecting. Girl in the Grave was this for me. I wanted a easier to read (ie: YA, teen or romance) story that had some 'edge' (ie: horror, Gothic) to it and a strong female lead. I got everything I could have wanted and more!

It's Teen for Sure!
This is obviously written for the teen genre. Whether you like teen books because you are a teen or (like me) enjoy the style of writing that is common in them. Teri Bailey Black does a superb job of finding one voice in our lead teen girl and creating characters and situations around her that resonant with her lead gal and the reader.
So there are tropes like many teen books. A forbidden love, a (sort-of) love triangle, and of course the ever difficult to figure out moment of loosing ones virginity (be it kissing virginity or otherwise). So long as you go into this expecting those typical teen elements I think you'll find the rest of the book is really well done.

Sometimes I just want to read or watch something for the atmosphere. It doesn't matter what happens or how, who is involved or when. Instead what matters is the mood, atmosphere and feel of the story. Black has done an excellent job of finding a Gothic voice (it's just occurred to me that her name is ironic given the feel of Girl at the Grave, lol). Set many years ago, in a small town we find creepy elements like old houses, houses with half the house burnt, small graveyards and out of the way forest sanctuaries. Black does an excellent job of creating a Gothic story without any ghosts. Weird right? No, just perfect in my mind. As a former (still wishes I was sometimes) Gothic teen of the 90's I felt like this book was something I would have cherished as a teen. It's like the despair, murder, secrets and hushed whispering is speaking to me directly and I know teen me would have been all over that.

There is actually a lot of plot going on in this story. Our lead gal had her mother murdered (hanging) because of a murder, the boy she starts hanging out with at school is in fact the son of her mother's murder victim, the townsfolk are ruled by the rich and male of the town, and so transgression like abuse are (more or less) acceptable if not obviously thrown in anyone's face. This all culminates in a murder mystery that tries to solve not only the murder of yore but murders that start happening right then in the line of sight of our lead gal. I didn't see some of the twists that happen but at no time felt like ANY of them were cheap. This is a very, very exciting thing for me as often I find murder mysteries to be one of two things; too predictable or too outrageous. It was lovely to read a Gothic teen story with a well done murder plot.

I really adored this book. I could absolutely see me revisiting it in the future to have a 'break' from more dense literature. It was wonderful to follow-up The Picture of Dorian Grey (which I found dense and ultimately boring) with Girl at the Grave as it helped me remember that you don't have to read a book written centuries old to get a darker feeling story.
Black connected with me as a reader on so many levels. I wondered at one point if her and I were sharing pieces of a brain as she would do something I would have done with a character (and do it so well!).
You just can't go wrong with this Gothic teen murder mystery.

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, December 11, 2018

Book Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims

The Sunlight PilgrimsThe Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is an apocalypse story that stars some really boring people; and a transgender teen. The most interesting part is not the apocalypse (which felt barely relevant half the time) but instead our teenager; who isn't even the main character of the story.

A mid-aged man learns that his family is in debt and after his mother and her partner die he is left with no choice but to flee the home he's always known; a one-screen cinema. He ends up in a little trailer in Northern Ireland in what is about to be another Earth Ice Age. There he meets a woman and her teenage daughter.
Sounds promising enough right? Unfortunately there is no real plot here except existing and even that plot is so thin it's barely there. For me it's not enough plot to just have your characters existing. Particularly when the conditions being described aren't even that bad at first.

Ice Age
First let me say, I live in Canada. Not in a warm part of Canada but on the cold open prairies of Alberta. I know cold and I know snow. Both have been a part of my life since the day I was born (in a blizzard in February). So when I read a book whose core plot is that Earth is devolving into an imminent Ice Age I know what is survivable and what is not. Unfortunately Jenni Fagan does not seem to have the same knowledge.
There are ridiculous situations described both where people live (and don't have frostbite) and where people die from the winter conditions. It's like the cold is no big deal when it's convenient (like our main characters are out in it); but as soon as someone else in the cold they are dead. Far too convenient and not consistent enough to be even close to the truth of what cold weather does to the human body.

Speaking of it being cold, I am so confused by the units of measurement used in this book. It's written by a UK author so (as a Canadian) I am expecting to have temperatures in Celsius and distances in kilometers. And yet, I get miles per hour and temperatures with no measurement associated with them AT ALL! I read this entire book and still don't know if the temperatures in it are supposed to be Celsius or Fahrenheit!! This was beyond frustrating. Now by the end of the book at the -40 to -50 degree range it doesn't matter, as the two systems start to sync up momentarily, however that is not the point. If you are going to write a book where temperature is so important be sure to tell your reader the unit of measure please!

Transgender Teen
If not for our teen and her story I would have given up on this book before I finished it. This is a girl (who was a boy) whose finding it difficult to find friends or have connections with the majority of people in her life as they make fun of her (kids/teens) or still see her as a boy (adults). Even her own father doesn't use her female name! I felt that the discussion of our teen girl was relatively well done. It wasn't super in-depth and I didn't feel like I learned anything new about the types of emotions a transgender teen might go through. But at the very least she was interesting and a very likeable character. I wanted to be her friend; especially when no one else would be.

I was really disappointed by The Sunlight Pilgrims. It seems that books that focus on cold weather situations are just not up to the standard I expect. I'm not sure why it is so hard to research and understand the cold for most authors but lately it feels like there is some sort of 'cold education' that winter seasoned folks around the world have that others cannot understand.
Some good ideas were present; the characters core back stories were well represented (if not their emotions regarding their current state), the concept of an Ice Age and dwindling resources was fine but Fagan missed the boat (or iceberg if you will) for me. I wanted to feel afraid of the cold and I wanted to feel cold reading this book; but instead all I felt was indifference to 90% of the plot points, cold weather and characters portrayed.

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, December 6, 2018

Book Review: Is a Worry Worrying You?

Is a Worry Worrying You?Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone with an anxiety disorder that was not diagnosed until the age of 30 I really wanted this book to be a good message to children. Thankfully it is!
Is a Worry Worrying You starts off by discussing what a worry is, because let's face it kids don't really know. It's hard to understand how a 'thing' can be a 'thing' without being a 'thing' that you can touch. Ferida Wolff does a wonderful job of talking about how a worry can feel heavy and huge and make you sad; even though you cannot see it or might have trouble describing it.

We then move into what can a worry be. From elephants showing up uninvited to monsters under the bed to annoying relatives there is a wide gamut of worries described and in each instance the worry is resolved somehow. Most of the worries are really simple, but certainly something a child might be worrying about.

Towards the end it discusses how to get rid of a worry that can't be solved immediately. And this is where the real magic of this story is, as it talks about facing that worry head-on. Talking to someone about it, and seeing if the worry even makes sense! These are things that I feel would have been invaluable to child me. But as with all children's books the final page and written line are what everything is all about! I won't spoil it for you, except to say that it's perfect.

The illustrations in this book are a little bit darker and I really loved them. You can also play a game with your little one to find the monster on every page. He's there, lurking like a worry might, sometimes easy to see and other times harder to see. I would happily read this story to a small child night after night. I can even see gifting it to someone older or about to embark on a trip or new stage of life. It serves as a reminder that worries are only worries if you let them be worries. Because, after all, you can always sing the monster to sleep.

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: A Book Without Dragons

A Book Without DragonsA Book Without Dragons by Olivia Berrier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a title like A Book without Dragons you might think this fantasy obsessed reviewer wouldn't be interested. However the premise of Olivia Berrier's story intrigued me. Anytime you can take the concept of time and how it flows, moves, etc. I am game to read about it.

Plot Premise
While the plot is simple in concept, it is anything but simple for our characters to navigate. Time has been centralized, to one set of satellites. Almost all electronics have been connected to this set of satellites and so everything now runs off one continuous, 'perfect' system. No one ever has a clock, watch or device that reads a different time, EVER. So what happens when it all comes crashing down?
Obviously if the world were to start to rely on one system for too many things we could be in big trouble. What happens if the system is hacked, overloaded or otherwise fallible. Then what? No more time. But in Berrier's story it's not just no more time, it's no more medical devices working, refrigerators, water systems, electricity, etc. EVERYTHING that could be hooked up is hooked up to this one set of satellites and so taking it down, more or less, takes down all of society across the Earth.

I love dystopian books, so there was no doubt I was game for A Book Without Dragons. Even if the spoiler in the title is true. There are no real dragons in the book. As with most dystopian books we see the crumbling of society when time 'stops working'. I think a lot of writers have finally figured out that the best way to write a dystopian novel, is to focus on the characters and how they handle the situations given. As opposed to focusing too much on events themselves.

The characters and their treatment is the true genius of this book. Berrier has five main characters that include a child and a dog. Yes that's right a dog! I love the dog's simple perspective and his way of 'learning' information that people are thinking because he hears what they say when no one is around. This is a clever device to give the reader information without having to have the character disclose it to someone else in dialogue (and to get it second-hand from outside their thoughts).
All of the five characters were really well-written. I loved each of them in their own way. And hated some aspects of each as well. And of course, as all good writing does, these five stories pull together at the end for a final climax.

I've left out a ton of juicy tidbits about Berrier's novel as I don't want to given even a hint of anything away. But I will say that the time crisis may seem easy on a dog, a bit complex for a child, more complex for a husband and at ultimate complexity for the person that created the time singularity (if you will) to start with. Entwined into this brilliant story is a mystery, complex feelings, desires to make the world a better place, and a rubber ball that the dog loves.
What I will say is that this is a shorter read and it is well worth the time. I loved it and cannot wait to read more from Berrier in the future. Although I am hoping that her next book has actual dragons in it (lol).

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, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Strangers

Strangers (The Reckoner, #1)Strangers by David Alexander Robertson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars rounded up. The only reason this amazing indigenous young adult mystery (with a little supernatural) story doesn’t get a full five stars... I hated the very last page. For me the story was perfect, up until a sequel tease was put in . While I knew it was a series, and will look forward to encountering these characters again, the way the last page sets up the sequel cheapened the entire story for me. Almost as though it lessened what had just happened because more was to come. It's a real shame and very frustrating to adore a story so much and then have it feel like a marketing device instead of the beautiful ending. Certainly there is way to set-up the sequel without degrading the existing story so much. I suspect that David Alexander Robertson didn't want it set-up this way and that the ending was more of a hook the publisher desired to try and sell the next book. That's just my guess; but there's likely some truth to it.

Our lead boy is an indigenous teen who was moved off his reserve at age 7, to the city (Winnipeg, Canada) following the death of his parents and some tribe children. While a hero to some, when he returns to his tribal home lands ten years later he is seen as a horrible reminder of what happened the ten years prior. And of course it's easy for people to wonder how he was involved in the incident ten years before. I'm vague here because I don't want to give away any of the goodies in the mystery that unfolds in Strangers. The overall mystery plot was well done, and while a little predictable it was certainly good enough to keep me intrigued and engaged.

The voices of our characters, especially the teenagers are very well done. I felt like there was a solid background established about the reserve children and what it meant to live outside 'the group' and in the city. As this is a very important distinction for the story and our leading teen boy I felt it was impressed upon us just enough. Additionally all of the characters, young or old felt like real people. I'm not sure how much time the author has spent on a reserve in Manitoba, Canada similar to the one he describes (it's fictional) but it felt genuine enough to me. Now I have no indigenous background or backing to base that on except that I live in Canada and went to school with a few kids who came into town for education from reserve lands. So it may be there is something I am missing. But for this white girl (and her limited knowledge) it didn't feel forced or over done.

It's funny at first I didn't really see our lead guys dreams and other odd things that happened as magic. They just felt like a part of his native background and spirituality. It wasn't until about halfway through the story, when some amazing things are revealed, that I realized there was a lot more going on. I liked that there was a slow, build up progression to the 'magic' or supernatural powers. Again it felt authentic and fit in really nicely with the character and plot development. Maybe what I really want to say here is the pacing is perfect. No matter what aspect of the story you look at Strangers has a pacing that keeps the pages turning, while still engaging the reader in the setting and characters.

Age and Romance
Besides the last page issues my other (not quite five star) issue with Strangers is the perpetuated romance that has transpired between our lead boy and a friend (who is a girl) at the age of 7. While many times during the story it is emphasized that at the time our lead boy was taken off the land he wasn't old enough to understand; at the same time it seems there are a lot of references to the 'love' that he and a girl had. They were seven years old! I'm sorry but I remember my 'boyfriend' at age 7... and trust me there was no romance there, just two kids who liked to hang out and happened to be of different genders. Additionally I would have felt more comfortable with the whole story if the age of our kids had been say 10 at the time of 'the incident'. That would have put 7 years between the time of the incident and leaving the reserve to our lead guy returning home. More than enough time for everything to have passed that did and a little more comfort for me on the age in which you might actually start to lust about someone or imagine marrying them in a more genuine way. Were I to say there was a flaw in this book it is this age differential that I would point out. It's not a deal breaker for me, and probably not worth a reduction in stars by a whole star; however, it was annoying enough that it did bug me each time the 'pre-romance' was discussed between our characters. Because let's face it, no 7-year-old is waiting for any other 7-year-old into their late teens to date because they one time were close friends. It's really just absurd.

I'm so pleased to have read this Canadian written, indigenous focused book this year. It is probably one of the most diverse books on my reading shelf for 2018. I love what Robertson did with this story and cannot wait for the second book (even if I hated the set-up).
If you are looking for a solid mystery, teen read with some indigenous diversity I think you will enjoy this book. I hope it gains more attention as Strangers shared an insight into how difficult it can be in a tight knit community if you are suddenly the outsider; and how much of a stranger that can make you to your own people.

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, December 3, 2018

Book Review: Bright Ruins

Bright Ruin (Dark Gifts #3)Bright Ruin by Vic James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rating of 3.5(ish)
I know this is not one of the beloved YA series of the last few years. It lacks certain author names associated with it, crazy romantic love triangles (there's almost one...) and other things that seem to sell YA books these days. All that to say, for a first time out, I think Vic James wrote a solid series. The characters were involved and easily relatable, the politics were elaborate without being difficult to follow, and the overall dystopian set-up was interesting.

Magic and the Setting
It's hard to create new magic. Especially one that people will accept or believe when your setting is a version of Earth. This is the single biggest mistake I think James makes in the whole series is keeping it on Earth and involved in a similar format to our society today. Even location names remain the same in some cases. This bugged me. There was no reason to keep this story on Earth. It wasn't a global reckoning. Perhaps James thought it would be easier to stay inside our society (to a degree). I think it was a huge pitfall and I never really liked it being on Earth. A different fantasy world with it's own rules and society would have worked much better.

How can you not love a book with multiple POV that include children?! Yeah, the one GRR Martin thing that will likely stick with me my whole life is a love of chapter perspectives from kids. You can tell so much more about a story, and put unique thoughts forward, when you use the mind of a child. James does a decent job of incorporating her five family members, plus a few other perspectives together. Although I think this book focused too much on the POV of the two older children. I'd have liked to see the parents thoughts and we only got (I think) one, maybe two, chapters with our youngest girl Daisy. This disappointed me I think there was a relationship built there with the Equals that would have been interesting to explore. Daisy would not have seen everything so black and white near the end.

The Romance(s)
In an unusual step for a YA romance, James takes our lead gal and breaks her heart (not a spoiler, happens at end of book 2). I gotta say this was really interesting! I kind of liked it. However, there needed to be a lot more interaction and tension between the two in question in order for full impact to have been achieved. Heart break from far away is not near as difficult as heart break that happens and that person remains in your life to a certain degree. Another missed opportunity in my mind.
The other side romances or interests that happen were all fine. None felt as strong. I was really disappointed we didn't get to see more of Silken and his romantic interests. It's clear coming into this book that he is not entirely heterosexual and I would have liked more to have happened for him.

Yep there's plot. Yep it's good enough.
I liked the plot, there was nothing wrong with it. But it wasn't spectacular either. What really kept me going was James' writing and characters. And that's okay with me. Besides it wasn't because of a lack of plot that is for sure. When you have family members betraying one another and vying for power there is never a lack of complexity. Could it have been better? Sure. But not everyone has to be Brandon Sanderson and I accept that.

I think I would revisit this trilogy and world again. I liked it enough. Certainly since book one it has stuck with me better than some of the other YA fantasy I've read in the last two years. That really says something. When you read approx. 100 books a year the characters or books that standout are really noticeable and certainly that happened for me here. I may not be able to put my finger on exactly what it was that made this standout but I'll give the credit where it's due that James had me placing a library hold while the book was on pre-order and I read it as soon as my library got it in. I don't do that with too many books and so I'd say there was more than enough here to warrant a possible spot on my print bookshelves.
Therefore I have rounded up to 4 stars because there are some special things about this series and final book of the trilogy. Even if it's not all perfect.

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Book Review: Two Moons: Stories

Two Moons: StoriesTwo Moons: Stories by Krystal A. Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To call these stories is really stretching it. They are more like tidbits of a short story or a book blurb. This is really the number one reason why this book is only 3 stars for me. It's not that the writing is poor, or even the story ideas weak, all that is well done by Krystal A. Smith; but the shortness of each story makes me feel like I'm reading tweets about story ideas. Far too short for my liking.

Two Moons
The best story by far gives this compilation book it's name. Two Moons is a superb romantic story about the moon and an earth gal who fall in love. I adored the uniqueness of this and that the context pops up in a few other stories along the way. As the second book in the collection it's disappointing to realize that it was the best.

I think in every instance in this story it is a F/F relationship or a F/entity relationship. That may sound weird but I'm not sure what to call the moon or someone's heart (yes the heart as a conscious mind), or stars. So let's just say entity. These are actually the stories I loved the most. Not because I didn't enjoy the F/F stories but just because they were very, very unique.
Certainly if you want some super quick reads with some LGBTQ+ representation you will find a few here.
What did make me smile was when I realized that by putting in these entities as romantic partners or interests it could serve to normalize the lesbian or trans relationship stories for those that find them uncomfortable! If this is intentional or not I don't know; but I'd like to think it is because it's a clever way of changing perspective enough that someone might suddenly have an ah-ha moment.

I'd love to see a full short story or novel about our human girl and the moon. I'd also love to see the odd star story (last one) carried forward or given more context. I think there is a great short story there it just needs some substance and context.
While I think Krystal A. Smith has something here, not a one of the stories included has enough to it to really be outstanding. And none of them are long enough to really remain in mind for very long.

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, November 29, 2018

Stitching: Class with Jeannette Douglas!!

As many of you may know I have a bit of a crush on designer Jeannette Douglas. Not only because I love her intricate patterns and colour scheme choices; but also because she lives here in Calgary!! 
I recently made some connections with a lady in a local Sampler Guild and via that connection was invited to attend a class with Jeannette! I was even luckier that two others I knew from many years ago, attending stitching retreats and what not were also attending. So I did my first 'external' stitching get-together in almost 6 years.  

Now, before you get too excited I will warn you that these patterns are only available via a class with Jeannette at this time. You cannot buy them any other way. Advance apologies! 

ABC Sampler: Friday Night
The set-up for the course started with a couple hours on Friday night working on a small ABC Sampler. And of course me being me I chose a colour scheme that no one else did! (lol) I've worked on this piece since being at the class and I just adore it!! I learned that I did the border stitch slightly incorrect in the past, so it was good to learn how to do the stitch correctly! 

The colour scheme I chose is between the two framed patterns shown on the pattern cover. My stitching to date is below. It's on 36ct linen using a variety of silks that Jeannette supplied in a pack. 

More Stitching: Saturday
After the Friday night of getting some stitches on linen I was super stoked for part 2 of the course which was a full day with Jeannette on a stitching sampler type piece. I don't have any photos yet... as I have stitched a pathetic amount of it. But it's much larger than ABC and is full of all kinds of crazy stitches I've never done before. Unlike ABC this piece is much larger and has only one colour palette (which I love, of course) so everyone in class will end up with the same piece at the end of the day (or relatively the same). 
Again I learned some new stitches and had a great day enjoying the overall comfort of stitching in a room with a bunch of ladies. It was drama free and a nice change of pace to my usual stitching time spent in my chair at home. That said, I love my chair and so I'll continue to stitch there on my own! 

In Other News: 
I've been stitching away on the band sampler and a piece for my SIL (that will not be shared as it's a inappropriate). I also really need to get back to Alice! So I have committed to my husband that I will spend some time with Alice during our December holidays together. Now I can't wait for December to be almost over even though it hasn't even started! 
My Etsy shop has been decimated by the Canada Post strike and I'm considering closing it down entirely. For now it is just not generating many sales as I cannot guarantee anything to be delivered before Christmas. On average during holiday season I'll do about $900 in revenue in November/early December. So far that is all lost revenue. At just over $100 revenue in last three weeks the lost income hurts. That said, it has opened up a lot more time for stitching. So depending on how you look at it's a good or bad thing. I'm not sure which it is yet. Time will tell I suppose. Regardless of what happens with it I can say that in 6 years, with just little ol' me running it, it's been way more successful than ever anticipated. Which is a nice feeling. 

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! 
Watch this space for some pattern giveaways I plan to host in December! You heard it here first. :) 

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I review a classic I feel like anything I say will be mediocre next to what others have said. So instead of being all philosophical or talking about the morals, themes, etc. in The Picture of Dorian Gray, I'm going to focus on my reading experience of the book. You can check out others comprehensive reviews of the themes and thoughts on what Oscar Wilde was thinking.

While there are a number of characters that come and go in the book the base set are three men. Dorian Gray himself, the painter of the infamous painting and Lord Henry who is the morally abject influence on Dorian. (yes I am calling him Dorian as I refuse to say Gray and be reminded of Fifty Shades... shudder). Of these three characters I found Dorian to be the most interesting. Now you may be thinking that's obvious but actually many might find the loose Lord Henry to be more exciting. I like Dorian because he struggles with the idea of good versus evil, morality, immorality and doing what is 'right'.

This is really where my experience with Dorian Gray wasn't five stars. As with most books from the late 19th century we are subject to a lot of plot points while people are gossiping over tea or at a party. Usually dialogue and I are friends, but I found some of Wilde's dialogue to be as boring as his lengthy descriptions. It was almost as though he just arbitrarily decided when to be boring in dialogue versus boring in a paragraph. Overall the real pacing issue for me is that there are some very, very slow areas . I read the 20 chapter version; perhaps had I read the original shortened version I would have felt less like this, hard to say. What I do know is I feel asleep reading this book on many occasions. Not a good sign. So four stars it is as I would not look forward to a re-read (unless I skipped the boring parts).

As mentioned above, I read the 20 chapter version of Dorian Gray and had a Penguin copy with references and notes in the back. Some of which were interesting (where Wilde changed key phrasing in the second, expanded chapter version) and others were just explanations of something referred to that the average modern reader might not know. I found these to be some of the most interesting parts of the book as it gave some insight into Wilde's thoughts and how he was influenced by the backlash of the first version being published. I'm sure there is a dissertation or two (or a thousand) to be found about these changes so I won't belabor the point. I do however recommend getting a version, like the Penguin one, that has these notes in it.

Talking to my husband about the book after finishing we were trying to determine why it was so controversial for it's time. There's hardly any sex, some nominal drug use and not a lot else. Until I mentioned to him the murder descriptions and he reminded me that we live in a world where CSI and Dexter have taken away the 'shock' of blood spatter, arteries versus veins and other detailed aspects to a murder. In 1985 no one who hadn't murdered someone or wasn't an investigator should know what blood spatter looks like or how it reacts unless you've killed someone yourself. This leads me to believe that some of the details, that today seem mundane or average, are actually what got Wilde scrutinized by the law. It's an interesting theory and perhaps someone knows more about it than I do. But it did remind me of how desensitized we all are. I mean, Game of Thrones alone has taken away the mystery of almost every way to die, have sex or otherwise engage in frivolities that society may frown upon. Poor Wilde was just born a little too early to be appreciated and celebrated the way he would be today.

While I really disliked many long, drawn out sections of The Picture of Dorian Gray; overall I believe it to be a superb piece of literature. The story itself is genius. Having seen Penny Dreadful (and loved the show) I knew a little about Dorian and his painting. But I can say that I am happy to have read Wilde's novel so I have context around other incarnations of Dorian.

Without a doubt, as always, I'm drawn to the morally confused anti-hero and so of course I love Dorian. He certainly remains in the top 10 (where he already was based on references I've read about him) of my most interesting people in fiction. That I wouldn't kick him that beautiful face out of bed is just a bonus (lol - especially the actor in Penny Dreadful)
If you're thinking of reading Dorian Gray I suggest a buddy system or group read. I sort of read this with a group, although I fell behind (and am a terrible buddy reader), but the comments and reviews that came out of that group read really had me push to finish it. And I'm glad I did. The most interesting parts of the story are surely at the end. So while it may be boring in places, the pay-off is worth it if you like classics. If you don't enjoy most classics just watch the gothic beauty of Penny Dreadful and you'll know enough about Dorian to love (or hate) him.

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