Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: The Life She Was Given

Title: The Life She Was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wisema
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

While there seems to be a run on circus settings lately, The Life She Was Given is actually perfect to have a circus setting! We have two settings and POVs here. One from a girl in the 1930's and another from a girl in the 1950's. Both are connected to the same house; but the mystery of how, why, etc. is of course a good chunk of the plot of the book. 

You can't go wrong with a creepy old house that has areas boarded up and secret rooms. And alternatively the circus is a great place to tell the story of a 'freak' or 'unnatural' (as she is called in the books) girl. Between these two settings I was hooked from the first chapter. 
The rich circus setting is not over done or exaggerated at all. As for the house; I can't say much or I'll give too much away. Just now that it's a bit creepy and hides secrets well. 

The 30's
As always, the primary story I loved was the older one set (largely) at the circus with our 10-year-old girl.  The start of our story is a 10-year-old girl who is trapped in an attic and never let out by her parents because she is a 'freak'. 
I won't give away what makes her a 'freak' because I think it's an interesting reveal.

Relevant to the start of this story is actually a tidbit from the acknowledgements where author Ellen Marie Wiseman indicates that Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews was a part of the inspiration for the past story. Certainly she nailed it on that aspect. I read Flowers in the Attic when I was a teen (and like Wiseman) I was very struck by it and immediately upon reading the first chapter of The Life She Was Given it was my first thought. Kudos to Wiseman for taking the trapped in the attic element and making it her own story from there. 

The 50's
Our lead gal in the 50's timeline is a down on her luck gal who definitely could use some direction and purpose in life. This portion of the story is maybe 25% of the whole story; but is (of course) relevant to the reveal at the end of the book. I think there was just enough of this time period without it becoming monotonous or overdone. The reality is that we all want to read about the circus more than we want to read about breeding race horses. That's just basic human curiosity for most. 

Writing Tone
Of all the things that were lovely about The Life She Was Given, certainly the tone, flow and voice of the stories was most striking.  Wiseman has a writing style I love. One that compels you to turn the page, but also captures that 'old' feel. Almost like you are watching an old movie of someone's life that has the stains on the edges, and is maybe a bit worn. I'm not sure how else to explain it but this is the kind of historical fiction writing I love. Where we feel immersed in the past and the small details (like the value of leather or silk) is emphasized in order to remind us that they didn't use go to a mall to buy things. I am definitely interesting in reading all of Wiseman's books now just to read more of her writing style. 

If you like historical fiction I think you are destined to like this. Interestingly it sets just before WWII and just after. I found this choice to be quite clever by Wiseman and at no time did I feel like she forgot the war because during the narrative it's clear lots of things are happening in the world. However it's not necessarily relevant to our the very focused story here. 

Overall I adored this book. Characters were all very enjoyable, romance was lovely (not over done) and the settings were the icing on the cake. 
Definitely one I will be purchasing for my personal print library!

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Book Review: Tarnished City

Title: Tarnished City 

Series: Dark Things 

Author: Vic James

Genre: YA, fantasy, dystopia

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars  

I was really hoping for an improvement over Book 1 (Gilded Cage). Unfortunately I think I got the exact same book in terms of pacing, boring political parts, intense action at the end, and only liking a few characters. I could probably lift my Gilded Cage review and put it in here with few edits. 

It's really unfortunate because I really think Vic James has created a great world. But she has made the exact same mistakes in this second book that she did in the first. Now I realize it was possibly already written and whatnot before book 1 was released but given the timing between the books there would have been time to revisit it to make some improvements. 

Second Book Syndrome

Any long time series reader knows what I mean. A trilogy usually has a middle book that is weaker than the rest. There is a little bit of that in Tarnished City. Certainly an inability to move the plot forward until the very end of the book is telling that it's all just a set-up for book 3. 

I also think some second book syndrome set in here when it came to characters we heard from (each chapter is from one character Point of View). It's the same mistake George R.R. Martin makes in his later Song of Fire and Ice books; which is to drop certain character POVs (who are not dead) from the narrative. The problem with this is that if they are your beloved characters then it is harder to keep people's attention. I would have loved to see at least one or two chapters from Daisy (who has a unique view on everything now) and from the parents of our lead teens who are also now in a different location. Instead we get to hear from Garvan, Bouda, and others that I just don't care about that much. Yes they are important, but I'd honestly rather read about them and the politics from the viewpoints of more interesting people. 

And don't even start me on the lack of Jenner point of views... (see note at bottom for rant).


I'll definitely read book 3 as I'm interested in where this goes. What I'm really hoping for is that after this series James can come out with something totally new in the YA fantasy genre and blow us away with everything she learned from writing her first trilogy. Because I really do believe there is potential here (she is amazing at writing cliffhanger endings and action sequences) it's just been diluted with poor choices and boring narrative in places. 

Note: My fan girl self, for those familiar with the series, is very, very disappointed in the serious lack of Jenner in this novel. The last half he might as well (nearly) not exist until the very end. This was really hard for me to be okay with. I know James is holding back with him so that a mystery isn't revealed but I just missed him a lot. Not even because I'm a fan girl for him necessarily but because he has THE most unique situation of all (and isn't a child).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep

Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Genre: Horror, thriller
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

You'd never know that Mira Grant is the psydonym for Seanan McGuire if you only went by writing samples. Grant's books are scientifically based, horrific thrillers that keep you on edge for most of the book. Into the Drowning Deep is no exception to the rule. Right from the very two things are very clear: 

  • Mermaids are real.
  • They are not friendly like Ariel...

I found the overall plot unique in that the mermaids are monsters (I don't think I've ever encountered this idea before) and yet a bit standard in that it follows the typical monster book timeline. Monsters appear, not everyone is convinced, people investigate, monsters appear, etc. In the case of this book there was really o other way to handle the discovery of mermaids and so it was a good choice for a classic timeline to be used. I think Grant chose well to have a classic monster plot with a very unclassical (is that a word?) monster. 

Few authors are very good at ensuring their timelines and timing between events makes sense. Michael Crichton was someone who had a really good handle on this. How long does it take to walk an area, shoot a gun, travel to the ocean, etc. And for all the scientific information in Into the Drowning Deep the thing that bothered me the most was that each chapter indicated the date (day, year) and location we were at. Which is all well and good when it's relevant. But for most of this book it is not relevant. What would have been far more helpful is the time on that day of that year given how many events happen close together. 
I'd have to go back and map out the timeline to be sure but I believe that at one time a character mentions a time and then a few chapters later a different character mentions the time and it's in the past (even though it is clearly  supposed to be linear). Maybe I'm picky but this kind of thing really bugs me and gets in the way of my enjoyment of the ongoing story. I start thinking too hard about the continuity instead of enjoying the ride. This was my biggest annoyance in this book, and given how many authors break it (on a constant basis), it's actually a fairly mild complaint. 

Rollicking Ride
For someone, like me, whose standard genres do not include horror, and who has massive hydrophobia (fear of water); Into the Drowning Deep didn't even have to try that hard to scare me. But regardless of those two factors I think the average person would be both intrigued by our mermaids as well as horrified by them. 
Grant describes the biological water creatures in detail and has clearly thought about what makes it most intimidating or scary; as well as what makes it practical and scientifically plausible given it's habitat and evolution.

I'm no marine biologist or any of the other fancy scientists featured; in fact I'm not a scientist of any discipline, but I felt throughout the entire book like Grant had done her homework in regards to the plausible biology, environment and evolution of the mermaids. It reminded me a lot of Crichton. I'd be comfortable saying that enough research was done to make it all sound legit. And maybe it's not perfect but hey it's fictional (we hope!) mermaids after all! I'm not concerned about each individual trait being scientifically accurate so much as it all seeming to make sense and flow with the story being told. Grant certainly achieved this for me.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Into the Drowning Deep is easily a book that will stick with me and that I would happily recommend to anyone that wants a good horror/thriller story. 
My husband is a big horror fan and has read Grant before. I believe he is now very interested in reading this one based on my reactions to it. He even had to console me one night when I woke up thinking mermaids were after me! (Yes I am a bit of a wuss, but remember massively hydrophobic so this was a challenge from page 1 for me). 

Of all the things I'll say I'd like to say, I want to thank Mira Grant for giving me more reasons why the ocean is scary as hell and why I'll stay on land. I'd also like to thank Grant for taking a sweet, pretty, only sometimes a bit scary mythological creature and making it a true monster that could (and will) haunt nightmares. So be forewarned there is no Ariel, Princes or magical transformations in this story. You can be rest assured that happily ever after is (obviously) not in the cards. 

Stitching: New Start & DMC Colours

It looks like DMC finally caught up in getting LNS' their new colour tins! (Only took them 6 months... they seem to always under estimate the frenzy of us stitchers for new colours and fancy tins. Lol) 
For those who haven't seen the new colours yet, let me just say they are gorgeous! And I may keep one set in this pretty tin just to have for reference (as of course now my thread book is out of date with these colours). I'm dying to use the peach/oranges and greens so might actually design a little flower pot to stitch to use some of them. We will see if my ambition to use them matches my prioritization of time. They did come with a little flower pattern but it's nothing special in my opinion. 

DMC did get smart on packaging to ensure they showed up in order and pretty the labels are affixed with double sided tape to a plastic sleeve (see above photo). A gutsy call, if the tape stuck to threads it could be disastrous but mine appear all okay. And I may keep them this way and get another set to use. 
I could just stare at them all day! How sad is that? 

New Start 
I gave in to the startitis and got one of my new SALs underway. It's from a U.K. shop called Lakeside Needlecraft that I had not used before. Even with exchange and shipping to Canada this was still a very affordable project because of the way they liked it. 
This is their bands Sampler SAL. 12 bands (6 are released) in variegated colours. They used DMC variegation thread which I was very curious about. So far I really like it. 
If you visit their site mine is the autumn colourway. 
Here's the first band so far: 

I'm really enjoying the pattern and always love the challenge of variegated colours to get somewhat seamless changes in threads. 
However I've got it on a 40 ct Lambswool linen. Not sure who it's from but it's not all that great. Very stiff and the linen is a bit wonky to deal with. But I'll keep it going as it's a good challenge. 

- Im going to finish the band above and then swap back to Alice to get her page finish in before end of March hopefully. 
- I've also got some work into Here there be Monsters and will show that off soon. 
- Plus: its Nashville Needlemarket in two weeks and so many great designs are coming out! So far my fave is an Ink Circles. I'll share what I'm preordering next week (once I've figured it out, lol) 

Thanks for popping by and happy stitching! 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: After the End of the World

Title: Adter the End of the World 

Author: Johanthan L. Howard 

Series: Carter and Lovecraft 

Genre: Mystery, horror, thriller 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars 

Originally I gave this a generous 3 stars. But after thinking about it for a few days I just can't give it three. Sorry Jonathan L. Howard I do usually love your writing and works, but this one fell flat. 

This is book 2 to Carter & Lovecraft, and of course features our two leads Carter and Lovecraft. 


It's hard to say anything about After The End of the World without giving away book 1. So consider yourself warned if you read further that it sorta kinda spoils book one's big twist.

The Plot

The gist is we are in a world where the Nazis never lost the war. Instead they blew up Russia in order to win. Cool right? Sure. 

Now knowing that our characters remember the real world is one of two interesting things in this story. Especially Lovecraft's continual hate for the Nazis; even though in this world they ended the war early and became heroes. And her hate reminds us over and over again if why prejudice is brutal. Because really Nazis who didn't even fight with the army in WWII kind of aren't bad guys necessarily in this world. Although it's hard to argue with the black female librarian in her hatred. She is after all demeaned and written off as unimportant many times based on her dark skin colour and gender. Although at one point she does wonder what people hate most about her... that she's black, that she's female or that she's a librarian and can kicks ass with a shotgun in hand. These moments of wit kept me alive through much of the dreary boringness to come. 

The 2nd Interesting Thing

In case your skimming, interesting thing number 1 was Nazis won WWII but out characters know that's not 'right'. They remember our world, the way it was. 

The second coolest thing is the link-ups to Lovecraft literature. Now book 1 had a fair bit of this. But book 2 ramps it up. I'm not even close to an obsessive Lovecraft fan, so I'm confident many references went over my head; but the ones that won't for almost anyone familiar with the Horror genre and/or H.P. Lovecraft are these two: the town of Providence is now called Arkham (yes for you Batman fans they stole this name from H.P. Lovecraft--although I believe it's perfect for the Asylum name) and the Necronomican is real. 

Yeah that's right. It's real!! 

Cool right? 


Except then Howard does the worst possible thing... 

The Downfall

We suddenly find ourselves in a spy/thriller novel with too many scientists names, too many secret agencies I've never heard of, and too much crap I don't care about. 

All in an attempt to get our characters to an ultimate standoff. Seriously 300 pages of almost entirely filler where our characters say to themselves I think we are supposed to do this; even when it makes no sense and seems irrelevant. 

Now I'll give Howard this, those 300 pages are relevant eventually. But mostly by the end (even after some cool stuff happens) I just didn't care and wanted it to be over.


Had this been written by an author that I didn't know and respect I would have DNF'd it. I know tragic to say that but it was really that boring for 3/4 of the book.  

There is an opening left for a third book (because this universe could actually be truly infinite the way its set-up). And yes I'll probably cave and read it too. Why? Because I know Howard can make witty, satirical magic with words and I refuse to believe he's out of magic. 

And so I'm going to hope that this was an anomaly. A bad editor, a rushed publication date, a hard time in Howard's life; it does even matter, because honestly I'll take any excuse so I can keep believing Howard hasn't gone downhill. 

Do yourself a favour and go read Howard's Johannes  Cabal series instead; or stop at book 1 and I'll let you know if book 3 is better than this book 2. 

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: Flower Moon

Title: Flower Moon 
Author: Gina Linko
Genre: Middle Grade, coming of age
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

You know the average middle age growing up story? Regular kid ends up in an irregular situation and with passion and love fights their way out. You know the one you've probably read it dozens of times by different people. 
Now do you remember your very first story like this? The one that maybe got you hooked on reading, spoke to your soul or was just perfect to you. Was there anything super special about it? 
Sadly the answer is probably not. It just happened to be the first time you read a book like that and now it lives in a place in your heart forever. 
This is what Flower Moon could be to some middle grade kids. The first story that really touches them. Where the lead gal feels and thinks like they do. Where the selfish, annoying yet endearing moments are a reflection of what that kid feels many days. 
But guess what? Rarely are these stories super special in any literary way. 
Flower Moon is like that. 

Carnival could be cool
While Gina Linko sets up this cute story about twin sister, whose mother is also a twin, in a fairly average way. The girls characteristics are defined. Paying particular attention to what makes them different from each other even when they look identical. 
The family is pretty typical as well. The one thing that caught my attention in the blurb was that they travel with a carnival (run by their Grandfather) every year. And let's face it carnivals can be amazing settings (The Night Circus!) but I should have maybe known better after the mess that was Caraval last year. In any case Linko's carnival setting disappointingly ends up irrelevant which is perhaps the most disappointing thing of all. This story could have taken place anywhere with an ocean to link i the moon tides. It would not have made any fundamental difference to the outcome or feel of the story. 

Flower Moons
Yes a 'Flower Moon' is a real thing. And the magnetic tides and concepts that Linko briefly touches on here are (mostly) true. Except for the whole magical part (lol). I actually think this could have been a better story if it had happened over a slightly longer period of time to really investigate the phases of the moon and their effect on the girls. But instead the story is shoved into a few days time (for the most part) so that no actual development of characters, setting or plot is required. 

Like I said in the intro this could become some twin girls "the one" book if read at just the right time with just the right elements in place. But it is also a book that I think would be reread as an adults and inevitably disappoint. So I would wish for a better book for the average 9-11 aged child to read. 

It's not that it's bad. It's just that it's not that special. 
There was/is so much potential to the story if only Linko had incorporated more of the carnival and moon phases into it. It's really too bad. 
That said if this book finds the right kid then it was worth publishing. It's not that I wouldn't recommend it, more that after I write this review it will be gone from my mind as another typical story for kids that could have been something more. 

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky

Title: Beneath the Sugar Sky
Series: Book 3, Wayward Children
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Well I loved this. But that is not really a surprise. Seanan McGuire and I seem to have some sort of shared soul most days (lol). I love that she is such an amazing writer that under her pseudonym for horror/thriller books (Mira Grant) she is just as successful. So fair warning, I'm a bit of a fan girl. :)

Wayward Children #1 was one of those books (well, novellas as these are short books in this series) that felt like it had been pulled from my own subconscious/imagination. And so the continuation of this series in Beneath the Sugar Sky (BtSS) was highly anticipated for me; and I'm glad to say it didn't disappoint. What was nice about BtSS in comparison book 2 in this series is that we went back to the Wayward House and met up with some characters we had met in book 1. All the while we got to meet new characters and visit some new dimensions very different from our own.

Our lead gal is a "fat girl" (as she calls herself), Cora (who was in a mermaid world) has a real self esteem problem. This is a leading theme in the book as she struggles to deal with people's immediate thoughts about her, or the irony of a "fat girl" being in a candy filled land, for example. This is a sad little story and yet I know so many people will connect with it. I like that McGuire's lead gal is a runner and talks about her love of it, as well as the stigma people have about larger women running. It's completely unfair and I loved her resolve to keep up her running. The whole time I just wanted to yell "you go girl!" to her. McGuire portrays Cora as having an anxiety problem... but I gotta say (as someone with anxiety) her attempt to portray anxiety here is a bit cliche and weak but it didn't bug me enough to be annoyed and certainly not offended by the portrayal. 

There is a slew of characters (new and known) that end up together in this story and a few other interesting points of view that we see besides our lead gal. In all of these Nancy is my favourite. I just love how her world is still and quiet and seems like death without being death. I was very, very happy to see her appearance in BtSS.

We are also shown more into the world/life of Kade, the resident 'doesn't want to go back to his world' kid. This may seem like a normal thing but he is the ONLY child at Wayward that doesn't want to return to his world. He also happens to be trans and came from what appears to be a terrifying fairy world. I really hope we see a lot more of him in the future!!

The overall story in BtSS takes us through a number of the worlds/dimensions that our children have been to, or are similar to the ones they have visited. I really enjoyed experiencing more of the dimensions that McGuire has thought up. And I really, really hope this series goes on forever; as I feel like the number of doors into interesting worlds we could go into is unlimited.
That said the overall plot is actually the part I cared about the least (ironically). I didn't much care about Rini and her mother. But was more than happy to be taken on the adventure with them. It may seem weird to give 5 stars to a book and not really care about the main plot; but this series is one of those special ones where I'm just glad to be in the world McGuire has created no matter what we are doing or following in it.

Forever and ever
Some series go on forever and ever when we don't want them to. Just in a quick thought I can name a dozen that I wish had ended long before they did (or that are still going on). However Wayward Children is a series I feel is so unique and has such diversity of worlds via doors, with so many interesting children that can be products of them, that I think it could go on infinitely. So while this may be book 3 I'm really just hoping to another one, or maybe thirty.
There is also something to be said for these snippets of stories that are short. A lovely way to take a 1-3 day break to visit these worlds and find some doors to get lost in. Perfect books for a quick break in the middle of a 1000 page tome or that horror book that is scaring you (check out Mira Grant, she's really good! lol).
Really all I can say is that while I can find flaws with this I just don't care. For no other reason than this world is brilliant and McGuire always knows how to keep my attention. As has been with this entire series, a hard copy of this book will go to my print bookshelf. The absolute highest honour I can give any book is to buy it in print after having already read it.

I'll leave you with this quote (that everyone seems to have put in their reviews) that really struck me as an honest way of looking at life and it's often cruel reality:
“Just keep getting through until you don’t have to do it anymore,
however much time that takes, however difficult it is.”

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

Book Review: Secrets in Death

Title: Secrets in Death
Series: In Death # 45
Author: J.D. Robb
Genre: Mystery, Romance, Future
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Without a doubt J.D. Robb's (Nora Roberts) books are a guilty pleasure. I can't help but read them and most of the time they are quick, easy, enjoyable reads. Unfortunately Secrets in Death was not on the list of compelling. 

It's always difficult to care when Dallas and her folks catch a case where the deceased is easily disliked. But usually there is some part of you that feels a bit sad for them regardless. In Secrets it's clear that no one liked our dead celebrity and even throughout the course of the book everyone around Dallas is having a hard time being sad this awful woman is dead. Yet there is Dallas with her steadfast loyalty to the badge and unwillingness to compromise that her department defends the dead no matter what. 

While the main story in this is really dull there is a very important moment in the long running series slipped into the middle of Secrets. One where we see Sommerset and Roarke having a one-on-one about some sticky items from the past. 

While the news will not shock anyone, it's something readers have known for awhile now. It is the moment when Roarke learns the truth about an incident. So it has some possible impact on the overall relationship of our main characters. 

The above sequence is the only reason I would say long time readers should bother with this book. If you're a new reader to this long running series them start earlier. In fact start with the Icove book. It's a pinnacle point in the series and you need to read it to understand what happens in many books later on. 

All that said I will still keep reading In Death books because I'm a sucker for the world Robb had created and our messed up but lovable characters.